Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Recent reading: Keith Maillard, Looking Good (Difficulty at the Beginning, v.4)

My favorite Maillard to date, the fourth part of a bildungsroman variously set in West Virginia, Boston, and (for a page or two) Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Maillard's books used to perpetually occupy the remainder tables down at Duthie's and Book Warehouse. I came, early on, to the book-collector's snobby and ignorant conclusion that anyone remaindered so often couldn't possibly be any good. Then I met a couple of Maillard's former creative writing students from UBC, including one with particularly acute critical taste, who described his Gloria as one of the best books she'd ever read. A few months later, a US trade paperback of Gloria showed up, unexpectedly, on a new supplier's remainder list, and I tagged a single copy onto the order. A very strange book, a sprawling "literary" novel written in a style not much in evidence these days, a 1950s social potboiler plot full of sex and emotional disintegration written in a mercilessly clear just-the-facts-ma'am style that immediately put me in mind of older American authors like John Cheever, Philip K. Dick, and Don Robertson: "literary" writers who deliberately chose to "refunction" popular genre models. There are set pieces in Gloria I don't ever expect to forget, including a memorable climax in which the relentlessly spunky and resourceful twentysomething protagonist hammers a volley of arrows into a sexual predator's sports car.

The Difficulty at the Beginning quartet is Maillard's extension -- and, in many cases, wholesale rewriting -- of two of his earliest books, The Knife in My Hands (1981) and Cutting Through (1982). Each of the quartet's novels is written in a noticably different style, and the tone of the sequence as a whole darkens as it focuses on the social and psychological disintegration of the late-60s American left. Maillard's blackly comic evocation of doper's paranoia easily withstands comparison with novels like Robert Stone's A Hall of Mirrors, Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, and Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly. And two of the novel's characters -- Pam Zallman -- anorexic; rogue cultural theorist; ex-ballerina -- and Tom Parker -- Vietnam vet; dealer; ostensibly "crazy," yet capable of clear, sustained and accurate reflection on his far worse off countercultural comrades -- are drawn with a compassion and psychological depth that has much more in common with nineteenth century literary realism (with Dickens; with Balzac; with Tolstoy) than with the present moment's relentless focus on style, or ironic pastiches and mash-ups thereof.

Very few people will probably read Looking Good; it's a thick and densely written novel from a hole-in-the-wall Canadian publisher which more or less requires reading the first three (and to my mind, somewhat less good) books in the quartet -- 600+ pages!-- as a set-up. But it's a major work of literary realism that held my attention for two weeks solid and deserves your close attention.

(Image: Keith Maillard, looking good on a West Vancouver beach)
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
New Sy Hersh in this week's New Yorker, along with a thorough, fair-minded Peter Schjeldahl review of the Jeff Wall shows currently up at NY MOMA and Marian Goodman:

Hersh: "'We are not planning for a war with Iran,' Robert Gates, the new Defense Secretary, announced on February 2nd, and yet the atmosphere of confrontation has deepened. According to current and former American intelligence and military officials, secret operations in Lebanon have been accompanied by clandestine operations targeting Iran. American military and special-operations teams have escalated their activities in Iran to gather intelligence and, according to a Pentagon consultant on terrorism and the former senior intelligence official, have also crossed the border in pursuit of Iranian operatives from Iraq."

Schjeldahl: "The prevailing style is realist, but it is regularly beset by mixed, toilsome aims: Wall has harbored enough motives to impel several artists, and they have tended to get in the way of one another. There is the righteous Wall, who lodges complaints on behalf of racial minorities and the poor: in Mimic (1982), a bearded lout makes an insulting gesture to an Asian man on a city street; An Eviction (1988, reworked in 2004) is an aerial view of a neighborhood in which a violent dispossession takes place. The erudite Wall imports art-historical and ideological arcana with motifs from Manet, Hokusai, or Walker Evans here and a redolence of German or French critical theory there; Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle (1967), among other strenuous texts, influenced Wall’s adoption of commercial signage techniques, in a spirit of criticizing mass culture. Wall the director deploys Brechtian alienation effects, to a fault, in his use of models and actors: in The Goat (1989), the stilted postures of four boys bullying a fifth quash any possible drama. Finally, there is Wall the lurking suitor of beauty in landscape, cityscape, interior, and still-life. He’s my favorite, and, lately, the most prominent. The retrospective and a concurrent show of notably strong new pictures at the Marian Goodman gallery give a strange impression of development in reverse: an artist doing his relatively uncomplicated early work last."
ART (Aesthetically Rejected Thing): Cut-'n-Paste "Art Opinions"

Not much love for Montreal's Chris Hand, proprietor of a small, self-funded gallery, art blogger, and self-styled visual arts gadfly, whose appetite for controversy is still way out in front of his ability to read and think. Last Saturday, Mr. Hand apparently read the same NYT Magazine article on Jeff Wall that I did, and took a break from feuding with the rest of Canada to cobble together a rambling diatribe about how "Mr. Wall seems to embody absolutely everything I find atrocious in the contemporary art world," along with a laundry list of quotes attributed to Wall. Unfortunately for Hand, the last quote he chose wasn't uttered by Wall, but by October editor Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, who can't be remotely characterized as a supporter of Wall's work. Whoops!

As Truman Capote once said of Jack Kerouac, "That's not writing, that's typing."
Monday, February 26, 2007
Monday evening. Light slowly fading from cold winter sky, wind snapping at the lamppost banners and the ornamental cherry tree outside the door, its buds clenched tight against the week's forecast of arctic chill, snow, sleet, and three days of steady rain.

