CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

Art and Tech, part 2: the uneasy relationship between artist and technology

As technologies have been developed and then evolved, artists have exploited them in the creation of art. But is it possible to reach a point where technology exploits artists – and through them art?

(For previous essays in this series, look here.)

Neil Postman (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The work of the late Neil Postman, especially in the camps of those who sing the praises of our current era of rapid technological innovation and implementation, is treated with, if noted at all, skepticism bordering on disdain. Reactions to his 1993 classic Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology even went so far to to accuse him being a Neo-Luddite.

But Postman raises important questions about society’s relationship to technology and asks that hard question for which none of his critics (this may explain the dismissiveness of some) seem willing to offer an answer: Do we control technology – or does technology control us?

Such a difficult – and profound – question seems important for art and artists for a number of reasons. Continue reading

Book-Review

Book Review: St. Nic, Inc. by S.R. Staley

It’s not Santa Claus vs. the Martians – it’s Santa Claus (sorta) vs. the DEA – which is, come to think of it, almost as nuts…

St. Nic, Inc by S.R. Staley

Sam Staley’s latest book is a Christmas story. It’s not, however, the sort of Christmas story ones hears in homes on Christmas Eve. There are no shepherds “keeping watch over their flocks by night” or flying reindeer jockeyed by a “right jolly old elf.” Staley’s book is a Christmas story with all the 21st century twists: the North Pole is home to NP Enterprises, a slickly run distribution company with billions in revenues and a 26 year old MIT trained computer geek CEO named Nicole who employs large numbers of talented, intelligent people who happen to have the condition known as – you guessed it – dwarfism; its ability to operate is based on economic funding from a 21st century source – a computer operating system superior to others on the market; and its problems within the narrative come from overzealousness on the part of a government official.

NP Enterprises is a family owned business founded by Nicole’s great grandfather, a Dutchman named Nicholas Klaas, who moved to the Far North and began making toys which he sold to trappers and hunters for their children. Continue reading

The Arts

Art and Tech Pt. 1: Known Knowns and Known Unknowns…

We live these days in a weird era where art and tech are linked in ways which I don’t believe we understand very well and don’t think about enough. Maybe we are in some transition to a culture in which tech is believed to be art and art is believed to be -I don’t know – tech…? Whatever the artist says it is…? Obsolete…?

This started out, as sometimes things do, with a conversation:

Claude Monet, technology freak (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Lea, my wife, and I were coming home from one of her art exhibition openings last night and somehow we got on the subject of Claude Monet.  The art opening was part of a series of events in which artists, writers, and craftsmen and women had simultaneously occurring book fest, art exhibition opening, and crafts fair.  This is the sort of event that arts groups hold more and more often in these same days of this our life. Artists hoped that book lovers would stop by the art exhibition, writers that art lovers would stop by the book fest, crafts people – well, people still buy crafts, kinda sorta (more than they buy fine art and books, at least), so the crafts people were likely simply being helpful.

I don’t know how well the whole series of events went off (I didn’t even go to the crafts fair because I – I don’t know – well yes I do: at least half the tables at the “book fest” were selling – crafts – yeah, I know). I hope that the artist and writer friends I ran into at the two events I attended made some sales. But at one point last evening Lea looked at me and noted, “I think everyone at this exhibit is an artist.”

Yeah. I know. This is all too common these days.

And yes, I’m rambling, but I’ll get to something in a minute. Bear with me.  Continue reading

It's okay to be realistic with religious iconography. (Photo: Sharona Gott / Flickr Commons)

Three arguments against tattoos

Tattoos not only wear out their welcome, but brand their wearers as philistines.

It's okay to be realistic with religious iconography. (Photo: Sharona Gott / Flickr Commons)

It’s okay to be realistic with religious iconography. (Photo: Sharona Gott / Flickr Commons)

I appreciate tattoos as much as the next person. I’ve even considered getting one — a target painted on my head to guide incoming interballistic missiles in the event of a nuclear war that I have no interest in surviving. But I have some serious reservations, aside from face or neck tattoos, which, unless you’re a genius, pretty much kill your job prospects. Or the sag factor as you age. Or paranoia that the ink will somehow become absorbed into your bloodstream and organs and slowly poison you (okay, that’s just me). Continue reading

Book-Review

Being There…or we knew the bride when she used to marry rockers….

