Nam June Paik

January 31, 2006 at 10:34 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Nam June Paik

Nam June Paik died in Miami on January 29 at the age of 73. Even though I never made video installations when I was still a sculpture student at the Munich Art Academy in the late 70s, Paik was definitely one of those influential artists who forced anyone working in sculpture to look at materiality, at the stuff of what goes into sculpture — whether object or installation — in a persistently different way. Fluxus put the flow in icons.

Here are some links to interesting biographies/ obituaries:

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung online calls him the anti-technological technologue — Paik showed us how free one could be in interacting with technology. Paik, who didn’t take too much stock in making his work “perfect,” is quoted as having said, “if too perfect, god angry,” which I guess underscores the artist’s role as a player vs a god. Artists play (which is why I get so annoyed at artists who take themselves so goddamn seriously, who never seem to evince any sense of humour, as though we’re supposed to take their work as timeless and eternal creation while they play the Misunderstood Genius…).

The Korea Times places Paik in a national, albeit cosmopolitan, context — clearly a political gesture:

It was in 1984, however, that the U.S-based creator became known to his compatriots through “Good morning, Mr. Orwell,” a global art project linking New York, Paris, Berlin and Seoul by satellite. The parody of an Orwellian totalitarian society gave a fresh shock to Koreans oppressed by military “big brothers.” It was an apt reminder of the then grim reality.

Paik was both a Korean and a cosmopolitan. Most of his artistic studies and activities were done abroad, including the United States, Germany and Japan, but his spiritual fount remained in his fatherland, where he lived until graduating from high school. So it is regretful that some web surfers here denigrated the international artist by taking issue with his U.S. nationality and Japanese wife. This is a most childish and narrow-minded way to treat one of the greatest artists Korea has produced.

The deceased artist used to stress the need for active advances overseas by Koreans, following the aged tradition of nomadic ancestors. Paik also called for his compatriots to have “strong teeth” to digest any foreign influences and use them for their own good. In an interview some years ago, the “cultural terrorist from Asia” said he would never give out his love of motherland, while noting that there were an increasing number of chauvinists in Korea. Malignant Internet users should take heed.

Some critics downgraded his works as just “plays,” not art. The artist, known for his ceaseless challenge and renovation, countered, saying, “Art is a fraud.” There may be different evaluations of this controversial artist and his 74 years of life, but one thing seems certain _ Paik never stopped trying to expand the horizon of the artistic world in his own unique ways, winning him global recognition. Even until his moment of passing, he was producing new works, both here and in the U.S. [More…]

The New York Times points out that Paik “exaggerated and subverted accepted notions about both the culture and the technology of television while immersing viewers in its visual beauty and exposing something deeply irrational at its center. He presciently coined the term “electronic superhighway” in 1974, grasping the essence of global communications and seeing the possibilities of technologies that were barely born. He usually did this while managing to be both palatable and subversive.

The Mercury News notes that, aside from inventing the phrase “‘Electronic Super Highway’ years before the information superhighway was invented,” he is also credited with coining the expression, “The Future is Now.” Take that!

The Los Angeles Times writes, “Paul Schimmel, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, said Paik was ‘the first artist to realize the potential of television, the idea that it was going to be all around us and change the culture.’ Despite Paik’s fascination with that phenomenon, Schimmel said, ‘one of the beautiful things he did was to disrupt the sophistication of electronic technology.'”” The article quotes John Hanhardt, a senior curator of film & media arts at the Guggenheim in New York: “One of the great achievements we look to from artists is to significantly contribute to making us see ourselves and the world around us in new ways.”

Another Korea Times article obsesses about the funeral arrangements — I don’t know why I find this interesting, but I do. Paik’s ashes, according to his family, will be shared by New York, Berlin, and South Korea, presumably in Yongin, Kyonggi Province, where the Kyonggi Cultural Foundation plans to construct a new museum dedicated to the artist.

Fly away home

January 30, 2006 at 12:14 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

Continuing on the multi-cultural Canada theme, I walked the dog to our local video store yesterday and rented a wonderful film, Masala. Co-written by Srivinas Krishna, who also directed and stars, this 1991 film takes as its point of departure the Air India atrocity. On board a doomed flight to India are a mother, father, and little boy, between them an empty seat. That seat should be occupied by Krishna (Srivinas Krishna), their first-born son, but he stood them up at the airport. The family is returning to India because the father couldn’t adjust to his new world home; the eldest son, at this point 15, rebelled because he didn’t want to leave Canada. After the plane explodes in mid-flight, his immediate family is wiped out.