Someone writes to ask where the photographs have gone. The Nikon's terrible in low light; it's parked at home, waiting for days that consist of something more than showers spitting from the steel-grey firmament. Someone else writes to ask after my emotional stability. Pretty good, everything considered; life lately is organized by work's rhythms, by the business hours posted on the door (SUBJECT TO MINOR VARIATION), by appointments with vendors and fellow dealers, by the return time stamped on the rental van contract. I'm buying a Pentax 645, my first medium format film camera, in order to make some "cinematographic" (posed; "directed"; possibly even digitally recomposed) pictures that have been nagging at me for a while. Lots of futzing around in the evenings, combing through Big Electronic Garage Sale's camera listings, which is its own form of meditation. And, in between, lots of grunt labor: unscrewing shelves; carrying bookcases down the block at 3am in pouring rain; talking to the amused firemen who arrived to investigate the illegally parked van and the load of lumber dropped on the sidewalk opposite the condo complex full of touchy noise-sensitive yuppies. A life dense with rapid shifts from "economics" to "aesthetics" and back again. So, if you ever had to wait for the gallery keys while I combed through sixteen boxes of Robotech pocketbooks, or if your purchase of The Secret Life of Bees was interrupted by me discoursing with a friend on conceptual art's impact on the depictive arts, this post is for you.
SFX: Donald Fagen, Mary Shut The Garden Door


CJB: Half of them. Fagen's latest album.

SBV: High school. I thought I was so sophisticated! I can't imagine listening to that guy now.

CJB: [slow burn]

SBV: So! Anything here you can use?

CJB: No.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Spring on Main Street: through rain-showers, through rifted black clouds, direct sunlight, the year's first, striking through the gap between the Lee Building and Architectural Antiques, through my big front windows, and full across my face. Five and a half minutes of Vitamin D, edging ace book scout Steve Jones' hair with light, forcing me to squint at him through the glare.
ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): Okonomiyaki. And delicious beer. At the Modern Club. Tonight.

The Luminist

"'My love of depiction is just affectionate,' he told me. 'I’m a more affectionate person than I thought I was. I like trees or I like people’s faces. That’s one reason I think my work has changed. I realized I wasn’t interested in filtering my affection for things through certain levels of mediation.'"

(Image: Jeff Wall, Men Waiting, 2006. Corporate Thrift Store visible in the distance. Complex sky. As Goya says, I've seen that.)
Friday, February 23, 2007
I just enjoyed a 20-hour workday which involved moving eighty bankers' boxes of books, plus a neon sign, sixty 7' high bookcases, a feather duster, a dozen doughnuts, & etc. from a local suburb to the Kitsilano store in a not-quite-big-enough rental van, through cutting cold, rain, and (around 4am) mixed hail and sleet. This is my excuse if I don't seem to remember your name, or my own, when you come in, and I'm sticking to it.
Thursday, February 22, 2007

Recent reading:

Keith Maillard, Lyndon Johnson and the Majorettes (Difficulty at the Beginning, v.3)

I just reactivated my Vancouver Public Library card after 5+ years of inactivity due to, a/ $25 of library fines (Lowenstein's Buffett; Pohl's Annals of the Heechee), and, b/ owning a business where interesting things to read arrive all the time. So the reading list is about to expand exponentially.

Studio visit yesterday with Elspeth Pratt, the most important local sculptor I know. A selection of her well-made "material decisions" visible above. Soon showing at Diaz Contemporary in Toronto.

A cold front rolling through, snow line low on the local mountains, wind roiling wild cumulus overhead, arctic sunlight rimed round the edges.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Thanks from the staff and I to the readers of the Westender newspaper for once again voting Pulpfiction "Vancouver's Best Used Bookstore." Coming soon: even more books! We just closed a deal for a recently bankrupt competitor, and 5500-odd paperbacks and mass market paperbacks, plus some new shelves, will be arriving in the Kitsilano store (3133 West Broadway) first thing on Friday morning.

The Quartz Parliament

Via MJH, Robert Macfarlane's short and mercilessly clear essay on writer and climber Jim Perrin, worth quoting at length for its relevance to Team Cat's alpine excursions, and their genesis in the wintery Cascade panoramas visible from Hillside Secondary's homeroom windows:

"Joy, perhaps above all, is a vital concept for Perrin. In 'The Vision of Glory,' he describes climbing Beinn a' Chaoruinn, the Hill of the Rowan, a mountain above Loch Moy. The winter day begins dully, but near the summit, suddenly 'the mist is scoured with speed from the face of the mountain,' and Perrin sees out over the surrounding peaks and corries, 'all glitter and coruscation, shapes of the Mamores beyond a phantasmal ivory gleam.' From this epiphany, the essay develops by way of Wordsworth and Simone Weil, into a meditation on the power of such visionary moments — 'the occasional goings-through into the white world, into the world of light' - to call out a goodness in us. 'Our essential life, the joy-life, is a sequence of these moments: how many of us could count even sixty such?'

Such are the mystical returns which, in Perrin's secular theology, reward those who venture into the high mountains. For Perrin, taking the high ground does not lead one to superiority or righteousness, but to humility. 'I was annihilated,' he writes of an experience on Jacob's Ladder in the Peak District, 'had no existence, simply looked out at the inconceivable beauty of the world that had detached me from any concept of self in order that I might see.'