Pattie Boyd’s autobiography is a fascinating and messy piece of memoir that offers sometimes illuminating, sometimes banal insights into the private lives of two of the rock era’s iconic figures – George Harrison and Eric Clapton...and raises a slew of bigger questions…

Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me by Pattie Boyd (image courtesy Goodreads)

When Tom Snyder asked John Lennon in the famous Tomorrow Show interview why he became a musician and formed a band, Lennon replied slyly, “For the birds, Tom. That’s why every guy does it. To get girls….”

Pattie Boyd was one of the most famous of “the birds….”

A few years ago Boyd published her autobiography which I just re-read as part of my 2014 reading list. It should be a riveting read for anyone interested in rock music, rock history, or rock stars in our popular culture.

But it isn’t.

Before we go into why, exactly, Boyd’s autobiography causes arguments, it might be useful to talk a little bit about reasons why people are famous. Continue reading

CATEGORY: TunesDay

Dave Bidini attacks Joni Mitchell…why…?

Dave Bidini’s critique of Joni Mitchell seems smilingly petulant in a way that is way too familiar…and reminds us that maybe generational differences make us too readily divisible….

Joni Mitchell (image courtesy Wikipedia)

A recent essay reprinted from The National Post at Crooks and Liars by Canadian indie rocker/writer Dave Bidini (most well known for his work with The Rheostatics) takes folk-rock-jazz icon Joni Mitchell to task for being “difficult.” Bidini’s chief complaints seem to be that Mitchell is critical of another icon (John Lennon), is troubled that her fans don’t always “get” her songs, and struggles with having grown old and fragile in health.

What Bidini believes (or at least gives the impression he believes) is that Joni Mitchell doesn’t have the right to be cranky about her struggle to achieve her artistic goals in spite of the bias against her as a woman artist, her numerous and complex health problems, and her sometimes complicated and difficult personal life because – well, it seems because she’s had great commercial/critical success.

Why Bidini feels the need to make this attack is what puzzles one most in all this.  Continue reading

1977

The Ark of the Covenant, well,

I use it as a coffee table now.

It holds many remotes with which

I flip channels to see the world.

The world doesn’t bother me,

what people say about how it used to be does.

A straight arc is a line.

These Fritos in my pockets,

I’ve had them since 1977.

Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature2

Poet Laureate Mark Strand dead: reflecting on something he said

Former US Poet Laureate Mark Strand is dead at 80.

In a 1998 interview with the Paris Review, poet Strand said something I find fascinating:

Well, I think what happens at certain points in my poems is that language takes over, and I follow it. It just sounds right. And I trust the implication of what I’m saying, even though I’m not absolutely sure what it is that I’m saying. I’m just willing to let it be. Because if I were absolutely sure of whatever it was that I said in my poems, if I were sure, and could verify it and check it out and feel, yes, I’ve said what I intended, I don’t think the poem would be smarter than I am. I think the poem would be, finally, a reducible item. It’s this “beyondness,” that depth that you reach in a poem, that keeps you returning to it. And you wonder, The poem seemed so natural at the beginning, how did you get where you ended up? What happened? I mean, I like that, I like it in other people’s poems when it happens. I like to be mystified. Because it’s really that place which is unreachable, or mysterious, at which the poem becomes ours, finally, becomes the possession of the reader. I mean, in the act of figuring it out, of pursuing meaning, the reader is absorbing the poem, even though there’s an absence in the poem. But he just has to live with that. And eventually, it becomes essential that it exists in the poem, so that something beyond his understanding, or beyond his experience, or something that doesn’t quite match up with his experience, becomes more and more his. He comes into possession of a mystery, you know—which is something that we don’t allow ourselves in our lives.

