HOME     BLOG VIEW     ABOUT     CONTACT     SUBSCRIBE

Lean On Me

Hybrid-dharma and the Issue of Ownership — Sometimes late at night traveling with my father I'd wake up knowing nothing about where I was but feeling Steve McQueen close, as close as the black sky pressing in on the walls of the motel room. Lying back on the bed I’d imagine the surrounding area as I’d seen it in the headlights a few hours earlier—a landscape of industry and crime and V-8 engines charging out toward vast cobalt skies. I remember traveling through Vegas on one of those long trips, and though the city has been re-made several times since then I half expected, on a recent visit, to find the old flashing neon, and the long heavy cars still gliding through the night. At 5:00 AM in the morning I went looking for … [Read more...]

Teen Age Lust and Far-from-Equilibrium Dynamics

The History of Timelessness — Related Posts: Money and the Time Suck, Toward an Experimental Politics of Nonviolence, Of Fargo, Dopamine and the Image of Nectar The first time I heard about Jeffrey Epstein it had to do with reading glasses. There was this rich guy, I heard, who had built a huge house not far from Santa Fe, I was told, and the staff had been instructed to stock each of the thirty plus rooms with two pairs of reading glasses, one for Epstein and one for his domestic partner. Epstein chose the location for its proximity to Santa Fe Institute (SFI), the influential think tank that had been founded in the 1980s by the physicist Murray Gell-Mann, a Nobel laureate. Epstein, you see, has a mad love for … [Read more...]

Art and Practice with The Heart Sutra

Toward Re-organization — Related Posts: The Aristotelian Detour, Field Mapping, Toward an Experimental Politics of Nonviolence Most of us spend our lives avoiding the Heart Sutra, but it pursues us anyway like a heat-seeking missile, even while also rising up around us like the petals of the famous lotus flower. Allow me to explain. Blossom of Inexhaustible Kindness, 2013, by Tom Wudl We tend to assume that, at least in principle, there is nothing we may not know. The idea that being born, say, in the second half of the twentieth century in the US of A might limit or shape what we may know seems odd to us, insulting almost. And yet periods of history are defined by styles of thinking, root ideas and … [Read more...]

Money and the Time Suck

Whitesplaining Extinction to Junot Diaz, RECAT, February 17, 2017 — Related Posts: The Radical Middle, Toward an Experimental Politics of Nonviolence At REDCAT recently I heard Junot Diaz address a packed house and found myself wanting to whitesplain money. Diaz, the author of Drown, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This is How You Lose Her, and the winner of a MacArthur Fellowship and many other prizes, geared his presentation to the young artists and activists from black and Latino communities who had made the trip downtown to Disney Hall. Rejecting the typical format of literary readings, Diaz stepped down off the podium and took questions from the audience, calling especially for “African-American sisters” to … [Read more...]

Death and the Avant-Garde in Our Neoliberal Nightmare

The Ontology of Tantrum — On the eve of George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 I happened to attend a performance of Sarah Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis at UCLA and, oddly enough, it was the perfect work of art to draw me back from the brink. I thought of this again after finding myself on the edge of an even deeper abyss following the debacle of November 6, 2016, when two recent productions served a similar purpose. I’m talking about Marissa Chibas’s The Second Woman at Bootleg, and Letter to a Man by Robert Wilson and Mikhail Baryshnikov at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Both productions managed to cast new light on our increasingly dire situation in the US, reminding me in very different ways of the ferocity with which our right wing elite has been waging … [Read more...]

The Radical Middle

And the Two-Stroke Engine of the Modern— Related Posts: Toward an Experimental Politics of Nonviolence, The Giver of Fearlessness We’re disappointed with our world as it is, with life as it is. This misery is easier to bear when there’s someone or something to blame. Hope returns when we imagine that little fix that could be made, after which purity would arrive (either from the remembered past or from the imagined future). All then, we believe, would be good. But of course, there are those people who stand in the way…and against them we direct the purest hatred. When it comes to those who rob us of the purity that is ours by right, our anger knows no bounds. Fascism lives right there, in that anger, and no where else. … [Read more...]