Discussing the accidie which overwhelmed Wordsworth in the 1840s, Perrin wonders 'what had gone so radically wrong that he could no longer record, as he had once recorded, the radical joy in the commonplace and the everyday around him?' Joy - for Perrin as for Weil - is radical in that it is an improving force, which rinses a person clean of bitterness, and propels them to a contemplation of alternative ways of being. It is an emotion which inhabits the future subjunctive tense: the what-might-be.

There is a popular heresy that a love of nature is a middle-class luxury: budget-Buddhism for the well-off. The ability - this heresy runs - to find landscapes attractive, consoling, or 'heart-exciting' (to borrow Coleridge's fine phrase) is a function of wealth. Only those who have enjoyed an affluent upbringing will be able to discover beauty in the stern curve of a mountain slope, or the great weathers of a coastal sky; or in gentler and more modest abstractions, such as the rise of a moorland horizon, or an arrangement of wet stones on a beach.

It is a heresy to be despised, for it patronises those it pretends to represent, and denies them so much. And it is a heresy which Perrin's life and his writing urgently refuse. His fierce, self-effacing and generous essays investigate a question of enormous importance: how far landscape can help, and has historically helped, to fulfil 'the potential dignity and worth of human consciousness.'"
Anodyne, Inc.

Parkland Industries' updated distribution information from February 15th:

$1.20/eligible unit x 746 units = 24 new units, plus $27.47 cash for the fractional balance

Unit balance, 770 units. Cash balance, $376.38.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Recent reading:

Keith Maillard, Running (Difficulty at the Beginning,v.1)
Keith Maillard, Morgantown (Difficulty at the Beginning, v.2)
Timothy Vick, Wall Street on Sale: How to Beat the Market as a Value Investor

Off work early. Up Main to my favorite local cafe, the one with the stereo permanently parked in 1989. World's largest Americano and sixty pages of Morgantown to a backbeat of Crowded House, the Police, Cabaret Voltaire, New Order, Talking Heads, Icehouse, Echo & the Bunnymen, & etc. Then off through intermittent showers in the dark, thin clouds whipped aside to reveal the crescent moon. Heavy backpack weighing on my trashed right knee. Restaurants, cafes. Furniture store display windows, mid-century Danish modern nightstands and bookcases spotlit by halogen bulbs. A Vietnamese chicken sub at the doughnut place on the corner beyond which the stores pinch out into noticably down-market rentals. Crispy French roll, bar-b-que chicken, lettuce, hot peppers, avacado, mayo. A steady stream of folks order the house specialty, doughnuts which, despite looking like chocolate, strawberry, maple, etc., all taste vaguely metallic and gingery. It's like 100% of the place's cooking talent goes into the subs, leaving no love for the doughnuts. Not that the regulars seem to mind. "Two chocolate, two sugar glazed." The Canucks game is on on the snowy TV above the door. One regular orders coffee, black, then proceeds to stir fourteen packets of sugar into it. "Shit," he says, sipping, "that's bitter." Fifteen, sixteen. Someone scores a goal. "Shit!" Seventeen, eighteen. "Ahh."

Costco's Rules

A retailer originally drawn to my attention by Warren Buffett's second-in-command, Charlie Munger, a current Costco board member. An important role model for my thinking about Pulpfiction's role as a "didactic enterprise" in a larger social community.

"Professor Terrance Weatherbee, a business professor at Acadia University, explains that by dispensing with many of the costs associated with classic retail inventory practices, Costco is able to re-direct cash flow to employees, and make fairer deals with suppliers. Cheap floor displays, decreased individual packaging and bulk supplies are what allow Costco to remain competitive and redistribute its wealth to things like employee development, which it maintains as a high priority within the corporation."
Monday, February 19, 2007

3:43pm-View of same house, by Keefer

Hillside Secondary School, 1996 [15], by Aaron Vidaver

Other people's photographs. A signed print of Keefer's picture, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, showed up today, unsolicited, in the mail. The image is one of a number of photographs taken on a long walk through Surrey, B.C., a rapidly industrializing city-suburb of Vancouver, whose geographical variety is endlessly rich and dense, and impossible to appreciate unless you spend three weeks driving back and forth through it, documenting every one of its 1600+ bus stops (as I did, several years ago, as an assistant on my friend Sylvia Borda's great video project, Every Bus Stop in Surrey, B.C.), or walk, like Keefer, just looking and listening.

I like Keefer's picture a lot; it summarizes, in an easy, unselfconscious, and not neccessarily "arty" way, many ideas I've had around the intersection of landscape, abstraction, and the supernatural. The crumbling house -- the site of a "ghost light" Keefer identifies in a prose caption -- is on its way out, soon to be replaced by, one supposes, condos or duplexes, and a general lack of the organic clutter that structures the picture so well. The photograph also reminds me of paintings by Peter Doig, whose work, at least to me, similarly emerges from contemplating modernity's and landscape's corrosive effects on each other, while retaining an openness to the experience of being out in nature.

Thanks, Keefer!

Aaron Vidaver
and I both attended West Vancouver's Hillside Secondary School in the mid- to late- 1980s. I don't recall us having much in common, outside of what I might characterize, with Aaron's indulgence, as incompatable left (or, in my case, intermittently left-leaning) politics. But we share a love of books, poetry, visual art, and regional history, and have kept running into one another over the years. Aaron's Hillside Flickr set showed up unsolicited in my morning email, and I spent half an hour or so with it.

