beach velvet

I loved Jenny Turner's piece in the LRB on Mark Fisher. It is full of quotable lines and rigor and kindness. I especially like how she makes herself present in the review—ending with an anecdote about her son ("he’s following the new, in technology, in culture, in form and genre, looking at memes on 4chan and Reddit and posting his own. This scares me sometimes, when I read about the way racists use humour and irony to pull in the unwitting, so I asked my son what he thought, and we had a shouting match about how he thinks I think he’s stupid.")

Maybe the reason I like it is because I think Fisher might have been a stronger writer had he anticipated readers like Turner—not so much changing for them, as anticipating a wider world could have received him. His interests were arcane, but his point-of-view was not; his accessible writing style was not. Capitalist Realism is a 80 page zine essentially, widely available as a pdf online, that begins with a consideration of Children of Men, which, while hardly obscure—was no blockbuster, and today is widely celebrated as that film you might have missed ten years ago that got everything right. And yet the book sells pretty well and consistently. That book is speaking to many many sorts of people, not just the theorists and arts bloggers in and around London.

I think part of the reason Fisher's writing is picking up in the states is that right now the contours of class consciousness are visible, but the stakes and positions and interests are still muddled in the media. Class is a missing component to the cultural conversation about diversity—including desperately needed changes—that began in 2014ish. After the Felicity Huffman thing, the Markup spreadsheet scandal...another shoe is bound to drop and things are going to get messy. But maybe—hopefully—productively messy. Anyway, Capitalist Realism is as good a book as any to prepare yourself for it.

On that note, I have a new column in Filmmaker magazine called Speculations. My first piece is out from under the paywall. It is about the uncanny sensation of watching films set in 2019 (Akira, The Running Man, and Blade Runner) now. I also mention Michael Radford’s 1984, and Fisher's own writing about Children of Men, among other things. Check it out.

Turner mentioned this photo of Ian Curtis with his officemates at the Macclesfield Unemployment Office in her review. Now I can't stop thinking of it either. Maybe because I heard “Disorder” in a cafe the other day for the first time in years—struck by its power, awestruck for how young he was.

I was in Berlin this week, where I happened to have a delightful Only In Berlin moment. I walked by a little rave, like 35 people dancing in daylight behind a truck with a DJ playing techno. They were celebrating reading! Some were carrying signs that appeared—from what I, a non-German speaker, could parse—to celebrate the joy of reading.

On the plane I watched The Dark Knight Rises. It’s the final one in the trilogy. It is hilarious to watch now for the pathetic antagonism of Occupy and veneration of law enforcement and civility. But also....Anne Hathaway as Catwoman as ...AOC? If the film were released today there's no way critics wouldn't make the connection. But it came out when people hated Hathway for some inexplicable reason, so we missed our chance at a great standalone Hathaway—as—Catwoman—as—AOC trilogy. "I take what I need from those who have more than enough. I don't stand on the shoulders of those with less." What a great line! A line that only an actress as poised and vivid as Hathaway can convincingly deliver. No wonder Batman gives his money away at the end (sorry if I spoiled that for anyone haha.)

I'm not really in the habit of recommending products/objects/things to buy here but I'll make an exception for once, since I'm already a little out of it from all the travel this week. Beach Velvet. Get yourself some beach velvet! Really: get your ass in beach velvet. Yes, this is a phrase I just made up. Let me explain. I got Danskin leggings at Tj Maxx a few months ago. There were racks and racks of them for ten dollars because they are marked two sizes too small. If you want say, velvet leggings size medium, get the extra small or if you want velvet leggings that fit like sweatpants size medium get the medium. (actually velour leggings—"microvelour." But "velour" is a horrible word. These are my velvet leggings.) It's a fussy fabric and there's something nice about sitting in this fussy soft fabric on a rough texture like sand. So now these are my beach leggings. My beach velvet leggings. So wrong it is right!

Thanks for reading.

Triangle, Virginia

I got a spam phone call from Triangle, Virginia, and I was taken by the cold beancounter romanticism that name evokes; like Paris, Texas, but a place with concrete federal buildings and mildewed corners, rather than dry air and dead grass burned out in the sun.

