Writings and Letters

A blog oeuvre… a "bloeuvre"

Tag: thinking

Palpable [Poetry]

Some five years ago I was strolling towards a precipice. I was on my last lunch break for my old job. They were laying everyone I knew off in a restructuring strategy. It was going to save the company millions, you see. Millions that would allow the company to go on—for at least some months until it was sold and restructured again (entailing further massive layoffs), only to be rendered defunct a few years after that.

I walked over to the nearby five-tower glass monolith, the Westin Bonaventure, which stood like an onyx power-structure in the Los Angeles cityscape. Something borrowed from the future of a Power Rangers world. Staring at it as I approached, I saw the reflections of the city in its glass face, distorted by its curvature and scope. I witnessed how its material manipulated the images of the outside world projected on it.

I crossed a bridge into the outdoor courtyard, which was a glorified plot of grass with concrete-potted trees surrounding it, and pool. A few people sat outside at the tables of the in-hotel brewery restaurant. I passed them without making eye contact and walked into the atrium of the hotel.

The atrium felt much like an inoperative botanical garden. Dark glass ceilinged the place, pouring shaded light down into the cavity, and I was environed by six levels of honeycombed rock. A giant spiraling nest of cement sprawled out before my eyes, like the city itself, in this inspirational and foreboding fashion. I walked along the outer-portion of the grey-tiled passageway observing the cavity’s innards. Remnants of the lingering recession were still present—an air of tired optimism, or obstinance about the place. Most of the store fronts that lined the balconied walkway were closed. Looking down at the lobby level I saw what was meant to be a man-made “lake” with fully-functional fountains, but instead all that remained was a dry bed of smooth blue, gray, and black rocks.

I felt the odd contradiction of familiarity and strangeness as I rounded the third level. The hotel was suffering from a time-spatiality error. The businesses that remained were in a state of aesthetic paralysis. I passed the single hair salon that sported but one patron. The posters of hair models that skinned the windows outside looked aged–as if someone fleshed out Patrick Nagel’s work. This clinging to the bygone made me a little disheartened.

I kept walking, eventually making it over by the small corner of independent restaurants in the yellow section of the hotel, or was it the red, or blue, or green? I cannot recall. You see each pillared section looks the same from the inside apart from the scantly colored corners. Every time I had visited the hotel, I would have to walk in a circuitous manner until I stumbled upon a familiar location. (Ingenious for commerce, if only there was any to be had.) The restaurants that remained looked like they were on their last days, too. If not today, then soon. Who would come here? I wondered as I walked around. The customers were few. Some were older guests who were overwhelmed by the prospect of venturing out into the great wide metropolis, most were staff either from the hotel or nearby offices like myself. There were perhaps six of us total in the entire hotel there to eat. The word desolation came to mind. Then Detroit. Then suburbia. Then melancholy.

A few years later I recalled the above scene after reading Federic Jameson’s words about the very same hotel: “…[it] aspires to being a total space, a complete world, a kind of miniature city…”

Back to the moment: A sad song came on, or maybe it was a happy song that made me sad—I forget which now—and I began to think about the dance the space had between the interior and exterior realities, and then I began to think about how my inner projections might be affecting the outside world, and the external projections affecting me, and I tried to focus on consciousness and understand what it meant in the moment, but instead I was too upset and too hungry to think any further. All I wanted was to sit and eat a sandwich and feel the moment.

So I went to Subway.

I came across the establishment during one of my previous walkabouts through the atrium. Located on the highest level (the sixth level) of the atrium, it just appeared one day, out of the blue—or maybe it was always there and I just forgot about it from my previous trips. Typically, I ignored the sixth level because of its drab nature. It only contained a Pho restaurant and closed storefronts. It hurt to see the failure and potential most evident in that barren space.