Hillside Secondary, perched high above Canada's richest, or second-richest, suburb, was a really strange place to go to school. I was glad to leave in 1988, but, looking back on my five year stay from twenty-odd years out, the school's physical location was one of the most formative experiences of my life. Sweeping views, from Mount Baker in the east to Vancouver Island in the west. Endlessly changeable light. The arc of the bridge, and all the freighters at anchor in the harbor. Jet trails. The Cascade Range at sunrise. & etc. Science classes, in particular, in the building's west wing, with its high, wide windows, were a constant education in climate and geography.

A memory: seven thirty in November. My dad drops dru and I by the side of the highway and together we walk down an asphalt path to the service road above the school. It's slippery, the pavement underfoot white with frost. The sky to the east is fluorescent pink, shot with steam clouds rising from North Vancouver's apartments and the Ioco hydro plant. Mount Baker's silhouette seems to have been cut from black construction paper and pasted onto the brilliant horizon. I'm worrying about a story I'm writing, or getting my ass kicked later that day in the breezeway, or algebra, which I'm failing. But the landscape knocks me out of myself, over and over again.

Thanks, Aaron!
Monsoonland again. Cold wind rocking the slowly budding trees, street banners and trolley wires. Slant rain, alley ghosts drowned in shallow lakes. A little loch around the base of the cherry tree outside the shop's front door. Silver drops gathering along the awning's edge, where they swell, stretch, and finally succumb to gravity, narrowly missing the bargain table on the way down. A little kid in a soaked grey hoodie bails out of an SUV stopped in traffic, sprints toward the comic book store, discovers they're closed Mondays, and trudges back to the car. "Ya FUCKIN RETARD!" screams a local deadbeat stalking up the block. Marvin Gaye on the deck, the shush of wet tires and the clang of Translink's trolley line repair crew's bell as they labor on the corner, wrestling big wet spools of steel wire.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Thinking About What to Think About

Walking slowly to work, downtown's alleys still black and slick with last night's rain. As if the tide crept after midnight, when everyone was sleeping, gently curled around the dumpsters and scabby patches of sidewalk grass, then retreated just before dawn, carrying the city's cast-offs with it, drawing them out into the open, into visibility as themselves.

Tolagson writes from the island: "I've been reading lately about Van Gogh's brief flirtation (via Gauguin) with painting completely from his imagination. Gauguin thought Van Gogh's reliance on visual observation of his subject and adherence to basic ideas of perspective was tiresome and backwards, and encouraged Van Gogh to, y'know, 'Loosen the fuck up!' But when VG tried to emulate Gauguin's imaginative, otherworldly style by painting tapestry-like pictures of his usual subjects from memory, his work fell flat, literally! The observance of things, the visual observation, was the thing for him (no matter how much liberty he took with it.) Van Gogh also supposedly blew his top when Bernard sent him a sketch of a proposed painting he was about to begin depicting Christ on the Mount of Olives, (a visionary painting depicting Christ's suffering, etc etc.) His tantrum ran something along the lines of, 'I'm down here busting my ass painting real olive groves, which are more than capable of conveying any meaning you'd like in and of themselves, including the death of Christ, and you're yammering on to me about historical painting?' Or as he put it to Theo in a letter: ' my opinion it is our duty to think and not to dream.'"

Some things I saw on my walk today: pink and lime-green bath towels, carelessly draped from dumpsters like battle flags. A busted-up couch, jammed sideways in a narrow easement between two run-down 50s apartments with peeling stucco siding, its short wooden legs projecting up in the air like a mortally wounded animal that had crawled away to die. Condoms, syringes. Inexplicable little asphalt piles: macadam bearscat. A pair of sneakers protruding from several cardboard boxes (Mac Fries; Sunkist; Hitachi) joined to create a square-sided corrugated tunnel: a "found Wurm." A woman in a black hoodie pushing an overloaded shopping cart full of bulging plastic bags, covered by a sky-blue tarp, and, balanced on top of this, a fluffy orange kitten, secured to the cart by a thin silver chain that sparkles in the sun. And a white-faced sweaty crackhead trying to wheedle his way onto the bus with the same faux-obsequient tone they all have. "Please, sir" -- that sir as full of hate as it sounds -- "my pass is in my other coat, sir." Standing right on top of the driver, blocking the rest of us. "It's $2.25," says the driver patiently, "or you can't ride." "You know, I only have this problem with East Indian drivers," says the crackhead. "With curry-eaters." "Better to eat curry than to be a fucking white-trash racist," is my unsolicited contribution. "Fuck off off the bus. None of the rest of us want to hear your bullshit." The crackhead spins, sizing me up. "No one asked you," he spits, backing down onto the sidewalk. As the bus pulls away, he shouts, "What an embarrassment you are, a white with no race pride."

Guilty as charged!
Saturday, February 17, 2007

ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): all ten minutes, but especially 6:42-7:11.

Study for Carrying a Table, 2007 (figure study; found image)

Disappear Into The Sun

Grey even light, cloud ceiling four thousand feet off the deck and holding. Off to the credit union, abandoning the staff to the week-before-Christmas rush that inexplicably decided to reappear mid-February. Phone ringing, desk chest-deep in books, suitcases, laundry baskets and surplus BCLDB boxes piling up as if flung from a fire hose. Among the 1000+ (!!!) titles that arrived today: a full set of Cornwell Sharpes, and some nice old UK SF hardcovers, including a lovely Wyndham Kraken Wakes and an Arthur Clarke Challenge of The Sea (above) sporting a furtive-looking giant squid. Legendary DC Comics editor Julie Schwartz apparently believed that comics with gorillas on their covers shift units; some variant belief seemingly existed among late 60s UK SF editors, with giant molluscs replacing monkeys.

