Saturday, December 31, 2011

Poem of The Week - Monet by Mueller

Monet Refuses the Operation

     By Liesel Mueller

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.

I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.

Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.

What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent.  

The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases.  

if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Basketball, politics and contemporary art - a year end note.

                                                    Mark Rothko

Agnes Martin

Metta World Peace

Not only is the world too complicated but so is basketball.

All of a sudden the LA Clippers are contenders to make a playoff run. Ron Artest (on the Lakers)  the former poster child for angry, has changed his name to Metta World Peace. Lebron James, one of the most gifted 26 year old athletes on the planet, has become a villain for making a perfectly reasonable career move to Miami...I am baffled by it all.

Watching the action I feel like I am watching rabbits scramble and I can barely see where the rabbit was.  I cannot figure out why fouls have been called, or even follow the ball. I have no idea why Lamar Odom was ejected from the game the other day or why he married Khloe Kardashian. My New Year's  resolution for this year is to tune into women's basketball.  I think the slower pace will suit me...less baffling.

Not only are the world and basketball too complicated but so is contemporary art. 

This week we (including my bro-in-law, Billy, who is a walking art encyclopedia - which makes museum going with him fantastic) walked through the permanent collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Here's my take away - I am a convert to the notion that the world would be way better off if we passed a global rule that from now on only women can be in positions of political power. I had this thought when I saw side by side works by Mark Rothko and Agnes Martin. Both use simple horizontal fields of colors. Both have been compared to the experience of looking at natural landscapes. Rothko is muscular - his colors heavy and strong - he paints with a brutish willfulness. Martin's horizontals are pastel - soft and inviting. They whisper compassion and consolation.

I think an Agnes Martin world makes a whole lot more sense than a Mark Rothko world. Or maybe not, who knows? Anyway, Happy New Year and World Peace.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Guest Post: Eloi and Morlocks

My friend, David, is such a terrific writer I could not resist posting another piece he wrote. (His is the immediate prior rough fractals guest post as well).

This one in response to my describing to him my experience this past week visiting old friends who recently moved near Yosemite in north central California to start a "community". By community I mean that they bought a large enough parcel (70 acres) to build a number of small houses which they are hoping friends and neighbors will do. The current main house will then serve as a central community center. Right now they are using the main house as a Bed and Breakfast for "seekers" - that is to say anyone who would like to spend a few days in a beautiful area to meditate and contemplate (and visit Yosemite).  Having moved there 18 months ago many of the locals have joined in the pursuit. When I was there there were blessings before meals and regular group meetings. On Tuesday night ten neighbors came over and after a short meditation we discussed the topic of friendship. For some, the discussion was philosophical for others, personal. We have known each other for 40 years and despite our different paths our friendship has been sustained and when we spoke of that in the group there were a few moist eyes (mine among them).

Below is David's reaction to what I described. He is always smart and has a way of writing that makes neither too much nor too little of the subject matter. I wish I could do that - I always seem to ricochet between the two. (By way of background David is a public interest lawyer who works in health care).

"Sorry I couldn't respond sooner, but on this side of the moon I was preparing for a hearing that I did yesterday. I think I told you about it, surgeon who left his patient in the OR and, in another case, concocted his own stent and implanted it into his patient. Since I worked all last weekend preparing, I'm giving myself today off.

It's been irresistible to compare our respective experiences on the two different sides of the moon. I've been sunk to my eyes in the realm of bad motives and bad acts, the lies that cover them and the hard work it takes to reveal them. And, of course, what it does to me for that to be my work and the world I live in. Meanwhile, you're in a sunny garden world where the locals are trying to recreate Eden. To sharpen the contrast, I spent the morning watching a move called "Saint Misbehavin'," a lovely documentary about Wavy Gravy.

I have to fight against the notion that those folks out in the garden are good hearted Eloi, and I'm just a debased  Morlock. In truth, I'd make a pretty bad hippie, although I'm far from immune to the attractions. After some consideration, I think the core difference between the two worlds is more scale than substance, the fact that one is large enough to require institutions and the other isn't and doesn't. I think it's as simple as this: big city, big needs (in this case, health needs), big and complex hospitals arise to serve the needs, norms and rules arise to make sure it's done right, fallible and otherwise imperfect humans contravene the rules and much ugliness ensues.

All of that is at the "Duh" level of obviousness -- so why recite it? Well, part of it is defensiveness on my part. I want to show that there is some necessity for people to do the work I do and I'm not just a dope not to live in the garden. But it also helps me understand  some resistance I feel to the tendency of at least some of the Gardeners (yes, let's call them that) to feel that they have hit on something of world transforming relevance. It's not just that they're making their world, but that they sometimes act like they are remaking The World. I see arrogance and lack of perspective in that attitude. If the underlying values have merit -- simplicity, generosity, tolerance, balance -- as they certainly do, it's fine to emphasize them. But even we Morlocks  esteem those values, but we also know that they are only part of the prescription for living in a complex world.

Now, that I've justified my existence, I'll proceed on my Morlock way."

(I sent David's response to my friends who agreed with everything he wrote. Their choices are not about saving the world or even suggesting trying to. I think it is about questioning the paradigm for themselves, their friends and their community. Artists, scientists, social activists,  inventors, innovators have always been outside. Someone's gotta do that.)

PS: On further thought about this, David added a post script wondering about the tendency to think that others' lives mean something about our own. That they stand as critiques or confirmations or something to be aspired to. Often taking the form of envy. I am not sure he is right about that. Envy seems to me to usually have a built in reservation, a bottom, bottom line belief that the choices we make are, despite our doubts and our envy of the conviction those we aspire to be like seem to hold, the best we could do. That might be denial or it might be honest but either way, there is something to the notion that we all are right where we need to be - that everyone is doing the best they can. Put another way, maybe there are no Eloi and Morlock, no "us" and "them". Not ever. Not deep down.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Guest Post - The Artist

McGraw-Hill Guide to World Literature: v. 2: David Engel, etc.

This is a Rough Fractals guest post written by David Engel.  David is a friend of Rough Fractals and the author of the McGraw Hill Guide to World Literature. He sent his interpretation of the recently released movie, The Artist, over the transom.

The Artist is a 2011 French-American  film directed by Michel Hazanavicius, starring Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo.  The film is itself a silent film and in black-and-white. The story takes place in Hollywood between 1927 and 1932 and focuses on a declining male film star and a rising actress, as silent cinema grows out of fashion and is replaced by the talkies.  Dujardin won the Best Actor Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where the film premiered.

Below is David's take on it which I really like: (spoiler alert - you might want to see the movie before reading this so as to come at the movie without any preconceived notions (or knowing certain plot developments ahead of time).  Watching it is a little like eating those fizzy-popping-exploding-in-your-mouth candies for the first time.  You might want your brain taste buds unsullied. So if you like, bookmark this, go see it and then read this.)

"It came to  me in the middle of the night (I had a dream) that the Artist’s reluctance to  speak – and the movie as a whole --  can be understood in terms of inhibition. Like an inhibition, it’s a mystery (to us and very probably to him as well)  whether he won’t speak or can’t speak. Remember when his wife confronts him? – “Why won’t you talk?” It’s not clear if she means talk to her or talk on film – we certainly think of both -- which helps us see that  he’s stymied by issues beyond  cinematic technique.  

In the early part of the movie he’s purely in love with himself, and the film does a good job keeping us from disliking him despite his vanity. In the first scene, he upstages his co-star when they’re taking their bows. He ignores his wife, and he sort of gutters out whenever he’s not in the public eye. I think one of the reason he’s given the dog (and his driver) is to help humanize him, give him a relationship with someone.

I don’t usually think in these terms, and I’m not pandering to the shrinks among us when I say that he makes me think of an infant that just expects to be showered with love without doing anything. And the whole beginning of the movie operates at that fantasy level. Peppy Miller just has to show up at an audition to be instantly made a star. There’s no gap between wish and fulfillment.

The scene  where Peppy caresses herself through the sleeve of the  Artist’s coat is a vivid image, and critique,  of the kind of magical self-love that both buoys and isolates the two of them. And it does isolate them because, although they’re clearly destined for each other they can’t get together. Or won’t. Their relationship with each other has the same stymied quality as the Artist’s can’t/won’t relationship to the prospect of speaking in the movies.

I think their self-love saddles them with inhibitions because like all extreme self-love it’s terribly vulnerable. It can only exist if protected from certain inner shames and doubts and from real or imagined external threats. He’s afraid to hazard his self-love by trying something new – a new way to perform, a new woman. He wants to, but can’t or won’t.

The end is such a pleaser because it overthrows all inhibition for both of them, and the inhibitions of the form as well. Suddenly we have, for the first time, a full sound stage, syncopated music with drums up front, and their wonderful, completely uninhibited dancing. And they’re dancing together, of course.  

I think we respond to the movie because it embodies the structure and feeling of inhibition over  90 minutes and then gloriously releases it. It feels true and moving because it’s built out of primal stuff --  our own  experiences of, and attitudes toward,  early self-love, inhibition, and adulthood. "

-- David Engel 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Song Of The Week - Miike Snow - Black and Blue

Below is a video with lyrics of a  song I like by the band, Miike Snow, (spelled with two ii's) called Black and Blue. I cannot  figure out what it  is about so have given it my own highly subjective interpretation...

There is a saying that captures the insidious nature of the disease of alcoholism:  "the longer you are sober, the closer you are to your next drink.". The notion being that the disease is powerful and patient. Put another way, "while the alcoholic stays clean, the disease is doing push ups" waiting for the "all clear" chance to relapse. Insidious.  That is what I think this song may be about. But if it is a better title might  be something like "The Sleeping Tiger". I do not know what black and blue refers to.



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