Thursday, May 16, 2013

Back In Black

Noir is light and noir is dark. It is black on a white screen, projected by white light. It's lightness is found in the illumination of events but its blackness is given to us by the harsh reality of those illuminated events. Yet Noir is not only the standard black and white, it is also insidious shades of other colors as Chester Himes evokes in his writings. Himes gives the noir world not only its typical shades of black and white, but additional shades of racialized darkness, of racialized lightness, and of the oscillation between the two which people like a pendulum sway between.

Chester Himes was born to a mixed woman (the daughter of an Irish man and either an African princess or Indian Squaw) who looked like a "white woman who had suffered a long bout of illness." His mother, Estelle Bomar, married the son of former slave. Chester's father was able to put himself through Claflin College located in South Carolina. Upon his graduation Chester's father, Joseph Sandy, became a blacksmith, wheel smith, and professor of metal trades. It was this that allured Estelle Bomar to Joseph Sandy according to James Sallis, a biographer on Himes.

While born to a black middle class family the tension between Estelle's desire for properness and white society (shown in her refusal to congregate with other African Americans) and Joseph Sandy's internalized sense of inferiority would bring the marriage to an eventual halt. While intra racial tension was a constant at home, there was also the blinding heat of racism from the outside world.

In one of the pivotal moments of his young life, Chester Himes was punished and forced to sit out of an experiment that he and his brother were conducting. Working alone Chester's brother mixed the chemicals which exploded in his face. His brother was rushed to the nearest hospital where because of his ethnicity he was denied treatment. "That one moment in my life hurt me as much as all the others put together," Himes wrote in "The Quality of Hurt." 

Himes life followed a troubled path shortly after his brother's injury. He was expelled from highschool and then arrested for armed robbery. It was while in prison at Ohio State Penetiary where he lived from late 1928 to 1934 that Himes began to write. His short stories were published in Esquire magazine, and in 1936 he was paroled. Upon his completion of paroled life he emigrated to France where he lived the remainder of his days.

It was while in France that he wrote "Cotton Comes to Harlem" a novel that would eventually become a movie and along with other detective novels featuring his characters, Grave Digger Jones, and Coffin Ed. 

Himes novels are not only classical noir exploits but also a delving into the double consciousness of the African American psyche of the time. Double consciousness as depicted by W.E.B. Du Bois is the:

 sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

Himes work epitmozes that sense of duality. His lead characters are both protectors of and antagonists of the african american community. They work for the white man, and yet also against him.

In the "Real Cool Killers," the second of Himes' saga of Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed, a black man attempts to murder a white man in a bar, the black bartender saves the white man hacking off the original assailant's arm. The white man flees outside. He is chased by another black man who shoots a series of blank pistol shots at him. While running down the street in black Harlem the white man is stopped... stopped dead by a shot.

Digger and Coffin show up on scene to unravel what has happened to the white man after all it's their job. Grave Digger notes his duty when speaking to a white man saying "'I'm just a cop,' Grave Digger said thickly. 'If you white people insist on coming up to Harlem where you force colored people to live in vice-and-crime-ridden slums, it's my job to see that you are'" (65). It is in protecting white people from the other side of the city that things become muddled, partially because of the crowd which includes members of a juvenile gang, "The Moslems." It's natural for a crowd to engage with the fore mentioned events thought, after all "it's only once in a blue moon they (Harlem residents) get to see a white man being chased by one of them. A big white man at that. That was an event. A chance to see some white blood spilled for a change, and spilled by a black man, at that" (151).

The Moslems hide the main suspect in the case, Sonny, the man who was shooting blanks, while Digger is left to unravel who the white man is. After trolling through the underbelly of the city visiting the bar after bar, and a brothel, Digger returns to the original scene of the incident and unravels through intimidation and violence that the white man, Galen, is a sadist who enjoys whipping black girls. Thrown out of a brothel for his violence, Galen resorts to whipping girls in the basement of the bar in which he was initially attacked... by a man whose daughter was whipped by him in a prostitutional exchange.

Galen had been in the Harlem bar because it was a site where black girls would come to him. He was known for his compensation for services rendered and the bar also was a place of service for his desires (he would bring the girls into the basement where he would whip them). After all for a black woman it wasn't that much ado, as the bartender tells Digger "A colored woman don't consider diddling with a white man as being unfaithful. They don't consider it no more than just working in service, only they is getting better paid and the work is less straining. 'Sides which, the hours is shorter. Ad they old men don't neither. Both she and her old man figger it's like finding money in the street" (59).