A little light rain now after dark, Sunny Day Real Estate's intense falsetto anthems on the deck, customers still puttering about. Snapshots on the desk in front of me, studies for my first posed ("cinematographic") picture, Carrying a Table, 2007.

Rain falling through the lamplight.

Tarry in my mind...
Friday, February 16, 2007

"I've Got Some Great Books For Sale!"

Drew Carey's Jokes For Beer. First year econ textbooks. The John Grisham library. Science fiction book club hardcovers, alarmed and still not totally conscious attic spiders toddling out of them. Chicken Soup For the Expectant Mother's Soul. A collection of "poems" by Billy Corgan. Jewel's "poems." A User's Guide to MS Word 5.0. Harry Potter in Latin. Frommer's Hawaii, the unique and collectable 1987 edition. Fodor's New Orleans, ditto.

"Sorry, I can't use this one."

"Why's that? People aren't going to New Orleans any more?"

"Sure they are. There's been, ah, a few changes since 1987, though."

"Really? Like what?"

"Well, the flood."

"New Orleans had a flood?"
Thursday, February 15, 2007

Heidi Nagtegaal
Masks For Disappearing

Curated by Steven Tong

16 February - 18 March 2007
Opening Friday, 16 February, 6 - 9 pm

CSA Space
#5 - 2414 Main Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada |

Anodyne Inc.

A complicated multi-part distribution from Parkland Income Fund (PKI.UN):

.24/unit x 746 units = $179.04. Cash balance, $323.16. Plus a special distribution, made in trust units, described by Parkland management as follows:

"Parkland Income Fund (TSX: PKI.UN) previously announced that a special distribution of $1.20 per trust unit would be paid in cash, trust units or a combination of cash and trust units on February 15, 2007 to unitholders of record on December 29, 2006. The Board of Directors has determined the payment will be made in trust units. The number of trust units was established with reference to the weighted average trading price on the date of record. No fractional trust units will be issued. A cash payment will be made for the fractional amount."

So, an additional $895.20 of equity is forthcoming, whose unit value I can't yet calculate, lacking the "weighted average trading price on the date of record." This information should be available some time in the next day or two, and I'll make the appropriate updates at that time.

Also a distribution today from recent portfolio addition TerraVest Income Trust (TI.UN):

.08333/unit x 309 units = $25.75. Cash balance, $348.91.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007

When First We Faced
By Philip Larkin

When first we faced, and touching showed
How well we knew the early moves,
Behind the moonlight and the frost,
The excitement and the gratitude,
There stood how much our meeting owed
To other meetings, other loves.

The decades of a different life
That opened past your inch-close eyes
Belonged to others, lavished, lost;
Nor could I hold you hard enough
To call my years of hunger-strife
Back for your mouth to colonise.

Admitted: and the pain is real.
But when did love not try to change
The world back to itself -- no cost,
No past, no people else at all --
Only what meeting made us feel,
So new, and gentle-sharp, and strange?
Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Copied-down bits from Maillard's Running:

"My feelings were powerful and my thoughts were vague, so trying now to guess what it is that I wanted from her is a work of pure archeology from a site almost devoid of clues -- not much more than a broken pot here, a few flints there, and a ruined hearth stone. This is the best I can do."

[And I note, in typing up the above, that the last sentence in my version ends with a colon in Maillard's text, and another hundred-odd words of explanation. All his hedging aside, Maillard's narrator actually has a pretty good idea of 'what it is that [he] wanted from her.' Whereas my version ('mistranslation'?) throws the reader back on memory's sketchy evidence: those ceramic shards, that blackened stone.]

"In the car Cassandra said, 'You know, John, you can't win. If you're different, they pick you to pieces, but if you try to be like them, that doesn't work either because they know you don't mean it.'"
Monday, February 12, 2007


Ancient file on my hard drive, a 1500-word excerpt from Emily, an unpublished short story (c. 1993) about a somewhat sleazy and desperate commercial art dealer's attempt to hustle a young female painter into bed. Turns out she's One of Them. Predictable and tragic results. I'm currently reading Keith Maillard's novels Cutting Through (1982) and Running (2006) side-by-side, out of interest in the rewriting process that brought the new book and its sequels to life out of the old one. So, just for fun, I picked a random, long, and not too badly written paragraph from vampire.doc, and spent a half hour revising line-by-line:

