Tag Archives: Essay

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An Ancient Heart: Writing to Live

This “Dear Sugar” column at The Rumpus is slick with keen insights into the human condition. The link provided here points to one post in particular in which the question revolves around the usefulness of an English/Creative Writing degree (major or minor) and life after graduation in light of earning that degree. It focuses on the pressure to conform to a workforce oriented world, the way people push you into certain fields you don’t feel compelled to enter, and, finally it gives some insight into how to sidestep this pressure and, instead, embrace life and the choices you have made. It is worth considering.

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Sugar says, “There’s a line by the Italian writer Carlo Levi that I think is apt here: ‘The future has an ancient heart.’ I love it because it expresses with such grace and economy what is certainly true—that who we become is born of who we most primitively are; that we both know and cannot possibly know what it is we’ve yet to make manifest in our lives.”

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Who are we “most primitively?” Is there a sense that there is a self hidden among these roles I inhabit or is who I am always a work-in-progress as I perform these roles? What would the fifth of sixth question in this line of thought be? When Sugar speaks through Levi of “the future” and its “ancient heart,” is there a thread that speaks of that inner voice, the voice that speaks louder or quietly more persistent than one’s many voices? Or, does she mean that we are as we communicate (going back to my Thayerian ways of grasping things)? What is it that we cannot possibly know about ourselves? What is it about ourselves that we will never know? Does the answer lie in learning to ask better questions or seeking more solid answers?

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Tarantino Poetics: On Danny Brown

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It’s something about you and for you to tuck into your pocket when you fall back asleep and it’s darker, too dark. It’s a piece of cake, a snow angel, a sigh in reverse–like you’re swallowing: gulp, gulp, gulp words and sleep.

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I hear Danny Brown for the first time and hear about how that XXX mixtape has been downloaded a million times (and where am I? China, of course, out of touch, of course). I hear he’s from Detroit, Michigan [I’m dreaming woods]. I hear the name of his project, the name of Danny Brown, that name that is a name from Reservoir Dogs or so I hear. I listen to that mix and the second time through, well the second time through is enough for me to feel enormous, blissful, wired-open, and sad. The last track hits me like the blade of a petal.

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We are at the movie theater for the next three hours. There are roughly seven people spread out among the red seats. It is opening night for Pulp Fiction in a small northern Michigan town. When the camera kisses the needle and how the needle’s drug mixes with Vince’s blood, when that happens, I hear footsteps of people leaving and then we are alone, but we’re not alone, because little do we know that what we are watching the mind being fed something that sticks. 

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I compare to try to make sense, to reduce or sometimes my mind just makes connections I can’t control. I play Danny Brown and immediately think Sensational–that DJ Kloss mixtape I’ve played repeating in the dark like a vortex. I want to pull up Kool Keith, but Danny might even be stranger than Keith. It is difficult to tell and I don’t want to tell. I want the experience of a good album to be a question instead. There is a loop on that XXX mixtape that sounds like metal band, a grind loop and I’m back at the shed, back in Michigan again. 

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We take the subway to the northeast exit. We buy tickets from an electronic vendor. We take the elevator to the top floor and find ourselves three more floors up and I’m in a small room and everything is in Japanese–everything except the film we are about to watch: Inglorious Basterds. Later that week, I find a Japanese academic journal, thick with pictures and essays, all academic essays on this film, Inglorious Basterds. I try to read it, but don’t and keep it with me as if to say, “this is where it’s at, this is possible somewhere in the world.”

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The Possible: rhythm, album, Japan, sleep, nod off in a theater, keep calm, calmer, be calm, take a walk, just wander, be triples and slips, keep it wide open and click, click, click.

 

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Blue White Noise (I ATE TIONG BAHRU): by Stephen Black

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Photograph by Stephen Black

Two of the walls are dirty mirrors. Caught between them, the guts of this place are repeated and jammed into grimy centers of infinity. Red plastic chairs, white Formica tables, the fluorescent lights, the people; all are mirrored and squeezed. In back, two young mainland Chinese women boil and cut yong tau foo. They’re silent.

Below the streetlights a river flows. It may flood again. Angry and worried, a small Chinese woman in a tight pink dress: the taxi stand, her watch, the taxi stand, her watch, the rain, the taxi stand, her watch… On TV, subtitled Chinese promises of eternal love by a couple wearing something like Gucci,before cutting to a lit match above a gagged woman sitting in gasoline. She tries to scream.

