"With the same sword they knight you / They go and goodnight you / See Martin, see Malcolm / See Biggie, see Pac, see success and its outcome / See Jesus, see Judas / See Caesar, see Brutus / See, success is like suicide...Now the question is / Is to have had and lost / Better than not having at all? Because dawg: 'I'm just waiting 'til the shine wears off...'"
This passage - from Jay-Z's guest spot on Coldplay's 'Lost+' remix track - is what's known among New Yorker types as an 'echt Jay-Z flourish,' which I do not mean as a compliment. The idea that Jay-Z is hip-hop's best MC has been common currency for the better part of a decade, but it's never been believable. Hell, let's go along with the stupid charade and restrict our c consideration to commercial acts: in a world containing Gift of Gab, Eminem, Mos Def, Outkast (both halves), Latyrx (as a unit), Nas, Lauryn Hill, Black Thought, and Boots Riley - never mind cats like Aceyalone or Q-Tip or Kool Keith(!!) or even the infuriating trickster Kanye West - Jay-Z has to come bowing and scraping just to get into the top half-dozen. He's got skill and arguably taste, sure, but his sole subject of interest is his own adolescent messianic complex. And that disqualifies Mr Sean Carter from top MC honours.
If Dave Eggers had followed his moving, messy, ferociously sentimental A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius with a half-dozen books in which complained at ever-increasing length that no one understood how difficult his life was even though he was the baddest and the richest - and indeed wrote a second and a third memoir insisting that he was finished writing and everyone was really, really gonna miss him when he stopped - but then was back on Entertainment Tonight a year later - Eggers would be a fucking laughingstock, and rightly so. Jay-Z is inexplicably still taken seriously by 'critics' despite having pulled this juvenile shit time and again. Now, Eggers has Jay-Z's technical skill, his energy, his hunger to collaborate, and his (admirable!) willingness to mentor. But unlike our Yet Another Self-Proclaimed 'Best Rapper Alive,' Eggers keeps challenging himself with increasingly esoteric (and increasingly powerful) projects in an ever-widening circle of colleagues and collaborators.
In other words, Dave Eggers managed to grow up. He got past himself, which was no small task. Mr Beyoncé has been churning out the same tired cliché psychobabble for half a decade, piling indigestible sentimental treacle atop misogynist bile atop vacuous self-justification and self-admiration. He's under the impression that he's intrinsically interesting; he's wrong.
'If you can't accept that / Your whole perspective is wack / Maybe you'll love me when I fade to black.' But he's never faded, never seriously entertained the possibility of doing so. He's a prolonged-adolescent narcissist with more money than ambition. That he's avoided Kanye's pathetic drunken self-parody is creditable, but Jay-Z's too childishly self-serious to pull off Kanye's frat-boy pranks (never mind the far more subversive boundary-crossing of Andre 3000).
The worst thing about this? Jay-Z's smart as hell. He could be doing something other than preening and boasting and whining and spouting the same dull money-sucks cautionary tales in song after song. If he wanted to, he could put aside his own self-love and self-loathing and status fixation and get on with making music about the world beyond the window of his SUV. But he's not even trying. His big mould-breaking album of this decade was American Gangster, for Christ's sake.
Jay-Z needs to get on the phone to Billy Martin or DJ Spooky or TV on the Radio or ?uestlove or John Zorn or Andrew Bird or the Pet Shop Boys or Elvis Costello or Fiona Apple or the Flaming Lips or even Trey Anastasio (remember that Jay-Z sat in with Phish in Brooklyn in 2004) and explode himself for once. Find a new idea, which these folks have in spades.[**] Jay needs to put his verbal talent and metrical dexterity to work on the story of another human being. He needs any new story to tell. Why? Because we need storytellers and musicians with ambition, persistence, skill, and honesty, and if Mr Sean Carter wasn't moonlighting as a fashionista businessman he'd be a fine source of all those things and more. Why not? Stranger, finer things have happened.
