Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Boredom is meditation

Everything that happens inside you during the time you remain seated, silent and motionless, is meditation. [...] Boredom is meditation. The pains in your knees, back, and neck are meditation. The rumbling of your stomach is meditation. The feeling that you're wasting your time with bogus spirituality is meditation. The telephone call that you prepare in your head and the desire to get up and make it are meditation. Resisting this desire is meditation — giving in to it isn't though, of course. That's all. Nothing more.

I like Emmanuel Carrère. I've been meaning to read Yoga for some time. I've been meaning to read a bunch of things by him for some time. On reflection, I realize that I've read only rather a small sampling of his work — a novel, a memoir, and an erotic essay. That novel, however, The Moustache, deeply affected me, and I would rank it as a favourite. Another book of Carrère's goes by a title I made up myself for a collection of stories I'd imagined while waiting on the subway platform (alas, I'll find another title if I ever write those stories). It seems to me that we, Emmanuel and I, have compatible views of the world; we ask similar questions of the world and of ourselves.

I've always found yoga interesting (since I first experienced it at age maybe 11), and I enjoy practicing it (although I've never pursued it regularly let alone zealously, and I am currently out of the habit altogether). Like Carrère, I think of  yoga not as a form of gymnastics, but as an introspective exercise, dare I say spiritual (though "spiritual" feels too intangible); I'd like to call it a way of being, but that invokes too much a granola lifestyle, some kind of mindfulness, meditation of the body (those are my words, not Carrère's).

The body has three hundred joints. The blood circulates through more than sixty thousand miles of arteries, veins, and capillaries. There are forty-six miles of nerves. Unfolded, the surface of the lungs would cover a soccer field. Little by little, yoga aims to become acquainted with all of this. To fill it all with consciousness, energy, and the consciousness of energy.

Yoga, for Carrère, is a form of meditation (or is it vice versa?), classified along with tai chi. He offers several definitions of meditation (but not of yoga), about two dozen or so, though I'm too lazy now to search them out and count them. Most of them variations on a theme, refinements. My favourite may be this: 

observing the points of contact between what is oneself and what is not oneself.

The language of yoga fascinates me. I once started drafting a blog post about it. Those soft-toned phrases, less instructions than incantations. Open your heart. Lead with your heart. Root down to the earth with the three corners of your foot. Put your mind in your feet.  Breathe into your cells. Create more space inside. (Inside of what exactly? And more space for what?) The meditation guide tells me, "The body is designed to move, the mind is designed to wander," while I am expected (by whom?) to restrain the body from moving and the mind from wandering.

This book, Carrère's Yoga, is not about those things. Not obviously, anyway. Had I known what this book was about, I might not have read it. At least, not now. It's mostly about a breakdown Carrère suffered, lengthy and intense, sandwiched between the Charlie Hebdo shootings and his time in Greece giving writing classes to (mostly) Iraqi refugees. While breaking from reality fascinates me, and it is the subject of much of the fiction I choose to read, real-life accounts of severe depression aren't really my thing. 


Carrère embarks on a meditation retreat in a remote corner of France — 10 days of silence. (This kind of journey has a great deal of appeal to me, and I occasionally indulge in researching such opportunities.) 

The question — and this isn't the first time I'm asking it — is whether there's an incompatibility, or even a contradiction, between the practice of meditation and my trade, which is to write. Over the next ten days, will I watch my thoughts go by without becoming attached to them, or will I instead try to hold on to them, which is the exact opposite of meditation? Will I spend the whole time taking mental notes? Will the meditator be observing the writer, or the writer observing the meditator?

Early on it becomes clear he doesn't make it through to the end, and we wonder why he breaks the silence, is it the silence that breaks him? In fact, his retreat comes to an end due to entirely external factors. He is called away on a matter related to the shootings, of which he and the other 100 or so retreat participants were entirely ignorant, while everyone else in the country was actively distraught. The taxi driver offers some perspective: "If you'd known, what would it have changed?"

Behind the scenes are a crumbling marriage and a transportative love affair that came to an unexpected end. Carrère is diagnosed as bipolar and sinks deep: long-term hospitalization, ketamine, electroconvulsive therapy. 

For everyone, being in love is a sort of manic phase, the most desirable of manic phases. [...] If I don't want to cause suffering, love is now forbidden to me. No more love. No more enchantment of being in love, the best thing in the world.

