Paradigms Crossed: Building and Burning Bridges in Skateboarding’s Disposable History

Ever since I first saw Wes Humpston’s Dogtown cross on the bottom of a friend’s skateboard in 6th grade, I knew the wood, the wheels, and the art were going to be a part of my world. Like Alex Steinweiss and the album cover, skateboard graphics created the look of skateboarding. There were years where the only thing one knew about a particular skateboarder was the image on the bottom of his (rarely her) board. In the pre-internet world of skateboards, there were only a few companies, fewer videos, and only a few people who controlled almost everything. If you know anything from this era, it’s probably tied in some way to Powell and Peralta’s Bones Brigade.

The Bones Brigade

Only a few professional skateboarders outside of those pictured above mattered on as large a scale during the 1980s. Arguments could easily be made for Christian Hosoi, Gator Rogowski, Mark Gonzalez, and Natas Kaupas among others (my favorites from the era are Neil Blender and Jason Jessee), but The Bones Brigade defined the times. Stacy Peralta, already a skateboarding veteran from the Zephyr Team and the Dogtown of the 1970s, handpicked an iconic group of guys. From the household name of Tony Hawk to the kooky innovations of Rodney Mullen, from the longevity of Steve Caballero to the fierce fun of Lance Mountain, The Bones Brigade is the most legendary team in skateboard history. The empire they built only crumbled when it grew too big to feel or follow the zeitgeist.

Sean Cliver's Disposable

“While other companies scrambled to reinvent themselves with fresh, young teams and a more street-oriented direction,” Sean Cliver (2004) writes, “Powell Peralta remained steadfast in sticking to its guns but floundered in exactly how to go about bridging the old and new generations–especially when it came to graphics” (p. 50). Two main people bridge the genetic fallacy of the Big Five of the 1980s to the populist era of the early 1990s: Rodney Mullen and Sean Cliver. The former invented many of the maneuvers that make up modern street skating, and the latter designed the graphics and artwork. All credit due to Steve Rocco, Craig Stecyk, Mark Gonzalez, and Marc McKee, but those guys all remained in separate and largely opposing camps. Mullen and Cliver are the only ones who worked under the Bones Brigade banner at Powell Peralta as well as the Jolly Roger at Rocco’s Word Industries (Mike Vallely notwithstanding, who was more of a pawn than a player and who didn’t seem to want any part of it).

Skateboarding pro-cum-team manager Steve Rocco was once told by a company owner that skateboarders couldn’t run companies. After getting fired as a team manager, Rocco decided to do just that. He sniped team riders, pirated images for graphics, and concentrated on a street-smart street style that immediately connected with the kids of the time. The intense intricacies of freestyle were dead and the barriers to entry for riding monolithic vert ramps were prohibitive to most. Street skating was anyone’s game. Walk out the door, jump on your board, grind a curb: you’re street skating. Focusing on that and the irreverence of youth garnered Rocco unmitigated hate from the established skateboard companies, cease-and-desist orders from copyright holders he violated, and millions of faithful followers.

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A lot of what Rocco did for skateboarding was no different from what Marcel DuChamp and, later, Andy Warhol, did for art. It’s also no different from what sampling and Napster did for music. In his book Disrupt (FT Press, 2010), Luke Williams writes, “Differentiate all you want, but figure out a way to be the only one who does what you do, or die” (p. 2). The irony in skateboarding is that the products don’t differ very much from brand to brand. The subtleties of one board, wheel, or truck are infinitesimal. A world like that needs a Kuhnian shaking-up once in a while, and a lot of the shaking Rocco did back then is still reverberating today: Most skateboard companies are run by current and ex-skateboarders, most BMX companies are run by BMXers, street is the largest genre of either sport, and, thanks in large part to Rocco’s Big Brother Magazine, Jackass is still a thing. As the founder of Foundation and Tum Yeto, Tod Swank, put it to me (2007),

…when Rocco started World Industries, what he really did was liberate skateboarding so that it could move forward. He helped a lot of people start companies, not just me. He lent money and gave advice to a lot of other skateboarders who wanted to start companies. He wanted to see the industry run by skateboarders (p. 274).

“The life of an oppositionist is supposed to be difficult,” wrote Christopher Hitchens (2001, p. 3). Conformity is its own reward, dissent is not (Sunstein, 2003), so by upending the established order, Rocco brought a lot of grief upon himself. There’s the world the way you want it to be, and there’s the way that it is. George Powell and Stacy Peralta depicted skateboarding as they wanted it to be. Steve Rocco was more of a mirror of what it was becoming. For better or worse, it’s still going and growing in that direction.

References:

Christopher, Roy (2007). Tod Swank: Foundation’s Edge. In R. Christopher (Ed.), Follow for Now: Interviews with Friends and Heroes (pp. 269-276). Seattle, WA: Well-Red Bear.

Cliver, Sean. (2004). Disposable: A History of Skateboard Art. Ontario, Canada: Concrete Wave.

Cliver, Sean. (2009). The Disposable Skateboard Bible. Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press.

Hill, Mike (Director). (2007). The Man Who Souled the World [Motion picture]. Los Angeles: Whyte House Entertainment.

Hitchens, Christopher. (2001). Letters to a Young Contrarian. New York: Basic Books.

Peralta, Stacy (Director). (2012). Bones Brigade: An Autobiography [Motion picture]. Santa Monica, CA: Nonfiction Unlimited.

Sunstein, Cass R. (2003). Why Societies Need Dissent. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Williams, Luke. (2010). Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business. Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press.

Alfred Jarry: Live Wrong

“A few decades ago, it became permissible for families to emigrate from the unincorporated areas of ‘reality’ into the science fictional zones,” reads the manual in Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (Vintage, 2010), and lately it’s been feeling more and more like we’re slipping into an adjacently possible dimension. Consider the following scenarios:

  • A man is imprisoned, accused of encouraging and enabling the digital distribution of audio and video amusements. All of his property is confiscated, his assets are frozen, and before his arrest, his house is raided by armed and jack-booted storm-troopers.
  • A man ends his own life, having been accused of distributing information he garnered from a source that didn’t care if he freely spread their knowledge.
  • A man is disgraced after winning a contest that tests athletic prowess through extreme endurance on bicycles. The competitors having been fed on-the-go with concoctions made to enhance their stamina. The winner of such a race also endures side-effects that include extreme self-absorption and hubris.

The latter of these is the premise of The Supermale, a novel set in the its own future (see Raunig, 2010), by author, poet, playwright, and cyclist, Alfred Jarry. Long one of my favorite eccentrics, his passion for cycling and pistols was matched only by his appetite for alcohol and absurdity.

Alfred Jarry portrait by Picasso

Unlike his contemporaries (e.g., Proust, Gide, Valéry, et al.), Jarry’s work hasn’t lent itself to widespread study in the same way that it has widespread influence. Among his admirers were Andre Breton, Antonin Artaud, Marcel Duchamp, and Pablo Picasso. He is most widely recognized for writing the absurdist Ubu plays and inventing the science of Pataphysics.