One of the closed fronts was a Japanese Shabu Shabu and Barbecue restaurant that had shut its doors before I ever came around—or perhaps it never opened. Maybe the story behind the restaurant is that it was going to open before the Crash, the business owner was very excited about the new venture. The restaurant engrossed about a quarter of the business space on the sixth level, with a capacity to seat over two hundred people at any given time. The restaurant was a hybrid of the best of Japanese cuisine: a section for shabu shabu, teppanyaki tables for the more popular crowds, and a sushi bar. A robust menu that would satisfy any ravenous hotel guest, or city dweller. Waiters and waitresses adorned in traditional kimonos and haoris. An entire replica of feudal Japan, famous sites and battles, tales of moon princesses and further lore all strewn across the lower third of the restaurant’s windowsills. If one travelled the length of the establishment from the green (or blue or yellow or red) side of the sixth level to the blue (or green or red or yellow), the entire ancient history of Japan was on display in the little fitting. All these great possibilities, and endless spectrum of positive futures. It might have been grand. But then the subprime mortgage crises. Then the money dried up. Then the owner never got to realize the dream, and instead took a dive over the nearby 5th St. bridge onto the 110–caused a sixteen-car pileup and seven-hour traffic jam. Or maybe not. Probably not, but that’s where my head was at then: bleak.

The Pho restaurant, Mr. Baguette(!),  which when I first visited used to be the Happy Cow pho spot, was another of the random establishments that appeared on the verge of collapse. It was a chimera of “French” sandwich shop and pho cuisine–meaning one could order an assortment of twelve-inch deli sandwiches on a baguette and/or classic pho bowl, all for unbelievably cheap prices at the same location. The establishment was so clean. I assumed because of the lack of use, and well-maintained care it received from the staff. The owner, or maybe he was just the manager–but the story is stronger if he’s the owner, so–the owner stood alone behind the counter awaiting for someone, anyone to come in and order food. A lone cook stood staring into the nothingness of his pans hanging above his head. I made eye contact with the owner/manager. He smiled. I nodded and kept walking. I felt ashamed, but accounted it to my general mood.

Minutes later I sat with a twelve-inch Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwich, chips, and 24.oz soda-pop in front of me. I noticed the Subway was installing a few draft beers, and had some other bottled brands on display. It was a technique to get more customers. I wondered if it would work, or if the establishment was going to go under like everything else. Then I started thinking about the past, and wondering about the future. Slight misery crept into my mind as I took a bite. I turned my attention to one of the two televisions.

The daytime show from one of the broadcast networks was interrupted when a car chase broke out somewhere in Torrence, or maybe it was San Bernardino, I don’t remember anymore. Guy in an SUV was hauling ass through the city streets trying to avoid the cops. He got onto the interstate, then got off. He drove fast up the shoulders, crossed briefly into on-coming traffic, ran a red light or two, but for the most part was a pretty respectable criminal. The nice cashier who made my meal and tried to interest me in a beer instead of soda was emptying the garbage (or sweeping the floor) near the television. He looked up and watched for a little bit with minor excitement. “Rapido, rapido!” he joked, laughing to himself before going back about his business. Not too long after, the SUV made a wrong turn in front of a high school and the police blocked any chance of escape. The SUV then came to a slow, respectable stop. The driver put the car in park and then tried to make like hell out of the scene on foot. I can’t remember if he made it to the school doors and they were locked, or if he never made it past the steps. Irrespective, the cops were on him quick. He dropped to the ground and they jumped on him.

Things could have been worse I supposed. I could have been that guy.

My lunch finished, I walked back to work. I lingered a bit, walking slowly back down each level, passing the empty stores, trying to avoid the eyes, trying not to give any unnecessary hope. I saw a future for them, as I’m sure they saw the same for me. We were mirrors to one another, unable to give the other anything more than themselves.

All that was left for me was to brave my fate. Questions remained as I walked out the doors for what I knew would be the last in a long time. The answers were as likely to be found outside as they were inside.

“Ur-uh… the Start of a Writing Project: Ruminations on Historicity and Mission Statement”

Just the other day a video was brought to my attention. It concerned a particular filmmaker (T Patrick), who claimed he filmed Stanley Kubrick some sixteen years ago in 1999 confessing (before his mysterious death) he helped President Nixon, NASA, the United States stage one of the most (I’m told) profound, important, moving moments in human history: the 1969 moon landing. There, in the crudely edited video, a man sat in monochromatic orange, or soft red (I’m not really good with colors) and confessed to the off-camera filmmaker that he, Stanley Kubrick, helped the government stage the moon landing.

Needless to say, I was intrigued by the possibility (though highly unlikely) that the moon landing was, in fact!, a staged film operation to dupe the world into believing the United States had won the Space Race. So I watched the fascinating work:  https://vimeo.com/148297544

Though immediately, as the large text of T Pat’s presumed production company came on screen, I could not shake the feeling I was being had. Perhaps it was the amateurish nature of the 45+ minute documentary that I could already perceive some sort of joke being played on my wits, there was a disturbance in the force–so to speak. Perchance it was the element of truth! about to be imparted to me. So… I pressed on.