[**] I'm dead serious about all of the above, except possibly the inscrutable genius Andrew Bird. But they are, as you can see, mostly white rock'n'roll dudes. My hipster parochialism shouldn't surprise you, but it does bother me. Not enough to do anything about it, mind you, just enough that I have to footnote the thing. I do think a Jay-Z/John Zorn collaboration would be awesome - the JZ initials match is a good omen, no? - and when they want to, Medeski Martin & Wood have the 'best hip-hop producers on earth' trophy waiting for them. But these pairings hold cultural significance for me because I'm a stodgy little white nerd. They're not particularly transgressive, I know. To be clear, I don't want Jay-Z to stop cutting tracks about dimwitted consumerist hedonism and start documenting life in the suburbs of Houston. I just want to know whether he can even do it. Easier prescribed than pursued, as the narrowness of my suggestions makes clear.
Don't say 'My work is bad,' say 'I need to do this better.' Or better yet just do it. No one cares about 'you' - only about living with you. Which is work.
All political parties face a simple choice:
Consistency, or constituency.
Take your pick.
This doesn't get as much attention as it should, in part because it's not really in the interest of writers to loudly talk about how much easier their job has gotten, and how much more quickly they can produce lots of content. But that's the reality of it. People tend to assume that blogs are a product of technological advancements in publishing content. But the writing of constantly-updated political blogs is a product of the falling time cost for finding information. You can now get all your polls on pollster.com, and all the op-eds from every newspaper, and all the archives from all these newspapers, and all the info on other blogs, and so on and so forth.
That's why I can publish 15 posts a day. Writing doesn't take very long. Quoting doesn't take very long. But assembling information used to take an awful long time. It required a lot of phone calls and microfiche and faxes and walking over to Brookings and paging through newspaper archives and begging a source at Gallup. Now it doesn't take much time at all. That allows me to be the equivalent of a very fast columnist, and there's no reason it won't allow others to become very fast book authors.
Why? Because Ezra Klein thinks his (literally) by-the-numbers Dem-hack blog isn't that different from a popular nonfiction book. Because Ezra mainly reads the mainstream news, his colleagues' interchangeable poli-blogs, and recent popular nonfiction. Because as near as I can tell Ezra, like the 'boy wonder of high-speed blogging,' has nothing resembling an aesthetic sense or command of literary style, only a collection of debate-club trophies and the instincts of a careerist intern. Because popular nonfiction is mostly arrant tripe, but it's still more thoughtful than the average poli-blog. Because thuddingly centrist political blogging is about being accessible and unremarkable - and our boy is nothing if not those two things.
This AOL-era milquetoast of privilege is under the impression that 'assembling information' is the same thing as 'learning.' He thinks Google delivers wisdom, not webpages (and, as if it needs mentioning, he surely has no idea how it does even that). Poor Ezra isn't the Journalist of the Future; he's yet another cookie-cutter product of the Educational System of the Past (and the Stupid Adolescent Blog Triumphalist Era of the More Recent Past).
Bless this soporific bourgeois motherfucker. He's our symptom.
[Shorter version of same: 'Hey asshole, did you learn nothing from The Wire?']
I remember walking out of a theatrical showing of Fight Club - damn, it was ten years ago - and running around the parking lot of the cineplex, shouting and leaping through the bushes with my friend Farhad. I was light-headed, stunned. That was one of the greatest filmgoing nights of my life; I was totally unprepared for the experience (I didn't know what spoilers were back then). And (naturally) I've never been able to repeat it. It's still one of my favourite films, though I don't feel the need to revisit it as I once did. It's been a few years.
A fine night.
But it was nothing to the experience of seeing this - the first time I heard (and joined) an audience applauding a scene at the beginning of a film. It was electric, ecstatic. I'd seen The Matrix the previous year like everyone else, but this scene showed me something absolutely new - a ballet choreographed for two women, some wires, and a sword. Some numerical register flipped from zero to one. Wanna hear something ridiculous? I still get all misty watching this scene. Couldn't say why.
Look, look: Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
I've never seen or heard a Terry Gross interview in which she wasn't both (1) spectacularly boring and (2) weirdly, unexpectedly uninformed. (i.e. I've never gotten anything out of her interviews of people I recognize.) Yet folks insist she's a brilliant, skilled interviewer.
