Monday, January 31, 2005

Maneki Neko -- Japanese "lucky cats," equally well-known to Bruce Sterling devotees and desperate local retailers. Posted by Hello
There's a Germaine Koh review over at the Straight this week, but you won't find it posted here until I can download the text and carry out some kind of wall-to-wall rewrite.


Mr. Daniel Bejar, a.k.a. Destroyer, possessor of a falsetto warble, tuner of fuzzy warm-toned guitars, and builder of synthesizer walls. In high repeat most days at the shop.

"I would never write something down just to confess it. Usually it's a pretty conscious effort to create something of aesthetic value. You know what I mean? I mean, my approach to language is not super conscious in that I sit down and have some over-arching idea that the language has to fit into. It's actually really instinctual. But the aesthetic is one of using language that just works. You write it down, and somehow it's just working for you. It's not what the words mean, but what they do, I guess. How the phrasing interacts with melody, and how meaning can change once you throw that in there. That being said, you could probably comb through my lyrics and find a handful of threads that would piece it all together." Posted by Hello
Yet another art review -- from this week's Terminal City

Difficult "Beauty"
Christopher Williams' daunting complexities
by Christopher Brayshaw

Christopher Williams
For Example: Dix-Huit Leçons sur la Société Industrielle
Contemporary Art Gallery, 555 Nelson
To March 6

Los Angeles-based artist Christopher Williams doesn't identify himself as a photographer, though almost all of his works are photographs, images mostly made by assistants or commercial photographers. "Sometimes I press the shutter release, just as a joke," he says in an interview with artist/curator John Miller. While many of the photographs in Williams' current exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery are undeniably beautiful—specifically, three "still life" studies of a Kiev 88, a Russian medium format camera (and unabashed Hasselblad knock-off), and the industrial study Lodz—Williams' practice puts the word beauty into quotation marks, thereby inspiring a certain uneasiness in the critic who wants to use it in a discussion of Williams' pictures.

Indeed, there is a sense of rigor to this exhibition that begins with the plastic display case across from the gallery attendant's desk, in which scripts of a performance, receipts, letters, memos from David Zwirner Gallery (Williams' New York dealer) and so forth are gathered and exhibited without any kind of interpretive apparatus, or "help" for the audience.

Williams has been fortunate enough to generate a substantial and generous body of criticism on his work, including several essays by the Los Angeles-based art historian Thomas Crow and Vancouver's Claudia Beck. So I came to Williams' exhibition intellectually forearmed, as it were, and yet I still found myself walking from picture to picture, shaking my head and feeling somehow inadequate, while simultaneously suspecting that that sense of inadequacy, of not getting it, was an important aspect of the exhibition, one that Williams hopes to generate.

A group of photographs typically represents many localized elaborations of a larger theme. In this respect, most photographic series are like poems in which similar themes or symbols are repeated from line to line. Williams’ photographs, however, seem at first to have nothing in common. They are mostly still lifes or studies (of a modernist apartment block, all grey concrete; three views of the Kiev 88; a prefabricated German mailing box which I at first mistook for a box of Kodak photo paper; ears of corn stacked in neat little pile; a Los Angeles dance performance by three Balinese dancers; a pencil diagram on the back of an index card, etc.) They are not like poems, in which meanings spark off in a dozen different directions, but like prose, in which whatever significance an individual word might have is always subordinated to the meaning of the sentence. A Williams series is like an electrical wire that passes a current along. It would be a mistake to ask what the wire "means." Similarly, it is a mistake to ask the meaning of individual pictures, at least at first.

The photographs are made with outmoded techniques. The specific techniques—dye transfer (the Kiev camera, the corn) and platinum prints (Balinese dancers) will be obvious to anyone who has spent time studying or handling photographs. Platinum printing is associated with a fine tonal range, and, consequently, with artisanal or craft techniques, and dye transfer is associated with a certain richness of color (for example, William Eggleston's groundbreaking color works, among the first color photographs to be exhibited at the New York Museum of Modern Art.)

Kodak no longer produces the film or chemicals the dye transfer process requires, and platinum printing is mainly used today by technically minded amateurs or artists interested in emphasizing characteristics of an image's printing or toning. Both processes have become part of Benjamin's "just passed." Belatedness clings to them like a weak shadow. This belatedness shares parallels with other Williams subjects—the notoriously cranky Kiev; Olivetti's good-looking but practically useless Valentine typewriter; Braun's Snow White's Coffin record player: objects that look good, but are functionally flawed.

By photographing these objects and juxtaposing them, Williams has created an enormous archive of cultural and historical cross-references, an archive of industrial culture's transformation, under modernism, from a "handmade" to a "machine made" aesthetic. The technical processes his photographs are made with imply handmade origins, but Williams' disinterest in any overt signs of authorship or of little touches or flourishes of expression (as shown by his deadpan presentation of objects under neutral lighting, or the farming of the actual work of making the pictures out to commercial photographers or technical assistants) pit his images' form and content against each other in a kind of low ontological comedy or farce.

Williams' works reward detailed thinking, but are hard to love. I admire the rigor of his approach, and the thoughtful criticism his practice regularly attracts, but I don't want to meet his students or, God forbid, any locals who take his work as authorization to create huge baggy photo-archives dedicated to collapsing industrial modernism from within. Williams' most memorable photographs (the Kiev; the pile of corn; the much-reproduced images of the Valentine typewriter) work precisely because of his ability to perceive cultural and historical complexities within apparently artless industrial artefacts. Though his photographs often appear neutral and pedestrian, they in fact are anything but.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Wayne White, The You Just Don't Get It and You Never Will Look (2004, acrylic on photolithograph) Posted by Hello
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Pike Place Bakery -- home of the world's largest maple bars, and the "blueberry buttermilk bar," consumption of which probably rendered all of yesterday's mountain climbing totally irrelevant.

