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Bonfire of the Vanities

May 2, 2017

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-gallery-indigenous-art-cancels-amandapl-1.4091529

It’s one thing to be upset with art that appropriates the sacred teaching tools of oppressed indigenous people – to be part of a dominant culture that is essentially a 150 year military occupation, whereby indigenous Nations have suffered genocide, and now those who remain cling to life at the very bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder – to then idealize them – as a people – and make white art in their sacred traditions, and then sell it as a commodity – is, not only culturally insensitive to the point of willful ignorance, but is also some of the worst ramifications of colonialism.

But to confuse appropriation with art you simply find uncomfortable is another matter entirely.

Some of the best art in the world directly challenges the status quo.

 

Rokeby Venus by Diego Velazquez

Venus, Diego Valazquez – banned by Spanish Inquisition

To suggest that religion, violence, or eroticism should also be banned from a gallery moves one into dangerous, censorious neighborhoods.

 

These are the neighborhoods of the Totalitarian bureaucrat, the Soviet administrator who has been given power to decree “what is Art” and “what is not Art”.

The Trench warfare by Otto Dix

Trench warfare, Otto Dix – banned by Third Reich

Bertolt Brecht, Charlie Chaplin, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Salvador Dali, Diego Velazquez, Cravaggio, Otto Dix, and many many many others have had their art, their writing, their movies, their ideas, banned in the name of proper social convention.

 

The last Judgment by Michelangelo

The Last Judgement – Michelangelo – Vatican was initially outraged and wanted the work destroyed if genitalia was not covered.

In Hitler’s Final Solution for the total elimination of the Jew from Europe, he planned on keeping the Jewish Quarter in Prague as a museum of the vanquished people. That is why he ordered that Prague not be bombed during the war. Prague contained some of the oldest synagogues in Europe – they would be perfect spaces to venerate a disappeared people.

This is why the indigenous communities of Canada get so upset when they see white people appropriating and idealizing their culture. It is a safe and comfortable place from which to view “these people of the land.” (No matter that most of the indigenous population in Canada now lives in urban areas.)

That is an important concept to understand.

But in your haste to eradicate appropriated culture, you then also want to include any art that makes you uncomfortable, which is a slippery slide into only producing art that is meaningless.

Just how much more generic, inoffensive, landscape art do you want me to put up with?

http://www.elist10.com/top-10-controversial-paintings-art-history/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonfire_of_the_Vanities

…remembering how to breathe…

April 30, 2017

_DSC9079We walked the back ridge today. The dog and I.

Led by childhood memories, following deer trails this way and that.

Yellow tree buds carpet the undergrowth, blooming from knee-high softwoods that live in the canopy’s summer shadows.

_DSC9102When I stop to ponder, it can get hard to breathe. It comes over you like a wave of ecstasy. Like 3 shots of MDMA, and awaking up in 100,000 acres of forest! With spring in the air, and a new moon on the horizon.

Two weeks ago I was taking pictures of new snow under a full moon.

_DSC9146Two times since we moved home I have got myself turned around in this forest. Getting tripped up not by what the forest is, but by walking as I remembered this forest to be.

Twice I followed the high back ridge that leads one into the forest interior, thinking I was on the front ridge which merely skirts the forest’s edge. Twice I had to stop and align myself in unknown forests, find our way out of the labyrinth before it was too late.

Today I am out here as an adult, as someone who has been away for 25  years. Wanting to see again, as if for the first time. Part cartographer, part trail sniffer, the dog and I are out and about in this great forest, reacquainting ourselves like long lost friends.

_DSC9200Finding familiar markers, cleaning up old trails, the dog joyfully treeing chipmunks and squirrels as we go.

For the day I am Lao Tzu, Thoreau, Bronte, Edna St. Vincent Millay.

But trees are trees, an alm or oak
Already both outside and in,
And cannot, therefore, counsel folk
Who have their unity to win.

Turn all tree-signals into speech,
And what comes out is a command:
‘Keep running if you want to reach
The point of knowing where you stand.’

