Tag Archives: judgment

March 10, 3 pm-midnight: Reality Art TV Marathon. Back to the World @ the AGO

It’s been almost a year since our last live event, our 100,000th Word Party in March, 2011. So let’s do it again: As part of Margaux’s stint as Artist in Residence at the Art Gallery of Ontario, we’re holding a Daytime-Evening TV Slumber Party in the Education Commons on the west side of the AGO.

The date will be March 10. The time will be 3 pm until about midnight.

We’ll be screening videos of a show (you might know it, but be discreet) that turns art into a ruthless Elimination Dance in a whole other way than the professional art world does. Making and judging art on reality TV makes for strange and strangely refreshing stabs at more clear ways to talk about it.

Mostly this’ll be a lot like sitting at home on the couch vacuuming up consecutive episodes of a TV show on the Internet or DVD, except with friends you might not know yet, in a public place. And with somebody else ordering the pizza. Bring your own well-concealed beverages and snacks, and any other comfort-inducing devices (sleeping bags welcome!). There will be time for discussion and perhaps some unexpected interventions.

After, we’ll go out for drinks and talk more about who we think should have won and which one we would have sex with.

We’d love any readers to come out and join us.

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Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, events, margaux williamson, TV/video, visual art

Tao Lin, reading, Type Books, 10/20/10

by Carl Wilson

Last night, I was at a reading of Tao Lin‘s. He was late, taciturn, monosyllabic, and more or less unpleasant as a performer, except when he was actually reading his novel, when his voice was resistant to the energy of the work itself, which made me want more.

I had read his poetry and found it funny and charming. I had read his earlier prose and found it so boring I couldn’t keep going. Yet when he read the first five pages of Richard Yates and kinda ducked out, I wanted to know more. It was an autobiographical novel, he acknowledged, in which he search-and-replaced the original character names and changed them to “Hayley Joel Osmont” and “Dakota Fanning” – because those celebrities’ ages corresponded with the characters’ ages at the time the book was set, 2006. I thought, “This provides a visual image, which is what we’re addicted to at the moment. The rest is irrelevant to the story.” It’s not stealing more than the personae people have already chosen to give away.

My friend Kyle Buckley was charged with asking him questions, which is obviously a difficult task, and Kyle probably didn’t feel great about how it went. But Kyle asked him one question that he spoke seriously to: “How do you feel about the number of young writers who imitate you?” (The quotation marks are rough and will continue to be.) Tao Lin said, “I like it. I know that most of the time when people talk about this issue, they do it like they are inventors who got a patent on their invention, and if someone steals it, they should sue. I don’t feel like writing is that.” He stopped and laughed nervously, and the laugh was the voice of global capital going, “Wait, as an artist your style is your brand. You have to protect it.”

Lin was coming back and saying, No, artistic style is a cultural moment. He said that the people who choose to work in the voice he does probably just feel the same way. I think of people my age who write in David Wallace/Dave Eggers rhythms. Lin made sure to say that he thinks individuals are unavoidably unique. So his imitators’ style will therefore be different than his even if it emulates the rhythm, even unwillingly.

Writing, unlike almost every art form, is (at least in the past 40 years of extended-lifespan luxury) usually mediocre when it’s made by people under 30. The dues you pay then are irretrievable. So if his work is shallow, fine – it matters more that it is brave. Since last night I’ve read three-quarters of the new Richard Yates and would say that I got absorbed by and attached to its depressive characters. Also I would say that they are depressive in a way that is political in its extreme apolitical apathy.

If you understand it as satire, and commentary, and self-critique, it is more powerful – Lin said last night that he never wants to write a line that isn’t funny “while being other things.” He’s struggling with the barrenness of the landscape, with the emptiness of trying to be heroic as a writer, in an age when heroism is automatically suspect. The people who try to call him out on insincerity are themselves playing a game.

And yet: In his notion of plainness and universalism, he’s not unlike Hemingway, who comes up conspicuously as the “book in the backpack” in his narrative. This idea of plainness reasserts itself again and again in American fiction as an ideal of democracy. There is always this sense that stripping down is the beginning of some more authentic, less evasive encounter.

And I have to say that it’s not my taste: Hemingway irritates me and so does (at least the edited) Raymond Carver, and I prefer the gamble with language made by the stylists whose jokes are not defeatist, whose heroism is not pyrrhic, whose language embraces and spars with existence, and the notion that complication is an opportunity to wrestle rather than a termination of ideals. It seems like the beginning of a life that is more alive.

But if I have to talk honestly, do I think that shoplifting not only goods but language from Whole Foods and American Apparel and Gchat is a less wishful confrontation with the limitations of literary and even emotional life today? I can’t choose between them. Tao Lin’s minimal, depressive narratives ring truer to the ways we don’t aspire but get through days. They seem necessary at least as a foil. The brutality and stupidity – within an urge not to be brutal and stupid, which he and Hemingway share – are not dystopian, just journalistic.