Disturbing Auctions -- straight from the murky depths of North America's pop-cultural psyche to you! (Courtesy WG Blog)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005
100K Club -- cjb & Team Cat

High grey clouds and a little sun creeping through in the morning. Across Burrard Inlet on the Seabus, and by bus to Lynn Valley Mall (140m), then up Mountain Highway, which begins deceptively flatly from the 4-way intersection at the lights, then cranks up the incline (15%+) somewhere around Dempsey Road. Around the locked gate at the beginning of the old service road, and on up the Grouse Mountain Highway, a switchbacking dirt road that runs up Mount Fromme's southern slopes, contours into a pass between Fromme and Grouse, and finally scales Grouse's eastern flanks. Lots of Smithsonian erosion, the ditches full, and various sunken areas where last week's rains took out great chunks of roadbed, depositing them fifty or sixty feet away in lumpy, wood-and-gravel-conglomerate piles. Warm, more like May than January. Salmonberry bushes starting to push little bits of green bud out into the unseasonally moist air.

Dogleg up some nameless mountain bike trail, little cascades of water over polished teak-colored roots.

Water and nuts and a five minute break across from the gravel pit on the upper Grouse Mountain Highway. "I spy, with my shiny black eyes, something that looks," says Rose T. Cat, glad to be sprung from the pack's top pocket. It's just a leaf, says jaded cjb. And then, reflecting: Damned if that leaf doesn't look like a soaking wet $5 bill half-in, half-out of the snow. Sho' nuff! In this way, Team Cat scores a free Skyride download.

Around the head of Mosquito Creek, floundering through knee-deep snow. Up the ploughed road on the Grouse Mountain side of the creek, under the chairlifts. That funny spinning noise the wheels in the towers make, like my Kitsilano grandma's clothesline singing in and out again.

The city spread out below.

Fog on the Fraser.

Sunset over Vancouver Island, grey sky, the last light leaking through.

Across the muddy Cut, lots of Japanese snowboarders and skiiers in evidence on the patchy slope.

Up the BCMC trail to the lodge (1111m), past two totally unconcerned mule deer cropping at the grass along the Cut's western edge.

Coffee in the lodge, a bustle of activity after the silent green forest.

Skyride down at twilight, the light running out of the day above Capilano Lake. Dark shadows under the trees, their green boughs passing silently by under the gondola, almost but not quite close enough to touch.

Traffic on Nancy Greene Way with its lights on.

Day's total, 971m.

Bellingham -- Mount Vernon -- Everett -- Seattle tomorrow. Back Thursday!

Monday, January 24, 2005

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday off to go tangle with the local mountains and Michelina. Go Team Cat! (photo credit: Lynn Peak trail, December, by regular Hiking_nut) Posted by Hello
Yet Another Art Review -- text and sample images up at

Garry Winogrand
Photographs from the portfolio "Women are better than men. Not only have they survived, they do prevail"
At the Monte Clark Gallery until February 6
Reviewed by Christopher Brayshaw

In Garry Winogrand's small black-and-white street photographs, every kind of public human interaction is displayed and parsed. Working with a Leica range-finder camera, and always at close quarters, Winogrand prowled the streets of New York, Los Angeles, and other large American cities, making images of people he did not know, restlessly scrutinizing them as they, in turn, scrutinized and judged each other.

Winogrand's purpose was never cheery, and his work will never win him any fans among the many devotees of lyrical humanist street photography. His images are darker and more pessimistic than those of, say, Henri Cartier-Bresson, even though both artists' pictures are governed by an almost identical set of rules: exposures shot quickly with a handheld camera; small black-and-white prints; compositions centred on the decisive moment--Cartier-Bresson's term--that magic split second when disconnected compositional elements cohere in the viewfinder.

Although Winogrand's work is often compared to Cartier-Bresson's or to André Kertész's, his photographs lack their easy European grace. Winogrand's blunt, apparently artless style is actually derived from his close study of two masters of American realist photography: Swiss-born Robert Frank, and Walker Evans.

The 15 Winogrand photographs on display at Monte Clark Gallery are some of the last works he completed before his death from cancer in the early 1980s, and they're a good introduction to his style. The first thing you notice is how their compositions are almost all skewed to the right or left. Winogrand explained this as the result of the lenses he preferred and his desire for his subjects to fill the frame, but it is equally true that his asymmetrical framing throws his subjects off balance, like people struggling to stay afoot on the deck of a sinking ship. Their physical gestures reveal psychological tics and quirks they'd just as soon suppress or don't realize they're displaying.

When you look closely at Winogrand's pictures, you also notice tiny details whose presence anchors and grounds his compositions. In the best of these images, a black couple, mother and daughter, greet a white mother and daughter on a restaurant's open-air patio. The black daughter is clearly uncomfortable with the scene; her face has frozen into a mask, and her arms are tucked in at her sides, as if she's just waded into cold water. The white daughter's back is to the camera; you can't see her face, but you do see the black button eyes of the stuffed Snoopy doll on the table beside her, which you somehow intuit as being as unwelcoming as her own. This is a terrific picture, but it wouldn't work without Snoopy. You're tempted to say Winogrand got lucky, but he got lucky way too often. All of his pictures are richly packed with this kind of incidental detail, and it's this hectic density that makes his images as memorable as they are.