The man near me leans back and his orange hair enters the mirrors. Three shopping bags by his sandals, nothing on his table. He begins combing.The Filipinas drink Coke and make phone calls at a table covered with Tiger bottles and globs of chocolate cake. Young Bob Dylan rushes by with a newspaper over his head. Bob’s red-faced, with a platinum blonde Chinese woman on his arm. Bob’s wearing a Nirvana Tshirt. 5AM in anywhere.

The vacant field, the Tiong Bahru Estates. The small blue signs of Kim Pong Street. The rain.This shop has a month to live.

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Stephen Black is usually easy to talk to but often difficult to explain. http://glossi.com/bookmerah/4438-half-black-stephen-black-2012-review

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On Fire

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She says four cars burned last night–“you can’t imagine the front, there is nothing here”–and I can’t help think of my mother’s leg leaping on fire, how orange spreads up ravine slopes when the air is dry and no one is at home to douse it with water.

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He walks me through the five floors of the office complex. We are in Shinjuku. He has been instructed to show me all the fire exits and a rope ladder bundled that will extend to the street. I wonder if I would be the last to leave the scorch. But he speaks in a different language and I only understand the word “fire,” so I smile at being young and we walk to the roof and stare at the city for hours.

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I’m checking crime reports for a city I might move to in America. When I hover my mouse over the icon of where a crime took place, it reads, “arson.” Another hover and it seems someone is starting fires in trashcans, parks, lighting houses on fire. I wonder if someone was sleeping in the house that burned or if they had a ladder, but it does not say. Maybe no one was home. Maybe they were asleep.

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I want my child to sit in front of a fire, but not too close to be burned by fire. I want my child to see a bonfire, to hear crackles and simmers or even to throw a log on the fire so it burns longer–so it burns away the dark. We will sit there, just sit and be fire-watchers. But I don’t want to think of how fires destroy buildings or legs or faces or rooms without escape ladders.

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He orders a microbrew and I order a Coke, because today I am driving and the wind has picked up. We are at a bar in a mall. There are booths to my left and one young man is covering his mouth, looking away. He is not eating the food that has been served to him. A man next to us is talking about the sea and about going to sea, working the sea and how many books he reads before he sleeps below deck in foreign lands drifting, afloat. I see why the young man is not eating his food. Across from him, his friend or a relative, another young man, has had his face almost completely burned off, melted, leaving but a fleshy pink sheen to where a nose or a forehead or a mouth should be. His whole face is a blur of smeared skin.

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“If it wasn’t for the old man,” she tells me, “all the cars would have burned and maybe even the apartment building, too.” The old man, I think, the one who watches over the cars, who helps us park when the lot is full, who finds a space or makes a space for all the cars to park. He must have a family, too or knows how it feels to watch things burn.

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But we are not prepared when fire happens and how could we be? Should a life be built around the possibility of what could happen and how should we keep these things in mind when in the end everything burns?

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My child is growing and her warm hands hold mine tight. She has a strong grasp. And in my mind I am back in Shinjuku at the office when a fire hits. She is there, too, but although she is the youngest, she does not have to wait until the end to climb down the rope ladder, because ladders like this one were made for her. Yes, there is a ladder that will carry her safely to the ground and I will make sure that ladder does not break, even it means dipping my face in the flames or stamping out brush as it burns from orange down to black. I will be water. My arms must be water for her.

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Meat Screams: An Attempt at Johannes Gorannson’s Haute Surveillance

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prettypuke.com

“The sound the body makes is akin to the sound toys make when they burn.” I sent a letter to Rudolf Eb.er, infested as I was by his Hate Operation and cut-up, assemblage, shrieks, psycho-acoustic shamanism. He wore meat on his face, a white shirt and black necktie: screaming meat. There were sealed vomit tubs in the closet, an unfinished painting by the bedroom. We listened to a live recording from Taipei, smoked Japanese to death. Pictures of unknown bodies. Pictures of the insides of bodies. My autopsies went unanswered–that defenestration from Austria, somewhere in Osaka (not the Overlook or the Shining Mansion on the Hill).

“This novel is written like a fashion show dedicated to the rioted body.” For a noise act in Tokyo, I took a cheap white shirt, a shirt and smeared it–dirtied it red, made it better. The photographs that were taken on the were tinted in the screams and shrieks, moans and anti-language of the foreigner. It yellowed and hardened until it turned fashion. Lesson: sometimes the body can be tearing apart a fish with contact mics, a folk loop.  

“The erotics of writing reminds me of the needle on a record player.” A needle scrapes vinyl, a radio broadcast in a foreign language. There are blurred faces, the way a woman undresses in a hotel room, you are always woman. David Lynch practices Transcendental Meditation. I have heard that in Iowa or Indiana there are people who float, people who meditate until they float as if the body, numbed by transcendence, becomes lighter, becomes Nothing. The final scene of Takashi Miike’s Audition is the slow torture of a producer who is needled numb and sawed to a state of anti-levitation. I remember being fascinated by this scene. Years later I would buy Inland Empire at Walmart.