Himes unveils that one of the girls was less than happy with her experience and when the old white man sought to engage her girlfriend in his sadistic desires she shot him in a moment of confusion.

It is here that Himes' double consciousness can be seen. While his main characters bring to justice the gang members who are suspected and tried for their crimes of deliquency and hiding a suspect, they also alleviate the culprit for her shooting of the white man as essentially "he deserved it," he was sadistically abusing young women for money. They allow the real culprit go free, a black girl, while still prosecuting the black male youth. 

The layered notion of ethncity and race does not stop with "The Real Cool Killers" though. Himes' "Cotton Comes to Harlem," which was turned into a hit blaxploitation film, also uses Grave Digger and Coffin Ed as establishers of justice in a black world.

Spurred on by the writings of Marcus Gravey, whom advocated as part of his staunch support of Pan-Africanism and Black Nationalism that African Americans to return to Africa in order to redeem the homeland from European powers, Reverend O' Malley, former con artist and recent parolee, sets up a drive to get the families of Harlem back to Africa. He takes $1000 per family in 1965 in order to fund his front operation. During a barbecue sponsoring the Back-To-Africa movement the money is robbed and hidden in a bale of cotton. Harlem is turned upside down in search of the value laden cotton.

Himes sets Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed in search of the missing money, which they only wish to return to the families of Harlem knowing full well that O'Malley sought to hoodwink the local residents.   To the residents, however, O'Malley "appeared in their imaginations as a martyr to the injustice of whites, and a brave and noble leader" (112). O'Malley disappears instantly after the robbery and in the search for the reverend the detectives put his wife under arrest.

It is in a comic scene between the preacher's wife and a detective that the Himes shows the way in which the black body is attempted to be consumed by whites. The preacher's wife tempts the detective with sex and injures his sense of masculinity so that the detective "was incensed by her allusion to his masculinity, but he consoled himself with the thought that in different circumstances he'd ride that yellow bitch until she yelled quits" (70). The wife continues with her seduction and says that she'll make it with the detective if he wears a sack on his head. He puts on the prophylactic on and the wife escapes. The detective is then found naked by other white officers who never "knew who was the first one to explode with laughter" (74). Here we see the temptation offered by the exorcized black body. The wife uses it to aid her escape and the white man is left with a flaccid cock and worthless sack.

The cotton quietly switches hands in the meanwhile. Found by a homebum who sells it to a junkyard the cotton bale is then acquired secretly from the junkyard by another homebum, Bud Cotton. Bud finds the money but still sells the bale to a stripper Billie Belle who in turn sells it for even more money to a white Colonel. The white Colonel was behind the initial robbery and becomes quit flummoxed when he can't find the money in the bail much to the amusement of Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed. After all the detectives  care only about returning the money to the residents of Harlem and in wanting so threaten the Colonel with a murder he committed (the Colonel murders a junkyard worker while in search of the cotton bale). The detectives force the Colonel to write a check out for the same amount as was in the cotton bale and let him go. Allowing a white criminal to go free, and thus break the law in order to restore order to their Harlem home.

The detectives then return the money to the residents in an event similar to the one that opens the book. Grave Digger stands before the families and looked at a souvenir map of Africa given out to the barbecue. Grave Digger then states clearly that "Brothers, this map is older than me. If you go back to  Africa you got go by way of the grave" (157). Digger in his closing statement makes it clear that the residents are stuck in Harlem, and that they will be forced, as Digger and Jones are to live in a white man's world. After all it is a world where police Captain's redden with anger and state "I'll arrest every black son of a bitch in Harlem" (120).

Ultimately Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones realize that the world they live in is damned, and thus do nothing other than serve as arbitrators of a justice within the Harlem community. While acting within the white police department the detectives go about their duty in order to save their people and thus act as folk heroes. Grave Digger's sense of self sacrifice is spurred on by the history of slavery and oppression suffered by him and his people. He tells the chief of police that "'I wouldn't do this for nobody but my own black people,' said in a voice that was cotton dry" (122).

Monday, May 6, 2013

Drive, Driven, Drove

James Sallis writes character novels. In "Drive" and its sequel "Driven" he explores, and expands the myth of the "man with no name." In the original novel, a fast paced 158 pages, Sallis gives us "the driver," the main character of the stories. He is a man who is good at one thing, driving...  He's also quite adept at another thing- violence.