                                                          excerpt: Reflections on a Forest, Auden

_DSC9151Science now confirms what we already knew, that walking in a forest is good for your health. To which my mom would reply, “I could have told you that for the price of a lunch.”

Songbirds flutter along the naked canopy. Peepers deafen down by the edge of the swamp. Everything twitterpated. Everything is alive! The world is magic.

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And I walk through this magic as if in a dream.

 

Blues, with a feeling…

April 30, 2017

In the late 1980’s and  into the early ’90’s, my friend was in B.B. King’s house band at King’s bar in Memphis.

I had just been transferred to head of overnight shipping at the Molson’s beer factory in Barrie and he was our shunt man. A shunt man is the guy who brings the trailers from the parking lot to the warehouse doors in order for them to be loaded or unloaded.

One night, about 3 am, he came into the office while I had John Lee Hooker playing on a tape deck. I had just discovered the blues and John Lee and thought it was pretty cool. We had never spoke. I was management. He was union. That kind of factory bullshit.

“3 cord John,” he called Hooker from over his shoulder.

“Don’t get me wrong. He’s cool. But he plays a pretty simple mix.”

Then he took a shipping invoice off the wall and left.

~~~~~~~~~~

One night after a lot of bourbon, maybe a month or two after that first encounter, we were at his house and he told his wife that he thought he would get his guitar out. Fine, she said. I’m going to bed. Until that moment I did not know he played.

Down in his rec room he pulled out an alligator guitar case and took out, what he told me, had once been one of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitars.

For the next hour he riffed – flawlessly – on Vaughn. I was stunned.

What the fuck are you doing in Barrie? Shunting trucks, for fuck’s sake!”

~~~~~~~~~~

I’m moving to Memphis! I got an audition.

Get the fuck out!

