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8 March 2013

J.M. Coetzee, Jesus Christ & a visit to Adelaide

Lying prone in a front room of a Melbourne suburb, I’m reading this J.M. Coetzee essay about Aussie poet Les Murray. I did not previously know of Murray or his poems — my bad, my loss, he is apparently “the leading Australian poet of his generation.” Could be! At least I was quite struck by these lines excerpted in Coetzee’s piece:

(bird minds and ours are so pointedly visual):

a field all foreground, and equally all background,

like a painting of equality. Of infinite detailed extent

like God’s attention. Where nothing is diminished by perspective.

It’s interesting the way artists put themselves in God’s shoes. For example, here’s one impressionistic flash from Adelaide Writer’s Week¬†which took place simultaneous with Brassland’s program at Adelaide Festival. Coetzee now resides in Adelaide. He relocated there in 2002, just after retiring from his university position in South Africa, and just before winning the Nobel prize. Yet he seems, at best, a phantom presence.

For example, something of a recluse, Coetzee declined to appear in support of his new novel which has something to do with Jesus Christ. (Guilty as charged: I have not read it…yet.) He did, however, supply the festival with 75 signed copies of his book, a number of which remained unsold at the festival’s conclusion Thursday night. (Evidence pictured above.)

I’m a fan of Coetzee — especially his memoirs — and while the chilly nature of his prose is one of its appeals — his distance — I could not help but see a bit of comedy (unselfconscious self-parody?) in this gesture and in this state of affairs: a pile of unsold author signed copies on a work about Jesus. I may be giving undue credit for the good humor of the work itself. For example, in a summary of the book from Wikipedia:

The Childhood of Jesus, as its title was later revealed to be, was released March 2013, and concerning the early life of Jesus, particularly his struggles to free himself from the iron-fisted discipline of his long-suffering parents, get the girl, earn a decent wage, and find his place in an unforgiving world.

“Get the girl”?

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16 May 2012

Maurice

This picture appears in the fresh issue of The New Yorker. It’s Maurice Sendak in his backyard wearing a bathrobe, taken by Mariana Cook in 2005. I assume she’d be cool with me sharing it, just as I’m relatively sure the magazine’s owners might not be. So let’s willfully misread copyright law for a second here to emphasize feeling over legal regimes, k? (And, uh, using a bit of Napsterlogic, maybe it’s okay if I tell you to subscribe?)

Anyway, accompanying the photo was a touching interview excerpt in which he expresses some extreme self-knowledge. It’s somehow not strange at all that the best obituary on Sendak was written by himself. None of that nostalgic lost childhood bullshit that we (?) have been posting to our Facebook pages & Twitter feeds. Which goes to prove: speed is overrated, and there is no way to better understand a person than by spending an extended period of time not online but in one’s own head.

I am in my bathrobe in the front with my dog, Herman, who is a German shepard of unknowable age, because I refused to ever find out. I don’t want to know. I wish I didn’t know how old I was. This is far more than I expected, far more than I need, far more than I desire. I didn’t think I’d live this long…

I have serious flaws. And I think they come from a time of one’s life when one is very young and they stick to you like glue. And then things change when you get older. You’re doing what you want to do. You’re very lucky. Oh, the books, the books, the books, the books; the prizes, the prizes, the prizes, the prizes. It doesn’t matter that you’ve done a hundred books. It doesn’t mean anything when people say, “I read your book. I like it so much.” People do say awfully nice things, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re a stinky person by nature…

It’s hard to be happy. Some people have the gift of pulling themselves up and out and saying there is more to life than just tragedy. And then there are those who can’t, and I’m one of them. Do you believe it when people say they’re happy?

There’s more to it than that. So I’ve provided a subscribe link above & I’m sure the internet has connived some method by which you can get it for free if that’s your thing.

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4 May 2012

“strictly necessary for their own consumption”: some deep thoughts on art & money

So this happened. In a spiritual sense it was a very unimportant thing. From the point of view of things with meaning, it had little. But often such things are what makes the world go round.

So, also: There’s a big art fair in New York this weekend. Here are some coherent thoughts about it. Sadly, for those of you who are into clarity, by way of contrast I’m just gonna quote some young Marxist who quotes the original Marxist, all of which is framed within the younger Marxist’s 2010 Artforum review of a book (in translation) by a lady of Germanic origin who I had not previously heard of, but who was apparently photographed once by Thomas Ruff once.

I like Thomas Ruff.

*deep breath*

Anyway, if you haven’t given up on this BLOG already you may enjoy the rest of the post but, yeah, it’s pretty meta.

