Monday, July 31, 2006

Kiss Kiss

No matter where you look, it seems that people keep on kissing each other. Unless you look in those, comparatively few, places where they think it's not just about the best thing going between two people. (I know, I know. But this is a 'PG' blog.)

So, here's a quick, chaste peek at the K I S S.

Here are two images depicting people kissing. The two are structured roughly the same in static and dynamic terms; yet very different in 'spirit', if you will.

Here's Doisineau's famous photo.

And here's a painting by Francesco Hayez.

Quick; tell me: which picture do you like better? Gut-feeling stuff. I'd be interested in conducting a poll. Not that it will be statistically significant, but I have a theory. Please help me to prove or disprove it—at least in a suggestive kind of way. If you're uncomfortable putting the result in a comment for all to see—and thereby find out what a softie you really are—email me. I won't tell anybody. Promise and cross my heart! 8)

I suppose, instead of writing—or making movies—about kissing, it's much more fun to actually do it; and this goes without saying, right? But this blog is related to matters 'writing', and in this instance let's go right to the heart of the matter, namely how to:

1) Judge when it is appropriate to describe the...'process', I guess...of two characters kissing.
2) How much of the process to describe.
3) How to convey the subtleties differentiating, for example, between the contents and spirit of the Doisineau snapshot from the Hayez painting.

'When' is comparatively simple: when it is appropriate for the purpose of plot advancement, character development or what you might call 'drama'.

I have noticed that many of my favorite writers seem to avoid mentioning the act of kissing. The protagonists involved in romantic liaisons do all sorts of things: they talk; they perform all sorts of suggestive actions; they even end up in bed or the hay together. But do they kiss? Very rarely. I'm trying to understand why. Is it because 'romance' writers write too much about it? Or maybe because, as Kevin Kline's rogue character 'Luc' in French Kiss pointed out, it costs extra when you want to kiss a prostitute, rather than just... [PG blog self-censorship kicking in.] ...because it's so much more intimate—and 'intimacy' is a killer for those attempting verbal evocation. Thing is, it's not about the act per se, but about how it's set up; meaning that it might a few hundred words of lead-in to get it just so. And who wants to spent the time and effort, possibly to fail despite all trying...

'How much': tough decision. Once you're at the point where it happens, nobody but the writer can really make that call, which must be based as much on the his narrative skill as on his sense and vision of story and characters. Since nobody but the writer is actually qualified of making that choice, it's fatuous to pontificate upon it. And it's almost certain that every reader, when presented with the result of the writer's choice(s), will have different notions about whether it/they 'worked'.

'How to': even tougher. On top of writer's choices there's a requirement for linguistic skill—which will differ from language to language, culture to culture, even among social milieus, because the expectations of what works are so different, and a writer has his work cut out for him to convey, at a level more subtle than that of 'expectation', the truly fine points that differentiate one scene from another.

Writing 'action' and dialogue is so much easier. That's why screenplays are actually simpler to write than novels. You don't expect descriptive subtlety. If anything, you're told to be bold and forthright, clear and strongly evocative. But for conveying the reality of a kiss, that may be exactly what you don't want. Leave it to the director, I suppose—and lose control over what you really wanted to get across at the same time.

Does it appear like visual representation is much easier than the wordy kind—even when the words are in the context of 'poetry'? Personally, I think so, though I keep trying to find ways around it—and I applaud those who are equally undiscouraged.

To finish off this blog, and quite unrelated to the previous theme, here are a couple more absolutely delightful Doisineau photos. He's quoted as saying—and I paraphrase—that he just liked to sit down at some corner and wait until something happened, because if you waited long enough something would always come up soon enough.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Lunacy and artists

Harking back to an earlier entry...

