Monday, November 29, 2004

Mexico as an Earthly Purgatory

Nathan Gardels: Mexico seems like an earthly purgatory, permanently suspended in contradiction...

Octavio Paz: Purgatory is a very apt characterization. Purgatory is a transitional state, a compromise. Perhaps that has been Mexico's fate. We have always had these two poles, pre-Columbian civilization and Spanish Catholicism and monarchy; great art and historical setbacks; marvelous poets and weak criticism; beautiful churches and palaces side-by-side with huts and hovels.

We have made a mix of this and that is our purgatory. We live amid our contradictions - our saints and our Indian gods; our republic and our enduring centralization of power; our peasants adoring the Virgin with the same fervor which their ancestors praised the Earth Goddess alongside our young economists from Harvard and our professors of philosophy fresh from Paris.

We have not solved these contradictions, but with them and through them we have created a truly original culture. We are alive at the end of the 20th century.

This is from a 1987 interview of Octavio Paz in The New Perspectives Quarterly. This brew of the Pre-Columbian imagination and the rites of Old World Catholicism are responsible for the surreal images captured by Shadowplay in this photoset of Mexico.

Those images capture Semana Santa as a resurrection, a Biblical play, as it unfolds in the area of Patzcuaro in the Mexican state of Michoacan. The nearby island of Janitzio, as it turns out, is an epicenter for the more well-known Mexican Day of the Dead. And so, these two fantastic worlds, one full of dancing skeletons, the other with figures sprouting wings exist, literally, side by side, distinct, two expressions of an original culture.

Monday, November 22, 2004

An indian man approached me today when I was down in Silicon Valley.
"Excuse me," he said "You were with XYZ company in 1999 right?"
"Yes," I say "I was..."

"You interviewed me then, in India. And you hired me."

I had flown to India to recruit developers for our India office. I spent a whirlwind few weeks in Hyderabad and Banagalore, meeting with officials, cutting through dark red tape, helping to secure our offices, meeting with potential partners and clients and, finally, hiring.

The administrators we had hired beforehand had already filtered out resumes of people who had responded to our ads but were clearly unqualified. This still left us with a few hundred resumes to sift through. S. and I spent a couple days going through them all, putting them into three categories: Definite interview, Possible and No Way. The latter were immediately sent thank you notes. The Definites were sent an invitation to come in for an interview.

Since our Bangalore office hadn't been set up, I rented a suite in a hotel and used one of the rooms to do my interviews. My assistant C. acted as a gatekeeper. She had flown with me from the U.S. and together we were the two foreigners trying to assimilate into the culture as quickly as possible (In the end, she wasnt able to and had a nervous breakdown but thats another story, which ends with her almost marrying a Bollywood movie star. But, again, thats another story) I worked almost without sleeping, catching quick naps in the back seat of the Honda as my driver raced from one place to another. Those were insane times.

I interviewed about forty people in the course of just two days so I can be forgiven for not recalling the man who approached me today. I had suggested we hire him and we did. Later, he was flown to the US to work in our offices here in the Bay Area. We sponsored his H-1 Visa. He left our company and went on to work for a large company here where he is doing really well. All of this because I hired him in India. I had forgotten him but he remembered my name and had recognized me by sight and even told me that I had "inspired" him.

Later, when I told this to A. she says "Much of life is like that. You set off so many things and rarely do you get the chance to see the results of what you started."

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Jiri Trnka's The Cybernetic Grandmother

Jiri Trnka animated films when animation was a craft intended for adults as well as children. His rendition of Shakespeare's Midsummers Nights Dream took him years to create. It is unfindable now but you can see clips of it and some of his other films at this animators site.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

