Our Natural Bent for Destruction and the Rights to Failure

“Is there an art that is dangerous? Yes. It is that art which upsets the conditions of life.”–Charles Baudelaire.

What are the conditions of life? Simply put: that which sustains it.

Does art sustain life? Does literature? Does poetry? No. None of those practices are required to sustain life. And we are better off for it. For who would want to rely on failure for sustenance? And yet, that is precisely what we have today. Failure. And lots of it. And that’s a good thing–for the arts and for life. Precisely because the very conditions that sustain life require failure in the realm of the arts.

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Using Viktor Shklovsky

My hero.

[This post began as a response to some comments made by Douglas Storm on Amber’s most recent post.]

The name “Viktor Shklovsky” comes up a lot at this site (I’m guilty of mentioning it in perhaps half of my posts), and one might wonder why the man and his work matters. Below, I’ll try and lay out what Viktor Shklovsky has done for me, and what he might be able to do for you, too! Because Shklovsky might be the single most interesting and, above all else, useful critic I’ve ever encountered…

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This is the book I’m most looking forward to this year

And it’s a reprint, and I already own the original:

It’s that good.

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The Gary Wilson / John Cage / David Tudor Axis

I’ve long known that Gary Wilson was a freak (of the most beautiful variety). And I’ve long known about his influence on contemporary musicians like Beck, Ariel Pink, The Residents. But until this morning, I didn’t know about his connection with John Cage and David Tudor. From a 2008 interview with Wilson:

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An Interview with Yuriy Tarnawsky, Part 1

I first encountered Yuriy Tarnawsky‘s writing in 1998, when I stumbled across a copy of Three Blondes and Death (FC2, 1993) in a Philadelphia bookstore. (A college professor, having noticed my interest in less-than-realist fiction, encouraged me to be on the lookout for any books published by FC2 or Dalkey Archive Press.)

Three Blondes was unlike any other book I’d ever seen: it consisted of hundreds of short chapters, each one a solid block of prose, describing in meticulous detail the simultaneously outlandish and banal lives of the protagonist, Hwbrgdtse, and three blonde women—Alphabette, Bethlehem, and Chemnitz—that he grows, in turn, infatuated with. The chapters are not always presented in chronological order, and more than half of them relate the characters’ dreams. It very quickly became one of my favorite contemporary novels. (When I moved to Thailand in 2003, it was one of the few books that I brought with me.)

Later, in the summer of 2004, I met Yuriy in New York, at Ron Sukenick’s memorial service; we began talking, and soon became friends. I’m pleased now to be able to post here, in multiple parts, a lengthy interview I’ve conducted with him. I’ll also be posting and linking to excerpts from Yuriy’s writing; my hope is that this will encourage more people to seek out his unique and deliriously fascinating work. Continue reading

Why I Hate the Avant-Garde, part 2

Part 1

Re: Johannes’s comment on my recent post, I first saw people using “avant-garde” to refer to work made today in the late 1990s, on the Frameworks mailing list, which is:

an international forum on experimental film, avant-garde film, film as art, film as film, or film as visual poetry; film’s expressive qualities, aside from or in addition to its storytelling capacity. Any genre of experimental film, such as film diary, found footage, abstract, flicker, lyric, subversive, expanded, etc., can be discussed, as well as those films which fall into the cracks between the genres, or those not covered by other lists.

All aspects, from filmmaking to criticism, are acceptable in this context, including unipersonal production, techniques, history and esthetics of avant-garde film, critical discussions, new directions, courses and teaching, festivals, announcements of world-wide events in film, retrospectives, exchanges of information, etc. This list is not intended for the discussion of narrative film, nor documentary film, nor video, nor video art.

I love the Frameworks list (or loved it as long as I followed it, 1998–2003). But it’s obvious right away that this is a very specialized use of the terms “experimental film” and “avant-garde film”—the description goes on to list which techniques make film experimental and avant-garde! For example, scratching and painting on film is avant-garde, because folks like Len Lye and Stan Brakhage did it, and because mainstream Hollywood narrative films rarely do it. And so anyone who’s scratching on 8mm film today, and screening it at some underground NYC venue—congratulations, you’re avant-garde. But Wes Anderson, you’re not, because you make narrative films on 35mm. (Narrative can’t be AG!) Never mind the fact that this usage of “avant-garde” has nothing to do with:

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The Multifaceted Mike Batt

For the past few weeks, Mike Batt’s “Love Makes You Crazy” has been on constant repetition at my apartment:

Like the greatest music videos, this one launches us directly into a fully-realized world that’s simultaneously novel and derivative, four minutes of elaborate production design that ultimately leads nowhere. And it takes its brilliant conceit both seriously and ridiculously (see fellow citizen #69).

So who is Mike Batt?

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