Seventeen minutes into the documentary, before getting to the confession, that coveted payoff I was waiting for, the overtones of duplicity were stirring. The word “FRAUD” crept up in the background of my mind. It was visible throughout the video like the unspoken violence witnessed in the aftermath of a crime scene. 1) the very deliberate, at times comical, disjointed “rough” editing style, 2) the insistence of T. Patrick to inject himself into the documentary again and again with his voice-over to tell this overdrawn 48-minute story that easily could have been five 3) the terrible lighting of Kubrick that suggested chicanery, half his face cloaked in the dark (why? for shame? for shame!) 4) in conversation Kubrick had lost his typical low-end New Yorker timbre, 5) even poor lighting aside, Kubrick just did not look like himself.

After about 20 minutes, I had enough. This could not be true, right? So I did a little further digging. I found a second video that claimed to be a “raw” version (even though there are edits) of the interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR4pf6pp1kQ  This time without the sophomoric editing and heavy splash of Orange Crush, the argument grew slightly more compelling. Partly one must wonder why not release the first five minutes or so of this footage and call it a day. That certainly would capture the imagination of all those who watched it: though it would still have to answer for the fact that (gaudy aesthetics cleansed) the Kubrick in this interview still did not look, or sound (essentially “act”) like Stanley Kubrick, and even more there was a type of playacting, a sense of improvisation afoot. T Pat would egg Kubrick on with a question that would lead Kubrick to answer exactly what (one must assume) T Pat and the rest of the audience wanted to know.

Still unsatisfied, still dubious, I marched forth through time.

After perhaps a minute longer, I found yet a third video concerning this confession. It was titled (most aptly): Beware of the FAKE Stanley Kubrick confession” and consisted of about 18 minutes of my now favorite filmmaker (T Pat) instructing Kubrick–actually his name is Tom–on how to best tell the story of the faked moon landing.

So problem solved, it was all a lie. But it got me thinking.

I cannot recall the moon landing. I was not there along with the millions of upon millions of other human beings, sitting/standing in front of their television sets around the world all those years ago watching the moment happen. Even more, some of those people who were there might not even remember, they might lean back hard on the footage they have seen time and time again, letting that become their memory, their historical consciousness, their truth when in fact they never saw the event, only read about it in the newspaper the next day and then later seen the footage retroactively reconnected the two and thought: I was there, I knew what it was like. So when the moment this video came along, I could not rely on my own personal memory to say: “No. This is bullshit.” before even watching it. I had to do some research. I had to stretch back into the past and dig up some bones on the Internet that might help paint a more accurate picture of what was happening. [Of course, the part that is so fun to me about this Kubrick “confession” is the idea that no one, presumably besides the astronauts that were there, can be absolutely certain there was a moon landing. Similarly, no one can know for certain that this interview was inauthentic other than those involved. Such a wide gap between the primary and secondary memories is what in part allows such “theories” to arise and threaten the authenticity of the historical narrative… and that’s fun to me.]

So what was happening? Setting aside the fact I believe (like many hoaxes) this was created in jest. How else does one explain the overall incoherence of the editing, or the obvious self-aggrandizement of the filmmaker, the humorous likeness to Kubrick’s own idiomatic lashings when the actor does not execute his vision of the scene or dialog (seeing the un-edited version where poor ole Tom is chided for not understanding what he is saying reminded me of the real Kubrick verbally working Shelley Duvall like a punching bag on The Shining), how to explain the ease with which one can refute the evidence with its own extended rawness in the matter of an hour or less? How indeed. What I am more interested in is what this fake-documentary (“fokumentary”) means to memory, then therefore historical consciousness, and ultimately historicity. How this fokumentary was able to use film to alter (for however briefly) a consciousness of the public (however few) and open a niche for an alt-narrative to fester in the historical understanding of that thing in the past we call “the moon landing.”

