WRITING PROMPT #5 – John Cage & Kenneth Patchen – The City Wears A Slouch Hat was last modified: March 24th, 2015 by Shane Jesse Christmass
Joe Carrow is a cool guy who comes to a lot of the readings in the Bay Area and takes photographs of local weirdos and does it all for the love of it. In this interview we talk about his photo work and an incident he had with a Canadian website and I pretend that I’m not sure who I’m talking to at first for a pathetic attempt at comedy.
Hey, so first question: who are you, what do you do, and how do we know each other?
I’m Joe Carrow. I work as a mechanical engineer by day, and I do more creative things at night to stay sane. I used to play drums before I moved to the Bay area in 2004, but when I got out here I found that all of the apartments were really tiny and I didn’t have a way to keep playing. I loved drums, but my girlfriend at the time needed floor space for her wheelchair and the apartment walls were too thin for so much noise. I started getting pretty serious about photography around 2008, and in 2012 I became the show photographer for Oakland Nights Live.
I was invited to take some pictures at a poetry reading in an abandoned apartment in 2012, where I met you and a few other local poets. I put out a Facebook call of “Who wants to do a shoot?” in 2013 and you wanted to do a shoot, and we’ve been doing photo stuff and going to each others events ever since.
Ah, yeah. I’m remembering now. We did a photo shoot. You’re the guy with the beard holding a camera, right? Yeah, I think you’ve shot the covers for a few of my books or something. What kind of photo work do you like to do? What do you find inspiring?
That’s right! I’m the guy with the beard and camera. I was pursuing competitive beard growth for a while, but eventually it felt ridiculous and I trimmed it off.
The kind of photo work that I like to do is to show people having cool experiences. Really, it’s the look on somebody’s face that does it for me. What’s going on? What are they up to? Who are they? Is something cool happening? I can appreciate and enjoy pictures of landscapes and skies and inanimate objects as well, but I care a lot more about people pictures. I like to catch those candid moments when people aren’t posing, when they’re having a genuine moment. Here are a few favorites:
Alexandra Naughton’s video poem of “You Could Never Objectify Me More than I’ve Already Objectified Myself” (from her new book by the same name) moves in the same fascinating space as her moving selfies series.
The video is of liminal spaces visually, sonically, aesthetically, of seeing and of self. The audio at times ghosts in the background like a kind of seepage out of the expected single audio track into a kind of countermelody, something that resonates in another pattern against the main flow of audio and its progressions. This breaks into also a kind of echo, a secondary resonance away and behind.
The sync at times of audio and her recorded image do a kind of slippage, almost linking, almost fully breaking from each other. This even more deeply breaks the expecations of video, of aesthetics, of a pragmatic sync of sound and image be it direct or more open. This feels more like breaking, a battle between expectation and form as well as content. She brilliantly moves toward the dynamic tension of in-between spaces, the liminal. The camera is a giant unblinking eye. Vertov captured this classically in his early films where the Camera and eye seem to merge and image is imperfect, complicated by the camera and its path.
Naughton has the eye also be the gaze, the gaze women must face and the observer is not simply passive any more. It is made impossible. The setting is so personal a space (a small bathroom) and the visuals and sound struggling , almost arguing, intruding on each other, fleeing each other brings the viewer to something deeply personal being seen. Her moving selfies move selfies toward a fascinating middle space between photography and film, personal and shared. This work moves even deeper.
The camera at once glorifies and objectifies much as light can be soft and peaceful or brutal in image be it static or moving as film. In this work the tension of identity on and off line is a squall of aesthetics and undertones. The camera objectifies. The artifact arguably does not. Much of image can come to presentation, expectation, context and deep subjectivity. The selfie is currently seen by some as a new art and to others an erasure, an edited self. The video ends with a cursing of the viewer and listener but this again is much more deeply layered. The title says it’s not that simple, nothing is. The very lipstick of a timeless face at times bleeds, seeps, echoes deeper internal things of image, self image and the ghosts left on film. The poem is powerful but in this mix of media it brings in photography, film, social spheres be it on or offline and the complex slippery universe that is self and image. It is as powerful as it is of a space between things. This is a core of its lingering deep resonance.
