Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In The Big Leagues Now

Can you say sixth place -- sixth place (!) in the resulting pages for the google search: "penis brutalism hitler"? Looks like I finally made it.

Check it out yourself

Looks like we need a PARTY!!!!

UPDATE: I lost my spot...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

Farewell, President Bush

As many prepare their final thoughts, quips and drinks (scotch on the rocks, please -- hold the rocks and glass, heavy on the flask in a paper bag) to celebrate or bemoan what was and what is the end of the Bush presidency, I've decided to jump the gun and do a little something to recognize the event. I could have written something, but it would only be a dissipating shadow of an obelisk of mute hatred; words cannot describe it.

So, instead of writing about Bush, I thought I'd collect an interesting assortment of things that might demonstrate, or show, rather than tell what I have to "say" about the Bush presidency. It's really not that thought out nor some particularly deep artistic statement. But these things just sort of click for me in expressing the anger I have toward the man and the state he represents. Unlike many others, democracy is not a solace for me, and Obama's election did not exorcise my demons. I still hold Bush and his cronies accountable, and the artificialities of democratic symbols, the pomp and display, fail to induce the civil niceties in me that go on to silence mass anger in others. The reality of death, of war, of power outside the words themselves and their uses for politicians and news media, sewn up in the skull's pieces of Iraqi civilians, are asked to be made untrue, to be abstract, for us to hold no one accountable, by the symbols of democratic progress. Maybe these things will show something, and hopefully tell you nothing.

Final News Conference

Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft - Der Sheriff

Excerpt from Gilles Deleuze's Treatise On Nomadology:
It will be noted that war is not contained within [the State's]apparatus. Either the State has as its disposal a violence that is not channeled through war -- either it uses police officers and jailers in place of warriors, has no arms and no need of them, operates by immediate, magical capture, "seizes" and "binds," preventing all combat -- or, the State acquires an army, but in a way that presupposes a juridical integration of war and the organization of military function. As for the war machine in itself, it seems to be irreducible to the State apparatus, to be outside its sovereignty and prior to its law; it comes from elsewhere... rather, he is like a pure and immeasurable multiplicity, the pack, an irruption of the ephemeral and the power of metamorphosis. He unties the bond just as he betrays the pact. He brings a furor to bear against sovereignty, a celerity against gravity, secrecy against the public, a power against sovereignty, a machine against the apparatus. He bears witness to another kind of justice, one of incomprehensible cruelty at times, but at others of unequaled pity as well (because he unties bonds...). He bears witness, above all, to other relations with women, with animals, because he sees all things in relations of becoming, rather than implementing binary distributions between "states": a veritable becoming-animal of the warrior, a becoming-woman, which lies outside dualities of terms as well as correspondences between relations. In every respect, the war machine is of another species, another nature, another origin than the State apparatus.

And on a more light-hearted note, what kind of leftist would I be without some weird, confused comparison of my enemies to Hitler. For the absurdity of it all, I'll give you some Laibach - geburt einer nation. A cover of Queens's "One Vision."
More people need to see this shit.

Monday, January 12, 2009

She’s No Ginsberg: Boston Give Up The Beats!

I wrote this for a creative writing class centered around the Beats Junior Year at Clark University. It was probably one of the most painfully boring classes I've ever taken in a weird attic they called a classroom. At first I was deeply curious about Kerouac's style, mimicking him in short stories, but reading the content of his main work On The Road, I was overcome by a loathing for the man. Ignoring how easy it would be to rip Kerouac and the Beat movement a new one over what Kerouac says about the burden of being white (you have to be successful!) and how poetically glorious tilling the earth as a migrant worker is -- deep!! -- I decided to do a small but artful dissection of the role of women in the Beat movement. It was my last paper or "fuck you" before the class ended.

I decided to pull it out of nowhere and clean it up for public consumption. It's long, I know, I'm sorry -- I'm not that sorry though because there's so few people reading this blog, I don't have anybody to apologize to. My main motivation was anger and annoyance over how accepted the Beats are in Boston, or probably anywhere else with a sizeable population that graduate from high school. You get major cool points if you read Kerouac, Ginsberg, Bukowski, or Burroughs, especially on the subway with your little city boots and funky scarf. Eponymous Bukowksi has two pubs and a sandwich in Boston and Worcester. It's really unbearable that people pretend to find these writers inspirational. I just wanted to do my part in chipping away at their allure.