Continue reading

CATEGORY: WordsDay

The mysteries of Michael Chabon’s first novel…

Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh has been lavished with praise – the mystery is…Why…?

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (image courtesy Goodreads)

As anyone familiar with the literary scene (at least any literary scene not composed solely of adults who read nothing but YA literature or some other highly siloed genre/subgenre) knows, Michael Chabon has been a darling of the litfic scene for about 25 years now. He’s won a Pulitzer Prize and several other awards and been touted as a literary great.  His first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, was called “astonishing” by the New York Times; “remarkable” by the Los Angeles Times; “extraordinary” by the Village Voice.

My own experience with Chabon’s work before reading The Mysteries of Pittsburgh was watching the film version of Wonder Boys. I found it a quirky, charming, somewhat slick little film and thought about getting the book. I supposed the book would be that, too: quirky, charming, a tad slick. Still, I thought to give it a go. Something else shiny beckoned, evidently, because I never got around to it. So when I ran across this book at my favorite used book store a while back, I picked it up expecting to read the early work of a talented and celebrated writer. Given that this was his first book, I expected some flaws. I expected some rough edges… Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Love, art, mystery: Lawrence Durrell’s Justine

Durrell raises a question we are most afraid to answer: whether, as his character Clea asserts, “Lovers are never equally matched….” Is that, he asks, the source of the pain so many experience in love…?

Justine by Lawrence Durrell (image courtesy Goodreads)

We come now to another novelist who, like Paul Bowles, skirts the edge of wide acceptance as a major literary figure. Lawrence Durrell’s reputation rests on a group of novels called The Alexandria Quartet. The first of these is called Justine after the main character, a reluctant siren whose mystique pervades the work. It’s the latest from my 2014 reading list, and it’s a work that offers one the challenge of deciding whether to focus one’s discussion on the quality of the writing, the themes the novel explores, or the complexity of the  story.

To treat Justine fairly, it’s probably best to talk at least a bit about each. This is a novel in which writing, story, and themes are intricately woven. Durrell came under consideration for (and close to winning in 1962) the Nobel Prize on at least two occasions based on this work (and the others in the tetralogy). Justine offers a good example of why. Continue reading

dragon face

@Large leap of faith: will justice prevail?

dragon faceThe misconception of totalitarianism is that freedom can be imprisoned. This is not the case. When you constrain freedom, freedom will take flight and land on a windowsill. – Ai Weiwei

First comes the dragon, a Chinese funeral march, exploding with vibrant colors in intricate and uplifting patterns, celebrating the cycle of life and death, creation visible in the generations gathered, surrounding the passage of the beloved. This one is festooned with quotes like “privacy is a function of liberty” by Edward Snowden, “this thought itself can change the world” by Wei Jingsheng, star of david“I prefer to go to jail” by William Tonet, and “Ze Du out disgusting dictator” by Nito Alvez. Zooming around the room are insectoid dragon offspring, butterfly kites floating to peripheral safety. One is a Star of David.

Next comes the memorial wall, in this case the floor, made of common Legos, depicting prisoners of conscience throughout the world. They are comically pixelated and posterized, their names emblazoned like brands or autographs. The names are more legible in digital pictures than in real life. Binders placed throughout the room allow viewers to locate their favorites, Nelson Mandela, Manning (no first name), Snowden (interesting that he’s @large), Martin Luther King Jr. Most of these portraits are in prison as we speak, and all the American audience can think of is media icons. We have some vague idea that people are being secreted away by our government, but we have never heard of Shaker Aamer. Continue reading

Earp grave

Tuesday morning with the Earps

Fanciful middle-aged musings in a garden of the dead

It was just another Tuesday…

Wyatt Earp is dead and gone but I have sometimes talked to him in the years since I became a Heart Disease Missionary. When I come to the cold shores of Colma, I come to stave off cancer by snacking on his western bones.

  …and I was out running an errand. And running that errand put me in a location in South San Francisco from where it would be easy to run other errands. You know how that goes. One twenty-minute task turned into five, and without prior planning I ended up in a Carl’s Jr. eating a chorizo breakfast burrito, wondering what it would do to my cholesterol levels and feeling bad about fast-food slumming.