Men's XL grey-green Zegna shirt in the wild (eBay), prior to being contained in art critic's closet. Posted by Hello
Sunday, January 23, 2005
A Few Lines at Christmas for Charlie the Cat

This is an excerpt from a longer poem called The Stars at Night by Vija Celmins, work on which was postponed in favor of completing Michelina. Charlie was our West Vancouver neighbors', though he spent most of every day at our house, and we hid him in an upstairs bedroom on the last day before they moved (They didn't seem too concerned when they came over to ask -- none too worriedly -- if we'd seen him, even to the point of politely ignoring the meowing drifting from a nearby window). The first non-authorial voice is Lawrence Weiner's, the second, Bruce Cockburn's, a song that was popular in my first year of university, and often on AM 1040 on the way to or from UBC.

Charlie died of cancer in the summer of 1995. He's buried under a stringy clematis in the back yard in West Vancouver.

– gas clouds hang,
pendant, like balls on the Christ-
mas tree, overturned, “smashed
to pieces in the still of the night” –
the cat went and hid, trembling,
on top of the newspapers stacked
by the fireplace, ornament litter & pine
needles all over the carpet, water
pan skewed, sideways, on the drop
cloth -- soaked through -- dumb
beast shivering, ears back, eyes
wide, string lights in their sockets
still glowing, shattered globes & strewn
tinsel icicles – a silver jelly-
fish spilled on the floor. A beast can
not bear its own weight
out of water, gravity
collapses, holes appear
at the heart of things. “Something
other, busy monster.” Ravening

Just finished: Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore. The second Murakami novel I've completed, stylishly translated by Philip Gabriel. Much of what has stalled me out on Murakami's other novels, particularly those translated by Jay Rubin, is the affectless prose -- a parade of affiable he-said, she-said dialogue that puts me in mind of Doug Coupland's similarly flat sentences.

I remember Bernadette once criticizing something I'd written in university, saying, your language and symbols tell me this scene means something to you, but I have no clue what that is, because your words presuppose that you and I know exactly what plot elements A and B mean, and I don't. All this stuff does is foreground its own interiority.

A good argument in favor of keeping younger writers away from symbolism all together, and one I probably didn't pay enough attention to at the time.

So, with regard to Murakami, two problems: a strained Oedipus narrative tacked onto the usual parade of eccentics and fantastic occurences, and many purple passages in the main narrative, wherein young Kafka, his mother, and her fifteen year old ghost talk about their feelings like Banyen Books customers. I need, I want, I yearn, yadda yadda yadda.

Highlights? Supernatural beings, much like Twin Peaks' Killer Bob, who prowl between worlds, have no conception of human morality -- being concepts, not people -- and take on temporary forms lifted from contemporary mass culture (Colonel Sanders, Johnnie Walker). A man who talks to cats, and the many cats who talk back to him. A kind of Banff Center for spirits and ghosts, guarded by Japanese WWII soldiers who haven't aged since the war. And an accurate, and very moving account, of what it feels like to be like far away from home, and displaced from your normal routines, and how reading helps to mediate that loss. (A few pages, early on, reminded me very strongly of sitting in Borders Books, right at the western edge of the Las Vegas suburbs, reading and drinking free refills, just waiting for it to be late enough to venture out into the cold and the ten minute drive to the freezing campground over the crest of the hill).

Friday, January 21, 2005
Insert In My Obituary, Please -- found in a New Yorker profile of Hayao Miyazaki

"The pessimism of the intellect, the optimism of the will" -- A. Gramsci

Just finished: Paul Auster, Oracle Night. A prose equivalent of the blended beverages on sale in the health food store: a little New York Trilogy, a little Red Notebook, a pinch of the Music of Chance, & etc. Reading Auster's plain unvarnished prose is a real pleasure -- I spent a whole rainy afternoon on Skytrain, zipping around first in one direction, then the other, paying no attention whatsoever to what was going on outside, totally focused on those graceful sentences, laid one after the other like a tongue-and-groove floor. Not as happy with how the first metafictional, then magic realist novel cops out into straightforward neorealist violence at the end, though. Half a dozen plot threads -- my favorites, natch -- left dangling over the abyss, like the tree roots left behind while the rest of the hillside slid away.

100K Club -- cjb & Team Cat

A yearly challenge on Cover 100,000 feet of vertical elevation gain in 365 days. Cars, the Skyride, helicopters, etc. don't cut it, just self-propelled access. I started yesterday by hiking all the way up Lonsdale Avenue from the Seabus, continuing up Prospect Road to the Baden-Powell trail bridge across Mosquito Creek. You could hear the creek from blocks away, the dull rumbling of rocks thrown around in the white water. Stood in steadily drizzle gazing down at the churning surface, a little puffed from 1000-odd feet of 15%+ grade. Then back down again, strangely at peace in the quickening rain. 360m total.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005
5 Card Nancy -- online exquisite-corpse version of the game below. Check out the Hall of Fame!

Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy & The Platonic Ideal -- DIY card game & art criticism

"Ernie Bushmiller's comic strip 'Nancy' is a landmark achievement: A comic so simply drawn it can be reduced to the size of a postage stamp and still be legible; an approach so formulaic as to become the very definition of the 'gag-strip'; a sense of humor so obscure, so mute, so without malice as to allow faithful readers to march through whole decades of art and story without ever once cracking a smile.

"Nancy is Plato's playground. Ernie Bushmiller didn't draw A tree, A house, A car. Oh, no. Ernie Bushmiller drew THE tree, THE house, THE car. Much has been made of the 'three rocks.' Art Spiegelman explains how a drawing of three rocks in a background scene was Ernie's way of showing us there were some rocks in the background. It was always three. Why? Because two rocks wouldn't be 'some rocks.' Two rocks would be a pair of rocks. And four rocks was unacceptable because four rocks would indicate 'some rocks' BUT IT WOULD BE ONE ROCK MORE THAN WAS NECESSARY TO CONVEY THE IDEA OF 'SOME ROCKS.'"