What am I missing? I recognize that interviewing such a wide variety of people with limited prep time is a difficult thing, particularly when you're an expert in (as near as I can tell) absolutely nothing but radio interviews. But I watch e.g. Jon Stewart on The Daily Show - a near-incompetent interviewer in a trivial format - and I find his one-on-one segments funny, uncomfortable, sometimes brutal (cf. the ritual flaying of Jim Cramer). Sometimes embarrassing, yes, but that's the cost of hosting fools on movie publicity tours. When he shows up to play he's a quick-witted and enjoyable questioner.
Is there a really great Terry Gross interview I should listen to? Will no one help the poor miller's son?
Having finished M. John Harrison's beloved space-opera-with-an-asterisk Light I now face the question of what to read next. I fear this choice. Like any high-school tenor I blend and double first and only then (or thereby) proclaim, so whatever I read will end up swamping what I think of as 'my voice.' One 'easy' answer: Pynchon, whom I know better than to allow myself to imitate. (Left to its own devices, the spider in your hair will get the hell out of there and onto solid ground, as you'd refrain from fistfighting a battleship. Some fights you can call in advance.)
On the other hand I feel the usual unsupportable compulsion to finish more books This Very Month, but I've got no quick reads in the Queue. All I have are my secondhand Britishisms and ongoing mirror-stage preoccupations and this creeping story idea that's snuck in through some triple-locked carefully-monitored doors this week with mischief on its mind. Replacement, even. As I'm enamored of my self-image I'll do my best to sabotage it in the planning stages; if I am an expert at anything at all, then I...
Or, ooh, Stanislaw Lem? Should I try reading Dostoevsky for the first time? I've always had it easy, you know. I was a bottle baby, didn't even need to pick one nipple or the other. So this is all terribly, terribly tiring. Good thing too; I'm up early tomorrow. G'night.
[Oh, and/but how was Light? It was frustrating, then absorbing, then rapturous. Is that the right word? I can't help feeling he'd want me to find the right word - not least because once Harrison has found the word he wants, he flogs it until it's music. I'm scared of my own reflection so I do the opposite, which comes out the same - the way 7C6 and 7C1 are equal, but one is mean.]
(The title is, of course, a Cosma Shalizi hat-tip.)
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe. This was the first novel I'd read in a long, long time - this summer, I think - and I couldn't enjoy it until I realized how horribly, bitterly ironic the whole thing is meant to be. Then I could push through. The book burned a hole in my head. If I had actually enjoyed anything about it other than its ideas I'd recommend it wholeheartedly; as it is, it feels like an Admirable Important Book You Should Read Some Weekend. Does that make me a philistine?
Howard Dean's Prescription for Real Health Care Reform. Succinct, pleasant, a bit anticlimactic after (1) Dean's thrilling talk in Harvard and (2) every other thing we've read about health care this year. My wife and I were reading this to one another before bed for about a week. Can I confess something? It put her to sleep on more than one occasion. Politics, baby.
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole. For 3/4 of the story I wanted to kill Ignatius Reilly; and then, in a flash - on page 333, at Dorian's party - I wanted to comfort him. And then the Reillys' horrid neighbour told Mr Levy her story, the one about Ignatius's dog, and (quite against my will) I actually got a little misty. And then Ignatius was riding away from the house, and:
He stared gratefully at...the pigtail that swung innocently at his knee. Gratefully. How ironic, Ignatius thought. Taking the pigtail in one of his paws, he pressed it warmly to his wet moustache.
He's still a bastard of course. So many of us are. I think (and have been thinking) that this is one of the finest stories I've read. What a ride. I wish I knew what the heck a 'Yat' accent sounded like though.
Next: either one of the Dying Earth stories, Darkmans by Nicola Barker, (finally) The Echo Maker, or - why not? - 2666. Then again, there is this damned copy of Salt sitting on the nighttable. Can I tell you something? I hate pocket paperbacks. I know, it's probably just cultural disdain. But I don't like the form factor. The cramped pages. I wanna see the words stretching out before my eyes, pages a foot wide. My hands are aging too quickly for mass-market paperbacks.
[Update: Nope. It's M. John Harrison's Light, and now that I've made peace with the bleak misogyny of the thing (this won the Tiptree award? Do I not understand the purpose of the award?) the last 100 pages are just kicking my ass. Plus: trade paperback! I does what I wants when I wants it, chump(s).]
