Saturday, February 23, 2008

Y.O. y Yo

Yesterday I went to hear Yoko Ono speak and be interviewed at the CAA Conference downtown. I've been a fan of hers for such a long time that I got all silly with a smile on my face when I finally made it to the conference center.

She began the session with family films taken from before her birth up to her first trip to San Francisco in the mid-1930s to reunite with her father. Home movies, some originally in color, from the 30s! And shots of the Golden Gate Bridge before it was even completed! I guess it was good to have a banker (or "frustrated artist") as a father.

San Francisco always reminds me of Yoko Ono ever since my first trip there was specifically to see the retrospective of her work at the SFMOMA.

Having openings and events at her loft in New York in the early 60s with Duchamp and Cage and Ernst in attendance. Claiming the title of "Dragon Lady" after the press called her that for years as a criticism and thus finally ending the use of that nickname. Suggesting her health and happiness was a byproduct of all the bitter medicine doled out by her critics and enemies. Questioning how by wearing pants in Japan she provoked the ire of Mishima Yukio. Her experiences in Tokyo before the US firebombed it.

The question I wanted to ask but didn't have the opportunity: In The Aesthetic Dimension, Marcuse argues that art that is purely autonomous and for its own sake inherently contains a cultural critique as it is necessarily informed by a radical political praxis, even more so than art that purposely seeks to effect change. Would you talk about that tension in your own work, for example between some of your Fluxus work as opposed to your more obviously political work, such as the "bed-ins." Do you see art as necessarily and always political? Can autonomous art effect social change? Must art have obvious political content?

When she was studying music as a very young child, her music instructor assigned this work to the class: go out and transcribe everything you hear on staff paper, including each and every noise. How would you notate the honking of a car? The buzzing of a bee? The trickle from a fountain? What key would it be in? What time signature? She credits this assignment with beginning her life in art. For you teachers: your assignments also have ethical demands. Don't kill a child's spirit but open it up to the world.

She concluded the session with a video/documentary of "Onochord":
And I do. Afterwards, she passed out shards of broken pottery, announcing that in ten years we would all meet again to glue the vase back together. I can't wait.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Just let me say amid the shouts of self-congratulatory glee across DC and Miami today: the problem with Cuba has never been Fidel Castro. Cuba’s problem has never had anything to do with anything as embedded in Cuba as Comrade Fidel.

From its colonization under the repressive thumb of the Spanish Empire—may you and your conquistadores de terrorismo (todo en el nombre de Dios todopoderoso, por supuesto) rot in hell—Cuba and the inhabitants of Cuba have always gotten the short end of the stick, and the rotten end of hegemonic imperialism. And when Spain was finally banished, the US came riding in atop a brown horse named Little Texas, no less, to take charge, subjecting Cuba to de facto American rule for half a century.

Both corrupt American political parties have played along in the game of World Domination. From Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs fiasco (don’t worry, children: he got his just a few years later in Dallas) to Clinton’s signing of the Orwellian-named Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, Democrats have been just as thickheaded and insular as Republicans when it comes to dictating policy toward one of America’s closest neighbor-nations.

So on this glorious, sunny day in Havana, the “Cuban problem” still remains and will be around for quite some time, for as long as Americans keep electing imbeciles, for as long as crazy “refugees” in Miami keep dictating a bankrupt policy toward their homeland despite reasonable proposals over the past 50+ years, for as long as that pinche Dios todopoderoso sits on his shiny gold throne puffing away on his El Rey del Mundo cigar.

Until then: ¡Viva la Revolución!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Skeptical to the very end

Thankfully I shaved my head last week or I would've spent three hours last night pulling out my hair in the worst graduate class of my life.

First off, there's the Boy Wonder, named for a superhero with "spidey" powers. As one of my friends put it: "I was scanning the room to see who the professor was, and I would've never guessed it was him!" It's a game he calls Who's In Charge Here? Not only does Prof. Wonder allow Student J. to teach the course for him (which thankfully it is someone who at least knows what he's talking about ... despite the fact that Student J. is the most stubbornly obtuse and willfully Philistinian graduate student I know), but he even raises his hand to ask Student J. questions, further corroborating who wears the pants in this seminar.

Then there's Weezy--short for Crazy Fucking Retarded Red-Haired Girl--who practically sat on my lap last night. She's a mover: constantly shifting from side to side, trying to mesmerize all of us with her slippery stupidity. She's the one who nods her head and verbally agrees with absolutely every single statement made, especially the ones she makes the speaker repeat because she wasn't paying attention in the first place. She did that four times. And her most impressive contribution to the class thus far: "What was that anti-essentialism that wasn't really essentialism essentially called by the essentialists who essentially believed in essentialism?" (My parody of her actual question makes more sense than the crazy shit she was talking.)

Sitting at the corner of the seminar room was Pontiff Jerkopedia: "Pontiff" because he profusely pontificates ad nauseam, and "Jerkopedia" because he knows absolutely something about almost everything and wants to share his encyclopedic wisdom with the rest of us. In 6th grade, he would've been the student the teacher described as "having diarrhea of the mouth." I was underwhelmingly impressed. Yet he presented last night, taking approximately two hours to fill in the gaps of the eight-page, single-space "outline" he handed out. His one truly savant quality: taking something that a smart person says and writing missives on that topic, posting them on WebCT. Hence, I no longer log in to WebCT.

