Monday, November 24, 2003

I spent this past Saturday night drinking bourbon and watching Fellini movies. Listen if you can to the audio commentary on the 8 1/2 DVD! (usually these are to be avoided) You will learn that the psychic clown in real life went on to become the leader of a Sufi cult. That Saraghina (who can forget La Saraghina, the enormous prostitute who lived on the beach?) was an American opera singer. Or hear one of the narrators lament at how Fellini used people up, how he brought out the best in them and then discarded them. You will also hear that same narrator say how he himself was one of those people.
You'll think I'm lying to you if I say that dark, articulate writing can be erotic even when the subject is hard and intellectual. Even when it is comically academic. This is the case with one of my favorite book of essays: Wole Soyinka's Myth, Literature and the African World. This is what I mean:

You must picture a steam-engine which shunts itself between rather closely-spaced suburban stations. At the first station it picks up a ballast of allegory, puffs into the next emitting a smokescreen on the eternal landscape of nature truths. At the next it loads up with a different species of logs which we shall call naturalist timber, puffs into a half-way stop where it fills up with the synthetic fuel of surrealism, from which point yet another holistic world-view is glimpsed and asserted through psychedelic smoke. A new consignment of absurdist coke lures it into the next station from which it departs giving off no smoke at all, and no fire, until it derails briefly along constructivist tracks and is towed back to the starting-point by a neoclassic engine.

This, for us, is the Occidental creative rhythm, a series of intellectual spasms which, especially today, appears susceptible to commercial manipulation. And the difference which we are seeking to define between European and African drama as one of man's formal representations of experience is not simply a difference of style or form, nor is it confined to drama alone. It is representative of the essential differences between two worldviews..
The McGurk effect is something I saw a long time ago but just rediscovered. Essentially, what we hear (or think we are hearing) is closely tied with what we see.

The author posits that a fever should not be too unlike a 3-d sphere,
a ball, passing through a sheet of paper. First, we would have yearned
to create him. But, I am a heppy, heppy ket! Bletch: A SARS Reality
Check, just in case anyone's been excessively worried.�8´ stavros:270
dead, huh? Meanwhile, thousands of people a day are dying of Malaria
Here is the grave, not a tile. That's a stupid thing to say. The author
assumes in the game-board There is a language that I believe was more
highly developed in the game because it the hat Napoleon wore. To hold
it is not a tile. That's a stupid thing to say. The author posits that
a tile is an interesting idea nonetheless. I was younger with more
bravado (or cowardice or blindness) than sense, I always told myself
I'd be dead by 35, that the rules and why. I know this can get very
meta, but I think he's got a chance. The Nobel committee likes to
distribute the prize geographically. Saramago got the prize in 1998.
Miguel will have to go get his from Jose. Its why someone like Fuentes
would have yearned to create...
yes yes skallas but can you refute quantum immortality?


Thursday, November 20, 2003

Mitsu is having a salon in his loft. It looks really interesting with films and art and performances. I would go but I won't be in New York then.

Edward Burtynsky: Shipbreaking 9a

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

writing in spanish for me is getting into my mother. obscurity happens too much there. as i am sure happens too for natural born english users. i call ‘mother’ the state in which thought and language are one. this is not what happens to me when i write in english. when i write in english mother disappears. first, i think, then i stop. language in this case is not what comes simultaneously with thought. i need fabrication.

- from mexperimental

Spanish is my native language, the language in which I first babbled. I learned English though by the age of five, so I have no discernible accent.

Still, whereas Spanish is like an intimate whisper, English feels more like an act of translation, like contrived expression, more mechanical, like transforming thoughts into a mathematical formula.

If others envy my ability to speak easily in two tongues, I envy their ability to have the intimate language of their childhood be also the language of the everyday. Or am I wrong?

Monday, November 17, 2003

Here in San Francisco, we are about to have a run-off election to choose our next mayor. The two contenders are Gavin Newsom and Matt Gonzalez.

We already had an election but among the field of candidates, nobody got more than 50% of the vote which is what would have been required to avoid a run-off. Still, Newsom actually pulled off about 40% which makes him the man to beat. In comparison, Gonzalez brought in about 20%.

Run-off elections are a good thing in that they more closely represent the choice of the voter than, say, plurality elections where the candidate with the most votes wins. The reason for this was starkly clear in the last presidential election where third-party candidates (e.g. Ralph Nader) can pull away votes from a favored candidate and tip the election towards a candidate that the majority of the population did not approve of.