"You folks are..."
...hurting his business.
...trespassing on consecrated ground.
...mirror-images of her parents.
...not the first strangers to visit today.
...too close to a hidden cache of _______.
...in the middle of the parade route.
...drawing attention away from the mayoral proclamation.
...the spitting image of her long-lost kid(s).
...looking a little pale.
...in a position to help with some crooks.
...needed immediately - there's a fire!
...going to think I'm nuts, but could you _______?
...ideal couriers for this expensive book-sized package.
...the first customers we've had in twenty years.
...just the right blood type, by the smell of you...
...strong enough to lift a meteor, right?
...hopefully not frightened by ghosts.
...a little too foreign-looking for his tastes.
...in league with my goddamn wife, admit it.
...named in this will we've just read. Damnedest thing.
I brought two tarot decks with me to the coffee shop thinking I'd use them for 'inspiration.' The 'Deviant Moon' deck has gorgeous evocative steampunk art; the other is my beaten old standard Waite-Smith deck, which is something like the template language of tarot - and more importantly, the default visual identity of 'the' tarot in the popular imagination. Strange how that happens: visual analogue to 'Kleenex' synonymizing with 'facial tissue,' though perhaps a more potent prompt to symbolic connection. People think of fortune-telling charlatanry when they think of the tarot, which is reasonable. But I think I'm looking for something else.
Well...or I tell myself so in any case. 'Inspiration.' The idea is to jangle loose some idea or association. Basically to buy idea-connection on the cheap. I have these cards with me because I wish to feel connected. Like reading lists of 'tips' in a hunting magazine, thinking you're learning how to be a hunter.
You have to respect the action of the thing. To buy in. Perverse, isn't it, that 'buying in' has become synonymous with 'having faith.' Well, I bought the cards. You surround yourself with the apparatus of belief. It's so satisfying to approach sacred places without rigor. Can you think your way into sacred experience? Yes, I suppose so. But you have to treat contemplation itself as sacred, or your space, postures, your food intake, the books you carry...you have to believe in some kind of magic. Which is to say, again, that you have to respect the action of each machine.
Else end up in its teeth, right?
Now, tarot cards don't tell you the future. Nothing does. But then divination is just a form of perspectival shift: Help me reencounter this strange moment. Divination pursues not certainty but possibility. Like the Sacrament of Reconciliation, it can bring about a change of stance, but the only change or manipulation that occurs in the activity is emotional, perspectival. You might say: aspirational. You sit in the confessional ready to engage with a new possible self and are 'transformed' (solely) to the extent that you're prepared to realize that possibility through action. Works in a mechanistic universe or any other. The contour of the experience - hush, prostration, air close in, fear, the imaginary presence of the Overseer - has been refined over the thousands of years. Institutional art. It's meant to produce an effect; it works.
Some people like naked pictures of the elderly. Some kneel before the dead. Some eat mushrooms or drink chemicals and see colours; others make bright music in dark rooms thinking it will save them from something they won't name. Some fuck for sport. Nothing will stave off death but irresponsibility. (The Fool dances heedless at cliff's edge, and alone among the Arcana he bears no number.) The purpose of the thing isn't the thing itself.
'Just...pardon the expression, but I love...no, I love the attraction. Or I love my own reaction.' (Jamie Laurie)
Can you show me the future? Yes. You will react to some arbitrary prognosis, thereby revealing some hidden desire.
Well. That's the one 'correct' prediction available to the diviner. But it's also false - in the sense that it can't produce the sublime moment of dislocation that art (even the art of 'fortune-telling') affords. Self-consciousness violates the integrity of the experience. There is no ironic divination, no uncanny self. We are our own baseline; the more we insist upon the primacy of our own experiences, the easier it is to 'get a grip' on things - and drag the moments yet-to-come down to our level.
But you know as well as I do that I didn't plan to work with the cards.
Opening up to new experiences is hard work for some people. The more I withdraw into myself, the more elegant my systems of justification (i.e. 'philosophy') become, the more detailed my analyses of 'divine' or sublime experience...and the further I get from experiential understanding of the divine. Which is to say you can say correct things or true things about God but not both, and one of those forms dies with us, is dead already. Truth is vitality.
