Make Up Blog: Boredom Remains the Same

I find this essay interesting concerning the effects and importance of boredom, and am with Priest for many sections, of the essential conceit that a society of ceaseless media must be based on a foundation of boredom; and of boredom’s ability to “bore a hole in us” (37). But in the middle Priest loses me. I don’t know that the experience of boredom is ontologically different now than it was in Cage’s time, and the neo-liberalism in particular has dramatically altered how a subject (a person) experiences boredom. It seems in Priest view, that neo-liberalism has severed boredom’s connection to the sublime, and now is only ever capable of delivering us to a thing called stuplime, a word coined by Ngai (36). The concept of the stuplime is interesting, and I wish I had read in full the Ngai’s essay discussing it, because I get the feeling that the stuplime is being misapplied here. Boredom is anti-capitalist, and has been since Cage’s time. Filling space with minimal cognitive or physical activity rebukes the factory floor model of the west handed down from the industrial revolution. Beyond the initial experiencing of the void of the moment, “the sense of senselessness” boredom returns us to the body, as sensation begins to enlarge, stupliminty, may be one more step towards the pay-off promised by Cage. Maybe Boredom hasn’t changed in an intrinsic way in sixty years, and Priest just isn’t waiting long enough.

It seems that Priest wants to problematize difference. Instead of understanding them as discrete modes, or entryways into boredom, Priest wants us to view boredom in a lineage, as having been mutated over the years by our cultural choices. The section “A less promising boredom” is the biggest offender for me. On page 76, as Priest takes the way artists use boredom as a symptom of depression, as a way to simulate boredom for an audience. In his examination of the work of Christine Ross, Priest begins to confuse depression for boredom. While boredom can be an entry point (or exit point) to depression, depression is not “reaching for nothing in particular” or “a sense of senselessness.” From the way, Priest discusses Ross’ work, she seems to understand the difference. On “how slow time in art suggests the way depression interrupts the hermeneutic impulse of perception and revalorizes the domain of sensory appreciation” (76). My problem is the way he concludes the boredom-depression connection, “In this view, boredom no longer forms a dialectical relationship with intensity that Higgins took its contrast with excitement to mean. Where boredom once served ‘as a means of bringing emphasis to what it interrupts,’ it now functions in this ‘culture of individualized independence’” (77). What I don’t quite understand is not that artist are finding new ways of accessing boredom, which would seem like the type of thing art should be doing, but why this other older type of boredom is no longer available. It’s not like the tyranny of individuality is new.

There were other parts of the essay where Priest seemed to be disagreeing with his own text. I was fascinated by the part on 82 where the piano player Barone describes playing the piece Piano Installations. Barone describes the actual playing of the piece to be so endlessly repetitive that it began to simulate being on “magic mushrooms” and that “nothing made sense” and that his own body was “utterly foreign” (85). And yet, Priest tells us, “The expressions of sublime transduction are clearly absent from his description” (85). Really? Playing this piece of music can induce a psychedelic hallucination, but isn’t sublime? How sublime does the sublime have to be for Priest?

So, I was surprised then, in the final section of the chapter, when Priest quickly takes a lot of what he said back. “Obviously, boredom today is not wholly distinct from the boredom of the 1960s and 1970s; the formal and conceptual similarities, as well as the discursive figures that are used by artists to describe and justify the boring things they do, are more than apparent” (96). I’m with Priest here, and many of the other assertions of this sections, including the necessity of the death of the avant-garde in order to preserve the avant-garde, but, considering that last statement above, I wonder if all of those middle sections were necessary.

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CTT Slacker and Structure

Capture the Tag Slacker:

 

In the blog post “Slacker and Violent Media”, Madison asserts: “while there may not be much happening in the film, there is a lot happening on the periphery of what is being shown”. This decentralizing of content in Slacker is but one way in which the structure of the film can be discussed in terms of Adornian fragmentation and queer passivity/nonproductivity.

