1. A day in Athens, then the sea, so blue, you can see it with your eyes closed. See/sea. This is what Derek Jarmen was referring to in his film, his blue masterpiece by the same name. His masterpiece Blue. And Pierre Guyotat in Coma: “My eyes are full of that blue and the sweep of the shore seen from above.” And: “So, in this late autumn, that color, which I do not see but whose fishing and trafficking animates the coast over which I write, is already watchful, alive, in the increased darkening of my gaze. The resounding blue, a color of Antiquity, of The Book, of the perdition of History, of the horror of being alone in it.”
2. It took two and a half days to get back to this blue. Still in New York, knowing that made me weary. Plane, plane, train, boat.
3. To go to my favorite beach on day two also required a small boat, on which I sat beside the bare feet of the young man who stood and drove it, who talked to me, smiled, asked questions, smoked a cigarette. Later, I shut my eyes while swimming underneath the water, and the blue still struck through. Finally it was quiet and cold and free and I could sink down and plug up my ears with water. And then a empty little chapel at the top of a mountain, which I climbed and where I sat by myself, with a panorama of ocean to look at. The smell of wild sage. All blue. Everywhere blue. Everything blue. In this blue my blue feels tolerable. Slips into place. Lock and key. No voices. No people. Finally. Blue, water blue, is one way to get your energy back. To survive being alone.
4. Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime” (1984):
“Letting The Days Go By
Let The Water Hold Me Down
Into The Blue Again.”
5. My first summer in Provincetown, the tip of the Cape, in the open fist of the ocean: the first thing I did as soon as we pulled up in the car to the house we rented on 8 Law Street, after a 6 hour drive, was jump in the water. It was already getting dark. My mother and her friend, Charlotte, took me down to the bay across the street. I jumped in without even sussing the water out first. It was my favorite place for 14 years years straight. My mother spent every summer there when I was still a child making sure I wasn’t drowning. She isn’t a swimmer, my father and I are the swimmers. She sat onshore with a nervous expression on her face. Hand over her eyes to see how far out I’d gone. But she also always let me swim. I had no idea how young she actually was, only 28, and I am her only child. Her girl. I did know. I knew how beautiful she was. How tender. Always kind to me. But I also didn’t know. You can’t until you are an age, or older. I would swim in deep water, I would stay in all day. Until dark. I would go to the bottom and touch it. Alone, hours alone. I stayed in the water until I was blue in the face. My mother had to pull me out for dinner to eat. I was blue, but not dead. In fact, the blue, the blueness, is the only thing that makes me feel better, still. That heals all my wounds. That and love. At dinner, I would sit and eat with my bathing suit still on, begging for one more swim.
I fell in love for the first time in Provincetown, too, three years later. I was 10 and he was 12. We were both from the city, and we’d met once before at my friend’s house. Then one day he was in Provincetown, standing in line at the movie theater. My mother said, “go talk to him.” I am still shy about all this. Him. Saying hello to someone like that. Someone fated (in Chinese culture, there is a difference between destiny and fate. This difference is described by the untranslatable word, Yuanfen). This story is in “Diegesis (World of the Fiction)” from my first book Beauty Talk & Monsters. Five years after the book was published, last February, he sent me a private message on Facebook in the middle of the night, saying he’d been “somehow clicking around online and found my writing.” One essay in particular. "Somehow." An hour before, I’d woken up from a recurring nightmare about him. I’ve been having it once a year or so for fifteen years. Unable to sleep after that, I decided to Google him, something I’ve only done once or twice. What’s he up to, I wondered. Then his message at around the same time, which I found the next morning. In his note, he said he liked the piece he’d read, that it was “so on,” and he “just wanted to say that.” Much of the essay he read is about our shared New York childhood. But the unspoken message of his email is that in that essay, only a few lines in, I write about him being the first boy I ever loved. Something he’d never known outrightly, something I think he’s always needed to hear and which I regret not telling him, even though I had my reasons, so my admitting it, my putting it in writing where he could read it, was healing for him, I think. And him writing to me, finally, him reading it, was healing for me. I wrote “Diegesis” partly with that truce in mind for us. I wanted my own writing to be a witness to what had happened between us, because without putting it in writing we ran the risk, as every love story does, of “nothing had happened, generally, so it had been measureless” (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). A couple of emails in, we made a plan to meet, he suggested a coffee, I suggested a coffee or a drink, told him I’d be away for five months at artist residencies, then school. But ultimately we never did meet because he never responded after that. I don’t know why. He’s married now and has a little girl. But I think it might have been good for us. I think it would have given us some kind of peace. First loves need that, I think. I’d always hoped he’d find my (our) story one day. This is one of the powerful privileges of being a writer—you are building bridges. Roads to the past. Roads between times. When I went back to the essay he’d read and contacted me about, I remembered my confession about loving him and winced, still embarrassed after all these years. In one of his emails he said he was “still haunted by the past. Our past.” Said he wanted to understand it but then left it alone, again.
6. The blue of bliss, the bliss of blue. The red of sun, when I close my eyes. The fire of sun as it gets cooler. The fire of people. My fire, as I get cooler. Older. Maybe I used to need my fire more? But I don’t know my own fire the way others do, who have always thought I’m hotter than I am. Can I feel my own heat? No, but I feel my blue. I do my best to regulate it. Both the heat and the chill. Maybe I underestimated the cool down that happens over time. The shade. Mistaking it for complacency and never ever wanting to be complacent even though I need a lot of solitude. Or an away-ness from certain people and ways of living. Being alone, or not quite immersed in the world as it is, or at all, is one way to be in the shade. Rousseau going to an island in Switzerland in Reveries of the Solitary Walker to breed rabbits and study flowers. The sun hit him that hard.
7. Saudade: “A deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return. It’s related to the feelings of longing, yearning. Saudade has been described as a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist … a turning towards the past or towards the future…A stronger form of saudade may be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover, or a family member who has gone missing. It may also be translated as a deep longing or yearning for something that does not exist or is unattainable.”
8. What is true friendship, true love, I ask myself as I climb out of the water on my third day here. New beach, a rocky cove.
I think I heard Susan Sarandon say this once in some interview about a silly Jennifer Lopez/Richard Gere dance movie she was in, and I thought she was right: true friendship and true love is about witnessing and being witnessed. Being a witness to someone’s beingness. Taking note of how another—your other—lives. What it means for them to live, and vice versa. How one lives with another, for another, in another.
9. If, as an astrologer told me just before I left New York for my trip abroad, I “do everything backwards,” “opposite,” (because I don’t want children, because I got married to M., as a kid, instead of now, as an adult, etc) then this explains why almost everyone I meet, everyone I’ve had any romantic involvement with for the past two years, is younger. All these super young men. The older ones are so closed up and jaded, the young ones, too, but for cultural rather than chronological reasons. The world’s cynicism, rather than any particular person or disappointment in their life, afflicts them, wears them down, ages them. For the longest time I couldn’t understand why I went from being a person who always gravitated towards older people—friends and lovers—and then suddenly everyone around me was younger. It’s because I started off old—older—extremely careful, rooted. Passionate, but cautious. All or nothing. And now I am working my way back to real love by going in reverse. Getting younger, unsettled, less rooted. Maybe not less, but reticent and careful in a different way, about different things. Levity is not always in numbers. Sometimes its direction. Progression. “The further one goes, the less one knows” (Blue).