I’m in the middle of writing a short book on gender to come out next year with Anomalous Press, so I’ve been reading a lot of books about gender lately—mostly theory and first-person encounters with.
What I’m reading at the moment is an interesting mix of embryonic Internet criticism and gender studies called The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age. This is a collection of linked essays published by Sandy Stone in 1996.
Stone’s biography is worth dropping into for a moment. Stone was a star student of Donna Haraway, famously author of “A Cyborg Manifesto,” and Haraway influenced much of her subsequent works. Before that, Stone, a transsexual, was attacked by the radical feminist scholar Janice Raymond in a somewhat infamous altercation having to do with the feminist record company Olivia Records. Basically, Raymond accused Stone of not really being a woman and attempting to subvert the spirit of Olivia Records by smuggling in the patriarchy under cover of her female exterior. Out of all that came Stone’s essay “The ‘Empire’ Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto,” which is very readable and still interesting today, nearly 30 years after its original publication.
The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age has similarly worn well, even though one of its main subjects—networked computing, aka the Internet—has changed immensely in the 20 years since the book was first published. (For instance, Stone references the 200 megabyte hard disks that were state of the art at the time of writing.) The purpose of its inquiry may be (partially) summed up with Stone’s question, “What is happening to sociality and desire at the close of the mechanical age?”
As a thinker, Stone is fascinated by questions of gender, identity, prostheses, and cybernetics, and she locates foci where these interests intersect in the world of computing. So, for instance, an early anecdote in the book recounts a revelation she made when listening to Stephen Hawking lecture, wherein she realized that there was effectively no difference between the mechanical “voice” of Hawking that was coming out of the speakers attached to his wheelchair and the reproduced voice of his that was being played in loudspeakers in an overflow room next door. In a similar way, computing technology now allows us to reproduce our “voice,” with attendant questions for matters of just who we are, and what fragments of us are reproduced into the electronic world we all increasingly inhabit.
Stone is also very interested in how cybernetics connects back to questions of gender. For instance, she cites a statistic that at any given moment, roughly 15 percent of players of Habitat (an early, Japanese virtual community similar to Second Life) were inhabiting a gender opposite their birth gender. She also recounts an episode wherein a male therapist realized that women would tell him things they would not normally say face-to-face if they believed him to be a female while conversing electronically. This led him to create an entire secondary online personality for purposes of engaging with female clients as a woman (unbeknownst to them), with predictable eventual consequences.
As theorists go, Stone is very readable. She has a lively, clipped style of narration, a writing voice that’s a little punk. She alternates here between recounting case studies and theorizing—the former is easier to read, although the latter proves fascinating, if requiring a little more time to get through.
Ultimately, Stone is positing a new “virtual” age to succeed the mechanical one that ended around the time of the emergence of the Internet and mainstream computing, and she is interested in questions of desire and the social human in this new age. Her book is interesting and still makes relevant points, even though the computing communities she was looking at were archaic by current standards.
In January 2013 I saw a selection of Nathalie Djurberg’s work exhibited at the CCC Strozzine, as part of the Francis Bacon and the Existential Condition in Contemporary Art exhibition. As a result of seeing this work I became obsessed with the idea of redemptive necrophilia and this eventually turned into a much larger project.
Cover design is really important, can make or break a manuscript. Here are some covers, along with statements from the authors on what inspired them, that make me really want to read:
1. Megaphone Heart, Manuel Arturo Abreu (2013)
“It’s an X files toy I cut up and photographed :P”
Read it here.
2. Baby Babe, Ana Carrete (2012, Civil Coping Mechanisms)
“it’s my hand and i’m wearing ring pops and we put slime on top and it made a chemical reaction/started melting so we had to take the pictures really fast”
Get it here.
3. Fantasy, Ben Fama (2015, Ugly Duckling Presse)
“It was created by an illustrator named John Lisle… What i told him is this ‘You should do something people aren’t expecting. Which is why I thought of the odd flower I saw on your website … the flower from the future, a flower that will exist … maybe when we don’t.'”
Pre-order it here.
4. Swan Feast, Natalie Eilbert (2015, Coconut Poetry)
“The book is in large part a question about the significance of the Venus of Willendorf, my fascination and later pop-sensationalizing of her, and some of the sensationalizing involves us obviously having tons of sex and getting married. So. I wanted a cover that somehow conveyed that… I thought [Jasmine Golestaneh] would be really good for this, as she generates a lot of collagework twisting women, animals, and rainbow glitz. I told her what I wanted, which is what I always want: Gritty, grotesque, sexual landscape.”