Stephanie, in her post “Thoughts on Slacker” notes how Linklater’s pseudo-scientific “alternate realities” monologue at the beginning of the film might be read to echo Halberstam’s “detours”, i.e. alternative methods of solving theoretical problems within an “undisciplined zone of knowledge production” (Halberstam 15). To supplement Stephanie’s point, I would add Halberstam’s citation of Foucault, which highlights how hegemonic ways of knowing and relating are a constructed phenomenon: “The social worlds we inhabit…are not inevitable…in the process of producing this reality, many other realities, fields of knowledge and ways of being have been discarded and…”disqualified” [Foucault]’ (Halberstam, 9). In his rambling speech about reading in dreams and missed opportunities for bus station romance, Linklater also mentions how each choice a person makes theoretically denies countless other realities. We can stretch this a bit and consider Foucault’s concept of the construction of history in hegemonic discourse as a series of chances, either taken or ignored, that give way to one reality only in the suppression of others. In this context, the conspiracy theories that crop up repeatedly in Slacker can be understood as a paranoid response to literal or figurative violence inherent in the production of a single historical reality.

More generally, the anti-narrative structure and lack of character development can be usefully considered from the angle of Foucault and Halberstam. “We [don’t] get to see any of the characters develop” Stephanie states, “so, by society’s standards, they are all unproductive”. In allowing characters to disappear, the structure of the film also facilitates a characterization of them as failures. The characters are denied profit-based success not because they don’t have jobs (although it seems almost certain that most of them don’t) but because Linklater has manipulated what we see andas a result, how we interpret his characters’ (non)productivity. As Stephanie astutely notes, this fragmentation of form can be read against Adorno’s “false totality”. I want to elaborate on this idea, for it is this fragmentary formal constraint that offers us a disruption beyond that of mere characterization. If fragmentation betrays the truthful counterpart to a totality that, in its generalization, hides holes and disqualified realities, then, by denying the hierarchical structure of narrative, the fragmentary condition of Slacker reveals such realities by its commitment to pursuing the secondary, tertiary, quaternary, etc. characters that standard narrative disqualifies in its orderly pursuit of central character(s), climactic event, resolution or other such formal mainstays. “Never looping back to main characters in the way other vignette movies do” Angelica states in her entry “Transaction and Meaning in Slacker”, “the film…[resists] traditional movie storytelling.” She goes on to say that this resistance mimics the resistance to capitalism many of the characters demonstrate, which I think is a fair assessment. For considerations of length, however, I will only say that the content of resistance is as complex as the form (free weapons giveaway, anyone?).

Formally, Angelica is concerned with a device that she has deemed the “switch off”—a kind of passing of the baton that the camera follows. This is precisely how the film gives us the ability to encounter so many characters in such a short time, while still maintaining a structural through-line and providing what Stephanie calls a “wandering or lingering” quality that cultivates the feeling of nonproductivity. Angelica sees this transference of attention as a “transaction” between individuals that, although it may involve goods, “isn’t mediated by goods at all”. I agree that the switch off is a human interaction, but I think it is most certainly mediated by goods. It is the qualities of these goods that make the switch off different. Firstly, they are often free (although sometimes they are not, ex. the latte, the soda, the diner coffee—mostly beverages, it seems) or stolen. Cigarettes, entry stamps, cameras and books are passed without charge from one person to another and incite the switch off. Secondly, the goods are arguably only valuable in the Slacker economy—the tape of the student hostage-taker, “oblique strategy” cards, the old man’s cassette—and sometimes not even in there (the Madonna pap smear). The transactions themselves often involve bartering, charity, or the aforementioned law-breaking:  when the old anarchist tells the would-be burglar to “look around, take anything [he] like[s]”, or the guys steal the car parts from the pick n’ pull. What makes the economy of Slacker go ’round may not be typical goods or exchange transactions, but both are still present.