Simply put, Pataphysics is to metaphysics what metaphysics is to physics: It’s one level up. “Pataphysics… is the science of that which is superinduced upon metaphysics,” writes Jarry (1965), “whether within or beyond the latter’s limitations, extending as far beyond metaphysics as the latter extends beyond physics” (p. 21). He adds, “Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments” (p. 22). In what is perhaps the best example of the science applied, Dr. Faustroll, the pataphysician, even put together plans for the construction of a time machine (see Jarry, 2001, pp. 211-218). If there’s ever a scientific discovery that proves pataphysical, it’s sure to be time travel.

Inhabitants of Universe 31 are separated into two categories, protagonist and back office.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Alastair Brotchie’s Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life (MIT Press, 2011) goes a long way to explore his life and lingering influence. Its alternating chapters — odd-numbered chapters covering anecdotal tales of Jarry’s twisted times, even-numbered ones documenting his biography proper — play on one of Jarry’s favorite tropes: the mirror or double. His life was his work was his life, and as Regent of the Collége de ‘Pataphysique, Brotchie has studied both very closely. And it shows: This bulky biography is the most complete chronicle of Jarry’s life available.

This proud picture of human grandeur is unfortunately an illusion and is counterbalanced by a reality that is very different.
— C.G. Jung

Bringing together Jarry’s life-long loves of alcohol, bicycles, and sex, The Supermale is an allegory of extremes. As Bettina Knapp (1989) writes, “The bicycle, the Perpetual Motion Food Machine, the dynameter, and the Machine to Inspire Love suggest a takeover by the very instruments designed to alleviate pain and suffering and facilitate daily living,” At the center of this collusion of bodies and machines lies the 10,000-mile race, an analogue to the real race of similar lengthy proportions — and to the extremes winners will go to win. Knapp adds, “Even more dangerous, perhaps, is the fact that machines increasingly cut people off from nature in general and from their own nature, in particular” (p. 28). If this story and its lessons haven’t damn near come true recently, then I’m reading it all wrong.

References:

Brotchie, Alastair. (2011). Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Jarry, Alfred. (1965). Exploits & Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician. Cambridge, MA: Exact Change.

Jarry, Alfred. (2001). Adventures in ‘Pataphysics: Collected Works I. London: Atlas Press.

Jung, C. G., 1957/1990. The Undiscovered Self. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Knapp, Bettina L. (1989). Machine, Metaphor, and the Writer: A Jungian View. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Raunig, Gerald. (2010). A Thousand Machines: A Concise Philosophy of the Machine as Social Movement. New York: Semiotext(e).

Yu, Charles. (2010). How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. New York: Vintage.

In Medias Res: Shows About Shows

With 30 Rock coming to an abbreviated end in its seventh season, I’ve been watching and re-watching past seasons. A friend of mine once complained to me about movies and shows about making movies and shows, and I understand his frustration, but the media-making premise is solid. It has a lengthy history going all the way back to Shakespeare’s plays but also includes many classic television shows, from serious, news-room dramas like Lou Grant to silly comedies like Newsradio and WKRP in Cincinnati. The media made on these shows is only the anchor for the interaction of the characters, and as long as the characters are good, the rest is gravy. I mean, Party Down is about catering in the same way that That 70s Show is about the 1970s. Compare the latter to the short-lived That 80s Show, and you’ll immediately see what I mean. A good TV-show premise gets out of the way and lets the characters drive the narrative. Cheers isn’t bout the bar; the bar is only the setting, but there’s something special about the making of a show being the setting for another show.

'Studio 60' cast

Aaron Sorkin’s only series not continued after its first season was Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which ran on NBC for a twenty-two episode, single season in 2006 and 2007, the same season that 30 Rock debuted on the same network. In spite of Studio 60‘s win in the ratings, 30 Rock stayed on while Studio 60 wasn’t renewed. Watching the show, you can tell that it was very expensive to make. I’m only halfway through the season, but so far, I wish that they’d kept making it.

Studio 60 gave me a new respect for Matthew Perry. As writer Matt Albie, he only rarely pulls Chandleresque reactions to the situations he faces as the new head writer on the show. Little Sorkinian gems like the following exchange between Albie and Harriett Hayes (one of the stars of the show within the show and Albie’s on-and-off love interest; played by Sarah Paulson) give this show its shine:

Harriet: I got a laugh at the table read when I asked for the butter in the dinner sketch. I didn’t get it at the dress. What did I do wrong?
Matt: That’s one laugh out of thirty you’re going to get tonight.
Harriet: What did I do wrong?
Matt: You asked for the laugh.
Harriet: What did I do at the table read?
Matt: You asked for the butter.

Albie’s partner Danny Tripp (producer/director; played by the inimitable Bradley Whitford) is just so damn likable. Their struggles with standards and practices and network politics, as well as constant budget concerns, are tempered by the new head of NBS, Jordan McDeere (who is loosely based on Jamie Tarses, who was head of ABC while Sorkin’s Sports Night was on; played by Amanda Peet), who brought them back on after previous head writer Wes Mendell (their old boss; played by Judd Hirsch) melts down on air. The power dynamic is refreshing, as it is more complex than just Creatives versus Suits. The guys who run the show have someone in power on their side, and even though the hierarchy still includes the usual power struggles with higher-ups (most often with McDeere’s boss, Jack Rudolph; played by Steven Weber), it’s handled with more nuance than usual.

Power dynamics aside, equal time is given to the interactions between the writers, actors, producers, and assistants. The boardroom might determine a lot of the show’s conflicts, but live on stage is where it lives and dies (and I adore the Nicolas Cage bits). Behind these scenes is where the pressure builds.

Created by Mark Frost and David Lynch, as well as many more members of the team who brought us Twin Peaks, On the Air tells the story of the 1950s variety show, “The Lester Guy Show.” In true Lynch/Frost fashion, the pressure that builds while trying to put together a live show always blows everything sideways at air time. On the Air was only actually on the air (on ABC) for three episodes, though they filmed seven. Lester Guy (Ian Buchanan, who also played Dick Tremayne in Twin Peaks) is the washed-up yet spoiled thespian, who is immediately imposed upon by the dimwitted Betty Hudson (Marla Rubinoff), who becomes the star of his show (a situation noticeably similar to 30 Rock‘s addition of Tracy Jordan to the cast of “The Girlie Show”). Special mention must be made of Buddy Budwaller (played by Miguel Ferrer, who played Agent Albert Rosenfield in Twin Peaks) as he is the foil to the show’s fun and few play that role better than Miguel Ferrer (see also his appearance as FBI Agent Bill Steele in season 2, episode 10 of Lie to Me). Overall On the Air as tedious as it is hilarious, and you almost have to be a David Lynch fan to like it, but like most of the other shows assembled here, it pays homage to the golden age of television as only Lynch and Frost could.

All of the above shows deal with a live television broadcast, whereas Greg the Bunny‘s show within the show, “Sweetknuckle Junction,” is prerecorded. This lowers the on-screen stakes a bit, but the Greg the Bunny is about the same things as the others: the behind the scenes drama and politics of making a TV show. Page One of all of these shows includes a major change in the cast. In Studio 60 it includes a change in the writing staff as Wes Mendell (played by Judd Hirsch) loses his shit on screen about censorship and such, setting the stage for the show’s on going strife with Standards and Practices. On the Air starts with the addition of Betty to the cast (see above), while 30 Rock of course starts with the addition of Tracy Jordon (Tracy Morgan) to the cast of “The Girlie Show.” And Greg the Bunny unwittingly ends up as the new star of “Sweetknuckle Junction.” Planting big changes on Page One is screenwriting 101, and these shows illustrate exactly why: They get us in on the narrative just as the characters are dealing with those changes; we’re invested in their story right from the start.