10. Sea of faith. Faith in sea.
11. “Blue stretches. Is awake:”
12. On the beach. Starring at nothing all day. Starring at everything all day.
13. “Blue an open door to soul” (Blue).
14. On the immoral moral (my term), which is almost everyone. Which is here, too, the other night (Night #2). Even though I am try my best to live my life in a just way, to be just towards others, to do what’s just, I am often told I don’t know how to “behave.” The disgusting tell me I don’t know how to behave. The liars tell me I don’t know how to behave. The chauvinists and womanizers tell me I don’t know how to behave. The women who hate women tell me I don’t know how to behave. The selfish tell me I don’t know how to behave. The cynical and uncritical tell me I don’t know how to behave. The people who don’t know a fucking thing about love or how to treat people tell me I don’t know how to behave. On my second night here (and I have since not gone out at night. I’m waiting for Elaine to come and rescue me), I go out to dinner with a guy, M., a hotel owner on the island who rents me my room, and from whom I rented last summer, too. We were good friends and spent a lot of time together. But this summer things are different. Numerous people end up crashing our dinner, including his yoga teacher, and this aging, alcoholic Norwegian womanizer and sociopath, T., who spent last summer trying to seduce me in the most bizarre and psychotic ways. Long story short: I said no way, go to hell (he needed and deserved the go-to-hell part), and he said and did a number of outrageous things to me in return, one of which was to tell everyone on the island (including his young teenage daughters with whom I spent some time) that I was a crazy slut and had tried to seduce him. He also told this to a woman (a neighbor in Norway) his age that he ended up having a 3 day sexual tryst with once fucking me proved impossible. A woman he paid no attention to whatsoever when he was still hunting for me. Hunting being the operative word.
The yoga instructor, who teaches on Amorgos during the summer, is “renowned all over the world” apparently. I end up fighting with her. It’s bad enough T. came to dinner uninvited despite the way he treated me last summer. I can’t help running into him on this small island, but at the very least I should be able to decide if I want to have dinner with him. M. could have asked, as I’ve told him numerous times that I never want to see T. again. I was already upset that he’d sent T. to pick me up at the ferry the night I arrived to the island on the boat. It was 2 am and I saw T. standing in the shadows. I thought he was there to pick up someone else, but I still ducked and went the other way. The next morning M. told me that he had asked T. to help me with my luggage. Of all the fucking people to send to my aid, especially when I never asked for help. I was a pool of sweat by the time I dragged my suitcase up the hill to my room, but I would have rather died than accept anything from T.
At one point the yoga instructor snaps (she’d been snapping at me all night about everything I said, and I’d never even met her before): “Yoga is not about showing off. Yoga is about the spirit.” She’d been correcting me all night. This holy woman, with her silicone face and glistening lips the size of I don’t know what, and whose every word is a fucking New Age platitude, calls herself Soul. Yoga is not for showing off (I never said it was. I could care less about the way the West has appropriated yoga, except that it pisses me off that it has), but a face and breasts are for slicing open and injecting? I guess she gets to decide what is and what is not for showing off. What is and is not spiritual. For me, the body and face are spiritual, too. I tell her she’s been talking to me all night like she is my mother, except my mother has never talked to me like that. She explodes. “You are so aggressive. Go take a bath. Chill out,” she barks. Her face is in my face, and she is pointing her forefinger at me when she says this.
The night turns into Reality TV. This yogi is primed for a fight. She’s been waiting to have one with me all night. I say, “And you’re not aggressive? Aggressive people always accuse other people of being aggressive. Is this how yoga instructors talk to people? Go get some more plastic surgery.” She is up in arms about the last thing I say, not because she hasn’t gotten tons of work done on her face, but precisely because she has and I have called her face on it. The stupid, frozen expressions she’s been making all night, the grotesque pouts, while she condescendingly lectures everyone—mostly me—about being evolved. It wasn’t my proudest moment, no, but I meant it. I’d been thinking it. Was in disbelief over her face. The content vs. the form. What she was saying versus the way she looked. I am after all a person to whom faces are everything. I still believe in the value of faces (not the commercial value), now more than ever, as real faces are dying all around us. Why can’t I say that a certain kind of face bothers me, especially when I am being attacked? You think I am aggressive? I think your face is aggressive. There are different ways to be affronted. There are different ways to be full of shit. In The Smiths’ song, “You’ve Got Everything Now,” Morrissey sings, “And did I ever tell you, by the way, I never did like your face?” Well, I told her. Morrissey sings about hating a face the way some people hate someone’s guts.
Soul had been an asshole to me all night, had some beef with me from the start, and even when she told me to “take a bath” (I think she meant take a swim? The bar we were at was on the beach), I tried to avoid the argument. When T. heard me tell Soul to go get more plastic surgery, he jumped in for his big moment. “Did you hear what she said to you!?” he asked incredulously. This sick fuck suddenly has morals and boundaries. M. slinks away from the table, drink in hand, straw in mouth, like a child. I respond to T. with, “Do you remember what you did to me last summer? The things you said? How dare you say anything to me?.” T., like a true sociopath, who doesn’t have his own moral compass needs other people to “witness” his crimes and transgressions in order for them to exist, smirks, “Prove it. There are no witnesses.” Of course there were witnesses. M. was a witness, even confronting T. at one point last summer, and screaming at him in the middle of a bar about being a liar when T. accused me of chasing him and feeling scorned due to his rejection of me. T.’s daughters were witnesses, too. T., who crashed my dinner with M. has the gall to tell me “You are not wanted at this table.” I tell him that if he says another fucking word to me, I will punch him in the face. He looks pleased and scared at the same time. This is his victorious moment. He consoles Soul, who is still up in arms. After all, he might get to fuck her, so why not. “Why did you tell my to go get plastic surgery?” Soul keeps asking. Why do you think? I want to say, but don’t. Another older French woman in her 50s, A., an islander, defends T. Says he is a good man and a good friend, and then accuses me of trying to seduce M. all night. WHAT???? “We’ve been talking about it all night,” she hisses. “This is not the way women behave in Greece. You don’t know how to behave.” At this point, even M. is in disbelief. “What are you talking about, A.?” He asks, dumbstruck. But A. keeps insisting. Do they realize they are practically talking to a monk, who has spent her whole life staying out of things. Looking for true love. What is all of this—this fury—really about?
First of all, what A. says about me and M. is just nonsense. These men are old enough to be my father, I have no interest in either T. or M., I rarely have any interest in anyone, and I was just talking to M. that night, like I was talking to everyone else. Lastly, what business is it of anyone’s even if I was? M. isn’t married, and in fact he was interested in me last summer, but unlike T., had the decency to know it wasn’t reciprocated and respected that. T. lashes out, “You are educated but you don’t know how to behave. This is what you are like. You are a loser.” If behaving is not telling the truth, then fine, I don’t know how to behave. Especially with people like T. and Soul. And why am I the loser, but this 50+ year old lying lowlife scumbag isn’t? What followed was much worse and involved everyone ganging up on me for insane reasons. Some random guys at the bar defended me, telling me not to “fall with the rotten fruit. To be strong because you are better. These people have cabin fever. They have nothing better to do on this island, and they’re drunk.” Other drunk male assholes called me an “angry woman.” I left the bar alone. Better stick to nature. I didn’t come here to get eaten alive. But, I wonder, have always wondered: why are the so-called “spiritualists,” the Souls of the world, always the biggest assholes? Why do the most “evolved” people defend the worst people? Why do women always defend misogynists? Why do so many women gang up on women (I know the answer to this, but it still shocks me). Why is a strong young woman, traveling alone, still so suspect? Why does it bring out the village mob in people? The immoral moral.
