Feet on the ground, head in the clouds - but heart under the water, as usual, this morning. Under the water.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Taking the lids off things (and off people)
Nothing is, I feel, more vital than this. And, at the same time, nothing is more difficult to incorporate into our habits of thought, attitudes, actions, rhetoric, routines, relationships. Yet, despite ourselves, we do it all the time: while differentiating certain things and people, we do not - we cannot - really separate them; we mix up everything, because every thing is a 'going on', as Tim Ingold puts it. I cannot separate what I am from what I am thinking and saying and doing, because:
Tim Ingold, in Overcoming the Modern Invention of Material Culture, eds. Vítor O. Jorge and Julian Thomas (Porto: ADECAP, 2006/2007), pp. 315-17. Emphases added in the second excerpt.
(Originally posted in January 2009.)
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
People unfold themselves slowly (but never completely) like a long, heavy, intricate tapestry, recoiling at times in fear, but eventually stretching out towards a fuller shape, in a process that requires time and space, patience and waiting. Yet, (and there we go again), most people, in their hectic, mechanical, self-absorbed routines, seem to have less and less time and space for the other(s). Magnificent tapestries may never unfold, alas. Such a waste.
Anyway, there is nothing else to do in the meantime but walking and waiting, waiting and searching. Stirring stillness. "Walking is a mobile form of waiting", indeed, as Thomas A. Clark so rightly puts it.
(Originally posted in December 2008.)
Monday, August 24, 2009
Until we solve the mystery of sexuality, contemplation of kaleidoscopic genitalia - from glossy and nubile to lank and withered - will remain an interesting and important exercise in human self-discovery. . . .
Far from poisoning the mind, pornography shows the deepest truth about sexuality, stripped of its romantic veneer. No one can claim to be an expert in gender studies who is uncomfortable with pornography, which focuses on our primal identity, our rude and crude animality. Porn dreams of eternal fires of desire, without fatigue, incapacity, aging or death. What feminists denounce as woman's humiliating total accessibility in porn is actually her elevation to high priestess of a pagan paradise garden, where the body has become a bountiful fruit tree and where growth and harvest are simultaneous. "Dirt" is contamination to the Christian but fertile loam to the pagan. The most squalid images in porn are shock devices to break down bourgeois norms of decorum, reserve, and tidiness.
The Dionysian body fluids, fully released to coat every gleaming surface, return us to the full-body sensuality of the infant condition. In crowded orgy tableaux, like those on Hindu temples, matter and energy melt. In the cave spaces of porn, camera lights are torches of the Eleusinian Mysteries, giving us flashes of nature's secrets.
Camille Paglia, 'No Law in the Arena: A Pagan Theory of Sexuality', in Vamps & Tramps: New Essays (London: Viking, 1995), pp. 66-67.
While I do acknowledge the cogency of Paglia's argument - porn has no doubt a 'ritualistic' and didactic role to play and will always exist and be in great demand - there is something about it that deeply upsets me because so impoverishing. Sex seen in the crudest of lights and stripped of everything that makes it meaningful and worthwhile: intimacy, tenderness, the ambiguous play of light and shadow, the sense of an actual lived and shared life. A fully inhabited body. There is indeed a huge difference between something done to you or something that you do to someone and something you do with someone.
For a glimpse into the sheer beauty of the joyful chaos, naturalness, emotional and sensuous intensity of meaningful, inhabited sex - an inhabitedness no amount of porn or occasional intercourse between strangers will ever, ever replace - I can only vividly recommend Carolee Schneemann's Fuses [click to watch], an experimental erotic film that should figure prominently in every history of avant-garde and feminist film.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Yes, you who must leave everything
That you cannot control
It begins with your family
But soon it comes round to your soul. . . .
Listening to Leonard Cohen's good old Sisters of Mercy, I feel tempted to add that there is a time when you must leave behind those who, with the best of intentions, block out your daylight, suck your very lifeblood, your will to live and seek a little happiness and self-reliance, devouring you alive.