Order it here in March.
5. Asuras, Jayinee Basu (2015, Civil Coping Mechanisms)
“The drawing is by my friend Rachel Wolfson. Asuras refer to knowledge-seeking entities. I liked the field-biologist aspect of the drawing since observational illustrations are one of the most basic methods of recording reality.”
Pre-order it here.
Que stepped gingerly onto the edge of her consciousness. It was hazy, foggy and cold. She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. In the distance was a huge mountain of books. It was as if all the books she had ever read, or ever thought of reading, formed a ladder up to the heavens. She stepped upon the staircase, and it swayed side to side. The higher she climbed, the further she could see the landscape of her unconsciousness.
As Que reached the top, she could see all her past failures and future accomplishments, but it didn’t matter for all she wanted was to become one of the Crystallized. She lay upon the ledge and cried. Her tears floated into the sky, clustering together, gem-like, and the sadder she become, and the harder she cried, the more beautiful the crystal. When Que had cried all that she could, she peered into the sky, and hovering in the sky was a crystal cocoon. Que climbed inside, and prepared herself to sparkle.
We are all witnessing the effects of capitalism over our present times in the forms of abstraction of work, the disembodiment of the conscience, and the dematerialization of the commodities. The Italian Marxist Franco “Bifo” Berardi attributes the origin of this great transformation through abstraction to the development of finance:
Finance is the most abstract level of economic symbolization. It is the culmination of a process of progressive abstraction that started with capitalist industrialization. Marx speaks of abstract labor in the sense of an increased distancing of human activity from its concrete usefulness. In his words, capitalism is the application of human skills as a means to obtain a more abstract goal: the accumulation of value[i].
On this particular situation he states that the most important changes in societies due to the dematerialization and the general abstraction of the economic rules and procedures are the disembodiment of the “general intelligence”, a concept he uses sometimes in terms of a representation of the cognitive group of workers whose labor is now exploited; the deterritorialization of labor and productivity, that ignited a process of pulverization and precarization of work and worker; the end of growth as a concept related to the “increase of social happiness and satisfaction of the basic needs of people”, but instead the expansion of financial profits and the expansion of the global volume of exchange value. He talks about “the new alienation” occurring in the cognitive worker by precarization and the acceleration of the information flow and productivity. All of these transformations are symptoms of the general intelligence as disembodied, taken away from its own social and erotic body.
All last week I was enjoying Gabriella Coleman’s history of Anonymous, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. For anyone who is interested in the intersections between Internet and underground culture, this is a hell of a book. Plus: political discourse, the radical left, 21st-century dissidents, Occupy, pwning Scientology, and many, many other things.
One of the first things Coleman gets into in this book is the idea of the “lulz.” This is a very foundational concept, because the lulz is a core part of the Anonymous aesthetic, and, as Coleman tell it, the unrestrained pursuit of the lulz is essentially what got Anonymous going in the first place. Here’s how Coleman defines the lulz
If we keep in mind that lulz derives from the acronym “lol” (laugh out loud), it becomes easier to see that lulz is primarily about humor. Lols are familiar to everyone who has ever sent a joke to someone by email. Lulz are darker: acquired most often at someone’s expense, prone to misfiring and, occasionally, bordering on disturbing or hateful speech. . . . Lulz are umistakably imbued with danger and mystery, and thus speak foremost to the pleasures of transgression.
Coleman goes on to make the case Anonymous was essentially founded in pursuit of the lulz: she traces the group’s inception to an incident in 2008 when a bunch of irate hackers who had heretofore congregated on the message board 4chan decided to band together to go at the Church of Scientology for little other reason than the lulz of it. The exploit worked out so well that the group snowballed from there, attracting more and more malcontents and moving on to bigger, and more politically viable, targets—like strongmen in Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya, defense contractors selling out our privacy and civil rights for money, etc, etc.
But to get back to the lulz: when I read the above passage, I immediately scribbled “RTJ” in the margins, standing, of course, for the rap group Run the Jewels.