Greg the BunnySean S. Baker, Spencer Chinoy, and Dan Milano’s Greg the Bunny has had several incarnations as a public-access show (Junktape), short film spoofs on IFC, and a more recent spin-off on MTV (Warren the Ape), but the show they did for Fox is the real gem. Pairing their great puppet characters with humans played by Seth Green, Sarah Silverman, Eugene Levy, Dina Walters, and Bob Gunton, eleven episodes made it to air in 2002 (two more unaired shows are included on the DVD). If On the Air is 30 Rock on LSD, then Greg the Bunny is just plain high. Puppets in Greg the Bunny, though second-class citizens, are citizens nonetheless (a trope the writers use to great comedic advantage). The show is fun and funny and plays on its obvious classic forebears like Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.

Similarly, Studio 60‘s references to classic TV shows, including Lou Grant from Mary Tyler Moore (“I hate spunk!”) and actually including Ed Asner in a minor role on the show (as executive Wilson White), not to mention Judd Hirsch, and 30 Rock‘s parade of guest appearances (e.g., Carrie Fisher, Jennifer Aniston, Brian Williams, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Aaron Sorkin, Fred Armisen, Michael Keaton, Andy Richter, Al Gore, et al.), including Tim Conway as almost himself, make these shows each slices of comprehensive television. That is, their allusions are not only to other similar shows but also to their genres and the television medium itself.

With that said, I get the gripe of my friend about shows about shows. His beef is really about the self-indulgence of Hollywood and their losing touch with anything outside of the studio. There are plenty of other things to talk about with all of these shows, but I find it interesting when a medium has become declassified enough to be this reflexive. To varying degrees, all of these shows let us get backstage and right in the middle of things. We already deal in meta-media with shows like Talk Soup or The Daily Show and follow actor salaries and box-office earnings as much as we do plots and characters, but when we speak fluently in a medium such as television, it opens itself up to us in a new way. Once we’ve assimilated it into our media lexicon, we can explore its inner-workings in a way that was alien to us in its newness.

Revealing Poetry: The Art of Erasure

Maybe it’s apt that I don’t remember, but I somehow came across Tom Phillips‘ “treated Victorian novel,” A Humument (Tetrad Press, 1970), nearly a decade ago at San Diego State University. Phillips took William Mallock’s A Human Document (Cassell Publishing, 1892) and obscured words on every page, leaving a few here and there to tell a new story. It’s part painting, part drawing, part collage, part poetic cut-up, and all weirdly, intriguingly unique (You can view full pages from the book at its website).

Phillips claims that he picked A Human Document because of its price-point (“no more than three pence,” he said), but Mallock’s “novel” is oddly suited for Phillips’ repurposing. The original novel is a scrapbook of sorts of journal entries, correspondence, and other ephemera left behind by two deceased lovers. Mallock wrote of these scraps in his introduction that “as they stand they are not a story in any literary sense; though they enable us, or rather force us, to construct one out of them for ourselves” (p. 8). N. Katherine Hayles (2002) characterizes this introduction as “uncannily anticipating contemporary descriptions of hypertext narrative” (p. 78).

Tom Phillips is not the only nor the first to do such a work. According to Wikipedia,

Several contemporary writer/artists have used this form to good effect. Doris Cross appears to have been among the earliest to utilize this technique, beginning in 1965 with her “Dictionary Columns” book art. d.a. levy also worked in this mode at about the same time. Ronald Johnson’s Radi Os is a long poem deconstructed from the text of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Tom Phillips’ A Humument is a major work of book art and found poetry deconstructed from a Victorian novel. Similarly, Jesse Glass’ Mans Wows (1981), is a series of poems and performance pieces mined from John George Hohman’s book of charms and healings Pow Wows, or The Long Lost Friend. Jen Bervin’s Nets is an erasure of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Janet Holmes’s The ms of my kin (2009) erases the poems of Emily Dickinson written in 1861-62, the first few years of the Civil War, to discuss the more contemporary Iraq War.

@shaviro At St Marks bookstore. Realized that I no longer fetishize books as objects in the slightest (which I used to do). Prefer etexts now. (Tweeted August 24th, 2012)

The move to digital texts, which is gaining more and more zeal by the day, has put the not only the fetishization of books as objects in jeopardy but also seemingly the want or need for them at all. It’s not that repurposed books are a last-gasp marketing ploy by the publishing industry—like pretty CD packages with bonus DVDs or 3D movies are—but that there is a reason to fetishize them. As Jonathan Safran Foer (see below) put it, “When a book remembers, we remember. It reminds you that you have a body. So many of the things we may think of as burdensome are actually the things that make us more human.”

Books are only metaphors of the body. — Michel de Certeau

With that said, Austin Kleon stole like an artist and created a best-seller using only markers and copies of The New York Times. His Newspaper Blackout (Harper Perennial, 2010) takes Tom Phillips’ methodology to its basic tenet: poetry as erasure.

“How to Learn About Girls” from Newspaper Blackout.

Taking a step up instead of down, Jonathan Safran Foer opted for literal subtraction, creating a textual sculpture. Foer treated his favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz (Penguin, 1963), by cutting out words, creating Tree of Codes (Visual Editions, 2010).

The book as conceptual art: Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes.

Giving due credit to his forebears, Foer told The New York Times, “It was hardly an original idea: it’s a technique that has, in different ways, been practiced for as long as there has been writing — perhaps most brilliantly by Tom Phillips in his magnum opus, A Humument. But I was more interested in subtracting than adding, and also in creating a book with a three-dimensional life. On the brink of the end of paper, I was attracted to the idea of a book that can’t forget it has a body.” Foer also acknowledges the project’s constraints as well as the power of his source material, adding,

Working on this book was extraordinarily difficult. Unlike novel writing, which is the quintessence of freedom, here I had my hands tightly bound. Of course 100 people would have come up with 100 different books using this same process of carving, but every choice I made was dependent on a choice Schulz had made. On top of which, so many of Schulz’s sentences feel elemental, unbreakdownable. And his writing is so unbelievably good, so much better than anything that could conceivably be done with it, that my first instinct was always to leave it alone.

For about a year I also had a printed manuscript of The Street of Crocodiles with me, along with a highlighter and a red pen. The story of Tree of Codes is continuous across pages, but I approached the project one page at a time: looking for promising words or phrases (they’re all promising), trying to involve and connect what had become my characters. My first several drafts read more like concrete poetry, and I hated them.

As opposed to the anyone-can-do-it tack of Kleon, Foer took the tools and text at hand and made something truly new. Like A Humument before it, Tree of Codes is a unique object worthy of thoughtful consideration. As DJ Scratch once said, “The reason we respect something as an art is because it’s hard as fuck to do.” Taking elements of others’ work and making it your own is one thing. Taking the whole damn thing and completely transforming it into something else is art.

——–

Here’s the making-of video for Tree of Codes [runtime: 3:34]:

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References:

de Certeau, Michel. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. (2010). Tree of Codes. London: Visual Editions.