While I am a cynic when it comes to assessing the motivations of 'media' and those with a commercial interest in the promotion of art, it must be understood that there is a psychological, if you will, motive for the image of the artist as a dysfunctional entity of some sort. Partially it's something akin to the notion in some societies we'd classify as 'primitive'. Thing is, most people still qualify as 'primitives', though possibly vestigial, with regards to their ideas of 'art' and what's needed to produce 'real art'. Lunatics, idiots, maniacs, that is, those classified in some way as 'abnormal' in their behavior were often regarded as being touched by some divine spark, that led to that mysterious thing called 'creativity'. The mentally dysfunctional artist is still seen that way, even by those who should know better, and who would indignantly reject this particular thesis. When I listen to or read adulating discussions of apparently otherwise intelligent people about 'art' and 'artists, and their fawning over and uncritical acceptance of the virtue of psychological dysfunctionality, sometimes I do feel like screaming—because this particular leftover from the 'primitive' actually affects what happens to me; said 'me' being a person who does not consider himself psychologically damaged; not any more than in the sense that we're all damaged goods anyway, that being part of what defined 'normality'.

The absurd situation is that 'artists' tend to consider themselves a minority requiring special attention; especially in state-systems which qualify as 'welfare'. There are many of those, and New Zealand is typical of them; not being quite as demented a welfare state as some other countries, but with a government that calls itself left-of-center certainly has an agenda of government-guided social change. With that usually comes an agenda of supporting the 'arts'; meaning, by and large 'arts' that qualify as being worthy of support. The agencies involved are populated with people having agendas riddled with lofty notions of what constitutes art worth of support; especially in a country like New Zealand, where everything 'arty' is at best self-conscious and at worst afflicted with a major cultural cringe-factor. Australia used to be like that, but its' getting better. New Zealand, though now opened a little to the world due to the millions flowing into the country for foreign film productions, is still deep in the bilge of arty arrogance.

The media here completely play this same game. 'Worthy' homegrown art is reported on; everything else gets, at best, a passing mention—and should consider itself lucky if it does. People on the correct side of this game are called 'artists', 'actors', 'poets', 'novelists', 'sculptors', and so on; those in the 'curiosity value' back pages of the local rags or side-mentions on radio and never-mentions on TV, are referred to by such quaint appellations as, say, 'a Wellington man'—with some additional note that said personage has written a book or whatever it is he or she is doing; though, it must be noted, it's more likely that references appear to 'a XYZ man', rather than 'a XYZ woman', since women who write novels or poems, say, are obviously writers and poets, while men aren't, or have to do considerably more than just write or poetize before they qualify as something else than XYZ men.

If you think I'm making this up, think again. I couldn't invent this kind of crap if you paid me for it.

Sometimes I think that maybe it's these 'XYZ men', who constitute the real 'artistic minority' in countries like NZ. Ironically, or maybe not so ironically—it is from precisely that particular group, which remains unsupported by the system and is actively ignored by the media, that artists will spring who can indeed claim that—if they end up getting anywhere, possibly after significant delays and toil and paying-forward—they did what they did and achieved whatever successes they achieved on their own merits, rather than being helped into prominence by the functionaries of a nanny state. Every now and then I hear a warm fuzzy animal story about how some artist—in recent times often a 'film maker', a term rapidly falling into serious disrepute with me—produced whatever he produced with a mere pittance of financial and all on his or her own; and then he starts talking about the financial pittance and it turns out to be that it was thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars, provided by some obscure or not-to-obscure fund, and that there were at least a dozen and maybe many dozens of people involved here and there, all of them with some politically suitably correct agenda that attracted said funds. Ahh, the sob stories keep coming, and the World Orchestra of Smallest Violins plays a dissonant dirge to accompany them.

By the way, I'd like to disabuse you of any notion of complaining. The marketplace for 'art', including my version, encompasses 'nanny state funded art'. People compete for it and either get there or not. Art, to be marketable, needs to adapt to the exigencies of the time and the context. One could claim—which I won't, because it sounds cranky and whiney—that being a member of a very exclusive minority is actually something of a virtue. Except that's crap. The same minority includes people whose 'art' is truly dismal; so it's a rather shady club! But one also has to understand that the preference of society for the-artist-as-a-lunatic has another reason; it's not just derived from hangover primitivism. This other reason may even be more powerful and compelling.

