Thursday, June 06, 2024

Activity as volumetric thinker

Looking up at the heavens she howled and cried until she grew hoarse, but even after her voice had given out, her whole body continued to shake. If only she could become a sculpture. Though she had produced many drawings and prints, she had know that she was meant to be a sculptor since her youth. And now, the only way to escape this pain was to become a sculpture herself.

— from 3 Streets, by Yoko Tawada

1. Can I call myself an artist? Yes. Apparently I am emerging. Some of my sculptures are on display at the Montreal Art Center and Museum, June 8-22.

Women sculptors have often been single figures, whose very activity as volumetric thinkers caused consternation. (Penelope Curtis)

2. What am I trying to prove? And I am certain I am trying to prove something. I am, however, not sure if it is to the world or to myself, or to someone else. This is a partial proof that anyone can be an artist. If I can do it, surely anyone can. Or at least anyone who takes the time to respond to a call for submissions, prepare a portfolio and a statement. Anyone who can manage the logistics of exhibiting one's work. Alternatively it is proof that I have some artistic talent. Can both hypotheses be true?

3. Having the goal of exhibition has shaped my time. There are deadlines. Paint must dry. These past months have been exceptionally stress-laden, for life reasons, yet I made a commitment to participate in a group exhibit — an added pressure, but also a distraction from life, even a handy excuse.

4. Would these sculptures have turned out differently without a looming end date? Minimally. In some cases, a decision was forced. I no longer had the luxury of procrastination. But the right decisions were made, of this I am confident. 

5. Some finishing detail was rushed. As I browse work in galleries, I notice the precision I didn't make time for — a sanded contour, a crisper edge, a neater mounting. Such detail can be a differentiator between competent work and confident work. While parts of the process are meditative and slow down time, I need to relearn patience, I need to take more time.

6. How do I title a sculpture? A title can change everything. It gives the viewer a framework, it sets a tone. An artwork must announce itself to the world. It takes a stance. It makes a statement. It tells a story. Sometimes it's an untitled story about nothing in particular.

7. I play a game with myself when I visit galleries and museums: I look at an artwork cold, understand something about it, identify how it makes me feel; then I read the little white label at its side, for its title, year, materials, maybe some other context. And then I look again. This game makes me feel like both a winner and a loser simultaneously, that I am some clever purist exercising her cumulative knowledge and insight but also never fully appreciating what an artist might be trying to say. Is the failing mine or the artist's, I wonder.

8. They say a picture's worth a thousand words. What is a sculpture worth then? Why do we title artworks with words? An artwork can generate a feeling; but a title can help the artwork tell a story. Sometimes I think the title should be able to stand on its own, without the artwork.

9. I read artist statements and laugh at their empty wordiness. I have collected many sample over the years. Enough to fill a book.

10. How do I price a sculpture? Unlike a canvas, I cannot charge by square inch. I can calculate time and materials, but what of found materials? Do I count the time involved for mould-making on top of the time to make the clay original? If I reuse the mould, should I adjust the price? 

11. What is my artwork worth to me? What do I want for it? At this point, mostly I want someone to take it off my hands. I'm not in this for the money. I like the idea of barter pricing, because some things are more useful to me than money. One sculpture is priced at "Removal and disposal of two old hot water tanks from the artist's cellar basement, accessed via trap door and steep step ladder." Another costs "Air duct and dryer vent cleaning in the artist's condo, which may include the removal of animal remains and other debris." But it's only because I'm financially comfortable that I can entertain alternative economic structures.

12. Curatorial philosophies and logistics are confounding me. How do I choose what to display? How many pieces? How do I display them? Painters must choose how to frame their paintings; sculptors must stage their work, in three dimensions. I put my work on a pedestal. Should these platforms conform to each other to forge (a perhaps artificial) cohesiveness of the sculptures, or should they play to each piece's distinctiveness?

13. Where do I find such pedestals? Do I make them, modify them? How do I transport them? How much time have I devoted to the material that supports the art, beyond making the art itself?

Object-sculpture is by it nature materially and spatially assertive, so a sculptor needs logistical and material support as well as the endorsement of others who believe in the undertaking. (Clare Lilley)

14. Here's a smattering of books I've read in recent months (rather, almost years), either directly or tangentially about art and artists, that have shaped some of my art thinking, bringing me to where I am now.

