Archive for March, 2005

READYMADE

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

I’m reading Octavio Paz’s brilliant survey of Marcel Duchamp’s art. What Duchamp is most known for, or at least the context I knew him in, is the “Readymades”. These are ordinary technological artifacts made into art by the minimal act of baptism by an artist. “Fountain,” a urinal signed R. Mutt 1917, is the most recognizable example:

A perfectly ordinary piss fountain.

Paz explains it better than I could:

One stone is like another and a corkscrew is like another corkscrew. The resemblance between stones is natural and involuntary; between manufactured objects it is artificial and deliberate. The fact that all corkscrews are the same is a consequence of their significance: they are objects that have been manufactured for the purpose of drawing corks; the similarity between stones has no inherent significance. As least this is the modern attitude to nature. It hasn’t always been the case. Roger Caillois points out that certain Chinese artists selected stones because they found them fascinating and turned them into works of art by the simple act of engraving or painting their name on them. The Japanese also collected stones and, as they were more ascetic, preferred them not to be too beautiful, strange, or unusual; they chose ordinary round stones. To look for stones for their differences and to look for them for their similarity are not separate acts; they both affirm that nature is the creator. To select one stone among thousands is equivalent to giving it a name. Guided by the principle of analogy, man gives names to nature; each name is a metaphor: Rocky Mountains, Red Sea, Hells Canyon, Eagles Rest. The name — or the signature of the artist — causes the place — or the stone — to enter the world of names, or, in other words, into the sphere of meaning. The act of Duchamp uproots the object from it’s meaning and makes an empty skin of the name: a bottle rack without bottles.

. . . [In] the end, his gesture is a philosophical or, rather, dialectical game more than an artistic operation: it is a negation that, through humor, becomes affirmation. Suspended by irony, in a state of perpetual oscillation, this affirmation is always provisional. It is a contradiction that denies all significance to object and gesture alike; it is a pure action — in the moral sense and also in the sense of a game: his hands are clean, the execution is rapid and perfect. Purity requires that the gesture should be realized in such a way that it seems as little like a choice as possible: “The great problem was the act of selection. I had to pick an object without it impressing me and, as far as possible, without the least intervention of any idea or suggestion of aesthetic pleasure. It was necessary to reduce my personal taste to zero. It is very difficult to select an object that has absolutely no interest for us not only on the day we pick it but that never will and that, finally, can never have the possibility of becoming beautiful, pretty, agreeable or ugly. . . .”

DISCOVERY CHANNEL

Saturday, March 26th, 2005

Since the dawn of time, man has sought to locate the essential characteristics which distinguish him from the animal kindom. Early on in the history of mankind’s great climb towards self-consciousness, Plato defined man as a “featherless biped.” This conclusion was quickly and satirically defused by Diogenes of Sinope, who plucked a chicken and set it loose in the Academy, shouting “Look everybody, it’s Plato’s boyfriend! Oooooo!” He then made kissy noises; this is still widely considered the most devastating argumentative coup de grâce in all of philosophy, before or since.

In the face of this humiliating yet delicious counterexample, Plato secluded himself in his study to rework his theory. He emerged triumphant, amending his definition to “featherless biped with broad nails.” We see the theory developed in this recently-rediscovered fragment of a Socratic dialog, entitled “Diogenes”:


Socrates: Well, Diogenes, surely we would agree that what is essential to man must be nothing more than the forms which only he possesses, among all creatures upon the earth?

Diogenes: I can see no reason not to grant this, Socrates!

Socrates: Well then surely we must then admit that the gall bladder, a common organ possessed by many beasts of the field, to say nothing of women!…

(Crowd of Boys: λoλ!)

Socrates (continues): ..surely, no matter what the spiritual beliefs of the priests and poets and hoi polloi as to the locality of our immortal soul, this will not do as a definition of man.

Diogenes: I find myself strangely unable to raise an objection, Socrates. But what definition do you propose?

Socrates: You will surely admit, will you not, that man walks upon two legs, like chickens, ducks, and various other avian, an not on four legs as does the dog and horse and goat?

Diogenes: Any man with his senses in tact must surely agree!

Socrates: And yet, unlike fowl, man lacks feathers, does he not? Diogenes: Indeed this is so!

Socrates: And so we must conclude that the form essential to man is that of a biped, lacking in feathers. No man possessed of his faculties could object to such a definition!

