Compendium Hermetica
And yet, it moves.


2.28.2003

Just an ordinary guy, with nothing to lose...

There is something to say for picking up your marbles and conceding the field to the bullies who have taken over, letting them sort out their own worthless game. That said, I cannot vouch for the integrity of John Brady Kiesling, nor his performance as a diplomat in our foreign service. If he executed his duty with the same vigor and reason with which he resigned, then we have lost a valuable representative overseas. (NYT link - reg. req'd)

Edit - Apparently, the feeling that I mentioned earlier, about being shrill, conversing only in screed and shocked at your own capacity to feel this way is going around. From the always excellent, Ftrain.

posted by Brian | 11:46:00 PM link |


2.24.2003

Recidivist

Did I mention that he lies?

posted by Brian | 9:33:00 PM link |


2.23.2003

Acknowledgement -> Resolution -> Pursuance/ Part4 - Psalm

People who have met me do not frequently characterize me as shrill, or easily alarmed. I say this because you may not gather this from my posts of late. In order to remind myself of that, gentle reader, please indulge me in some small appreciations of works and phenomena that have provided consolation, and even delight, in spite of a sense of eroding social and political virtue (virtue in the sense of our capacity to do what is right). Here then, are a number of things that make me very happy:



Songbook by Nick Hornby

In Songbook, Nick Hornby, who gave us the obsessive, forever-adolescent male characters of High Fidelity, writes short essays on pop songs he really, really likes. His enthusiasm for the music catches easily. He eloquently defends pop music without resorting to Po-Mo, genre dissolving arguments, i.e. he likes pop music on its own terms. The essays run short - in fact you could probably listen to the song celebrated by each essay as you read it - all "real-time" as they say these days.

You may expect such an exercise to give way to a formulaic recounting of personal memories evoked by each song. Hornby does not, to his credit, resort to this. We see glints of his life outside the book, and the book business, but very little (but what we do is immensely touching). Besides, musical biography is more the style of High Fidelity's narrator. Instead, he talks about what these songs capture- what makes them worth our two and half or three minutes of our time (frequently repeated over and over). Inevitably they capture something small but pertinent to our lives. This obviously varies from song to song - artist to artist. With Ben Folds, he finds a young man capable of communicating complex rhetorical and emotional situations in touching and, even, catchy lyrics. For Led Zeppelin, he recounts what he learns from the boring bits - that it's okay to leave during the John Bonham drum solo, for example.

A lot of the pleasure of reading this book comes from the author's enthusiasm. You root for Mr. Hornby (or at least the set of preferences that we identify with him) because he's engaging in an act of appreciation. He doesn't seek to forge his own identity or fame by vivisecting an artist's corpse. Mr. Hornby gives us an example of someone deploying his critical faculties in an exuberant manner.



Solista

I know this is a weblog, and, if I were to follow the guidelines of the genre, I should link each of these topics to a site or document that proves the existence, or illuminates the experience I mention. So I have mixed feelings about not providing a link about Solista. So, I'll explain why I can't point you to URL with more information, photos, and text that encapsulates that experience for you. And then, if you ever see them, you'll thank me for it.

Solista is three young women from Finland, each a solo artist - monologist, a musician, and a videographer - that have come together to create an event. In fact, "Solista", in many languages, means soloist (frequently feminine). That's part of the reason that a Google search will yield few results actuallu pertaining to this event. So, it's not traditionally theatrical, but it took place in a theatrical space. It is a tea party, it is an opera, it is documentary, it is memory, a meta-commentary on performance, and it is a performance for the King of Finland on Independence Day. It is a picnic at high-summer in the long shanked day of a near-arctic summer.

In the event, the audience is invited into the theatre, welcomed into the space (with an image of your entrance projected via digital camcorder and projector) and , asked to have a seat (with the front two rows availing themselves of pillows and very comfy chairs). The idea that frames this performance is a ceremony celebrating the independence of Finland, a series of performances for the King of Finland. Te audience even hears snatches of a radio broadcast of the ceremony (from 1962 or so I believe).