None of this is told in a straightforward, linear way, but as one watches the film one learns these facts, as well as that Krishna, completely unable to feel anything at all after the death of his family, becomes a heroin addict who gets clean through a tough tour in detox. The film starts its story five years after the fateful airplane flight, when Krishna has come out of detox and is trying to figure out what to do next.

He tries to lean on his ex-girlfriend, a Caucasian girl who’s still a user. Her new pimp nearly kills him, and he runs to his extended family, intruding like some ghost-from-the-dead on a festive event at their home that involves the Canadian Minister for Intercultural Affairs (or something like that), a Caucasian, who is formally announcing the federal government’s support of a new Hindu religious centre in the heart of the community. Krishna’s extended family (his mother’s sister, her husband, their son) aren’t over the moon to see him, for Krishna is not what anyone would consider a pliant cultural member: he wears a leather jacket over t-shirt and jeans, and he looks and acts like the proverbial rebel without a cause. His aunt accuses him of still wearing the same old jacket that he wore to his family’s funeral rites, even though he claims it’s a new one. She lectures him on how clothes make the man — her husband’s business is a successful sari importing operation.

What makes the film so different, and fun in a bizarre, wonderful way, is the introduction of what I guess are Bollywood elements: over the top operatic or musical twists and turns, surreal introductions of dream sequences, and a good-natured dollop of supernatural shenanigans: masala — spice mixture.

Krishna’s father had a friend in the Indian community, Mr. Tikoo, who works as a postman (Mr. Tikoo is played by the wonderful Saeed Jaffrey, who also plays Krishna’s uncle Lallu Bhai, as well as the Lord Krishna). It is at or around Mr. Tikoo’s house that the most intense action takes place. His wife was killed in the same air disaster that killed Krishna’s family, and he now lives with his mother, the formidable Grandma; his very young son Babu, who is regularly set upon by three especially revolting and racist Caucasian neighbourhood bullies; and his two grown daughters. One is a sharp lawyer who calls Indian men “mother-loving, women-hating” so-and-sos (I found that juxtaposition incredibly illuminating), and who consequently dates a Caucasian Canadian. The other is a bit more traditional-seeming: living at home, she works in a travel agency to save money, ostensibly for medical school, but really (and secretly) for flying lessons, for she wants to be a pilot. Flight and airplanes play a big role here. Grandma is the subversively traditionalist heart and soul of the household because she has a direct line to God — well, one of the many in the Hindu pantheon — via her television-VCR set: she can summon the Lord Krishna himself, his very Blueness, who is at her remote’s bidding. He is incredibly good-humoured and gracious most of the time, but even gods have their limits.

It’s this household that Krishna (the prodigal son) gets involved with most intimately, and it is they who provide the foil for Krishna’s character development as he tries to complete his escape from “Indianness” or, alternately, find his way back to it. The movie doesn’t end happily, unfortunately, which was too bad (I’m a sucker for happy endings…). Furthermore, the awareness of not being able to feel anything — which was also expressed by Lord Krishna, albeit to a different degree — is passed to the daughter who wants to be a pilot. I’m still mulling that over: is the problem of knowing what (or how) to feel (or simply having feelings) what brings us into the divine sphere (realm of gods)? Or does everyone else already have feelings naturally, and it’s the ones who fall away from the divine who lose theirs? Perhaps the former. I had the impression that those characters playing their cultural parts without too much worry were the ones most likely to be pushed around by the gods, to be their playthings because they were unaware, unconscious. While the ones who were awakening to the need to feel were the ones climbing closer to divinity (and danger, uncertainty). But that could be completely off the mark.

At any rate, a must-see film — even 15 years later.