Carrère comes out of the hospital and ends up on a Greek island, we're not entirely sure how, and maybe neither is he. Everything seems a little dulled. It seems to me that he dwells on love, or the lack of love, or the desire to love, the inability to love. He describes a story told by Roger Caillois in The Uncertainty That Comes from Dreams, an arrangement between lovers (that resonates with me as ideal):

In this bubble of space and time, totally sheltered from the outside world, everything is desire, softness, tranquility, understanding between bodies, murmured conversation. They both know that nothing like this would be possible if they lived together, as they've sometimes thought of doing. It's in secrecy that their love unfolds, and they both believe that, protected in this way, it will last forever.

Then one day, he can't find the street where she lives, or any trace of her. He realizes none of it was real, it was all a dream — but the distress is real.

(Tangent. Some thoughts relevant to me right here, right now: "Dreams are extremely intimate: to encounter our work life there is to suffer the invasion of the professional at the very heart of our personal life.")

Ultimately, I believe this book, Yoga, is about love. I think love is a kind of meditation (or is it vice versa?). Maybe because love, at its best (worst?), blurs those points of contact between oneself and not oneself.

Carrère reflects on the successes of his life,

But the essential, which is love, would have escaped me. I was loved, yes, but I had not learned how to love — or hadn't been able to, which is the same thing. No one had been able to rest in complete confidence in my love and I would not rest, at the end, in anyone else's. 

And that is his greatest tragedy (and maybe mine). I believe the enchantment of being in love really is the best thing in the world. When we don't have it, a survival mechanism kicks in; we delude ourselves into believing it's not so important. But love is everything.  


To do 
Consider "Recession," by George Langelaan.
Track down The Uncertainty That Comes from Dreams, by Roger Caillois.
Take up tai chi (again).
Explore the work of Giorgio de Chirico

Remember Glenn Gould's maxim: "The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity."

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

What is history?

What is history? So it is asked, repeatedly and pointedly, in Same Bed Different Dreams (no comma), by Ed Park, a readably maximalist metafictional alternate "history" of Korea positing that the Provisional Government established during Japan's occupation of Korea operates to this day, its ultimate aim being a unified Korea. Fact, perception, memory, imagination. Drawing connections and filling in the blanks.

Pop quiz (in the guise of mandatory corporate security training):

After Japan's defeat in World War II, Korea was divided into North and South across the 38th parallel

A. by someone in the U.S. State Department who had to find a map in National Geographic because he wasn't exactly sure where Korea was.

B. and the animosity between the Soviet-backed North and U.S.-backed South led to the Korean War — the "Forgotten War."

C. where no border existed before.

D. or was it?!

I read most of this book two-handedly, in one fist my ereader, in the other my phone, ready to check names and events against popularly recorded history (and I really messed up my algorithms in the process). The problem with reading alternate history is knowing enough actual history to be able to discern the deviations, and to be honest, what little knowledge I have about Korea is limited to K-pop and M*A*S*H

"It's said that the Korean Provisional Government is more a state of mind than an actual governing body." Park reveals foundational members, secret members, anticipatory members, and undercover operatives of the Korean Provisional Government (KPG), among them Isabella Bird, Leon Czolgosz (assassin of President McKinley), poet Yi Sang, Harold Sakata (who portrayed Bond villain Oddjob), Douglas MacArthur, Marilyn Monroe, Jesus Christ, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Ronald Reagan, Younghill Kang, Thomas Wolfe, Maxwell Perkins, Richard E. Kim, and Philip Roth.

The history of the KPG is presented in the form of a manuscript titled Same Bed, Different Dreams (with a translator's note about deleting the comma), read by writer Soon Sheen, whose day job, much like mine, mostly consists of navigating (sometimes literally) a techmegacorp, and trying to figure out what the hell their job actually consists of.

Park's Same Bed also asks (literally), "What is a book?" Concerning Syngman Rhee's The Spirit of Independence, one of the secret bibles of the KPG,

Few readers can remember where all the chapters are, which means the book is often encountered out of order. More important than the book's contents is the fact of its existence: that it has been composed in extremis, cut up, and concealed.

This novel is a celebration of fiction, intertextuality, and, in a roundabout way, good editing. "The problem with being a good copy editor is that the world will always be in error."