The lead character is a stunt driver who is the getaway man on a heist gone wrong when Sallis opens up the "Drive." The repercussions of the failed robbery are immediate.There is a rapping sound and dead bodies. A woman whose blood pools, an albino's whose doesn't, a third man whose blood was dropping into the sink, Driver used a straight razor to shave the man's neck open. There is the rapping of Driver's hands on the floor.

Driver continues to do what he is good at in the non linear novel, he drives cars and does violence. There is no love line, there is no rhyme or reason, there is just the absurdity of life for Driver.

In the stunning major motion picture starring Ryan Gosling and directed by Nicolas Windig the story is far more linear. There is the Driver, a heist gone wrong, a love interest, and a climax.

The movie stands apart from the novel. The film uses the same characters, and some of the plot but the stories are radically different.

The character played by Carey Mulligan, Irina, who is a latina in the novel, is blown apart in a fast paced sentences however ripping apart any semblance of meaning to Driver's existence.

"Home from her new job as ward clerk at the local ER, Irina refilled their wineglasses.
'Here's to-'
He remembered the glass falling, shattering as it struck the floor.
He remembered the starburst of blood on her forehead, the snail of it down her cheek as she trie to spit out what was in there in the moment before she collapsed.
He remembered catching her as she fell- and then, for a long time, not much else.
Gang business, the police would tell him later. Some sort of territorial dispute, we think.
Irina died just after four a.m" (86).

At the halfway point in the book one of the two female characters is killed off, the other dead already. What follows isn't a strict revenge plot, but rather it is Driver trying to make sense of it all. While the movie and the novel are noir in character there is a difference in the existential themes of the two. The film weighs more in on what it means to be human while at the same time being detached, and violent.

 While the existential and  noir aspect comes in the novel when Driver experiences an existential crisis in the problems related to choice. Has Driver chosen a path of violence? Did he make choices for Irina? Did he chose the path of revenge?

The problem of choice is made clear in the last dialogue between Driver and Bernie Rose, a gangster who has had his hand in the business of violence which motors Driver along.

"'Think we chose our lives?' Bernie Rose said as they cruised into coffee and cognac.
'No. But I don't think they're thrust upon us, either. What it feels like to me is, they're forever seeping up under our feet.'
Bernie Rose nodded. 'First time I heard about you, word was that you drove, that's all you did.'
'True at the time. Times change.'
'Even if we don't'" (156).

Driver kills Bernie Rose after the gangster attempts to slash him under the moonlight with a knife. The novel ends and Bernie Rose is the only man that he'd ever mourned killing.

The existential problems of choice, so common in noir novels, continues to haunt Driver in "Driven." If Sallis hinted at the problem of existence in "Drive" he sings the theme out with beautiful sentences.

In a conversation between Driver and an accomplice, Manny, the more loquacious Manny states:

"'We think we make choices. But what happens is the choices walk up, stand face to face with us, and stare us down.'
'So you believe a man's path, the way of his life, is set?'
'Re: belief, see above. But yes, we come suddenly alive, we scamper around like a cockroach when lights go on, and then the light goes off'" (32).

Sallis is using Manny to further his theme of choice and that choices choose us rather than the other way around. Additionally he makes the typical existential comment of our lives essentially being worth little after all "we scamper around like a cockroach" (32).

This sense of choice and destiny is furthered in Sallis' beautiful depiction of the sun setting. He write, "Outside, day gave way to night by a kind of gentleman's agreement, neither is losing face: light still strong as shadows moved in from nearby hills and taller buildings" (53). Here light and dark face off with each other, they stare each other down and then by a gentleman's agreement they part.

The sense of choice becomes even more riddled with doubt when choices remain dubious. Even little choices like where to eat become problematic. Sallis depicts it accurately when he depicts a diner scene where "everyone in the diner gave the impression of having barely arrived from one place while being eager to depart for another. Feet fidgeted under tables. Eyes swung toward windows" (98). Sallis does a great job of creating an anxiety ridden sense of being between choices, to stay or to go.

The sense of choice which was a running theme through the two novels is not resolved. Instead at "Driven's" conclusion the sense that choice is limited, binding, and never fully coherent is emphasized. Sallis writes, " Our eyes bounce off surfaces, we can't see far or deep. We make choices from the pitifully little we understand about who we are, held in place by that. Then we hold our breaths fully expecting the heavens to tear open any minute. All of us do that, Eight (Driver). Not Just you" (146).