More travels, with photographic and musical accompaniment

January 29, 2006 at 2:05 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on More travels, with photographic and musical accompaniment

More travels in “Canadian Style” (see previous post): listen to this MP3 for a dose of Canadian music with a beat all its own. This is Bhangra Beat, a form of traditional Punjabi tribal music fused with North American hip-hop and disco. Listen to more on Signia’s media page. Signia is a group that formed in 2001 (read more on their homepage). From the Canadian National Geographic‘s Bhangra Beat article:

How young women [the UBC Girlz] attending the University of British Columbia (UBC) decide to dance and the necessarily raucous music they choose are both indicators of the vitality of the culture — not of the Punjab, transposed 11,500 kilometres away, but of the new Canada, in one of its many singular and evolving manifestations.

With its large East and South Asian populations, Vancouver is the natural setting for cultural evolution from within these groups. More than half of Canada’s 285,000 Punjabis call the Lower Mainland home, making the region the logical epicentre. More exactly, it is to the sprawling satellite city of Surrey that the majority of young Punjabi Canadians return after rehearsal at UBC or Simon Fraser University. In the suburban basements and community halls of Surrey, a new sound is coming together. And although the official cross is of traditional bhangra and various Western beats, the real encounter is between inherited markers of creative identity — those grounded, so to speak, in that fertile Punjabi soil — and notions that belong to the cultural soil directly beneath our feet. If that makes bhangra hip hop at once a product of tradition and innovation, past and future, East and West, so much the better. Complex identities make for complex and interesting art. The challenge, as it often is, is to reshape the tradition — labour done most easily and naturally in those basements and community halls — and then somehow bring it out to the wider world, fresh and smart and ready to command any dance floor in any Canadian town. (links added) […More…]

If you’re in the Lower Mainland vicinity, you still have time to check out the 3rd annual Punjabi Showdown on March 4, 2006. Punjabi online has lots more info on Bhangra, too.

I found these links through, run by
Christopher De Wolf, who writes The Urban Eye column for Maisonneuve magazine.

It was also that linked to a feature photo-essay by Colin Kent called Urban China. Really fascinating stuff, all in black and white: even the shot called Neon Infested Kowloon is b/w.

How’d I come to visit Through Streets and Soul, a wonderful site maintained by “tha krazy g,” whose hand is also visible in Chicago Above the Rails. If you love Chicago, check this out.

To continue with my travel theme (as I sit here with laptop and sinusitis, moored to the house), check out New York City Subway dot org, which has pages and pages of photos showcasing transit systems around the world.

(All this by way of saying that I didn’t get around to re-viewing the Robert Linsley file I mentioned last time, or writing something more about it. But if you’re interested, here’s the link [opens a RAM file].)

In closing, another Signia tune to listen to… Check out their video, too (Quicktime; for Windows format, go to their media page).

…And yet, grouchy-puss that I am, I have to add that, groovy music and multi-culti vibrancy aside, what bugs me about the images in the video is their emphasis on fast cars. The video is shot in an underground parking lot, so the cars are mostly stationary (or pulling into parking position), but they’re all “fast” and high-end expensive luxury models. The emphasis bugs me because it glamourises the culture of “street racing”: the girls had better be “hot” and the cars had better be “fast.” Is that what multi-cultural fusion boils down to: full-scale adoption of and adaptation to the reigning western ethos of sexualised (and “aggressivised”) competitive consumerism? What do I mean by “aggressive”? Last week in Toronto two street-racing 18-year olds killed a taxi driver (a Pakistani immigrant who was supposed to become a Canadian citizen on Monday; see here), and last night in Vancouver three men were killed in a street racing incident when their BMW spun out of control and was sheared in half. (See here.)

I’ll take the punjabilicious bhangra beat, but guys?, leave the fancy cars and Janet Jackson knock-off babes at home…. You are hot enough without all those extras.

Travels in Canadian Style

January 27, 2006 at 11:32 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Travels in Canadian Style

Lying around in a buggy daze (sinusitis) these past few days, my surrealistic empire of serendipidous internet encounters expanded exponentially. Wow — have I been on some weird trips! Oh well, once the meds wear off, I’ll probably forget all about them… 😉

But maybe I’ll write them up sometime, if I don’t disappear down the rabbit hole of a LibraryThing time-sink. Yes, I’ve been checking out Tim Spalding’s excellent site again, and I think I’m hooked. I have to sign up, there’s no way around it. In fact, I should have saved myself the trouble and done so back in September when I first wrote about it. I’ll need a good alias, though, because although I’d like to keep my library public, I really don’t want just any old tom-dick-or-harry to know that the listed books are mine. Like my account, this one will need an alter ego who can bookmark or catalog to her heart’s content without worrying that someone — anyone! — is drawing conclusions based on the assembled collection of oddities.