I figured after I’d eaten I wasn’t yet ready to deal with the shuffling toddler-mom shopping carts or oblivious merchandise stock-monkeys at Target or Best Buy. Then I realized Josephine and Wyatt Earp were within my automobile errand sphere, so I decided to go see them.

Continue reading

The Elvis “Coverup”: Nothing to See Here, Move Along…

If the excerpt from the new Elvis biography is an indication of the entire work, readers will learn exactly –  nothing new…

Elvis doing that Jailhouse Rock (image courtesy Wikimedia)

I had a professor who once described sound academic writing as learning to “articulate the obvious.” This in itself isn’t bad advice, and I occasionally pass it along to writing students who seem convinced that scholarly writing of any worth must follow “the three C’s” of turgid writing: it should be convoluted, confusing, and contradictory.

Joel Williamson’s new biography of the King, Elvis Presley: A Southern Life, avoids turgidity and, if the excerpt recently published by Salon is any indication, it follows my old professor’s dictum to a degree that readers knowledgeable about the music legend (or about the history of rock and its significant figures) may find downright frustrating. Continue reading

One day I got trapped in a television…

…in a hotel room in San Juan Bautista, California.

My wife and I had been having a lovely time until then.

I am fortunate she returned from the hotel pool in time

to switch off the set.

If she hadn’t, I might have ended up on Fox News.

(Picture taken in San Juan Bautista, California on June 22nd, 2013)

ArtSunday

Pride and Prejudice: The Romance Novel as Literature…

Amid current discussions of how genre fiction and literature are merging in the 21st century, Pride and Prejudice is a reminder that the genre of romance merged with literature a long, long time ago…

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (image courtesy Goodreads)

As I have noted before, my custom of re-reading Austen’s works systematically has shifted from reading all six of the completed novels each year (as I did for more than two decades) to a rotation through the oeuvre of that allows me to read two novels each year. My own background as an Austen scholar has given me cause to give each of the novels “close reading” (the scholarly term for close analytic reading of a text to ferret out meaning) numbers of times. Still, each time I return to any of Jane Austen’s novels, I find myself surprised by what I learn.

Such was the case during this reading of what the general public consider Austen’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice. It is certainly her most widely read work, partly because there seems to have long been a belief among educators that it is her most accessible novel (I’d argue for Emma) and partly, I suppose, because it has enjoyed the most attention over the last century or so as the basis for classic Hollywood bowdlerizations, faithful and thoughtful BBC renderings, and hipster revisionist treatments. It says something for the greatness of the book that it has borne all these cinematic renditions without losing any of its charm as entertainment or any of its impressiveness as a literary performance. Continue reading

Popular Culture

Murdering culture, one hipster delusion at a time…

Hipsters being savaged by a former hipster seems – oh, I don’t know, about right…?

Author Will Self (image courtesy Wikimedia)

No one who is a thinking person doubts that our culture is in trouble. Whatever forces have taken us down a road where knowledge of reality television shows is considered social capital are, I think we can all agree, malevolent.

In a recent essay in The New Statesman (and republished in The New Republic), British novelist and intellectual Will Self savages his generation’s acquiescence in failing to overcome being what he calls “the pierced and tattooed, shorts-wearing, skunk-smoking, OxyContin-popping, neurotic dickheads who’ve presided over the commoditization of the counterculture; we’re the ones who took the avant-garde and turned it into a successful rearguard action…of capitalism’s blitzkrieg.” His critique (written in a classic snarky style) continues with an indictment of what he sees as a completely delusional group of “artists” – : Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Karl Ove Knausgaard, Thomas Wolfe, Marcel Proust…Life is – How We Write It…?

While some authors have chosen to follow a literary path called transrealism, Knausgaard has chosen a path one might call hyperrealism. The question always rises rises again, however: is there nothing new under the sun…?