My girlfriend and I have a quasi-joke that somebody's opinion on the Beats serves as a litmus test for how educated, or more likely, how uneducated they are. Oh, we are so snobby... and lonesome...

I apologize in advance for not offering a bibliography. The two references, one a short memoir, another a poem, are a bit more obscure and were a part of our curriculum reading. Hopefully this assumed knowledge of my sources will not be too confusing for the passing reader of this blog.

The Beat movement is herald as a powerful cultural revolution to meet the constricting norms of American society in the 1950s. With the advent of unprecedented technological advancement, the existential terror of World War II, and the collective awareness of the possible mass destruction that could result from an atomic bomb, Americans sought structure and assurance in the face of catastrophe. The Beat movement was a reaction to this stifling hyper-conformity by engaging in the socially unacceptable. Women were drawn to the movement as a way to escape traditional roles and limited intellectual, occupational and social goals in American society; however, their rebellion through the Beat movement offered them many of the same social injustices disguised in the pretensions of a “rebellion.” Many if not all the women of the Beat movement, the muses, the characters of their newly-formed literature, and the writers, were submitted to an ever-present sexism, misogyny and anonymity which laid in waiting amongst the Beat movement for hopeful, young women. The incarcerations, the sexual abuses and objectifications, the adultery, the obscurity and the unpublished work of these women cannot be explained away by an all-too-easy argument; that is, the success of a conservative American society prevented the hopes and ideals of an attempted cultural revolution by the Beats.

This essay will analyze “Beat Queens: Women in Flux” by Joyce Johnson and Elise Cowen’s poetry (both women being members of the Beat movement) in an attempt to reveal the Beat movement was a feigned cultural revolution because it failed to address and fight the injustices women dealt with in the 1950s; and its ignorance and/or apathy for these concerns, including issues of class (which this paper will not discuss in interest of brevity), reveal the Beat movement was actually a new expression of traditionalism.

The general themes that will guide this paper are the subjects: travel, sex/sexuality and freedom, which is contained in the prior two and is an over-arching subject. These divisions are general and loose, and function only for further analysis in the explanation of my argument. These have been borrowed and reduced for my own purposes from Joyce Johnson’s descriptions.

Traveling was a pursuit afforded to men, while women were expected to stay home by the conservatism of the 1950s. Johnson describes her own need to travel and explore outside the boundaries setup by the inequality of her gender role. “My need for experience that inescapably involved risk; her need to insist there was nothing out there in order to keep me tied to her” (42) Johnson describes her unrelenting desire to travel out and experience the world on her own terms; her mother routinely plays the role of the Freudian super-ego, which relays the wishes and the desires of accepted norms -- “stay at home!” The Beats routinely deal with the subject of travel; many of the male writers of the Beat movement based their stories if not a huge part of their aesthetics around the flux of interstate and international travel. This being a luxury afforded to men who dare reject the social norms of stifling commitment to state, community and family.

The freedom and desire for travel is distinctly defined in a male voice and on male terms. “…Holmes’ female characters were always relegated to the backseat.” (54) This is true throughout “the canon” of the Beats’ work. Jack Kerouac in On the Road talks about the male hobo as the archetype of American freedom; this traveling lifestyle has a man’s face -- becomes incarnate through a male body. It is always a man behind the wheel, or, at least, a man as a true helmsmen of the wheel. Women are allotted to a role of companion or potential companion, always defined by the freedom of their male partner usually explicity defined by their physical position to the male helmsman’s car. A commitment to a woman interferes with a commitment to the open road -- Cassidy and Kerouac routinely reject or give up on women to return to the road. Kerouac begins his narrative after a failed marriage; the road representing freedom seems to be the opposite to a relationship with a woman, therefore, a woman represents a lack of a freedom to a man committed to her. Ginsberg describes the revolutionaries in “Howl,” the chaotic travelers -- motorcyclists, sailors, hipsters -- as distinctly homosexual males. Burroughs’ main actors in Naked Lunch tend to possess an archetypal masculinity; their alien and bizarre acts capturing sodomy and rape with phallic organs and objects. The travelers and the actors in much of the Beat movement are undeniably men representative of a strong notion of what masculinity is. Travel, conceptualized as masculine and represented by men, left the women Beats without a voice or narrative in relation to the road -- in relation to that aesthetic of the ideal of freedom.