A big beautiful prize in my wandering through that LibraryThing was the discovery of a cataloguer who lists her flickr page, which turned out to be gorgeous (she has lived in Tokyo for the past 7 years and takes great photos). Not only that, but if I interpreted various links correctly, she has (or had, a recent photo suggests transition) a job with an organisation I’d never heard of, the United Nations University — Institute for Advanced Study, and they in turn work on a host of worthy environment-related issues. Reading their pages, I found other environmental sites I’d never heard of before. …Oh, and since I of course googled Lil / “Esthet” / Kristen, I found Jean Snow’s A Guide to Design and Pop Culture in Tokyo: very cool! Jean has a project called Canadian Style right there in Tokyo, debuting at Cafe Pause February 1. And yikes, how is this for coincidence? I just noticed that Cafe Pause is located in Toshima-Ku, Minami-Ikebukuro, which happens to be the street my sister lives on… Japanese house numbers mean nothing to me (I heard they’re numbered according to when they were built), so 2-14-12 or 1-3-1 or any related string means nothing to me, but I think it’s a relatively small street in the ancient old part of downtown… Hmm, maybe I can get my sister or my niece to pick up a t-shirt for me? Canadian Style straight from Japan — that works.

Canadian style actually brings me to what I wanted to blog about in the first place: another leg of my virtual travels was spent listening to Canadian artist and writer-on-art Robert Linsley, a very smart lecture he gave in London England, where he talked about the depopulated spaces of Canadian art, and that this absence of figures (whether photographs, which is what he was specifically addressing, or landscape paintings or whatever) has become something that Canadian artists take refuge in, like a cliché. As it happened, I also went to visit my own flickr pages to look at my urban development set, really just to see what I could do about it now, because I uploaded all those photos ages ago and in a hurry, without rhyme or reason really, without titles or descriptions (for the most part), and worst of all, without any followups — the whole point was to document these projects in their various stages, which was supposed to mean that I’d take photos every couple of weeks or months. All those big holes in the ground have either gotten much much bigger, or they’ve sprouted gleaming glass and concrete towers. But I never did follow up, if only because I walk when I have my dog with me and it’s really difficult to take photos when he’s pulling on the leash…

As I’m looking through this set, I see that my pictures, too, embody the cliché of the depopulated Canadian spaces — and this for photos of downtown streets! But perhaps the worst part is that there really were so few people around when I was photographing. It’s not the case that I deliberately waited until the street was empty, although, after listening to Linsley, I wonder whether didn’t subconsciously wait until I could get a shot without cars and people…? My favourite is still of the couple sitting on the kerb, though. The woman has something so winsome about her, the man chuckling, but keeping it to himself.

That’s what I wanted to blog about, but now my head hurts, so this will have to wait. Tomorrow I’ll post the ram-file of Linsley’s talk, and try to chew through his arguments, think about them in relation to what I ended up posting on flickr. Strange stuff indeed to be caught in cliché like this….


January 24, 2006 at 8:23 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

Who can honestly say they’d pass up an article, written by Roger Scruton who is well-known to OpenDemocracy readers the world over as a champion of conservatism, when it has a ripping title like A piercing revelation – I harm my body, therefore I harm you?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t pierce very deeply or reveal much. Scruton uses what I think of as a false dualism to set up his argument, which is that in previous epochs, people regarded their bodies as something on loan from God, while in our postmodern epoch, we consider our bodies to belong to us. What this argument suggests is that our bodies really are just vessels or objects or things, instead of full-fledged environments for all the electro-magnetic and chemical processes that pervade it and that create what we think of as our selves. It supposes that there is a kind of “pure” state of origin for the body, one that hasn’t yet been “polluted” by chemical or other external influences. I don’t think that’s true. Given what we know about neurochemical processes, about psychopharmaka and their potential to create essentially different brain environments, about the effects of electromagnetic fields on our sensory perceptions, etc., it seems disingenuous to proceed from the assumption of an original — an “unpierced” — body. Scruton writes,

