I'm on a roll

I've posted to this thing two days in a row now, so why stop there.  Here it is, my Statement of Intent:

            I once traded my soul for an Ayn Rand novel and soon found myself at the 1992 Republican National Convention—a turban-headed token on the Astrodome jumbotron—cheering for Patrick J. Buchanan.  Cheering, yes, for Pat Buchanan's "Culture War" and his vision of an exclusive America.  My short-lived fervor for the GOP was followed by many years of cynical apathy, until Kurt Vonnegut finally restored my hope and sanity.  I offer this tale as an example to anybody who doubts the power of fiction to sway minds.

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    times new viking - present the paisley reich

punned it maharaj

According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, there is a rash of nasty new staph infections rampaging the SF gay community.  Researcher Mr. Diep at UCSF says the best way to avoid it is to scrub your staff with soap and water.

Meanwhile, due to a shortage of Brazilian cows' intenstines, a sausage shortage looms on the horizon in Switzerland which threatens to upset soccer fans this summer.  Globalization and its discontents, indeed...

There is, however, good news for freegans.

I am so immature and willing to do fuck-all to procrastinate. 
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    Prefuse 73

hardly working

Hilarious commercial #1.  Oh yeah.  I remember those days.  Carpooling to school with Jocasta from next door.    BMX ramps and cardboard boxes in the driveway for break-dancing.  "I'm not the Herb you're looking for."  BK buttons that read "I'm not Herb."  Of course, things would only get worse in the 90s.  (Commercials 1a and 1b, for those who are interested.)

This is what I am doing when I should be editing and revising my "Statement of Purpose" for my PhD application which is due in two days.  Of course, I can't edit and revise my "Statement of Purpose" because I have not written it yet.  Too bad I can't write my "Statement of Purpose" about watching old commercials on YouTube.  I am writing my "Statement of Purpose" about being a writer/activist, which is interesting because my fascination with advertising is what indirectly (through AdBusters) led to my becoming an activist.  And now I am anti-Adbusters.

Which brings me around to interesting commercial #2.  (Buy our shoes!)  The comment thread on that video is kinda innarestin, too.  I saw this while watching American Dad tonight.  Holy shit--I don't usually like that show but tonight's was an excellent James Bond parody.

[UPDATE] Mofos is lookin' at my shit (thank you) and emailing me back instead of leaving comments. Best response so far?

Lou says "My conclusion -- M.I.A. is a herb"

For those of you who like the Rebel Sell articles, check out this German film The Edukators some time.
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    Black Lips - Good Bad Not Evil

Merry Solstice

I just lost $40 at the craps table in a casino at an Indian reservation in Louisiana.  Shoulda quit while I was ahead.  My dad came out a dollar ahead on the slot machines.  Despite the fact that my DOUBLE scotch and soda had about a half-count of scotch and FOUNTAIN six count of soda, I saw a drunk lady fall off her barstool.  The maintenance-man (who was hovering about the bar trying to decide which broken slot machine to fix first) radioed for EMTs, then radioed in to inform his supervisor that more than one slot machine at the bar was broke.  The bartender who was doing a great job of ignoring everybody finally served the person next to me (who hadn't been waiting nearly as long as I had) before calling for EMTs himself.  Then he informed the pushy lady beside me that I'd been waiting longer than her and served me my slightly-flavored soda water, which, to his credit, only cost a dollar.  The EMTs never arrived and the drunk lady's friends got her a Coke before they helped her back onto her stool.  The background noise was like Brian Eno goes to The Price is Right, and more lightbulbs blazed in the joint than at a chandelier convention.

art in politrix, politrix in art

[T]he most important essential characteristic of the novel that arises out of its structure, out of the combination of narrative and length, is that it is inherently political...Inevitably, the subject of any novel comes to be the coexistence of the protagonist and his group...The narrative, and therefore the logic, of the protagonist's relationship to the group must express some explicit or implicit theory, and inevitably, many of these theories are political, because politics is about the division of power in human groups.    --Jane Smiley, Thirteen Ways of Looking At The Novel

 "Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it." –Bertolt Brecht

 "The goal of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible."  - Toni Cade Bambara

Well, school starts back up tomorrow and I'm rethinking my whole novel.  Specifically, I'm wondering if I have to chuck a whole subplot—that of the prankster anarchist community.  This is my first go at novel writing, and even though the issues are pretty clear in my mind, translating them to fiction is complicated business.  Maybe I'm in over my head (for now, as a novice), and I need to go through this whole process of writing and rewriting a long work of fiction before I go muddying the waters with what may be dismissed as "propaganda."