"There's a funny break in my memory here. Here we are on the way home from North Vancouver. We're in a cab, both of us in the back seat as we cross the bridge in the rain. My car must be back at the restaurant; I don't know why this is, only that I haven't been this drunk in a long time. Instead of heading straight downtown the cabbie takes Park Drive, following a laborious counterclockwise path around the park. Emily talks quietly to him; I can't make out what she's saying. The radio is playing light hits -- Jennifer Warnes or Carly Simon -- and the cab's headlights make tunnels through the dark, wet night, the shadows of the overarching trees and the tangled growth at the side of the road. Underlying this is the smell of the tree-shaped deodorizer hanging from the cab's mirror. A heavy, cloying, smell, like fruit punch, and beneath that a bitterness, like car exhaust, or copper. Memory comes and goes, and I’m throwing up in a deserted parking lot in the rain, half-leaning out of the cab while Emily holds me by one arm. Another break, and I'm almost home, the West End's apartments rising reassuringly around us. My building's elevator. Emily somehow holding me up, even though I'm limp and heavy in her arms. Lying down on my living room couch. She covers me with my coat. It smells of the cab, that half-fruity, half-bitter scent. Her lips on my cheek. And then everything blurs and runs together, and the next thing I know it's morning. I'm lying on the couch in the cold apartment, and Emily is gone. My head aches and throbs. I half-stand, half-roll off the couch, and stumble past the stereo and coffee table to the bathroom, where I throw up in the sink, then stand there, gripping its sides, while I shake and shake and shake. In the mirror my eyes are dark and watery, my face pale, pocked with stubble and red inflammation. I throw up again and crawl back to bed, and the next thing I know the phone is ringing. I snatch it up. 'Hello?' The voice on the other end isn't Emily's, but Mike Connaught’s, the Vancouver Sun's arts critic. 'I hear I missed a party,' he says by way of greeting. He doesn't like the gallery, doesn't like the commercial concessions he claims I make routinely. 'I'll be reviewing the show,' he tells me with the faint undertone of condescension that I always detect in his voice, 'and I'd like to get in to see it. Today, in fact.'"

(E. Munch painting that got me thinking about all this ancient history above)


Pete Schuyff's new website. One of my favorite painters.

Rockin' the house. "Soul preachin', hot guitar funk from Detroit," c. 1972-3, including a burning cover of Bill Withers' Ain't No Sunshine.

One Hundred Famous Ghosts (48), 2007

For Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun. Squamish Nation land, North Vancouver, B.C. Extraordinary light.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Via craigslist:


[BOOKSTORE NAME] in [LOCAL SUBURB] has been delegating internet sales to people working from home for the past eight years. I wish to expand the internet team by finding half a dozen people living near border crossings in southern BC outside the Lower Mainland. Suitable candidates should be looking for permanent flex-time work and have secure, dry space to store more than 5,000 books (a spare bedroom or garage will suffice). No capital is needed; you list and ship and we split the money. And, of course, you can read for free. If you are interested or know someone suitable, contact [OWNER'S NAME] at [EMAIL ADDRESS]."

Yesterday I installed a new and vastly improved stats tracker. The result? MF DOOM's amazement at the size of his live audience pertains: "Ah, 's like, there's a hundred thousand motherfuckers up in here!"

Up at eight with the dawn, grey West Coast light falling slantwise through the blinds. Gentle rain, which I mistook at first for fog. Out into Sunday. The green threads of crocus leaves screwed up through the soil. Pavement littered with every conceivable kind of debris: leaf-litter, newspaper mulch, dogshit, upchuck constellations like a trail of breadcrumbs home from the bar. A pair of feet, the soles caked black with dirt, protruding from a sleeping bag outside the big hotel. In an alley, burst black bags of trash, last night's curry takeout spilled out, yellow, as if the bags themselves are sick, trying to hurl up their insides. A meth head on a bicycle, shirtless, unshaven, clad only in sneakers and a flapping blue pair of track pants. Two huge bags of bottles precariously balanced front and rear. He wobbles past, conducting a high-volume disagreement with someone or something I can't see. "THEY'VE GOT TO TURN THAT FUCKING RADIO DOWN," & etc. Another half block of single-sided argument and one of the bags cuts loose. A Chuck Jones sound effect: breaking glass, amplified by the alley walls. Two dozen breaking bottles sounds exactly like someone's car window being smashed. Every car alarm in the vicinity chimes in in imaginative sympathy.

My Dark Star
Words and music by Anderson/Butler

In a hired car she will come to England from the sea
And as the tide flows the London snows will come
And from the skyline shines the lies of the government's singular history
So in a hired world she will buy a gun

And she will come from India with a love in her eyes
That say, Oh, how my dark star will rise

In rented gear 2000 years we waited for a man
But with a tattoed tit she'd die for us all tonight.

And she will come from India with a gun at her side
Or she will come from Argentina
With her cemetery eyes that say
Oh, how my dark star will rise

...and she will rise.

Recent reading:

Keith Maillard, Gloria
Thomas P. Au, A Modern Approach to Graham & Dodd Investing
Rodney Graham, The Rodney Graham Songbook
Saturday, February 10, 2007

New Jeff Wall lecture text here. More to say in a few days, once I've finished shooting Doppelganger, 2007.

"The doppelgängers of folklore cast no shadow, and have no reflection in a mirror or in water. They are supposed to provide advice to the person they shadow, but this advice can be misleading or malicious. They can also, in rare instances, plant ideas in their victim's mind or appear before friends and relatives, causing confusion. In many cases once someone has viewed his own doppelgänger he is doomed to be haunted by images of his ghostly counterpart."

(Image: Jeff Wall, Concrete Ball, 2002)

"[NAME]'s cute," says a member of my extended social circle, an artworld colleague, a propos of nothing. "Don't you think?"

"Er, ah," says our man, totally alarmed. "I'm going for coffee, anyone want one?"
Friday, February 09, 2007

To a book sale in a local suburb, after dark. Across a bridge, the city spilled below. Grouse Mountain's lights burning white above the clouds. Flecks of rain on the Legacy's windshield. Deserted suburban streets, a few pedestrians out in the warm night with umbrellas and dogs. Blinky green LEDs everywhere: on a dog's collar; on a toddler's rain hat; on a baby buggy; on a jogger's shoes. I don't know if dressing up like a 70s coin-op character is such a great idea. The part of me that learned to drive by watching Atari's LeMans on the Mayne Island ferry c. 1976 still thinks that clipping you with my bumper should award me bonus points and an extra life.