It's whether you or them, no matter how painful or cruel it might seem to others - and especially to yourself. The most important choices have never been easy, never. But there are times when we must summon the strength and turn the tables. The turning might take very long, or perhaps not. The important thing is that it happens because you prepared yourself for it and need it in the same way that you need fresh air to breathe properly. No one can live under the water for that long.
And, yes, remember: sometimes, to find yourself, you have to get rid of yourself...
Friday, August 14, 2009
On the eve of travelling somewhere, amidst all the hectic preparations, I spare a moment to think that a voyage always takes you elsewhere different from what you were expecting.
The most interesting things are the unpredictable, the unexpected, the unrehearsed - those unscripted moments that change everything, and in relation to which all preparations are in vain.
A word, a gesture, a way of walking, a light, a smell, a sound you have never heard before - even a different silence can so utterly change you.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
When he was five his kindergarten teacher wore silk stockings and he sat next to her as she read and with his boy hand felt her legs. The legs felt so smooth and soft and he kept his hand on her leg and slowly moved up her leg. He had small hands and he loved to touch soft things, because he was never touched at home. He loved his kitty. He loved his blankie. This was the first time he had been away from his mother, and sitting next to the soft legs, stroking the legs, was like holding a wild animal, it was like holding himself, because it was he who needed to be held. The reading and the softness of her voice. The timing, the rhythm like a hearbeat, a breath, and he wanted to touch and be touched so much.
The teacher didn't pull away, but allowed the boy to hold and stroke her leg. Later, she called the boy's parents and told them that there was something wrong with their son. No longer was there anything wrong with the mother, but now there was something wrong with the boy.
From then on the boy desired legs. He was so fascinated, so curious about them.
Whenever I see you I always wear stockings with garters and seams, French hosiery with velvet cutouts of lacy patterns, black teasers with seams that go up my ass with garters and white lacy frills, shoes black and pointy and heels that dig and penetrate and make my long legs longer.
I let you fuck me standing up under a peach tree against a brick wall in the courtyard of an Irish tavern, next to a church called St. Dymphna. And I can feel you for a week and then you are gone.
Karen Finley, from Shut Up and Love Me, in A Different Kind of Intimacy: The Collected Writings of Karen Finley (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2000), p. 306-07.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
I have mixed feelings about Karen Finley's work, and all too often find that overflow of female rawness and rage and despair in her texts and performances way over the top. Some of her works, however, deeply move me and bring a moment's respite from all the cringemaking excesses. Here is a favourite one:
Shut up. Shut up. There’s nobody here.
If you think you hear somebody knocking
On the other side of the words, pay
No attention. It will be only
The great creature that thumps its tail
On silence on the other side.
If you do not even hear that
I’ll give the beast a quick skelp
And through Art you’ll hear it yelp.
The beast that lives on silence takes
Its bite out of either side.
It pads and sniffs between us. Now
It comes and laps my meaning up.
Call it over. Call it across
This curious necessary space.
Get off, you terrible inhabiter
Of silence. I’ll not have it. Get
Away to whoever it is will have you.
He’s gone and if he’s gone to you
That’s fair enough. For on this side
Of the words it’s late. The heavy moth
Bangs on the pane. The whole house
Is sleeping and I remember
I am not here, only the space
I sent the terrible beast across.
Watch. He bites. Listen gently
To any song he snorts or growls
And give him food. He means neither
Well or ill towards you. Above
All, shut up. Give him your love.
W. S. Graham, 'The Beast in the Space', from 'Malcom Mooney's Land' (1970), in Collected Poems, 1942-1977 (London: Faber, 1979), pp. 147-48.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Adrienne Rich responds in a poem full of loss, longing, unsatisfied desire. While I've never been able to identify much with this brand of lesbian feminism that always seems in need for consolation and self-victimization, and by far prefer more raw and combative approaches, the poem does mean a lot to me, for reasons I can't even begin to verbalize - here in particular:
But in fact we were always like this,
rootless, dismembered: knowing it makes the difference.
Birth stripped our birthright from us
so early on
and the whole chorus throbbing at our ears
like midges, told us nothing, nothing
of origins, nothing we needed
to know, nothing that could re-member us.