  • Breaking the Mould: Sculpture by Women Since 1945, published on the occasion of the Arts Council Collection Exhibition
  • Old in Art School, A Memoir of Starting Over, by Nell Painter
  • Like a Sky Inside, by Jakuta Alikavazovic
  • Biography of X, by Catherine Lacey
  • The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession, by Michael Finkel
  • The Deceptions, by Jill Bialosky
  • Tell Me I'm an Artist, by Chelsea Martin
  • Sirens and Muses, by Antonia Angress
  • The Art of Vanishing, by Lynne Kutsukake
  • The Exhibitionist, by Charlotte Mendelson
  • 3 Streets, by Yoko Tawada

15. Why do writers have so much to say about art?

16. There is so much more I want to say about these books, but I'm not sure I remember what. I read differently now. I regret not blogging, not documenting my response, not writing my way through my opinions. 

17. I've been messing around, playing with art, toying with the idea of art school; if not a degreed program, then workshops in exotic places. What do I hope to accomplish with school? More proof, validation? (Of what?) More importantly, what do I hope to learn?

18. I have been making things out of clay and, for the most part, casting them. I want to learn about different casting materials. How do I even begin to go about casting bronze? Where do I get some bronze? Can the things I do with clay be adapted for ceramics? How do different types of clay feel, or behave differently? I have trouble finding answers in books or on the internet. I suspect the answers may come from people, possibly school. I want to experiment with materials, to find the material best suited to the story I want to tell.

19. Perhaps I want to prove that art is easier than literature. The price of admission is lower. It's easy to show my work at the little gallery down the street. People actually stop and look. It's less simple to publish a book. There is no little publisher around the corner. There aren't many people who will casually spend 20 minutes with my writing and spend a few hundred or thousand dollars on it.

20. Perhaps this exercise in art was a warm-up. Or merely a procrastination tactic.

Exhibitions are not the end point of a process. Exhibitions start things, and they begin processes of change and reassessment. They don't close a chapter but open it. (Joy Sleeman)

Gaping holes in the body of her argument, 2024; clay, acrylic. On the beach at Benitses, she came apart at the seams, 2022; plaster, acrylic. 
The body is a construct, the body is a triangle, 2023; hydrostone. Jeremy is a delicate flower, 2024; clay, plaster, acrylic.





Friday, April 26, 2024

An infinitely more physical way to touch

There was no touch as instantaneous and intuitive as the gaze. It was close to being the only way of touching without touch.

Language, by comparison, is an infinitely more physical way to touch. It moves lungs and throat and tongue and lips, it vibrates the air as it wings its way to the listener. The tongue grows dry, saliva spatters, the lips crack. 

Why does one thing resonate when another leaves me cold? Greek Lessons, by Han Kang, is an exquisite thing.

The first thing I perceive is time. I sense it as a slow, cruel current of enormous mass passing constantly through my body to gradually overcome me.

Why do I love this book? Maybe because it is about language. Maybe because it is about beauty, and favours the ephemeral over the eternal, turning Plato inside out. Maybe because it is cosmopolitan and urban, but intimate and quotidian. It reminds me of being in Greece. It reminds me of learning German. It reminds me of now. It makes me want to write. It makes me want to sculpt. It makes me cry. It puzzles me, how it unfurls.

Maybe because I read (most of) it on a plane. A friend of mine claims watching movies on a plane is a more intensely emotional experience, and I keep meaning to google this allegation, ascertain its science. Maybe it’s the same for books, only there are books I recall reading in flight that were less memorable, or at least memorably not enjoyable (which perhaps proves the point?). Maybe because I’m so high above the ground, I have a god's eye view, a richer appreciation of the earthly. (It turns out it's the air pressure, lower oxygen levels in the brain.)

I want to forgive this book everything. At about halfway (days ago, while still earthbound, nursing my ailing mother) I felt confused, but also swept away. I wanted to make sure, really sure, I understood everything, so I started over.

I want to read it again now.

He teaches Ancient Greek and is going blind. He pines for his first love, when his family lived in Germany; he regrets how rebuffed another friend. 

She is unable to speak, a response to trauma, not for the first time in her life. She's mourning her mother, but perhaps also grieving her own life. Divorced, she's lost custody of her son.  

How can these two people break through their isolation and connect?

I will for a few days come back to the thought that maybe I should study Ancient Greek (or some similarly inconsequential language), or that I should be crafting poetry. I expect this impulse will fade entirely within the week, but part of me hopes it doesn't.