Nevertheless Driver continues on, he makes a choice, or maybe the choice makes him. Sallis closes his novel with the simple sentence, "He drove" (147).

Friday, April 12, 2013

A World With Two Moons

Haruki Murakami has achieved literary fame yet that celebrity status is based on a singular purpose. After all it takes focus to write. Luckily Murakami is a man of concentration as is evidence by his yearly habit of running marathons (his highlight being a 3:31:27 in 1999 in NYC).

Murakami didn't always have writing as his main purpose. He owned a jazz club for a while and then he reached an epiphany that he could write novels while watching a baseball game. A ball was hit and he was struck with the idea that he could write, and write he has.

His latest work, 1Q84, a play off of George Orwell's 1984 and the Japanese word for nine, pronounced like an English "Q," is a three volume, one thousand one hundred fifty seven page piece of labor. The lengthy love story was originally two volumes published in Japan in 2009, a year later Murakami expanded the story to its denouement and the finished product was published in 2010.

1Q84 is an amplification of Murakami's "On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" with the main character's, Aomame (meaning Green Peas), and Tengo falling in love with each other as children. Aomame grasps onto Tengo's hand one day in school and the two fall for each other. However, their fates pull them apart with Aomame being sent to a different school. They continually think of each other but never come in contact until a strange series of events propels them to meet in a world with two moons. Their inescapable love and fateful coming together is alluded to by Aomame early in the novel when she speaks of free will to her friend Ayumi saying,

"It's the same with menus and men and just about anything else: we think we're choosing things for ourselves, but in fact we may not be choosing anything. It could be that everythings's decided in advance and we pretend we're making choices. Free will may be an illusion" (241).

The illusory agency of the characters is initially propelled forward through Tengo, a cram school teacher and aspiring writer, deciding to rewrite a novel called "Air Chrysalis." Fuka-Eri, the original author, is a beautiful seventeen year old woman whom is dyslexic and comes from a shadowy cult, The Sakigake. Under the influence of Komatsu, a popular editor, Tengo decides to rewrite the novel and submit it to an emerging writer's contest. The novel wins and becomes immensely popular.

In the meantime, Aomame, an aerobics teacher, body worker (she stretches people in something akin to yoga), and part time assassin is hired by an older woman, the dowager, to kill the leader of the Sakigake cult who has been raping young girls. Aomame engages in her missions by touching a specific part of the body with a make shift ice pick and targets men who are domestically abusive. This by no means should be taken as Aomame being a feminist or a lesbian, as she states explicitly to the dowager's question if she is either, "I don't think so. My thoughts on such matters are strictly my own. I'm not a doctrinaire feminist, and I'm not a lesbian" (168). Aomame does engage in some lesbian activity though, but that is one of the lighter "sexual deviancies" in the novel.

The leader of the cult, whom also happens to be Fuka Eri's father is a large, mystical man, who can levitate alarm clocks and undergoes prolonged periods of muscular rigidity during which he is unable to move his body at all. This is what leads Aomame to him. As an expert in muscle stretching she is recommended to alleviate his ailments. While he is in rigid states young women fornicate with him. When quizzed about the nature of these relations, the leader evades  the question of rape stating that "'I had congress with her,' he said. 'That expression is closer to the truth. And the one I had congress with was, strictly speaking my daughter as a concept'" (580). If that doesn't make any sense, don't worry about it, most of the rest of the novel doesn't either and according to the leader the morality of "having congress" with young women is entirely subjective as,

"In this world, there is no absolute good, no absolute evil... Good and evil are not fixed stable entities but are continually trading places. A good may be transformed into an evil in the next second. And vice versa. Such was the way of the world that Dostoevsky depicted in The Brothers Karamazov" (558). 

Through the conversation between Aomame and the Leader, the Leader convinces Aomame to kill him anyways. He wants out of his life, and his crappy body. She obliges and then is on the run from the cult. She hides out in a safe house provided for her by the dowager and then is mysteriously impregnated, much like the Virgin Mary. Unlike the mother of Jesus, Aomame knows the father, Tengo! Evidently he knocked her up somehow, and Murakami alludes to Tengo boning down with Fuka Eri as being the source of Aomame's pregnancy. Somehow Fuka Eri acts as a medium for his sperm and Aomame's body, basically its a magical realist menage a trios! 