Hayles, N. Katherine. (2002). Writing Machines. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Heller, Steven. (2010, November 24). “Jonathan Safran Foer’s Book as Art Object.” The New York Times.

Kleon, Austin. (2010). Newspaper Blackout. New York: Harper Perennial.

Mallock, William. (1892). A Human Document. New York: Cassell Publishing.

Phillips, Tom. (1970). A Humument. London: Tetrad Press.

Wagner, Heather. (2010, November 10). “Jonathan Safran Foer Talks Tree of Codes and Conceptual Art”. VF Daily.

Concept-Oriented Discography: Literary Post-Metal

Though the concept album has a history dating back to the 1940s, prog rock acts like Pink Floyd, Yes, and Rush are probably the first bands to come to mind. Just doing an album-length story connotes prog leanings, recall The Mars Volta‘s De-Loused in the Comatorium (GSL, 2003) and Francis the Mute (GSL, 2005). Metal picked up the concept mantle in a big way. Devilish icons like King Diamond wouldn’t have records if it weren’t for album-long narratives. The same can be said for Coheed and Cambria with their multi-album and comic-book epic The Armory Wars, Voivod with their career-spanning, post-apocalyptic visions, and Mastodon‘s Melville-driven Leviathan (Relapse, 2004). Drummer Brann Dailor explains the literary influence on that record in a 2004 interview, saying that the summer before, he was reading Moby Dick

We were in London in fact, and I kinda just spouted off why we should choose Moby Dick as a guideline of what to write about and what to go for. I was looking up all these passages and reading them to the guys and saying: look, they call Moby Dick the sea-salt mastodon, you know, it’s all in here. There are so many different images we can borrow from whaling and just the whole thing as a complete package.

As bizarre as it might seem for a metal band to be influenced by classic literature, it makes sense when you look at the histrionics of metal in the first place. It’s all a kind of theatre. The stories are endemic to the genre. “[W]e just chose Moby Dick ’cause we’re all really interested in any kind of folklore,” Dailor continues, “We’re totally into Sasquatch and The Yeti and The Loch Ness Monster and all that stuff, you know? We’re into that kind of subject matter.” Folklore is metal’s secret lifeblood. Slayer, Ghost, Bathory, and many others mine the story of Elizabeth Bathory for themes, Maine’s Falls of Rauros lifted their name from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and Light Bearer‘s four-part saga, Æsahættr Tetralogy, is influenced by Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trology (Everyman’s Library, 2011) and John Milton’s Paradise Lost (Samuel Simmons, 1667), among other texts.

The now-defunct Fall of Efrafa took their name from Richard Adams’ Watership Down (Rex Collings, 1972). Their Warren of Snares trilogy (Halo of Flies, 2010) is an elaborate artistic, musical, and literary artifact based on the mythology in Adams’ novel. Watership Down is an allegory in which the endeavors of a group of rabbits — Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and Silver, “mirror the timeless struggles between tyranny and freedom, reason and blind emotion, and the individual and the corporate state” (Magill, 1991). Fall of Efrafa extended this allegory to rail against all forms of oppression. Vocalist and artist Alex CF described it like this:

From the point of view of the metaphorical tale behind the band; the story is about desperation, as the ‘Efrafa’ encroach more and more upon the earth, what is left for those who share this space with us? The story is a war of will, not only to stand your ground, but also not to give in to the crutch of misguided belief. From the point of view of us as a band it has a lot to do with our lives outside this; what we cherish and think about, what we read…

The Warren of Snares box-set comes with the trilogy on six LPs, a book, posters, and a silk-screened tote bag, among other paraphernalia. With delicately dark art work by Alex CF (who now serves vocal and art duties in Light Bearer and Momentum), the box is an artifact worthy of time-honored capsuling.

In another extended package, Swedish post-metal band Cult of Luna’s Eviga Riket tells the story behind their 2008 record Eternal Kingdom (Earache). During rehearsals for that record, which were conducted in an abandoned mental institution, the band happened upon the journals of former inhabitant Holgar Nilsson. The songs on Eternal Kingdom are based on Nilsson’s journals, which chronicle his torment by an owl demon (the Näcken), his drowning his pregnant wife at its command (leading to his institutionalization), and his demise in the ongoing battle between the herbivores and carnivores, the humans and other “malformed fauna.” Drawn from Nilsson’s journals (titled “Tales from the Eternal Kingdom”), Eviga Riket tells his story in full, in both English and Swedish, hauntingly illustrated by Joris Vanpoucke. The hardbound book also includes an audio version on DVD read by Anna Guthrie accompanyed by Vanpoucke’s visuals and new music by the band.

Cult of Luna also released a live DVD of a 2008 performance of these songs in Scala, London (Fire Was Born; Earache, 2009). With the self-funded and released Eviga Riket finishing the story at last, they’re planning to move on to new material.

In our day of downloading disposable sounds and music perceived as free window-dressing, it is heartening to see bands take the longview — without automatically looking backward.

————-

Fluff Fest: Here’s Fall of Efrafa performing “No Longer Human” from Owsla (2006), part one of The Warren of Snares trilogy during their last tour in 2009 [runtime: 7:29]:

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References:

Deaf Sparrow. Fall of Efrafa: Representing the End of All Forms of Oppression; Religious Political & Emotional.

Magill, Frank N. (Ed.). (1991). Watership Down. Masterplots II: Juvenile and Young Adult Fiction Series. Ipswich, MA: Salem Press, Inc.

Schwartz, Paul. (2004, August 31). Where Swims the Leviathan? Chronicles of Chaos.

Digging in the Gates: The Digital Socratic Shift

If bricolage is the major creative form of the twenty-fist century, then the archive is its standing reserves. Socrates famously worried about the stability of our memories as we moved from an oral to a written culture, and his concerns have been echoed in the move to digital archives. The pedigree of this technological Socratic shift is deep. When Thomas Edison first recorded the human voice onto a tin foil roll on December 6, 1877, he externalized and disembodied a piece of humanity. Jonathan Sterne writes that “media are forever setting free little parts of the human body, mind, and soul” (p. 289). By the time Edison patented the phonograph in 1878, the public was familiar and comfortable with the idea of preserved foods. As a cultural practice, “canned music” in John Philip Sousa’s phrase, was ripe for mass consumption. Envisioning a world without such “canned” media is difficult to do now. We preserve everything. The problem is not so much the authenticity of our entertainment and information, but how to parse the sheer expanse of it. Andreas Huyssen (2003) mused, “Could it be that the surfeit of memory in this media-saturated culture creates such an overload that the memory system itself is in constant danger of imploding, thus triggering fear of forgetting?” (p. 17).

Condense fact from the vapor of nuance.
— Juanita Marquez in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash

Alongside library science and other information archiving skills, forensics is a contemporary growth field. If we are to use our media as a sort of technological “Funes the Memorious,” what do we do when technological change outpaces its retrieval compatibility? You likely have (or have had) mass storage containers (e.g., cassettes, VHS tapes, floppy discs, etc.) that lack a device capable of reading them, ghosts of information past trapped in a black box forever. We’re all archivists whether we notice or admit it, but the gates to our archives have expiration dates. A recent trip to UT’s Harry Ransom Center revealed stacks of media unreadable by any technology on-site. William Gibson‘s electronic work Agrippa: Book of the Dead plays on this very trope of archival decay. The piece, set for a one-time reading, consists of a 300-line poem on a 3.5″ disc encased in a box made to look like a hard drive, is set to scroll once through and erase itself forever, a textual spectre set free from the archive after its single haunting episode. The pages of the included book version were treated with photosensitive chemicals which fade with exposure to light.