15. “What a terrible mess I’ve made of my life.” (The Smiths).
16. “In the pandemonium of image, I present you with the universal Blue” (Blue).
17. Auden: “Words are for those with promises to keep.” This digital age hasn’t got a clue about what it means to say things to people. I used to ask people (lovers) to tell me things, but I don’t do that anymore. Warning: no one should say anything to me that they don’t mean. Good or bad. I get attached to and hung up on words. Words are actions. Don’t say you miss me. Don’t say you can’t live without me. Don’t say you need me. Don’t say you love me unless you mean it and want me to believe you. Unless you want me to carry it around with me for the rest of my life. I am married to everything and I can’t help but remember. Can’t help but care. And just the way words kill me, words save me. So don’t say something unless you mean it and know what it means to mean something.
18. “Use your time just to work things out” (Maximo Park).
19. The road to blue. “One can know the whole world without stirring abroad.” (Blue).
One can know nothing despite stirring abroad.
When people ask me what I like about you (X.), I’m not sure I know the answer. Or I’m not sure I can talk about it. Or I do know the answer, but they’re not things I can explain, or that matter to other people. In my head I know it’s partly because you are still wild. Meaning, you haven’t been completely socialized or socially brainwashed yet. That doesn’t mean you don’t have other bad tapes running through your head. But you’re not a fake, in the way that becoming (a) fake is like an American rite of passage these days. You still do and say the things you’re not supposed to do and say. You still act the way people are not supposed to act. You still feel things that people have stopped feeling, and your feelings show—they are all over your face—even when you don’t want them to. You are like a character in a movie and you make me feel like I am one too. You know—the kind of interesting, guarded, passionate chip-on-her shoulder misunderstood woman that people—men—only like in the movies. You don’t ask me to change. You don’t tell me what’s wrong with me. You don’t try to correct my behavior. You innately understood me. In other words, I think you knew me the moment you saw me. I think I knew you, too. Of course I could be wrong about all of this.
The old life of New York City subways (I remember some of this) is one of my favorite things about old New York. Lost New York. My parents’ New York. An artist’s New York. Working class and middle class New York. A New York of racial, ethnic, and class diversity. Scratches and shadows, empty lots and rubble. Neighborhoods. Abandoned piers and warehouses. River. Skyline. Bodies. Ages. All the ages we got rid of. The time-jump of time. The time-jump of trains. In trains. Maybe everything is a love story if you’re a lover. No matter who. Now New York is a painted body scrubbed clean. Washed off. Washed out. That’s lost its inscriptions, carved metal bark. Like no one was or is ever there. Here. How do we know where we are? We don’t. What do people want to remember? Nothing. All these people on these cave drawing subway cars, like they’re sitting in paintings that move.
Source: Erik Calonius / EPA via Business Insider
Every time I travel abroad there is something that really surprises me. In some countries more than others. And it is this: even when young Americans are sweet (this is mostly a generational problem now), they are not really sweet because they have been spoiled and degraded by a cynical and pervasive (invasive) culture. They can’t even help it at this point. It’s just in them. Even sweet people are somehow ruined. Emptied out. Drained of ideals and idealism. They say they want something, but they don’t honor it with action. With the way they live. Here in Greece, it’s somehow different. People are underpaid and depressed, living in a depressed economy, and yet somehow a few key things are left in tact. Ways of being human remain human.
At the Acropolis Museum in Athens, while writing on my computer and ordering food at the museum cafe, my waiter asks me where I’m from. I tell him New York. Of course this excites him, as it excites everyone abroad when I tell them this. New York is a world superstar. I want to dispel the myth and give him the reality, but I also don’t want to kill his “dream.” We chat about how it’s his fantasy to live in New York one day.
When he brings me my food, he tells me it’s on him. I refuse. He insists. I can’t bear the idea that this guy, Nikos, probably makes no money all day and will use part of his pay to subsidize my meal. I say no over and over. He smiles and keeps insisting. “No,” he says. “You are perfect. You are good.” He emphasizes the word good. Of all the things to say. Of all the things to comment on. He smiles. He looks exhausted. Sad underneath his kindness. Then he brings me other things he wants me to try. Local dishes that are on him, he says.
He smiles and is chatty and open in a way that I am not used to, but love. Crave. My country’s young are not like this. They are slick and aloof and guarded and cynical and opportunistic and savvy—used to everything. Worst of all, they are way too professional. Even when they don’t want to be, which makes it even more heartbreaking. They are longing to connect but aren’t built to connect. They throw words around but they can’t handle what they mean. They never stick to their words and their words never stick to them. They want to feel, but mostly they can’t. Mostly they play at feeling. Their feelings are from the outside in, not from the inside out. They love you one day and don’t care the next. Nothing has a lifespan. They can take or leave anything and anyone. They want to be different, but can only be the way they are already.
Maybe everyone everywhere is like this now.
By the ocean, I feel like maybe I have a chance to not lose my mind. I think of Derek Jarman’s words: “Blue is love that lasts forever.”
Something You Ain't Doing Right Is Haunting You At Home
Sunday, July 15, 2012
Walking home tonight, rain finally comes but the humidity still doesn’t budge. It’s hard to breathe, but I am happy to be home for a few days, even in this heat, and with little time. I tell myself that if I get the big grant I applied for I can leave New York. I can leave America, too. But then I realize that I don’t know where to go until I meet the person I can go with. Until I have love because love is the home I’m really looking for. The real reason to leave this time. I can’t take off alone anymore because I’m not just waiting to leave, I’m waiting for someone to leave with. Someone to leave for. Someone to go to. Someone to stay with. This has not always been the case, as I’ve traveled my whole life, on long journeys, alone, and still go somewhere every year. Or maybe it has always been the case. Only where before I left to find something/someone, now I need to find someone/something in order to leave. This time I am running to stop. I think I’ve ended up with a loneliness most people start off with. Eventually it catches up with everyone. An astrologer tells me: “You do everything backwards.” I wonder what backwards is. I wonder what everything is.
“And everyone will say you’ve missed your chance.
But you go out in the night till you got no place to go
Something you ain’t doing right is haunting you at home.”
“One may just as well dare to be plain and say that not knowing is not only not knowing what one is, but also where one is, and what change to wait for, and how to know, when it seems as if something is moving, which apparently was not moving before, what it is that is moving, that was not moving before, and so on.”