Madisonduarte’s observation that there is much happening on the periphery of the film is important, I think, because in a standard narrative we wouldn’t be asked to concern ourselves with it. Slacker draws out peripheries from peripheries from peripheries, and, as a result, is peripheral itself in both in its non-normative form, subversive content and cast of ephemeral “ultimate losers”. As such, the film lends itself to a queer reading that encounters these decentralizing, disruptive elements as a rejection of standardization, normative historical methods and adherence with the global exchange economy.

Quicksand, the Aesthetic Gaze and the Heterogeneous Subject

I would like to look at how the role of aesthetics in Quicksand relates to the “irritation” noted by Sianne Ngai in Ugly Feelings  and informs Helga’s racial consciousness.

Helga relies on the semiotic capabilities of beauty in order to string together a rational narrative of her life from the outside in, despite the inconsistency and tumult of her psyche. It is evident from the beginning, when Helga “smiles inwardly” at the message her small hats and elegant shoes send to the prim-minded employees of Naxos, who find them “positively indecent”(52). Early on, too, we learn that her entire life Helga has “loved and longed” for beautiful and pleasing “things” (41). It is in this desire for material beauty that we can find Helga’s method of anestheticizing the pervasive irritation that motivates her throughout the novel.

When the signifiers of her appearance are co-opted by the Dahls Helga enjoys it—at first. Helga invests her emotional capital in the “business” of her manufacture as an exotic aesthetic product, “[giving] herself up wholly to the fascinating business of being seen, gaped at, desired” (104). It is important to remember that Helga consents to this “aestheticization” in the beginning and that it is “intensely pleasant to her” (104). The eventual pleasure Helga finds in her beautiful appearance dissolves the initial “perturbation” (103) or irritation Helga experiences at being a “peacock” (103). In this moment Helga rejects any racial obligation to feel ashamed of her marketability in Copenhagen as an exotic and beautiful object. Her willingness to “try on” the identity the Dahls fashion for her, to try to locate her subjectivity through the eyes of her aunt, uncle and Copenhagen society, echoes the impulsiveness with which she relocates herself geographically. Helga’s attempt to locate or identify herself from the outside-in can be viewed as an attempt to arrest the queer condition of her ontological flux and non-binary racial consciousness. By cultivating her own objectification Helga obtains the ontological glue, so to speak, that temporarily alleviates her riven condition.

In Copenhagen Helga purposefully seeks to claim her blackness through the gaze of the Danish. “Intentionally” she speaks the “slow, faltering Danish” she thinks makes her more attractive for its indication of foreignness, and is gratified by the attention she receives (104). In the same turn Helga criticizes black Americans as hypocritical, denouncing that they “didn’t want to be like themselves”, and desired instead to “be like their white overlords” and “were ashamed to be Negroes, but not ashamed to beg to be something else. Something inferior” (104). In adopting her aestheticized and fetishized identity Helga cultivates a counterintuitive racial pride in opposition to both whiteness and blackness. In her above critique we can read Helga’s earlier criticisms of racial uplift, here characterized as the white washing of an essential quality of blackness. That this critique emerges from Helga’s being recast as a fetish object—a luxury item with the power to promote social buoyancy—is problematic, to say the least. Helga’s attempt to locate or identify herself from the outside-in can be viewed as an attempt to arrest the queer condition of her ontological flux and non-binary racial consciousness.

If Helga’s racial consciousness only manifests from the outside-in, as mediated by her beautiful environment, possessions, or appearance, then it follows that this identification exists only in that it is refracted through the eyes of another. In accordance with this triangulated aesthetic gaze, instances of beauty in the novel become representative of a symbolic observer that has the power to confer upon Helga a particular kind of social capital. Aesthetically objectified and “appraised” (81), Helga is contracted into a value (product) and thereby unified into a singular subject (paradoxically) by another’s objectifying gaze.