In the postmodern perception it is not God who owns my body, but I. What I do with it is my business. This shift in attitude is gradually influencing events. For years the political process in America has been held up over the question of abortion, with feminists arguing that a woman’s body is personal property, to be protected under the Constitution as hers — a view that their opponents simply cannot swallow, even though they lack the language to deny it. The political process in Britain has got into a similar jam over cannabis. If I can abuse my body with alcohol, tobacco and junk food, why can’t I do the same with cannabis? Whose body is it anyway? [More…]

But those battles just recognise that there are social contracts that people have made, and that these transactions are political. Ownership of the body shouldn’t be made into some kind of transcendentalist venue: that’s the realm of religion, and there’s no good place for it in politics if there isn’t absolute transparency about the political and ethical goals. At least then, one can beg to differ and know what one is disagreeing with. I’m all for ethical and even moral behaviour, but I don’t agree with how Scruton wants to make the body a battleground for ethics and morality. He writes, “…my body is not my property but — to use the theological term — my incarnation. My body is not an object but a subject, just as I am,” but positing two subjects (“me” and “my body”) doesn’t get him off what I would call the false dualism hook (“not an object”). It’s a nifty trick to create subject-and-object (or subject-and-subject) dualities — to split something in theory — and then, like a magician or priest, magically put them back together again in a subsequent theoretical sleight of hand, the philosophical cure.

Scruton also appears to use the ‘slippery slope’ argument:

…there are ways of treating [my body] that cause me to think and feel as I would not otherwise think or feel, to lose my moral sense, to become hardened or indifferent to others, to cease to make judgments or to be guided by principles and ideals. When this happens it is not just I who am harmed: all those who love me, need me or relate to me are harmed as well. For I have damaged the part on which relationships are built.

Surely it is this that disturbs us in drug addiction. The addict treats his body as a pleasure machine. But by possessing it in that way he becomes possessed by it. His moral sense is flushed away by the drug, and in the final stages he is all body, all craving, all physical need.

Likewise the old morality, which told us that selling the body is incompatible with giving the self, touched on a truth. Sexual feeling is not a sensation that can be turned on and off at will: it is a tribute from one self to another and — at its height — an incandescent revelation of what you are. To treat it as a commodity, that can be bought and sold like any other, is to damage both present self and future other. The condemnation of prostitution was not just puritan bigotry; it was a recognition of a profound truth, which is that you and your body are not two things but one, and by selling the body you harden the soul. [More…]

See what I mean about the philosopher-theoretician magically healing the dualism or split, which he himself posited [theoretically created] in the first place? Eg., “profound truth,” “not two things but one,” etc. Not only that, but he manages to convince you that sturdy, old-fashioned religion will heal the rift…

As for the slippery slope argument: note how we’re led from pondering our own, individual sense of self (do I think of myself as one with my body?, do I think of myself as separate from my body? etc.) to casting our gaze on “the addict” (presumably not one’s own individual self), who supposedly “treats his body as a pleasure machine” (oops!, or perhaps abracadabra!, subject-object dualism has crept back in, but it’s the bad subject-object variant, not the good subject-subject kind!). According to Scruton, the addict does a bad job at sublating the duality: “…in the final stages he is all body…” The addict is a bad philosopher: he didn’t do the theoretical sleight of hand correctly. He “lifted” the duality by becoming “all body.” Is he really? What about his brain, which has been (often irrevocably) altered by the changed chemical processes? Which part of his brain would one excise to eliminate the addiction? Or does it boil down to a question of correct environmental management — my brain has fewer chemical baths of a certain order than the addict’s brain has, but we undeniably share in a propensity to wash our brains in chemical processes, because if we didn’t, we’d both be dead. So which part exactly is “pure,” which part could possibly stand for the good?

Likewise, treating bodies as commodities surely involves a bit more than armchair tinkering and thinkering about the role of religion and positing theoretical dualism that can be “resolved.” What are we trying to fix here? The hurt feelings of people who, bristling puritanically at prostitution, feel maligned by a society that laughs at them for their sensibilities, or the economic plight of people who prostitute themselves? To say that “by selling the body you harden the soul” is to say a truism without much depth.