You don’t have to take every writer as saying, This is the last word. Sometimes it can be the first. Then the question is what to do next. If he’s much-imitated, surely it’s not just his thudding rhythm but because starting points seem hard to come by. How do you even survive to 30 without expressing what it’s like to be there? I may never have met a writer less imaginable as a founder of a social network, contrary to his image. And that may not be a writer’s job. If he were a painter, no one would blink at his blankness. He makes me think: Perhaps language now is more like paint. Though I still wish he weren’t clawing at a vagina dentata on the cover of his novel.

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Filed under carl wilson, literature

Mansfield Park (1999) – Written and Directed by Patricia Rozema, Based on Jane Austen’s novel

By Margaux Williamson

(I was having a great leisurely day and I went to the video store wanting something familiar and expensive. I picked out Mansfield Park, a movie by Patricia Rozema based on the Jane Austen book of the same name. The characters in Jane Austen’s work spend most of their time having complicated thoughts about intellect, about how to judge others and about their own emotions (how to have them, how to control them). I didn’t read a Jane Austen novel till I was 21. Prior to that I had always figured that most people have virtues and flaws in equal measure, even if the specifics of those virtues and flaws are very different. I figured the good and the bad are just highlighted or more deeply shadowed in different contexts. So from that logic, it seemed reasonable for people to move around a bit, till they find the best place to stand. Somehow it really had never occurred to me how much value or worthlessness one can ascribe to another human being until Jane Austen came along. The books are always a bit foreign to me, but they are always a complicated pleasure.

There was something wrong with the DVD or my DVD player and near the end of the movie – the top of the image went askew. So for about 15 crucial minutes of the movie, people’s heads were pretty far away from their bodies. It was pretty distracting.)

Fanny Price is sent off at the age of ten on a horse-drawn carriage, away from poverty and towards a mansion. When she arrives at the mansion, she starts a new life as a half relative/ half servant to her mother’s extended family, the Bertrams. The only person who is kind to her is her cousin Edmund Bertram, a virtuous young man who will eventually become a clergyman.

Fanny Price, and her four Bertram cousins all grow up together at Mansfield Park. In the day-to-day Fanny is often overlooked and disrespected (because of her different class background and unremarkable looks). It is easy to feel for her and the injustice of her specific situation, and easy to see that, though overlooked, she is intelligent and is watching everything. The bulk of the action takes place in 1808 when Fanny and her cousins are young adults. The narrative primarily involves other people in and around the household taking action and making mistakes. Fanny Price, however, takes no action and makes no mistakes. Fanny Price’s greatest virtue, in the end, is that she is the last one standing, having made no grave mistakes at all. Like a pay-off from a Hollywood movie, all of Fanny Price’s judgments and suspicions regarding the failings of others’ characters are proven to be sound.

Needless to say, she is difficult to fall in love with. In this movie, she continues to be difficult to fall in love with. In the book, Fanny Price is a bit dull, morbidly shy, pious and reserved with her compliments. Here in the movie, Fanny Price is stronger, more modern, less dull and more confident. I can imagine Rozema wanting to make Fanny Price more of a contemporary feminist hero, but the new qualities placed in the same frame create some weird side effects.

Now that she is more confident (and so therefore, more like the other young adults around) Fanny Price’s judgments (regarding love-choices, the worthiness of the arts, the vanity of women, the faults of people’s pasts) seem more harsh and also more confusing. Here, when we see her reserved pleasure at the eventual misfortune of others (valueless characters who were once cruel to her) we think: fair enough. Though now that here we can see her smile, and the modern glint in her eye, it all looks a little bit more like revenge.

To complicate matters, this Fanny Price comes into contact with damning information regarding her uncle’s involvement in the slave trade (in the book, it is more of a cryptic and passing reference). Now, the small protest Fanny Price musters for this occasion seems so inadequate and out of proportion to the clever judgments she formed against an adulterer, a snob, a cynical woman and a lovesick idiot.

Her uncle switches his business to the tobacco industry, and life at Mansfield Park pretty much continues as normal. I’m not sure if it’s the early 19th century time period or the jarring of two different time periods that make this forgiving and forgetting feel so morally confusing and foreign.

These criticisms made me think of Jane Austen in a new way. It made me think more about what resources are possible if one’s mobility is taken away by societal restraints or by one’s own fear of displacement. Suddenly it seemed as though trees would be the most judgmental but forgiving, and the ocean the most generous but fleeting. If you are not free to go, maybe the ability to judge is one of your rare weapons – and forgiveness, a necessity.

Fanny Price marries the soon-to-be clergyman Edmund Bertam, the only person she seems to like. In the last scene of the movie, they walk arm in arm across the garden and into a house – still contained within the boundaries of Mansfield Park. Edmund suggests to Fanny a title for the book she has been working on (in this movie, Fanny Price is a writer). After he suggests a title, Fanny Price laughs, “That’s a terrible title” she says as they get smaller on the screen and the credits start to rise. Good luck Edmund! I think to myself.


Filed under margaux williamson, movies