I think about the lovely turns of phrase I’d like to borrow, to use as titles for sculptures I’ve yet to mould: "My eyelids quiver like stridulating insect wings." (The sensation he feels repeats her earlier state of being. "The woman’s eyelids tremble. Like insects’ wings rubbing briskly together.") "I will see the fabric of darkness, unraveled into bluish threads, wind about the city." "The latter part of his life began, which could not be called anything but a chaotic mess."

Now and then, words would thrust their way into her sleep like skewers, startling her awake several times a night. She got less and less sleep, was increasingly overwhelmed by sensory stimuli, and sometimes an inexplicable pain burned against her solar plexus like a metal brand. 

The most agonizing thing was how horrifyingly distinct the words sounded when she opened her mouth and pushed them out one by one. Even the most nondescript phrase outlined completeness and incompleteness, truth and lies, beauty and ugliness, with the cold clarity of ice. Spun out white as spider's silk from her tongue and by her hand, those sentences were shameful. She wanted to vomit. She wanted to scream.

There is clay, and there is touch throughout this book (and the colour blue). "Her face is thin and drawn, like the elongated features of certain clay sculptures." Touchpoints for me. "The flesh remembers." "A brighter and more concentrated stillness filled the dark clay jar of her body."

The sadness of the human body. The human body, with its many indented, tender, vulnerable parts. The forearms. The armpits. The chest. The groin. A body born to embrace someone, to desire to embrace someone.

We are earthy, and earthly. Everything we do or say has physicality. Language is physical. This physicality that Kang emphasizes makes everything sensual.

She no longer thought in language. She moved without language and understood without language — as it had been before she learned to speak, no, before she had obtained life, silence, absorbing the flow of time like balls of cotton, enveloper her body both outside and in.

The man across the aisle is playing chess. I am sad that I have no one to play chess with, or backgammon. This week I wondered if I could teach my mother to play backgammon, and then I rejected the idea. I consider playing chess online, at least it will exercise my thinking, my logic, my projection into the future, more than my daily sudoku anyway. I think about whether I prefer the blue labyrinth of the UK cover or the hexagonal pencil in cross section of the North American cover.

("She just didn't like taking up space. Everyone occupies a certain amount of physical space according to their body mass, but voice travels far beyond that. She had no wish to disseminate her self.")

Sometimes she thinks of herself as more like some form of substance, a moving solid or liquid, than like a person. When she eats hot rice, she feels that she herself becomes that rice, and when she washes her face with cold water there is no distinction between her and that water. At the same time she knows that she is neither rice nor water, but some harsh, solid substance that will never commingle with any being, living or otherwise.

Excerpt.
"The Middle Voice"

Friday, April 05, 2024

It's not a fetish, it's a belief system

how had some people worked it out made kink a natural part of their lives that was the dream was it to assimilate kink into capitalism along with everything else that was once subversive the forces were pushing up against each other true peak capitalism wanted everything it wanted the queers it wanted to market vodka to trans girls it wanted fetish weekend breaks but it had been brought about through alliance with a resurgence of right-wing religious Christian zealotry & these two forces once aligned somewhat were now starting to rub against one another creating painful friction because those zealots hated the degenerates but those capitalists were like the degenerates are a valuable market share you didn't want to be part of that & anyway the fetishes that were successfully or semi-successfully for now embraced by capitalism in the brief time before the neo-reactionary uprisings well those fetishes weren't even close to the thing you liked

Definitely one of the weirder, non-mainstream stories I've read in some time. (Thank you, Tournament of Books!) I don't think I can recommend it to anybody. (Except Vincent. And Leslee. Maybe Yann, and Nancy. But not you, I don't really know you.) Some people would be thoroughly disgusted by it. It's classified as body horror, if you're into those kinds of labels, which personally I don't really understand. But I couldn't put it down.

She'd pissed on a few men, once for money. It was hard to describe what was fun about it. In a way, it was easier to understand what was hot about being pissed on — that was so degrading, so filthy. But pissing on someone ... the pisser is dominant, but pissing itself is a moment of pure vulnerability. It's about loss of control. The power dynamics were more complicated than they appeared to outsiders.

Brainwyrms, by Alison Rumfitt, is set in  a highly transphobic near future. Political acts of terrorism are commonplace. Social media posts are scrutinized for questionable behaviour. It's also a love story, exposing the (literally) parasitic nature of relationships, and for this reason and others it's heartbreakingly sad.

