Uptown’s Gotta Shake

Wow, it’s been a while.  Struggling with my Big Freedia post.  The one I haven’t written. I’ve narrated it to a few people and while it spooled out of my mouth no problem it doesn’t want to be written.  Something that’s harder to put into blog space than to narrate to Alli Warren in a kitchen, something tangled up with race, gender, and New Orleans.

I’m thinking now, after some failed attempts, that I’ll have to spread this one out over several attempts and with some sketchy notes and please be patient with me.

My recent round of going nuts about Big Freedia began here, with the “Y’all Get Back Now” video:

Amazing in all kinds of ways.  When I first watched the video I was captivated, among other things, by trying to figure out the role of whiteness.  On the one hand, the video seemed to depict a utopian space where all of New Orleans – black to white, children to elders, women to men, neighborhood to neighborhood, even human to bulldog – can shake its asses together.  Compelled to motion by the towering figure of Big Freedia on the skyline.

On the other hand, the video also started to seem like a narrative about the white creative class – in the video’s world, the guy in the office.  And that narrative began to extend in my mind to the different ways bounce music has been received, in and out of New Orleans.

Though the video totally offers white people mixed into the Uptown and Downtown streetscapes, the emblematic figure for whiteness seems to be that office guy.  (I think of him as a graphic designer – because of his hoody?)

He starts out glued to his computer.  He’s in the one scene in the video that’s not iconographically New Orleans; he could be anywhere.  Partying in the office space, not in the streets.

He’s really taken with the music.  I assume that he’s receiving it the same way I am, over the computer.  Though, in the video, he’s receiving it straight from the amused gaze of giant Big Freedia, a point that I hope to take up later.

I imagine that he’ll write a Big Freedia Pitchfork review after the video. But to refocus.  What interests me particularly about his role in the video is its relationship to the reception of bounce music outside New Orleans.

I started reading extensively (well, Internet-extensively) about this after noticing a thread in an interview with Big Freedia, in which she insists, “Our music isn’t sissy bounce, we’re sissies who represent bounce music.”

To recap what she says about bounce in the interview, it’s the rap music of New Orleans, a call and response music based on the Triggerman beat.  In the last ten years, Katey Red, Big Freedia, and Sissy Nobby have made huge contributions to that music and become the artists probably most recognized outside New Orleans.

(Though there have been ghost traces of bounce in huge mainstream successes such as “Back That Azz” up, i.e. compare to this old school bounce song, and as I mentioned in an earlier post Beyonce’s “Get Me Bodied” video.)

Anywayyy, at first I was confused by Big Freedia’s sentiment (“Our music isn’t sissy bounce”).  I tend to feel a little disappointed or diminished when an author who’s a woman says “I’m not a woman writer, I’m just a writer.”  I wondered if Big Freedia was saying basically that.

And I was confused particularly because it’s not like Katey Red, Big Freedia, and Sissy Nobby have been anything but celebratory of their queer identities.

But a number of readings and conversations made me see Big Freedia’s statement in another light.  First, while reading Stephanie Young’s Jacket2 post “I hope for – everyone” it felt like nine lightbulbs were zinging on in my head. From her post:

“Ted {Rees} and I talked for a second about what it means when something radical and autonomous becomes visible, what happens when oppositional work, the squat garden or punk house flying under the radar, uncloaks. I’m thinking about the reasons one might want to uncloak (perhaps to make the idea that people can grow their own food more widely visible, more possible) but also the perils of doing so.  Uncloaking. Often the uncloaking is outside of one’s control. Or money comes in like a black light, highlighting the abstract splotches of small un-glurped areas adjacent to the glurped parts. You’re adjacent, it can glurp you too.”

I started thinking about New Orleans and its intense localism.  Of course it’s a huge tourist destination, and its peculiarities are articulated to and for the outside.

But that very performance of itself for tourists feels like the cloak, the under the radar. Keep the tourists in the French Quarter, while the locality of New Orleans is for living there.  Tony marvels at the fact that when two New Orleans people meet, no matter how disparate in background, they always ask each other first thing, where did you go to high school?  We all feel locatable.

(In interviews, I noticed that Big Freedia often mentions that she was choir director at her high school, Walter L. Cohen.)