According to Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (The MIT Press, 2008; now available in paperback), There was one public performance of Agrippa. On December 9, 1992, at the Americas Society in uptown New York City, Penn Jillette read the poem aloud, which was projected on a big screen, exacerbating its scroll into oblivion. The event is fraught with rumor and lie, as the full text of the intentionally ephemeral Agrippa was posted online the next morning. The conditions of its hacking are detailed in full in Kirschenbaum’s book, and a collection of documents surrounding the work is available online. Another interesting artifact sprung from this event: Re:Agrippa, a choppy remix of videotaped footage from the single Agrippa public event, test patterns, and haunting voiceovers kludged together by the NYU students who “hacked” Agrippa‘s text for online consumption [runtime: 5:44]:

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Our archive fever needs feeding. With its flickering signifiers and configurable nature, we consider the things on the screen temporary. But, as Kirschenbaum notes, in lieu of hard drives and other external devices (the main concern of his book), the visual display of the computer was originally considered a storage device. Now, crashed drives and outmoded media hide their secrets from everyone except those closest to the machine. Forensic scientists, not unlike those seen on that other screen, are more important than ever to our unstable memories. They can condense fact from the vapor of hidden nuance and open the gates to the archival entrails of dead media.

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It should be noted that my conception of the archive and the haunting thereof owes a large debt to the teachings of Josh Gunn. Oh, there’s some unacknowledged Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, Dick Hebdige, Bruce Sterling, and Kate Hayles in there as well.

References:

Borges, Jorge Luis. (1964). Funes the Memorious. In Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings. New York: New Directions.

Huyssen, Andreas. (2003). Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. (2008). Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Stephenson, Neal. (1993). Snow Crash. New York: Spectra.

Sterne, J. (2003). The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Fear of a Black Metal: Cyclonopedia and Evil

Borrowing everything from the Scandinavians except the panda paint, America Black Metal bands blend the core aesthetic with other subgenres to great effect. Over the past few years, it has become my favorite accompanying sound for almost any activity. Its energy, its all-encompassing crests and crumbles, its sheer power moves me in ways no other genre has in many years. And I am not alone: The darkness of this stuff touches something in us, something buried deep in our beings, in our nature.

We cannot understand and fight evil as long as we consider it to be an abstract concept external to ourselves.
— Lars Svendsen, A Philosophy of Evil, p. 231

Among the best of this mix of subgenres (e.g., Seidr, Panopticon, Deafheaven, Liturgy, Krallice, Falls of Rauros, et al.), the undisputed masters stateside are Wolves in the Throne Room. Their Cascadian Black Metal is as majestic as it is monolithic, mixing the forest and the trees, their epic songs can be as dense as they are sparse. In a 2006 interview, they explain the draw of Black Metal:

True Norwegian Black Metal is completely unbalanced – that is why it is so compelling and powerful. It is the sound of utter torment, believing to one’s core that winter is eternal. Black Metal is about destruction, destroying humanity; destroying ones own self in an orgy of self loathing and hopelessness. I believe one must focus on this image of eternal winter in order to understand Black Metal for it is a crucial metaphor that reveals our sadness and woe as a race. In our hubris, we have rejected the earth and the wisdom of countless generations for the baubles of modernity. In return, we have been left stranded and bereft in this spiritually freezing hell.

To us, the driving impulse of Black Metal is more about deep ecology than anything else and can best be understood through the application of eco-psychology. Why are we sad and miserable? Because our modern culture has failed – we are all failures. The world around us has failed to sustain our humanity, our spirituality. The deep woe inside black metal is about fear – that we can never return to the mythic, pastoral world that we crave on a deep subconscious level. Black Metal is also about self loathing, for modernity has transformed us, our minds, bodies and spirit, into an alien life form; one not suited to life on earth without the mediating forces of technology, culture and organized religion. We are weak and pitiful in our strength over the earth – in conquering, we have destroyed ourselves. Black Metal expresses disgust with humanity and revels in the misery that one finds when the falseness of our lives is revealed (quoted in Smith, 2006).

The urge to return to our roots is a prevailing ethos in Black Metal of all paints. In Norway, it’s about returning to the Norse traditions that predate the Christian and Western influences on the culture there. For Wolves in the Throne Room, it’s about a return to nature. “Our music is balanced in that we temper the blind rage of Black Metal with the transcendent truths of the universe that reveal themselves with age and experience,” they continue. “Our relationship with the natural world is a healing force in our lives” (quoted in Smith, 2006). Drummer and one half of the brothers that make up the core of Wolves in the Throne Room, Aaron Weaver was taken by Black Metal upon first hearing it. “… it’s more about creating a trance effect. It’s really got more in common with shamanic drumming and with noise music. It’s not heavy metal, it’s not riffs, it’s not head-banging music at all… It’s meditative music. Most heavy metal is very extroverted. It’s about putting on a big show and head banging and drinking a beer with your buddies. Black metal is the exact opposite. It’s all about gazing inwards and trying to discover things about yourself” (quoted in Moyer, p. 42). Having seen these guys live last year, I can truly say that their music is introspective to the point of turning one inside out.

Weaver discusses the connections between Black metal and the radical Northwestern culture he and his brother are immersed in, both of which are about “critiquing civilization, yearning for a more ancient sense of the world, a connection with tradition and nature that we’ve perhaps lost as modern people.” That’s not the whole of it, of course, he adds, “Then the darker side of it as well exists in both worlds. In both the Black Metal world and the ecological punk world, a hatred of humanity and a strong sense of misanthropy as we look around and see what humanity has wrought” (Moyer, p. 42).

We are going back to the future and forward to the past, engaging all of history’s villains and saints in quick time… Ancient ethnic sores are belching fire while transnational companies linked by satellites conduct their business oblivious to the fuedal past below. — Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, Spiral Dynamics, p. 18.

Aside from Lords of Chaos (feral house, 2003) and the documentary Until the Light Takes Us (2009), Hideous Gnosis (CreateSpace, 2010) is the most in-depth exploration of what Black Metal’s not-so-joyous noise might mean to fans and to theorists of same. Though it’s a compilation of essays, documents, and thoughts from a symposium by the same name, which took place on December 12, 2009 in Brooklyn, New York, the book stands alone well as a collection of academic work on the subject. Edited by Nicola Masciandaro, it brings together pieces by Steven Shakespeare, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (of Liturgy), Eugene Thacker, Reza Negarestani, and Evan Calder Williams, among many others, as well as naysayers and haters from the blog’s comments section, “to bask in the speculative glory of the problematic,” as Reza Negarestani puts it (quoted in Masciandaro, p. 267). Whenever academics or nerds turn their attention to something so sacredly held as Black Metal, its fans are likely to be wary. But if you, like me, enjoy immersing yourself in as many aspects as possible of the things you love, this collection is a welcome addition to Blackened Theory, the literature, music, thought, and culture that is Black Metal — and the internal, eternal evil that drives it.

