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Bildschirmfoto 2017-05-25 um 11.34.30

Excerpt from my essay, (Re)Reading Don DeLillo in Dark Times:

“Are we more similar to animals than we care to admit, caught in vast murmurations and blind herds that obey some ancient code humming in our DNA? Or have we merely gotten used to believing our own stories? I mean not only to celebrate the work of one of our most influential, prescient, brooding, analytical minds but to comb it for clues, metaphors, a vocabulary and a language that can somehow explain us to ourselves. What can literary fiction achieve in a culture that has itself surrendered to fiction? That is more comfortable with make-believe than with doing the tedious work of trying to figure out why things are the way they are? Americans are addicted to fun—it’s what makes the U.S. so charismatic, and so good at popular culture, and enviable in so many ways, but it’s at the heart of a breakdown in discourse and a disassociation from reality that has us, literally, making things up as we go along. Americans want to be fired up, engaged emotionally—they want to get teary-eyed, earnestly confess, make solemn avowals. Does our literature help us to dig deeper, does it peel away the lies we tell ourselves, or does it perpetuate the problem through a self-celebration and nostalgia that reinforce the myths we’ve created about ourselves?”

Watch the full panel here:

 

The conference title, “The Body Artist,” refers not specifically to DeLillo’s 2001 novel, but to DeLillo himself, an artist who has spent a career dramatizing personal encounters with impersonal systems, the human body facing the inhuman machine. The event will feature panels and presentations predominantly by literary artists, fiction writers thinking about this fiction writer’s work—what it is, what it has meant, and what it means now.

Panelists:
— Scott Cheshire, “Don DeLillo’s Gods: A Taxonomy”
— Tyler Malone, “‘You Have Not Convinced Me’: David Markson, Don DeLillo, and the Narcissism of Minor Difference”
— Fred Gardaphe, “Masquerade Americana: Don DeLillo’s ‘Italianitá’ in a Minor Key”
— Andrea Scrima: “(Re)reading Don DeLillo in Dark Times”

The conference will consider not only DeLillo’s themes—paranoia, global terrorism, underground conspiracies, consumerism, digital technology, media, gender, and race—but also his craft, humor, language, style, spirituality and Catholicism, Italian-American identity, and his representations of New York, the city in which the conference will take place.

The New School | http://newschool.edu

Location: The Auditorium, Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall
66 West 12th Street, New York, NY 10011
Saturday, April 29, 2017 at 9:00 am to 4:30 pm

Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida premiered at the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo on December 24, 1871. A century and a half later, David Krippendorff sets his film Nothing Escapes My Eyes, which recently won the Berlin Short Film Festival, in a parking garage on Meidan el-Opera, or Opera Square, erected after the opera house was destroyed by fire. Verdi’s aria Padre, a costoro schiava non sono provides the soundtrack for a work that embodies nostalgia and absence in a precision of ambiguity that does not seek to reenact the opera, but present it as a metaphor within a metaphor, one uniquely suited to express the drama of identity with all the intensity it possesses in an individual’s life.

hiam-abbas

See a short clip and read the entire piece in the new issue of Lute & Drum (no subscription required).

 

THIS IS US: Sang Reallamp

Andrea Scrima talks to Patricia Thornley about Sang Real, her third multi-media work for This Is Us, an ongoing series of interview and song. The series, begun in 2011, consists in highly mediated encounters the American artist stages in different environments.


AS:
 Patricia, there’s a strong sense of place in this piece that I’d like to ask you about. Perched on a stool on the banks of Port Medway Harbour, with domestic objects scattered in the sand and the tide rising rapidly around him, a rugged man stems himself against the cold and speaks about his connection to the landscape of his birth: “most people stayed within five miles from where they were born.” Surrounded by what appears to be the detritus of a life, he adds: “it wouldn’t happen today; there’s no work … you’ve got to go where the work is, I suppose.” As you question him off-camera, and as he offers his laconic answers, I find myself thinking about uprootedness and what it means when people lose the economic ability—and by extension right—to stay in the place they come from. The socio-political undertones in all the works of the series This Is Us probe questions of individual and collective identity; here, one of the themes is displacement, a fate this man has managed to defy.