I did come here to the café, yes, rather than staying in the apartment alone. But my new headphones are 'sound-isolating.' You can imagine what that means, but maybe you can't imagine what it feels like. It's absolutely lovely. Everything becomes backdrop (to me). All these folks animated separately from this fast-moving images in my head. They lose detail. I'm just as alone here as anywhere else I might disconnect myself through music. I lose the swirling movement of the air here. I forget what the heat of a body is.
And the cards? One box is out on the table, upturned so I can't see the art on the box. One is stashed safely in the bag. I'm free from the suggestions they might make. I don't wish to be seen (as). The last thing I want is for the future to behave irresponsibly.
The Fool. From the other deck - the unnumbered Major Arcane, or rather the zeroth card. The thing to which we return. Entropy rises as intention is washed out. Not order but tension. A maximally entropic universe is wholly known, as is a perfect crystal (entropy zero) - paradoxically, we can as easily describe an utterly dissociated universe as we can a rigid unitary identity. The fool only seems to surrender; he is his own ruleset. How can you walk across the canal? By not sinking. Why does your skin glow? I've never tried to hide it. Shouldn't you be sleeping? I can never know. As entropy rises we lose less and less information to abstraction.
The universe has opinions. It loves symmetry and chaos. It loves order and dispersion, dissociation, eruption.
The Fool and the Magician want very different things: perfect experience (meaning total) and perfect action (meaning pure). Total control is a fool's dream, of course. We have opinions too. And remember that it's the magician who wears the jester's cap; the fool may as well have stepped out of bed. Or floated upward from its warmth, becoming dream. Perhaps.
This is what I wanted to avoid: unencumbrance. How strange.
Old man in a smart cravat, 3/4-length raincoat. Halting steps and careful hand motions. Keep your hands from disappearing. (The moment you become unself-conscious you disappear. The Magician knows that that's death; the Fool sees that it's life. Old age makes fools of us, thank God.) He disappears up the stairs, comes back. Books sticking from a well-worn leather satchel on his right hip. He leans left against its weight, rubs his hands together. I think of the room as cold or warm but I know it's a mistake. I bring energy or leave it behind, or share it, or feel it. You find the strength to surrender or don't. I can't imagine how cold he must find each room to be, what it's like to see skin fade to translucence and transparency because of fucking time...he knows 'hot' and 'cold' are measures of his tolerance, has earned the right to give in. I'm obligated to feign warmth. So many years to go.
The inside of Judgment's trumpet is very definitely not a living thing. Cold metal. Noisemaker. See? Look at you. You've run out of noises to make on the cards' behalf. A credulous person might give in now to...not 'to the cards,' fool. To the possibility of something new.
The cards are pocketed and away. What was I looking for? Doesn't matter. On my errand I found:
The Fool. From the other deck - the unnumbered Major Arcane, or rather the zeroth card. The thing to which we return. Entropy rises...
A credulous person might give in...
Incredulity is something you choose. 'I couldn't believe it!' Well, that was true before it happened. The moment of decision comes to pass no matter how you've prepared. 'Incredulous' is not 'how you feel' when something happens you can't believe. It's the posture you adopt, crab-walking toward a junction or possibility, shoulders hunched. How comforting it feels: limbs drawn in against imagined cold ('cold' is a feeling, not a measurement), every atom's position known and controlled. 'In control' is a feeling, not a place. An inch more space between the feet of the Fool and the face of the cliff won't buy safety. That's what the Fool knows. Safety is a feeling, not a possession. You can't buy into it anyhow.
True things can't be bought.
Dwelling on the surface of the cards while disrespecting the action of association - imaginative creation - is laziness. Alternate form of the same statement: typing isn't writing. Or: only lovers know the hidden name of love. Or: religious belief is the myth that makes faithful action possible; faith is authentic action.
Or if you're into the whole 'brevity' thing: Deal.
That doesn't seem like a good ending but if I don't give these things away they will bury me.