The call and response nature of bounce is super-tied to the local – lists of wards, lists of high schools.

“I’m from Seventh Ward, you’re from 8th Ward, she’s from 9th Ward.”

I’m suddenly also thinking about something that could become a whole separate blog post:  how New Orleans protects itself with a kind of intense local pride, that in the wake of Katrina has become intense internal marketing.    Last time I was at home, Tony and I did a joke neighborhood photo-essay on Fleur-de-Lis imagery, Saints banners, etc., called “New Orleans is about itself.”

New Orleans Is About Itself #1

Anyway, anyway, anyway, where all this lead me in Big Freedia’s case was to her new non-local success.

And this, after ten intensely local years as the hardest working person in New Orleans show business.  Doing two to three shows a day.  Running an interior decorating company.  As she said in another interview, she would decorate your party, then perform at your party.

And now she’s being interpreted through the national media, by white journalists, outside the context of the art form that she innovates in.  This New York Times article I thought was good on the schism.

In that, it’s hard to make a question or an issue out of bounce music’s popularity in New Orleans. Bounce music is part of the neighborhood fabric.

And what makes “sissy bounce” (a journalist-invented term, I learned) popular or interesting outside New Orleans is partly that it’s seen as radical.  Which, I mean, it is.

There’s a whole fascinating story about how Katey, Freedia, Nobby & others asserted a queer space in bounce music – Freedia talks about it in some interviews.  And, there’s another whole fascinating story about how their music and presentation relates to ongoing genderfuck traditions in New Orleans.

And it’s awesome that Big Freedia is performing at Seattle’s Pride Week and in general it’s awesome that she’s become so successful, considering her genius.  Because of the uncloaking, people from outside New Orleans and people like me, from outside her New Orleans, can learn about her art.

But there is still something hard to articulate, that seems linked to Big Freedia’s own hesitation around the term “sissy bounce”.  And linked to the uncloaking and the glurping and the marketing.

Something around boundary crossing.  About the desire to manifest, to be seen.  About what then happens when a manifestation is refracted through – officialization? institutionalization? reification?  Pushed into the bizarre marketing mirror-world.

On one level, there can be something patently exoticizing and tokenizing about the reception of bounce rap by these artists as a curiosity.

Some of the journalistic coverage doesn’t rise above the level of “Isn’t New Orleans fucked-up?  They have openly gay rappers and drive-through dacquiri places!”

She's sure to turn heads when she wears this stylish Riot Grrrl Child's Halloween Costume. The Riot Grrrl costume includes the vinyl spike detailed dress and studded belt as shown. Add the Camo Girl boot tops as seen below and she'll be ready to riot in style.

Reading that style of journalism reminds me of the denouement of Girls to the Front, the amazing Sara Marcus book about the riot grrrl movement.  Her story of the media feeding frenzy around riot grrrl and how that exposure/caricature wreaked havoc on riot grrrl participants is really depressing.  Please see riot grrrl Halloween costume to the left.

Which gets me back to the part I keep circling around, which I think must be why it’s hard for me to write this post.  Which is the part when race specifically comes in.  And when the white person from New Orleans who’s writing the post thinks about herself as audience member.

The person writing the post wants to inhabit the white person’s fantasy of the “Y’all Get Back Now” video – to be received into this incredible party of collective New Orleans dancing.  In which the role of the white creative class in the reception of an African-American form is gently twitted, but figured as basically benign.

Where if the person writing the post is lacking in dance skills, she could probably be dandled in arms like a baby or a bulldog.  Cause Uptown’s gotta shake!

But naturally I know that, realistically, if I were to go to a Big Freedia performance – in the context I would go to one – I would not be a person in the “Y’all Get Back Now” video.  I wouldn’t even be the hoody-wearer from the video, who I keep joke-criticizing as a stand-in for myself.  I would be more like one of the members of this audience at Big Freedia’s SXSW performance:

A Whiter Shade of Pale

Which maybe is OK.  It’s not like I’m anything else at any other time, my utopian dreams aside.  But it starts to seem problematic and difficult-to-write in a few ways.

One in that I have a point of contact with bounce music (the local; my hometown pride) that makes me feel more acutely my estrangement from its other points.  I know I have to accept myself as a tourist in reference to this music.  And that I have to feel some disgust with myself writing this post, as I take on an unearned explainer’s, expert’s, Expert Village tone.  Doing my part in the uncloaking.