Toward an Experimental Politics of Nonviolence

The Code of Law —   Related Posts: The Radical Middle, The Giver of Fearlessness   In school I studied history because the teachers in that department were particularly good. One of my favorites was a guy named Alan Trachtenberg, who had just written an important book about the rise of the American corporation during the Gilded Age that closed out the 19th century. Robber barons, railroads and a ferocious assault on labor and the working man, according to Trachtenberg, fueled in the U.S. the collapse of space into time, jump-starting the development of the 24-7 economy that now shapes our daily lives. I loved also the Annales school of French Marxist historians centered around the work of Fernand Braudel, … [Read more...]

The Aristotelian Detour

And the Excluded Middle Way — I've been writing lately about this experience you can have in a sitting practice of non-separation, and how fundamentally it clashes with our commonsense view of ourselves as being unique individuals who exist separate and apart, distinct from all others, clearly defined and continuous in time. Interesting to me is the boundary between these two contradictory ways of relating to experience, the separate and the non-separate. Perhaps because of my work as a theater artist, I experience this boundary very much like the border of a stage. When we practice meditation for a while, we learn to experience a strong reactive emotion without enacting it—the reactive emotion still does its thing, … [Read more...]

The Bodhi Tree and the Turin Horse

Gotama and Nietzsche, In Extremis — Related Posts: Shame and Connection, Affective Encounters on the Path Weaving the World_Part 2, The Politics of Internal Transformation   The stories could not be more different, but they resonate with each other in interesting ways. The meditative adept, half-starved from the rigors of ascetic practice, sits beneath the peepal tree (henceforth known as the bodhi tree) and, after a final encounter with the spirit of evil, attains an awakened state. Touching the earth, the adept raises his eyes to the morning star (the planet Venus, actually) and the shift takes place. Many years later, in the city of Turin in Northern Italy, a philologist, his body wracked by illnesses … [Read more...]

Of Fargo, Dopamine and the Image of Nectar

New Pathways in the Brain — Plum tuckered-out after completing a writing project based on money and tragic drama, I sunk back last month into a week of binge-watching Fargo and found there, after nearly twenty hours of viewing...money. I’m talking about the scene in the last episode of Season 2 (Palindrome, by Noah Hawley) in which Mike Milligan, the enforcer of the Kansas City mob (played by an excellent Bokeem Woodbine), is rewarded for his aptitude for murder and mayhem by his boss (Adam Arkin) with, essentially, an office cubicle. No more gun battles in motel parking lots. No more bloodletting with the edge of a knife after errant sexcapades with nubile gangster babes. “There's only one business left in the world” says Arkin’s … [Read more...]

3 Cards on a Box Top and the Politics of the Repellent

Shame in the New Gilded Age Part 2 — At Boston Court in June of 2015, Steven Leigh Morris of the LA Weekly, along with his colleague Luis Reyes and theater artist Mark Seldis suffered through a long afternoon of tech challenges in order to arrange, by satellite simulcast, the reading of new American theater texts by actors in Poland, and the reading of new Polish texts by American actors on the Pasadena stage. It was a while ago now and the technical aspects of the event dominate my memory, but I do recall being struck again and again by an interesting point of contrast between the Polish and the American actors. The gifted director Nancy Keystone, who staged one of the texts that day, captured that difference in a simple … [Read more...]

Shame in the New Gilded Age

The Neo-Victorian Era and Two Thin Red Lines— When I was five years old I watched my father split his head open with an axe. We were living in New Hampshire at the time and it was winter, the fields deep in snow. My father was splitting logs in the basement of our house. He was a physically powerful man, and while young he had worked for several years on his father’s sawmill on a mountain outside Tucson, Arizona. I sat on the wooden stairs and watched him divide the logs with a rhythmic metallic chuck, the pieces dancing away onto the cement floor. At the apex of a full-bodied downswing, the head of the axe caught on a piece of old clothesline concealed near the rafters and the sharp blade swung around and struck him hard in the back of … [Read more...]