One main narrative thread concerns the sci-fi series 2333 (so named either to honour the fictional author's wife's birthdate, or to call out the legendary founding of Korea in 2333 bc; personally, I can't help but think of 2666; and apparently in Chinese it's the equivalent of lmao), pulp fiction space adventures written by a PKD-admiring Korean War vet, and serving as inspiration for a couple of game developers, with the resulting software folded into the algorithms of the aforementioned techmegacorp.

This novel bounces from the tragic (suspicious?) death of Kim Jong Il's little brother at the age of about 4 to the circumstances of the destruction in 1983 of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 by Soviet Air Forces.

Despite its concern with Korea, it's dense with Americana. It follows Betsy Palmer (who eventually starred in Friday the 13th, which has an imagined backstory rooted in the Korean War and its aimless violence can be seen as an allegory of American intervention; also one of Kim Jong Il's favourite movies). It trails Ronald Reagan (who ratted out communists and eventually became president). It documents their encounters on gameshow I've Got a Secret. It plays JFA on a loop (that's punk band Jodie Foster's Army, whose name was inspired by John Hinkley Jr, who attempted to assassinate Reagan).

(Palmer also dated James Dean, regarding whom we have this wonderful sentence: "Half of him is falling apart at the seams while the other half insists there are no seams.")

Also hockey lore. One short chapter division is named after my hometown, being where Tim Horton crashed and died (and I've been craving a cruller since reading those pages). Because of course Same Bed covers the history of the Buffalo Sabres, whose very existence is tied to the KPG, evidenced through their 1974 11th-round draft pick — "nonexistent" Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas (why are they called the "sabres" anyway?), and culminating in Park's dramatization of the fog game, featuring a bat swooping down from the arena rafters. Apparently, you can't make this stuff up.

I am inspired to see Friday the 13th, a film I didn't think I'd ever watch, even though Same Bed has given away the entire plot and ending. 

Yura insists that the film is as deep and beautiful and disquieting as anything he's seen. That it's a dream masquerading as the ultimate horror film. A poem of grief. 

It was early pages when I gave up on grasping the intricacies of occupational and international politics, and simply gave myself over to this wild ride, a distorted fun-house version of history laden with conspiracy. Park performs pure magic.

To do
Procure a copy of Dictee.
Watch Friday the 13th.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

It was a relief to have the option to fully peace out of reality

Simon whistled, slowing down to look.

"It's that left turn," he said. "It's the worst."

"Maybe everyone was fine." Alex's voice sounded brittle: she tried to soften it.

"Doubtful." Simon was somber, shaking his head, though Alex detected a note of excitement. "No one's walking away from that alive."

Even though Alex understood that they were driving in Simon's car, and even though Alex understood that she had only had a fender bender that afternoon, a minor finder bender, Alex had the sudden feeling, for whatever reason, that she had been inside the white car. That she had died, here on the highway. It was a dumb thought, but she couldn't shake it. Maybe she was going crazy. At the same time, she knew she would never go crazy — which was worse. She'd been almost jealous of the people she'd known in the city she'd totally cracked up, spiraled into some other realm. It was a relief to have the option to fully peace out of reality.

The Guest, by Emma Cline, starts at the beach, a struggle against the undertow. Alex is always the guest, not even an invitee, arm candy, but invisible, sometimes a plus one, sometimes a hanger-on, always an outsider trying not to be caught out. "A sort of inert piece of social furniture — only her presence was required, the general size and shape of a young woman."

She's a grifter, a twenty-first century Holly Golightly on steroids, only the steroids are tequila and painkillers and sleeping pills, skimmed from other people's cupboards. Like if the Talented Mr. Ripley had a Year of Rest and Relaxation.

Alex has clearly been cultivating a sugar relationship with Simon, and there are hints that her past is  less seemly. 

But Alex misbehaves at a party, and Simon sends her packing. She's sure this is just a temporary glitch though; she just needs to get through a few days till the timing and setting are right for them to be reunited.

So: figure out some interim spot where Jack could drop her off, and then make her way back here. She reminded herself to note the address before they left. Make sure she understood how to open the gate. Logistics were already crowding in, making her tired — this is what people like Simon got to avoid, the constant churn of anxieties somehow both punishingly urgent and punishingly boring.