Then the monologist begins talking to the audience. I suspect that when she stumbles over an English word, she does so on purpose, as to draw attention to the word and how meaning falls away from it or to the act of performance itself. She talks of performance, what it means to document something (showing a short video of the solistas scrubbing a floor), and recounts the difficulty of bathing in her efficiency apartment in Helsinki during her days at University. The show continues, with different performances by each soloist, but done in such a way that throws back the curtain on the idea of any solo artist working alone. The ultimate nod to this comes in the middle of the performance, when the Solistas serve the audience tea. While the fourth wall has taken quite a beating over the years, this is the most pleasant means of artists acknowledging an audience and its role in creating theatre.

The Solistas conclude with a performance of a beautiful song, which I cannot credit at the moment since I can't find my program (more on this later). While the monologist sings, the musician accompanies her on piano, and the videographer projects the translated lyrics onto the screen above. The song portrays the anguished cries of the families of the dead who have fallen in war. They cry over the anguish of their dead sons, and those killed in the country of the enemy, those whom we usually dress as "collateral damage."

You could count a hundred aspects that did not have polish - instances of technical difficulties or processes thrown out into the open. For example, their program consisted of a few handwritten pages, photocopied and folded together. But, I discount this as a complaint for two reasons. With a performance about performance, I believe that you give them the benefit of the doubt - they do this intentionally, as if to say, "Here, we do this in this manner. This is all it is. This is how we manipulate this aspect of your experience." While this has long served as a refuge of the inept, I would not count Solista among their numbers. They seem too smart and too generous to hide in that argument. In fact, their generous spirit carries the piece. You feel like you've been invited into someone's home, and to complain about the wonderful time you have doesn't even occur to you.

In fact generosity forms the core of their explication of solo performance and its relationship to the audience. The center of the piece recasts the two potential endings of capital, either as catastrophe or a gift, as a question. If this holds, what must become of art? The artist has a choice - the work can end in catastrophe(if you think about catastrophe as remote, ask an Iraqi artist about the proximity of the end of the world) or as a gift. It can end as a gift to the audience, whether that audience is the king of Finland, or forty souls in Baltimore. This was a gift, and I am lucky to be in receipt of it.

It's also a gift that they give each audience. As such, it doesn't exits as a website, a video, or, as they would say, a documentary. Since documents make up the internet, it doesn't exist in a world of html. That would arrest its capacity to be a gift - to be something that only they can give to you and something for which you can actually thank the artist in person, as almost all the audience... I mean guests... did.

posted by Brian | 5:25:00 PM link |


2.19.2003

Congenital Syphilitic Madness

The Bush administration is quietly exploring updating the nation's nuclear arsenal. The proposed change in direction would provide more "tactical" weapons - i.e. weapons that no longer offer Mutually Assured Destruction, but offer the promise of field use. Perhaps it takes congenital syphilitic madness to make the logic of the cold war seem rational and (comparatively) comforting.

I anticipate that they will try 1) to avoid scrutiny as much as possible, and 2) attempt to sell us on the idea of an "anti-agent" bomb - one capable of destroying chemical and biological weapons stored underground or in undisclosed secure locations. The neutron bomb they describe was conceived as a weapon that would destroy all life in a target area while leaving valuable infrastructure and materiel intact. Much like treating a viral infection with chlorine bleach, the treatment's capacity to kill the pathogen doesn't bode well for the host. As lethal as these weapons are, they do not horrify as much as the clear intent to use them.

posted by Brian | 7:32:00 PM link |


2.18.2003

Ex Libris

I have recently moved to a city in desperate need of a good, independent, literary-minded bookstore. Our recent visit to New York City drove this fact home to me quite clearly, in the form of a visit to Three Lives and Company, a small book store in Greenwich Village. Square foot for square foot, it is one of the best bookstores I have ever encountered. Granted, it cannot compete with such behemoths as the Tattered Cover, The Hungry Mind, or Powell's in terms of volume, but no bookstore has made me want to read so much. On every shelf, I found at least three books that caught my eye. Given my condition, I exercised extraordinary control.