To be beautiful and to have beautiful things is a way to surrender to the gaze of another and so solicit the unified value that evades her internally. The pursuit and attainment of beauty alleviates temporarily the irritation Helga cannot seem to escape. In Helga’s characteristic attraction to beauty we can read her desire to anestheticize the irritation that stems from her incongruity with an ever-nagging racial binary. Even the “miraculously beautiful” (149) community she experiences in Alabama is refracted through the fervently religious eyes of Reverend Pleasant Green, her marriage to whom was tonic to the irritative rupture that occurred after her final meeting with Dr. Anderson. Helga chose, chased and conquered the Reverend as a way to still herself, to arrest her roaming consciousness and identity in favor of the numb bliss of religiosity and domesticity. Of course, at the end of the novel, in the bed after childbirth, Helga returns to her nomadic state, if only psychologically, and by the last sentence teeters on the edge of self-obliteration.

Show Me.

Adorno’s marriage to the idea that whole series of closed systems are doomed to fail due to the inherent illusion that must take place in order for a closed system to exist is pounded out in a pointed and often contradictory fashion, if not convoluted. In this Adorn-ian way that he goes about making his point(s) the use of language is and can be at times unclear which in a way is “showing” us his point as much, maybe more, than actually “telling” his point. The idea that the more he explains a point the further he actually gets away from it, is a perfect example of the representation of language as a commodity, in that words no longer hold a valued meaning unless tied to the predominant enclosed system to which everyone is tied. In his words, “A writer will find that the more precisely, conscientiously, appropriately he expresses himself, the more obscure the literary result is though, whereas a loose and irresponsible formulation is at once rewarded with certain understanding,” (101).

Much like Adorno in the ways of attacking this issue, Linklater takes another, “outside” mode to the conventional way of making film to illustrate the issue of letting the points make themselves within the viewer and not making the point as writer/creator/artist. Not having a finely etched narrative to hang its coat on, so to speak, allows the film to follow the currents of discourse, that while having a very familiar casualness to them in tone or inception of how they come about, are nevertheless not conventional conversations to the majority in the predominant capitalist system in which we, in the U.S. are so prevalently tied to. The casualness that pervades throughout Slacker is an interesting device that allows the mostly unreferenced conversations or even monologues to have a thread running through them that keeps the narrative-starving audience at bay. Though not the conversations themselves, the “flow” of the film is similar to the Adorno notion of, “Shoddiness that drifts with the flow of familiar speech is taken as a sign of relevance and contact,” (101), replace “familiar speech” with just the word “familiarity” and you get my point hopefully.

Adorno goes on in the same passage under Morality and style, “anything specific, not taken from pre-existent patterns, appears inconsiderate, a symptom of eccentricity, almost of confusion” (101). The scene in the restaurant/café when the woman is directly addressing the coffee-drinker guy, there is no reference to what she is speaking about or to, although addressing him. There is no “pre-existent” pattern or reason for her speech and is therefore deemed or taken by the guy, if not the viewer/audience, as “inconsiderate” as he shuffles off in whatever form of irritation (buzz word) or confusion he feels. The same could be said of the “conspiracy” guy (Batman T-shirt guy) who follows, almost badgering, another guy who is listening but surely intent upon his destination to politely shake the guy. The conversation (or more accurately, monologue) is one of subversive content, seemingly, and is lost in the verboseness with which the “conspiracy” guy speaks. One can pick up on what he saying, but the friendly yet badgering manner “symptom of eccentricity” is more memorable than the specific, out of context speech he leaves behind. Once again asserting that, “Vague expression permits the hearer to imagine whatever suits him and what he already thinks in any case” (101).