How exhausting it must be. To always be attentive, read the room, course-correct. Always thinking ahead, moving things forward, nudging them toward the desired outcome. Alex always pictures the future state. Until she can't.

We follow Alex through six days, always swimming, never getting anywhere.

That ending though. Drawing comparisons to both The Awakening and The Sopranos, it's open to interpretation, and I think it's perfect. Total psychotic break. What's that behind her?

LARB: Worse for Cashing In: On Emma Cline's "The Guest"

From Chapter 1
From Chapter 2 

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

A light tale that becomes heavy

Why would you want to be with someone if they didn't change your life? She said that, and Julio was there when she said it: that life only made sense if you found someone who would change it, who would destroy your life as you knew it.

[I want someone to change my life. Again. Turn my life upside down. Make me question every moment I've lived until now. I think of all the times my life has been destroyed.]

Bonsai, by Alejandro Zambra, is a quick and beautiful read, a lazy morning in bed, inspiring a hazy recollection of past lovers.

We start at the end. We know that it ends, and that Emilia dies. In a study group for Spanish Grammar, they ended up sleeping together. Emilia and Julio have never read Proust, but they lie about it to each other. Perhaps the deception binds them.

They read to each other in bed, and enact the texts, interpreting them erotically. And then they read Macedonio Fernández's "Tantalia," and it breaks them. It's about a couple who buy a plant together as a symbol of their love, but rather than risk it dying, they decide to lose it in a crowd of plants (starting on page 111, "the suffocated scream of a suffering root in the earth"). So now Emilia and Julio have the awareness of the inevitability of their relationship's end, each of them individually and alone sensing it. To preserve the power of their love, they are impelled to abandon it.

Emilia goes to Spain, becomes more completely like how she is. An old friend think she looks bad, depressed, like a junkie.

Zambra keeps insisting that this is Emilia's story, but it's not. We know how her story ends, that's all.  

Julio fails to land a transcription job with a bigshot novelist. He lies about it to a woman he's sleeping with it. He makes up the story of the novel to tell her, a variation of his and Emilia's love story. His life begins to take the shape of the story he's created.

Bonsai. Delicate in appearance, but strong. Small, but carefully cultivated. A world in miniature. Old. Maybe these are the best relationships. A beautiful, impossible artifice.

Emilia and Julio's was a relationship riddled with truths, with personal disclosures that quickly built up a complicity they strove to see as unassailable. This is, then, a light tale that becomes heavy. This is the story of two student enthusiasts of the truth, aficionados of deploying words what seem like truth, of smoking endless cigarettes, and of enclosing themselves within the violent complacency of those who believe themselves better and purer than others, than that immense and detestable group called everyone else

They quickly learned to read the same way, to think similarly, and to hide their differences. Very soon they comprised a vain private world. For a time, at least, Julio and Emilia managed to meld into a single entity. They were, in short, happy.


Wednesday, December 06, 2023

The contour lines of her own body had dissolved

The camera, apparatus of the desirous gaze, is made up of a shutter released upon a scene which one feels certain can never be fully contained within a 35 mm frame by a finger that is determined to live in the present moment, full as that moment is of affection, curiosity, and regret toward all those people living through the world's uncontainable time and space. The determination, the hesitation, the joy and fear of the moment when the finger releases the shutter are not about any critical consistency of a journalistic nature, but rather the ethics of the person holding the camera, who, with the rapid movement of a finger, must make an instantaneous decision with that desirous gaze.

I wake early this morning, before daylight, and not being able to fall back asleep, I play Wordle and then Connections, and glance at the forums for the latest developments in work gossip. Finally the sun comes up over the horizon, I get up to pee, and I raise the blinds on the sliding doors from the bedroom to the fire escape, I lower them only part way at bedtime to block the glare from the streetlight that is in my direct line of vision when I lie in bed, why is there a streetlight in the ruelle anyway? I crawl back into bed because it's still early and I pick up the novel I've been reading since forever, Mild Vertigo, by Mieko Kanai, I swear there was still snow on the ground when I started, it came with me to Rhossili Bay in the late spring, on which vacation I read exactly nothing, except only the opening pages of Yukio Mishima's Star, which lovely edition was an impulse purchase at the Tate Modern, I managed to squeeze in a visit, specifically to see an exhibit of Maria Bartuszova's plaster work, all the lovely little Penguins lined up at the checkout as I paid for my solitary souvenir postcard (my studio is beginning to look a little like this, with experimental plaster fragments, the card now tacked to the wall as inspiration), and I couldn't resist starting to read it on my way back to Paddington before embarking west, but on this trip I only walked and walked and rested, and walked and sang and danced, and rested, only on two evenings did I opt to watch Netflix (Black Mirror, as it happens), otherwise quickly dropping off to sleep.