Murakami seems to enjoy playing with weird sexual acts, and often has some serious mother loving situations as evidenced in Kafka On The Shore which has a Oedipal story line. Murakami certainly doesn't disappoint the mother lovers amongst us in 1Q84.

He gives Tengo a weird relationship with his mother who abandoned him as a child. His only memory of her is a scene in "which his mother in underclothes let a man who was not his father suck on her breasts" (345). Tengo continues to relive the scene and remembers the "look of ecstasy suffused his mother's face while the man sucked on her breasts, a look very much like his older girlfriend's when she had an orgasm" (218).   Tengo decides to relive the scenario with his older girlfriend who wears a white slip like Tengo's mother.  Tengo takes off the slip and:

 "adopted the same position and angle as the man in his vision, and when he did this he felt a slight dizziness. His mind misted over, and he lost track of the order of things. In his lower body there was a heavy sensation that rapidly swelled, and no sooner was he ware of it than he shuddered with a violent ejaculation" (218).

The novel isn't just about weird sex though, its also about cooking! Murakami's characters often cook and drink cans of beer. Murakami carefully lays out cooking scenes with care  as is evidenced by Tengo who:

"chopped a lot of ginger to a fine consistency. Then he sliced some celery and mushrooms into nice-sized pieces. The Chinese parsely, too, he chopped up finely. He peeled the shrimp and washed them at the sink. Spreading a paper towel, he laid the shrimp out in neat rows, like troops in formation. When the edamame were finished boiling, he drained them in a colander and left them to cool. Next he warmed a large frying pan and dribbled in some sesame oil and spread it over the bottom. He slowly fried the chopped ginger over a low flame" (452).

Despite all this cooking "Tengo drank only half his beer and ate only half of his shrimp and vegetables" (453)! What a waste! Luckily Tengo goes on to cook some more while listening to old Rolling Stones Albums with Fuka-Eri. After all "cooking was not a chore for Tengo. He always used it as a time to think- about everyday problems, about math problems, about his writing, or about metaphysical propositions" (653). Tengo was making rice pilaf with ham, mushrooms, and brown rice accompanied by a miso soup with tofu and wakame to help him think about his metaphysical propositions.

Ushikawa, the novel's villian, of sorts, doesn't cook for himself. Instead he eats simply and when he stakes out Tengo's place he just eats "canned peaches, and smoked a couple of cigarettes" (923). When Ushikawa does go out it is for simple food as he "ordered a bowl of soba noodles with tempura. It had been a while since he had had a hot meal. He savored the tempura noodles and drank down the last drop of broth" (954). Ushikawa's meals have none of the metaphysical properties of Tengo's, that's for sure yet there is still a large role of food for even the villain.

Along with weird sex, and food, another recurring topic is music, specifically Leos Janacek Sinfonietta. Both Tengo and Aomame continually listen to the piece throughout the novel. I have no idea why, nor the significance of it although this write up might shed a helpful light on things. Tengo and Aomame also listen to jazz and modern rock too. Why they don't listen to Oingo Bongo, or Duran Duran, beats me, I guess its just a Murakami thing.

Overall the novel is a sprawling tale. Murakami takes his time in telling a convoluted, twisted, and surreal love story. The premise is simple, boy and girl meet, fall in love and live happily ever after but as Murakami says "the role of a story was, in the broadest terms, to transpose a single problem into another form" (222) and that other form is a lengthy weird tale... or in other words its a typical Murakami piece that is longer than the rest.

Monday, April 1, 2013

"I'm About Making Money! That's the Dream! The American Dream!"

I often wonder what people do with their free time that is the time in which they are not engaged in "productive labor". Are they watching movies? Reading books? Going to theme parks? Enjoying a meal with a friend at a restaurant? I always wonder what commodity and to what extent they are dealing with it, and how they just get it away from it all. Recently Hollywood has given me a voyeuristic encounter with how people spend their time away from the drudgery of work and school.

Spring Breakers, directed and written by Harmony Korine of Kids, and Gumo fame, is the story of four nubile, and nearly identical young women who vacate their collegiate life to enjoy a spring break bacchanal. The thin story begins with three of the women (all bleached blondes) robbing a working class, "Chicken Shack," an obviously low standard restaurant in their hood, in order to fund their extravagant vacay away from school. The necessity for the vacation is obvious in the women's lines and their desire to see another world after all spring break is "Way more than having a good time". Spring Break is a way to get away from it all, "its nice to have a break from reality". They even convince the light weight moral compass, Faith, to come along on the hedonistic trip with their repetitive mantra of "Spring Break Foeva".