If anyone happens to be in the UK: on Friday, Failed States, “a journal of indeterminate geographies,” is celebrating its third issue at The Chateau in South London. The event will include a performance of a short story I contributed. (That is an exciting sentence for me to type.) The editor reached out to me last year after coming across a little piece of experimental writing I published—a story, I didn't expect to find much of an audience, but was fun for me to write. A pleasant surprise. It was a great, encouraging experience, and I'm pleased with what's come out of it; and especially honored that my story should appear in a publication that is doing exciting things. The story is called The Newcomer. It's not online yet, but I'll share it when I can.

I wish I could make it. I also wish I could have made it to see North Bergen High School's production of Alien: The Play. Thankfully, there is video.

The most beautiful thing I read all week — Laura Gilpin's poem "The Two-Headed Calf" — I read courtesy of one of Vincent D'Onofrio reply-guys, retweeted into my feed. Sometimes it is good that the world is weird.

Another thing retweeted into my feed was the Netflix account sharing images from Logan's Run. This is the first time—as far as I know—that twitter advertising has worked on me. It has been years since I watched it and I forgot how gorgeous it is—or maybe the production design failed to pop on the crummy VHS copy I must have seen before. The corridors!!! There is an exquisite iridescent building in the first five minutes —a scale model, and obviously so—and it is worth watching just for the five second shot of the shimmering city. And the carousel scene is straight up wild. One of the wildest scenes in all of sci-fi cinema. It happens ten minutes in. The movie doesn't not waste time (which is appropriate, given the dystopian premise of mandated death by age 30.) Unfortunately, just as I remembered, I lost interested when the story kicked in. Still worth it for the pearly scale models. Just look at this:

Thanks for reading.

laughing with dread

I’ve been trying to think of a word that approaches the sort of gallows humor that comes up a lot lately. It partly demonstrates relief because there is now a solid chance that in 2021, the political situation in this country will become marginally better, and that is good? But things are still…bad? 

Because there is no single word to describe it, I can only explain it as feeling like when I thought I was laughing, I was actually coughing up blood.

This humor tends to have a target, who is off-the-deep-end weird but harmless enough. Like John McAfee’s whale tweet on New Year’s Eve. And now Andrew Yang—his whole deal. I can’t stop laughing—that way—while feeling bad. It sounds like laughter and feels like laughter, but is actually just a nervous, manic sort of exhaust. There’s a social component to it—laughing as a form of distancing ourselves from whatever is going on over there. 

It is the laughter that happens at dinner with friends, when facts take up the space that jokes might:

“So Andrew Yang—”

“Arghhahha!”

“Did you hear Jack Dorsey, Rivers Cuomo, and Nicolas Cage donated to his campaign?”

“Arghhahha! Celebrity incels!”

“But they aren’t incels, really. I suppose they are….nonpracticing incels?”

His campaign is a fact and it is a fact that John McAfee tweeted that thing about whales. What other reaction is appropriate than coughing up blood and calling it laughter?

And has anything captured this feeling better than Videodrome? It used to be just a weird movie. I watched it all the time in college, and I loved the deadpan delivery and tech criticality presented in terms so wacky as to feel mystical. I never thought of it as say, a mirror on the world. Or ever dreamed that deadpan wacky would be so attuned to the very real weirdness of the world. It’s scripture now. (Especially relevant with the real James Woods having traveled deep inside Videodrome’s logic, to never return from it.) 

I recently came across this deleted scene. Fascinating as it’s all exposition early on—a nut graf that was superfluous.

When I first became obsessed with the film, I lived by a dry cleaning place that had a rack of clothes outside for sale for $3; garments that had been orphaned — things people took the time out to drop off, but in the end didn’t care enough about. It was all good fabrics—silks and linens—and oddly shaped, out-of-date styles, often good for Halloween (I got a dress there once that became a “stewardess” costume.) Items that probably had been sitting in a shopping bag in someone’s closet with a post-it “to be drycleaned” for a decade at least, and once that person went to the effort of dropping them off, they were released from the responsibility of having to continue owning them. Once I found something there in my size that was a dead ringer for the Debbie Harry Videodrome red dress. I wore it out a few times, but I just couldn’t pull it off (Let’s be real, it was never about the dress, but Debbie Harry wearing the dress.) It was just so dowdy and loud. I passed it on to a friend who wanted to do something with the fabric (my guess is it got stuffed in bag in her closet with a post-it “scrap fabric” and finally she pass it off to a goodwill bin.) Anyway, I wish I still had it. I wouldn’t leave the house in the Videodrome dress, but I’d wear it when I’m at my laptop—like my personal version of a baseball cap with the word “Thinking Cap” printed on it— trying to think of a word that explains the coughing up blood laugh. 