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“Language is like candy. It rots my teeth. It makes me spazzy.” E.M. Cioran quipped something like: “Writing in a foreign language is like writing a love letter with a dictionary.” I was a mute foreigner, unpredictable as outsider. One who knows how to screw a fork. There are areas in Tokyo, in Seoul, in Beijing where foreigners are allowed to be foreign, allowed to tongue foreign, act foreign: needles, erotics, vomit. These are the areas where we grind chains in underground cabarets, McDonalds drunk with military officers, a man who said, “as an American, it is my duty to protect you.”

“I want us all to wear kimonos. And sharp words.” The kimono as corset, how it flattened the breasts, restricted the gait in a way that made women walk slow, walk in hare-steps, small steps like floating worlds. This was a point of sexual interest for men. I received the male version of a kimono, the yukata, from a friend in Kyoto whose Japanese was too much the birth of who I would become.

“In B-movies the human body becomes more beautiful and less a subject.” Even a gaze, a transformation. Sherilyn Fenn losing her limbs in front of the Warlock’s mansion. I will keep you here to look how things look from where I see them. You can see them, too.

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“You were in the house, on your knees, in a state of wild terror.” It is a rocking chair and the way the face comes stubbled. Maybe it’s Isabella, my meat grinder, white stripped to the neck, covering neck, but this is not Japan–it’s Berlin. She shrieks in a tunnel, murders detectives in the apartment and all for the monster, all for the lack of her being able to feel.

“Go to Los Angeles, go to Los Angeles.” A friend of mine speaks of the feeling of Los Angeles as everything. I watched Mulholland Drive in Kichijoji. They brought concert-sized speakers to the theater. As the sedan crashed over a Los Angeles skyline, I heard American noise. I caught a slice as if I were other and America from where I was sitting was a fiery wreck of charred bodies, sexual blood, and a beautiful starlet wandering dazed down the hill back into the filthy light.

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Touch Virtuosi: Examining Bernard Rudofsky’s Approach to “Floors”

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Andrea Bocco Guarneri has done well to have organized and executed such a thorough book as “A Humane Designer.” Guarnerri presents us with unpublished Rudofsky essays, forgotten design projects, his world travels, his history and more. One need only open the book randomly to find some hitherto unknown story about Rudofsky or project that Rudofsky was involved in.

Today I would like to open up his short work “Variations – On a Floor” as presented in “A Humane Designer.” In this short article which was originally published in Variazioni sometime in the 1930s, Rudofsky calls attention to that most often forgot of space, the floor. For him, the floor is a much overlooked part of the living space. He examines the Italian word “pianta,” which means both “floor” and “the sole of the foot.” For Rudofsky this intertwining of the foot and the floor is crucial. That is to say, he wishes to call attention to the tactile importance of the floor and sees the floor as that point where the human is grounded, not to mention its power to affect one’s perception of relaxation and comfort.

When I spent time in South Korea, my modest apartment had heated floors. That is, I had no gas stove or wall-mounted heating unit, but a steady warmth emanating from the floor. At first I was quite skeptical as to the benefits of this method of heating, but as winter approached and the temperatures dropped, I realized that walking barefoot across a warm floor was pure bliss. The warmth seemed to travel from the feet to the head and to the heart. I rarely if ever felt chilly while in the apartment.

Rudofsky also mentions that the word “pianta” also means “that springs from the soil.” For Rudofsky, the melding of interior and exterior was important. Some of his houses included indoor gardens or rooms with grass instead of carpeting. Rudofsky wished to bring nature back into the living space and not disconnect the inhabitant from the tactile freshness of nature. This means that, the floor need not be flat, but alight with bumps and crevices, plants sprouting and perhaps even flowers blooming.

Rudofsky also writes, “Try to persuade yourselves that the floor is the noblest part of the house. Make beautiful floors and respect them (184).” This attention to creating a living floor, a special floor, for Rudofsky would help to illuminate the living presence of the house or building. Again, the sole of the foot connects with the floor. As I sit here and write this I am quite aware of my wooden floor and its cooling qualities, despite its propensity for accumulating dirt and dust. At this point I can only dream of a Rudofskyesque marble floor devoid of rugs, light pink with blue veins (as he mentions), a gentle refreshing coldness perhaps complimented by a nice pair of slippers.

picture by Subramanyan