I did, man. They said to come down. We decided to just go. See what happens. I’m not getting any younger. Fuck this job!

~~~~~~~~~~

Sixteen months later, my university debts were paid off, i had stashed some cash, and I had been invited to visit the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. So I too quit my factory job, and drove to Memphis before heading out west.

For two weeks we toured through Mississippi searching for old blues master’s graveyards. Robert Johnson. Willie Brown. Muddy Waters. Sonhouse. So many of them died in poverty, in unmarked graves. We went to Rosedale. Where Robert Johnson says he sold his soul to the devil for fame and fortune. Talked to old Black men about pre-civil rights Mississippi. Toasted the future.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that I was just turned on to the musician Orianthi. I watched one of her videos and was immediately transferred back to King’s bar in Memphis watching my buddy play the house down at the end of the night.

New versions of old feelings.

Beautiful.

 

 

Spring! You came back!

April 24, 2017

_MG_9416The air is alive, rustling with songbirds. Is this what they mean by a cacophony?

Only now, and for a few weeks, can we hear the gorged creek from the chair of the front porch. Soon it will recede into its stony silence of crayfish and minnows.

There is still snow – some – in the pine stands, and on the north face of the hill, and an early morning fog emerges from off the side of the hill, as if the snow decided to get up and float away.

She smiles at the sight of little garlic sprigs poking their way up through the cracks in the garden sand, as the old cat, full of kitten, chases a fly around the yard.

Like an advancing army the grass grows greener by the day –

_dsc4791-2get down, close, hear the buzz of awakening insects, walk in this spring rain, under the gentle tapping of your umbrella, a hundred, a thousand tapping heartbeats.

_MG_9443Resurrection, re-awakening, a rebellion against death – call it what you will.

Spring is here,

it all begins again,

as it always has,

as if for the first time.

Burgers, Heidegger, and Halifax…

April 15, 2017

Ah Halifax, how you bemuse the outsider.

We have arrived to the event of the season, the event that has young people abuzz with excitement. Whether real, imagined, or driven by the herd instinct, the buzz amounts to the same thing – the large consumption of “gourmet” hamburgers.

Yes, we have arrived to Burger Week in Halifax – to breakfast pancake burgers, the Athens (Greek) burgers, the British Bulldog burger, Thai burgers, double and triple-decker burgers – to a cornucopia of meat, more meat, layers and layers of meat.

Nothing tells you more about the core cultural substance of this Maritime student town than the rapacious devouring of hamburgers, of which some hearty lads will consume 20, 30, even 40 burgers on the space of seven days.

Yes, there is even a burger bus!

On your mark. Get set. Go!

II

Was this what it was like to first set eyes on the Titanic?

To look up at that great bough – against a blazing blue sky – and believe (like you’ve never believed before!), as if in a fairy tale, that if this was possible, than anything was possible? That man’s triumph over Nature assured our greatness, our sense of History, our immortality!

 

New Halifax Convention Centre courtesy of The Coast

This Beast! This cudgel that has been slammed into the heart of the old city defies reason and all all sense of proportion. I’m gobsmacked!

Nothing says inferiority complex like the old town fathers building a Monolith – this faux bough of a colossal glass ship – just as the oceans are dying and the great fishing industry that was sustained this city has been sucked dry and has now vanished forever…

If I could, I’d build a glass iceberg on the kitty-corner, an equally absurd gesture to Freudian impotence and self-indulgence.

Egypt has the pyramids. Paris the Eiffel Tower.

Halifax took a great glass dump in the heart of its city.

III

Irony (classic definition): At a morning Heidegger lecture of first year students (that we had been invited to sit in on), the professor notes that Heidegger argued back in the 1930’s that we are not masters of technology, rather, technology is the master of us.

I look around the room and note students who are surfing their Facebook and Instagram accounts on their cell phones. Other students dutifully take notes – on their laptops – a few still doing the old pen-and-paper routine.

“How many of you,” the prof points out, “could put away your cell phones and laptops for even a week?”

Everyone laughs, nodding in agreement. (Some, I am sure, don’t understand the question.)

Some of the young women in my row diligently tap the prof’s question into their laptop notes.

Oral exams start in 2 weeks.

I’m sure many are wondering if this will be on the test.

IV

The one thing that has not been crushed by modernity in Halifax is the passing smile on the street, the fact that if you make eye contact, many people will smile at you, and a surprising number will say hello.

Coming back from Ontario, where eye contact is tantamount to assault, it is a bit disconcerting, I feel self-conscious, as if I have food on my face that I have not yet realized.

It would be a mistake for an outsider – especially a middle-aged man like myself – to assume it means anything more than local civility – but having just come back from Upper Canada – that province of wealth and indifference, where eye contact will have a person nervously thumbing their 9-1-1 button, this small gesture of human contact still warms the heart.

Surrounded as we are by the 24/7 media white noise of Trump, Putin, Netanyahu, Brex-it, Dakota Pipelines, and the ever-beaming face of our Prime Minister Shiny Pony, it is a sweet pause to smile at a passing face – letting you know you are not alone, that we’re in this together.

Too sentimental?

Is the Halifax street smile just conformity to local cultural traditions?

Maybe it is. But so what? Spring is not yet here. Any human warmth after 5 months of winter is welcomed by me.

 

Satire is not (always) funny…

March 20, 2017

We’re staying at my father-in-law’s for the weekend, and because he’s a vegan, I always forget that there is no cream for my morning coffee. I have to either drink it black, or settle for almond milk…

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/11/world-faces-worst-humanitarian-crisis-since-1945-says-un-official
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Writing and thinking in Trumptime…

March 9, 2017

Harpers-Magazine-March-2017-4This month’s Harper’s Magazine is packed full of fun!

A look at how Americans are colluding with Russians to fight back against LGBT rights.

A look at Trump in light of Obama’s legacy (or lack thereof).

A look at how Democrats are beginning to take back Texas.

A look at American conservatives who oppose the death penalty.

A deconstruction of M.F.A. programs.

Trump’s grandfather’s letter pleading with the Prince of Bavaria not be exiled to the US (1905) – rejected by the Prince.

The brilliant writing of Alexander Kluge, David Szalay, and Tanya Gold.

America’s oldest and one of it’s most intelligent magazines is rising to the challenge of the Trumptime.

Check it out at a newsstand  near you!