The continuing point of the commodification, or the lack of value of words in a systemic context, is prevalent and poignant in the ritual scenes of Slacker. As an audience, we do not know the purpose of these rituals; is the son trying to have a remembrance of his mother by burning the pictures, or is he celebrating her departure/death. What do we make of the menstrual cycle demonstration? We never get to hear the point of such a ritualistic display. We as an audience, follow the more important and familiar path of the journey than the words or dialogue themselves. These rituals are deemed important in themselves and are a symbol of de-commodified language in that their mode is singular and unexplained.

In speaking of language, Adorno says, “It turns against the masters who misuse it to command, by seeking to command them, and refuses to serve their interests,” and Linklater’s Slacker is the manifestation of that refusal “to serve their [the masters] interests,” (102). It is filled with characters (if one can call them that) that are independently doing things outside of the commodified structure of their “masters” world. Whether by ritual (and why not keep the typewriter?) or the importance of the conventionally devoid of structure, non-narrative path, atmospheric river, or “bunny paths” over the words used to describe each individual path (Adorno is really getting to me now) the “how” is being shown to the audience, more than being told.

Industry of Culture

Industry of Culture

 

Reading The Queer Art of Failure amidst the temporary coffee and repetition led me back to a memory that took place in my hometown. It was a summer when I was taking class at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, a place codified in unlimited heat and, possibly, canted mirage. Trying to re-evaluate that time in my life brings back fragments of despair. Part of my reflection consists of envying those fragments – of how alive and arrogant they were. But that is beside the point.

 

The center building at UALR is half-glass and half-plaster. On the Northeast end of its atrium is the school cafeteria and the Southeast end is a staircase that platforms before the bookstore. The west end in its entirety is high and long paneled glass, the windows must be 30 feet long and perhaps 7 feet high. There is, as you walk North, an empty auditorium, a hunter green restroom, a Starbucks, and then the cafeteria. In the early hours of the day, it is the cult of interaction. In the afternoons, it is dead silent and you will, if you ever make your way there, find any sound intoxicatingly amped in its emptiness.

 

In this memory, it was late afternoon. I was making my rounds to the car or gym or no place in particular. I was alone and walking past a marble bust when I heard two men talking in the opulent expanse of the atrium. It was clear at the beginning that they did not know each other beforehand as the words floundered for questions and the laughs were insincere. But that isn’t any different and isn’t why I remember them.

 

One of the men was a heterosexual and the other was not. The pattern of speech and personality altered completely when they became aware of my presence. The heterosexual’s voice bottomed to bass and cadence adopted a militant rigor evoking masculinity and superiority. The other stuttered in step and tone. He could not rely on a word or expression or even anything as simple as the mechanical. I can still recall his fragile state to an exact clarity this day. It was indoctrinated oppression in a mundane opportunity, both easy and theatrical, similar to waking up. Maybe another time I’ll give it more words.

 

Halberstam’s third thesis is to “suspect memorialization.” (15) This is a part of life I always felt prone to follow. The reinvention of memory is at times an accident but it can find an indeterminate purpose, a structure “unacting, unbeing, and unbecoming.” (145) In a culture built upon the industry of interaction and result, life can become static and fitted to disillusion. To address my memory in the atrium at UALR, it can be said that “the others” of collective identity intuitively become prompted, edited, and grounded by memorialization. “Memory is itself a disciplinary mechanism that Foucault calls ‘a ritual of power.’” (15)

 

The pain in that memory is twofold. From both, personality quelled to environment. It is a common way to engender trust and it still useful in the present time. In my memory it is entombed in that hollow atrium as transformation and shame.

 

 

 

“So what is the alternative? This simple question announces a political project, begs for a grammar of possibility…” (2)

 

“Not an optimism that relies on positive thinking as an explanatory engine for social order, nor one that insists upon the bright side at all costs; rather this is a little ray of sunshine that produces shade and light in equal measure and knows that the meaning of one always depends upon the meaning of the other.” (5)

 

“Certain ways of seeing the world are established as normal or natural, as obvious and necessary, even though they are often entirely counterintuitive or social engineered.” (9)