PT: Yes, people seem to leave home for different personal or economic reasons now, as a matter of course. In the different pieces in this series, the notion of moving “forward” is key. In both the interviews and the songs I try to be inclusive of what exists on the back and the front of that movement.

AS: In each of the pieces in This Is Us, the people you interview are people you know personally, people you admire for a number of different reasons.

PT: Yes, the subject of this piece is a friend, and someone I hold in high regard; he lives in the community and takes care of property and houses there, mine included. I’m dependent on him in that sense. We often work together; I’m an outsider, and I’ve learned quite a lot about how to be in the landscape there, and how to be, through him. He has a way of coping, and laughing, and thriving. I’m interested in the way our lives and worlds cautiously, respectfully collide. It was a big step to ask him to participate in the piece.

AS: You mentioned to me that the title Sang Real comes from the Old French and combines the meanings of holy grail and royal blood. I noticed that at the end of the piece, as a kind of spontaneous afterthought, the man—who has been sitting on a kind of throne as the wind picks up and the waters rise alarmingly around him—fishes an object from the water, an old lamp that could be understood as a metaphor, a sort of grail. To an English-speaking reader, an entirely different meaning presents itself, of course.

PT: Actually, late medieval writers devised a false etymology for sangréal, an alternative name for “Holy Grail.” In Old French, san graal or san gréal means “Holy Grail,” whereas sang réal means “royal blood.” The objects placed on the beach were pulled from an old house that he no longer lives in and now uses for storage; they’re a combination of domestic objects and tools that he no longer needs. In keeping with the theme of home and place, I do imagine my subject as royal, and the harbor as a center, a life force erasing the detritus and then offering up what he is owed, a birthright retrieved in a casual gesture that speaks of essential instincts of survival.

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AS: As the waves come in, themes of danger and mortality emerge; lost in his own thoughts, the man seems circumscribed in a very particular space, the space of his life, in a sense. And then, in a kind of superimposition or even violation of that space, you appear in the frame and approach your subject with a microphone attached to a boom pole, which has something almost weapon-like about it, or you wander about in the distance in a somewhat predatory manner, carrying a large round reflector. These are stark moments in which different levels of reality collide, where life and art seem to hit up against one another in an uncomfortable way.

PT: Yes, there’s always a deep ambivalence involved in casting a friend in a piece. On one hand I’m paying homage; on the other, I’m making them an object of scrutiny. The impositions are inevitable and endless. Inherently, my “contribution” can only exist apart from real experience, and in counterpoint to my subject. We play what’s wrong with this picture as soon as I introduce my tools—my ideas, branding, props, equipment, music—into what implies or refers to a clean and honest inquiry.

Going in, we knew the shoot would be cold and awkward, but of course we didn’t know that the wind would kick up like it did that afternoon, that a storm would be rolling in. You can’t see it in the footage, but it’s snowing at the end of the shot. To the work’s advantage, this underscores the sense of danger, of human frailty in the piece, but it was nearly unbearable for the subject and crew. The harbor did give it back to us that day.

AS: There are several distancing devices used throughout the piece: you enter and leave the frame; off-camera, you discuss elements of the footage that can be changed, post-shoot, on the computer. Though I have seen incongruous props in other works in the series, I now find myself wondering about the false eyelashes.

PT: I’m interested in showing impulses and gestures rather than outcomes, in embracing contradictions that are present. I think of the shots of the crew at the end as a kind of nightmare hallucination from the point of view of the subject. The lashes are meant to be a gesture of submission to him, but they’re also a discordant detail that may reek of insincerity, especially in this landscape. In the song the repeated phrase I’m Your Man is sung in earnest, but it’s the chorus of a song about money. The crew and I have feminine decorations glued to our faces, but they are mangled by the weather in the end.

http://issue1.luteanddrum.com/#!thornley/http://luteanddrum.com/

Now in the December/January issue of The Brooklyn Rail

Leora Skolkin-Smith
Edges 
(re-released by The Story Plant, 2014)