Why does this very small, indeed wee, bookstore usurp larger independents in my literary/ erotic pantheon? Why such ardor for this upstart? Simple. This bookstore focuses on what other stores, chains in particular, relegate to a handful of shelves: literature. It focused on authors who consciously deploy language in interesting ways in a a variety of genres. While I always have recourse to Amazon, you sometimes want the interaction of a physical bookstore and its denizens. Not only the interaction with the people, but the physical act of browsing ( so recently reduced to e-metaphor). Of late, I feel like I have had your palette dulled by the mostly bland pabulum available through the chain bookstores (or face it, the chain bookstore, where I was asked to spell Homage to Catalonia and the author's name). What an odd feeling then, to walk into a place where on every shelf I could find something I that strongly beckoned me.

If you visit the store, I recommend a late afternoon of a cold winter's day. That is when the warmth of the interior light appeals most to the chapped, raw, and generally over-stimulated senses. That is when the books will be most welcome company.

If you would like to see almost the entirety of the store, the cover photo of this excellent book features a photograph that conveys the feel of the bookstore and captures almost all of its physical interior. I am amazed at what you can do with so little space.

posted by Brian | 10:54:00 PM link |


2.07.2003

Under-reported, Smothered

The mainstream media seems intent on discounting any dissent. Last month they continued to under-report attendance at rallies opposing the impending war. Now, they discount the activities of over thirty members of the House of Representatives. A Republican and a Democrat have introduced a bill to repeal the President's blank check for war, yet the Washington Post, as well as most major media outlets have opted not to cover this story.

They have instead, opted to follow Collin Powell as he attempts to stoke the fires for war. Meanwhile, he is engaged in his own cover-up.

posted by Brian | 4:14:00 PM link |


2.06.2003

The (Pending) Corrections


Robert Brenner, the director of the Center for Social Theory and Comparative History at UCLA, has written a detailed analysis of the world economic crisis, the faltering US economy (in the context of the larger catastrophe), and the complicity of the governing bodies of American fiscal policy in creating multiple, dependent bubbles as bulwarks against the deflationary pressure from excess inventories. While this is, admittedly, very dry reading, I found that it clarified a great deal.

With a world economic picture that looks increasingly grim, the Bush administration has chosen to slake the urges of its revenge-seeking hawks, while appending another chapter in "the most spectacular acts of expropriation in the history of capitalism." The administration intends the war to distract us not only from the train wreck that is the global economic crisis, but also from the "stimulus package" that essentially seeks to re-inflate the bubble and continue the redistribution of wealth up the economic ladder. It essentially pays back the heaviest stockholders in Bush, Inc.

In fact, his stimulus plan consists of a war on terror that exposes us to more terror, and an economic plan that endangers the economy. What we must increasingly admit to ourselves, is that this President not only wages war overseas, but also at home.

posted by Brian | 6:51:00 PM link |


2.04.2003

Manhattan




Copper Wire Flower Map


Copper Wire Flowers


Copper wire flowers
Break the earth's cold skin.
Mineral intelligence knows
Only absolute poles
Of heat - sun above
And forge below.

But here is the miracle
Beyond the penny bright strands,
Whose motion is just like her hair,
A memory has a medium: copper or amber-
One, once liquid now glass
The other a buried, waiting arc.

Amber traps the quick
Memory of a soul, like an ant, holding it inert
A static gem waiting to be girded with silver
And placed on an alter -
Its subject locked in the struggle
Of its last work - a rote eternity.

But copper is potential
Lying beneath the earth.
And here on the edge of the sea and the city
I can feel the galvanic hum
Of ten million souls - their chorus of myths-
Their language an electric presence.

Walking into the new year
In Chinatown, a happy accident-
I feel the electric arcs that flow out from us all.
And I see that she had been here before me
Because she planted the copper flowers
That carry the current between us.

posted by Brian | 12:03:00 AM link |
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