            These misgivings are somewhat related, I'm sure, to talks I had with my summer advisor.  He cautioned me that at times, in his opinion, I was verging on propaganda.  That may or may not be so (like I said it's his opinion and it's largely a matter of taste), but it's still something I would be well served to keep an eye on. 

            Not to get defensive, but I think that the parts that do come closest to deserving a label such as "propaganda" or "didacticism" are parts he specifically asked for, parts where he asked me to explain my characters' motivations.  At this point, I'm not so interested in explaining motivations.  Stylistically, I just want to describe the action and avoid delving too deep into the characters' heads, as in Less Than Zero.

            On a sidenote, another way I'm striving to make this like Less Than Zero and Play It As It Lays is the missed connections quality—the way characters talk past each other and aren't really interested in one another.  My workshop leader last spring felt like I was wasting opportunities and narrative tension by having characters just brush past each other so much—but what if that's the point?  (This idea was not so clear to me at the time, so I never stated my intent clearly, I'm sure.)

            But getting back to politics and propaganda, another thing my summer advisor advised me to consider was what he called "the arrogance necessary to be an activist."  I understood what he meant by that when he said it, in context, but no I can only assume he referred to "the arrogance" necessary to judge the relative morality of people's beliefs and actions, or to think you know how to do things better than the given status quo, etc.  I assume that's what he meant, but I'm not sure.  (And I'm fairly certain that if I asked him to clarify now, he would not recall exactly what he meant in that context.  Still, it wouldn't hurt to ask.)

            In any case, I don't see anything arrogant about "one no, many yeses."  I think the decentralized, anti-authoritarian approach to problem-solving is much less arrogant than the one-size-fits-all market fundamentalism that is constantly forced down our throats.  Also, I don't think it's any more arrogant than anything advertisers do.  On the contrary—I am merely trying to bring information to my audience which I feel they're not getting from the mainstream media.  I'm not telling them what to think.  And unlike advertisers and corporate news producers, I am trying to give them real information so they can make up their own minds, as opposed to spin, image, and fluff.  Isn't all that tripe in the newspapers and on tv so much more insulting to the audience?  Talk about arrogant contempt for your audience!

            I mean, is it "arrogant" now to challenge Americans' solipsistic disregard for anybody but themselves (and maybe their immediate, nuclear family?)

            At least at this historical moment, Americans generally prefer their art to be "apolitical," which means that they prefer that it not challenge their comfortable place in the world.  They like to be reassured that, though we may indeed be living in a complex world fraught with moral ambiguities, we are all chugging along to the best of our abilities.  Like Voltaire's Candide, not only are we living in the best castle in the best country under the best leaders, we are living in the best possible castle in the best possible country. 

            And that's all that matters.  Good intentions.  We like to be reminded that we're trying our best in an imperfect world.  Being imperfect beings, sometimes we fuck up and miscalculate, and when that happens, the serfs of the world should just be happy with whatever pittance we can muster up, which only would have rotted in our already overburdened warehouses, anyway.

            But why is advertising, a whole mammoth industry which draws from the ranks of the most creative people in the world, not considered propaganda?  BUY NOW, PAY LATER!

            I'm just ranting now.  I'd been mulling these thoughts in a much more organized fashion a week or two ago, but I waited too long to commit them to the page.  All I know is this:  it is indeed difficult to portray a nuanced, compelling critique of the normative culture through complex high art which is meant to be both timely and timeless...but it's not impossible.  Plenty of South American, Eastern European, African, and South Asian writers have done it—and under the most repressive circumstances.  Maybe that's one reason political art is not so well received in this country:  It's like the audiences and critics are telling us that we're at the top of the food chain and we should be careful not to rock the boat.  Don't fuck it up for the rest of us. 