Diogenes: Yet I am still troubled, wise Socrates, for yesterday I was walking in the marketplace and I saw that some local farmers had laid out chickens, whose feathers had been plucked out. So must we not conclude that the absense of feathers is not necessarily something which is unique to man among the bipeds?

Socrates: …. What?

Diogenes: Well, there were these chickens and you said, remember?, you said that um chickens were bipeds, and well these chickens, the ones I saw, didn’t have feathers, and uh featherless bipeds?

Socrates: Right. Well. Did you happen to see their fingernails? Did they have sharp talons? Sharp, narrow, pointy talons perhaps?

Diogenes: Verily they did, Socrates!

Socrates: Well there you have it, man is a featherless biped with broad nails.

Diogenes: My eyes burn with the light of the truth, great Socrates!

And so on. This amended postulate was widely disparaged as merely adding another epicycle to a theory already far too baroque for the practical purposes of distinguishing which sorts of objects one may legally have sex with. Diogenes’ response will never be known; many historians surmise he was killed shortly after the release of the work, while attempting to shave an orangutan.

In recent times, as our knowledge of the animal kingdom has increased, many traits once thought to be exclusively human have been found among our non-human earthmates. Even that sublime activity, once commonly thought to be most exclusively and paradigmatically human, has been found among the primates: laughter.

Up until the discovery of the so-called ‘chuckling monkey’ in the jungles of Borneo, the ability to laugh was prized as the unique domain of homo sapiens, along with the use of language and the missionary position. Much like Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, or Reese’s investigations into the chocolate and peanut-butter, the discovery of the chuckling monkey, (parapithecoidea risae in Fleagle’s taxonomy), was entirely accidental. The strange hooting laugh of the p. risae was first reported to the scientific community in the field journal of the adventurer and naturalist, Sir Jamison Horksbotton, who wrote the following:

Today my men and I came upon a colony of tree-dwelling primates, and, exhausted from our long and perilious trek, we set up camp to rest and further observe the interactions of what I believe to be an heretofore unidentified species. They do impress me as being unusually intelligent and social, and they watched intently as well set up our tents and prepared our meals. When Jonathan Hudson, my research assistant, slipped on the rind of a breadfruit, the uproar of hooting and clapping from the monkeys was deafening.

I immediately apprehended the necessity of repeating the experiment, and urged Mr. Hudson to duplicate his antic as precicely and accurately as possible. Again he crashed to the jungle undergrowth atop the misplaced peel; the response from the assembled monkeys was again greatly appreciative, but not quite as overwhelming as the first attempt. Successive experiements saw increasingly diminished responses until, after perhaps a dozen repetitions, they became silent and disinterested and moved off into the jungle.

This report provided the first indication that the vocalizaton of p. risae was an expression analogous to our own sense of humour. The immense value of this discovery could not have been conceived by the Horksbotton expedition.

As the news of Horksbotton’s amazing discovery spread through the scientific community, speculation ran wild as to the exact nature of the vocalization, and it’s relationship to the human faculty of laugher. Debate raged between researchers in anthropology, biology, psychology and primateology, as scientists scrambled to stake their claims on the new species. Was laughter really not as unique to humans as we had once thought? Could the instinctive responses of the “chuckling monkey” to humorous stimulus teach us more about our own sense of humour? How, exactly, could such a contingent faculty evolve in a species only barely related to humankind?

Specimens were brought into laboratories by the hundreds for more carefully controlled research, and the jungles of Borneo for a time resembled the gold-rush Klondike. Competing groups of researchers and their hired mercenaries scoured the jungle in search of more colonies. Jaded and malarial graduate students called it “panning for monkey gold”. Known groups of the species were defended mercilessly, culminating in a shocking incident of cannibalism involving an team of German behavioral psychologists who caught an Australian biochemist surreptitiously extracting DNA from a colony they (=the psychologists) had claimed.

In any case, the voluminous empirical data strongly indicated, to everyone’s surprise, that the laugh-response was much more than a primitive analogy or caricature of man’s refined sense of humour. Studies published simultaneously in the Journal of Primate Studies and Contemporary Psychobiology agreed: The primates had nearly infallible humour-detection mechanisms. If something was funny, somehow these monkeys knew it.