Day four of pouring rain. Along Venables this afternoon to a specialty leather cleaner, the Ace Of Suedes, with a neat old Kenneth Cole tan nubuck coat I found yesterday afternoon at Corporate Thrift Store in the Fraser Valley. What really sold me on the coat, outside of the filled-up 25% off card in my wallet, was its buttons -- great thick metal studs that you first fit through equally thick metal eyelets, then lock sideways into place, click click click click, like loading bullets into a handgun.

Down to Hastings, the rain not letting up and even intensifying. Little rivers running downhill, the drain grate at the bottom of the Frances Street hill a slalom course of whitewater. The sight of water leaping a foot or so off the road brought back memories of pre-elementary school days in West Vancouver. It sounds funny now to say this, but in 1970, when I was born, the other side of Marine Drive was forest, all the way up to the highway (The subdivisions documented by Arni Haraldsson in his Caulfeild Plateau pictures didn't arrive until the mid-1980s). Streams now piped and ditched ran free, and I remember being taken on walks by both parents, the highlights of which were miniature rapids and waterfalls at the side of the road, streams working steadily away at the recent roadcut's face. Even as late as the mid-1970s, driving up to Squamish on a rainy Sunday afternoon, after spending the morning with my dad's mom, you still had your pick of literally dozens of streams touching down along the roadside (One Sea to Sky Highway stream, M Creek, later had revenge on the tourist gawkers, taking out the highway bridge, rail bridge, and several motorists on a dark rainy winter night in 1981).

Back to work on Michelina again. Writing a children's story, I naturally find myself excavating my own (admittedly not very substantial) memories of childhood, and what I find there is much the same as now: not many people, but lots of rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, park trails, plants and animals, etc...

Someone writes to ask, not unreasonably, "Where's the Serpentine River?"

Tuesday, January 18, 2005
40 Signs of Rain (apologies to K.S. Robinson & Ezra Pound)

The Serpentine's head-
waters. Dusk. A vast brown
placid inland sea.

Monday, January 17, 2005
Sy Hersh gets the goods on W.'s Term II plans:

"Strategists at the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, in Tampa, Florida, have been asked to revise the military’s war plan, providing for a maximum ground and air invasion of Iran. Updating the plan makes sense, whether or not the Administration intends to act, because the geopolitics of the region have changed dramatically in the last three years. Previously, an American invasion force would have had to enter Iran by sea, by way of the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Oman; now troops could move in on the ground, from Afghanistan or Iraq. Commando units and other assets could be introduced through new bases in the Central Asian republics.

It is possible that some of the American officials who talk about the need to eliminate Iran’s nuclear infrastructure are doing so as part of a propaganda campaign aimed at pressuring Iran to give up its weapons planning. If so, the signals are not always clear. President Bush, who after 9/11 famously depicted Iran as a member of the 'axis of evil,' is now publicly emphasizing the need for diplomacy to run its course. 'We don’t have much leverage with the Iranians right now,' the President said at a news conference late last year. 'Diplomacy must be the first choice, and always the first choice of an administration trying to solve an issue of . . . nuclear armament. And we’ll continue to press on diplomacy.'

In my interviews over the past two months, I was given a much harsher view. The hawks in the Administration believe that it will soon become clear that the Europeans’ negotiated approach cannot succeed, and that at that time the Administration will act. 'We’re not dealing with a set of National Security Council option papers here,' the former high-level intelligence official told me. 'They’ve already passed that wicket. It’s not if we’re going to do anything against Iran. They’re doing it.'"

Received across the counter: Louis Zukofsky, ALL the collected shorter poems

Exhumed from the pile of unread books in the office and actually begun: Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari


Best science fiction novel of 2005? Hot tip, kids: mid-July! (Anyone complaining about Stross' relatively weak & uninspiring Singularity Sky should remember that that first novel was written a long, long time ago, but only recently published as part of a six-book deal. Besides, I've been able to read this new one month by month in Asimov's, and can consequently vouch for its really being as described. Bruce Sterling on speed, chatty virtual cat, intelligent lobsters from a nearby star system & etc. Also a thoughtful and funny meditation on what happens to conventional economic systems once information gets super-dense. Anyone entertaining a contrary opinion after actually reading the book is, as usual, welcome to post here). Posted by Hello
Sunday, January 16, 2005

Hotel lobby, somewhere in Hawaii. Photograph by Jamie Tolagson. Posted by Hello
Saturday, January 15, 2005

Adam Harrison, Split Curb. One of 365 'sketches,' and my early favorite. Posted by Hello

The Hidden Cameras -- think Tennant/Lowe writing tunes for Smile-era Beach Boys... Posted by Hello
Received across the counter: William Wordsworth and the Age of English Romanticism (Rutgers UP)


We Looked Like Giants
Lyrics & music by Death Cab for Cutie
(In my head all day, esp. the amazing chorus, "And together there/In a shroud of frost, the mountain air--")

God bless the daylight, the sugary smell of springtime
Remembering when you were mine
In a still suburban town

When every Thursday I'd brave those mountain passes
And you'd skip your early classes
And we'd learn how our bodies worked.

God damn the black night with all its foul temptations
I become what I always hated
When I was with you then

We looked like giants in the back of my grey subcompact
Fumbling to make contact
As the others slept inside

And together there
In a shroud of frost, the mountain air
Began to pass from every pane of weathered glass
And I held you closer than anyone would ever get

Do you remember the JAMC?
And reading aloud from magazines
I don't know about you but I swear on my name they could smell it on me
I've never been too good with secrets.