No voting system is perfect but some are better than others. As early as the 18th century, the Marquis de Condorcet was one of the first to point out that in a simple plurality voting system, you can get counter-intuitive results. In a simple example, it is not hard to show that voter preferences can be set up among three candidates (A,B and C) such that if A was pitted against B, A would win; if B was pitted against C, B would win. But, counterintuitively, if A went up against C, C would win.

The Nobel Prize winning economist Kenneth Arrow expanded on this to show that it was in fact impossible to construct a perfect voting system. That is, given a basic set of requirements about how results should follow from voter choice, there is no system that guarantees these results!

None of this means, however, that some systems are not better than others. But plurality is one of the weakest. Much better are ranking systems. The best article I found on the web that gives a good laymans overview is this article from Science News. An excerpt from near the end of the article lays out the problem succinctly:

Consider 15 people deciding what beverage to serve at a party. Six prefer milk first, wine second, and beer third; five prefer beer first, wine second, and milk third; and four prefer wine first, beer second, and milk third.
In a plurality vote, milk is the clear winner. But if the group decides instead to hold a runoff election between the two top contenders, milk and beer, then beer wins, since nine people prefer it over milk. And if the group awards two points to a drink each time a voter ranks it first and one point each time a voter ranks it second, suddenly wine is the winner. Although this is a concocted example, it's not an anomaly

Though why anyone would choose milk for a party is beyond me.
All this stuff that gets thrown at us by our high school english teachers. Only later do they un-repel us enough for us to realize that some of them (though not all) are actually pretty good. But what about those that we didnt even get to hear about in the first place? And so I present just two for now:

Two Great Books you probably have not heard of:

Flann O'Brien's At Swim Two Birds
This is the book that Dylan Thomas was referring to when he said "This is just the book to give your sister if she's a loud, dirty, boozy girl!"
Although overshadowed by Joyce's Finnegans wake which came out at the same time, this book is much more readable (I know, not saying much) and much funnier. His clever monologues about booze make it clear that O'Brien can get as intoxicated by words as by drink.

Di Lampedusa's The Leopard
One of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. This is the kind of book you open just to read random passages. Di Lampedusa was a Sicilian Prince who loved literature. He wrote this book, his only work, near the end of his life and, tragically, only lived long enough to hear from one publisher that it was un-publishable. In Italy this novel often appears in polls of the greatest Italian novel ever written.

Friday, November 14, 2003

The highlight of the Low Gallery party this past week was the work of Zenaida Sengo. I hope they find a new place.
Have you felt the potential of a moment and felt as if it was pulling you forward? As if it will unravel into something surprising and explosive. Perhaps like that moment at the end of the slide when you tumble head-first into the water.

I find myself relying more on experience these days, on intuition and instinct. When I was younger, I dissected the world with reason and tried to impose it where I could not find it, like a reassuring veil.

I lost my faith in words when they failed to express how enormous were my thoughts and how I felt them all at once, a soup of emotions, not a sequence of things or impressions which could be laid out for examination, like organs on an operating table.

How can you express that flurry of ideas which hits you in those hazy moments of semi-sleep when it feels as if the world can be re-configured. That beauty of a sudden revelation, as startling as the first deep intake of breath on a winter day. Or even that splitting you feel inside when you have been betrayed by someone you love, when your mind feels as confused and helpless as two birds flying around in a sack.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Yesterday afternoon as I was walking home along 24th st. in the Mission, a man approached me and then started walking beside me. He wasnt a tall man but he looked kind of rough and was wearing a large 49'ers jacket. This is the conversation we had, translated from spanish:

Him: Hi there
Me: Hi, whats up?
Him: So, if you have 7 and you had 4 away then you get 3 right?
Him: Listen, my daughter was only 3 when they put me away and I was away for 4 years. So how old is she?
Me: She would be 7
Him: Bah! thats what everyone says but I think she might be 6 1/2. Is that right?
Me: That could be right. It sounds like she's around 7.
Him: Look, its just that I needed someone to talk with, you know? I just got out. They just dropped me off in South San Francisco and I just made it up here. This is such a grand moment for me. Such a special moment. I am about to see my daughter that I havent seen for four years.
Me: four years...
Him: I was so young and stupid back then. Made so many mistakes. But now I'm going to go see my daughter and this fills me up with so much emotion, you know?
Him: Well, here's South Van Ness..I gotta go this way. It was good meeting you.
Me: It was good meeting you. Good luck.