For what I consider a much more interesting take on the body-place-mind conundrum, I’d recommend Winifred Gallagher’s compelling book, The Power of Place. And for a truly enlightening discussion of religion (yeah, I know it sounds weird coming from me, but I have my special places, too), see her book, Spiritual Genius. After reading these two, there’s no way that I can think of mind-and-body either as dualisms or as something that can be pondered separately, and I’m more convinced than before that calls for a return to old-style authoritarian conceptions of “ownership” based in alleged transcendent (i.e., religious) power are bound either to fail or to throw us seriously backward. Ownership is a socio-economic issue, saturated with questions of power and money. For a depressing look at how porn is insinuating itself into all aspects of our social and economic transactions, see The Pornification of America…. I guess “Respect yourself” has been replaced by “You go, girl,” but you know: the folks pointing where the girl is supposed to go are still the ones who stand to profit from her journey. Want to talk about hardening the soul by selling the body? Then let’s follow the money seriously, and shine some “incandescent revelation” in that direction…

n.b.: that Boston Globe link to “The Pornification of America” takes you to a log-in page. Is there a Globe equivalent of a NYTimes link generator, by any chance? The article was linked to on Arts Journal today, and the link worked fine. It’s…. If that works, I’ll change the link in my text, above.

But no, it doesn’t. For the time being, go to Arts Journal and find the link there, or read the comments posted by readers to today’s article (the article itself is behind a log-in page on the Globe site, too)…

Double post

January 24, 2006 at 8:19 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Double post

Somehow I managed to post “Piercing” twice, which might have as much to do with a very slow server response at Harvard as with my even slower brain response due to an ever-accelerating flare-up of sinusitis.  Cotton balls for brains, and the sensation of pain where there is no brain.  Why do we have sinuses again?  Oh, right: our heads, if made of solid bone (you’ve heard the expression ‘bonehead’?) would be too heavy to hold upright…

On politics, elections, and mind your manners

January 22, 2006 at 10:22 pm | In yulelogStories | 4 Comments

I will vote for Denise Savoie tomorrow. I even gave the NDP permission, two days ago, to come and put a sign in front of my house (they put it up late this afternoon). But: I really dislike Jack Layton. During dinner prep this evening, the phone rang. I picked it up and heard a smarmy, tape-recorded voice on the other end that professed regret at not being able to talk to me directly, but boomed that he, the owner of said voice, was Jack Layton and that he had a message for me (receiver of phone spam). And then the message launched into a deluge of verbiage and hyperbolic promises, and I found myself actually shouting at the receiver.

Politics. Brings out the best in me…?

I’m not completely sure why I dislike Mr. Layton. He’s a cardboard character, and it doesn’t matter that it comes in so many interesting colours. His party has too much baggage dragging it down. I don’t like that Layton contributed to bringing about the fall of our current crummy minority Liberal Government, which in turn will in all likelihood allow that terrible and dangerous man Stephen Harper to take the seat of Prime Minister. And it seems that the NDP leadership (unlike local candidate Savoie) is seemingly unable to grasp salient social issues in any concrete and meaningful way. They’re not exactly golden on the environment, and, if his recent comments are anything to go by, their esteemed leader is absolutely benighted when it comes to feminism, too. To whit, I missed the debates between the candidates (I have no tv, remember?), but bloggers to the rescue: A couple of weeks ago, looking for local math links (and commentary on high school math textbooks), I came across Moebius Stripper at Tall Dark & Mysterious, who writes a very intelligent blog and is based in the Lower Mainland (that’s near Vancouver, whereas I’m on Vancouver Island, in Victoria). I initially thought TD&M was this instructor at a Victoria college, but reading around some more, I guess that’s not the case. Moebius really is mysterious….

Toward the end of December, Moebius posted a trenchant critique of what’s wrong with Layton’s “feminism,” which you can read here. She noted that one of the questions asked during the first English language debate between the candidates was, “what would you do about all the heckling in Parliament? How to restore civility to the House of Commons?” Layton answered thus:

Well I’ve told my caucus that we won’t shout out and disrupt Parliament. And I think there’s one other thing we should do and that’s have a lot more women in Parliament. I’m very happy that our party has the highest percentage of women candidates ever that any political party has ever presented in an election, 37%. And mark my words – the tone of that house would change if we had a lot more women there, and voting NDP will help make that happen. [More….]