The response was so reliable that scientists quickly saw a thriving market for their new discovery. The established laboratories began renting their sample colonies to movie and television studios. Sitcoms and feature films could be calibrated accurately against the p. risae response, instead of using notoriously unreliable humans, who would often complain of “not getting it.” The monkeys always got it, and Hollywood would never be the same.

NIP TWEAK LOL

Saturday, March 26th, 2005

“Hey pal what’s with the tattoo? Are you some kind of……. HOMO?”

The picture is completely safe for work, as long as your workplace doesn’t have a problem with queer mermaids or reacharounds or huge spurting gay dicks. Here in Vancouver we call that “Casual Friday.”

WORLD’S GREATEST GRANDMA

Friday, March 25th, 2005

A great post over at Dadahead about the surrealist painter Dorothea Tanner.

Salon: If you could change anything in your life, or lives, what would it be?

Tanner: More color in my dreams.

PUBLIC ART

Friday, March 18th, 2005

THAT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE BEGGING TO ME

Thursday, March 10th, 2005

Here’s a totally awesome dragout beatdown over the use of the phrase “begs the question.” I imagine people sobbing face-down on their pillows about how this phrase doesn’t mean what they say it means. Please help, won’t somebody do something oh please god WHY . “Definitely a fight worth fighting,” says some earnest commentator. Perhaps, but how can we fight this ignorant menace?

There was some suggestion of retreating to the ancestor of the phrase, “beggars the question.” Hahaha. Abandon label! Fall back! I repeat, Fall back!

Losers.

I prefer a more forward-looking approach. To win this battle, we must free ourselves of the mistakes of past idioms. Here are some suggestions for alternative phrasings to describe the act of implicitly assuming the truth of some conclusion while trying to convince someone else to believe it :

  • Raping the consequent
  • Taking the Little Professor for a walk
  • Mocking the weasel
  • Screwing the baboon personal fave
  • Slipping Rohypnol into the hemlock

That’s probably enough to get people started. Feel free to make up your own, just so long as you get my express, signed approval first. I can’t have just anybody using phrases to mean things. This is serious business, right up in this joint.

That reminds me, will people please stop referring to perfectly ordinary, run-of-the-mill spliffs as “blunts”? A blunt is when you wrap your dope in a cigar paper. When you use regulation-size papes and then call it a blunt it is very confusing!!!

Next week: hedge -emony or hegg -emony?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to take the Little Professor for a walk.

NOSTALGIA

Sunday, March 6th, 2005

I was going through some of my old notebooks this morning. The oldest notebook I still have is from my last few years in Ontario, roughly 2001-2003. It’s not really a journal, just a book to keep scraps of info, notes to self, addresses and phone numbers, grocery lists, driving directions, etc.. All the short half-life data necessary to manage daily existence.

It still sort of works like a journal. It reminds me of the kind of things I was doing three years ago, looking for apartments, (I moved about five times in those three years); planning for Burning Man and other camping trips; taking notes on metaphysics and epistemology. It’s amazing how many numbers it takes to get around in the world.

Anyways, I found the following written on two pages. I have no idea why I wrote this or what it means, but I suspect it contains some deep truth, either of the universe or my own psychology:

KLMN
RSTU

H1..H4
J1..J4

J K M S
H Y U
S
R U

M(J) L(H) U(3,H)
S(J) R(H)

L:GHJK
S:XYZ

An early effort at absurdist poetry perhaps? It’s pretty sub-standard, I’ll admit. Still, it has a nice visual rhythm to it, IM(H)O.

DESTROYROCK&ROLL

Thursday, March 3rd, 2005

This Friday @ Open Studios

JAKE FAIRLEY: Kompakt, Paper Bag Records

Rock meets techno in a dive bar in east Berlin.

“Jake Fairly makes the (electronic/rock) connection all the more explicit with mumbled vocals remenicient of Joey Ramone with a staticy sound that has more in common with garage rock grit than techno polish.” NEW YORK Mag

BEN NEVILE: Telegraph

crate full o’ surprises.

KONRAD BLACK: Wagon Repair

electrotech. Konrad busts up the dance floor with his original hard rocking sound.

ROBERT ROBOT: Intergalactic Future Rock

intergalactic funksmanship and bleeps.

FRIDAY MARCH 4th @ OPEN STUDIOS
#200-252 East 1st Ave
Show Starts @ 10.
RSVP: 604.648.2752
$10

ON THE SUBJECT OF GREAT LYRICS

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2005

An URGENT REQUEST from Y0UNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES.