Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Quick Question

If the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is about LSD, then what is Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets" about?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

End of Time

The second year I lived in Japan, I found a image of one of Hiroshi Sugimoto's seascapes in a magazine. I cut it out and stuck it to my refrigerator with a magnet, mesmerized by the comment in the caption that Sugimoto teaches us to see. I meditated on this image almost every day, trying to learn or relearn how I saw and to learn how to see with new eyes - no small feat considering the Japanese rarely even see the sea despite the miles and miles of coastline of that island nation. When I left Japan (and therefore the sea), I tucked away this clipping in my scrapbook, but I never forgot about my seeing exercises based on Sugimoto's minimalist photograph.

Saturday we attended a preview of End of Time, a retrospective of Sugimoto's work over the past thirty years at the Fort Worth Modern. The collection included selections from all of his well-known series: dioramas, theatres, portraits, architecture, and seascapes.

In his seascapes, the perspective never changes: the horizon is perfectly placed at the same level (in the center, in perfect balance) in each photograph. Obviously the time of day changes from photograph to photograph, but there are no other elements to disturb the sea, the sky, or the light. It's not until you read the "titles" posted near the entrance that you even realize that each sea is completely different; that is, one is the Baltic, another the Atlantic. He erases typical expressions of time (not the simple night/day dichotomy, but rather the "when [in the Geshichte sense] was this photo taken" quality: last year? the nineteenth century? at the beginning of time?) as well as geography. Each photograph is the same in its difference, and each viewing of each seascape is the same despite centuries of difference. My view of the sea is the same as every other view of the sea, whether it's Magellan's or Noah's: the elements do not change. And yet the sea is constantly changing.

Stevie Nicks sang in "Edge of Seventeen": "But the sea changes colours, but the sea does not change." (I like the double "but" - the necessary self-contradicting/self-interrupting to get the point across.) And before her, Heraclitus wrote that one does not step into the same river twice, meaning not only that the river has changed (and yet is the same) but also that the person is the same (and yet has changed). More recently, the Wallflowers sang in "One Headlight": "Man, I ain't changed, but I know I ain't the same." But perhaps I'm digressing.

Or perhaps I'm trying to make a point (in a roundabout way) that these seas are the same and yet they are not the same (except in their difference). And yet these images are merely static photographs and do not change from exhibition to exhibition. But I certainly have changed since the first time I saw them as well as since the second time I saw them. And yet I'm still the same old me, no?

I encourage any "good postmodern" (a la Susan J.) to think (in the Heideggerean sense) about Sugimoto's work. But (in the Stevie Nicks sense) not to merely reduce it to nihilism (like any bad or misinformed postmodern (a la Susan J.)) but to let the world (again in the Heideggerean sense) open up to the truth of being. And to finally learn to see.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Death of "New Texas"

More than a politician, more than a mother, more than a teacher, more than a woman, more than a smart quip, more than her hair, more than a funny story, more than a photo-op, more than a celebrity, more than a Democrat, more than a Texan. She was more than all that, calling us to be more than we thought we were. She was the best part of Texas (and not just from 1991-95).

Rest in peace, Governor Ann Richards (September 1, 1933 - September 13, 2006).

Friday, September 15, 2006

Which language do I what?

"Which language do you think in?"
"Oh, so you've lived here long enough to use English even in your head?"
"I was born and raised here." Jokingly: "Are you saying I sound like a foreigner?"
"Oh no, I didn't say that. I just thought you were from somewhere else."
"No. I'm from here. And I think in English. But sometimes I dream in Polish."
"Or Japanese."
"I can't imagine...."
"Yeah." Jokingly: "It's great to wake up and not know where you are."
Just another daily encounter I have with the americanos in my classes. Is it my expensive Danish shoes? The more than pea-sized amount of hair gel I apply religiously every morning? (Although that's a result of my conditioning during the '80s and bears no reflection on the stamps in my passport.) The fact that I don't wear tee-shirts on campus? (It's not that I go shirtless, I just wear collared dress shirts. Ironed. And tucked in. (I mean, after all, they aren't 'collared' people.))

In my Ottoman Empire history course, I'm considered the Ukrainian expert. If these people knew how I was almost thrown out of that country perhaps they'd start seeing me as "one of them." I guess it's really just by default: there's a Polish woman in the course, so she obviously trumps my expertise in her country. (And yes, she does sound like a foreigner. But that's why I like her.) Being the Ukrainian expert merely means that every time the professor - with his proper Cambridge accent - mentions Ukraine, he turns to make eye contact with me. In our class, there's also the slavery expert, the religion expert, the borderlands expert (we, of course, overlap, so it's a good thing we sit on the same side of the room), the women's history expert, etc. The professor turns his head a lot.