In the documentary America in Primetime, which I wrote about last week, everyone happily reports that TV has come a long way from its 1950s origins, which were “fake,” “unrealistic,” and “out of touch” with the way things really are. With the way things really were. Every program ended with some tidy conclusion, they say. Some epiphanal or redemptive moment. But today, every obedient, calculating, opportunistic, divisive, fame-hungry, media savvy Reality TV contestant sums up their so-called “meaningful” and “life-changing” experience on TV with: “I’ve learned so much and I am so much stronger because of this.” It didn’t take 50 years for TV to catch up with reality. It took 50 years for Americans to completely lose touch with reality. Before TV was not like real people, but now real people are not like real people. They are like TV. This is a much bigger problem.
If love is also a politics of resistance, then certain kinds of anger go together with love. Today, in an email, L. writes about being a feminist kill joy, which is what I’ve been feeling like all the time lately, and writing about, too. But I am also angry with myself for how quickly I let go of the feeling that I am loved. I need a love so deep and lasting that I can’t forget. A love that lets me live with and bear my anger.
“Gotta get mad to make that shit stop. Gotta be a killjoy.
I used to be so good at wearing my sadness on my sleeve. At being true to my anger. At not hiding anything. Not compromising. Saying exactly what I think. But how many times can you lose everything. Everyone. As a woman, in America, in the 21st century (and I can really only talk about my own time and place), the risk of alienation and disapproval is near-constant. Because the line between being liked and accepted and being shunned and hated is so thin and precarious. It literally depends upon how fake and placating and “positive” you are required and willing to be. Because apparently having any kind of critical mind these days (and not just on paper, although on paper isn’t exactly encouraged either), and expressing yourself, has somehow become synonomous with being a bad or difficult person. The front is so much more important than who you actually are. So you can be an asshole as long as you smile and have a good time while being an asshole. But you can’t say what you think and feel and still be thought of as a good person. You are forced to choose between popularity and honesty. Integrity and approval. You aren’t allowed to have both. To be both.
In this country, if you have anything to say, if you step out of line, if you complain or criticize or disagree with anything or anyone, you are immediately written off as difficult, a bitch, a drama queen, a threat. If you speak out against things, or even for them—passionately—it doesn’t matter if you’re a decent person. It doesn’t matter what your other good qualities are. It only matters if you smile and get along, even if getting along is not real getting along. Most especially if getting along is not real getting along. Is not love, is not honesty, is not vulnerability, is not truth, is not understanding, is not open, is not close, is not risk, is not work, is not change. There is no space for an incident-specific reaction. In an interview bell hooks once said that if your mind is decolonized in a colonized world then it becomes very difficult to live in the world.
Sara Ahmed, “Feminist Killjoys (and other willful subjects)”:
“We can consider the relationship between the negativity of the figure of the feminist killjoy and how certain bodies are ‘encountered’ as being negative. Marilyn Frye argues that oppression involves the requirement that you show signs of being happy with the situation in which you find yourself. As she puts it, “it is often a requirement upon oppressed people that we smile and be cheerful. If we comply, we signify our docility and our acquiescence in our situation.” To be oppressed requires that you show signs of happiness, as signs of being or having been adjusted. For Frye ‘anything but the sunniest countenance exposes us to being perceived as mean, bitter, angry or dangerous.”
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
In “The Independent Woman,” the second episode in the PBS documentary America in Primetime, American actresses (almost entirely white) like Mary Tyler Moore, Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Felicity Huffman are interviewed about their famous TV roles. Every single one of them, except for Roseanne Barr, who politcizes her role on television, her desire to be on television, and her relationship to race, class, gender, and body image) insist:
We weren’t trying to be political. We weren’t trying to be feminists. We weren’t trying to be subversive. We weren’t trying to stand on a soapbox. We weren’t trying to pave the way for other women. We weren’t trying to be strong, We weren’t trying to change anything. Women can’t do it all. Women can’t have it all. Women don’t want it all.
Don’t worry, these television icons assure us, we’re not feminists and we never were. This is the very soothing message being communicated to America 60+ years after the inception of television. It is hard to imagine a group of male actors saying the same thing about men on TV:
Men can’t have it all. Men can’t do it all. Men don’t want it all. We weren’t trying to be men. We weren’t trying to be strong. We weren’t trying to be outspoken or independent.
What women want, the women writers, directors, producers, and actors in America in Primetime, explain, is the right to be “flawed” and “imperfect.” To rebel against the sanitized representations of American womanhood in the 1950s. But when have women ever been treated as perfect in our society? Submissive and incompetent, yes. One-dimensional and marginal, yes. Perfect really means silent and secondary. It does not mean that women haven’t been put down and degraded for centuries for their so-callled imperfections. That is to say, for the way they don’t—as a sex, the lesser sex—measure up to men. Being put on a pedestal is simply less-than sublimated as higher-than. But is fighting for the right to be “just as fucked-up”— imperfect—as men what feminism has been reduced to? Is feminism about accessing dominant power or eschewing it? Is it about the right to be different or the right to be exactly the same? Is role reversal the best we can do in the year 2012?
When it comes to men, the construction is reversed from the start: men are allowed to have it all to the degree that they have never been required to make the distinction or calculation between something, nothing, and everything—let alone justify the desire for, or the right to, the total and the whole. It is because men are permitted to be and have everything (I am talking, of course, about the straight white male norm here. The norm we see and hear represented) that they complain when they are actually expected to be accountable to that totality and wholeness. The desire is to signify power and entitlement, but cut corners when it actually comes to being accountable and involved in everything (the monetary, emotional, sexual, domestic, and spiritual). And what is “having it all” or “doing it all” mean anyway? It seems that both the question and the answer have always been not just about the relation between genders, but the relation between the concept of gender and its relation to entitlement itself. Last spring, for example, a male Tarot card reader warned me that as a woman artist simply wanting anything other than a writing life was impossible and would lead to a lifetime of suffering. It wasn’t enough that I told him that I don’t want children, or even marriage necessarily, or that I “suffer” precisely from feeling like writing is all I am allowed to have. Being anything other than one thing as a woman (no male artist is told this, even though it is no secret that male artists have historically not been able to balance their art with their personal lives either. However, they continue to believe that they can have both, without actually having to attend to both, precisely because they are not expected to do both) is perceived as unrealistic and greedy—the source of all gender trouble. When I told the Tarot reader that in addition to my writing I also want true and lasting love, which is radically different from simply wanting a man or a relationship, he was dismissive. Real love as opposed to just being in a relationship means that no one gets to just be or have a man or just be or have a woman. Real love is about being radically opened up from the inside out, not enacting roles. If it were just about having a man, I would already have a man, as just having a man would reduce me to just being—playing— a woman.
When men work and have families is that considered having it all? Is it even a question that belongs to what it means to think of oneself as a man? If we apply this question to all men, it is the construct of masculinity that begins to crumble, and not whether men are allowed to have both a professional life and a personal life at the same time. At this point this is a given right for all men, regardless of race, class, and sexuality. Nor is it a problem (or it’s largely a problem when it is men of color) when men aren’t physically present as fathers and husbands. When male actors and rock stars are on the road 180 days out of the year, when they rarely see their kids, rarely see their wives, rarely participate in their domestic lives or responsibilities, does it make them feel guilty, the way women always lament that it makes them feel guilty when they go to work instead of staying home? The way that women always talk about how being working mothers goes hand in hand with shame and guilt. Do working husbands and fathers feel this much guilt? Do they work less? Do they stop being film stars and rock stars and businessmen? Are they pressured to choose between work and family? Between fame and family? Between artistic life and family life? Between their sexuality and their work? Do journalists and talk show hosts ask them these kinds of questions? Do they wonder if they should give up their work to stay at home? Do they tell themselves they can’t have it all? That they have too much? Do they ask themselves if they give enough? Love enough? Are they made to wonder why most men are still allowed to be absent in some way—to merely signify presence?