Big echoey gymnasium. Trays of baking: homemade pies wrapped in freezer bags whose ends are closed with bread ties. Blueberry muffins, coffee cakes, and wee butter tartlets, six to a package. Mass market paperbacks, trade paperbacks and hardcovers. My competitors running round, frantic as usual, missing all the good stuff in favor of squabbling over the printing history of some manky old P.C. Wren UK HC/DJ. 'Bye guys!

Driving home, banana boxes full of books creaking companionably in time with the wheel with the burned-out bearings. Through East Vancouver, familiar neighborhoods slipping by in the dark. The Skytrain station, lit up from within like a Nascanti spaceship. Seb's blue neon. And the Lee Building, and a parking space right in front of the shop.

Dragging boxes into the store, rain more insistent now, Grouse's lights veiled by the spray.

Something like happiness.

There's a Straight box on Broadway directly in front of the express bus' rear doors, so this greets me every morning as they wheeze open. Rusty ironic laughter, ar, har, har. An argument over the trope last summer. I was thinking of my Main Street friends with their white-trash hats and Ron Jeremy moustaches, and took the position that irony was some sad, weak-ass shit. But now, upon reflection, that trope, or at least the ability to perceive it in the air, much as cargo dogs sniff out illicit pharmaceuticals, might be the thing most responsible for my persisting on into early middle age. "[I]ncongruity between what is expected and what occurs." Amen, oh yeah.

All Fires
Words and music by Swan Lake

You have a father, there is another
You have a sister, there are no brothers.
You have good friends, you have a lover
When friendships end, you will still love her
But it's Teresa they love the best.

There was a flood, a world of water
The mason's wife swam for her daughter.

One thousand people did what they could.
They found the steeple, tore out the wood.

Five hundred pieces means five hundred float.
One thousand people means five hundred don't.
And it's Teresa they love the best.

I've said it before and I'll say it again.
All fires have to burn alive.
All fires have to burn alive.

From near his heart, he took a rib.
All fires have to burn alive to live.
From near his heart, he took a rib.
All fires have to burn alive to live.
So it's Teresa that I love the best.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing)
: Dubious Žižek-authored Catalog Copy

Via Big Open-Source Internets Encyclopedia, and not linked to, in the (vain) hope that it'll stay put:

"Recently, Žižek wrote text to accompany Bruce Weber photos in a catalogue for Abercrombie & Fitch. Questioned as to the seemliness of a major intellectual writing ad copy, Žižek told the Boston Globe: 'If I were asked to choose between doing things like this to earn money and becoming fully employed as an American academic, kissing ass to get a tenured post, I would with pleasure choose writing for such journals!' An example from this catalogue: 'Duds, duds, get 'em while they're hot. I wouldn't wear that shirt except for maybe on laundry day. This past week, I went through three more dress shirts than usual; one I spilled coffee on, one got really sweaty in the metro. I hate the metro sometimes, but, hey, you got to get around. The other one got stuck in the back of my dresser drawer. As usual, it's all about ergonomics. I didn't much like that shirt anyways, but I should really stop putting them in my dresser. Iron, iron, ion, oiron. Repetitive motion. Getting bloody calluses, and maybe carpal tunnel. My teeth have been hurting lately, too.'"

"They're bleeding through the fault lines. Walking from their world, across the void, and into yours."

If the next few months of entries simply consist of digital photographs and links to other people's creativity, my excuse is that, after much to-ing and fro-ing, I am now writing that book about photography that various drinking pals and Internets interlocuters have been hearing about for far too long. Tenative title, The Photographer and the Snowman. Best described as a Rodney Graham-style "supplement" to Intertidal. Those missing signatures, discovered years later in a Richmond customs warehouse....
Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Age of Consent (live, 1983). Marek Bula's recent opening at Dadabase, ably curated by my pal Katie D. Ryan Aronofsky's bright blue toque visible at middle left.

I saw you this morning
I thought that you might like to know
I received your message in full a few days ago....

From Spaceflight to Attempted Murder Charge -- via the NYT, an excellent Bruce Sterling/Elmore Leonard collaborative novella (or bad Movie of the Week) undoubtedly in the works...

"Police officials say [Novak] drove 900 miles to Florida from Texas, wearing a diaper so she would not have to stop for rest breaks. In Orlando, they say, she confronted her rival in a parking lot, attacking her with pepper spray.

Captain Nowak was in disguise at the time, wearing a wig, the police said. She had with her a compressed air pistol, a steel mallet, a knife, pepper spray, four feet of rubber tubing, latex gloves and garbage bags.


The police report, by Detective William C. Becton, said that Captain Nowak said she had not intended to harm Captain Shipman and said she believed that 'this was the only time she was going to be able to speak' with her. The compressed air pistol she carried 'was going to be used to entice Ms. Shipman to talk with her,' according to the report.

Detective Becton wrote, 'When I asked Mrs. Nowak if she thought the pepper spray was going to help her speak with Ms. Shipman, she replied, "That was stupid."'"

ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): The Bad Arts

The world woke up one day to proclaim:
'Thou shalt not take part in, or make, bad art.'