In the drizzling rain, the Jordanian hills seemed closer than when I tried to see them from the bedroom upstairs. They lay to the east, though named “The West Bank.” The boundary between the Arab and Jewish regions was drawn by a fountain pen years ago when some British engineers came to canvass the rough land in the 1930s. The ink they had used was green, and so the border was called “the green line,” my aunt told me. The border had remained vague and uncertain, she said, subject to weather and other forces. No one ever seemed to know where it started or ended, the barbed wire often arbitrarily strewn to make up for the absence of clearness. A little more than a hazy outline still in the distance, there were thick layers of barbed wire on both sides of the border.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine from today’s perspective of heavily guarded checkpoints and border controls and ugly, towering walls, but Israel was a very different world in the mid-1960s, when 14-year-old Liana Bialik and her sister accompany their mother Ada to her native Jerusalem to take part in “The Ceremony of the Graves.” Syrian dams are under construction; snipers and terrorists dot the border to Jordan in a campaign to cut Israel off from its water supply, but Ada has retained the freedom and defiance of her earlier days—and it is this fierce and fiery side, hidden beneath the Westchester housewife persona known to her daughters, that suddenly emerges when they arrive in her home country. The remains of Jewish fighters in the War of Independence against Great Britain are to be excavated from their resting place in the Jordanian cemetery in the old city and moved to a new gravesite on the Israeli side of the border. Ada’s brother Elizar is among the dead; as she and her sister Esther reminisce about earlier days of smuggling ammunition in their girdles and brassieres past British soldiers too proper to even dream of stopping them, and look forward to celebrating the repatriation with the other members of the old division of Jerusalem’s underground group, the Haganah, in a grand ballroom of the King David Hotel, Liana has a difficult time absorbing the scorched landscape of her mother’s homeland: the inscrutable, vigilant faces of the people living there; the lizards darting in and out of rusted, sprawling barbed wire and then slithering into the dust; the battered warning signs and discarded gun shells scattered everywhere.

Read the rest of the In Conversation piece here:

http://www.brooklynrail.org/2014/12/books/mother-tongue

Edges cover

Davis

From The Lydia Davis Symposium
The Quarterly Conversation, Issue 35

Much has been written about Lydia Davis’ pared-down “style.” Her sentences are crafted with an economy that borders on parsimony. What is less frequently observed, however, is that her devotion to exactitude entails a repetition of words and phrases that—to a reader who happens to be tone-deaf to her particular brand of deadpan humor—can come across as tedious and even peevish. In a steady flow of neurotic energy, sentences are arranged much like a child might stack up pennies in painstakingly precise towers to distract itself from bickering parents. Yet Davis’ observations nearly always contain a sly wit. Her repetitions are not the repetitions of Beckett or Bernhard; they do not circle around the unutterable core of what language, by its very nature, fails to convey. On the contrary, Davis’ sentences clarify. Theyinsist. What is more, the continued reassertion of a thought and the perseverance in its reiteration frequently correspond to the respective narrator’s participation in a series of situations that find her hapless and misunderstood, situations that are highly distressing. Davis is concerned with correction, revision, rectification. If you no longer love me, if you are lying to me, then my only recourse is to recount, as precisely as possible, what happened, and in what sequence: what you said, and what I thought about it; what I believed you were thinking and not saying; what I said in response and what relationship this bore to what I thought and felt. In the absence of truthful communication and in the disorientation of shifting emotion, an accurate portrayal of circumstances is required to set the record straight. When spoken words no longer serve mutual understanding, language, in response, becomes a matter of validating one’s perception, a vehicle for self-preservation.

 

Read the full essay in The Quarterly Conversation:

http://quarterlyconversation.com/on-the-inimitable-lydia-davis

 

Issue 35: The Lydia Davis Symposium
Essays by David Winters, J.C. Hallman, Lynne Tillman, Madeleine LaRue, Florian Duijsens, and Scott Esposito — and an interview with Lydia Davis by Dan Gunn.