Judging by conservative family-values Reality TV shows like Super Nanny, the majority of men, whether working class or upper class, white men, or men of color (although people of color are almost never featured on the show), are still only expected to be breadwinners. If men are asked to do more, they feel they are being put upon, stretched beyond their limits, feminized, sent “mixed signals”—required to be “everything”—by the castrating side-effects of the women’s movement. It’s no longer enough, men complain, to be a “Man” with a capital M.
The very notion of having it all has only ever been applicable to women, for whom the public and the private, the personal and the political, the inner and the outer, are to this day still fundamentally irreconcilable. In post-20th century America you can’t even want everything, much less have everything. Women themselves are quick to point out that mixing both the professional and personal is an impossible ideal, one that they are giving up on. In America in Primetime, Shonda Rhimes, a black woman and the creator and writer of Grey’s Anatomy, states that for female surgeons like Meredith Grey (white) and Cristina Yang (Korean), “love is elusive” and the “fairytale impossible.” Yet is the source of Don Draper’s anguish on Mad Men the fact that he has an ambitious career and a family? Or is the shame all his own; so self-oriented and lawless it gives him a constant out: to have, but not want, everything. To possess everything, while also living with the option of having more of whatever and whomever else he wants, whenever he wants it. Is Draper’s self-loathing and self-destructiveness simultaneously a foil and a vehicle for all of his transgressions and faults? That is, we need the faults for the transgressions and the transgressions for the faults. Is Draper’s real torment and appeal having to answer for things men didn’t have to answer for in the past? That is, the reality of the man who has to be accountable (in 2012) with the reality of the man who didn’t have to (in the 1960s).
Of course Draper’s retro-chauvinistic inner anguish (though with all those ridiculous and smug facial expressions Draper/Hamm makes, it is hard to imagine there is anything inside other than self-satisfaction), the glamor of having it all and the tragedy of fucking it up—a very old story— would have no cultural validity if it weren’t coming from the current imagination and anxieties of contemporary American life, as it continues to lick its wounds from feminism and laments the loss of real American manhood, economic prosperity, and traditional family values. Mourning the men America has lost to feminism, immigration, and global capitalism—the men who have been wounded, crippled, displaced, and disoriented by social change—Don Draper is a man from the future (from today) sent back to the past. And, conversely, a man from the past sent to the future. The two men meet in the present—ours—in order to bond over their recontextualized, or more precisely, de-temporalized panic, and as an excuse to luxuriate in the nostalgic time-travel of a regressive gender and national politics.
In the retro-enthused (retro diners, retro cars) web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld and Joel Hodgson confirm the deep-seated nostalgia for the unrestricted retro-masculinity that is at play in Mad Men while driving to a New Jersey diner in a 1963 Sea Blue VW Karmann-Ghia.
Joel Hodgson: Mad Men is so great, still. I’m still in the middle of it.
Jerry Seinfeld: Yeah, I love it. We were on to that in the 80s.
Joel Hodgson: That’s all we wanted. That was all we wanted—to be advertising guys in the 60s.
Jerry Seinfeld: That’s right.
Joel Hodgson: We used to talk about that all the time (Hodgson and Seinfeld say “all the time” at the exact same time. That’s apparently how deep the Mad Men fantasy goes for men of all generations, but particularly Baby Boomers).
Joel Hodgson: Drinkin’ at lunch.
Jerry Seinfeld: Yup.
Joel Hodgson: Having a bar in your office.
Jerry Seinfeld: Yup.
Joel Hodgson: Is that like a shared dream of all guys our age? (both Hodgson and Seinfeld are in their fifties).
Jerry Seinfeld: Of course it is.
Joel Hodgson: And the sexual revolution was all tied up in that.
Jerry Seinfeld: Yup. I mean, that’s what the sports cars were all about. Women will give this to you (presumably “this” is sex?) if you have the right accessories.
Seinfeld and Hodgson arrive at a 1950s diner in New Jersey for coffee and breakfast.
Jerry Seinfeld: It’s another 50s diner. Why are we looking back all the time? This diner is about looking backward, right? So why are we looking back?
Hodgson’s admission that he’s “still in the middle of Mad Men” is indicative of what is morally and ideologically at stake for both of these men, which is not simply a favorite TV show, or entertainment, but a relationship to male authority, permissiveness, and an American past that precedes the social reforms of feminism. As young men coming up in the entertainment industry in the 1980s, Hodgson and Seinfeld—both white male Baby Boomers—longed to be mad men themselves: powerful, rich, and totally unrestricted.
For women the myth and rhetoric of everything isn’t simply or specifically about being at home and being at work, but rather: and instead of either/or. Plurality vs. singularity. Even the binary itself is homogenized, as choosing work over and in addition to being a wife and mother is morally always the lesser choice. So while The Good Wife is about a working woman—a litigator played by Julianna Margulies—its title is haunted by the specter of the either/or binary and impossible female ideal. On TV men want to be free to be juvenile and ambivalent—partially absent, partially present, neither here nor there. However, when they are treated that way (Everybody Loves Raymond, The Simpsons, Family Guy,Married With Children, The Honeymooners, The King of Queens), they feel as though they have been emasculated and ball-busted by their castrating, ungrateful, disapproving, “macho” wives (see also the movie Falling Down, 1993). This of course becomes a vicious cycle, as this gives men comedic and dramatic license—“relief”—to act even more juvenile, incompetent, and ambivalent. Since you treat me like a baby, I act like a baby. Instead of: because I act like a baby, you treat me like one, and can’t rely on me as a human being, much less a husband or father.
On TV, men want to be authority figures without being in control, or to be in control without being responsible or accountable. To be men while acting like boys, to be in power without doing anything to command it, other than simply and emptily signifying it. The flip-side of “women having it all,” the so-called mixed signals of feminism and 21st century life in general, is the “burdensome” and “conflicting” (rather than thinking of it as expansive and integrated, it is treated as contradictory) things that men “have” to be now as a result of those advancements—the “everything” (plurality) that men have to now live up to, which is what Big Love was actually about. On Big Love, the multiple wives were less about Mormonism or polygamy and more about the supposedly impossible demands and appetites of modern women. Polygamy was merely a cover for a much more reactionary sentiment: the varied pressures that women put on men in contemporary life.