The novel follows two main perspectives: Frankie (she/her) is a trans woman with an impregnation fetish, and a victim of terrorism, who falls hard for Vanya and tries desperately not to fuck it up. Vanya (they/them) is young and beautiful and has a dark secret, and their stream of consciousness narration is thoroughly unsettling. 

Vanya's mother also figures prominently, representing TERFism. The public face of the activist group she's involved in is a children's author clearly based on JK Rowling. 

People take fetish and kink seriously, they treat it as a lifestyle and structure their existence around it. There are many people in communities on the internet who essentially are engaged in fetish that would never think of it as such. There are communities of men online who obsess over cigars, their phalic shapes, the feeling of having them in their mouths, and they may never realise what that really means. They might never even get off on it properly. There are communities of people who dress up in Red Army costumes who don't fuck one another — and yet ... fetishes can burst out of the specific easy boundaries they are put in and overcome the entire self. They can become an ideology. Gaz was one of them. It was not enough to simply get infected. It couldn't just be that. It had to be something more. It had to have some wider meaning or what was the fucking point? You nestled into him to keep warm and he wrapped you close to his body underneath his oversized coat. He smelled of sweat and weed. I'll keep you safe, he said. You believed him because right then you couldn't bear not to.

This novel depicts a future grounded in today's fear, intolerance, and closed-mindedness fascism, while it pokes and prods at our tender spots. 

What is intimacy? What is pleasure, what is pain, why do we do what we do, why do we seek what we seek? Do we seek to escape reality, resolve past trauma, fulfill our human potential? Who are we when we are naked before ourselves? 

Transformation. Self-realization. Simply being is transgressive. Being is political.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Time drips off our bodies

She says I'm like those large, solitary rocks in southern Patagonia, pieces of world left over after creation, isolated and exposed to every element. No one knows where they came from. Not even they understand how they're still standing and why they never break down.

This is why she calls her Boulder. 

Boulder, by Eva Baltasar, was shortlisted for the 2023 International Booker. The cover is stunning. Weirdly, I spotted this book at a local magazine chain store, which sells only a few dozen titles in English. So I was inspired to finally check it out.

Highly poetic. It feels wrought. A narrator whom I found entirely unsympathetic; she's a bit of a selfish dick, really. 

The eponymous Boulder, a loner, a literal drifter, a merchant ship worker. 

An old woman passes me the bottle with a smile in each eye and a toothless grin. I take it and drink. I love this place, thee narrow black eyes that neither desire me not reject me, this fabulous freedom.

But she meets Samsa and falls in love.

Time drips off our bodies, trickles between our legs, we tack it to the walls.

They move to Reykjavik and buy a house. (But they could've lived anywhere. Icelandishness does not really play into this novel, except for the narrator observing that "Icelanders are slaves to biology, breeders," which I'm not convinced it true.)

Boulder is about a relationship that changes when prospective parenthood enters the equation, and then some more with an actual baby.

It's Samsa who's desperate to have a child. Boulder acquiesces, but she is increasingly at a remove from Samsa, even while watching her with desire.

She's having an Italian morning, her body is soft and full, she smells like fresh bread, like a sponge left in the sun, like tomato plants.

Although Boulder depicts a same-sex relationship, the challenges, particularly those of physical intimacy, are typical of any marriage. (I'm not sure what makes this an "incisive story of queer love" other than it's like any other kind of love?)

It vividly brought back to me the anger, exhaustion, resentment of the early years of motherhood, with all the negativity stemming from and directed back at my (now ex) partner. I mean, I relate to the biological mother in this story, and I'm raging at the narrator for closing themself off, for making excuses, for being self-centred and weak (and in my case, I believe, ultimately inconsequential).

I realize there's a living thing seated inside me; in fact it's lounging around and whistling as it watches the sky slowly descend as if dancing. I'm always surprised by the lack of guilt in that place where love, which always pushes outward, meets solitude, which always pulls inward. My love doesn't leave with Samsa, but it isn't part of me either. It belongs to desire. 


Although the novel clearly tapped into a particular point in my past experience, this style of writing (imagine a poetry reading; hear the affectation and portentousness) is not my cup of tea. I can't think of any individuals to whom I'd recommend this book, but on the other hand it could make for a rich bookclub discussion. 

Excerpt.

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. 

Nevertheless.

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.  

Excerpt.

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?

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

Excerpts
From Chapter 1
From Chapter 2