And then there’s the issue – which has come up so much for me around Claudia Rankine’s amazing intervention – of how to be a white person and write about race at all without being disgusting, in one of the so many ways to be disgusting.  Like, being disgusting in being self-congratulatory for thinking about these important issues.  Or like, much worse, being disgusting in, God help us all, becoming Baloney Hoagie.

And then there’s experimental poetry by white people, and writings on experimental poetry by white people – including myself here clearly – touching on hip-hop, and the tourisms there.  I don’t even know what to say about that.  Except, I’m confused.

And then finally, finally, finally – the most recent time we were in New Orleans, Tony and I went to the Backstreets Cultural Museum, an incredible institution in Treme that’s a repository of history for Mardi Gras Indian tribes and Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs.

The Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs put on second line parades.  They come from African-American benevolent associations of the 1800s – mutual aid societies that took dues for funeral costs, community events, and so on.  “Serving a purpose that today has largely been supplanted by insurance companies,” as the site I linked to proclaims with a very straight face.

Tony and I were talking to the head of the Backstreets Cultural Museum about how second line parades, traditionally more neighborhood affairs, were becoming more and more popular with white New Orleanians and with tourists.

We felt very conscious of our role in the scene as white New Orleanians (in my case) and as tourists (in my case and Tony’s).

The head of the Backstreets Cultural Museum talked about how, with second lines’ popularity, the New Orleans city government had begun requiring police presence at second lines and raising permit fees for parading clubs until they became unmanageable.

It was partly that pressure, the financial pressure, the head of the museum explained, that started the need to create institutions, like the Backstreets Cultural Museum, to preserve the culture that was being financially pressured.

Then the head of the museum asked us for a donation.  In exchange for a donation of a certain, not very large amount, we could get emailed the private neighborhood parade routes of the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs.

So the opening up of a culture to tourism led to government scrutiny. Which lead to the city: seizing the opportunity to make money? Police-protecting white people or tourists from themselves?  Both?  Which led to the culture having to further open itself up to tourism in order to preserve itself.

The head of the museum talked with what seemed like a mixture of pride and anger and politeness about the attention.  The head of the museum talked about becoming an institution, having a board, writing grants.

I did make the donation.  I get the emails, telling myself that since I don’t actually live in New Orleans, there’s no way I can further fuck things up for the Lady Jetsetters and the Ladies and Men of Unity, by showing up at their parade routes.

I think about how kind Big Freedia’s gaze is in the video as she peers into the office suite at her hyped-up white audience.

I also think about the part in the video where all the dancers are giants on the New Orleans skyline, with Big Freedia the most colossal of all.  Trying to think something about the fantasy of being visible from afar, national – while also completely rooted in and representative of the local.

Lil Wayne at the end of Seat Down Low, “I am so, so New Orleans – like 1825 Tu…lane.  See you gotta be from New Orleans to know what the fuck I’m talking about and if you’re not then fuck you, I say what I want.”

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More Peg Info

More “Peg” Info:

Can’t believe I forgot, for so long that “Peg” is all over “Eye Know” from “Three Feet High and Rising”

Also, Steely’s Aja will be added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry this year. Other notable records added to the Registry include Trout Mask Replica and Tipitina, in the original Professor Longhair recording.  It’s a good thing, too, because, in my essay on Peg, I try to talk about the distinction between Peg and Ella Guru, from Trout Mask – In Peg, all the musicianship and precision is pushed underneath the standard 12 bar blues progression. In Ella Guru, it’s all (I mean ALL) pushed to the fore, barely retaining the blues structure.

And here’s a spirited defense of Aja’s listing on the National Registry

The Blues. Don’t it look like I have a wispy beard, a fishing hat, and a paunch now?

I actually seem to think someone’s gonna click those links.


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April at the Poetic Labor Project

We’re so pleased to announce that responses from Amber DiPietra, Steve Benson, and an anomyous contributor are now up on the Poetic Labor Project’s blog. To download a pdf of all three, please click here.