Their plans go sour when after a collage of cocaine, alcohol, and exploratory bisexuality they are arrested. Luckily the Alien, portrayed by James Franco, bails them out. Franco, an obvious play off of rapper Riff Raff, (who is a mixture of white trash, and black gangsta rapper - think Kid Rock meets  Ole Dirty Bastard but not as cool, unless you are a hipster, then its probably deeper- both ironically cool and uncool at the same time) is Alien, another worldly being who is made of money. Alien is the embodiment of currency made flesh pronounced when he exclaims "Look at my teef", which are rimmed with gold and diamonds. Alien is made of the right currency after all for the young ladies "Money makes my tits look bigger", and "money makes my pussy wet". Which in the realm of the spectacle a wet pussy and big tits will get you far.

 When Alien first comes on stage as an active agent in the drama, it is in the courtroom, a third of the way through the nonlinear narrative. Alien leans forward interested in the girls being charged and given the choice to pay bail or spend two more days in county jail, a place of B-O-R-E-D-O-M, almost as bad as school. Alien, visually sporting his $ neck tat, makes his tat not just a signifier but signified when he springs the ladies out.
seriously have you ever seen rich bitches look so bored?

Alien meets them outside and brings them to the underbelly of of Spring Break, which doesn't mean that the continual splicing of white kids ejaculating booze on lined up rows of white women stops, it just means that there are more black bodies about. The black bodies come to a for in a strip club which is visited by Alien and three of the girls (Faith drops out of the indulgence with fake tears). The black females are covered with money and Alien slaps their asses as he talks to his childhood best friend, Big Archie, who taught him everything he knew.

The two are threatened by each other and posture, after all what working class white rapper isn't threatened by a black working class rapper? Both have come from the "streets" and somehow both made it into the realm of spectacular capitalism, although neither of them are working class any long but are nouveau rich. Obviously there is a clash of markets and the conflict is not only one of color, but also of the ways in which the colonizer mimics the colonized (how many white girls asses did we see in the film? How many women of color twerked?) The racial depth, along with conflicts of sexuality and  depth of intra class warfare, are beyond the depth of this trite blog review however, poo poo.
So hood, soooo hood!

In an encounter on the street, with both driving expensive sports cars, Big Archie, in obvious dissatisfaction that his vehicle does not have $ sign rims opens fire on Alien's car. One of the girls (don't ask me who) is hit in the arm. The flesh wound is so upsetting that Alien must engage in a solo piano number, smashing the keys, while the wounded girl showers naked (in a surprisingly unsexual scene). The wounded girl goes home and then... there were two little blonde girls.

In an act of vendetta and an attempt to show his masculine prowess, rather than be a continual "Scaredy Cat," Alien lays siege to Gucci Mane's place of residence, which is sea side and has a hot tub. Alien and the two girls ride a motorboat, dock, and clad in bikinis and pink balaclavas the two girls way waste to all the black men in the compound, finishing their bulletory ejaculation with Gucci Mane who is watching two voluptuous women of color engage in light lesbianism. Alien, however dies in the first burst of fire and the ladies are left to commit racial genocide without their man. Sad, sad, sad.
Bikini Girls with Machine Guns!

In the end what can we gather from this film? Is it a new venture in riot grrl capitalism? A way of white angst expressing dissatisfaction with the growing black bourgeoisie? A condemnation of curvy bodies? Or black bodies? A tale of intraclass violence? A testimony of the power of the phallus and threat of violence? Is it just a teen exploitation movie?

Well one thing is for sure... it is a commodity meant to sell and a commodity appears, at first sight as a very trivial thing, seemingly easily understood. Its analysis shows, however, that it is in reality, a very peculiar thing, abounding in pop-cultural subtleties and ideological niceties.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Best Espresso Shot!

