the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

Archive for October, 2014

miles on poker, probability and the art world

Posted by rigorousm on October 29, 2014

In most varieties of poker, you’re dealt a hand, and, given the rules of the game, given what you have, what you might be able to do with it,and what others in the same game might be able to do with what they’ve been given, you try to figure out whether or not you can make something out of your hand worthy of staying in the game. The difference, of course, is that with cards at least everybody knows for certain what a winning hand is in any given scenario, no matter what the stakes. But with art, the rules keep shifting, the rules of one game tend to get applied to another, the deck is evolving and growing before one’s eyes, with the cards constantly morphing, dying off, and being reborn, so that playing a hand (even a very good one) that has been played before is something one does with some trepidation.

Art text, 2002 “Mark Groatjahn: working variables, switching games,” by Christopher Miles.

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nachmanovitch on enthusiasm

Posted by rigorousm on October 28, 2014

… what we learn from our newly improvising body is that it can be debilitating to depend on the creativity of others. When this creative power that depends on no one else is aroused, there is a release of energy, simplicity, enthusiasm.

Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play: improvisation in life and art, p 50.

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Ursula Le Guin on Hemmingway, masculinity and writing

Posted by rigorousm on October 22, 2014

I don’t have a gun and I don’t have even one wife and my sentences tend to go on and on and on, with all this syntax in them. Ernest Hemingway would have died rather than have syntax. Or semicolons. I use a whole lot of half-assed semicolons; there was one of them just now; that was a semicolon after “semicolons,” and another one after “now.”

And another thing. Ernest Hemingway would have died rather than get old. And he did. He shot himself. A short sentence. Anything rather than a long sentence, a life sentence. Death sentences are short and very, very manly. Life sentences aren’t. They go on and on, all full of syntax and qualifying clauses and confusing references and getting old. And that brings up the real proof of what a mess I have made of being a man: I am not even young. Just about the time they finally started inventing women, I started getting old. And I went right on doing it. Shamelessly. I have allowed myself to get old and haven’t done one single thing about it, with a gun or anything.

— Brain Pickings piece by Maria Popova link to full text

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george saunders on banal diction vs banal situation

Posted by rigorousm on October 22, 2014

I’ve always wanted to write energetic, atypical sentences, i.e., sentences that were not normal or bland. I used to feel that there were situations and actions and mind-states that were too “banal” for me to describe them well. Now I feel that there is nothing that can happen to a person that is banal. Feeling that way was a failure of vision on my part. Everything that happens to us is interesting. That’s our job: to feel that way. And an interesting thing has started happening: feeling that way (or at least trying to feel that way), I am finding that non-banal prose will always present itself. Or the prose is banal at first, but if you start poking at it, with the confidence that the underlying reality is not (is never) banal, then the prose starts to rise to the occasion.

— George Saunders interview with for Slate, January 2013. (link to text)

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maggie nelson on andy warhol, joseph cornell and temporary desire

Posted by rigorousm on October 15, 2014

178. Neither Cornell nor Warhol made the mistake of thinking that all desire is yearning. For Warhol, fucking was less about desire than it was about killing time: it is take-it-or-leave-it work, accomplished similarly by geniuses and retards, just like everything else at the Factory. For Cornell, desire was a sharpness, a tear in the static of everyday life — in his diaries he calls it “the spark,” “the life,” or “the zest.” It delivers not an ache, but a sudden state of grace. It might be worth noting here that both Warhol and Cornell could arguably be described, at least for periods of their lives, as celibate.

— Maggie Nelson, Bluets, pp 71-72.

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John Hejduk on the task of an architect (versus a painter) re: abstraction

Posted by rigorousm on October 14, 2014

Life has to do with walls; we’re continuously going in and out, back and forth through them. A wall is the quickest, the thinnest, the thing we’re always transgressing, and that is why I see it as the “present,” the most surface condition. The painter starts with the real world and works toward abstraction, and when he’s finished with a work it is abstracted from the so-called real world. But architecture takes two lines. The architect starts with the abstract world, and due to the nature of his work, works toward the real world. The significant architect is one who, when finished with a work, is as close to that original abstraction as he could possibly be…. and that is also what distinguishes architects from builders.