We want to open the space to as many people as would like to join – your comments and provocations are welcome. If you’ve got a more extended set of thoughts about any of the new writings, or the original presentations archived from the event, please feel free to submit those to: labday2010@gmail.com. A special thanks to Andrew Kenower for designing the PDF and to Dan Thomas-Glass for original artwork. Thanks for your interest and solidarity!

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Poetics of Ventriloquism

word problem subject matter graph

Mentioning posts I want to write seems to be a jinx.  I don’t write those posts.  But I’ll write about Divya Victor’s New Front Row reading.  Well, almost.  I’ll  quote some of Divya Victor’s “Situations” – a portion of what she read. Then I’ll ruminate on them in italics.

Here’s a Situation:

I collect seashells every summer.
my family stays at the beach house for days.
this summer, I found many seashells.
I gave some to your little sister.
she then had some seashells.
I have fewer seashells

The Situations struck me as being made out of word problems.  At the reading, Divya confirmed this.

Once the numbers are extracted from the word problems, the frame stands out.  What the problems teach about the world, under cover of teaching math.

My family stays at ‘the beach house.’  If the word problem can use that casual, tossed-off ‘the’ about “the beach house”, does that mean it’s been in ‘my family’ for generations?

The family can afford a leisurely unnumbered stretch of ‘days’ (not ‘weeks’, as ‘my family’ is not a beach bum) at the (aristocratic, silvery-gray) beach house.

Shells would be the things counted not days.

With these class markers I also notice the gender narratives my mind constructs out of the situation.  “I” gave some to “your” little sister because “I” likes “you.”

Since I’s position in relationship to “you” is abject, in my mind “I” is female – too restrained even to give “you” seashells, instead miming generosity to “your” sister.  “You” doesn’t notice.  But “I” does have fewer seashells.

Poor “I”,  who in this narration to myself, must be me.  Which makes me ashamed of myself for the way I narrate this situation.

Don’t do it, “I.”  Keep your seashells.

you and I made paper planes.
you made half as many as me.
I made many more planes

But here I am triumphant.  A narrative of conquest.  “I” has a superior air force.  “I” made many planes.  “I” deserves more than “you” does.  In fact, “I” has to state this twice.  Maybe in revenge for the seashells.  This “I” and “you” are ungendered here, in my inner narrative.

when a mother is a waitress her shift started at half past
seven and was five hours and twenty minutes long
when a mother finished work.

A powerful situation.  I find myself wondering about the interventions Divya has made – if any  – in that last line.

I think, the shift had a length, reached its completion at five hours and twenty minutes long, only when a mother finished work.  So perhaps it has never ended yet.

The associations of class with gender.  The associations of profession with gender.  When a mother is a waitress – then something is plausible.  Which shift of which work.

I am thinking of a mystery number.
I divide this number then multiply it .
there are results.

Without their numbers to propel them, the Situations are suspended.  You have to know the mystery number to get the results.

Without their numbers the situations also have the ring of wisdom literature.  Gnomic, Talmudic.  The absence of specific numbers implies an infinitely proliferating text.  If there were time to put every number in the spot.

Who has access to the mystery number?  Who stands in the secret?  Who is excluded from the heart of the secret?  Who feels so serene in knowing the mystery number.  Is there really someone who always already had access to knowledge?

In reading those Situations in real-time, I wanted to re-inscribe my listening experience at the New Front Row.  I felt I needed to re-read because much of my specific memory has faded.

But I know what I’m missing, doing it this way –  her reading was so embodied – forcefully delivered and performed.  Turning to the Jacket2 feature Divya curated, Discourses on vocality, I found this quote:

“The conversations locate a specific moment in which we may consider enunciating, performing bodies and the forms with which they conspire to name an emerging poetics of appropriation and ventriloquism driven by a pronounced commitment to defining new feminisms.”

I think about that.  The word problems have been appropriated.  Now they are situations.  We can’t say they are problems, in a certain direction.  Now they are problematic in another direction.

Also they have been intervened on.  Their quantities extracted.  Moved to the main stage, their situational ideology (the beach house, the shells, the sailboats, the squirrels, the shifts, the mothers) can’t claim to be beside the point.

Which feels parallel to the operations of the orthodox word problem.  Or an appropriation of its mechanism.  To backtrack a bit, I realized, working on this post, that I have no idea what a word problem is supposed to do.