And together there
In a shroud of frost and mountain air
Began to pass through every pane of weathered glass
And I held you closer...Posted by Hello
Friday, January 14, 2005

Gothic chanteuse Nina Hagen, live tonight at the Commodore! (CJB and SGB bopping happily along up near the front of the stage)
Posted by Hello
Thursday, January 13, 2005

Out along Highway 7 to the Mount Woodside spring near Deroche. Curtains of snow across the valley in the Cheam Range and farther upstream near Hope. Broken sunlight through bare trees, each with an eagle in it hunting a takeout sushi lunch. And, on the way back, all six of John's blue plastic jugs filled and capped with rubber bands and Safeway bags, my first ever glimpse of this guy, lynx rufus, with his distinctive ear tufts, stumpy bobbed tail, and huge rabbit-like back feet, as he passed in front of us, scrambled down the bank to the road, and disappeared into the woods on the other side. A cat the size of a German shepherd.

The capped jugs sang all the way home, the sloshing water making their hollow necks vibrate. A kind of peeping chorus, as if the Incredible Talking Cats had all snuck into the backseat, or some really good German glitch band was cooking along behind CFMI's Jurassic Park set: Bowie, Trooper, Tom Cochrane, the Police, U2, zzz...

(Also a car full of books from Unidentified Secret Source, and a pair of black label Armani dress pants, for about 98% off retail. A terrific day out)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005
ART (Aesthetically Rejected Thing): An Idea Worse than Oryx & Crake

Atwood adds 'inventor' to CV
Globe and Mail Update

Picture a book lover in a Kamloops, B.C., bookstore getting his favourite author to sign a book -- from her home in Toronto.

Sound like a science-fiction scenario? Perhaps it's fitting then, that Margaret Atwood, author of futuristic fantasies The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake, has invented a prototype remote autographing device that has the potential to revolutionize book signings.

Atwood hit upon the idea for the machine after a strenuous tour for the paperback publication of Oryx and Crake that took her all across the United States last April.

"I thought, there has to be a better way of doing this," Atwood says. ". . . I am now an old-age pensioner, I cannot keep doing this. I can't keep eating Pringles [from the hotel minibar] and keep getting on the plane at 4 in the morning."

The machine, created in consultation with computer experts under Atwood's newly created company Unotchit Inc., is still in the development phase, but at the moment it will comprise two units. The first will consist of a screen, where the author can see and speak to the book reader in real-time, and a tablet on which the author will write the inscription. The second unit will be with the book reader, and will also include a screen to communicate with the author in real-time, and will have a flat book holder as well as an electronic arm and pen that will scrawl out the autograph.

The system will allow the inscription to be edited or spell-checked before being committed to paper and the quality of the signature should be identical to one done in person, Atwood says. The book reader will also be able to keep a record of the on-screen interaction with the author for posterity.

The autographing system is not meant to replace traditional readings or festivals. "It's an in-bookstore enhancement device," Atwood stresses. She expects the device to be ready for use in the next six to 18 months. The production cost of the machine hasn't yet been determined.

"I applaud anybody that tries to think out of the box about these things and comes up with a truly original idea, but it's also a wait-and-see thing," says Doug Pepper, president and publisher of McClelland & Stewart. "It has to come out, they have to perfect it, get the kinks out of it, and people have to learn how to use them and accept them. It certainly would be easier on the authors, and in terms of saving money, I would hope so -- we're always into saving money. One of the most costly things in any marketing budget is touring."

Blogger Fired From Bookstore Job

Fortunately I own the place, and won't be going anywhere soon. This guy, on the other hand, has just been canned from his job of 11 years for doing the same thing that I do day in, day out, without ever once really thinking about it.

What can you & I do to express solidarity & support, and to express disapproval at the way in which most chain businesses now see fit to police their employees' off-duty (eg., unpaid) lives?

Order those UK HC1sts from someone other than Waterstones', for a start.


Isabelle Hayeur -- reviewed here a week or two ago. Images from the artist's Artspeak Gallery show and many others Posted by Hello
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
The Man in the Grey Suit

Jamie Tolagson checks in from Powell River with his take on a very old post from last May's trip down the California coast:

"Regarding the spotting of the sea lion with the shark bite, I used to see that all the time, living in California. 'The Silent Grey Fellow' has another name, used by surfers, that I prefer: 'The Man in the Grey Suit.' He is the man that you don't want to shake hands with.

Speaking of which, I got to see 'the man' for real, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium about two weeks ago. They have a juvenile great white in captivity in their deep sea tank (which is this giant swirling vortex of giant ocean tuna, hammerheads, rays, seven gill sharks, and one enormous sea turtle). They have had this white for almost 4 months now (which is a world record for whites in captivity, they tend to die in a matter of days). She is a tiny thing, about 4 or 5 feet long, but she definitely has a presence. Every once in a while, somebody in the tank will get too close to somebody else and the whole tank will just explode with movement, fish flying every which way, then slowly subsiding. They keep everybody in the tank well fed to minimize problems.

Which led me to think of a scenario that might be nice in a sci-fi story: The world has been wiped clean of human beings in one blinding flash, but (of course) one person is still alive. The person at some point in the narrative stumbles into an aquarium and wanders through its dark, humming halls. As he walks, we notice that each tank contains only one fish, the fish that ate the other fish in its tank and is now slowly starving to death.

If this were to take place at the Monterey bay aquarium and the time period was right now, I think the protaganist would find one giant sea tuna swimming laps in the deep sea tank. If the apocalypse was postponed for another 5 or 6 months, the odds might go to the little lady in the grey suit."