And Mild Vertigo came with me to Kabelvåg, but on this trip appropriately enough I was reading A House in Norway, by Vigdis Hjorth, and also not traveling alone so more likely to chat over a drink than to sit quietly with a book, although we shopped for books, and this included a miniquest for books by Jon Fosse who was announced Nobel laureate at about the same time as I landed in Oslo, the quest requirement being that it be in English and not be a behemoth, I very quickly settled on Aliss at the Fire as a small yet sufficiently representative work, I'm so tired of reading privileged self-indulgent white men who are somehow above the slash of an editor's pen, I didn't find a copy, but I've since ordered a Fitzcarraldo edition, and as I write this I glance up and note the other postcard on my studio wall from a show in Bergen, Ahmed Umar, whose polished, organic sculptural objects were all mounted on plaster casts of his hand in prayer emerging from the wall, what am I to do with my casts, the malformed latex gloves, make some comment on women's work and domesticity?

It's only in the last few weeks that I've been reading Mild Vertigo again in earnest, and hoping my reading mojo is back, coaxing it back to life, my only regret being that it's not a Fitzcarraldo edition, I love French flaps, released coincidentally on the day I'd returned home from Wales and became aware of it only when my daughter had friends over for her birthday, and I'd grabbed my book and a drink intending to move to a quiet corner and give them some space, when one of the girls said she had that book only a Fitzcarraldo, I wonder now if it includes Kate Zambreno's afterword, because that's a stroke of genius, juxtaposing her essay over Kanai's text, which similarly lays a narrative over and around a creative essay about an exhibition of Nobuyoshi Araki and Kineo Kuwabara photography (loosely positioning them as journalist vs artist, respectively, characterized by cruelty vs compassion, respectively). I read Zambreno when I vacationed in Mexico, was that two years ago already, I don't think I ever wrote about it, it felt like research, preparatory, an immersion in process, when all I wanted to do was write, maybe I was heartbroken, probably I was, reading and writing were always therapy (do I no longer require therapy of this kind?). Here Zambreno writes, "I don't want to make it personal [...] but how else, to show the interior of an experience of a novel like this, how a novel invades you, as much as you invade it?" I love this, in fact, often the invasion interests me more than the novel itself.

I read in bed this morning and doze off about once per page, I'm late for work, I don't care, this is blissful, occasionally my phone buzzes and I glance at the message. I'm not sure why I was invited to this group chat, the girls from university, it makes me slightly uncomfortable, I moved away from that town decades ago, I am still friends with them to differing degrees, although one of them, I barely know her at all; but now I know that her marriage is breaking down. I met them for dinner a year ago, and before that, never as a group, I wonder how they came to flock together in recent years, college days solidifying into a pillar supporting their midlife lives. I feel less successful than all of them, but possibly more interesting, my career has been more varied, I've traveled, certainly I'm better read. And now they are planning a girls' night without me, only the chat group is labeled “Girl's night” and maybe it is the misplaced apostrophe that has provoked my antagonism. Which girl gets the night? I don't see much similarity at all between them and my current friend group, where I feel among equals even while I stand in awe of them, I am so lucky to have such smart and interesting friends. It wouldn't occur to me to share an essay or an article with the university girls, really I should just admit that I don’t know them at all, even though I miss them, the friends that they used to be in a forgotten place in my life.

[S]he remembered there'd been times when she'd found the prospect of getting in after her husband totally repugnant, it didn't exactly seem dirty to her, she wouldn't go that far, but it was an indisputable fact that when a person was in the bath the sweat that emerged from their body's pores would mingle with the bathwater, and of course she didn't mind that happening when it was her children's sweat, but when she thought about the sweat from her husband's body mixed in with the bathwater it had struck her as something distasteful, that was to be avoided if at all possible. She didn't want to immerse her body in water that contained all the dirt that had oozed out of his pores along with his sweat, she didn't feel that way when they were having sex and their bodies were pressed so tightly together that their was sweat running down in the gap between their two sets of skins, but when she imagined the dirt and sweat that had come from her husband's pores mixing with the dirt and sweat that had come from her own pores within the bathwater, she found it revolting, as though the contour lines of her own body had dissolved and were blending, through the boundary with another body and the pores in the skin, with something else — and worse, these contaminations taking place while immersed in dirty warm water — which left her feeling unpleasant, and slightly sick.