I don't have preconceived ideas about where my classmates are from or what languages they do and don't speak . Or dream in. I dream of asking them the question that the whale asked the scientist when it learned to communicate: "Do all oceans have walls?" just to see what responses I'd get. My response to the whale: "No. Some oceans are as limitless as you are."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Order of Things

Last night on the University of Texas at Arlington campus I stretched out on a picnic table bench to stargaze through clumps of tree limbs and other sight barriers. I couldn't see any of the constellations I knew, so I spent the time creating my own. I've been thinking quite a bit about systems of knowledge and patterns lately. For my humanities course, I created the following "quiz" based on an article I read in the paper a few weeks ago: Which of the following doesn't belong: banana, lemon, orange, or tennis ball? Based on a system of shape, the banana doesn't belong. Based on a system of color, the orange doesn't belong. Based on a system of use, the tennis ball doesn't belong. Therefore, the answer to the original question is the lemon (based on a system of difference): it is the only one that isn’t excluded from all the other systems. My own constellations were looking too much like straight lines and simple curves. I thought about how these two points of light had nothing in common: not only were they utterly outside any of the systems I was familiar with, but they were also billions of light years apart if they even still existed. Humans impose too much order on the universe. I liked my wobbly, lop-sided constellations with no historical referent. Just then a flock of birds appeared high in the night sky. They were flying due south in a U-shape that morphed into a perfect V before flowing gradually into something more like a check-mark. And then I lost sight of them. Shapes and patterns are wonderful things when they appear out of the blue naturally. I think I’ll try to limit the order I try to impose on my world just to see what order appears when I least expect it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A simpler time...

"Bush Mourns 9/11" read the headline. All I could think was of course he mourns 9/11: it was the last time he actually got (uncritical) points for his faux leadership. Remember the shots of him with the bullhorn just a few days later at the WTC site? "We hear you!" If someone would've popped a paper bag, he would have shit all over himself.

Five years and he and his administration have squandered all the world's goodwill and sympathy. Five years and he and his administration still have not been brought to justice for allowing the attacks in the first place (or for all the illegal and immoral things they've done since). Ultimately a government is charged with protecting its people. They failed, they failed. In the pre-Enlightenment world (and for some time afterwards), government leaders who failed in their duties would've found themselves on the guillotine. It truly was a simpler time.

Friday, September 8, 2006

Mi espacio ...

... es tu espacio.

It's official: I (finally) have an account on MySpace. It's not much, but it's probably a higher trafficked site than my poor little blog here at Feel free to add me to your friends list!

Skajlab @

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Last 10 Sites

Last night the following question was asked: Knowing that you were soon to die, which 5 places would you want to revisit? There was no way I could I choose only 5, so after some minor adjusting, I came up with the following list of 10 (in no particular order):
  • New Orleans, Louisiana - for a latte at Cafe du Monde, a stroll down Pirate Alley, and a walk through the St. Louis Cemetery to scratch an X on the Voodoo Queen's grave

  • Brugges, Belgium - chocolates on the square, a stroll along the canals, take some photos of the lion statues, and a stop for a golden ale

  • Prague, Czech Republic - book-browsing and a latte at the Globe, brunch at Radost FX, an all-night disco, a walk across Charles Bridge on my way up Castle Hill to look through the shops on Golden Lane

  • Lublin, Poland - one last look out from Thursday Hill, lunch at Szeroka, and one last tour of the Byzantine frescoes at the chapel

  • Mojiko (Kitakyushu), Japan - a ferry ride from Shimonoseki, a walk along the boardwalk, people-watching & sketching at the train station, lunch at Naima

  • the Grand Canyon, Arizona - one more sunrise

  • Greenwich, UK - one more ferry ride down the Thames from London in order to stand at 0 degrees longitude again

  • San Francisco, California - one more 3-hour chat with Jola over a good cup of coffee at pretty much any cafe

  • Venice, Italy - to watch the gondolas emerge from and disappear back into the fog

  • Missoula, Montana - to shake the dust off over a hefty breakfast at the Raven Cafe with Shayne after a few more nights sleeping on the road
In the meantime, I'm going to try to visit new places and have even more magical experiences with my friends so I can add to this little list. Or maybe I'll just stay at home with the love of my life (and best friend) and watch my cats sleep. It's all good.