@1jamiebell: What’s the speed of dark? (Tweeted March 22, 2012)

Another symposium collection, Leper Creativity: Cyclonopedia Symposium (punctum books, 2011) brings together scholars to discuss Reza Negarestani’s world-warping book Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials (re.press, 2008). Not since Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (Pantheon, 2000) have I been so simultaneously intrigued and scared of a book. It is a return to the “hidden prehistory” (as Steven Shaviro describes it) of the dark global forces of the twenty-first century. It is at once philosophical fiction, nomad archeology, Middle Eastern occult study, object-oriented ontology, and straight-up horror, all centered on Western civilization’s lust for oil, the darkest of matters. Leper Creativity sets out to excavate this work’s dark secrets. Their own introductory language reads as follows:

Essays, articles, artworks, and documents taken from and inspired by the symposium on Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials, which took place on 11 March 2011 at The New School. Hailed by novelists, philosophers, artists, cinematographers, and designers, Cyclonopedia is a key work in the emerging domains of speculative realism and theory-fiction. The text has attracted a wide-ranging and interdisciplinary audience, provoking vital debate around the relationship between philosophy, geopolitics, geophysics, and art. At once a work of speculative theology, a political samizdat, and a philosophic grimoire, Cyclonopedia is a Deleuzo-Lovecraftian middle-eastern Odyssey populated by archeologists, jihadis, oil smugglers, Delta Force officers, heresiarchs, and the corpses of ancient gods. Playing out the book’s own theory of creativity – “a confusion in which no straight line can be traced or drawn between creator and created – original inauthenticity” – this multidimensional collection both faithfully interprets the text and realizes it as a loving, perforated host of fresh heresies. The volume includes an incisive contribution from the author explicating a key figure of the novel: the cyclone.

More than worthy of a symposium as such, Cyclonopedia bridges and problematizes the divide between modern, global politics and the dark forces of ancient humanity. Claudia Card (2002) wrote, “The denial of evil has become an important strand of twentieth-century secular Western culture” (p. 28). To deny evil is to deny ourselves, to deny a part of our positive nature. Cyclonopedia digs deep into both sides. It is a triumph in both form and content. We’re dropped into the first hole in the plot as a young American woman arrives at a hotel in Istanbul to meet an online acquaintance with an unpronounceable name who never actually shows up. She finds a manuscript in her hotel room and begins culling its clues leaving her to wonder if her friend from afar was real at all (as Johnny did Zumpano in House of Leaves). “Meanwhile, as the War on Terror escalates,” the jacket copy explains, “the U. S. is dragged into an asymmetrical engagement with occultures whose principles are ancient, obscure, and saturated in oil. It is as if war itself is feeding upon the warmachines, leveling cities into the desert, seducing the aggressors into the dark heart of oil.” As Howard Bloom (1995) explains, “Behind the writhing of evil is a competition between organizational devices, each trying to harness the universe to its own particular pattern, each attempting to hoist the cosmos one step higher on a ladder of increasing complexity” (p. 325). The Middle East is sentient, alive, proclaims the embedded manuscript’s author Dr. Hamid Parsani, dark forces its lifeblood, its story the evil of all of history — human and nonhuman.

“Evil is a by-product, a component, of creation” Bloom (1995, p. 2) writes matter-of-factly. To understand its legion forces, we have to look extensively at the edges between nefarious, non-human history, as well as the insidious inside ourselves. It is in this way that the draw of Black Metal and the study of its ethos is something we cannot afford to ignore.

—————–

Leper Creativity: Cyclonopedia Symposium is available as a free download from punctum books. Many thanks to Kenyatta Cheese who emailed me about Cyclonopedia almost two years ago. Sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake.

References:

Beck, Don, & Cowan, Christopher. (1996). Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bloom, Howard. (1995). The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

Card, Claudia. (2002). The Atrocity Paradigm: A Theory of Evil. New York: Oxford University Press.

Masciandro, Nicola. (ed.) (2010). Hideous Gnosis: Black Metal Symposium 1. New York: CreateSpace.

Moyer, Matthew. (2011, Winter). Wolves in the Throne Room: From Mount Olympia. Ghetto Blaster, 30, 40-42.

Negarestani, Reza. (2008). Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials. New York: re.press.

Smith, Bradley. (2006). Interview with Wolves in the Throne Room. Nocturnal Cult.

Keller, Ed, Nicola Masciandaro, Nicola, & Thacker, Eugene. (eds.). (2011). Leper Creativity: Cyclonopedia Symposium. New York: punctum books.

Svendsen, Lars. (2010). A Philosophy of Evil. Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive.

The Deleuzian Delusion

Michel Foucault once said that the twentieth century might eventually be considered Deleuzian, and he still may end up being right.  Gilles Deleuze, and his frequent cowriter, Félix Guattari, wrote some unignorable books in the late decades of last century, the two volumes Anti-Oedipus (University of Minnesota Press, 1983) and A Thousand Plateaus (University of Minnesota Press, 1987) being the two most prominent in either’s canon. Each has an extensive body of work in his own right, but Deleuze casts a large shadow over his friend and colleague. Such a shadow in fact, that it prompted Ian Bogost to Tweet the following on March 3rd, 2012:

@ibogost: Earnest, snark-free question: how did Deleuze get so popular? What is it about Deleuze that is so appealing to so many?

Assemblages, rhizomes, bodies-without-organs, repetition, difference… I can’t claim to have an answer to Bogost’s question, as I can’t claim to understand much of the Deleuze that I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot of it, and a lot of it more than twice). I do know that a lot of it is difficult simply by dint of the contrarian angle on subjectivity: These books challenge the fundamental way(s) most of us tend to feel that being in the world works. Holland (1999) opens his book with the obvious: “The Anti-Oedipus is not easy to read” (p. 1). About writing it with his coauthor, Deleuze said, “Between Félix and his diagrams and me with my verbal concepts, we wanted to work together, but we didn’t know how” (2006, p. 238). And about A Thousand Plateaus, he mused, “Now we didn’t think for a minute of writing a madman’s book, but we did write a book in which you no longer know, or need to know, who is speaking…” (quoted in Nadaud, 2006, p. 19). On page 22 of the latter, they even write it out, in black and white: “We are writing this book as a rhizome. It is compose of plateaus. We have given it a circular form, but only for laughs.” How is one to make sense of bastard philosophy such as this?

I once asked my friend and mentor Steven Shaviro what path to take as I embarked upon the plateaus alone for the first time. He suggested using Claire Parnet’s Dialogues (Columbia University Press, 1987) as a sort of crib notes to the two major volumes mentioned above. Dialogues was compiled between the writing of Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus. Deleuze talked about the book’s in-betweenness (i.e., its being between both the two books and the three authors), writing that what mattered was “the collection of bifurcating, divergent, and muddled lines which constituted this book as a multiplicity and which passed between the points, carrying them along without going from one to the other” (Deleuze & Parnet, 1987, p. ix). And so it goes. My Deleuzian delusion is that I’ll ever get a handle on this stuff.