If in Zambreno's view Kanai's novel is marked by interiors, her protagonist noting details like texture and spatial relationships, very physical, superficial, and domestic, my life might be delineated by exteriors, bounding a certain stasis, wherever I go there I am, confined to a constant aller-retour, my body may scream to travel but I always come back, the universe revolves around this single point of my being, defining in relief the compulsion to get outside of myself. I attended a dance performance last week that revisited the myth of Tantalus, who stood in a pool of water beneath a tree but when he bent to drink the water receded and when he reached for the low-hanging fruit it pulled away; the performer recounted the tale and wondered about staying still, simply not triggering the mechanism (of desire, punishment, capitalism). Yes, I think to myself, rationalizing my life decisions, the trick is to do nothing, then I can't fuck it up.

The Paris Review: A Study of Kanai Mieko

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Everything tends towards attenuation

'What happened is the least of it. It's a novel, and once you've finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel's imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay far more attention.' That isn't true, or rather, it's sometimes true, but one doesn't always forget what happened, not in a novel that almost everyone knew or knows, even those who have never read it, nor in reality when what happens is actually happening to us and is going to be our story, which could end one way or another with no novelist to decide and independent of anyone else..."

Since January, I have borrowed this book five times. On the latest occasion I renewed it a further two times. So it's been at my fingertips for twenty-one (nonconsecutive) weeks. I tried renewing it again yesterday, just in case, but somehow my request didn't register. But I managed to finish it. Finally I finished The Infatuations, by Javier Marías.

I tagged it to my library wishlist in May 2016. The first borrowing wasn't even, strictly speaking, intentional. I downloaded it as an extra, to bypass a glitch in downloading reserved library ebooks; it may as well be something I'm actually interested in reading, I thought.

I started reading it in February. Until the next waitlisted book became available. The Infatuations, it seemed, was always available. No harm in letting it expire if I could just check it out again. I read some more in April, but not in June. Some library worker might review my loan history and think I was infatuated, even obsessed, with this book. In July, I decided to read it in earnest and had to go back to the beginning.

Our protagonist is smitten with a couple, "the Perfect Couple," she knows by sight; they frequent the same café most mornings. Until one day she realizes she hasn't seen them for a while, and learns that the man had been brutally murdered.

"How easy it is for a person simply to vanish into thin air," I thought. "Someone only has to move jobs or house and you'll never know anything more about them, never see them again. All it takes is a change in work schedule. How fragile they are, these connections with people one knows only by sight."

María Dolz is infatuated with the couple, but is also a little in love with them singly, consumed by the details of the death and the imagined life of Miguel Devern, and fascinated by Luisa Alday, with whom she finally exchanges words.

Yes, there are people who cannot bear misfortune. Not because they're frivolous or empty-headed. They're not, of course, immune to grief, and they doubtless experience grief as intensely as anyone else. But they're designed to shake it off more quickly and without too much difficulty, as if they were simply incompatible with such states of mind. It's in their nature to be light-hearted and cheerful and they see no particular prestige in suffering, unlike most of the rest of boring humanity.

The couple had also noticed María as a regular; "the Prudent Young Woman" they called her. At Luisa's home, she meets Javier Díaz-Varela, and speculates about the nature of their relationship, but soon after she herself develops a sexual relationship with him, an infatuation. He in turn seems to have his sights on the widow of his best friend. 

What is fact, what is real, and what is true? What is fiction, what stories do we tell ourselves so we sleep better at night, what explanations are lazy or fantastical, what excuses result from obscure psychological motivations?