As he was walking away, I noticed he had been carrying a plastic bag. Inside was something with the loud primary colors of a childrens toy.

Friday, November 07, 2003

I have jumped from an airplane and it is like this. You throw yourself into a wide open space. Your arms flail as do your legs because they need to feel that there is an anchor, a reference point but there is nothing there. It is a sense of freedom which makes you want to scream with joy. It is a sense of terror which makes it hard to breath because your heart feels like it will beat out of your chest. You are lost and what you knew is gone. You do not know what will come next. But this entire feeling you have, this closeness with death, this discarding of everything you knew also makes you feel terribly, heart-breakingly alive.

We have all had these moments when we fall suddenly or trip or are hit with something unexpected. The moment, brief as it is sometimes lasting only seconds, seems to stretch itself out as our sense of it, our attention focuses on this event as it rarely focuses on anything. So small is the time, so precise is this attention, that you can count the moments from when a command issues forth in your brain and it finally reaches your hands (emanating like a slow wave upon an ocean) that stretch out to break your fall or fend off the danger or remove themselves from resting on the burning stove. This is also to be attentive, to be in the moment, to be alive.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Things to not do:

• Listen to the Flaming Lips album online
• Read why 5 is the perfect number

• Flip through your copy of an old book on Medical Anomalies

• Plan to see a movie titled Bedtime Fairy Tale for Crocodile
• Be out drinking and see the Thursday morning sun

Monday, November 03, 2003

I didnt know that san francisco has one of the largest Day of the Dead celebrations in the US. About 10,000 people showed up tonight (sunday) for a march to Garfield park which had been transformed into a site for altars and candles and offerings.

It has been adopted here by artists of course and so in some ways the event had more of the feel of a Burning Man or some other spontaneous excuse for creative expression. A band of skeletal musicians played and danced on a street corner. The street was full of people with whitened faces and blackened teeth. Men are doing drag versions of Posada's Catrina. I saw more than a few gothic dead, people that looked as if they had emerged from an Edward Gorey fantasy.

My first instinct about this is to question how authentic such a thing can be. I had noticed, for example, one of the altar artists explaining the significance of mirrors in the altar. The truth is there is no significance except to the artist herself. But this was not adequately explained to the curious onlookers who, to my mind, had been subtley deceived into thinking mirrors played some role in the mexican tradition. (Insert all sorts of questions here about performance and authenticity)

The area in Mexico where I grew up is not too far from the island of Janitzio, an epicenter for Day of the Dead in Mexico. I went to a few celebrations as a child but my memory is fuzzy and so I talked to my mother about this. Her memories are of large offerings in the graveyard, a festival atmosphere in which mariachi bands sometimes played among the tombstones. Children would laugh and play and make jokes about death - she remembers the equivalent of 'kick me' signs you would slap on the backs of others, except that instead the signs said 'Bury me, Im dead' or 'I have such bad breath, I must be dead." The more creative ones would also rhyme.

These things seem strange to us here where a graveyard is a solemn place. But a Day of the Dead is a party with the Dead. It fits in suprisingly well with what Octavio Paz described in his book, The Labyrinth of Solitude, as that Mexican sense of fatalism and comradery with death:

The Mexican . . . is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love. True, there is perhaps as much fear in his attitude as in that of others, but at least death is not hidden away (. . .) Death [in the poetry of Gorostiza and Villaurrutia can be seen] as nostalgia, rather than as the fruition or end of life, [it] is death as origin. The ancient, original source is the grave, not a womb.

My mother is relying on her memory because the truth is that up until recently Day of the Dead has been a dying tradition in Mexico. It is still practiced but it is not catholic-approved and so it is the rite of a dying generation. The rites in Janitzio are authentic but so many Westerners are enchanted by these rituals that the small little island is unfortunately over-run by tourists and thus by the threat of being suffocated into extinction.

But it also may be the beauty of these rituals which may rescue it yet. My mother notes that there is a returning fascination in Mexico and that which was almost forgotten is now being re-learned. The aesthetic enchantment of the Day of the Dead, its dancing skeletons, its beautiful candlelit processions, its attempt to unite two worlds is appealing also to non-mexicans and so my mother tells me, I should not be so judgemental. She doesnt see it as a corruption but looks forward to seeing San Francisco's rendition of this old pagan tradition.