Seven-odd minutes of pop nirvana, picking up steam as it goes. The musical equivalent of a Team Cat trek up Grouse Mountain from sea level. 1:22's thump-thump bass (Roethke's shaking). 3:30's guitar break, that opens my heart no matter how many times I hear it.

Emerging, sweat-soaked, from the trees below the chalet. Clouds moving above the city, English Bay and the Fraser delta shining in the dappled light.

Why did you spend the 90s cowering?
Why did you spend the 90s cowering?

My Beck Depression Inventory keeps dropping. Root causes? The incrementally longer days. Magnolia buds covered in dew at the corner of Oak and Broadway. Keefer's recent trek through Surrey. ("3:43pm, view of same house," in gallery 2, fills me with all kinds of complicated feelings; it's a picture that captures, in a simple and spectacularly unselfconscious way, many of my half-formed ideas about the collision of landscape, spatial abstraction and the supernatural).

When signs become impure again,
the crowd doesn't know where or when

to let it all hang out.
Bloodlet yourself, street style!
You got the spirit. Don't lose the feeling.
Monday, February 05, 2007

Recent reading: as above. I'd been hearing about this one for a while, but the everything-but-the-free-set-of-Ginsu-knives tone was offputting. As it turns out, You Can Be a Stock Market Genius is a lucid and well-written discussion of "special situation" value investing: mergers, spinoffs, bankruptcy, "risk arbitrage" & etc. Loads of real world examples, with step-by-step calculations that even this gift C+ in Math 12 could follow, and -- even better -- a colloquial, you-can-do-this tone that brought my Beck Depression Inventory score way, way down from last week. "The idea behind this book was to let you know about a snowball sitting on top of a hill, to provide you with a map and enough rope and climbing gear so that you can reach [it]. Your job -- should you choose to accept it -- is to nudge it down the hill and make it grow." Corny perhaps, but the metaphor speaks to me.

Oh Death, Where Is Thy Sting?

Yet another context for ghosts: the opening credits and first scene of Lars Von Trier's Riget (aka The Kingdom). "Tiny signs of fatigue are appearing in the solid, modern edifice." Well, yes, exactly. Not to mention the director's gleeful shifts from uninflected realism to full-on techno-gothic noir (those white hands, pushing up through the grave's wet soil; the wall of blood; that explosive Kraut-rock score, packed with orchestral oomph and flourishes). And the phantom ambulance. The short post-credits sequence with the sleepy and puzzled orderly wandering out through the automatic doors to examine the ambulance up close reminds me of Robert Bresson, and enormously affected me when I first saw it at the Pacific Cinematheque in the early 1990s.
Sunday, February 04, 2007

ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): That Time is Now (via JT)

Untitled poem-painting by Kenneth Patchen (from the sequence Wonderings, New Directions, 1971)

Philip Guston, Multiplied, 1972

Further contexts for ghosts: Patchen's lumpy spirit-animals and Guston's late "cartoony" renderings of Klansmen and household objects. Relatives, too, of my Incredible Talking Cats, lares, "little household gods."

Guston faced down immense critical and public pressure to renounce figuration and return to the gestural abstraction for which he was then best known. According to Arthur Danto, "Guston's transit from abstraction to cartoon was cruelly [and representatively] portrayed by Hilton Kramer in a widely cited review as a passage from 'mandarin' to "stumblebum.' The term 'mandarin' was intended to diminish what had set Guston apart as an abstractionist. The paintings were too dainty, too delicate, too light and airy by contrast with the heavy pigment of the true expressionist to be considered authentic. The new ["cartoony"] paintings were then seen as an opportunistic bid for that missed authenticity. They were coarse, juvenile and demotic." And Patchen always stood apart from any movement, repeatedly resisting the Beats' attempts to co-opt him on board their rapidly accelerating wagon. Guston's and Patchen's example -- the straight-forward pursuit of personal concerns, with no regard to careerism or public success -- is one I really admire, and just as important to the ghosts as better-publicized contexts like Yoshitoshi's prints or Jack Spicer's spooks.
Saturday, February 03, 2007

One Hundred Famous Ghosts (37), 2007

Another "stunt double" replacing an insufficiently scary original. A little surprised to find these guys growing progressively more whacked out and expressionistic as they go. #47 (below) must be a George Clinton relative, P-Funk shades and all. And the little red guy above is not pleased to be sighted. The ghostly equivalent of one of those tiny barking dogs whose self-image is of a much larger, more dangerous animal.

Ghosts are cast-offs, things no longer performing an original function, visibly changed by their passage through time.

One Hundred Famous Ghosts (47), 2007
Friday, February 02, 2007
The middle-aged couple beside me at the Starbucks condiment stand is breaking up.

"No," she says, "I want you to know. I'm extremely appreciative. I thought you'd be defensive--"

He's trying to make some point, speaking so fast and low I can't follow. Pouring cream into his coffee, so focused on what he's saying that he pours unceasingly, overflowing the paper cup. Tan-colored cream pools on the countertop.

"No. I thought you should know--"

And I'm out of there, I'm gone.
Best headline-transformed-into-band-name-ever: SEX LAW UNDER FIRE

North Shore Tree, 2007

Two days off sleeping and walking in the sun. An Anodyne Inc. distribution while I was gone:

Dominion Citrus Income Fund (DOM.UN) 12,346 units x .01/unit = $123.46

Cash balance, $144.12

"She felt saturated with her own competence" (Keith Maillard, Gloria)

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