Just as Sex and the City’s so-called smorgasbord of men was merely foil for the one man (Mr. Big. Can you get more Freudian?) Carrie Bradshaw not only wanted (a man who was such a Big Bad Daddy, silent-type throwback of a man, he wouldn’t even tell Carrie his name), but who invalidated any of the supposed sexual liberation Carrie was indulging in, as well as the reformed modern men she was dating and having sex with (recall the show’s Aidan vs. Mr. Big plotline). Mr. Big, it can be argued, was Carrie’s narrative punishment—the shadow on her consumer-based, have-it-all freedom. He is, the show tells us, the man women really want, the man women truly deserve, the man women always go back to and leave the Nice Guy for. The man who will not be changed, who won’t give you what you want, who will not bend to your or feminism’s will—he’s that strong—so you will have to change (back) for him. You will have to retro-reform.
While women are apparently still battling—in others and in themselves (as they’ve thoroughly internalized the binary. The broken record of everything rhetoric)—to acquire the permission to even imagine themselves as sexual beings, mothers, and working women (though as bell hooks has pointed out, women of color have historically always worked) all at the same time, let alone anything other than or alternative to a white heteronormative ideal, men cannot part with the split-legacy of signifying multi-dimensionality while actually only living and practicing one-dimensionality. While women have had to evolve not only their conceptions of themselves, but also their conceptions of men (men can be aggressive and sensitive, weak and strong, providers and caretakers), according to America in Primetime, the majority of American men are still lamenting the “good old days” of the 1950s and the paradigm of “father knows best” (the first series in the PBS documentary happens to be called “Man of the House”). One could make the argument that everything on TV, with the exception of some of the long-lost class, race, and gender consciousness of American TV in the 70s, has always been possessed by some specter of this supposed loss and ideal (see Six Feet Under. Despite being dead at the onset of the show, the father literally haunted the Fisher family as the ghost of the Father). If, as it is touted, television is now more in touch with real American life than ever, we are really in trouble.
"One more thing that I forgot to tell you, when I wrote you about Odysseus and Penelope.
The first creature that truly recognizes Odysseus when he comes home, when he
arrives in Ithaca is: his dog, Argos.
The dog that recognizes. Dog that loves. Has been loving and waiting and believing all this time. It’s such a sad and beautiful scene, because after twenty years, Argos is very old, very tired, sick. But in that last instant he recognizes that his human has come home; he’s happy. Odysseus isn’t able to greet him as his master, because that would give away his identity, but he’s moved by the scene, secretly cries. And when Odysseus leaves his side, the dog finally passes peacefully away.”
And this, that same night, while I was reading in bed: Kafka on being a dog in “Investigations of a Dog:”
“How, indeed, without these breathing spells, could I have fought my way through the age that I enjoy at present; how could I have fought my way through to the serenity with which I contemplate the terrors of youth and endure the terrors of age; how could I have come to the point where I am able to draw the consequences of my admittedly unhappy, or, to put it more moderately, not very happy disposition, and live almost entirely in accordance with them? Solitary and withdrawn, with nothing to occupy me save my hopeless but, as far as I am concerned, indispensable little investigations, that is how I live; yet in my distant isolation I have not lost sight of my people, news often penetrates me, and now and then I even let news of myself reach them. The others treat me with respect but do not understand my way of life; yet they bear me no grudge, and even young dogs whom I sometimes see passing in the distance, a new generation of whose childhood I have only a vague memory, do not deny me a reverential greeting. For it must not be assumed that, for all my peculiarities, which lie open to the day, I am so very different from the rest of my species. Indeed when I reflect on it…I see that dogdom is in every way a marvelous institution.”
These tweets on creative anxiety and the performance of failure in the digital age were originally going to be in a sequel to LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film. But in the end I decided not to do a second volume.
Writers only write about their failure—about being failures—when they’re no longer failures. Otherwise,
the narrative of failure wouldn’t work.
Oct 5, 2:12 PM
I wonder how the internet has affected creative anxiety and self-doubt. I know artists have
always been plagued by it,
Oct 10, 7:52 PM
but I think having to hear about what everyone is doing and saying and thinking every minute
about what they are doing and making has made things infinitely worse.
Oct 10, 7:53 PM
We’ve lost the valuable feeling of being away from things. Of being removed. Of hermitage. Of
waiting. Of keeping things in before you let them out.
Oct 10, 7:54 PM
Of when to and when not to. The anxiety of influence has become something new. Something public. With the hypervaluation
Oct 10, 7:55 PM
of the private, you are successful based on how public you manage to be. How public you are
with your private.
Oct 10, 7:56 PM
“Is it possible to tell, when the knight of the courtly novel is in his catatonic state, whether he is deep in his black hole or already astride the particles that will carry him out of it to begin a new journey?…Cannot the knight, at certain times and under certain conditions, push the movement further still, crossing the black hole, breaking through the white wall…even if the attempt may backfire.”
I watched House of Flying Daggers tonight. A mixture of martial arts, melodrama, Chinese folklore, Romeo and Juliet, Arthurian legend, and screwball comedy, House of Flying Tigers is pure allegory and much of it is too much, bordering on kitsch. Which made me think about the whole idea of too much and why we need it, and why we’re so sure these days that we don’t need it. Don’t need anyone and don’t need anything. Why we think everyone and everything can be replaced. But what is too much? Who is too much? How much is too much? And why have we become so resigned emotionally when it comes to our lives? When it comes to true love, which we can somehow only bear to watch in movies.
What is interesting about the hyperbolic fight sequences of Wuxia films is the way they slow things down, zoom into motion, expanding, lengthening, and freezing it. Forcing us to see what we cannot see. Making people move in ways they cannot move. Live in ways they cannot live, making Wuxia a subjunctive genre. Wuxia films give us the spatiality of emotion and the emotion of space. Heightening where we bear to see things, bear to do things, bear to live.
In movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, and House of Flying Daggers, people see and feel each other regardless of proximity, that is, without actually having to be near each other. Characters can hear each other whisper from a hundred feet away. When people are far away, they are close. When they are close, they are far away. Far and close at the same time. Blades, daggers, and swords fly in the direction of emotional force, not in the direction they are thrown. Distances are reversed: far and close are close and far. Seasons are ubiquitous. Summer and winter happen at the same time. Forests slip into forests, creating layers of green. Green on green. Eyes are irrelevant, you see without them. Characters do what they can do and what they cannot do. Inner struggles and states are physically depicted through impossible action and movement. The body_ can do anything_. Is everywhere at the same time. Lovers say goodbye, but then always return. Lovers go one way, then turn back around. People are undone by each other’s faces. Undone by each other. You can’t forget. There isn’t someone else. Distance is transgressed (traveled) by how far you are willing to go and how far you have gone. What you are willing to do—what you will yourself to do—makes you able to run across trees. And of course there is the impossible green everywhere. The everything, always, of green.
In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari write: “The hands of a clock foreshadow something.” Because of cinema, the home of the face, the clock and the face go together. The hands on the face of a clock, the clock on the hours of a face. The clock is a destiny in the same way that a face is. Both Bergman’s and Fellini’s films are one long clock. Fellini loves the sound of wind howling, which is time passing. Loves it the way Bergman loves a ticking clock. It’s the time we’re up against, and in, and out of. A camera is a hole that captures a face. “This is the face as seen from the front, by a subject who does not so much see as get snapped up by black holes. This is the figure of destiny…its only function is to have an anticipatory temporal value.”
This could be one definition of the time-jump.