            I found myself in Guadalajara during their big annual book expo last year.  It's the largest book fair in the western hemisphere.  I had the privilege of attending a panel discussion on politics in fiction with the likes of Jose Saramago and Nadine Gordimer.  I'd been led to believe that the discussion would be held in English (to accommodate Ms. Gordimer), but that turned out to be false, so I didn't comprehend most of it because it was (rightly) in Spanish.  In any case, from what little I gathered, Gordimer's notion of politics was a very old school "which party are you going to support" kind of understanding, and she failed to inspire me in the way I'd hoped.  Saramago was much more interesting, but I've lost the gist of his remarks in translation and time.

            One big critique of MFA programs is that they churn out works that are very similar to each other—"The MFA Novel."  I think maybe I just picked the wrong advisor to work with over the summer.  I'm writing what I hope will become a work of ruthless satire, and my advisor is just too nice of a guy.  He wants me to explain my characters' motivations, for example, when they engage in some petty vandalism, and to be nice to the straw men I set up just to tear down, but the book I've been reading lately (Fixer Chao by Han Ong) is convincing me of the exact opposite.  I've been too nice to the targets of my scorn.  I need to turn up the heat, tighten the screws--not reaffirm that we all just try our best in an imperfect world.

            And once I'm out of here (out of school) I may like to make a name for myself as a creative writing instructor who encourages his students to find the artistic solutions they need to work their politics into their work.  I mean, don't get me wrong—I hate most "political" art, too.  It tends to be preachy and simplistic and speak in generalizations. 

            The aesthetics tend to be subservient to the "message."  I wrote and produced a whole one-act play about simplistic political art.  But I'd like to work on finding solutions to that quandary, and why not make it a group effort with multiple solutions?

            Anyway, to change the subject a bit now, I'm not even as sure in my politics as I was a year ago, when I started this project.  What gives me the audacity to think I know any better than anybody else?  Who am I to preach to anybody?  And what makes me think I can even make a difference?  Am I an optimist?  An idealist?  Do I really think art can change people?  This quote from Fixer Chao further complicates my musings.  (The narrator, William Paulinha, is comparing himself to another character, Paul Chan Chuang Toledo Lin, who has written a book called Peking Man?Woman?.

And though there was a seed inside his book that pertained to my situation—which was that sometimes a face other than your own could be grafted on top by the outside world—I thought that there was a world of difference between what he chose to do with that knowledge and what I was choosing to do.  In essence, Paul Chan Chuang Toledo Lin was the author of a screed, a rant, a complaint, huffing and puffing.  Versus?  My plan, a definite course of action:  revenge...

 Peking Man?Woman? was a definite screed which, though bitter, was written from hope.  A hope that people's minds could be influenced, made to see the error of their ways and then corrected, and therefore linked with the idea of progress, moving forward.  In his own way, then, Toledo Lin possessed a kind of grace, believing that human beings could be made better, shamed into improvement.  While as for myself, I started from the belief that human beings, having begun low, only degenerated further, and that the only correction possible came from a kind of violence, a kind of wresting away of privileges which were undeserved, things granted which it was time to repossess, to reveal the naked, fatty, vulnerable thing underneath; a feeling closer to death than to life.

             Do I believe, like Paul Chan Chuang Toledo Lin, that people are inherently good?  That, given the "correct" information, I can compel them to change?  Or do I believe they are rotten?  (This difference in worldview lies at the heart of the liberal/conservative divide, I think.)

            In any case, the world bumbled along fine before I entered the picture, and I suspect it will do fine without me and my opinions, also.  And who knows, maybe all the prophets of doom are wrong.  Gawdette knows they have been in the past.  A favorite quote to put things in perspective:

Why are we watching the news, keeping up with the news? Only to enforce the fancy—probably a necessary lie—that these are crucial times, and we are in on them…New diseases, shifts in power, floods! Can the news from dynastic Egypt have been any different?   --Annie Dillard, For the Time Being

             I mean, humans have done shitty things to other humans (not to mention plants and animals) for millennia.  I am not about to change that.  And is it not arrogant of me to assume that what I offer, my solution, would be better?  (Unless, of course, what I offer is not an answer but a question, with many possibly correct answers.  Again, "one no and many yeses.")