It is this: the artist-as-lunatic provides the non-artist with an excuse for not exploring his/her own creative potential.

The interviewer quizzing an artist with an agenda to finding some deep down damage that explains the creative streak and the required passion in the subject being interviewed, is not just playing the usual media game. He is also looking for an excuse for himself, and by proxy for the listeners/viewers; a reason to explain why he, himself, is not capable of work that might warrant being termed 'creative', and why there's really, deep down, no reason why he should be—because he'd then have to be damaged himself, because that's what's driving it all, right? But he likes to think of himself as fairly 'normal', and so he obviously could never muster the same creative passion. And, let's face it, most of those who—apart from artists themselves—who keep the artist's mystique alive are people who would indeed be utterly incapable of producing anything creative themselves. The artist is their self-by-proxy, the if-only-but-thanks-but-no-thanks object of mystery. If ever they found out that actually all it takes to be creative is passion, and that dysfunctionality of any nature is not actually a requirement, their lives might well become intolerable.

In terms of the currently fashionable explanation-for-everything, they do what they do out of fear.


In the next blog: KISSING.

By the way: this blog was written on a flight from Dunedin to Wellington. Not that it matters, but there you have it.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Fabulous Fables

They have arrived in my house: Fables: Vol. 7.

They are being treated with the reverence I would accord to a new work by Jack Vance or the anticipation that would accompany an imminent reading of a new Carl Hiaasen novel (of which, by the way, there will be another soon; so mark it down!).

I went so far as to inspect the current cast of characters, all familiar from previous volumes, but it's nice to see them all coming together, because some were kind-of just hinted-at before. But there it has to pause for a while, while I revel in anticipation. Like that lovely line from Still Breathing, when Fletcher explains to Roz all about how and when to eat a really, really good piece of chocolate.

Here's the cast of characters, just to whet the appetite of those who might end up as fascinated as I, and to rekindle the eagerness of those who have already visted Fabletown.

For those who have never been there or don't ever intend to visit I reserve a mix of benign compassion and eyes-rolled-up pity...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Do you have to be a raving lunatic to be an 'artist'?

You what what I sometimes think?

Nahh, you don't, but here's a sample anyway.

I came across this question in a short bio on a programme I was designing for a theatre show. I happen to be acquainted with the person who asked the question, and I'm sympathetic to both her and the issue she brought up. The entire question was phrased thus: Perhaps you don’t have to be imprisoned, exiled, trapped with a raving lunatic, mad yourself, or dead—or a dead crow—in order to write and to gain recognition as an artist?

The query is pertinent. It comes in two parts, which are kind-of mixed up together. Allow me to separate them:

1) Perhaps you don’t have to be imprisoned, exiled, trapped with a raving lunatic, mad yourself, or dead—or a dead crow—in order to write?

2)Perhaps you don’t have to be imprisoned, exiled, trapped with a raving lunatic, mad yourself, or dead—or a dead crow—in order to gain recognition as an artist?

The answer to (1) is simple.

The short version: no.

The longer version:
All you need is...'passion', I guess; an internal energy—caused by whatever you care to conjecture it to be caused by; and being of whatever nature you care to think of; this being entirely up to you and your predilections and philosophical dispositions—that requires to flow out of you and into the world as words or actions, in the process being transmuted from whatever the energy was inside of you to something that can be communicated, related, shown, transmitted, perceived by others. There's nothing mysterious about it, though people like to mystify it, if only to make themselves appear mysterious to themselves and others. Whatever twiddles your buttons.

About (2):

The short version:
it's possible, but unlikely, hard and tricky.

The long version:

Part of this is contingent on the presupposition that one wants to practice an occupation commonly associated with 'artistry'. This is one of those subjects that can be argued about forever—quite without there actually being anything to argue about, for being an 'artist' is purely a matter of definition, which in turns depends on cultural and historical context. Arguing over a word to me always appeared extremely silly and time-wasting, especially if it is such a substance-free or at least quick-sand-based term.