In this museum screening of Marclay’s The Clock, faces are in front of faces and faces are behind faces (an outline of human heads creates a border of spectatorship at the bottom of the screen), so a binary unit is always formed. A pair on the inside, a pair on the outside. A pair on the inside of the pair, a pair on the outside of the pair. Like an inversion of Abbas Kiarostami’s Shirin, which is an inversion not only of the classical Western formulation of cinematic spectatorship (we watch the spectator watch the screen rather than the screen itself), but the classical Western formulation of the privileged white face taking precedence on the white wall. In Shirin we watch non-Western faces watch non-Western faces that we cannot see, only hear. Cinema becomes our faces—reaction shots—in relation to cinema, which of course, is also cinema. We cannot react without thinking about how we watch ourselves watching.
I Am Love features a beautiful homage to Vertigo and Kim Novak’s famous hair chignon as portal of time and female erotics. The hair loop is the entrace to desire. Not just chronos (time, moment), but kairos (supreme moment, the moment). As Julia Copus puts it in her article about time, waiting, and love,
"You Just Keep Me Hanging On, “In modern Greek, kairos means simply ‘weather,’ suggesting the possibility that time may be a quality rather than a quantity. We see our first snowfall, climb mountains and fall in love in kairos time.”
I Am Love is also a rapturous women’s liberation film. Emma doesn’t even let narrative punishment (the death of her son) stop her. Nor her debt to wealth. I Am Love reverses and sheds Vertigo’s nercrophiliac weight and fetishistic doom. Emma follows Antonio, her young lover, instead of the other way around. Instead of Scottie following Madeline/Judy. Instead of the mysterious man in the museum that Kate Miller follows to her death in Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, Emma charges after love into life. After life, into love. Until I Am Love, that hair portal has always been entered, like her, rather than being the place from which and in which she lives. The supreme time at which she begins to live and the real quality of life begins.
“Tragically, the well-off and the poor are often united in capitalist culture by their shared obsession with consumption. Oftentimes the poor are more addicted to excess because they are the most vulnerable to all the powerful messages in media and in our lives in general which suggest that the only way out of class shame is conspicuous consumption. Propaganda in advertising and in the culture as a whole assures the poor that they can be one with those who are more materially privileged if they own the same products. It helps sustain the false notion that ours is a classless society. When these values are accepted by the poor they internalize habits of being that make them act in complicity with greed and exploitation. Who has not heard materially well-off individuals talk about driving through poor neighborhoods and seeing fancy cars or massive overeating of junk food? These are the incidents the well-off emphasize to denigrate the poor while simultaneously holding them accountable for their fate.”—Bell Hooks (via wretchedoftheearth)
"As the Glasgow Review of Books is on hiatus, I thought I’d re-post - with minor formatting changes - my review of Masha Tupitsyn’s LACONIA:1,200 Tweets on Film
and Christian Marclay’s The Clock, originally published in June 2011.
Take these notes as the continuation of a conversation. Tupitsyn’s tweets are a series of moments between 2009 and 2010. Marclay’s film is a series of moments from the beginning of cinema until now. Both form constellations from a time that extends both backwards and forwards. Tangents, reformulations, ideas followed up or discarded.
Don DeLillo’s Point Omega begins and ends with detailed descriptions of people in a gallery watching Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, where a nameless man has come back repeatedly, mesmerised by the elongation of action, his attention focused on the separation of each miniscule movement.
Christian Marclay’s The Clock is currently screening at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow. It is a twenty-four hour film, a collage of cinematic moments featuring clocks, watches and characters checking, talking about, and running out of time, minute by minute. You are drawn in to an experience that recalls the “city symphonies” of the 1920s by Dziga Vertov, Walter Ruttman, and Alberto Cavalcanti, whose day-in-the-life of Paris was called Rien que les heures: Nothing But The Hours or Nothing But Time. The one-day novels: Ulysses, Mrs Dalloway, Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis.
Johnny Depp is followed by William Klein’s Polly Magoo, followed by a crackly Japanese board room scene featuring a giant clock, which is followed by an agitated John Travolta. Despite their complexions and carefully lit profiles, stars too fall prey to the lure of the timepiece. Angelina Jolie stands on a wooden promontory overlooking a desert and checks her watch. Robert Redford waits for a contact in a diner’s booth, worrying about shifting sands. Jason Schwartzman realises the woman of his dreams isn’t coming to the event he’s laid on for her.
Humanity’s attention is focused on the miniscule movement of the hands of the clock.
The word “laconic” comes from the supposed concision of Spartans’ speech. Sparta is the capital of the region of Laconia, or Lacedaemonia, which is in the southeastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula in Greece. In 1942 a German U-boat carrying civilians rescued from the sunken RMS Laconia was fired by the US navy. This led to the “Laconia Order” by the admiral of the German fleet, affecting both Allied and German conduct for the rest of the war and leading to lesser protection for non-combatants. Laconia is a city in Belknap County in the US state of New Hampshire. Claude Rains, who appeared in Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia and Mr Smith Goes To Washington, died there in 1967. Directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart as Mr Smith, the latter film involves an attempted filibuster by Smith on the floor of the Senate. A filibuster involves a senator holding the floor for a prolonged period time through continuous speech which can last for hours or even days.
Reading Tupitsyn’s book, you make notes in the margin in the same aphoristic manner as the content. Here are a few of mine:
Movies tell us what real life should be like even though they have no idea what it is like.
Yet we act as if we are wrong, or guilty, for not conforming to the screen.
One reads these tweets by ignoring the fact that they are tweets.
Love, both real and superficial, is inherently bound up with the cinema, which plays on the disjuncture between inside and outside.
I came to LACONIA cynically and sceptically. It seemed gimicky, and I was suspicious of the delegation of content’s role to form; that by tweeting about film Tupitsyn was hoping that this device would hold far more than it should: the burden and necessity of argument. Because the form itself already made oblique comment on the subject at hand, the content was relieved of its obligation to be rigorously argued.
Yet somehow the opposite is true, content sweeps up form, and the book creates a rigor all its own, a remarkable series of tumbling thoughts through and about visual culture. At points it is quite stunning. They carry over to one another, reflect, argue with one another. The potential problems of this sort of formal construction - that each tweet would be isolated, irrelevant to anything beyond itself, a casual observation that has no particular interest or quality - dissolve as you read. Because you read. You make narratives, connections. Including Tupitsyn herself.
Audiences for The Clock have fun recognising films and stars. A quartet of elderly women in front of me exclaimed in joyous unison “The Sting!” when Redford appeared. They giggled conspiratorially after their shared reference.
Throughout LACONIA, topics, preoccupations, repeatedly assert themselves:
- Michael Mann and Michael Haneke appear often, two film-makers whose outlooks, particularly toward feminism, are diametrically opposed.
- Inside versus outside, in various forms - fake and real bodies (“fake has gone inside”), emotion and superficiality, “the masking smile is easy to fake”, “after years watching fake movie lives maybe movie life is now more real than real life”)
- Warren Beatty’s Reds.
- The sea as metaphor - for consciousness, for a mirror. And the mirror as metaphor for the sea.