            Anyway, classes start tomorrow and I look forward to Lewis Buzbee's lit seminar this semester.  Lewis is a great teacher—I had him last semester.  He actually answers your emails and encourages you to follow your passion and explore as much as you want outside of class.  One book we'll be reading is Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.  (We're also reading The Grapes of Wrath, Miami and The Last Thing He Wanted  by Joan Didion and In Cold Blood, then looking at the authors' notes and letters to evaluate their intent and how they accomplished what they intended.)  I look forward to rereading Invisible Man because it's a political book that strives to be apolitical.  Ellison was not, like James Baldwin, so interested in effecting social change through his fiction—Ellison espoused the modernist principles of art for art's sake.  His work is full of, among other things, allusions to canonical works. 

            Nonetheless, he (inadvertently?) created a powerful critique of the forces on both the political right and the left which were only interested in black people as tools, as means to their political ends.  The Invisible Man, first championed by The Brotherhood, grows disillusioned as he realizes that once he starts thinking independently and they no longer need him as their token, they decide he'd make a good martyr for their cause.  (That's how I remember it, at least.  It's been 10 years since I read it last.)

            And finally, that's my major concern.  I am not interested in sitting in this comfortable place and exploiting the suffering of others to advance my career, to elevate my power.  To tell their stories is fine, but to advocate "solutions" which "they" themselves may find unpalatable, that's just fascist.  And let's not forget that fascism came out of the left. (Though once you get to the fringes, the political spectrum loops back on itself.  How far are anarchists—the extreme left, from libertarians—the extreme right?  Not very.)

            But when you think of the dearth of real lifestyle choices, the dearth of real choices in how we live/work/eat/play and relate to each other (amidst the plentiful choices among cars and toothpastes and fast foods and antidepressant diet pills), maybe I can provide a service in telling stories of people who live rich lives outside of that vapid rat race.  Rich lives filled with passionate idealism, romance, and adventure amidst this crumbling plastic world.

            The jury's still out, but these are my thoughts.  I am equivocating.  Actually, who am I kidding?  I see no point in this exercise if I'm not challenging the status quo.  The world needs my book(s).  Comrade. And I would do well to incorporate more stories of local struggles across the globe from the truly dispossessed victims of our consumer culture and less about angst-ridden Americans.  Or to illustrate the connections between los dos.

            So, tell me dear readers--what do you think of these things: arrogance vs. complicity, idealism and niavete vs cynicism, and the role of art in moving people from one to the other.

When I was Born for the Seventh Time

I just read this article and I think it's missing a key reason why people like to deflate their background:  they want to participate in the American "rags to riches" "by the bootstraps" myth.

I remember reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry back in sixth grade.  For a few years afterwards, I would start off any autobiographical piece with the phrase "I was born the son of poor black sharecroppers..."  (Being a big fan of Steve Martin's The Jerk prolly had something to do with that, too.)  I'm glad that somebody I respect finally told me how corny I was being.

I'm also reminded of certain jackass suburban "gangstas" from my parents' temple who claim to be from "The Ghettoes of Punjab."  Puh-lease!  You are a chump who's been to jail too many times because you are stupid, not because you're hard or the man is keeping you down.

Good Roads, Good Weather

I'm not really supposed to be updating my blog on account of I'm like two weeks behind in my work, but I need to vent and I'll prolly act out in a counterproductive way if I don't.

So, I got a package in the mail from my eldest sister today, a birthday present. Twelve copies of a craptastic little pamphlet by L. Ron Hubbard. Not one, twelve.


I want to send them back to her and tell her what I really think about her little cult, but I'm trying to restrain myself. See, a few weeks ago I included her on a mass email, and she responded with a "reply all" to my list of friends with some Scientology proselytizing. WTF??? [Wait! Why does my stupid Firefox spellcheck have "Scientology" in its database and not "WTF" or even "spellcheck?" Insidious mother fuckers.]

Yeah, so I wrote her back and told her not to proselytize to my friends, and probably for the first time in years, I let on about my real opinion on her beliefs. For those of you not familiar with how to deal with cult members--what I did is not a good idea.

I've been wondering, since, if she has ratted me out yet. She must have at least told her husband that I'm a "suppressive person," and he works for the "church." Pretty soon the church will ask her to sever her ties with the only family member who still maintains ties with her. Or the "church" will excommunicate her and she'll see what a sham her whole life was and she'll kill herself.

