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The Thingifyer

Dark Hope in No Country – That Oscar gold will shower down this year on James Cameron's Avatar, with its connective planetary goddess, says a great deal about how deep a ditch we have dug for ourselves. The central idea of the film, after all, is that while the ruination of our own ecosphere is a done deal there exists, somewhere far far away, a planet where human greed and aggression will finally meet their match. If hope is your cup of tea you might want to look a little closer to home. For that purpose another recent Oscar winner comes to mind - No Country for Old Men by the Coen brothers, based on the noir thriller by Cormac McCarthy. The hope it contains may be on the dark side, but so are the forces that have pushed our world … [Read more...]

Theory of Miracles

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Disposable Plastic At a party at the Edendale Grill in Silverlake shortly before Christmas I learned about the five vortexes of disposable plastic, vast as continents and indestructible, that swirl continuously in the world’s oceans. I was talking to a woman named Sara Bayles who, in the hope of drawing attention to the problem, collects plastic trash choked up by the sea each day on Santa Monica beach. The image of the vortexes seemed to echo, dreamlike, the armada of environmental alarms that have circulated below the surface of my emotional life since childhood. And yet, at the Edendale, I noticed that something had shifted. Confronted with new evidence of environmental degradation the familiar … [Read more...]

Language and its Opposite

The Walworth Farce – The longer you work in theater the more intriguing it becomes. The basic fact that audiences are able to look across an imaginary line and see into a different time and place becomes more remarkable the longer you ponder it. The embodied nature of theater - that there are bodies up there speaking the words - also seems to accrue significance. In a subtle way the embodied present of the speaking actor pulls against the basic truth claim of the words themselves, opening a little window of freedom. The fact that dramatic characters are almost never attuned to this freedom only makes statements on stage inherently poignant and ironic in a way they can never be on the page. When playwright, director and performer are … [Read more...]

Look Again

Photography and the Dream of Form, Part 1: Batchelor – Contrary to popular belief, machines, technology, do not exist to enslave us, or to limit or retard our spiritual growth. Rather, technology exists to liberate us from Cartesian habits of mind so that we can embody hitherto undernourished aspects of our potential for awareness. To see what I mean, examine the photograph to the right on your screen. The meat in the image is red but probably it's flowers instead of meat and just a little out of focus such that it appears meat-like. What's in focus must be water, but since water is transparent you can't actually see it. The shadow of three fingers and a thumb that interrupt the cool stripe of reflected light is in focus so, yes, … [Read more...]

Raging Waters

Sons of Sam We spent the first Friday in September with our nine year old daughter and three of her friends at Raging Waters Amusement Park in San Dimas, California. Rushing down the steep, uterine canals of rides with names like Freefall, Speed Slide and High Extreme we slam into the unborn moment alongside a menagerie of modern American types out of a Simpson’s episode. Gangly, pimpled high school kids laugh and flirt with each other among heavily inked biker dads and tattooed Latinos with big bellies and long black braids as FM radio pumps loud out of hidden speakers everywhere.  Taking the rides was a total gas but I also enjoyed standing at the bottom and watching the ecstatic, luminous faces of people stepping up out of the … [Read more...]

The Bacchae and Catharsis

Listening to Jill Bolte-Taylor - Part 2 When Jill Bolte-Taylor was thrown into right-brain mode by the artery exploding in her left brain, she described her new state as a timeless, Nirvanic present. With her left brain shutting down, she felt intimately connected to the ever-shifting field of experience, like a wave moving through a body of water. In her former left-brain mode, Bolte-Taylor described feeling separate from all else and continuous in time - like a particle traversing a solitary path from past into future. Those as intrigued as I am by modern science might foresee the wild, speculative leap I'm about to make - the right-left division of our brains reflects the basic split at the foundation of the material world between … [Read more...]

Catharsis and the Brain

Listening to Jill Bolte-Taylor – Part 1 Suddenly everyone is talking about Jill Bolte-Taylor. Bolte-Taylor is the brain scientist who observed her own stroke in real time as it happened, and then recovered sufficiently in order to make her insights public. Taking a shower one day in 1996 a blood vessel exploded in the left half of her brain. Language swiftly departed, along with basic cognition. She was barely able to reach the phone to call for help. Years later, linguistic abilities restored, she wrote a book about the experience, My Stroke of Insight. It’s a fascinating read, but the most direct way to get a sense of Jill Bolte-Taylor is to check out her TED talk. According to Bolte-Taylor the two lobes of our brain are … [Read more...]

The Ukrainian Surprise

Grotowski Festival 2009, Wroclaw, Poland – The process by which a child learns how to navigate the world is, from beginning to end, profoundly theatrical in nature. The child imagines herself into the world of pencils, bookshelves and full-moons-in-the-sky by embodying them in the eyes of another, making the felt experience of the object personal, direct and surprisingly immediate. Watching this kind of "imaginative play" is completely engaging ("baby TV, Eliza channel," my wife and I used to call it) and there is never any doubt that your witnessing presence is allowing the learning to take place. When a piece of theater is very, very good it attains a similar kind of startling immediacy, the performers drawing on the attention of the … [Read more...]

Applauding in Poland

Grotowski Festival 2009, Wroclaw, Poland – At a performance of Gospels of Childhood by the Zar Theater Company in Poland you are spared the indignity of applause. As the piece ends the performers fling open windows and exit, the sounds of the city filtering in, joining with the space. You feel the collective awareness that has formed in the room drift out into open air. The lights rise. After a time people stand as if on cue and begin to walk back into their lives. Gospels of Childhood was part of this year's Grotowski Festival in the city of Wroclaw, as was a second Zar piece called Cesarean Section. Essays on Suicide. The two pieces were billed as a diptych, but a third piece, a work-in-progress that I saw, but whose … [Read more...]

The Giver of Fearlessness

The sign that we have encountered truly great art is the sense we get that the work is experiencing us rather than the other way around. I'll give you an example. When I was in my teens the MOMA book on Marcel Duchamp showed up around the house. Mona Lisa with the little mustache was on the cover and inside you could see most of Duchamp's work along with essays by writers like Andre Breton and Octavio Paz. Looking through the book, casually at first and then with greater absorption, I experienced for perhaps the first time the transgressive elation produced by the Great Art Encounter. It was a bit like loosing my virginity only less hectic, and that little piece of ecstasy, that release from weight, is still there for me whenever I … [Read more...]