Elise Cowen poetry offers deep insight in exploring the consciousness and sub-consciousness of women in the Beat movement. Much of her poetry clearly displays deep psychological stress, and her life was filled with mental instability, ending with her suicide. Much of her poetry offers a perfect window, intentionally and perhaps accidentally, into the Beat women struggling and failing to define themselves in a narrative, in a literature, that keeps women powerless and anonymous.

Her poem “I took the skin of corpses” offers a stanza to describe the melancholy felt by a Beat woman trying to achieve an authentic freedom through travel: “I took the skin of corpses/ An dyed them blue for dreams/ Oh I can wear these everywhere/(I sat home in my jeans)” (1-4) This stanza relates to the reader that the writer has adopted a tool, a characteristic, a mode of being, etc. to allow the person access to go anywhere; though in reality, the person continues to be relegated to the home. Cowen is relating the fact that she adopted a male-dominated thing, in this case jeans as opposed to a dress, to allow her to travel (perhaps the Beat culture is represented in her jeans too?) but she found that it was inauthentic. Her hope for travel and freedom was artificial and she went nowhere but home, as there is no definition for her as a traveling woman in the greater Beat narrative. The voice of travel is a male one, expressed by the most prominent writers Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs.

Let’s follow on to the next topic as outlined by Johnson. Sex and sexuality is a pervasive topic in Beat writing with the latent Puritanism residing in American culture, springing out in times of fear. The Beats were met with an unforgiving, guilt-ridden and conservative culture when dealing with the physical act of sex and the definition of person in the terms of sex. Johnson describes her early experience with the idea of sex. “I was sure real life was sexual, though my ignorance of sex was profound.” (50) Women and men went uneducated about sex in the 1950s. The Beats began to question and challenge these norms and entered into sex and sexuality with serious social repercussions in pursuit of knowledge. This sexuality was not revolutionary or enlightening for the women of the Beat movement though. The male dominance that had subjugated women and put them into strict gender roles was also the influencing force in the barbarism of Neal Cassidy’s, Kerouac’s real-life friend and hero in On The Road, sexual exploits (comparing sex to grand theft auto throughout most of the novel); there could be no greater display of the objectification of women than Neal Cassidy’s ability to sleep with numerous, unnamed, young women, which is applauded by Kerouac and Ginsberg in their writing. Though revolutionary in terms of male sexual repression, female repression still remained as Kerouac, Burroughs, Cassidy and Ginsberg entered into self-serving relationships with women; many of the multiple relationships they had ending after adulterous behavior, substance abuse, secret abortions and even the death of Burroughs’ wife by gunshot to the head. The subordinate position and sexual objectification of women remained in the new male sexuality of the Beats, but now the prudence and self-denial in the conservative, dominant values were lifted, opening up a flood gate of sexual energy upon many na├»ve, young women.

Many women celebrated this movement decades later, feminists too, as it is seen in the progeny of the Beat generation with the sexual revolutions of following decades. Johnson objects to an attack that the sexual enlightenment of the Beats was not for women too. “[On the Road] suggested that you could choose--choose to open yourself up to a broad range of experience, instead of simply duplicating the lifestyle of your parents.” (54) Though given a new choice, women still were to choose between female prudence or male-dominated sexual exploits. As the Beats cultural movement separated from their parents’ values, they still incorporated in the movement a very powerful and internalized patriarchy. The experience of sexual freedom was inauthentic for women, it just opened up a world of actualized male objectification in the once off-limits realm of sex.