The Bay Area Latte Art Competition is a series of contests held in San Francisco and Oakland, the only places in the Bay where people actually drink their coffee with art in their steamed milk. The most recent gathering of baristas and beret wearing latte artists was held at Contraband Coffee in Nob Hill, just a stones throw away from the Tenderloin, the difference being that in the former the crack you can acquire is from a hipster bending over in too tight of pants where as the latter is crack cocaine... Huzzah!
Look at all these fucking dorks spectating on who can be the best low paid artist

Having taken some serious steps in my artistic life I decided to join the competition. I arrived promptly at 6pm and was the second person to sign up, which I thought was odd, wouldn't caffeinated people be on time or at least anxious about it? The contest itself didn't start for an hour so I spent the next sixty minutes doing what everyone else was doing, engaging in small talk, indulging in paralyzing self doubt, harboring self esteem issues, and eating the free food.

Eventually I was called up to the barista station. A large contraption stood before me. My latte experience being limited to second rate machines I wasn't quite prepared for the technological device that would exude such pure capitalist devil juice. I stood next to a bearded man named Kevin as the two previous contestants waged battle. The contestants made their drinks and then displayed them before the judges whom decided on pure subjectivity whose was better. Kevin and I made some small chat while we waited for the judges' verdict on the previous bout. He worked at Contraband as a barista, yet didn't deem himself that skilled as a barista.
These are the machines of espresso weaponry. They make pure unadulterated capitalist devil juice.

Kevin was nervous. I was relaxed. I knew I had nothing to lose. Half the battle of a competition is showing up to compete. The official asked us what we'd like to use. I chose a cappuccino cup. Kevin did as well.  I filled up my metal tin with milk and used a long needle of a steamer to steam my milk. The milk whirled around and I worried that it wasn't getting enough air, I pulled up on it and gave it a little more air. I stamped the milk down. It looked good. I began to pour. The coffee was too milky as I poured. I pulled out and attempted to make a design in the cappuccino. There was too much milk in my twin. I leaked out a squiggle into a milky mess.

Yeah mine is on the left. So what!? Fuck you and your mom!
Kevin was done. I was done. We set our cups in front of the judges. I let them know that mine was the Japanese Kanji for failure. They pursed their lips and picked Kevin as winner. I shook his hand. It felt swampy from nerves. I walked off my head held high, after all I'd given it my best espresso shot.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Situationist Cred

The room when I entered with a friend was full of empty chairs, the fold out pieces of metal were arranged in three rows with a small platform in the middle. The stage would be filled with Donald Nicholson Smith, a short, portly main with a stringy bush of brown hair and a full white beard. He was soft spoken, and seemed benign. The seats would be filled with poorly dressed whites, mainly men ranging from their early thirties to sixties. A few depraved women had come to see a species of men more hollow than them.

I had come to the event at 518 Valencia, part of their ongoing SF talks series, to see the former situationist and translator of Revolution of Every Day Life speak. Not only as Nicholson-Smith translated Raoul Vaneigem, but he has also translated Jean Patrick Manchette's noir novels; Fatale, 3 to Kill, and The Prone Gunman. He has also translated Mygale by Thierry Jonquet, a noir horror.

Having originally translated Vaneigem's book in 1982 into english from the original french, he felt a need, spurred by the people at PM Press to update the translation. He commented that he wanted to give way to a more literary rather than colloquial feeling of the book. In the 60s and 70s there were lots of attempts to translate the book, in total and excerpts, due to the popularity of the S.I.  These translations were quite ugly to the french at the time. During his translations both in the early days and more recently Nicholson Smith was, however able to speak with Vaneigem about his points and to clear up, as best he could the translation. After a few more comments Nicholson Smith began a long, long reading of his translation from Chapter 15:  (Note to reader, if the below bores you, by all means skip ahead)

Our efforts, our boredom, our defeats, the absurdity of our actions all stem most of the time from the imperious necessity in our present situation of playing hybrid parts, parts which appear to answer our desires, but which are really antagonistic to them. "We would live," says Pascal, "according to the ideas of others; we would live an imaginary life, and to this end we cultivate appearances. Yet in striving to beautify and preserve this imaginary being we neglect everything authentic." This was an original thought in the seventeenth century; at a time when the system of appearances was still hale, its coming crisis was apprehended only in the inhibitive flashes of the most lucid. Today, amidst the decomposition of all values, Pascal's observation states only what is obvious to everyone. By what magic do we attribute the liveliness of human passions to lifeless forms? Why do we succumb to the seduction of borrowed attitudes? What are roles?

The role is a consumption of power. It locates one in the representational hierarchy, and hence in the spectacle: at the top, at the bottom, in the middle but never outside the hierarchy, whether this side of it or beyond it. The role is thus the means of access to the mechanism of culture: a form of initiation. It is also the medium of exchange of individual sacrifice, and in this sense performs a compensatory function. And lastly, as a residue of separation, it strives to construct a behavioural unity; in this aspect it depends on identification.