 

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Sexual Harassment Rules by Lynda Schor

Spuyten Duyvil Press, December 2013

Sexual Harassment Rules, a collection of 15 stories, begins with “Naked,” a sober meditation on the female nude. The narrator, a guest at an artist-run drawing workshop, seeks to “experience [the model], imagine her, but not really draw her.” Reflecting that the “formal falsity of the academic nude was also, to some extent, a moral falsity,” her mind wanders to Picasso, to Nolde, to Vuillard, Matisse, and Degas, and as she ponders the history of the female form in art, she is reminded that “the male gaze…the eye that observes, watches, is there even when it isn’t there. It’s built into us, that penetrating gaze.”

She has come with a friend, and although she knows better, she is compelled to compare herself with this friend, who (she can’t help noticing) seems to have fewer physical flaws than she. Her observation—“it is typical of me to remain distant, hold myself aloof as I am here, comfortable in the belief that I am only visiting this experience”—suggests a deeper unwillingness to engage in the uncomfortable entanglements presenting themselves to her: in this case, her uneasy presence in a room containing a small cluster of people busily working at their easels, seated around an unclothed person. Somehow, in an entirely natural way, the friend is more at home in her skin; later, it emerges that she’s having an affair with the male model. At the end of the session, when most of those present have packed up their drawing materials, the friend disrobes and poses for her and her lover, and then she herself, after much resistance, is persuaded to do the same—and as she finally gives herself over to her companions’ dispassionate gaze, she feels “at first a luscious chill, then a sweet burning singe along all the edges of my body everywhere he draws” as she experiences, apparently for the first time, the startling pleasure of being observed in the nude as something other than a sexual object or the potential source of someone else’s pleasure.

It is this humanizing gaze that Schor is interested in, and she reminds us again and again that the feminist project is essentially a humanist one. Her writing can be jarring and pornographic, her descriptions of sex unflattering and unflinchingly unromantic, but what she’s getting at, in the end, is who we reveal ourselves to be when we’re at our most naked and vulnerable.

Read the article at The Brooklyn Rail:

http://www.brooklynrail.org/2013/12/books/amazon-in-exile

%22 '07Betty Tompkins, Cunt Painting #7 (Courbet), 24 x 24″, 2007

 

My essay on László Krasznahorkai’s Seiobo There Below, published in The Quarterly Conversation:

http://quarterlyconversation.com/seiobo-there-below-by-laszlo-krasznahorkai-and-music-literature-issue-2

4x5 original

 

“The subject matter expounded upon in this book ranges from Eastern aesthetic and religious traditions such as Japanese Noh theater and the Shinto rituals governing the rebuilding of the Ise Shrine every twenty years to Byzantine icon paintings; Baroque music; works of the Italian Renaissance; and the mathematical mysteries of the Alhambra and their links to crystal formations, “forbidden symmetry,” and the tessellations of Penrose tiling. There is nothing postmodern about this whatsoever; Seiobo There Below is anything but an accrual of arcane information or a piling up of cultural artifacts. As Krasznahorkai patiently enumerates the many consecutive steps of a process of artistic creation in lengthy excursions on handicraft and religious ritual, we are called upon to negotiate the distance between the wealth of historical material and the deluge of foreign terms this book supplies, and the Zen-like focus required to comprehend the transcendent states the rarefied aesthetic and religious traditions he describes invoke. There are numerous parallels in motif throughout the book’s individual chapters, among them the nature of authorship and the original, the complicated ramifications of restoration, and the history of a work’s reception, to name but a few; more than anything, however, this is a book about the sacred—and its embodiment in some of the most compelling works of art human civilization has produced in recorded history.  …  The project to reclaim art’s essential role in formulating the basic questions framing our existence is more modern than ever, perhaps even radically so. Seiobo There Below does not propose a new kind of pseudo-religion or the apotheosis of the artist as divine genius. Nor does it announce the death of art. There is too much crystalline joy in the writing, too much devotion in the excursions on artistic method and technique, too much humble exactitude in the portrayals of religious ceremonies. … The question as to whether or not Krasznahorkai believes in or shares the metaphysical and religious experiences he describes is largely irrelevant in light of the fact that, for the attentive reader, the accumulative force of his words bring about the selfsame effect he takes such pains to describe. At its core, Krasznahorkai’s writing is always, deeply, ambiguous.