It is a dream that we invent. Instead we just assemble old memories, our own and those of others. Especially those of others. With each visit, they further colonize your imagination.
"I know" you said "lets go to an opera, but lets first get drunk."
"Is intoxication all you know?"
"Do you mean the opera or the drinks?"
Did you know that, while you puzzled over your crossword puzzles, twisting your face in concentration, I would study your long, elegant fingers. I thought: She is like a dark-haired magician from an old book.
You put your fingers on my lips and squeeze them, like a clothespin.
"Gayetas. You cant even speak your own language."
When the rain fell, we all ran madly in every direction like perturbed ants.
It was the middle of the humid summer in NYC and our thin clothes were soaked. I saw you dancing at that Spanish bar on the Westside.
I walked you home later that night and you held me tightly, almost anxiously, as if you feared I would run away.
I was dazed and tired, a sleepwalker, awaking from a heated dream. You led me along, turned to beckon me with your finger, then ran, vanished behind a corner and reappeared again. I knew who you were. I whispered your name to you.
"Do you remember, beloved, how we all fled in so many directions? When we saw what had happened? We all met again at the nearest hill do you remember?" you whispered back to me.
"Yes" I said "That was centuries ago."

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

From Oskar Schlemmer of the Bauhaus, whose paintings seem to dance.
Those were the best days in the life of Tancredi and Angelica, lives later to be so variegated, so erring, against the inevitable background of sorrows. But that they did not know then; and they were pursuing a future which they deemed more concrete than it turned out to be, made of nothing but smoke and wind. When they were old and uselessly wise their thoughts would go back to those days with insistent regret, they had been days when desire was always present because it was always overcome, when many beds had been offered and refused, when the sensual urge, because restrained, had for one second been sublimated in renunciation, that is into real love. Those days were the preparation for a marriage which , even erotically, was no success; a preparation which, however, was in a way sufficient to itself, exquisite and brief, like those melodies which outlive the forgotten works they belong to and hint in their delicate and veiled gaiety at themes which later in the finished work were to be developed without skill, and fail.

From one of my favorite novels: The Leopard by Di Lampedusa

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The fate of Senster, a robot that could respond to the sound of people's voices and their movements across its field. I agree with dataisnature that looking at this photograph of Senster, chained and seemingly abandoned, is like looking at metallic bones.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The Cult of the Frog is growing. I received my black shirt from Michael this week. Several friends have asked me for one. Schlomo, at his bar, is almost getting mugged for them.

Do you remember me?
And that chick you danced with two times through the Rufus album friday night at that party
on Avenue A
where your skin-head friend passed out for several hours on the bathroom floor
And you told me you weren't that drunk
And that I was your favorite Salsa dancer you had ever come across in NYC
And when we were finished making out, we noticed that your skinhead friend was gone
And you looked into my bloodshot eyes and said
"is it too soon if I call you Sunday"

-from Pink Martini's Eugene
(not on any albums...yet. You can email me for the MP3)

Toshio Hirano, the Japanese Cowboy
is Waiting for a Train (MP3 here)

Garcia Marquez's new as-yet-untranslated novel:
Memories of my Melancholy Whores begins
“In my ninetieth year, I decided to give myself the gift of a night of love with a young virgin.”

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Celia Johnson, Incubators

Most of the art I really enjoy is from Illustrators or Graffiti artists or some combination.

Take a look at this years offerings from Art Basel, as an example of the state of Modern Art, and see if it doesnt seem like they are caught up in a self-reflective whirlwind.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Paul Davies: Many great scientists throughout their life have a vision. Do you have a vision?

John Wheeler: Well, to me it’s the picture that the whole of this existence of ours will some day have its single, central principle spring to life, that will be so natural we’ll say to ourselves: How could it have been otherwise and how could we have been so stupid all these years not to have seen it.

This is Wheeler's vision of the Grand. Like a mischevious elf, who sneaks in to leave unexpected gifts, Wheeler has been sowing the world of Physics with most of the bizzare but beautiful ideas that lie at its borders. He is a metaphysician in disguise.

I used to think that Feynman was divinely inspired when he first sketched the foundation for a timeless universe when he introduced this: Anti-matter is Matter which is traveling backwards in Time.

So, for example, when a proton and an antiproton collide and annihilate, what has really happened is that one particle has reversed its direction in Time. Anyways, Feynman admits (in his Nobel lecture) he got this idea from Wheeler who was his mentor:

...I received a telephone call one day at the graduate college at Princeton from Professor Wheeler, in which he said, "Feynman, I know why all electrons have the same charge and the same mass" "Why?" "Because, they are all the same electron!" And, then he explained on the telephone, "suppose that the world lines which we were ordinarily considering before in time and space - instead of only going up in time were a tremendous knot, and then, when we cut through the knot, by the plane corresponding to a fixed time, we would see many, many world lines and that would represent many electrons, except for one thing. If in one section this is an ordinary electron world line, in the section in which it reversed itself and is coming back from the future ... I did not take the idea that all the electrons were the same one from him as seriously as I took the observation that positrons could simply be represented as electrons going from the future to the past in a back section of their world lines. That, I stole!