And these are only a handful of the colorful folks who populate my Thursday evenings. I won't even begin to describe the lame-ass reading requirements, except to say they are from a poorly edited and thrown together anthology Prof. W. worked on as a TA when in graduate school. As he described the course on the first night: "This is the best I have to offer." Really? You can't teach a class on a topic you actually know? God save us all! I usually spend a few hours after class decompressing with my intelligent cohorts over several drinks, but our debriefing last night was pre-empted by Valentine's Day obligations. Thanks for allowing me to rant a little this morning.

Perhaps next Thursday evening I'll just gnaw my arm off.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Valentine's Day Revolution

So six alleged terrorists who have been incarcerated for the past several years in Guantánamo will finally have their day in court, albeit a military court, but a court nevertheless. When will the confirmed terrorists who have been in charge of such prisons for the past several years finally be brought to justice?

And in the “do as I say and not as I do” category: was it Israel or the US (same difference, I know) who planted a car bomb in Syria to take out Imad Mugniyah?

Car bombs. Secret prisons. As the joke goes: if it quacks like a terrorist....

And on an even more political note, here’s an excerpt of Nikki Giovanni’s “When I Die” to help set the mood this Valentine’s Day:
and if ever i touched a life i hope that life knows
that i know that touching was and still is and will always be the true

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A walk down memory alley

December 11, 1988, Sunday
Four days of
and by the end of the week ...
Is no one real anymore? or anymore real?
I touch and tease and talk,
But I don't see him when he's not there.
And when he's here his face is not familiar.

Moving in dreams,
And yet I lack sleep.

December 13, 1988, Tuesday
I met a damsel in distress
Who fought dragons with broken wine glasses
She moved in shadows of candlelight
She showed me sights without a sound
And broke the silence with laughing gods
I'll build a tower for my lover
Keep her safe from herself

Instead of throwing myself under the academic bus this afternoon, I decided to drag out that old yellow spiral-bound notebook and see what kind of crazy shit I wrote almost twenty years ago. These were two particularly poetic passages that stood out from that cold December; the first entry was for Todd, the second for Melissa. Funny how I never wrote anything readable before then, and sad how even then what I wrote was pure shit.

The uselessness that was Todd (although I still sometimes mistype his name as Tod, German for death) dragged on till late the following summer. The bizarreness of Melissa petered out sometime in the spring.

After a few more pages--on the level of "I still smell you on my clothes"--we get to this:

December 14, 1988, Wednesday
The moon wasn't right tonight, but I was. And I remain hungry. If I get on your nerves, just brush me off. Both of you are pretty good at it already, and you're such great teachers. Perhaps I may one day brush you off like the dandruff you left on my sheets or like the mud caked on my muffler after we trampled it in your car. I may just fucking wash my hands altogether and be done with it.

And then there's some Russian phrases. We three were studying Russian together; in fact, Melissa and I met in Russian I my first semester at UTA. I was smitten. Todd was in a different section, but the subsequent spring semester we were enrolled in the same section of Russian II.

If I remember correctly ... and I do ... that double-whammy significantly contributed to my almost flunking out of college:
Fall 88 GPA: 4.000
Spring 89 GPA: 2.385

But how exactly did I manage to earn my one A that term in Russian II? The one class I only went to when I was drunk and depressed? (My one D was in PHIL 2311 Logic, as if my personal life needed that little reminder! Too bad there wasn't a PHIL 2312 Fucked-Up Crazy Shit that I could've drunkenly aced!)

Now I rarely write bad poetry (or poetry at all). Bad relationships no longer inspire me. And I don't compose verse as I'm getting laid. I only pray I have the good enough sense to burn all these notebooks (as well as push this big delete button) before I die.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Whither the Turks?

Lion in BudapestDuring the forty-six hours I spent in Budapest in the winter of ’96, I befriended another American at the hostel who was traveling the world researching the history of coffee for a book he was writing. We decided to visit the castle way up in the hills of Buda on our last (and my second) day there. After about an hour walking through the historical exhibitions we were struck that there had been no mention of the Turks or the Ottomans in any of the displays. Between the two of us, we pretty much covered all major Western language groups, so we decided to ask a docent whither the Turkish history of Hungary.

I think it would be significantly funnier if we had opened the floodgates of our polyglottery upon that poor, unsuspecting Hungarian girl who happened to be volunteering that sunny winter day twelve years ago. But instead I think we were much more restrained as we passed the linguistic torch back and forth between ourselves.

I asked first in English, to which she stared blankly before shaking her head. Then it was my companion’s turn; this time in German. They were after all one time deeply embedded within the Austro-Hungarian Empire! Nein on the German front. Aha! I thought: let me try out my Polish; the sheer number of Polish tourists and guest workers in Hungary surely made it a viable option. And that would be a nie. His turn now: French. Nope (said in a Cajun accent, no doubt). My high school Spanish? ¡No! One last-ditch effort: my Russian. Nyet such luck.

After the repeated failures of language—not on our part, mind you—we retired to the café for some of that Turkish devil liquid itself that passed through these lands so many generations ago for the first time, shortly after that poor Cossack soldier found a bag of coffee beans on a dying Ottoman fighter following some long forgotten Ukrainian battle.

I wonder if my compatriot/co-traveler ever finished his book on coffee. I wonder if the museum docent ever learned a useful language. I wonder if the Hungarians were ever able to tell their secret history that once converged with the Turks'. I wonder where I’d be now if I would’ve taken up the offer I had received the night before at the disco near the deserted army barracks by the train station. I especially wonder such things when I hear “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” on the radio, one of the many songs we sat around singing at the pub the night before, before heading to the club.

Just a few hours later I was on a frozen train to Krakow.