Site Meter Peculiar Susceptibility: December 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

to stand on something vaguely sinister

Like, I imagine, any person that holds a degree in Art History, I go to museums when I travel. I've found that the larger the museum, the more alarmed people seem to be when they watch me walk across a Carl Andre. I've made a ritual of it. I search out the modern/contemporary wing and I walk across the tiles. I'm sure other people must do it (do you?), I've just never seen it.

Maybe one of these days, I'll curl up in a ball atop one.

Each time, this act produces a knot at the back of my throat. Each time, I end up crying later in the day. I think it has something to do with the tension between minimalism and post-minimalism. It has something to do with Ana Mendieta, whose work I love and who is conspicuously absent from many of these museums. (The week she died, protesters held banners demanding "Where is Ana Mendieta?") And it has something to do with museums, in general, those odd refactories of cultural memory.

The most recent time, I was in Chicago, at the Art Institute. I was listening, on repeat, to Westfall, by Okkervil River.


Friday, December 21, 2007

"more weight"

I still remember the first time I read The Crucible. I'm not sure exactly how old I was, but it was at some point before my sister Nora was born (which would make me younger than 10). I was in my new bedroom. The addition my parents had put on the house was unfinished. (It was only recently that they told me, frankly, that they had run out of money before the addition was completed. I, again, to be frank, have no idea how they had money for an addition in the first place, but there you have it.)

The room had that feeling of a space - the hollow of a rectangular prism - empty of experience. Ripe for potential - I suppose it could have been, but to me it felt just blank. And so, it isn't surprising, in retrospect, that I might carry books into such a room as a youngster.

On of the first nights I spent in that room my parents were still participating in the wine tasting group. I was young enough then to lurk about, crawling under the table and kyping dregs from everyone's glasses. Well, after that, I crept back to my new room at the cold end of the house. (My parents' house is heated, primarily, by a woodstove at the opposite end.) I turned on the lights, as yet uncovered by fixtures, I curled up on my mattress (on the floor, then), and I opened an old, musty copy of The Crucible.

And Giles Corey said "more weight." He died slow, that way, in order to preserve property. He could have died fast in the noose, but instead he died a Christian, slow and able to leave the farm to his sons. "More weight."

Pressed like grain.

Made meal of.

When I close my eyes and imagine myself, I still see (watch me measure my own body like some 19th century anthropometrist) the 5'8"/118-pound body I inhabited for so many years. And so, it is with complete alarm that I heard, tonight, my friend Anthony say, "Don't you dare ever - EVER - lose weight."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

GIFT: a handkerchief of my own sewing; my poison

The Real Art Ways holiday staff party was last night. It had been a very, very long day and it was with dread that I anticipated attending it. Regarless, I had baked an Italian Almond Cake for it the night before and picked and wrapped (quite well, I think) a little cadeau for the Yankee Swap.

My plan, intitially, was to attend for an hour or so, and then to duck out before the Yankee Swap, to which I was having an increasingly visceral reaction, occurred.


The etymology of gift is lengthy and overlapping. In several northern European languages the word means "poison." In others it means "that which is given," "dowry," and the like. But my favorite was the language that combined the two meanings: Faroese, in which gift means both "poison" and "married." I had to think about it a bit. The connection between "gift" and "married" is pretty clear: a woman's dowry was a donation of sorts to the man she would marry, therefore, metonymously, she was a gift.

But poison?

It took me some time to work this out, but here's what I've come up with:
In The Gift, Marcel Mauss characterizes gifts thus: "In short, [the exchange of gifts] represents an intermingling. Souls are mixed with things; things with souls. Lives are mingled together, and this is how, among persons and things so intermingled, each emerges from their own sphere and mixes together. This is precisely what contract and exchange are." If we take Mauss at his word, then, the exchange of gifts is a corruption of the soul.

From here, a small jump. The more common etymological connotation for the word gift is "dowry." If we consider what it might mean for a woman to make a gift of herself, that is (drawing again on Mauss) intermingling her soul with her self-as-object, we can begin to see a light in which marriage is poison.

In the end, I stayed at the soirée for some time. I love the people with whom I work - they are talented and smart and viciously funny. And there was a very nice sparkling rosé. I gave the giftling for which I had swapped to Barbara after the game had finished. It made me feel better. (But was I, in a way, bribing myself to stay in so doing?)

[Mostly unrelated, but interesting tidbit...Best definition of "gift": a white speck on the finger nails, supposed to portend a gift.]