— John Hejduk, ‘The Poetics of Architects’ in The Mask of Medusa.

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Posted by rigorousm on October 9, 2014

BOLLEN: I have to say, your story set in 19th-century Nebraska, “Proving Up,” is one of the best short stories I’ve read in the past decade. It had this gorgeous Willa Cather-like attention to the scenery and characters on this merciless frontier land.

RUSSELL: Frontiers are always interesting. For the story that I did a million years ago when my first collection came out about this minotaur who pulls his family to the west, I just happened to have picked up this book called Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey. There’s something about the stoic acceptance of these women at the most brutal losses. It almost doesn’t seem possible, like it’s an artifact of a different way of being in this world. It feels very foreign to me, their toughness. You could lose five children and have that sort of resilience. There’s something of a horror story in it for me too—what you can endure and survive. It’s Book of Job style. There’s a situation that is absolutely unlivable, intolerable, and yet your body continues. I feel like such a sap in so many ways. I’m terrified of losing my loved ones. So there is almost this morbid fascination and respect for what these people were able to absorb and continue existing.

BOLLEN: In “Proving Up,” the family is hoping to be approved for a land section title from the inspector, and of course they are desperate for land that’s mostly unlivable. It’s sort of a torture of commitment.

RUSSELL: If you’ve buried three of your children on that land, and you’re mortgaged up to your eyeballs, what’s the tipping point after all you’ve sacrificed? Whatever dream that brought them out there had become so nightmarish, and yet there was a commitment to that land.

BOLLEN: I liked that one of the conditions of receiving a title was having a glass window in the home. The whole story revolves around the glass window shared among the neighbors to “prove up.”

RUSSELL: On the one hand, the idea that it exists in the legislation seems so arbitrary. But to make a window a prerequisite for a house to become a home was also so metaphorically terrific. There’s something about having a transparent membrane of seeing in and seeing out and being part of this community. And I liked the idea of something being in glass as being so rare that it becomes a luxury commodity, and this community is swapping it around, in a way, like a fragile unity.

BOLLEN: There’s an actual murderer on the loose in “Proving Up.” How did you dream up this ghostly killer?

RUSSELL: In an earlier draft, the zombie homesteader was more of a tragicomic figure. He’s much more terrifying now. In the earlier draft, I had this strange compassion for whatever the figure represents. I was thinking about a hope that outlasts any possibility of its fulfillment, this undead hope in a landscape that just completely inhospitable to it, this hope that has kind of gone rancid and killed its host and killed anything the host cared about and continues to. I must be obsessed with stories of people in conflict or deep mismatch with nature, because it comes up in Swamplandia! too. I was working on that novel while all of these dream communities in Florida were foreclosing. They were what is called arrested developments. There would be a beautiful gate to a place like “Paradise, Florida” and the gate would lead nowhere, just to a half-built development. So in a way it isn’t as if “Proving Up” isn’t a contemporary story with the same kind of blind delusional optimism. The dream of owning a home or owning land is still somehow part of our mythos.

BOLLEN: I think there was a safety to the world when I was little, and books allowed so many edges into that world, so many opportunities for terror and fear and desire and greed that just wasn’t available to me in Ohio at age nine.

RUSSELL: Yes, and it’s also confirmation of some real ugliness that you’re always aware of when you’re younger but have no vocabulary for. Or to speak it feels too taboo—to admit that you know what’s going on. There’s that strange beautiful impulse to think, “I better protect these adults from my knowledge of what’s actually happening. I have to chloroform my own inner knowledge of what’s happening because it’s too threatening to this really unsteady equilibrium we’ve brokered here.” Whether it’s within the classroom or within the family or wherever.

— “The Nature of Karen Russell,” Christopher Bollen interview with Karen Russel for Interview. (link to full text)

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Karen Russell on writing and determined landscapes

Posted by rigorousm on October 9, 2014

KR:  In class, we talked about the way that institutions and cultural structures shape the characters’ personalities and generate plot—what’s possible and impossible in different climates, what characters are starving for in America versus London, how ubiquitous a real person can become in her absence, that ghost sprawling across minds and continents, and how that empty space develops its own strange weather.
— Karen Russell, interview with The Believer about her syllabus (link to full text)

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