- The film scholar Robin Wood. He is mentioned three or four times but each time prefaced with “the film scholar” as if we haven’t been told this already. Is this because these tweets exist in an abstracted, separated time that doesn’t relate to anything beyond itself? As if each tweet resets knowledge. Or is it because tweets are fragments whereas this book is a whole?
- Cinema’s preoccupations: time (“all-time and no-time”, “any place and any time”) and scopophilia.
- Fashion models have “taught us that looking and wanting are not actually about desire, but about the industry and marketplace of desire. You look because you should. Because looking at and wanting the right things are a way of being inside.”
- New York and Los Angeles, between reality and movies.
- The nature of love: “is it because rather than master the art of loving, we’ve mastered the art of capitalism? In other words, does the context have to be artificial and does money have to be the driving impetus? What if it were love?” “Is this what we’ve come to believe love is? Being “TOTALLY” in love with oneself?”
Fame, and its effects on the human face. Including the financial ability (and perceived necessity) of deforming it through plastic surgery. “Instead of the fiction of character, it’s now the fiction of the face.”
- Reality TV. “To replace reality?”
- Phallocentrism. Especially in Judd Apatow films.
- John Cusack’s - cinematic, ethical, personal - downward trajectory since pretty much the start of his career.
To watch The Clock is to be both implicated in collective time and personal time. Recognising a clip is like reading an old diary entry; a whole world you thought was gone opens up again in front of you. You remember how old you were when you saw the film, where you were and who you were with. The film acts as an anchor point in lost time. But you also become crushingly aware of the distance between that vanished world and today. Even stars age, whether they’ve had surgery or not.
The book object changes when its content has been published before on a blog or on Twitter, and then gets revised and continuously debated after the book’s publication. The book stops time, freezes it and puts itself in a time capsule. Despite the instant access the net affords, one feels a sense of security in knowing that things can be found in an object held in one’s hand. However obsolete books may begin to look, we still feel the need to make them. Though we find their tactility important, does a degree of snobbery remain?: tweets are no more than casual observations until they are “legitimised” in book form.
This is a political problem. A vast amount of literary activity has not only moved from paper to the web, but would not even exist were it not for the web. Are we to dismiss it as mere amateurism? What about those like Tupitsyn who work out projects on Twitter, or Lance Olsen’s novel Head in Flames, a wonderful book whose author in part worked out sentences on Facebook? Is it possible to balk at art-as-Facebook-status-update, living alongside Stephen Fry’s tweeted tales of elevator entrapment whilst remaining open to the really quite good writing that exists amongst the terrible and the banal, good writing that should be read just as widely and with just as much respect as that on traditional paper and ink? How do we sift the good writing? Just keeping up with a very small part of it seems a full-time job. Will we all need assistants like Damien Hirst to read for us?
There are recurring images in The Clock too:
- Americans watch TV in bed between 11pm and midnight.
- Johnny Depp. Young at 11:42am, old just after 1pm. In From Hell, Secret Window, Cry Baby.
- James Bond. Roger Moore more often than Sean Connery.
- A teen film featuring a boy in a woolly jumper that is a very particular shade of blue.
- Pronunciations of death in E.R.
- The expected: eating, sleeping, working. A montage of walking legs at 9:57, people trying to get to work.
- Coffee breaks between 10 and 11. Lunch-hours at 1 (rarely at 12).
- Silent, heavy-breathing callers at 00:15. Andie MacDowell; Jane Fonda in Klute.
The Clock’s persistent montage effects a synthesis of juxtaposition. Everything becomes equal.
Alongside Tupitsyn’s book I’ve been reading Don DeLillo’s White Noise, a great novel that does its own form of condensing, though rather than thought into 140 characters it condenses a cultural atmosphere into three hundred pages. A few images overlap and seem naggingly important here: Wilder, the 80s child, stares repeatedly at a screen - a window, the oven door, the TV. The TV moves from room to room, the family sharing it as if it were rationed, this despite its seepage into everyday life to the extent that its voices announce themselves as if they were coming from human beings bodily present in the house. Willie Mink, the inventor of a drug that represses the fear of death, sits in a chair throwing pills into his mouth, the TV on mute.
Like Tupitsyn, Marclay is fascinated by the human face. A young Willem Dafoe’s completely uninteresting face, compared with his compelling strangeness today. The way the known and unknown, the contemporary and old, merge yet remain separated by the audience’s recognition. We create hierarchies out of our recognition.
Each of Tupitsyn’s tweets are timed and dated. I tried scrolling back through her Twitter feed to find the book’s tweets in their natural habitat, but became exhausted when I realised how in Twitter-land, those tweets are an age away, if not simply irretrievable.
Each moment of The Clock is time wrenched from date. Time loses its definite article and becomes abstracted, universal but without reference to particularity. The words and rituals associated with specific times – 1 o’clock is lunchtime – become unmoored, confused. You think of “lunchtime” as something that happens but without human actors. 1 o’clock is lunchtime, lunchtime is 1 o’clock.
A strange moment occurs at Tupitsyn’s 557th tweet. It reads:
"Robin Wood, a film critic who’s influenced me profoundly, has died. RIP."
This one is devoid of the intellectual performativity of every other tweet, performativity required by the aphorism, a literary form devoted precisely to extravagant performance. Tweet 557 reminds us that this book was composed in public, that it is an act of writing in a community, performative in the sense of public. Tupitsyn writes in her introduction: it is “a book that shows its skeleton.” Writing becomes simultaneously extravagant and coy. It is work in progress being thrust into the limelight, like a child actor having to grow up - and stay on the rails - on-screen.
In White Noise, the narrator Jack Gladney and his fellow academic Murray have a long rambling conversation about Jack’s fear of death. Murray says Jack’s problem rests in his inability to repress this fear. Jack cannot escape his constant awareness of the ticking clock. In Marclay’s film, the unignorable fact of time is exhausting; every character from every film is anxious, taut, alert, their movement jerky, separated out into its constituent parts.
We come to watch time pass. Why? I walk through a deserted city centre on a Sunday morning before work, just to get in another forty-five minutes. Why?
And, of course, this book review of LACONIA by Elaine before I even knew her.
“The woman I love rode this way, carried off by horsemen. If I do not find her,
I will never find myself. If I do not find her, I will die in this forest, water within water.”
Jeanette Winterson, The Powerbook
“The novel has always been defined by the adventure of lost characters who no longer know their name, what they are looking for, or what they are doing, amnesiacs, ataxics, catatonics…La Princesse de Clèves is a novel precisely by virtue of what seemed paradoxical to the people of the time: the states of absence or ‘rest,’ the sleep that overtakes the characters…When the novel began, with Chrétien de Troyes, for example, the essential character that would accompany it over the entire course of its history was already there: The knight of the novel of courtly love spends his time forgetting his name, what he is doing, what people say to him, he doesn’t know where he is going or to whom he is speaking, he is continually drawing a line of absolute deterritorialization but also losing his way, stopping, and falling into black holes. ‘He awaits chivalry and adventure.’ Open Chrétien de Troyes to any page and you will find a catatonic knight seated on his steed, leaning on his lance, waiting, seeing the face of his loved one in the landscape; you have to hit him to make him respond.’”
-Deleuze & Guattari, “Year Zero: Faciality,” from A Thousand Plateaus