Somewhat thankfully, there is now Gilles Deleuze: From A to Z (Semiotext(e), 2012), a three-DVD set of those liminal lines between Deleuze and Parnet. Covering topics alphabetically, from A for “Animal” to Z for “Zigzag,” it’s a rare and interesting look at the man and his letters. Unlike the film Derrida (Jane Doe Films, 2002) on Jacques Derrida, of course, this is not really a documentary. Parnet, a former student of Deleuze’s, knew him well, and director Pierre-André Boutang likens Deleuze and Parnet to a Jazz duo, playing off of each other in an improvisation of concepts and cons, using the alphabet as a grounding framework. “Deleuze had taken into account the fact that each reel lasted ten minutes,” Boutang (2004) wrote, “which produced a rhythm. And the charm of 16mm film is that the sound reel lasts longer than the image. With some people, you cut once the image stops. You don’t feel like doing that with Deleuze” (p. 7). During the discussion about culture (C is for Culture), Deleuze says, “Talking is dirty. Writing is clean.” If you snuggle in to watch this DVD, get ready for four hours of dirty, dirty talking.

Many others have tried to make sense of Deleuze in book form, with various tropes and varying degrees of success. The most recent being Gregory Flaxman. Flaxman is not new to Deleuze: His previous book was The Brain is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema (University of Minnesota Press, 2000). His latest, Gilles Deleuze and the Fabulation of Philosophy: Powers of the False, Volume 1 (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), uses the idea of friendship as an initial condition from which to reexamine Deleuze’s philosophy. Covering everything from Deleuze’s apprenticeship with Friedrich Nietzsche to his vow to overthrow Plato, Flaxman reintroduces aesthetics to Deleuzian studies, showing how Deleuze situated fiction in the center of a minor philosophy. He writes, “Deleuze declares no abiding loyalties: not only does he mingle with countless philosophers, but he flirts with just as many writers, filmmakers, and artists” (p. 181). This nomadic “promiscuity” is one more reason that the well of Deleuze’s ideas isn’t likely to run dry any time soon, and Flaxman’s is a deep and welcome reconsideration. Moreover, his focus on friendship is intriguing. Stivale (1998) wrote, “This rapport of friendship lies, I believe, at the very core of these authors’ collaborative engagement…” (p. ix). Nietzsche freed Deleuze from the arid areas of academe, and Deleuze focused Guattari without truncating his thoughts too much (which, if you’ve read any Guattari without Deleuze, you know they needed a trim here and there; though Deleuze might not agree with my assessment: He speaks highly and fondly of Guattari in A to Z [L for Loyalty]).

Speaking of friendship, if you’d like a more personal — and historical — look at Deleuze and his main co-conspirator, there’s François Dosse’s Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari: Intersecting Lives (Columbia University Press, 2010), which, appropriately enough, is 651 pages long. The duo met shortly after the revolts of May, 1968 (to which Anti-Oedipus is largely a reaction: “Initially it was less a question of pooling knowledge than the accumulation of our uncertainties,” Guattari said in Chaosophy [2009, p. 69]). Guattari had just been passed over as Lacan’s successor, which sent him into a deep depression tempered only by throes of mania. With a milder manner and more comfort within his confines, Deleuze was the calm of their storm, a storm that still surges through classes and discussions in philosophy, postmodernism, post-structuralism, cultural studies, film studies, net criticism, and so on. So, what was their beef with Marx, Freud, Plato, and every other thinker (save Nietzsche and Foucault, of course) that preceded them? It’s all here. Dosse’s book is the definitive story of these two major collaborators, thinkers, writers, jokesters, and, perhaps above all, friends.

Desire is under it all, according to the iconoclastic French duo. The capitalism machine creates layers and layers of desires and subsequently splits selves into schizophrenia (hence the subtitle of both volumes of their two-volume work: Capitalism and Schizophrenia). William Carlos Williams (1923) once wrote, “The pure products of America go crazy.” That’s not exactly what they meant, but maybe that’s why Deleuze, along with Guattari, have such a hold on the academy’s mass mind: Our spirits are all spiraling apart in so many separate ways, just as they said they would all those years ago. But maybe, as they were, we can still be friends.

References:

Boutang, Pierre-André. (2004, February). Everything About Gilles Deleuze and Nothing About Gilles Deleuze. RevueVertigo, no. 25.

Boutang, Pierre-André (Director). (2012). Gilles Deleuze: A to Z, with Claire Parnet [DVD]. United States: Semiotext(e).

Deleuze, Gilles. (2006). Letter to Uno: How We Worked Together. In Two Regimes of Madness. New York: Semiotext(e).

Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix. (1983). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, Gilles & Parnet, Claire. (1987). Dialogues. New York: Columbia University Press.

Foucault, Michel. (1995). [front cover copy]. In Gilles Deleuze Negotiations. New York: Columbia University Press.

Guattari, Félix. (2009). Chaosophy: Texts and Interviews 1972-1977. New York: Semiotext(e).

Holland, Eugene W. (1999). Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Introduction to Schizoanalysis. New York: Routledge.

Massumi, Brian. (1992). A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Nadaud, Stéphane. (2006). Love Story between an Orchid and a Wasp. In Guattari, Félix, The Ani-Oedipus Papers. New York: Semiotext(e), p. 11-22.

Stivale, Charles J. (1998). The Two-Fold Thought of Deleuze and Guattari: Intersections and Animations. New York: Guilford.

Williams, William Carlos. (1923). Spring and All.

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I am indebted to Steven Shaviro, Katie Arens, and Ken Wark for what little I understand about the subject(s) at hand.

Mise-en-Zine: Adolescent Anthologies

Zines, well, mostly skateboard and BMX zines, defined my formative years. They were our network of news, stories, interviews, events, art, and pictures. It’s very difficult to describe how an outmoded phenomena like that worked once such epochal technological change, one that uproots and supplants its cultural practices, has occurred. FREESTYLIN’s reunion book, Generation F (Endo Publishing, 2008), has a chapter called “The Xerox was Our X-Box,” and that title gets at the import of these things. As I said in that very chapter, “Making a zine was always having something to send someone that showed them what you could do, what you were up to, and what you were into. Ours was the pre-web BMX network” (p. 116, 122). All nostalgia aside, zines are making a comeback, albeit in book-form. Anthologies of old, DIY photocopied publications are making their way through the labyrinth of quasi-traditional publishing.

The true gems of skateboarding zines include Andy JenkinsBend, Tod Swank‘s Swank Zine, Joe Polevy’s Rise Above, Rodger BridgesDancing Skeleton, Grim Ripper, and Power House, and Garry Scott Davis’s Skate Fate, the latter of which has just been collected into a fierce 320-page book, Skate Fate: The Best of Skate Fate: 1981-1991 (Blurb, 2011). In one of my own zines a while back, Rodger Bridges said of Garry Scott Davis,

GSD changed my life. He taught me design. Post-zine design. Pre-computer design. He made me perform leading on long-ass articles by hand, and checked my accuracy by pica. The progenitor of skeleton-less moves that changed skateboarding, skate zine and grunge typography/design. Way before what’s-his-name. In my book at least. And it don’t stop. He don’t stop. I’ve received multiple packages in multiple mailboxes due to multiple relocations over the years since our physical paths diverged. All of them filled with evidence of his creative continuum. CARE packages stocked with vinyl and plastic from his band CUSTOM FLOOR, back issues of Arcane Candy, and thick-ass zines chronicling life, Stingray obsession, and ongoing brilliant collaborations. My Skate Fate collection has survived hurricanes and flooded garages, sacredly stored in boxes and solidly kept dead-center. I can remember how it sounded when I shot Garry from deep within Mt. Baldy Pipeline — 10 o’clock or so at 4 p.m. some Friday (probably) approaching two decades in the rear-view and dead set on forward momentum.