Ok, I'm exaggerating, but stuff like that happens. [And why the fuck is "ok" not in the god damned spellcheck database, but fucking SCIENTOLOGY is? I FEEL LIKE PUNCHING SOMEBODY JUST BECAUSE OF THAT!!! I mean, I remember reading in The Beach that "Coca Cola" is the second-most-widely understood word in THE WORLD, after "OK."]

In any case, I want to call my sister and tell her that I'm chucking these stupid pamphlets she sent me because I think they're dangerous for vulnerable people, and that along with the copy of Diuretics that she gave me, I've got A Piece of Blue Sky and Bare Faced Messiah on my shelf, that I've read all three and thought it through and decided which side I'm on.

Of course, that's a lie. All three are on my shelf, but I haven't read a one.

I should get to work. But damn I'm pissed. I just want my sister back...it's been, what, eleven years? Help me Steve Hassan!

(no subject)

I have to write 50 pages by next Friday.

One week, exactly. So what did I do? I went out and bought two more books, both by Hakim Bey: T.A.Z. and Immediatism. Both of which, obviously, are available online. And both of which I have pretended to have read for many years, which I have counted as major philosophical influences for many years. Ha!

So I've got about seven books going at the moment. It's pretty awesome. Other than the ones in my last blog entry, I've also pulled Frank Owen's Clubland down off the shelf, along with some Zapatista pamphlets and this book, which Tish gave me, about clowns in the USSR.

Tomorrow I head out to Yosemite for the weekend. I've been coerced into chaperoning a retreat for LA gang members. I prolly shouldn't call 'em that. They're kids.

But I've been promised a great deal of free time to focus on my work, a place to stay in some of the most beautiful country, and three squares, so I'm not complaining. And I will totally be out of reach to the outside world. Can't wait!  (Although I think this is not the one that we go river rafting on...that's the one in July.)

In other news, I think I'm going to the US Social Forum in Atlanta in July.

I need a new book shelf!

Talk about summer madness!  I went a little crazy buying books yesterday.  Here is a list (in no particular order) of what I picked up for various aspects of "research" for my novel:

Fixer Chao by Han Ong

Londonstani by Gautam Malkani

The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow

Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead

The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty (I've read this a few times but I need it as a reference.)

If On a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (Another one I've read a few times but didn't have on my shelf, recently.)

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers by Tom Wolfe

Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman

Pranks and Pranks 2 from Re/Search

Black Mask & Up Against the Wall Motherfucker by Ron Hahne, Ben Morea and the Black Mask Group

Guerilla Street Theater edited by Henry Lesnick

The Whistling Song by Stephen Beachy  (First novel by one of my teachers...I bought it used, so alas, he won't get paid for it.)

The World of Normal Boys by K.M. Soehnlein (First novel by another one of my teachers...also used, alas.)

Granta's "Best of Young American Novelists" edition - (The last story, by a man named John Wray, features a Sikh character, and this issue also features a story by Daniel Alarcon, who rocked everybody's world when he read at USF.)

So those are the 16 I bought yesterday.  I'd also like to read the following books which have been sitting on my desk for a few months:

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, The Fountain at the Center of the World by Robert Newman, April Fool's Day by Josip Novakovich, and The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara.

CRAP!!!  And I should also get a hold of Barbara Ehrenreich's new book Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy.

And I still want to finish Swann's Way and The Last Life from last semester.  And I should probably get a leg-up on next semester's reading, too, because it's going to be pretty heavy.  (We've got The Grapes of Wrath, Invisible Man, In Cold Blood, and Miami on the syllabus, along with the authors' notes and journals and letters.  I've read three of those four, but still, I am going to have to read them again.)  (Oh shit, and we have to read Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee in my workshop next semester!)

And...I have to write 150 pages of my own novel and take one chapter through three revisions...You know that Kool & the Gang song "Summer Madness?"  That is not what I am talking about in this entry!

So I guess I should get off the internet, huh?  Before I go, one question for you, dear readers: What groupings/trends do you see in this list?

OH!  I almost forgot.  I also picked up the new Wilco album.  It's frickin beautiful.  Best Wilco album to date.