What do they have to do with anything?  What, besides ideology, are they intended to teach? My Wikipedia research says that the point is for the student to extract a mathematical model from the words.  You can’t just “mechanically” do the operations:  you have to translate first.  You understand, because you have brought it through.

The idea that you have to understand to translate is interesting to me.  (I never understood word problems when I translated them.  Maybe there’s another post in that.)

I’m also interested to think about the metaphor of translation in reference to Divya’s work, and in reference to defining feminisms.  Watching a woman’s mind and body perform this information about shifts and mothers, it maps differently.  I don’t experience it as abstract; I can’t help but map it onto situations that my body has learned and speaks out of.  Education and experience ventriloquize each other, uneasily.

The Situations are ventriloquized.  They captivated me as spoken, hearing them performed through or from another female mind and body.  Now I run their operations on my own female mind or in my female body and I watch myself.

Translating the word problem this way, it stops solving.  It becomes a situation.  And that Divya has made the problems so much more concrete by making them less specific.

Something about conceptualism here, that I don’t know clearly but would say I’m feeling in the work.  How the conceptual move pushes attention onto the gesture of the author as signifying, since it is harder to read the appropriated text as signifying.  If here the author is – cultural?  Educational system?  The gesture of the system that makes these problems.

Then there is also the gesture that the female author, intervening, makes on the word problem.  By removing.  There is joint authorship maybe.  Or the gestures that the educational system and the feminist author make on or about each others’ bodies.

Here is an ancient Egyptian word problem – thank you, Wikipedia.  It’s from the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus:  There are seven houses; in each house there are seven cats; each cat kills seven mice; each mouse has eaten seven grains of barley; each grain would have produced seven hekat. What is the sum of all the enumerated things.

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Heilmann / Corbin

I like to think inside the green of their respective pasts:

“Each of my paintings can be seen as an autobiographical marker, a cue, by which I evoke a moment from my past, or my projected future, each a charm to conjure a mental reality and to give it physical form.” – Mary Heilmann

“Life and death are attributes of the soul, not of present or past things. The question is, rather, to understand what once made the past possible, caused its advent, was its future. To reapprehend this “possible” is to apprehend whether this past still has a future or not; here, precisely, one must not yield to the illusion that the decision is imposed by things.”


“To ‘decipher’ it is not to accumulate a vain erudition of things, but to open our own possibility to ourselves. The dilemma stated above has an exit. One cannot free oneself from the past without freeing that past itself; but to free it is to give it a future again, to make it significant” – Henry Corbin

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Stray Sentences About “Peg”

I’m writing an essay about the first melody I remember hearing – a little squiggly melody during the chorus of Peg – here are some stray notes:

At one point during “Classic Albums: Steely Dan, Aja” Donald Fagan and Walter Becker are listening to “Black Cow,” and Fagan’s kind of explaining the lyrics. When it gets to the chorus, and the backing singers sing “I can’t cry anymore,” Fagan says “self-explanatory.”

Then they start listening to Peg. They isolate the bass track, and Walter Becker’s big head moves as he explains that “Chuck fretted with his thumbs.” Techne. Chuck says, of the slapping the bass in the chorus “no matter who you are, you want to keep in the fold of what’s happening.”

Damn, and then, they find an alternate guitar solo on the reel-to-reel.

There are lots of videos on youtube of kids playing the drums along with some music their parents liked, “Tom Sawyer” or “Holy Diver” or whatever –  troubling trend.

“Peg” is built on this very complex jazz (Plagle sequence) chords,but in my memory all I hear is that sweet, high, three-note whistling. Uh, I think (I think) it is a clarinet and a synthesizer, double-tracked?.

I should also mention that this high whistling melody is also used in what is probably the worst Replacements song – Askin’ Me Lies. It drove me crazy, when I got that record (Shit, I hate that song, but I know all the words). That song is the veritable sound of disappointment.

Paul Groth used to talk of how the stereo and recording fundamentally changed the social space of music. You sat in your room, staring at the console, or, if you were on drugs, staring at the popcorn ceiling.

The Listener’s Song.

“Blueprint Blue” – the internet can explain any opacity.

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Kommen die Tornados zu uns?