LA Theater and the Kool-Aid of Simplicity

Notes from a Stealth Revolution— Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to produce close to forty full runs of new theater in Los Angeles, many of which I also participated in as a director and playwright. I have moved several of these productions to stages in New York, Edinburgh, Atlanta, Prague and Berlin, and been thrilled and inspired by the results. A good part of my ability to work in this way has to do with the strong and largely unmediated collaborative relationships that can be forged in Los Angeles with actors and designers, and also with the comparatively low cost of working in an arena that everyone understands to be, quite simple, not a part of the commodity economy. It seems possible, however, that in 2015 all this … [Read more...]

Field Mapping

Complex Systems and the Six Realms of Dharma —                                                                                         Photograph by Andy Ilachinski It was while reading the somewhat scandalous thinker Wilhem Reich that I first encountered the idea of emotional traumas being encoded into the flesh and blood circuits of the body. Freezing into a kind of “armor,” these encodings work to shape and delimit the ways we perceive the world, hence wielding an out-sized influence over the course our lives take. This was in the early 1990s, and I was reading Reich along with some of the Frankfurt School thinkers (Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, etc.) who (broadly speaking) collide psychology and social theory to see what falls out. … [Read more...]

Paris and the Single Dose

Taking the Kohaku Challenge — Previously I have written about my daughter Eliza's reaction, as a two-month old child, to the sight of a neighbor’s cat leaping up onto the garden wall up where it turned to look back at us, tail twitching in the bright sunlight. Pointing at this emissary from a land of gorgeous dreams, Eliza's plump-fat baby legs kicked straight out, and she turned to me, eyes wide, to make sure I too had witnessed the miracle. A few years passed before I again observed anything as splendid as Eliza’s first cat-encounter, and it happened at midway through Hiyao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, which we were watching on our big TV. The heroine of the film, Chihiro (also known as Sen) has saved her friend Haku from the evil … [Read more...]

Tis a Gift to Be Not-Simple

Early Shaker Spirituals, Wooster Group, REDCAT, January 2015, Directed by Kate Valk — I went to REDCAT the other night to see Frances and Liz and company sing Shaker spirituals but I decided not to write about it. I was intrigued for about half of the evening, but then things became a little less intriguing, so I left with a smile and a sigh and a tired kind of near-miss feeling about the evening, and it was this near-miss feeling that eventually gave rise to my decision not to write about the production. Early Shaker Spirituals: A Record Album Interpretation, if you haven’t seen it, begins with four women in Shaker costumes entering from the wings. Grouping themselves on stage, they begin to sing along to tracks from a Rounder … [Read more...]

Oncogenes and Irony in Western Society

Gob Squad: Western Society, U.S. Premier, REDCAT — On Instagram, my daughter watches six second clips of her favorite boy band – little video memes showing the young musicians' daily shenanigans — “O…M…G... Ashton slept shirtless last night!” — intercut with brief snippets of the band thrashing Green Day covers in concert. The other night she showed me a new episode of American Horror in which slasher movie motifs succeeded each other with such rapidity it felt as if I were watching a movie trailer stretched to fill a 54 minute series slot. The representational hooks of consumer culture are getting shorter and sharper, I notice — the number of neurological receptors required to create a convincing image of a stable world are … [Read more...]

Attaining the Singular

Okwui Okpokwasili and Bronx Gothic — One of the pleasures of watching a dance-theater performance like Okwui Okpokwasili’s Bronx Gothic  is how the odd half-truth of words on stage collides and clashes with the blunt truth of the breathing, moving, mortal bodies they come out of. For the first twenty minutes of Bronx Gothic Okpokwasili’s body, shaking expressively in the far corner of the space, speaks to us with remarkable candor about childhood and sex, love and domination, and about the nature of dreaming. Okpokwasili wears a loose fitting brown tunic, so you can see the taut muscles of her back shift and twitch, the sweat gathering as she keeps at it, exorcizing demons. We react to her dancing with desire, fear, hope, joy, lust, … [Read more...]