ART (Aesthetically Rejected Thing): Excuses for Abu Ghraib

"In opening arguments here at the court-martial for the soldier, Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr., his lawyers insisted that he was simply following orders and using lessons from his civilian life as a prison guard to try to maintain discipline in a war zone. Using naked and hooded detainees to make a human pyramid was much like what cheerleaders 'all over America' do at football games, the lawyer, Guy Womack, argued, and putting naked prisoners on leashes was much like what parents in airports do with their toddlers."

Monday, January 10, 2005

John Stanley -- online archive of one of my childhood faves Posted by Hello


"It rains a lot, up here; there are winter days when it doesn't really get light at all, only a bright, indeterminate gray. But then there are days when it's like they whip aside a curtain to flash you three minutes of sunlit, suspended mountain, the trademark at the start of God's own movie...."

(text William Gibson, "The Winter Market"; photo willyz,

Skytrain to Surrey, long purple shadows on the snow.


RIP: Gabriele Helms, PhD.

In the early 1990s, I enrolled in a graduate seminar on Malcolm Lowry. About the seminar the less said the better, with the exception of then-PhD. candidate Gabi Helms, whose ferociously insightful mind and intellectual generosity made showing up every Thursday afternoon such a pleasure.

My term project consisted of a Lowry pastiche in a cardboard box: twenty-eight pages of text with no footnotes in twelve or fourteen different fonts, accompanied by a BC Ferries boarding pass, a gin bottle, rocks from Gabriola Island, a Greyhound ticket, a photo of the Nanaimo Bastion, & etc.

While my instructor's frown kept deepening the longer she stared at it, Gabi was hooting laughter from the other end of the table. Later on we had coffee, and a long discussion about Bakhtin, at the end of which Gabi generously and thoroughly took my multimedia extravaganza apart trope-by-trope.

The UBC English Department also organized, from time to time, afternoon salons where the creative writers in the pack could read from their works-in-progress. These events were no one's idea of a good time, least of all the writers', but a few of the same faces could be seen at each event, including Gabi's, who was, so far as I know, unique in her attendance at a series she never read at, being content to merely show up, listen carefully, and then, during the infamous feedback-from-your-peers portion of each afternoon, provide thoughtful, concise, and to-the-point criticism of what she'd heard.

Critical intelligence is a rare gift, and Gabi had it in spades. Her published works -- including many terrific Canadian Literature reviews, and some crossdisciplinary pieces on visual art -- were distinguished by their concision, thoughtfulness, and respect for the object(s) of her inquiry. I'll miss her. Posted by Hello

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Michelina, Monkey, and the Two-Dimensional Knights. Painting by my friend Jamie Tolagson, from our collaborative children's book, Michelina, With Pictures.

"Having descended the tree, the creature presented a strange sight. He was as tall as a man, and neatly dressed in pleated cotton trousers and a brightly colored leather jerkin, but his features were not a man’s, but a monkey’s. Sad intelligent dark eyes peered from a face covered in thick, cinnamon-colored fur, and a long furry tail protruded from the back of his trousers. A polished wooden staff was hung from a wide leather strap slung casually over one of his shoulders, and a long enamelled sword case was carefully tucked into the knotted rope belt that girdled his waist.

'Are you a spirit?', asked the knights. 'One of the undead?'

The strange creature shook his head. 'I am Monkey,' he said. He reached inside his jerkin and withdrew a polished black laquer locket. Inside it was a photograph of a solemn-looking man dressed in warrior’s clothes. Even though the man and Monkey did not look like one another, Michelina, Lady Genevra and the knights instantly saw that the man and Monkey were one and the same.

'I was once a samurai,' said Monkey proudly, 'a warrior sworn to defend his lord. No man could match my skill with a sword or a staff, for since childhood I have trained in the secret arts, so that I can move silently as a mouse across a carpet of leaves, and fall from a roof without injury, and shatter bricks and beams with my hands.'"Posted by Hello

Friday, January 07, 2005

A rejected Brunetti try-out for the syndicate's relaunch of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy. Lots funnier if you've previously perused the "comic strips" section of Brunetti's site -- preferably not at work -- and a pretty accurate modern recreation of Bushmiller's placid Zen-like mix of conceptual brilliance and stupidity. Posted by Hello
Ivan Brunetti -- long interview with the talented Mr. B. in this month's Comics Journal. Buy and read his Schizo #3 & #4 (Fantagraphics Books), won't you?

Also @ PennSound: Jack Spicer Live, including a reading of "Imaginary Elegies," first poem of his I ever read, and still a favorite.

Kevin Davies Live -- excerpts from a work-in-progress. Note his quotation of Australian hard science fiction writer Greg Egan's great novel Distress.

Freezing cold at Main & Broadway, the wet sidewalks turning now to ice.

One of those rare tranquil days in the shop where people only arrive with saleable material and customers you've never ever seen before repeatedly ask to look at the expensive stuff in the showcase.

Just finished: Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars

Received in the mail: David Thomson, In Nevada, a signed 1st to replace the copy I water-damaged and then misplaced while actually in Nevada. (A symptom of the upside-down world of used bookselling, presently a buyer's market, and liable to remain that way for the forseeable future: that signed 1st, plus Brodart, plus postage from California to Vancouver, plus $CDN --> $US conversion premium was less than it cost me to purchase a new, unsigned copy at a 30% employee discount from my old job at the new bookstore).

And a new purple tie.

Thursday, January 06, 2005
What I Learned From the Telemarketers Upstairs

• I am wearing a suit and tie at all times!

• I am asking questions to help myself become successful!

• I am on the phone to reach my daily goal!