Knowing it might make the difference indeed, but nostalgia and regret are all too often a dead end. They change nothing, nothing.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Here's an all-time favourite passage, which breaks all anti-PC records at a stroke. Needless to say, I endorse each and every line:
Is gay identity so fragile that it cannot bear the thought that some people may not wish to be gay? The difficulties in changing sexual orientation do not spring from its genetic innateness. Sexuality is highly fluid, and reversals are possible. However, habit is refractory, once the sensory paths have been blazed and deepened by repetition - a phenomenon obvious in the struggle with obesity, smoking, alcoholism, or drug addiction.
The injustice and impracticality are in trying to 'convert' totally from homosexuality to heterosexuality, an opposition I think false. However, helping gays learn how to function heterosexually, if they so wish, is a perfectly worthy aim. We should be honest enough to consider whether homosexuality may not indeed be a pausing at the prepubescent stage when children anxiously band together by gender. Indeed, the instantly recognizable house voice of many gay men - thin, reedy, and pinched - dates from that pre-adult period. . . .
Gay men should confront the elements of haphazard choice in their erotic history, which began in the confusion, shame, and inarticulateness of childhood. Judeo-Christian morality, following the Bible, would call for a renunciation of all homosexual behaviour. I don't agree. Why shouldn't all avenues of pleasure remain open? But is is worthwhile for gays to retrace their developmental steps and, if possible, to investigate and resolve the burden of love-hate they still carry for the opposite-sex parent. Behaviour may not change, but self-knowledge - Socrates' motto - is a philosophic value in its own right.
Again, I'm with her all the way...
An unexpected moon-viewing moment last night conjured up these lovely lines by Thomas A. Clark which I cling on to more than ever:
Into an economy of desires, the arrogance of the days, the compromises and complacencies, is introduced a silver light, a delicate stream of irony.
To come out of the house, to come out of yourself, to be subtle, clear, extensive, is the moon's invitation.
Darkness is not closed but open.
The impatience with which we seek the confirmations of light is a flight from information brought by all the senses to the evidence of the eyes alone.
When you see a new moon, uncover your head, turn over the penny in your pocket, and lay yourself open for inspection.
Anything that is secretly glad comes under the auspices of the moon.
Who has the courage to go into the dark places where there is nothing but feeling?
Thomas A. Clark, 'A Walk by Moonlight' in Distance & Proximity (Edinburgh: Pocketbooks, 2000), pp. 77-80.
Image: Caspar David Friedrich, Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon (1824).
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Fog thick morning –
I see only
where I now walk. I carry
Reading this poem by Niedecker reminds and reassures me of something I all too often tend to forget. That the things you most long for, such as warmth, clarity, or the very sense of home, do not exist in themselves. They are carried around with you and overflow, emanate from you whenever some thing, some place, someone responds and sparks them to life.
I suppose that is the meaning of finding a place for yourself in the world without depending too much on unrealistic expectations or on others. It is also the meaning of true, tranquil friendliness and affection.
The view still holds true for me, no doubt, but I would perhaps add that such things allow you to find roots wherever you go, in places where you were not born and did not live for long (or did not live at all).
That's the appeal of travel (physical, mental, literal, metaphorical), I guess: you escape the confines of a fixed identity - geographical, national, gender, sexual - and gradually learn to live in and love the interstices between worlds.
Because the most improbable places and people are the most lovely. Or, as my favourite anthropologist, Tim Ingold, puts it, 'home is often a profoundly uncomfortable place to be'.
Monday, August 3, 2009
While I usually shun the moralistic, self-righteous voices of religion, especially Catholic ones, I couldn't agree more with the preachers on this one. Spot on. Call me old square, stick-in-the-mud, whatever, but I'm with the Archbishop: there's nothing like an old-fashioned rendezvous and the hardships and ups & downs of genuine friendship.
Facebook criticised by Archbishop
Social networking websites, texting and e-mails are undermining community life, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has warned.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols said MySpace and Facebook led young people to seek "transient" friendships, with quantity becoming more important than quality.
He said a key factor in suicide among young people was the trauma caused when such loose relationships collapsed.
"Friendship is not a commodity," he told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
He added: "Friendship is something that is hard work and enduring when it's right".