Rhizome Central

Clare Graham, MorYork Gallery and The New Craft Paradigm — To enter MorYork gallery in Highland Park you follow a curve of finished concrete beneath an understated, vaguely neo-deco pediment. The functional, just-so quality of this entrance amplifies the aesthetic shock you encounter stepping into what is either an Aladdin’s cave full of techno-primitive wonder, or a poetic cargo ship adrift on a sea of dreams — possibly both at once. The high-ceilinged space is so full, floor to ceiling, with handcrafted wonders that the eye is never sure where to settle, and therefore stumbles along bejeweled surfaces and up curving forms fashioned in startling ways from the familiar products of mass production. Lacquered cabinets open to reveal … [Read more...]

Shame and Connection

Affective Encounters on the Path — When we fall in love (even for five minutes) it means we have met someone who resonates with some aspect of our mind from which we have been alienated – in the lover’s presence we feel complete, and the feeling is strongest when it is mutual. Even then, however, there are, famously, no guarantees. As often as not the resonance gives way to something else. The bond begins to shift and change, quite often dissolve. We feel then as if some part of our being has again been torn away, like a ripped-off limb or a stolen organ, but none of this is actually the case. As the lover recedes we simply lose contact again with that aspect of ourselves they were able to embody, and the challenge is precisely to take … [Read more...]

The Cassandra Syndrome

Cry, Trojans!, The Wooster Group, Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, REDCAT,  February 27 - March 9, 2014 — The first responses to The Wooster Group’s Cry, Trojans!  I heard were strong, but then opinion began to curdle, finally setting into an unpleasant gel seeded with the landmines of identity politics. Arriving at REDCAT I was not sure what to expect - all the way back to LSD – Just the High Points in the late 1980s, I've enjoyed Wooster productions, but I typically don’t take issue when someone doesn't respond to the challenges of their work. Taking my seat in bleachers flanking the stage, I got a close up view of Scott Shepard, Ari Fliakos, Kate Valk and the other Woosters fully embodying their gestures and utterances, while … [Read more...]

Broken Windows

Personalizing the Politics of Wealth — Expressing astonishment, a friend who recently moved from New York to Mexico to sidestep rising rents, sent me a link to a Mother Jones article on the booming job market in “wealth counselors.” These are the psychologists who help the extremely wealthy cope with the unique suffering that attends being burdened by buckets of cashola. This note arrived the same week the Wall Street Journal printed an Op-Ed by billionaire Tom Perkins comparing the Occupy Wall Street protests to Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany. Subjected to immediate and sustained ridicule, Perkins doubled down, defending the comparison, as did the Journal’s Op-Ed editors. More recently, Ben Carson, the arch-conservative celebrity … [Read more...]

In the Palm of the Hand

Cormac McCarthy’s Killing Machines — A friend tells me about the formatting - how with his script for The Counselor, the novelist Cormac McCarthy isn't even bothering with standard screenplay conventions anymore. Obtaining a copy I see that, sure enough, McCarthy has stripped away all the awkward visual notations that make screenplays so tedious to read. He opts instead for a minimalist layout, with a central column for dialogue, and block-like paragraphs for scene descriptions delivered with a minimum of camera notation. On the page the script looks almost like a Doric column - stark and Classical – which is appropriate given the tale’s astringent stoicism. The Counselor is also perhaps the first screenplay written about a new device … [Read more...]

Lyrical Austerity

The Haptic Imagery of Jeffrey Atherton — Of all our senses, vision is the most potent at convincing us that we live in a stable world composed of solid entities existing separate and apart from each other, permanent, defined and continuous in time. Our capacity to distinguish figure from ground, to map the interplay of shadow and light as they announce the dimensionality of forms, and our sensitivity to the spatial effects of color all contribute strongly to this enchantment. Photographs help us weave the chaos of our sense impressions into an ordered, common sense totality complete with causal laws, social conventions and caring, parental leaders who work hard each day to enhance the common good. Our infantile longing to inhabit a … [Read more...]