• I am at work on time each day to reach my weekly goal!

• I am a business person that wants the money!

(Verbatim. Copied down for posterity on the back of a shiny gold "Pleasureville Entertainment National Referral Service" business card)

Book Hunting with Google, or Yet Another New Hobby, or Cyberstalking 101, or
Ithaca House Unearth'd

September 2004: Pete Culley posts a review of his new collection, Hammertown, on his blog. The review, by John Latta, a poet from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is far more insightful and detailed than any local appraisal of Pete's work, tho' inexplicably written in faux-1800s English. Shades of Mason & Dixon! A few days' worth of reading Latta's blog convinces me th' odd spellings & eccentric syntax are deliberate stylistic choices, not gimmick'ry.

October 2004: Latta blog-publishes some poems. They're uniformly excellent. I google him in search of more, and discover a few dozen contributions to online publications. His brief bibliography also lists two collections, Rubbing Torsos (Ithaca House, late 70s) and Breeze (2003).

November 2oo4: "John who?" (Duthie Books, Chapters, Elliott Bay Book Company, University of Washington Bookstore, Borders, Henderson's, Michael's, Magus, Macleod's, Hermit, Tanglewood, Chroma)

December 2004: No Latta on the U. Mich English department faculty list at Ann Arbor. Further research reveals Mr. L. actually works in the university library system, which pleases me to no end (primarily due to my own five thankless years in the stacks at UBC, post-B.A.(Hons), but also because of the cache that comes from being simultaneously in and outside of academia).

December 2004: Email to Mr. L.

December 2004: Money order to Mr. L.

December 2004: Signed books from Mr. L! Both handsome, but Rubbing Torsos especially so. Rough uncoated wraps, and letterpress. Boxing Day evening spent with Unibroue and poetry.

December 2004: Torsos is much-admired by my staff. "Like Black Sparrow!" Eg., whomever made this book knew what they were doing & took their time. The care shows.

January 2005: Browsing the stacks at William James, Bookseller, in Port Townsend, Washington, I happen across a book which at first I mistake for Rubbing Torsos. It's actually another Ithaca Press publication, a collection of lyric poetry by Christopher Buckley. George H.W. Bush's speechwriter? Fortunately no. A creative writing instructor at U. C. Riverside. Also letterpress, also lovely. Doubly signed and dedicated "to Scott Walker." A mystery!

Google: Ithaca House, 1969-1986. The creation of Cornell professor Baxter Hathaway.

The same Baxter Hathaway who once counselled a young undergraduate named Thomas Pynchon to just forget writer's block and hand in the damn story?

The same.

Scott Walker?

Longtime Port Townsend resident, and founder of Graywolf Press. An important association copy.

My collection of Ithaca House publications?

Rapidly expanding. If you drop in, ask to see them.


said the cats, peering through the gaps of the blinds down into the street.

Low blowing grey & white, just enough accumulation to tamp down sound.

Gene's shovel scraping the sidewalk.

The pebbley texture of the salt and gravel residue on my shoes.


Union Wharf, Port Townsend, Washington State. Bright warm January sun. Baker looming up above the old brick buildings along the water. Decaf. 45 minutes and 45 pages of a new book on book collecting. Huge orange sun stars on the pier's knobby barnacled legs. Little white long haired terrier on a very long leash, barking at the birds under the planks and tying himself up in knots. Eelgrass conservation area down below. Shining silver schools darting amid weaving green. Cormorants ducking and diving. That rare sensation: happiness (photo credit: Posted by Hello
P.A. Announcement, MV Tacoma, Bainbridge Island -- Seattle

"If you are from Delaware and driving a silver Mercedes, will you please come down to the car deck and turn off your car alarm. The ship's motion is not a threat. Thank you."


Bridge for sale. Gently used (16+ years). Currently located on the scenic Hood Canal, Washington State, but easily towed or barged to you. Nuclear sub sold seperately. Posted by Hello
Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Stampeders -- evidence of really good or really bad musical taste, your call. Their Carry Me on the Value Village in-house sound system today, sparking nostalgic memories of pricing stacks of paperbacks after hours at Book & Comic Emporium in the early 1990s (10 o'clock at night, Oldies 650 CISL -- the only station the store radio reliably received -- crackling in the background, cats wandering around, furnace ticking down. Fingerless gloves against the cold!) Posted by Hello

Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project, Seattle, Washington. (Day off tomorrow!) Posted by Hello
Kim Stanley Robinson -- long detailed interview with one of my favorites

"Understand that 'capitalism' is not 'creation of capital,' which is usually a great thing, but the system of rules distributing and controlling that capital. And the system we live in now is wrong—unjust, unsustainable, against all religions and value systems. Its defenders (always privileged in the system) have to resort to bogus versions of nature 'red in tooth and claw,' or grossly distorted religious claims ('God meant us to be rich and you will be in heaven') to make it look OK, but it's guns ready for deployment that keep those lame justifications staggering along.

Say then that science is an attempt to move out of all that, a proto-politics or alternative politics in which ostensibly neutral values or methodologies are actually stabs at utopian spaces where justice rules. Rational inquiry into everything, in part to enable the reduction of suffering—it's a kind of ethics and so naturally capitalism is offended and tries to buy it, tries especially hard since science makes all the new toys. Maybe capitalism will buy science, maybe science will help the other justice movements to engineer capitalism into permaculture, as in some kind of institutional genetic engineering project (history). Anthropogenic mutation. We're in the middle of the story, part of it."

Just announced: April 2005, with a (long) essay excerpt from my Vancouver Review essay on the back! Posted by Hello


Only Apparently Real -- thrice-revised & reworked new review for Terminal City. Nothing's ever clear while composing, least of all to me, but I like this version the best of those I've posted here today. It's also the shortest, which is its own kind of lesson.