Wheeler was a colleague of Einstein. Wheeler himself was a student of Neils Bohr. But Wheeler is famous for his students. It was Wheeler who guided his student Everett in forming the Many Worlds Hypothesis - the strange theory of multiple worlds which brings to life Borges' vision of a cosmic garden of forking paths. He also taught Tipler who went on to devise his own universe where humans are all re-incarnated near the end of time.

Wheeler just turned 90 and parties were had. These days he is still thinking about the consequences of his work on delayed-choice, an unsettling consequence of quantum mechanics, the essential idea being that the Past isnt fixed in any way until we decide to observe it and how we will observe it. At this moment, as experiments seem to prove, we are creating the Past, somehow summoning it into existence.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

From 1929 to 1962, the French phenomenologist, Gaston Bachelard wrote several books in which he analysed and elucidated the "poetics" of matter, revealing the subtle yet profound ways the properties and associations of various substances affect the imagination. He demonstrated scientifically that water, for instance, could be experienced as "dissolved girl."

I am not sure whether Peter Blegvad is talking about Bachelard's book Poetics of Space which I read a long time ago and, after reading a few pages, decided to give it my own poetic kick across the room.

But it doesnt matter. Blegvad is having fun. There's a small cult of Blegvad out there. The quote above is from his site On Numinosity where you can also find and play with some Numinosity Flash toys. Also, it will become clearer that an object or thing (or person!) has three manifestations in the world - the object you imagine, the object you observe, and the object you remember. And so this already crowded space of objects unfolds into a kaleidoscope.

Blegvad also writes a comic strip called Leviathan which manages to reference every major French philosopher out there but is ultimately just about the world of a little boy named Levi. Predictably, Blegvad also has a band and makes music. So Blegvad is a rock star, literally as well as figuratively.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

In an interview in the Paris Review, Gabriel Garcia Marquez said:

The first line [of Kafka's Metamorphosis] reads "As Gregor Samsa awoke that morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect..." When I read the line I thought to myself that I didn't know anyone was allowed to to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago.

I love this passage for many reasons. One is that notion of "I didnt know anyone was allowed" which describes perfectly that sense, as you lean into your years of self-examination, that there are these piles of rules you inherited and now you must decide which are sensible and which others are meant to be shattered. The latter rules are the ones, that by breaking, allow you to become more yourself.

Garcia Marquez, a brilliant student of this process, went on to become one of the masters of the opening line:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice
-from One Hundred Years of Solitude

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love

-from Love in the Time of Cholera


Jose Palacios, his oldest servant, found him floating naked with his eyes open in the purifying waters of his bath and thought he had drowned. He knew this was one of the many ways the General meditated, but the ecstasy in which he lay drifting seemed that of a man no longer of this world.

-from The General in his Labyrinth

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Templar initiation well at Quinta de Regaleira
via O Mundo de Claudia

Claudia and Banubula are characters from the same novel. Except Claudia is real. Except also that I am real, if you don't count those days when I miss my morning shot of espresso.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The dark poet of Latin-American letters is Cesar Vallejo. While Neruda wrote about the intoxicating heights of love, Vallejo wrote clearly and passionately about the lowest levels of despair, about suffering and about the irrevocable blows of blind fate. All of these emotions are condensed into The Black Riders or even the more contemplative "Idle on a stone":

Idle on a stone,
scroungy, horrifying,
at the bank of the Seine, it comes and goes.
Conscience then sprouts from the river,
with petiole and outlines of the greedy tree;
from the river the city rises and falls, made of embraced wolves.

The idle one sees it coming and going,
monumental, carrying his fasts in his concave head,
on his chest his purest lice
and below
his little sound, that of his pelvis,
silent between two big decisions,
and below,
further down,
a paperscrap, a nail, a match. . .

Monday, November 01, 2004


Caballos. from loren.