Jared wrote to me in the comments:

“I’ll respond in kind about THE HEXX, but what does “a total revision of the world so that it may more accurately reflect the contents of the world” mean? I’ve been sleeping on it, and it’s giving me bedhead.”

I’ve been mulling over what this ‘revision of the world’ meant to me, to try to answer. Here are some thoughts, wafted along with a “Dear Jared, Dear Trish Spotts.”

When I read about this revision of the world on Anne Boyer’s blog, it felt like a striking reminder of the occulted obvious I was trying to write about earlier.  Revision: to re-see what’s there, but is made to seem not there.  What is seen of the world is inflected by ideology.  Is not the contents of the world.

One of the things of this blog, over and over:  trying to teach myself how to see women. Because my mind has already accepted a skewed balance.  That was one thing the VIDA statistics made me think about.

How many New Yorker tables-of-contents have I have glanced over on the elliptical machine.  Too many.   Never noticing, entirely, how skewed the bylines were.  Or seeing 25% women and my mind making it 50% women, because 25% becomes 50% compared to zero.  The assumption – and feeling it in my own mind – that zero is deserved.  Be grateful for more than that.  Fairness itself would be too much, unfair, unnatural.

So right now I am working on seeing women.  Seems sad to relate the seeing of anything to the New Yorker TOC.  But I repeat, occulted obvious.  There not there.

And, trying to see women as a start.  For the someday I dream of:  re-seeing everything. Which is what I find particularly powerful about Anne Boyer’s blog, that it feels like re-seeing everything.

(I would like to insert unwritten blog post about prophecy here.)

Just read about how strawberries are grown in fields covered with plastic, then injected with methyl bromide, which kills all the life in the soil.  The plastic keeps any new life from getting in, creating “sterile, laboratory growing conditions.”  Catherine Theis always comments approvingly when strawberries smell like strawberries.  Because usually they are made out of plastic!  The world not the world.

This article too.  “The women gathered more data – crawling on the floor with tape measures.”  Revision with tape measure, to prove that yes one group of people does have more space for their labs.  A university person in the article saying something like, “I thought the disparity was going to be about perception and reality, but it was about reality and reality.”

With this problem of seeing and re-seeing on my mind, thought about it at the New Front Row reading this past Sunday night.

Lindsey Boldt read some of her La Bamba work – a constellation of the characters, Ritchie, Bob, Donna, and Lindsey.    The first time I heard Lindsey read, I asked her if she had particularly clear memories of her childhood.  Her work accesses something – a kind of early thinking or learning – that feels familiar and powerful, but that I can’t reach from my own life.  I thought of that knowledge while hearing this work.

As I remember, there were compare-and-contrast operations on the various La Bamba figures, from the point of view of child-Lindsey learning about race, class, and gender.

I remember the discussion of Donna being a girl, therefore worse than Ritchie.  And whether Lindsey could become the second-best, Bob, or would turn out only ever to have been Donna, all along.

Different types of learning came in.  What’s taught by representation in the movie.  What’s taught by adults.  What’s learned or theorized, by comparison of self to siblings.  There were moments in the writing, too, where four-year-old Lindsey’s language burst into the piece, as strings of pre-linguistic sound.

If I remember right, as the piece went on, these sound strings were gradually joined and replaced by movie dialogue and song lyrics.  “Come on, come on little darling.”

Those moments were amazing to hear, as embodiments of  the moment of learning, where something is displaced.  How getting hold of a symbol system, the means to represent an experience, also displaces the experience, and ideologically codes the person learning.

Suddenly you are representing yourself through the blunt instruments of Donna, Bob, and Ritchie.  And Donna, Bob, and Ritchie only mean when they are compared to each other – which one is half of the other, which better, which worse, which perfect, which leaky.

Also the moment I’m thematizing, of the lyrics that gradually enter into the child language, feels like a first moment of song and music.  I’ve sung “Oh Donna” to myself about 40,000 times since the reading.

The way I’m discussing Lindsey’s piece probably makes it sound much more schematic than it was.  There was a driving sense of desire behind the operations.  Including an incredible riff on the sexual styles of each main character and readings of each of those styles in terms of perfection, loss, presence and absence.  There was the humor that gives her work such power, along with its uncanny presence.

Yeah, it was great.