Incoming! Travis Preston Gives It To Us Straight

Prometheus Bound, World Premiere, A new translation by Joel Agee, Directed by Travis Preston CalArts Center for New Performance, Presented by the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa — Pinned high on a gigantic metal wheel, Aeschylus’ ragged Prometheus has, for the past eighty minutes, been spitting out toxic denunciations of all-mighty Zeus and his dictates. Hermes himself just arrived with the Big Chief's final ultimatum, only to be met with more curses and maledictions from the unrepentant Giver-of-Fire. Finally, Prometheus pauses and looks out, seeing in the far distance the glow of Zeus’ destructive bolt on its way toward him like a heat-seeking missile. Lower down on the steel armature, the flock of women who have gathered in … [Read more...]

Dance Central

Obama and the Dionysian Short Circuit — Listening to Obama speak about the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case I found myself thinking back to Halloween, a few days before the last election, when I drove to Pasadena to pick up my daughter, age 12, from a small class party. The airwaves that night were saturated with electoral news and commentary, the Democrats fighting back the Romney campaign’s increasingly desperate attempts to create the silk purse of “momentum” out of the sow’s ear of declining swing state poll numbers. While Obama has governed too far to the right for my taste (to put it mildly), and while the ways he has continued, and even enhanced, many of the most depraved and indefensible policies of the Bush-Cheney years (drone … [Read more...]

Notes on a Traveler

A Meditation on Impermanence — Like pharaonic retainers the passengers leaving the Swissair terminal ahead of the Yellow Man seemed to convey all his worldly possessions into the vast crypt of the LA basin, where he had descended to breathe his last. Out walked American teenagers in t-shirts and European couples in sensible shoes and families shouldering towers of suitcases on rolling carts. Finally the Yellow Man himself emerged, in a wheelchair pushed by my mother, who had accompanied him to the clinic in Switzerland and stood by as the doctors there relieved him of the mercury-based fillings in his teeth, and administered various other treatments not available within the U.S. health care system. Earlier in the week some threshold of … [Read more...]

A Sign of Life from the Post-Dramatic

Wooster Group & New York City Players, Early Plays, directed by Richard Maxwell, REDCAT, February 21-24, 2013 — I’m in 7-11 – the one on Silver Lake Boulevard. I’m buying ice for a field trip my daughter’s 6th grade class is taking later in the day. There’s nothing unusual about the errand, but something about the way the sunlight slants across the surfaces of the Salt Snack displays and the Slurpee counter, or maybe it’s the warmth in the smile of the woman at the register as she hands me my change – she’s from the Indian subcontinent and seems so happy to be here I imagine she’s a new arrival still in the honeymoon phase of the American dream - or perhaps it’s the small courtesy shown me by the young woman who holds the door … [Read more...]

Repairs are Being Attempted

GATZ by Elevator Repair Service, Directed by John Collins  at REDCAT, Nov. 28-Dec. 9, 2012 — We reach a point in dreams sometimes of sudden precarious flight, the unfolding of an odd, slow-motion knowledge that we have become untethered, the way participants in car accidents are sometimes launched through windshields, and we can imagine ourselves filled with a kind of instant nostalgia for the firm ground just left behind, and for the time before our weightless freefall. Even before we make impact with whatever surface approaches — hard, or if we are very lucky in our dreaming, soft and giving, a warm embrace perhaps, the arms of a wise and trusted elder perhaps, wearing a soft cardigan with leather patches at the elbows possibly, and … [Read more...]

Along the Stream, Doing Nothing

Of fascination and its opposite — Behind the house in New Hampshire where we lived when I was young there was a steep, overgrown hillside, and, at the bottom of the hillside, a wide parking lot. Marking the far end of the lot a stream curved and turned back on itself, eventually flowing out through a culvert that ran beneath the road. I’ve always recalled that stream with a very particular fascination, but the true nature of that fascination only settled into language a few weeks back. It’s as if the trace of that experience had been concealed somewhere in my body, and now, holding an asana in a studio in Silver Lake, something came open, releasing or “unconcealing” that trace into words. Pondering that moment, I feel my age, and recall … [Read more...]