Karl Ove Knausgaard (image courtesy Wikimedia)

A little more than a week ago I examined yet another attempt to claim that a new literary movement has arisen. That new movement, called transrealism, has its promoters, but it also has its doubters (including this guy). In this essay we take a look at what may/may not be a new 21st century literary movement – one I’m denominating hyperrealism. The best way to look at such a movement is, of course, by examining the work of the author who is probably its leading proponent, Norwegian literary star Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Knausgaard’s massive six volume documentation of his own life in excruciating detail is called, in English My Struggle. In Norwegian that title reads Min Kamp – and yep, you’re right that his title echoes a book that gives most sensible people the creeps. Knausgaard’s book has pretty much nothing to do with Der Fuhrer’s opus magnum but a lot to do with some other, weightier, literary figures. Whether he chose the title simply to spark some controversy – well, why would any author want to do that in a culture that is so distracted it can’t pay attention to any damned thing for longer than the time it takes to scroll down a Facebook feed? Hmm? Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Louis Hemon’s Maria Chapdelaine: Il se souvient

Like other classics of of what might be called pioneer literature, Louis Hémon’s classic of Quebecois literature Maria Chapdelaine conveys the love of a people for the land in a way that is beautifully simple and simply beautiful.

Maria Chapdelaine by Louis Hemon (image courtesy Goodreads)

Maria Chapdelaine belongs to a noble tradition of what we can call pioneer literature. (It might also be called agrarian literature, but that term has come to be associated with the Fugitive Movement in Southern literature that began at Vanderbilt University in the 1920’s.)  Most readers have some experience with such books, especially in young adult literature – many have read at least one of the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Shirley series.

More mature – and sophisticated – readers may be familiar with works such as Sergei Aksakov’s The Family Chronicle or any of several novels by Willa Cather, particularly O Pioneers! or My Antonia. These are works that celebrate the difficult but rewarding lives of settlers, lives that are quietly heroic and which are tied to the rhythms of the land whether that land is on the Russian steppes or the American plains.

Maria Chapdelaine stands slightly apart from these other examples of pioneer literature for a couple of reasons. Continue reading

CATEGORY: MusicPopularCulture

Rod Stewart: Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band…

Rod Stewart’s autobiography shows that knowing too much about cultural heroes might be part of what’s wrong with the culture…

Rod: The Autobiography by Rod Stewart (image courtesy Goodreads)

There have been a spate of rock star autobiographies over the last decade or so from classic rock’s legends. One assumes that after having so much written about them that was true/untrue/somewhere in between they wanted to have their say.

Pete Townshend, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton – all have written interesting, if at times slightly self-indulgent, biographies of themselves (how self-written these “autobiographies” are is probably arguable from a strictly literary standpoint). From these we learn that Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend had troubled childhoods and that each has been long engaged in the “search for self” because of childhood trauma. We also learn that Bob Dylan and Keith Richards are never, ever, ever, ever going to give anything away that might break the front or dispel any of the mystique they have long worked at building around themselves. If they can do so, they will die in a way so that we will exclaim “That is so cool!”

And then there’s Rod. Continue reading

Music and Popular Culture

Sir Paul the Evangelist: McCartney gets a bad rap

A Paul McCartney show these days is a music history lesson wrapped in a plea for understanding with a side order of “Remember when they made music and you actually cared about knowing the words…?”

Sir Paul McCartney (image courtesy imdb)

Sir Paul gets a bad rap.

Part of this I attribute to the influence of a certain generation of music critics, those for whom the term “snark” might have been invented, and many of whom resent anything and everything Beatle related. They have long crusaded against all things Beatle and especially against Macca, because he’s not John and because he’s not George, and because – Wings (which had its terrific moments and some damned silly ones, too).

Then, too, Sir Paul made that unforgivable decision, the one either Dave Marsh or Greil Marcus (I forget which – and that says something about the importance of critics vis a vis artists, kids) called “the decision for pop.” He’s focused on writing songs that get denominated pop no matter how hard they rock or how brilliantly they incorporate his many musical influences. The Cute Beatle he is the The Cute Beatle he shall remain. I have a response – and I know I don’t speak for Paul – but I wish I did, because I’d say… Continue reading