Thanks for reading.

all about ethics in holograms

I just started reading The Artificial Man, a collection of Clare Winger Harris stories recently revived and published by the Midwest-based indie press, Belt. Harris, who was born in 1891, wrote most of these tales in the 1920s, for publications like Amazing Stories, while she was raising three sons outside Cleveland. I don't often read this generation of science fiction, so my mind went to Asimov first, but even he was born thirty years later. The introduction, excerpted here, gives a glimpse of the life of this woman dreaming of Mars, Paris, and Frankenstein-like cyborgs from Ohio, with a lifeline in these pulp magazine—a sort of "early typeset Internet."

Oh, to be too mundane for stargazing:

Last week, I went to Dollywood with my sister and saw the hologram and the bald eagles. It's an ethical hologram: Parton consented to its creation, and it was built while she is still alive.

We listened to the podcast Cocaine & Rhinestones while driving through the Smokies. I had no idea the Judd family's history was so tumultuous.

Later I watched Synecdoche, New York, which is now on Netflix. I like it better each time I watch it and I loved it the first time I watched it. So raw and real, elegiac, funny, and devastating. It is only two hours long but it feels like two years and passes like twenty minutes. While it demonstrates how vulnerable it is to be that ambitious with a work—like a quotidian Angels in America, in a way—it succeeds. It does not let up and grows in intensity to the very end (the way Dianne Wiest shows up, out of nowhere, in the last 15 minutes and carries it gently to its landing.) What a movie. "Where will it take you?" "Home."

Thanks for reading.

cockpitpunk

Last night, I was waiting at the edge of a jetway for an unusually long moment, before finally stepping on to the plane and getting to my seat. But this isn't me complaining, because in that moment I had an unobstructed view of the cockpit.

And I love that gearhead aesthetic of wires and gauges and complicated not-for-the-layman buttons. Colors...functional colors! Blue for something, red for something else, dark purple and light purple, and yellow, and green. It reminds me of how much I loved touring CERN several years ago, not just because I got to see, uh, the Large Hadron Collider, but that it is a deeply aesthetic experience with the colors, lights, danger(!) signs with old school graphics, and the clang of footsteps on mesh steel staircases.

Perhaps I like it all because my father is an aircraft mechanic, and I have very specific memories of Take Our Daughters to Work Day at the hangar. But it is surprising to me that there has been no real cockpitpunk, no intentional embrace of the chaos of wires and buttons, at least in recent years. Nothing like say, the Casio-punk of Netflix' Maniac, for example. (Tho, I guess _anything_punk is mostly played out now.)

The closest thing to it is space movies. (I still have got to see Apollo 11, which I hope makes use of this. First Man did not.) But the allure of a control room is a little bit different. More controlled, obviously. Granted, to some extent, that was the joy of Thomas Sachs' Space Program: Mars at the Park Armory in 2012.

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I can't believe I'm recommending Chapo Trap House here but this interview with Kim Stanley Robinson is amazing.

Another thing I loved this week was the Documentary Now episode "Waiting for the Artist," with Cate Blanchett as Marina Abramovich. It's such a loving and well-researched parody of the artist and the MoMA show, right down to her old soviet gymnast haircuts in documentation of her performances in the 70s. Looking back on it, that MoMA show was one of the best I've seen — unabashedly over-the-top, both disinterested in and craving of public approval, so vulnerable that even the most maudlin acts seemed revelatory — I regret that I was too shy and blase to sit with her at the time. This episode is a satire, but somehow it brought out everything I love about her work. She has that effect, i guess.

In other travels, Leave No Trace was playing on a long bus ride I took earlier this week. Holds up even with no headphones. Even on the tiny televisions on the bus. Just a perfect movie.

Thanks for reading.

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