Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Function of the Ukelele Today

Although I like the sound of ukeleles in songs, it’s worth mentioning that I think their function today is that of a unique mediator between musician and expression. The ukelele allows the musician to make sounds, but with the protective assurance that the audience knows he doesn’t really mean it. The ukelele’s diminutive shape and range comforts any anxiety of being confronted by any onlookers.

Of course the exposition of the subject’s Inner life is not new, and goes back to Romanticism. Today, however, even that expressive gesture—the fallback of the subject in the face of the world—is under scrutiny by its very participants. Anyone who is sincere is met with smirks. “It’s all been tried by now,” they say. Self-expression as the primary function of art is itself symptomatic of regression in the moment of its birth. That even self-expression is mocked is further proof for the argument that there are no vital forces remaining that strive for human freedom. We are resigned to our lives, and feel anger for what sincerity reminds us of: the unrealized potential of our time.

In “Experience and Poverty,” Walter Benjamin writes on the exhaustion people feel after expending so much effort that still has not realized such potential:

Poverty of experience. This should not be understood to mean that people are yearning for new experience. No, they long to free themselves from experience; they long for a world in which they can make such pure and decided use of their poverty—their outer poverty, and ultimately also their inner poverty—that it will lead to something respectable. Nor are they ignorant or inexperienced. Often we could say the very opposite. They have ‘devoured’ everything, both ‘culture and people,’ and they have had such a surfeit that it has exhausted them. No one feels more caught out than they by Scheerbart’s words: ‘You are all so tired, just because you have failed to concentrate your thoughts on a simple but ambitious plan.’ Tiredness is followed by sleep, and then it is not uncommon for a dream to make up for the sadness and discouragement of the day—a dream that shows us in its realized form the simple but magnificent existence for which the energy is lacking in reality (734).

Re-watching GitS: SAC

Lately I’ve been re-watching the first two seasons (Gigs) of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and I’m disappointed to find that it’s not as good this time. I knew it had its flaws before, but now they seem even more glaring. Perhaps the new Ghost in the Shell: Arise season is worthwhile though.

Unsettling Corporeal Movements

In Stanisław Lem’s Solaris (1961), a pilot is interviewed after a flight on an alien planet, as a part of a scientific investigation:

BERTON: […] While I was still some distance away, I noticed a pale, almost white, object floating on the surface. My first thought was that it was Fechner’s flying-suit, especially as it looked vaguely human in form. I brought the aircraft round sharply, afraid of losing my way and being unable to find the same spot again. The shape, the body, was moving; sometimes it seemed to be standing upright in the trough of the waves. I accelerated and went down so low that the machine bounced gently. I must have hit the crest of a huge wave I was overflying. The body—yes, it was a human body, not at atmosphere-suit—the body was moving.
QUESTION: Did you see its face?
QUESTION: Who was it?
BERTON: A child.
QUESTION: What child? Did you recognize it?
BERTON: No. At any rate, I don’t remember having seen it before. Besides, when I got closer—when I was forty yards away, or even sooner—I realized that it was no ordinary child.
QUESTION: What do you mean?
BERTON: I’ll explain. At first, I couldn’t understand what worried me about it; it was only after a minute or two that I realized: this child was extraordinarily large. Enormous, in fact. Stretched out horizontally, its body rose twelve feet above the surface of the ocean, I swear. I remembered that when I touched the wave, its face was a little higher than mine, even though my cockpit must have been least ten feet above the ocean.
QUESTION: If it was as big as that, what makes you say it was a child?
BERTON: Because it was a tiny child.
QUESTION: Do you realize, Berton, that your answer doesn’t make sense?
BERTON: On the contrary. I could see its face, and it was a very young child. Besides, its proportions corresponded exactly to the proportions of a child’s body. It was a … babe in arms. No, I exaggerate. It was probably two or three years old. It had black hair and blue eyes—enormous blue eyes! It was naked—completely naked—like a new-born baby. It was wet, or I should say glossy; its skin was shiny. I was shattered. I no longer thought it was a mirage. I could see this child so distinctly. It rose and fell with the waves; but apart from this general motion, it was making other movements, and they were horrible!
QUESTION: Why? What was it doing?
BERTON: It was more like a doll in a museum, only a living doll. It opened and closed its mouth, it make various gestures, horrible gestures.
QUESTION: What do you mean?
BERTON: I was watching it from about twenty yards away—I don’t suppose I went any closer. But, as I’ve already told you, it was enormous. I could see very clearly. Its eyes sparkled and you really would have thought it was a living child, if it hadn’t been for the movements, the gestures, as though someone was trying … It was as though someone else was responsible for the gestures …
QUESTION: Try to be more explicit.
BERTON: It’s difficult. I’m talking of an impression, more of an intuition. I didn’t analyze it, but I knew that those gestures weren’t natural.
QUESTION: Do you mean, for example, that the hands didn’t move as human hands would move, because the joints were not sufficiently supple?
BERTON: No, not at all. But … these movements had no meaning. Each of our own movements means something, more or less, serves some purpose …
QUESTION: Do you think so? The movements of an infant don’t have much meaning!
BERTON: I know. But an infant’s movements are confused, random, uncoordinated. The movements I saw were … er … yes, that’s it, they were methodical movements. They were performed one after another, like a serious of exercises; as though someone had wanted to make a study of what this child was capable of doing with its hands, its torso, its mouth. The face was more horrifying than the rest, because the human face has an expression, and this face … I don’t know how to describe it. It was alive, yes, but it wasn’t human. Or rather, the features, as a whole, the eyes, the complexion, were, but the expression, the movements of the face, were certainly not.
QUESTION: Were they grimaces? Do you know what happens to a person’s face during an epileptic fit?
BERTON: Yes. I’ve watched an epileptic fit. I know what you mean. No, it was something quite different. Epilepsy provokes spasms, convulsions. The movements I’m talking about were fluid, continuous, graceful … melodious, if one can say that of a movement. It’s the nearest definition I can think of. But this face … a face can’t divide itself into two—one half gay, the other sad, one half scowling and the other amiable, one half frightened and the other triumphant. But that’s how it was with this child’s face. In addition to that, all these movements and changes of expression succeeded one another with unbelievable rapidity. I stayed down there a very short time, perhaps ten seconds, perhaps less (80-83).

Chicago Art District 2nd Fridays, May 9th 2014

RITUAL No. 11: Day & Night by ROOMS

RITUAL No. 11: Day & Night by ROOMS

Until last week I had never been to the Chicago Art District’s 2nd Fridays Gallery Night in Pilsen (a neighborhood in Chicago), although I had heard of it. It’s comprised of several nearby galleries hosting receptions for the work of various artists. I saw most of the galleries, and only have a few things to say about a couple of the artists’ works.

Above is a performance piece involving the a set of directions having to do with standing up and lying down over a determined period of time. Certainly something everyone looked at. I’m not sure what to say about it.

One woman’s paintings (either her first or last name was Sylvia, but I can’t seem to track down her full name or even the name of the gallery hosting her work) had the motif of flowers before windows overlooking great expanses. Her artist’s statement said that the window created as a “way out.” She writes, “My paintings are symbols of freedom at the same time as they are enclosures, harbingers of stability.” But I was reminded too much of a phrase about irony, which I’ll appropriate here to describe the sense of her work: it is the song of the bird that has come to love its own cage. Although the window is in the scene, the paintings give the appearance of a fear of freedom. The open window gives even more excuse for staying inside.