Excerpt from Seiobo There Below:

… he stood on his tiptoes, the better to see, very cautiously, what was up inside there, but up inside, in that raised room, only a dim obscurity appeared to him, from which further dimly obscure rooms opened up, and in the rooms there was not, as far as he could judge from here by the entrance in front of the eight steps, a single living soul; on the walls in these rooms were a kind of old-fashioned religious pictures, old-fashioned and beautiful and not right for this place, they all shone with gold, oh no, he thought, now he really had to leave, and he turned around uncertainly, like someone wishing to return to the main corridor and from here down the stairs and out into the street … he looked at the eight upward steps that led into the first room and looked again into that first room; suddenly these gilded pictures had begun to attract him; he didn’t want to steal them, no such thought arose in him—more precisely it did arise but he immediately chased it away—he wanted to see how they shone, really just to look a little bit more, at least until they threw him out, since he didn’t have anything to do anyway … it was dark, moreover there were only lights above the individual pictures; he didn’t stop right away but went in further to create the impression that he was already inside … so that it was not the first picture, not the second, and he didn’t even know how many pictures it was, and suddenly Jesus Christ was looking at him, sitting on a kind of throne in the middle of a triptych, in one hand he held a book, namely the Scripture, which was open, and in the other he was ominously signaling something to him who was looking, signaling outwards from the picture, and really, everything around him shone, they made it with gold leaf; … he looked at Christ, but strongly avoided looking into his eyes even once, for this Christ, although he knew it was only a painting, stared at him so sternly that the gaze could hardly be borne — it was, moreover, beautiful—that was the only word for it, beautiful—… they didn’t come to usher him out, moreover, one of the people dispersed in the farther rooms came here, into the room where he was, and took no notice of him, then he thought, he’s just a visitor, just like me, and he began to feel more self-confident, and he looked at the Christ some more, but he didn’t see anything, he was not observing the picture but what the person next to him was doing; but he wasn’t doing anything, only going from one picture to the next, he’s really not a guard, he thought, finally relaxing, and he looked again at the Christ … then he took one step farther to the next picture; the background of that one was also completely gold, and it could have been made a very long time ago, because the wood on which it had been painted was already thoroughly chewed up by woodworms and the paints were peeling off to a considerable degree, but what he saw was very beautiful again, the Virgin Mother sat there in a picture in the picture, the Infant on her arm; the Infant particularly pleased him, as he pressed his little face as close as he could to the Virgin Mary’s, who however was not looking at the Infant but somehow in front of herself, outside of the picture, at him, who was looking at it, and her gaze was very sad, as if she knew about what would happen later to her little son, such that he stopped looking at her and stared at the gold background until it dazzled him, and the third picture and the fourth picture and the fifth picture were all very similar, they were all painted onto wood, they all had gold backgrounds, in all of them the Virgin or Christ, or some Saint … and if the strained readiness to jump out of there at the first ominous sign had not ceased in him, he now lingered in front of each picture in a more orderly way, because not including the Christ here at the end of the room, whose stern gaze he had encountered at the very beginning, the rest of the Saints, the Infants, and the Kings looked at him with complete tenderness, so that he really did calm down a little, and still no one came to put him in his place or to ask for an entrance ticket … he walked up and down with complete self-confidence now, given his circumstances, he went from one room to the next, he looked at the Saints and the Kings and the other Beatified Ones, and instead of feeling gratitude to the heavens for being able to be here undisturbed, he was overcome—exactly in that place where the eternal hatred was—by a kind of sadness, and he felt alone — ever since he had arrived here, he hadn’t felt anything like that; he stared at the illumination, he stared at the gold leaf, and something began to hurt violently within him, and he didn’t know what it was: if it was really being alone that hurt so much, the pain coming upon him suddenly; or that he had wandered into this happenstance so dispossessed, while everyone outside was wandering around so happily; or if it was that immeasurable distance that hurt so much, making him realize how unbearably far away were these Saints, these Kings, these Beatified Ones, Marys and Christs — and that illumination.

 

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