But it is an 'accepted' label, and the question was asked in the context of a 'western' society (in this case the New Zealand/Australian variety), with basically European values and associations, mixed in with local ethnic influences; and in the context of the current climate and views of what 'art' is and what 'artists' do, or are expected to do and deliver. I'm going to avoid launching into a tirade of the preposterous crap being lauded as 'art'—but let's accept, for the sake of the discussion and because it's true, that people view 'art' and 'artists' in a particular way; at this time and this socio-cultural context.

The rules appear to be quite simple. If you're not '...imprisoned, exiled, trapped with a raving lunatic, mad yourself, or dead—or a dead crow...' you're highly unlikely to gain said recognition as an 'artist'. There are notable exceptions, especially among novelists, but they are few. A person who does not exhibit significant psychopathologies will much more likely be labelled a 'craftsman'—sorry, that should be 'craftsperson' I guess. Common wisdom has it that unless you've suffered considerable trauma, inflicted either by the world or yourself, you're incapable of going 'deep' enough to generate what may be labelled 'art'. You may not need to be in acute trauma, but it is expected that you exhibit visible signs of being significantly damaged goods. The media love these people, just like they love bad news. Sane people don't 'sell' or make good copy. Media get so much more mileage out of the psychologically incontinent than out of people who have what one might call a sense of perspective about the world and themselves—some of which, by the way, may have been acquired after significant struggle, physical and psychological.

A part of the problem is that the amorphous 'community' of the 'artistic' partially defines itself as being one of the damaged and therefore presumed 'deep' and/or 'profound' and/or (most importantly!) 'creative'.

Given that things are as they are the cynic in me comes to the obvious conclusion, which is this:

Never mind the truth.

Since all is perception...

The key-words are 'spin' and 'promotion'—self-promotion, that is. Tell them what they want to hear. If it looks better for you to be seriously teetering on the edge of insanity, why not pretend that you are? On the other hand, method-acting can be very psychologically damaging and create multi-polarity-by-habit; especially when you come to believe everything you do—and apparently, to inject a bit of uncomfortable science into the discussion—this is exactly what happens more often than not.

So maybe it's safer to dish out for public consumption just enough details about your inner turmoils, so that people infer the terrible war-zone inside you, but admire you for keeping it to well under control. Someone like that just has to be great and deep and meaningful—and 'creative'; let's not forget 'creative'!! Spin and promotion is, of you'll forgive me the pun, an 'art form'. If you're doing it in the service of being recognized as an artist—as opposed to trying to promote some low-life ambitions as, say, a policitican—then it seems like it's in a good cause. Play the suckers for all it's worth. Remember that people are under an inborn compunction to fill in blanks. So, less details are probably better than more; just make sure the blanks are strategically positioned so that they're filled in with the things you're likely to want them filled in.

Is this deception? Maybe. But it's also the way of a merciless and venal world that basically doesn't give a crap about the 'real' artist, but just wants them to be whatever fashion happens to dictate.

Last point, and, for the enquirer, a most important one:

Why would one want 'recognition' anyway?

I suspect the answers are as legion as people being confronted with the question, ranging from praticality to need for personal validation. I also suspect that most of the answers given will be either false or shallow; without a much-needed deeper introspection for what lies behind the façade of a facile or pseudo-profound reply. Nobody's asking that the 'deep' answer be made public—indeed, it's probably better to remain mum about it. In the realm of 'spin' and 'promotion' the 'deep truth' is seldom of advantage. But to onself one should lie as little as possible. This at least is my view of these things.

And so we come to the bottom line, which is that what will see one through this crap of being an unrecognized and undervalued minority are just two things: passion and personal integrity. Unless one posesses both of those, no matter what 'recognition' one may receive, everything is a lie.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Unreal Reality of Fiction

The things people come out with...