Brand Identity: On Isabelle Graw’s High Price: Art Between the Market and Celebrity Culture trans. by Nicolas Grindell (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2009)
by Julian Stallabrass
(Artforum, Summer 2010)

…The art market, she argues, has become modernized — meaning rationalized and globalized, franchised and branded. Old loyalties have eroded on both sides, as successful artists defect to more prominent galleries while the economic protection once offered by the gallery has almost vanished., Just as Warhol’s obsession with fashion and celebrity chasing damanged his reputation in days past but now seems standard behavior, Larry Gagosian, whose aggressive business practices were formerly the subject of disdain, is now “universally respected and admired.”

In an extraordinary passage from the Grundrisse, Marx points to a model of work set against the extraction of surplus value:

“The Times of November 1857 contains an utterly delightful cry of outrage on the par tof a West Indian plantation owner. The advocate analyses with great moral indignation — as a plea for the re-introduction of Negro slavery — how the Quashees (the free blacks of Jamaica) content themselves with producing only what is strictly necessary for their own consumption, and, alongside this “use value,” regard loafing (indulgence and idleness) as the real luxury good; how they do not care a damn for the sugar and the fixed capital invested in the plantations, but rather observe the planters’ impending bankruptcy with an ironic grin of malicious pleasure…”

An ironic grin may also greet the realization that what Marx is describing is also an ideal model of the artist’s labor, which should be free, self-fulfilling, and self-determined, a glimpse of the utopia that awaits all mankind after the final synthesis. Graw revealingly describes the demands made on artists by dealers (for example, to more regularly produce new work for art fairs), for which surplus in the Marixst sense may be an apposite term after all.

If you found that boring, well, here’s a picture of Macaulay Culkin.

So what’s the point of all this? Well, art is hard, money is complicated, celebrity is real & sometimes I suspect it’s more useful getting used to it and using all of it rather than putting up a fuss. I mean, get a load of this guy!

I will end with a story: A few years ago I went to a screening of an Alec Soth documentary at the New School. (I like him for reasons besides the obvious.) Right there next to me I saw what looked like Macaulay Culkin sitting next to Natalie Portman. And here’s the thing: it was Macaulay Culkin sitting next to Natalie Portman.

Was that a story or an anecdote. Not sure. But, sorry, that’s all I got.

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16 April 2012

As a civilian

There are many risks to a life in the arts. The one that bothers me most is how entertainment can become work. It’s a very different experience to go to a concert hoping to take flight, and to merely attend a concert with an eye toward networking, and a sense that the machinery behind the live show (the soundman, the seller of merch, the collection of money) is your responsibility to troubleshoot. The latter requires a level of heightened attention that wards off states of ecstasy and grace. Last week returned me to first principles at least twice — I went to a Pulp show as a civilian and saw my cousin Max lead a mosh pit in Times Square. Yes, I was backstage for the latter show — but as a proud relative, not as a scheming puller of strings. It’s different. Since I often claim that my music businesses involvements are more about family than commerce, I hope I can cling to these feelings.

PS – The photo at top is not by me. The bottom photo is.

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26 March 2012

The internet wasteland & a museum to ephemeral feeling


The internet deserves to be treated like a wasteland. I am not referring to T. S. Eliot, mind you — more like Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road, Denis Johnson’s Fiskadoro or, fuck it, Mad Max.

Hell, maybe the internet deserves an even madder Max.

We live in a world which (if the consistently apocalyptic tone of most media reports are to be believed) is quite redolent of Mel Gibson’s breakthrough film — out-of-gas, out-of-hope, ready to abandon our fading settlement upon rumor of a brighter kingdom just past the next ridge. The internet is a perfectly ephemeral medium for this kind of world. By contrast, I remember when I fancied myself more of a proper writer, rather than someone merely capable of writing well & conveying stories and feelings. I treated each word on a screen like letters etched on marble tablets — each one carefully placed, every publication a monument to some kind of pretension. On the ‘net, however, I’ve come to realize words are more like water or, better, something sweeter. Nowadays, I see each new web platform as a honeycomb to be sucked dry until there’s only a husk to leave behind.

And so I’d like to point you toward my latest internet property alechanleybemis.tumblr.com where I’ve gone practically wordless, choosing instead to focus on concerts & photographs. I like to think I’ve opened an online museum to ephemeral feelings, a museum that may close without warning, at any time. But one that’s devoted to featuring some of the more elevating & tipsy-making aspects of our world. Contrast Mad Max with the wild dancing that happens on the edges of darkness.

Two shining examples of the exhibits on display after the jump. Follow me or don’t. If you agree with Drake it’s probably not for you; but if you understand David Foster Wallace’s wiser words, it will make sense to you.

Read more »

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