Archbishop Nichols said society was losing some of its ability to build communities through inter-personal communication, as the result of excessive use of texts and e-mails rather than face-to-face meetings or telephone conversations.
He said skills such as reading a person's mood and body language were in decline, and that exclusive use of electronic information had a "dehumanising" effect on community life.
Archbishop Nichols said that social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace encouraged a form of communication that was not in his words "rounded", and would not therefore build rounded communities.
The Archbishop also warned of the danger of suicide among young people who threw themselves into a network of friendships that could easily collapse.
He said young people were being encouraged to build up collections of friends as commodities, and were left desolate when these transient relationships broke down.
"Facebook and MySpace might contribute towards communities, but I'm wary about it," he told the newspaper.
"Among young people often a key factor in their committing suicide is the trauma of transient relationships.
"They throw themselves into a friendship or network of friendships, then it collapses and they're desolate.
"It's an all-or-nothing syndrome that you have to have in an attempt to shore up an identity; a collection of friends about whom you can talk and even boast."
Source: BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8180115.stm
Sunday, August 2, 2009
TODAY, MOTHERS-TO-be are expected to attain the 'perfect birth'. The expectant mother is made to feel that she is responsible for this, her baby's first experience of the world. The reality is that so much happens in the pregnancy and birth process that is beyond anyone's control - no matter how aware, responsible, and healthy a woman is. Nevertheless, if a woman has one glass of wine or one cup of coffee during pregnancy then she is made to feel that she is ruining her child's health. She must deny herself totally and give everything to the child. And if she has a C-section, she is made to feel that somehow she didn't do her best. I think this is a backlash, a punitive response to the fact that women increasingly have been putting off childbirth in favor of their careers.
And pregnant women today are given extensive instructions and coaching geared toward allowing them to give birth without expressing pain. There are relaxation exercises, Lamaze techniques, yoga, meditation. The idea of being serene and relaxed during childbirth is absurd to me. Labor was the most excruciating, painful experience my body has ever gone through. I had a natural childbirth and I broke my tailbone pushing my nine-pound daughter out of the birth canal. The idea that pain should not be expressed during childbirth is a cultural misogyny, a way of trying to control women's emotions.
After giving birth, I wanted to push the image of childbirth in my art. I realized that there aren't many images of childbirth in this culture. There are plenty of magazines where you can see a woman's pussy, of course, but you're are not going to see a baby coming out of it. I wanted to do a piece that would expose the sexuality of childbirth, and that would confront viewers with the P-U-S-S-Y - that would say, 'This is what it can do'. I wanted something that would be visceral and vivid, like Frida Kahlo's childbirth paintings, but I wanted it to be a real picture, and I wanted it to be big.
My good friend Dr. Virginia Reath, a gynecologist, had found some photos of childbirth. She gave me three of them and I blew them up to 4 x 6 feet. They were graphic images of a baby's head crowning and emerging from the mother's vagina.
I hung the photos side by side in a room at the SFAI, near the 'Moral History' installation. I stuck 'Post-Its' with relaxation instructions ('Pretend you are floating on a cloud'. 'Picture yourself on the beach with your favourite beach towel'. 'Stay relaxed. This is for your baby'.) all over the photos. I found these instructions so paternal, so patronizing, and under that, I felt there was fear: fear of the female expressing her emotions.
This installation, 'The Relaxation Room', also included a video of me squirting breast milk onto black velvet. I am in my studio, and I take my 40D milk-laden breasts out of my smock and lactate on to the velvet in an abstract pattern. It's hysterical. It is my response to Jackson's Pollock's film I am Nature.
Karen Finley, from A Different Kind of Intimacy, pp. 187-89.
Every time I move to a new house (as I'll be doing today), with all the initial idealism and fuss and excitement and expectation for the new, I come to my senses when recalling Baudelaire's predicament, which I fully share:
This life is a hospital in which each sick man is possessed by a desire to change beds. One would prefer to suffer by the stove. Another believes he would recover if he sat by the window.
I think I would be happy in that place I happen not to be, and this question of moving house is the subject of a perpetual dialogue I have with my soul.