A couple things more.  I want to write about all 3 incredible readings (Lindsey Boldt, Divya Victor, Julian Brolaski) from Sunday.  But this has gotten so long that I’ll have to write a sequel post.  I want to write about Erin Morrill’s Condensery reading, too, for sequel sequel post.

Also, I want to bring up a movies-and-ideology moment, from, uh, earlier in this post. When I googled ‘strawberries and plastic sheeting’ I found the tornado-in-strawberry-field video posted above.  It was on Boing Boing with caption “{This video} reminded me of the transcendental plastic bag scene in American Beauty“.

American Beauty, the Black Swan of its day!  Maybe someday I will write my magnum opus about the damage that plastic bag scene has done.  Plus the damage the script of American Beauty (especially the parts spoken by Annette Bening) did to my psyche.

I wanted to write about that partly because the snarkiness I performed in my mind (to defend myself against American Beauty while reading the sentence about American Beauty on Boing Boing) made me admire Lindsey Boldt’s performance even more.

I admire her openness to re-living the early La Bamba experience.  Engaging rather than distancing.  Or engaging and distancing at the same time, because of course there’s distance, in the writing about it, representing it.  And the interweaving of represented child and represented adult and writer and language and music – a narrative that doesn’t flag the separations between these – is part of the interest.

But Lindsey’s ability to render the experience of learning La Bamba does seem important to me.  It’s that embodiment that made her performance both a powerful critique of ideology & education, and an exciting re-reading of a beloved text.  The re-seeing, the writing making the movie permeable.  Making the world permeable to things that are in the world.

As I write this, thinking that I should watch my ur-movie, Splash. Daryl Hannah, Tom Hanks, John Candy.  Learning.  Unlearning. Gender.  “A fantastic tale about a fantastic tail.” And, and, I am singing “Wooly Bully” to myself right now.

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March at the Poetic Labor Project

We’re so pleased to announce that responses from Anne Boyer, Tyrone Williams, and Lara Durback are now up on the Poetic Labor Project’s blog. To download a pdf of all three, please click here. We’re grateful for these initial responses, which broaden the conversation around poetics and labor that was the subject of the gathering in the East Bay last Labor Day.  As part of our commitment to continuing that conversation, please stay tuned for monthly updates with new content. 

We want to open the space to as many people as would like to join – your comments and provocations are welcome. If you’ve got a more extended set of thoughts about any of the new writings, or the original presentations archived from the event, please feel free to submit those to: labday2010@gmail.com.

Thanks for your interest and solidarity!

Steve Farmer, Lauren Levin, Alli Warren, Brandon Brown

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Homage to Homage to Keyboard Cat

How to Hex a Corporation

I would like to learn how to hex a corporation.  So I’m stealing this from Jared’s personal blog.

Once released, the Curse may only be removed by rectifying the wrongful doings of the Encircled.

Lizzy told me about a wrongful doing last night. She’s in Library School / I-School.  When she’s done, she wants to work on permissions.  All the little screens and boxes I don’t read and mindlessly agree to when starting up a new gadget.

But Lizzy let me know that even if I read them I wouldn’t understand them.  There’s no requirement to make them comprehensible or written in human language.  She wants to make them written in human language and unmissable, so that we know what we’re agreeing to.  For instance, agreeing to:

1) let the app we’re downloading turn on our phone camera
2) allow the downloading app to take continuous photos of us
3) let the app beam the photos to hazy third party.

Me (emblem of naivete in this exchange):  That’s legal?

Lizzy explains that the law is from the 80s, so everything they can think of that’s newer than the 80s is legal.

Me:  How horrible, how do they use the pictures?

Lizzy explains that (almost more horribly) we don’t know if they are actually taking the pictures.  They just mentioned it.  Just in case.  So maybe they are doing it.  Maybe they are thinking about it.  Possibly WORKING ON IT?

But, if Lizzy had to guess, the photos are probably in my profile. With everywhere I go (from GPS) and with all my emails that have been read and my Google searches.

This must be part of why detail seems so distasteful to me right now.  The corporate permissions I click through without reading are illegible and fuzzy but as a consumer I provide so much detail and I am so legible.

I suppose there’s learning and subverting the tools.  Don’t know if it is naive to even think about catching up.  Hexing the corporation.