Yup. He said that. Moebius then quoted Carolyn Ryan, a CBC journalist who live-blogged the debate:

Did Layton really just say his party would increase civility in the House of Commons by electing more women? That’s placing a big burden on the gender that produced Sheila Copps, Hedy Fry, and Deborah Grey. Are the female MPs supposed to shush their male counterparts when they get raucous? Should they hold tea parties in the foyer? Will they bring in a “bad-word jar,” with MPs having to pay a twonie every time they heckle? Puh-lease. Why not just promise to elect more polite people as MPs, or discipline the ones you’ve got now? [More….]

And if you want to read Moebius’s excellent punchline (as well as the links she provides), see her blog entry.

It occured to me that Tall Dark & Mysterious and Shelley Powers at BurningBird would find much common ground to explore… Moebius’s excellent Women in math screed, as well as her Women in math – the intersection of sexism with crappy pedagogy, are a joy (ok, a painful joy) to read for their lucid analysis of how sexism works against women in math (which resonates with Bb’s many analyses of how it works against women in technology). Just recently, Shelley had an entry titled Reductio that could serve as a commentary to Moebius’s crit of Layton’s notion of kinder, gentler wimminfolk.

Even if it feels like an uphill battle, it’s still heartening to see and hear and read women in the math and technology fields (who happen to be incredibly able writers to boot) provide such lucid analyses. There’s no easy fix, but as long as these voices are heard, all is not lost…

Meanwhile, Denise Savoie gets my vote and that of many others who might not otherwise vote NDP (but who want to block the Conservatives), and if she gets elected, we’ll hold her feet to the fire on her pro-environment campaign platform — and of course we’ll expect her to educate Mr. Layton. She might even try shouting at him.

Uh, Pilot? …Man!, there’s still a busy signal!

January 21, 2006 at 10:23 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Uh, Pilot? …Man!, there’s still a busy signal!

Not coming up for air any time soon, but in the interim, a bit of political humour found quite by accident on the Victoria BC Livejournal Community site (posted by Kaileocomial, aka Coleman). If you’re a Canadian voter, this will surely provoke a wry smile:

Martin, Harper and Layton are flying on the Executive Airbus to a gathering in British Columbia when Martin turns to Harper and says, chuckling, “You know, I could throw a $1000 bill out the window right now and make someone very happy.”

Harper shrugs and replies, “Well, I could throw ten $100 bills out the window and make ten people happy.”

Not to be outdone, Layton says, “Well I could throw a hundred $10 bills out the window and make a hundred people happy.”

The pilot rolls his eyes and says to his co-pilot, “Such arrogant asses back there. Hell, I could throw all three of them out the window and make 32 million people happy.” [see here]

Kaileocomial admits he “nabbed” it from Chaoskitty….

Giddy-up horsey

January 16, 2006 at 11:28 pm | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

I wish I could say that I’ve been furiously scribbling away at some fabulous essays these past ten days, but alas, that would be an untruth. I have instead been yoked, harnessed, steeped, and stewed in various real-life (i.e., not virtual) community commitments that involved much face-to-face and even in-your-face contact spread across many late-late evenings and some days, in addition to all the usual domestic duties that befall those who raise families. Much fun was sometimes had by all, even me, and so it has by no means been grim, just busy, with too many things I consider off-limits for blogging.

Such as, you ask? Well, I get some of my best insights simply by observing patterns of interaction amongst my fellow naked apes, but I can’t uncover my conclusions so shamelessly, with such immodesty, that those who were observed could recognise themselves in their nakedness. Instead, I wait until something in the patterns distills into a less specific, but perhaps still trenchant portrait. Then I can tell.

In the meantime, let’s talk about me. (!) During a recent foray to my local library, I picked up a copy of Basquiat, the 1996 film about Jean-Michel Basquiat made by fellow painter Julian Schnabel. The film is difficult to follow in places, partly because of all the “star personalities” it allows to proliferate on screen — stars played by stars: for example, Andy Warhol played most creepily by David Bowie — and partly because the 1980s were a money-hyper decade that was difficult to get a grip on in any sense. Quick, there’s Bruno Bischofberger! And yikes, isn’t that Henry Geldzahler? Cool glasses! Wow, look at Mary Boone! What an eye! …And so on and so forth. The scenes are operatic in the sense that you need a program guide to follow along.

