Category Archives: theory

“Dark Side of a Natural Gas Boom”

from "They Called Her Styrene"

Friends, a title is a funny animal. On one hand, it defines the piece, gives it an identity. On the other hand, it steers the meaning of the piece perhaps as much as the piece itself does. And that can be problematic. If the the two or four or eight words that comprise the title end up being as meaningful as the several hundred or thousand that follow, then perhaps the title is not just representing the story—perhaps it is eating the story. And we must be wary of having our stories eaten by themselves.

We can escape this by giving titles randomly. A random title may still draw attention in the same way. It is, after all, the first thing we see, and therefore is not initially capable of producing dissonance. It may still give an identity to the piece. But it may avoid outlining simplistic elements of the story: themes, morals, theses. (By way of example, I will mention “Life as a House,” a Kevin Kline film in which the building of a house is used to represent the rebuilding of a family. In other words, the film’s title is also its central metaphor.)
Allow me to offer you some sources of random titles.

Ed Ruscha, from "They Called Her Styrene"

1) Begin typing phrases into a google search bar. The suggested completions often make great titles.

2) This website, which in only seconds of effort provided me with the excellent phrase “Dirt Hospital,” which will almost certainly be a poem by the end of the week. Also, “Nothing Today,” “Tooth Sic,” and “Terminology Mornings.” Notice that in the sidebar there are random word, sentence, and even paragraph generators. Chances are those tools make better poems than I do. (My first try yielded this gem: “Within the war pro, consents an unexplained laughter.” Then this: “The crude girlfriend stalls under the microcomputer.” Sigh.)

3) Ed Ruscha prints. Particularly from a book called “They Called Her Styrene,” which is available online and ought to be owned by everyone.

4) Phrases that you like from everyday life.

5) Things that you read on signs.

I’d like to write a whole book of poems with titles from a restaurant menu. Each poem would be given the title of one dish: “Croque Madame,” “Eggs Benedict,” “String Beans,” etc. The title of the book would be the name of the restaurant.

Ed Ruscha, from "They Called Her Styrene"


Trauma as a Force of Liberation (DF)

I noticed that in my favorite movies and TV show, the main character is often a person leading a double life—”The Family Man,” “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” any of the Bourne thrillers…

The internal life and external life–or secret life and public life–intersect, or collide, to create drama. But as a trope, why is it so effective at creating drama? 

Option: Because I identify with those characters. And why would I do that? Because I feel like I’m leading a secret life? That could make sense: there is the ever present internal life that everybody struggles to express, with or without knowing, through personality. But I don’t think so. It’s because I don’t feel like I’m leading a secret life. I love, as all audiences love, watching a timid character find strength in the traumas of his secret life (his alternate identity has allowed him to assume a different personality without appearing schizoid). It’s even more thrilling to watch the character apply his new strength to his public life–watching him be liberated from his old timidity, as though the real fantasy was not of secrecy, but of exposure. Not that the secret be exposed, but that the hidden personality be exposed. Anger, frustration, violence, profanity–all suppressed according to a gentler, social code of conduct. It signifies the emergence of the Id, I guess. 

The fantasy is that trauma leads to liberation, Continue reading

Cubism v. Kandinsky’s Abstract Expressionism, DFW, and De Certeau (JR)

The best intellectual moments I’ve had come from a mixing of disciplines. Maybe the first times I really felt this is freshman year of college, taking English Literature courses, Economics, third-year Calculus, and a seminar on the last 100 years in Germany. Keith Gessen recently mentioned the parallel development of literature in a piece on DFW, “In the 1920s you have your Russian modernists and your Anglo-American modernists and German modernists, and they’re all very much alike but that makes sense because they knew each other and all read the same books, but you’ll also, if you look, find Bulgarian modernists and Portuguese modernists, and so on.” What’s always fascinated me is the zeitgeist carries across disciplines as well — modernism, for example, doesn’t just refer to thematically unlinked movements in different disciplines; modernism is a term that gets at something essential underlying intellectual pursuits from math to literature to philosophy to economics.
Continue reading

Luca Marchio: The Last Puritan, and The Only Living Tourist

It is suggested that he is naïve, though the subtext that something far more terrible has gone wrong shines through loud and clear. He’s haywire, maybe, a freak of mental collapse and ill thinking. Perhaps he’s simply gone too far down the common road. We’re all tourists–I think that’s been established by others. Marchio is the reductio ad absurdum of all of us, it is suggested. But we couldn’t be more wrong Continue reading

Guess who?

“In addition to the term ‘complex’, **** also coined those of the ‘collective unconscious’ and the ‘archetype’.”

Before I go any further, I have to mention that these are key terms in modern usage. “Collective unconscious” and “archetype” might be a little… precious, but think of how often you hear that someone has a “Napoleon Complex,” or an “Oedipus Complex.” Maybe I keep odd company, but I would suggest that it is also common to create descriptions of new “complexes” in conversation.

It makes me want to investigate exactly what it is I am talking about when I say “complex.”

“Specific contents of the collective subconscious were, he considered, archetypal images, such as the ‘Great mother’, the ‘Serpent’ or the ‘Shadow’. On his ethnological expeditions, **** had observed that these images occur in all cultures and must therefore be anchored in the human brain.”

Then he has to go and claim something like this, which is a little troublesome and disconnected. Continue reading

Freudian Aspects of Public Transportation

The train has stopped
in the tunnel.
“Something,” screeches
the conductor, jerking
back into motion.

Like a lifeline, this trip
is nothing but a metaphor. Continue reading

Comments on the Second Presidential Debates: 8/7/08

The debate tonight was an inspiring experience for me, and I have found it, maybe out of a sense of perversity, to be a largely uninspiring period of time. It’s been so long that I’ve heard any public issue addressed in a reasonable, honest way, that when it happens I want to slap my hands and thank whoever is responsible for having the simple courage to say what is true.

This is the most important lesson to be learned. That it is possible to say things that are true, and that anybody can say them. Truth has its contexts, and it has its nuances, and neither the world of politics and business-the macro world-nor the even larger and more finely nuanced world of personal life-the micro world-can be helped by anything but a fire to accomplish something good.

The problem with saying something like that is that you, the reader, and myself, the writer, both immediately question ourselves, saying “Is that naïve? Do I have any fire to accomplish something good?”

You create effects of quality in all moments of your life. You experience the world-its breakups, its defeats, its sunrises and snowfalls-as good and bad. This simple acknowledgment, of the universality of complicated experience, signifies in any of us willing to step forward a fire to accomplish good.

Maayan told me about seeking “balance” in the visual design of her magazine. Continue reading