I'm hesitant to have people over to our place for dinner because we're (mostly) messy people and the work involved in dinner-partying together seems daunting. But our enjoyable (small) dinner party last night reminded me of a couple of simple things:
1) Let the food do the work. I tend not to trust ingredients, want to hover around the stove adding spices and such. But my lady made a fantastic pineapple/ginger dressing for my elementary salad, each just a mix of fresh ingredients, and the whole thing just sang. The pleasure of eating wasn't a function of the time in preparation nor the complicatedness of the work. It usually isn't; I just always fear otherwise. Next to the hearty spices and caramel-crispness of the tofu/cabbage/plum/wonton cups, A2thaGI's smoothmellow squash/carrot dip, and the aggressive taste of the cuke/hummus/olive cups, the salad was a clear high soprano note.
I learned rudimentary voice-leading rules in college, and our meal last night (unconsciously?) followed them: each item its own melody, each in its own register.
2) To hell with regionalism. No one actually cares that you're doing a Chinese dish, an Italian dish, a South American drink, and a side of beef jerky. As long as each dish does its thing and one flavour doesn't steal from another, geography doesn't matter one bit.
3) Eating habits are only habits. Dinner parties are a two-way invitation; if you're doing it right, you'll be taking chances right along with your guests. Don't deny yourself novel pleasures out of misguided 'etiquette' concerns.
4) Cleaning is fun.
4a) Well, cleaning is sometimes fun.
5) A clean kitchen is a much, much more efficient kitchen.
6) Generalizing from (3), Habits are only habits. They don't correspond to any essential nature or identity. I cling to my habits because I dislike discontinuities in my precious Self, but whatever new habits I pick up, my life will reorder around them. That's how you become an 'alcoholic' or a 'video game addict.' You might have a propensity for a thing but your habits are mutable and self-perpetuating. Habitual behaviour is an evolutionary boon, duh. Trouble is, since human devolution kicked in and fitness got decoupled from survival we (the spectacularly wealthy, lazy, lucky) have been spinning against ourselves. Habits spawning habits, the apparatus of survival and continuance misapplied. I'm accustomed to not having folks over for dinner. But it's only a custom. No Self survives honest fellowship with friends; the Self is for the times we lack such contact. We are most selfish when we push others away and choose solitude. It's OK to let fellowship do the work of reconstituting us.
6a) No seriously, I got that shit from the tofu cups.
A friend of mine is part of the FX team (or rather, one of several teams) for this forthcoming film. I mean no disrespect to the craftsmen on her team, whose skills and seriousness are not in question. A job is a job. But whatever this modified clip reveals about the film (nothing nonobvious), it hopefully shows us something about us, which we might otherwise choose - as usual - to forget.
Compare to the original clip, and keep in mind the content of the scene: we are rooting for the plucky limo driver, his plucky wife and kids, and the plucky shitbird-new-boyfriend to survive the onscreen death of millions of innocent people. Note that the scene is played for suspenseful comedy (check out that donut). Note the pornographic nature of the violence, which completely strips every human but the protagonists of anything resembling humanity. The final image isn't supposed to be sad or terrifying - it's too big, too wide-angle, too melodramatically voyeuristic.
Nope. It's supposed to be awesome.
Whatever the experience of making the thing, that is the thing's purpose.
Bono matters because, like a certain big-eared Hawaiian lawyer we know, he can communicate both passion and intelligence without dilution or condescension:
"Love is a big word to be throwing around in [the Balkans]," Bono continues, building up steam, talking over the engine noise. "Carrying the badge of nonviolence, at first glance, looks well on an Irishman, but we lives 100 miles from troubles. So in a way, it was no great act of courage for us to drain the flag of colour and preach nonviolence.
"It's a completely different thing if you live in Croatia or if you live in the western Balkans. These people have, within recent memory, seen just what a thin skin of civilization we had in the late 20th century. We had just made Achtung Baby and Zooropa - and people weren't only not loving their neighbours, they were torturing their neighbours. They were attaching electrical cables to their private parts and making them squeal. I would not be at all offended if somebody were to say, 'How the fuck dare you come and speak about love?'" [--from this week's Rolling Stone]
To be both passionate about knowledge and knowledgeable about passion is a fine goal.
How are they gonna deal with most of the world's semipro athletes doing 'rhythmic gymnastics' with the various man- and lady-whores of the Carnivale all night?!
Pornolympics is more like it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!drunknow