But that was the 80s, right? See and be seen? So why bother viewing this film?

Well, aside from the fact that Schnabel & Co. found an uncommonly good-looking actor (Jeffrey Wright, who also played the lead role of Al Melvin in the 2004 remake, The Manchurian Candidate) to star as Basquiat, the film in spite of itself — at least, I think it was in spite of itself — pinpoints the Achilles heel of mid- to late-20th century art, a weakness that even the grotty efflorescence of so-called neo-expressionist painting couldn’t erase.

Before Jean-Michel hits the big time, he asks his buddy what it takes to become famous. His friend, a deliberate, I’m-a-loser-on-purpose nobody, answers that first you have to find your “shtick,” so to speak (he doesn’t use that word, but it was along those lines); then you have to push that sthick at people, over and over and over again. And then, once you’ve gotten noticed, you have to accomodate yourself to what the people want, and what the people will want will be more of the same. You have to repeat yourself, over and over and over again until the day you die. To keep the fame you so ardently aspired to you have to become what I think of as the dreaded One Trick Pony. Basquiat’s “nobody” friend has seen through the whole circus, and he doesn’t want to canter in that ring. But Jean-Michel decides he has to go for it. And he makes it, he does become the circus’s newest Big Act, with a vengeance. He also becomes, as predicted, a One Trick Pony: what people want is more of Basquiat, cast in stone. The trouble is, however, that he is far too intelligent and obviously too highly talented to remain happy in that role. There’s also the small issue of mental illness in the family, which Schnabel exploits to predictable effect: the film starts with a scene right out of Vasari’s Lives (genius recognised as such at a young age, blah, blah, blah), and then the tortured artist theme is elaborated on with numerous references to Van Gogh and his blasted ear.

I actually thought, after seeing the film, that Schnabel may have been suggesting (knowingly or not) that Basquiat (re)found his mother (or a new mother) in his collaboration with Warhol: the film makes such a big deal of Basquiat’s breakdown in the wake of Warhol’s death, underscored by his visit to the asylum where his mother lived (whether the latter really happened or not I can’t say). Losing Andy, the film suggests, was for Jean-Michel like losing his mother all over again.

Mothers, women. Where were they in the 80s? (Where are they now, for that matter…) The Eighties: a potent, virile, indescribably masculinist epoch in art, with money flowing like there was no tomorrow. The money’s still flowing. The One Trick Ponies are still dancing, too. Neo-expressionist virility has (thank gods) died down a bit. No one really believes any more that there’s just One Big Thing out there. And so we have seasons and fashions in art, just like we do in haute couture: raise the hemlines, drop the hemlines. If you’re smart, you keep your ear to the ground so that you know what everyone else is up to, but then you make sure that you do your own thing. Uniquely your own thing, you and several hundred thousand other aspiring artists. Everyone’s gone off on their own rails, sometimes just gone off the rails.

….And yet, the insiduous One Trick Pony idea continues to infect people, enthrall them, imprison them. Once you’ve made it, it’s nearly impossible to change. You have to keep repeating your own greatest hits. What a nightmare: successful people repeat themselves. “Nothing succeeds like success.” Watching Basquiat, I realised that I’m pretty stable: I will not die of drug abuse or overdoses. But I also saw that with the “I’m a nobody on purpose” loser dude, I share this unstable horror of repeating myself, which unfortunately doesn’t bode well for my future success. The fields or careers I’ve always been interested in are filled with One Trick Ponies: academics who repeat the same old stuff over and over and over again, for years on end (how can they face themselves, day after day??); artists who don’t really change; designers whose concept of change is as “deep” as the fashion industry’s; politicians/ activists/ leaders who harp on the same idea over and over and over again, seemingly incapable of synthesising new insights or information into their worldview or ideology, to the point that only the simple-minded have any interest in what they have to say. Perhaps the One Trick Pony is saddled with terminal individualism: ego gone into orbit. The One Trick Pony doesn’t collaborate or teamwork with others. The One Trick Pony prances in place. Poor pony.

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