I immediately thought of Stalin–because that’s appropriate. I thought of how he manipulated photographs and literally eliminated political adversaries (or more accurately perceived adversaries) from the picture. In other words, when Uncle Joe was tired of the Old Bolshevik comrades, not only did he have them liquidated, but he also purged their very existence from photographs, as well as included himself in a few. Then I thought of the Egyptians–because whatever. How Hatshepsut claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne. She created images of herself with more masculine features including the manly pharaoh regalia of a false beard, and insisted the gods intended on her to be ruler. This was all evident in the art and writings that were created during her reign. A great deal of which was almost destroyed by her stepson, Thutmose III. He tried to destroy or alter all the iconography and written word about his former stepmother-turned-regnant-turned-pharaoh after she died (of cancer it is believed).  

In all three instances, mediums through which we recall the past (tools on which we are so dependent, especially when we ourselves cannot recall, or recall accurately) were manipulated in and effort to force the narrative in an alternative direction: a “revisionist” approach to history in all three cases. And that is really where the similarities between these three disparate characters begin and end (unless you want to say both Stalin and Hatshepsut both worked in government–be my guest).  But it brings to mind this notion of historical fragility.

I recently read a novel by the late, great EL Doctorow: Ragtime. I highly recommend it. I had been thinking about the fragility of history, how difficult it becomes at times to be able to separate fact and fiction, and then I came across the very first few pages of Doctorow’s work in which a fictitious New York family has their summer day interrupted by none other than Harry Houdini as he crashes his car in front of their house. The beauty and genius of this simple moment when the historically real (Houdini) crashes into the world of the fictive (Doctorow’s imagination). From there onward the book is an amalgam of these two seemingly contra styles of narrative playing together on the same page. There were moments when reading I had to stop and think: “Is this a real person?” Some were. Some not. “Did this really happen?” Some did, others no. It was this great expression of the duality in our doxa.

What’s more is what can be said about the novel when considering its depiction of the past (the novel being set in pre-World War 1 New York) through the contemporary understanding when it was being written. When Doctorow wrote Ragtime (presumably between 1971 and 1975), he was diving back into the past to write about this “Progressive Era” United States. But because he was writing about the past from the present, he could not help but inject his time with that of Ragtime‘s. In trying to write a story concerning the past, he had to leave his present finger prints all over it, tainting its authenticity along the way. Using facts until they no longer served his purpose and allowing fiction to carry on forth. He had to cut corners, fill in the gaps, elongate and contract in order to tell the story. In part because he is a novelist and Ragtime is a novel. But also because he could not recall the early 20th century, but (more importantly) no one can. [Fredic Jameson explores this at more depth in his exhaustive book: Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Don’t let the title scare you away, the prose will do that just fine.]

It is difficult to understand the past when the ground on which one stands is so loose and ever-shifting, and so goddamned expansive! To put it another way: If you throw a hula-hoop into the ocean, everything inside the hoop is HISTORY and everything outside it is PAST. There is a great deal of the past that is not being accounted for, and therefore the fragility begins to play. Furthermore, even when we start to dip into the past we begin to taint it with our contemporary state. The further we become detached from a person, moment, event, and/or the further the gap between actual and collective memory becomes, the more we begin to place ourselves into that past and erect a narrative called history.  So in this sense, we cannot help but create “story” in our understanding of the past.

This is not to suggest that all history is lies (like the fokumentary) or historians liars (like our friend T Pat), but it tends to point in a direction that capital-T “Truth” is very hard to come by and the lines between reality and fable can become quite roily. It is better to understand history as the best attempts by humans to connect with the specters and try to make the most sense out of them, and that’s not easy. But it’s important work goddamnit! We need that connection to the past. We need to have an understanding (however partial and imperfect) of our origins and hope that will provide in us a sense of closure and comfort for our mortal selves. We know there was a person, or a place, a moment, an event that occurred out in the distance, we know “it happened” by virtue that we are here now. But to reach back into a cognitive void and pull forth an understanding of it requires story.

And I like that idea. It’s fun for me. It’s fun to think about, write about, discuss.

So, I imagine, in a very strange, circuitous way this becomes a bit of a mission statement as well. Here at “Writings and Letters” there will be, with any bit of luck, a “pious yet playful” approach to the real and unreal. There will be fiction, non-fiction, stories from the present, the past, some maybe even the future! and political or philosophical musings (why not?), then right back to talking about slaying dragons, and a review of an obscure General Public album (just kidding, it’d totally be on All the Rage), and… others…

A panoply of pastiche.

Join me, won’t you?