We go back to Cowen’s poetry for evidence. This inauthentic freedom is returned to again and again in Elise Cowen’s poetry. Many of her poems have phallic-centric imagery. “Suck sea monsters off Tierra del Fuego… Filter the uncircumcised sin of my heart.” (5, 8) from “Dear God of the bent trees of Fifth Avenue” shows this curious relation to the phallus; her writing continues to be possessed by phallic imagery. “I took the skin of corpses” has each stanza borrowing the flesh of others to build the things she needs. She forms a penis from the flesh. “Were humbler than my cock.” (20) As she writes and participates in the cultural revolution, the poetry she writes finds a voice that is stuck between her identity as a disenfranchised woman and her need to possess male tools, male being and male body parts to succeed in the cultural movement. Her acts are wanting though, as she finds it is an inauthentic mode of being.

Cowen in her poetry captures a greater sentiment of the role of women in the Beat movement. In order to be a Beat, one must be a man; Cowen, desperate to escape her oppression in greater society, seeks out a cultural revolution in the Beats. She, however, finds that she cannot achieve anything in her voice as a woman. Cowen, like the rest of women attempting to escape oppression through the Beat movement, realizes she is in an impossible situation. Her attempts to escape her subjugation lead her to parody men, by writing herself a penis, by writing in a male voice in male terms; in doing this, she enters into an ironic situation where she is both the victim and actor of oppression upon herself. “I took the thoughts of corpses/To do my daily needs/ But all the goods in all the stores/ Were neatly labeled me.” (21-24) Even if she attains something-like masculine power, she realizes it is the very power that has and will objectify her, like an item to be bought. She both fellates a penis and possesses a penis in her poems; this reflecting her dual role as subjugated and artificial subjugator of women. Cowen has no language, history, and clear meaning to help her write her poetry to express herself in a distinct voice as a self-defined woman of a particular generation.

From this, it is evident that the Beat movement, in its lofty ideals of freedom from the oppressive structures of society, did not provide an adequate forum for the analysis of patriarchy and gender inequality. They assumed their more pretentious and audacious displays of rejecting dominant norms gave them a security from the same injustices they attacked. Their movement towards individual freedom and expression reflected the prevailing power structures of their time. Women were not given a voice that was distinctly their own; the female characters were hallow and defined by men within the narratives of the Beat movement; and the real life perceptions and behaviors of the Beats led to the participation of the continued subjugation of women through the retention of traditional power relations disguised with the pretensions of revolution.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Rawness Of Concrete

I know very little about architecture and art in general, and I never bothered to study aesthetics in school or on my own, but I still have strong feelings as a mere witness to architecture. How some styles repulse me, and yet other styles I find they stir sudden, positive feelings in me. I couldn’t quite tell you why because I am not entirely sure of the reason other than a few uttered glimpses of the revealed in the swirling, dark-water sub-consciousness that comprises an emotive response.

I’ve realized that a specific architectural style induces the strongest response in me out of any other style: brutalism. For the sake of ease and clarity, I will speak of brutalism as a general aesthetic in architecture without much thought of the distinctions between brutalism and new brutalism, and the individual interpretations of the style by separate architects.

Brutalism, like any piece of art, is best described by its own being rather than words:

Boston City Hall
(Taken From Wikipedia)

The aesthetic principles of brutalism are, firstly, large, angular and abstract shapes mostly made of all concrete. The sheer size and large forms of the buildings seem totally indifferent to the size of the human occupants and to the context of the surrounding area. Brutalism, secondly, breaks the tradition of concealment in architecture. Brutalism reveals its functions and services (e.g. stairs, elevators, division of rooms). These functions can be clearly seen from the building’s exterior; if you look at other architectural styles, the functional components are usually hidden within the interior of the building or encased in embellishments. The end results of brutalism is a giant monolith with inorganic, systematic shapes that are unforgiving in their silent, grey hardness.

Doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? The popular opinion on brutalism, from both the layperson and the professional, is unanimous disgust. I’ve found this very distressing because I have uncovered in myself an intense “love” of these buildings and their style; however, it is not really love, for when we say we love something we are bolstered and wish to be possessors. Love and beauty are inseparable, and to love something is to deem it beautiful and to desire. Many buildings are beautiful and desirable; this is a guiding aesthetic principle for most people, and it is why they choose to consume various pieces of art that are simply little beauties (everybody loves beach landscape paintings!). Brutalist buildings are almost entirely the opposite, whether or not this was the intention of the architects or an accident, I do not know. They are unlovable; they are not beautiful; they are monstrous hunks of concrete; it spurs no desire to own, to be a possessor. It says to you “you are not and cannot be a possessor.” It is an experience of the sublime. Usually, the sublime is associated with the expanses of Earth and space, such as when one looks out on the ocean, from a mountain peak or into the night sky. It is the intensification and culmination of the human condition’s powerlessness in a brief, emotional incident. These buildings are sublime. I use this term in the sense of awe-inspiring. Brutalism makes one feel small, insignificant and powerless when faced with the imposing, inhumanness of giant concrete slabs. It is perhaps a man-made, accidental reminder to what extent social gatherings, buildings, infrastructures, industries, the silent, deep structures of our world are produced free of the individual and his small beauties. That is why I appreciate them so much, because they are ugly, sublime revealers in total concrete indifference.

Being a New Englander and previously a college student, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to encounter brutalist buildings. The school I attended, Clark University, had a library designed in the style; many universities have brutalist buildings from the 70s and 80s because of the affordability of an all concrete, embellishment-free style.

Goddard Library
(Photograph by Mary Ann Sullivan)

Goddard library is not an appreciated building, suffering dilapidation from Worcester’s weather and generally being seen as an ugly building. Many Clark students never step foot in the building more than once or twice a year, usually only to have frightened sex in some hidden study nook -- a proud tradition. As of 2008, they began renovations on the building, compromising much of the initial brutalist principles in the design of the building. Clearly brutalism was not appreciated by Clark University to the point of demolishing part of the original structure. In this same vein, Boston City Hall, as featured above, is another hated brutalist building. I believe, though I do not have the quote on hand, that Mayor Thomas Menino has suggested moving city hall, demolishing the building and selling the large plot of land.

I was perhaps one of the few students that truly enjoyed the building. I have very fond memories of climbing the senselessly-wide stairwell that seemed to be built for giants rather than humans to the top floor to enjoy the sun bleeding in through the large window panes onto the bleached carpet. The light contrasted by the coolness of the grey concrete, repeating its blocky shapes over and over again down the study cubicles without communicating a word. The exterior of the building and the interior of the building were inseparable and connected by the striking concrete blocks that simply traveled from the outside straight into the building with mechanically placed windows to withhold the occupants. It produces a unique quality of feeling connected to the entirety of the building, and being unable to forget that the room you occupied was one space of a larger network that made up the building. The building refused to let you ever stop thinking about it.

As I have cursorily expressed, brutalism is a maligned style that will probably disappear in the coming decades for more approachable styles. Many of its prominent examples are being torn down or made more “contemporary.” The two I’ve had most connection to are in total jeopardy. I find it upsetting, but I do understand it. What I’ve said about the buildings must be somewhat truthful if people are having such intensely negative reaction to them. Most hate the sublime, and spend much of their lives devising ways to avoid the terror of feeling insignificant or powerless. Psychological delusions or religious postulates are just two of the many ways to write off the sublime, to make the sublime meaningful to humans and thusly destroying it. Brutalism is too sublime, so it must be destroyed and replaced with the warmth and comfort of little beauties that distract us with the delusion of being possessors.

Addendum 2013:
This post is by far the most viewed on my bric-a-brac philosophy blog.  Mostly because people are searching for Brutalist images through google image search, hopefully maybe they read at least a paragraphs until they are lulled back into the cacophonies of sensory inputs and return to their google image search vision quest.

Brutalism has been the mute, slate spectre in the background of my life.  From spending countless hours in the dilapidated Goddard Library at Clark University, the interior with broken clocks, impossible geometries reminiscent of The Shining, to graduating and moving to Boston where the focal point of my adventures did orbit around the behemoth known as Boston City Hall, I find these buildings plodding in my life -- somehow with watchful quiescence.  There is now one more addition.  I was married at Boston City Hall in 2013.

And as with most things these days, we live in the shelled-out dreams of Modernity, a civil marriage "ceremony" without religion, "ordained" by the state and an architectural style that abuses the very notion of embellishment.  Perhaps they are both in a mode of entropy, but still they are more bare, honest and in touch with the pragmatic, material and always sublime realities of life -- the enduring gift of Modernity.