Saturday, December 15, 2007

things that repeat, things that reel, things that repeat

It could be that watching five hours worth of films in a day could make one regard her existential crisis with some degree of bemused dissociation.

My lovely brother Patrick and I watched two films today: No Country for Old Men and Control. At the first, we sat behind two middle-aged couples. The women sat next to each other and made little disgusted noises throughout and the men sat together occassionally giving such enlightening expository commentary as "buckshot" or "he's gonna throw the case over the fence" or (my favorite) "he's bleeding" (after the character was shot).

At the second we sat seperately.

At both, I did that thing where I continue watching through spread fingers.

There were a lot of things about which I was thinking but couldn't really articulate well at the end of Control. There's the difficulty/ies I have with artist biopics - that they use this medium to represent real people pretending to be other real people. There's the discomfort I feel when illnesses (and particularly, for some reason, epilepsy) are represented.

by John Waters

In the spirit of repetition, I've made a bullshit theory elsewhere that works of art can corral a viewer or reader in through flattery. Coetzee alludes to Kafka, you recognize it and you feel very clever. You know your Joy Division b-sides, they begin to play, you feel as though you have encyclopedic knowledge of indie rock (nb. tongue firmly stuck into cheek).

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POZA, at Real Art Ways

I've been thinking a lot lately of cycles - cycles onto which we try to impose meaning and cycles that we try to ignore. Wake up brush teeth exercise shower dress contacts in feed cat clean litter leave apartment lock door open car drive to work sit at desk put fingers on keyboard repeat. Birth, menstruation, pantoums. Remembering, recognition, representation. (I really ought to look back into sentences.)

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It's all going to be fine.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

sustenance and cycles

This is life - and this is as meaningful as it gets.

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Last weekend, unable to sleep, I moved my furniture around. There's something satisfying about being a woman alone in a house with heavy furniture and deciding to heft it all about with my own weight and no one to help me. In the end I decided I liked it better how it was before, but that I should leave some small change in the arrangement to make all the effort worth it.

Since I've lived in this apartment, I have slept in the narrow, hard twin-sized bed of my childhood. It creaks under my weight. It threatens at every turn to fall apart. I wake up every morning with a sore back. Until last weekend I had the bed against the wall. At a certain point, I discovered that if I pushed a pillow up against the wall and nestled my back into it just so, it began to approximate the feeling of being held.

Well, I've pulled the bed away from the wall.

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This is a lengthy excerpt, but warranted. From HD's Trilogy:
"There is a spell, for instance, / in every sea-shell: // continuous, the sea-thrust / is powerless against coral, // bone, stone, marble / hewn from within by that craftsman, // the shell-fish: / oyster, clam, mollusc // is master-mason planning / the stone marvel: // yet that flabby, amorphous hermit / within, like the planet // senses the finite, / it limits its orbit // of being, its house, / temple, fane, shrine: // it unlocks the portals / at stated intervals: // prompted by hunger, / it opens to the tide-flow: // but infinity? no, / of nothing-too-much: // I sense my own limit, / my shell jaws snap shut // at invasion of the limitless, / ocean-weight; infinite water // can not crack me, egg in egg-shell; / closed in, complete, immortal // full-circle, I know the pull / of the tide, the lull // as well as the moon; / the octopus-darkness // is powerless against / her cold immortality; // so I in my own way know / that the whale // can not digest me: / be firm in your own small, static, limited // orbit and the shark-jaws / of outer circumstance // will spit you forth: // be indigestible, hard, ungiving. // so that, living within, / you beget, self-out-of-self, // selfless, / that pearl-of-great-price,"

Monday, December 3, 2007

Collected Visions

When I was teaching, one of my favorite essays to use was Marianne Hirsch on postmemory. I liked the difficulty students seemed to have with it—they would grasp to certain parts and seemingly refuse to understand others (the section that describes the film Hate, for instance, always seemed to generate trouble).

I asked my students, each semester, to contribute to Lorie Novak's formidable Collected Visions project. They could submit snapshots, if they liked, but the main thing I wanted was for them to utilize the database (of approximately 3,000 family photographs) to create essays. It was my hope that this project would help them suss out the concept of postmemory. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn't.

So, I have two aims in posting this. One is to spread the word about Collected Visions. The other is to keep it here, next to other images, ideas, resources, etc., that will help me with the prosthetic memory project.

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