This is the Mariah Carey episode of Cribs.
On September 2, 1974 Philip K. Dick sent the following letter to the FBI:
I am enclosing the letterhead of Professor Darko Suvin, to go with information and enclosures which I have sent you previously. This is the first contact I have had with Professor Suvin. Listed with him are three Marxists whom I sent you information about before, based on personal dealings with them: Peter Fitting, Fredric Jameson, and Franz Rottensteiner who is Stanislaw Lem’s official Western agent. The text of the letter indicates the extensive influence of this publication, SCIENCE-FICTION STUDIES.
What is involved here is not that these persons are Marxists per se or even that Fitting, Rottensteiner and Suvin are foreign-based but that all of them without exception represent dedicated outlets in a chain of command from Stanislaw Lem in Krakow, Poland, himself a total Party functionary (I know this from his published writing and personal letters to me and to other people). For an Iron Curtain Party group – Lem is probably a composite committee rather than an individual, since he writes in several styles and sometimes reads foreign, to him, languages and sometimes does not – to gain monopoly positions of power from which they can control opinion through criticism and pedagogic essays is a threat to our whole field of science fiction and its free exchange of views and ideas. Peter Fitting has in addition begun to review books for the magazines Locus and Galaxy. The Party operates (a U..S.] publishing house which does a great deal of Party-controlled science fiction. And in earlier material which I sent to you I indicated their evident penetration of the crucial publications of our professional organization SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS OF AMERICA.
Their main successes would appear to be in the fields of academic articles, book reviews and possibly through our organization the control in the future of the awarding of honors and titles. I think, though, at this time, that their campaign to establish Lem himself as a major novelist and critic is losing ground; it has begun to encounter serious opposition: Lem’s creative abilities now appear to have been overrated and Lem’s crude, insulting and downright ignorant attacks on American science fiction and American science fiction writers went too far too fast and alienated everyone but the Party faithful (I am one of those highly alienated).
It is a grim development for our field and its hopes to find much of our criticism and academic theses and publications completely controlled by a faceless group in Krakow, Poland. What can be done, though, I do not know.
Who are you?
I am Nathan Baudy. I am a filmmaker, noise musician, poet, and writer.
What am I watching here?
You are watching a short film entitled “Ray’s Tattoo Party.” It is a film that depicts the conversations and events that took place during a tattoo party.
When + where was this filmed?
This was filmed in Pullman, WA in JAN 2015.
Can you describe the creative process?
The creative process was purely spontaneous. My friend Ray and I agreed to “get together and make art or something” so I went over to their place and they put an Olympus camera in my hand and I started filming. As I was filming I started doing in-camera cutting and thinking about what I was filming so that I could frame it around a central idea. The idea ended up becoming a film about millennial artists getting together and tattooing themselves and talking about america, pornography, art, and telling jokes.
Do you script in any form?
Sometimes. Not for this film.
Who directed this?
Is there a collaborative process involved?
Of course. Nearly everything I do is collaborative. The film is a collaboration between myself and all the performers in the film (who are just being themselves). Ray let me use their camera too. The film is kind of about artistic collaboration. It’s about sharing opinions, letting people tattoo you in your kitchen, and letting yourself be filmed and displayed for the world.
Describe your relationship with the internet and making stuff?
I mostly use it for marketing. In my past I almost exclusively created content for internet consumption, but I find it more rewarding to meet people in person and make intimate films like these. I don’t really care who sees my films. I put them online because I am saving them for myself and I make them public to attract more like-minded artists in attempts to continue making collaborative art with new people.
What other stuff have you been working on lately?
I’m writing an experimental novel. I’m curating noise/experimental music for a series I created called “Contemporary Experimental Music/Noise Anthology Series” where I release one album per month. Every track on it is by a different musician from across the United States. I’m making my own drone/noise compositions. I journal everyday.
You can submit noise/experimental tracks to me via facebook or here:
Inspirations / Influnences? It reminds me of ‘Wavelength’ by Michael Snow.
Warhol, obviously. Harmony Korine, Lars Von Trier, Hollis Frampton, Stan Brakhage, Michael Snow, Jonas Mekas, Richard Linklater. My friends inspire me. I film them because I am inspired by them. I want people to see them.
Why did you send it to me?
I thought you would like it.