In the end, everything tends towards attenuation, sometimes little by little and thanks to great effort and willpower on our part; sometimes with unexpected speed and contrary to our will, while we struggle in vain to keep faces from fading and paling into nothing, and deeds and words from becoming blurred objects that drift about in our memory with the same scant value as those we've read about in novels or seen and heard in films: we don't really care what happen in books and films and forget about them once they're over, although, as Díaz-Varela has said when he spoke to me about Colonel Chabert, they do have the ability to show us what we don't know and what doesn't happen. When someone tells us something, it always seems like a fiction, because we don’t know the story at first hand and can’t be sure it happened, however much we are assured that the story is a true one, not an invention, but real. At any rate, it forms part of the hazy universe of narratives, with their blind spots and contradictions and obscurities and mistakes, all surrounded and encircled by shadows or darkness, however hard they strive to be exhaustive and diaphanous, because they are incapable of achieving either of those qualities.

I think about my various infatuations, how some linger, vanish slowly, others stop suddenly, with no consistency of logic. I think about the boy from the bookshop who used to come buy coffee from me every day at the bakery the summer I was eighteen, until one day I stopped working there and he was gone forever.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Silicone mould of complex 3D object

Woman, closed, or enclosed. Encircling her own body. Pensive, head resting on knee.

I argue in favour of this pose because it's more upright than horizontal (Who has room to keep sculptures of reclining women? Sure, I sculpted a reclining woman, but then I mounted her in an upright position, it's a more effective use of space. Maybe it's me, maybe it has something to do with how tall I am or the space I live in or the precise warp in the lens that is my astigmatism, how I perceive verticality.), and therefore also more fully dimensional, almost a full 360 degrees, not a pose that has a front and no back (like the reclining woman, I had to rely on something other than a visual prompt to complete her back, her backside, the finished piece more a composite than a true depiction of the live model). 

I like that the pose is natural, not contorted. For some reason the art instructor favours extreme torsion, an expression of the artist's torment, she says, but I think it's because she wanted to be a dancer (and failed). Someone else suggests that if I want natural I should look in a mirror; we pay a live model precisely to take advantage of the poses they strike, muscled and flexed. He wants the model to to give him something, show him, inspire him. (But I, I think, am an artist; nothing need be given me, I find it, make something of it, I know where to look, how to look.) 

They want this young Vietnamese woman to embody their classical European sensibilities. Perhaps it was doomed to failure. 

I go big (well, bigger than usual), prep an armature. Determined to complete a full body, not a headless torso.

This model is different from the others, quiet, not a dancer or a circus performer, not body confident. An art student with thick ankles. I sense she is relieved that the agreed-upon pose allows her some modesty.

Suddenly I realize she is all limbs. I am looking at the space she enfolds. How do I sculpt this vast hollow she protects?

It's no longer an artistic question. It's a geometry problem.

I watch how others construct their mould, which planes they choose, which points of access. I don't want to be the first to fail, but I fail to understand how this mould will work.

Red clay woman encased in white silicone. The silicone sheathe around her thighs and buttocks is thin and loose, I had to leave it dry before I could apply another coat. In the meantime, the clay lost water, receded into itself, or gravity pulled the mass of still moist clay flesh away from her shroud.

Plaster shell designed in four parts. (This is the first time I create a mould that is more complex than a front and a back.) It's fragile, in places also too thin (Was a I rushed for time? Did I run out of plaster? Simply, did I lose my touch?), and a thin wedge snaps off, perhaps this small piece is expendable, but the major shell facet breaks in half as I pry it away. 

My blade leaves stab marks along her torso and thighs. I tug at the silicone, and it rips. Repeatedly. 

I fear I cannot save both the clay and the mould. The mould, thin and torn, may not be salvageable. If, on the other had, I preserve the clay, I can attempt another mould. But to repair the clay, I first must release it.

Neck fully broken, likely due to drying conditions, not mishandling. The head hangs on by its nervous system of scavenged electrical wires.

The left big toe comes away with the silicone. Her joints crumble, revealing the metallic understructure. 

The geometry problem becomes a matter of physics: how to remove a large silicone mass from between crossed limbs. I dislocate her left shoulder to release the solid white space that her arm describes beside her waist. 

The silicone can be reassembled, bonded with more silicone. It's messy. And if I choose to reinforce any patches, I risk the plaster shell not fitting snuggly. I think it may be usable, but only once.

I keep the clay moist, but eventually it will dry and crack over its too-robust skeleton, now too big. It would be impossible to remove this armature. (How can I keep the clay from drying and cracking?) I don't know how to add new clay to this old clay that will keep it together rather than pull it apart.

The air is too humid. Nothing will set, nothing will dry.