But, I’m grateful that Lizzy is in I-School, and for her school project, Homage to Keyboard Cat.  Thanks, Lizzy, for letting me feature it here:

I love taking the Internet meme Keyboard Cat and making it into a object, with material heft and song-squeezability.  Hard for me to put it into words but I want to write something here about the “sensuous qualities” of medieval maps.

And the shift in maps when cartographers started rendering the detail needed to control terrain and extract profit.

That is, I want to write that squishy Keyboard Cat, is like reverse-engineering a medieval map out of a Google map.

The medieval map stuff  sourced from David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity, which also says:

“The relative powers of working-class movements and the bourgeoisie to command space had long been an important constituent element in the power relations between them.  John Foster, in Class struggle in the industrial revolution, for example, recounts several incidents in which local mill owners found it difficult to control their work force because the local forces of law and order were prone to sympathize (if only through kinship connections) with the militants, and because it was difficult to summon external assistance with the requisite speed.

In the massive railroad strike that shook the East Coast of the United States, on the other hand, a different story was to unfold.  The railroad owners likewise found themselves facing a local militia reluctant to act.  But the telegraph not only allowed federal assistance to be summoned with great dispatch, but also facilitated the transmission of false messages to the effect that workers had returned to work in St. Louis or Baltimore, and the strike was collapsing at different points along the line.  Even though the press played an important progressive role during this incident (being rather more pro-labour then than now), the superior power to command space gave the capitalists an added advantage in what was an uneven but tense power struggle.”

Information / time / space asymmetries, you would like to prevent us from hexing a corporation.  Since, now, no distance is big enough to prevent force from being summoned from somewhere.

But, thinking that in Egypt, there wasn’t a force anywhere in the country strong enough to put down the protests. Or there was, the military, but it was “prone to sympathize”.

Maybe.  I know I’m simplifying things.  Yes I am ready to hear about my naivete.  Just wondering where I’m at.  And if we can become more prone to sympathize with ourselves.

What do you think satellites? What do you think GPS?  And you Google Sketch-Up model of Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International?  And you beloved-and-helpful- Anne-Boyer’s-blog?   And you Keyboard Cat?

From Anne Boyer’s blog:  “A total revision of the world so that it may more accurately reflect the contents of the world”

Monument to the Third International

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Cuckoo Kookoo

wren feeding cuckoo chickStephanie Young and I have been writing about Black Swan.  I sent her this photo of a wren feeding a cuckoo chick.

Sent with caption, “My sense of self lovingly nourishes its culturally imposed gender insecurities.”

The things I think of as parts of myself and what they might actually be.  When it helps me to feel like a “good person” if I have self-doubt and if I feed it.

The cuckoo chick looks so amazing with its big blank eye.  The wren’s eyebrow makes it look worried.  Going around the thinking about decoy space, gender, doubt.

Worrying as a strategy, or a psychic economy.  Reading about the impostor phenomenon where various accomplished women feel like frauds, no matter what they do.

This self-injury as a strategy – allowing the woman who feels like an impostor to keep advancing and accomplishing, without feeling too aggressive.

With aggression you’re unfeminine, denaturalized or received as such.  But the amazing thing about the cuckoo chick is how it lets you hide everything not just from them but from yourself, too.

And all by renting space to the cuckoo chick!  Well, giving, not renting.  The wren is nice.

The large body of the cuckoo chick gets fed, a contented blank off the wren’s work.  Much like the maestro in Black Swan.

Maybe the cuckoo chick is plotting its definitive re-interpretation of Swan Lake.  The wren has a lot of practicing to do.  But worrying will only get you technique.

And, this cuckoo chick is particularly good at making the wren feel like the impostor: Just by looking so bored!

If I sound sarcastic, it’s because I’ve been watching Black Swan, which is like the cuckoo of terrestrial cuckoos, with its canoe of war-surplus gondola parts.

O Oysters, come and walk with us!/The Walrus did beseech.

It would be simpler if there were a nest, with something in it, so I could say, “Get out of my head!”  Instead of a me, which is also a that.

Dan Thomas-Glass, back to the question of what runs inside or alongside ideologies?

Space and decoy space beside, alongside, inside, shot-through, honeycombed, particulate, between, next door.

cuckoo kookoo

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