After his long and pointless reading, I could tell no difference between the current and past translations and the talk was beginning to bore me. Revolution of Every Day Life and its companion book Society of the Spectacle had a huge influence on me in my early twenties, and still exert a heavy weight on my weltanschung currently. The former encouraged a pragmatic hedonism and gave a coherent critique of life within capital, the latter offers a total critique of capitalist society especially with its tendency to reduce every relationship to be that of commodities and their images.

The floor was opened for questions and people asked about revolutionary violence, particularly as Vaneigem had changed his position. Nicholson Smith didn't note how Vaneigem had changed, he just stated he had. Indeed most of the speakers answers were a little off base, as if he wasn't really listening. That was fortunate for him when an audience member, embarrassingly for the rest of the crowd, began to read a critique he and his companions had wrote. After ten minutes of boredom, truncated by the moderator, he ended with a desire to engage with the other audience members. While that was one of the more painful questions the other audience participation was equally banal. One young man stumbled incoherently into a sentence that more or less said "these are big ideas, what do they mean?"

Another man historically situated the book by talking the 60s, when the book was written, specifically in Britain, which still had a strong welfare state. Nicholson Smith noted that while the book was very perceptive in many ways, it was at times completely off base. Vaneigem did not see the fall of the welfare state at all. 

The moderator asked an interesting question in that he felt that the S.I. had felt that all political projects were cup de sacs of failure, of reformism, and to what extent did that influence the future. Nicholson Smith noted that they (the SI) totally thought that political projects were indeed a cul de sac of failure and thus dissolved.

With that the talk closed after an hour and a half of quotes being read and boring questions being asked. I stuck around for a few minutes and then left. For all the excitement that the situationists had caused in my life I had just left a rather dull encounter. I walked down into the mission and wondered what I should do, one thing was clear to me, inebriation was in order, a prescription to forget my wasted, dead time. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Notes on Luther

Cinema has replaced literature in terms of broad appeal. Far more people view television, watch movies, or stream vids on the internet than read novels, short stories, or even magazine articles. This is no news. While cinema has replaced literature there are still similarities such as the emergence of the serialized televised novel, or visual novel. Similar to the victorian era which introduced the serialized novel due to innovations in printing technologies, the rise of literacy, and improved economics of distribution in the modern era we have new technologies such as netflix, hulu, hbo go, that allow us easier access to televised series. In addition our culture, global culture, has become more obsessed with the moving image, and with the easy, inexpensive ways of paying (or not) television series we can look at many television series as the modern era's answer to the victorian era nickelbacks and pulps.

British Television for monetary reasons, cultural reasons, and or reasons unbeknownst to me has more short term series. One recent pulp serial is the show "Luther." Opening with a James Bondesque sequence that is underscored by Massive Attack's "Paradise City." The dark number is laid with images of the city and a man in shadows. It is a classic noir motif and points towards a common narrative within the noir/detective genre. That of a lead protagonist who must navigate through an urban landscape much like Theseus threads through the labyrinth.

Akin to Theseus's minotaur, Luther has to defeat half men/ half beasts. Yet his dark encounters with him shade his soul and he is represented as a man who is continually self conflicted. The first series of possible 3 (the second was produced, the third series may be in the works) focuses on Luther's conflict with his ex wife, a human rights lawyer. Luther is also haunted by the ghostly pale, Alice, whom he suspects, using his Holmes' like insight into others' psyches, is a murderer. It is his delving into the others' psyches that darkens him, or at least that is what we are to believe. He is violent, short tempered, and prone to breaking rules if it suits him.

Paradise Circus

It's unfortunate that when we feel a storm,
we can roll ourselves over 'cause we're uncomfortable
Oh well the devil makes us sin
But we like it when we're spinning, in his grin.
Love is like a sin my love
For the ones that feels it the most
Look at her with her eyes like a flame
She will love you like a fly will never love you, again
Oh, ho..
It's unfortunate that when we feel a storm,
we can roll ourselves over when we're uncomfortable
Oh well the devil makes us sin
But we like it when we're spinning, in his grin.
Oh, ho,..
Love is like a sin my love
For the one that feels it the most
Look at her with her smile like a flame
She will love you like a fly will never love you, again