The discussion was about something completely unrelated to writing or fiction; something about, one might say, 'the real world' or an issue/problem within that context. But, as I sometimes do, possibly too often, I tried to shed a light on a possible solution or useful perspective using a metaphor or narrative instance from some piece of fiction. In this instance, as it also happens often, I used one from a writing of Jack Vance. It never got to the point though, because the other person looked at me askance. 'Jack Vance'?

Don't know him, huh? Typical.

"Ahh," he said, "you're talking about something that's not real!"

"What do you mean," I asked.

"You're talking about fiction, right? I'm not interested in what's not real. If it's fact and like history or something; but not fiction... Not interested."

Now, this invidivual strikes me as an intelligent person. He must be, to do the job he does. But this instant dismissal left me flabbergasted. I left the room shaking my head. He called after me that he was willing to listen to whatever point I had been trying to make. However, I told him it was cool, and that this wouldn't make sense except to someone who actually accepted that fiction could contribute something to any perspective of utility for this particular life-situation we'd been talking about.

I really don't get people who can't read fiction...of any kind. I know a few of them. They are addicted to the notion that, apart from exact science (end even there we have serious issues; though in general I would accept that we're dealing with demonstrable 'facts'), anything, any so-called 'information' that is conveyed from one person to another is anything else but fiction. And especially 'history'! The only non-fiction in reported 'history' consists of physical leftovers of times gone past (everything from fossils and scratching on cave walls to documents and photos or film, and, in more recent times, 'electronic' records). Everything else is conjecture based on the evidence, reliable or not, provided by said physical leftovers. This conjecture is, in its essence, fiction. It may qualify as 'informed fiction', but fiction it is.

Just how fictional and usually unreliable it is, can be easily understood if we consider that those who brag that they are the ones to produce the first drafts of history (journalists, who else?) are themselves patently unable to refrain from writing and presenting fiction. How subtle and pervasive, and unavoidable!, that is can be understood, if only we learn to appreciate that even a simple act like some war correspondent instructing the camera-operator to point the camera this way instead of that, may be material in slanting the contents of a report and the resulting inferences. And I'm not even going to get into the disheartening spectacle of verbal reporting and misrepresentation of 'facts' pervasive throughout all journalism.

The naivete of my acquaintance thinking that, say, 'documentaries' teach him more reliably about the 'real world' than, say, a piece of fantasy, is touching; though in a sad kind of way. His glib dismissal of a whole realm of mental exploration of the universe and what is 'real' reflects, I suppose, the current preoccupation with, and fashionability of, whatever passes for 'documentary' material these days; or my other pet-hatred: 'Reality Shows'. (Though I wonder if, despite all their disgusting catering for a voyeurist public's basest desires, Reality Shows aren't actually more 'documentary' than most self-proclaimed 'documentaries'. They certainly document the reactions of human placed in the most debasing and ridiculous situations; plus they reveal what kind of people actually will expose themselves to such situations.)

If our self is nothing but the collection of the narratives we weave, what does that say about the narratives of those who deny themselves the resources available through the narratives produced by millennia of 'fiction'?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Evolution, devolution

Today I was going to write about maps, but that'll do for next time. Thing is, this morning I did evolution a disservice, and I don't know if I feel all that good about it.

I was driving into work, you see. Still mostly dark, it being winter here and all. Part of town with few lights—no lights here, actually. The road going up a slight incline. Having to turn diagonally across an on-coming lane of traffic to get onto a highway. There was the car with bright lights shining into my eyes coming the other way, and when it was gone, I started to turn...

I swear: anybody else but me and evolution would have taken a leap forward; or at least not suffered a setback. This late-teen moron, on a kid's bicyle with no lights, dressed in gray shorts—shorts? in winter? at 7:15 a.m.??— and a gray sweatshirt with a gray hood; not even a silhouette, but a gray-in-gray shadow moving against a background of a low, grass-covered hillock, coming belting down that incline like he was running for his life from some demon chasing him...