Spill 03: Paysages incertain
Isabelle Hayeur
Artspeak Gallery, through January 22nd, 2005
By Christopher Brayshaw

Montreal photographer Isabelle Hayeur’s panoramic landscapes deform time, slowing your viewing of them down to a crawl. This is not an experience traditionally associated with photography; most photographs -- even those whose scale implies that they are meant to be viewed as a kind of contemporary historical painting -- can be absorbed at a glance. Not so with Hayeur’s pictures. Part of this has to do with their size – six feet or longer, by only a foot high – but mostly it has to do with their content, which is fictitious. It is photography’s nature to depict things, and Hayeur’s images participate in this process up to a point. They are pictures of real things – milky overcast skies; wet highways; sand dunes; stream channels; trailer parks; shorelines; gravel pits; tract houses – but all these things have been altered by Hayeur, digitally clipped out of their original contexts and montaged into scenes which, while apparently real, have no independent ‘reality’ beyond the margins of the prints that present them to the viewer.

Looking at Hayeur’s work is a contemplative, drawn-out, and vaguely disturbing process. You begin at the edge of one – say Dunes (2003). A car is traveling along a wet East Coast highway under a pearl-grey sky. Beside the highway, a pullout is littered with wet gravel. Beyond the pullout, a grassy slope descends into a wasteland of shrub-studded sand dunes. Maybe it is more accurate to say that part of the slope descends, because another portion of it doesn’t, but curves back out toward you. In the far right hand corner of the picture another, lower road leads along the bank of a shallow stream, past a trailer park, and back out into the dunes. Now problems of composition and perspective begin to multiply. The road that goes past the trailers seems to emerge from nowhere, shooting out of the grassy foreground slope. Hot sunlight hits the trailers’ metal roofs, on the far right hand edge of the picture, but the sky at the picture’s left hand edge threatens rain. And the contours of the dunes in the center of the photograph seem to pulse and bubble and run off at odd angles, like the flickering brushstrokes in a Cezanne painting.

It’s as if the virtual world inside the photograph has been stretched across the surface of an enormous sphere, distorting it, then brought up flush with the gallery wall. And yet you have to look closely to take the full measure of Hayeur’s distortions and alterations. Her pictures’ wet grey light helps cut down on the number of conflicting shadows that would give her game away too easily, and there are whole linear feet of some photographs where no distortions occur, and the “reality” of her subjects is not called into question.

Hayeur’s methodology is not totally original; many artists are now working in the genre of what, for lack of a better phrase, I have begun calling “constructed landscape.” Matilda Azlizadeh’s video projection Sunday, shown in 2002 at Artspeak, is a thematic relative of Hayeur’s photographs; so too are the photographs by Evan Lee and Kevin Schmidt recently shown at Presentation House. What all three of these artists share is a skepticism regarding photography’s ability to seamlessly mirror the world. The camera has often been thought of as rationalism’s friend, a technological device designed to parse the world more and more finely, pursuing things beyond the bounds of human sight (Think of Walter Benjamin’s amazement at Karl Blossfeldt’s close-up botanical studies, or images of distant galaxies captured by radio telescopes). Artists like Hayeur imply that rationalism and photography are not as good friends as history might initially suggest. Photography is a vessel, nothing more, one that can equally well depict rationalism’s clear light of day, or Hayeur’s dreamy grey skies.

I admire the hallucinatory quality of Hayeur’s best pictures, the ones in which her digital manipulations are almost subliminal, and you need to search the image surface closely for evidence of them. These cool, stately pictures put me in mind of dreams I sometimes wake from – dreams in which, pursued, I flee from one geographically disconnected landscape into another: White Rock morphs into Horseshoe Bay, or Bellingham dissolves into Garibaldi Park. Though they are undeniably fantasies, I have never questioned the symbolic logic of these dreams; similarly, I do not question the power and accuracy of Hayeur’s fine disturbing pictures.
You'd think that any man hunting designer ties at thrift stores would actually know how to tie them, wouldn't you?

Monday, January 03, 2005
Ahmad Jamal's Poinciana in my head today, those soft, almost Latin tom-tom beats and big, echoing spaces around each bundle of notes from the piano.

AJ laying back a lot of the time, just listening.

Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars accompanying me today to the Fraser Valley, in search of designer shirts and ties.

Crisp blue -4C sunlight, distant peaks brought forward and etched against the sky.

Sunday, January 02, 2005
A ridge of high pressure built overnight over Vancouver Island. Clear and cold this morning, the Coast Mountains sharp enough to see Mount Bishop from Granville Street. In low gear these last few days due to residual exhaustion from working straight through December. And things don't get simpler any time soon! Lean & hungry competitors, big estate collection in Unnamed Western North American City (how to pay for it? how to get it home?), pocketbook drawers to design and build, the writing assignments that were ignored all December long, and the increasingly less friendly reminder calls from the editors who commissioned them. To say nothing of the 500+ books a day which, now that it's the new year, and people are receiving their Christmas Visa and Mastercard bills, will start pouring in the door any day now, and not let up until June.

Pluses? Too busy for depression. Terrific staff (6 of them!). Healthy. My newly-minted non-adversarial relationship with the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency. The trips I'll take to various North American cities, and the amazing books undoubtedly waiting there. The snow that'll melt, revealing mountain trails. SGB (healthy! internationally exhibiting!) and the Incredible Talking Cats. Red Rock Canyon's textured sandstone cliffs. Winter sunlight on the pink mountains south of Reno.

& etc.

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