A little closer to home, Greg Siegfried’s zine Need No Problem was a mainstay of our quaint, little Southeast Alabama skate scene. Hailing from Ozark, Greg was the first of us to skate and is still going strong. Need No Problem chronicled the comings and goings of ramps and spots and those who rode them not only in Ozark, but all over the Southeast.

Inspired by GSD’s The Best of Skate Fate book, Greg recently compiled all of the issues of Need No Problem into one volume. Like all of these collections, it’s a compilation of snapshots from an era that has long passed, the current incarnations of same having moved online years ago.

I have toyed with the idea of compiling my zines into a single volume, but alas having not been as diligent as Rodger Bridges, I am missing many issues. Mike Daily is putting together an Aggro Rag collection, which will totally rule… Anyway, I cannot overstate the importance of the experience of trading and making zines. As I said in Generation F, “Those first issues were the first steps on a path I still follow” (p. 117). Still true.

The Written World: William Gibson’s Bohemia

I’ve been weathering the wilds of William Gibson quite a bit lately. I’ve been reading several books by and about him and his work for months now. Having just finished the Bigend trilogy —  Pattern Recognition (2003), Spook Country (2007), and Zero History (2010) — and finally chewing through Distrust That Particular Flavor (2012), I am engrossed in the greys of the Gibsonian. But, even if you’re not obsessed with his work, you’re immersed in his world. As novelist Luke Monroe put it to Gibson on Twitter recently, “of all the speculative fiction authors, why did you have to get it right? I love your work, but now we are living it.”

William Gibson at Powell's Books in Portland (photo by Dave Allen)

His pre-cog abilities, the ones he used to predict and project the personal computer’s connectivity and utter ubiquity, make the writing in his most recent, present-tense trilogy so completely dead-on. Why does the world now look more like a William Gibson novel than one by Arthur C. Clarke? Gibson’s friend and cyberpunk peer Bruce Sterling explains:

Because he was looking at things that Clarke wasn’t looking at. Clarke was spending all his time with Wernher von Braun, and Gibson was spending all his time listening to Velvet Underground albums and haunting junk stores in Vancouver. And, you know, it’s just a question of you are what you eat. And the guy had a different diet than science fiction writers that preceded him (quoted in Miller, 2007, p. 344).

Even as some wish he would return to the future and others marvel at his prescience in the present, Gibson’s journey to this particular now hasn’t been a direct path. Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture (University of Chicago Press, 2006) helps map the minutia.

Turner’s book traces the path of Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly, Howard Rheingold, and the rest of the Whole Earth Network from the actual commune to the virtual community, showing how their offbeat past informed our online present. Turner writes that they “imagined themselves as part of a massive, geographically distributed, generational experiment. The world was their laboratory; in it they could play both scientist and subject, exploring their minds and their bodies, their relationships to one another, and the nature of politics, commerce, community, and the state. Small-scale technologies would serve them in this work. Stereo gear, slide projectors, strobe lights, and, of course, LSD all had the power to transform the mind-set of an individual and to link him or her through invisible ‘vibes’ to others” (p. 240). Gibson dropped out and tuned in as well, but once he and the other cyberpunks moved on to trying to envision the 21st century, many of their like-minded, counterculture contemporaries were trying to build it. As Gibson told Wired in 1995, “I think bohemians are the subconscious of industrial society. Bohemians are like industrial society, dreaming.”

Gibson continues:

Punk was the last viable bohemia that we’ve seen, perhaps the last bohemian movement of all time. I’m afraid that bohemians will eventually come to be seen as a byproduct of the industrial civilization; and if we’re in fact at the end of industrial civilization, there may be no more bohemians. That’s scary. It’s possible that commercialization has become so sophisticated that it’s no longer possible to do that bohemian thing.

I put this question to Malcolm Gladwell years ago, the question of youth culture’s commodification, and he responded, “Teens are so naturally and beautifully social and so curious and inventive and independent that I don’t think even the most pervasive marketing culture on earth could ever co-opt them.” Gibson is not so optimistic, or he wasn’t in 1995. Here he talks about the grunge thing, which by that time had had a very public and much-debated commercial co-opting:

Look what they did to those poor kids in Seattle! It took our culture literally three weeks to go from a bunch of kids playing in a basement club to the thing that’s on the Paris runways. At least, with punk, it took a year and a half. And I’m sad to see the phenomenon disappear.

Perhaps this says more about where Gibson’s head was at the time than it does about the creativity of the youth. After all, we’ve seen plenty of cool things happen in the last seventeen years, and Gibson was writing Idoru (1996), one of his darker visions of modern culture, saturated with multi-channel, tabloid television. His later work is beset by a blunter approach.

When she wrote about things, her sense of them changed, and with it, her sense of herself. — William Gibson, Spook Country.

Even at his darkest, Gibson is still cool. I have to say that Spook Country is my favorite of his novels. Where others are more action-packed or visionary, Spook Country is all subtlety and surface. He told Kodwo Eshun in 1996, “There’s a very peculiar world of literature that doesn’t exist which you can infer from criticism. Sometimes when I’ve read twenty reviews of a book I’ve written, there’ll be this kind of ghost book suggested…  And I wonder about that book, what is that book they would have wanted and it’s a book with no surfaces. It’s all essence.” Spook Country may be the closest anyone gets to writing that ghost book, and it’s just so… cool.

‘Twas not always the case. Gibson explains:

When I started to write science fiction, I knew I was working in a genre that was traditionally deeply deprived of hipness. I went looking for ways to import as much rock-and-roll aesthetic into science fiction as was possible. Going back and listening to Steely Dan’s lyrics, for instance, suggested a number of ways to do that. It seemed that there was a very hip, almost subversive science fiction aesthetic in Donald Fagen’s lyrics which not many people have picked up on. But there’s other stuff — David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album, which has this totally balls-out science fiction aesthetic going. The Velvet Underground, early Lou Reed — that was important. I thought, OK, that’s the hip science fiction of our age, and so I’m going to try to write up to that standard, rather than trying to write up to Asimov.

Keep that in mind: Every step is a step on a path. And every step is informed by the one before it. You are what you eat, so eat well, my friends.

References:

Eshun, Kodwo. (1996, November). William Gibson in Dialogue with Kodwo Eshun: The Co-evolution of Humans and Machines. Unpublished Interview.

Gibson, William. (2007). Spook Country: A Novel. New York: Putnam, p. 171.

Miller, P. D. (2007). Bruce Sterling: Future Tense. In R. Christopher (ed.), Follow for Now: Interviews with Friends and Heroes. Seattle, WA: Well-Red Bear, pp. 329-346.

Turner, Fred. (2006). From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

van Bakel, Rogier. (1995, June). Remembering Johnny: William Gibson on the making of Johnny Mneumonic. Wired, 3.06.

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Apologies to Andy Feenberg for stealing his title for this piece, and to Dave Allen for stealing his picture of Bill.