Had I not seen him and stopped, that guy would have had no way to avoid me. As he passed through the beam of my headlights, in that fleeting almost-second of whoosh!, he cast a brief glance at me from under that grey hood; a face betraying the touching reliance of the dull-witted on that fickle mistress called 'luck'; and faith in his divine right to be a moron and yet continue to remain among the living, relying on observant folks like to to be at the right place at the right time, so he doesn't end up as a crumpled heap of shattered bones, mangled flesh and brains spilling out on the road through the cracks in his shattered skull—yep, he wasn't wearing the compulsory helmet either. Duh!

And then he was gone, continuing to zoom down that hill, going I-don't-know where. And as I drove out onto the highway I was wondering what I had done...

...and then—fast-forward by a couple of hours and a glimpse a decade ahead into the future of this youth—as I walked along the street and passed a decrepit Honda, in front of a building associated with the Welfare State. Inside the car, waiting for something I guess—though I hesitate to speculate as to the 'what'—sat two people: corpulent guy and a slovenly-looking woman; maybe late 20s—as I indicated, spooling forward by a decade or so. In the backseat and empty child-restraint seat; not the newest or safest model either. No child. Both, man and woman sat, without talking, looking out pensively at the car parked immediately ahead of them as if it represented or housed something of profound import. Both puffing with the dedication of the nicotine devotée on hand-rolled cigarettes, while through the woman's window, opened a slit, seeped their exhalations, an obscene kind of ectoplasm, curling up into the already polluted air and wafting out of sight, though not out of whiff.

And then I knew that this morning—purely out of simple human consideration, and not at all thinking of the inconvenience alternative paths of action would have put me through; not thinking of it then anyway; I think; maybe; one would hope—I had indeed done evolution, both biological and social, a significant disservice.

For that kid—now live and healthy; if he still is and hasn't done something else incredibly dumb by now, and maybe luck tiring of keeping him alive after all—and that man in the car...they were one and the same. The kid will go on to impregnate some woman—and maybe a few on the side—possibly repeatedly; who will sit beside him in a decrepit Honda, or whatever is suitably decrepit and unsafe for young kids in ten years' time, puffing away on cigarets that'll kill them and which they really cannot afford; and their kid(s) will probably either be at some day-care financed by the state or with relations that smoke like storm-troopers as well, or maybe—a more dismal, but not entirely unlikely scenario—batter and shake them until either their brains are scrambled or they are psychologically scarred for life...while their parents, if it can be assured at all that indeed both of the adults in the car really are their parents at the same time, sit there, inflicting damage to themselves, thinking—if 'thought' is the term here—that they, like everybody else, have a just as much of a perfect right to avail themselves of the services provided by our much-overstretched health system, in case their habit results, as it is likely to, in serious health problems, as some other Joe, who tried hard to avoid such frivolous damage, but who was dealt a shitty hand in the genetic crapshoot of life, and who will end up on our endless waiting list for medical services and be denied essential medicines, all because of the flood of bicyle-with-no-lights-riding morons, who sit in cars puffing like they were aliens from some planet that normal humans would never even think of colonizing, and use up valuable air.

And to think I helped this absurd process along, merely by staying my hand—'foot' actually—this morning, and doing what is commonly referred to as 'the right thing'...

I don't know how I feel about that. I also wonder if that moron this morning will ever know that this encounter, which with his dull wits he will have completely forgotten by now, has engendered this tirade, now going out into cyberspace for all too read.

Actually, I don't wonder at all.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Welcome, oh welcome to our little play. We're ever so grateful you could join us today.

Just to be willful and whimsical, I shall use what's known as an 'avatar'; something to express the spirit of me and this blog. And here he is...

I used to have issues with being associated in name with Till Eulenspiegel, but they disappeared sometime in my 20s, when I realized that I was actually a reincarnation of the original. He lived—and indeed lives on. And he rides again, waving around the mirror and that poor owl; which has found an appropriate expression in my personal logo.