Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Human Sacrifice v. Extra Lives

Boris Vallejo...
I want to say more here, but, really: Boris Vallejo

The upper register of Axl Rose's voice rose over the noise of the dozen arcade cabinets and their light and the light of the dim overhead flourescents made the slice of pizza he bought and set on the glass of the unused pinball machine, Raiders of the Lost Ark, look like something from a Robert Williams painting. The teen with two quarters placed beside the player 2 start button who had been standing there all day popping button combos, dispatching challenger after challenger with his casual joystick grip (three loose fingers), had not given up a life.  He had held his own hunger ransom, setting the slice aside before he started playing with the idea that it would somehow be a bigger challenge than the 5th and 6th graders who pumped quarter after quarter into the glowing red coin slot and slapped the player 1 button.  I was one of them, wondering if the action on the second player joystick was that much better as my avatar was immediately cornered. I hammered furiously on the buttons to try to get free, while he executed a few nonchalant circles with the joystick and tapped his buttons.  My power bar declined to zero and the teen stepped back from the cabinet to do a quiet little two step.

A pinball machine always looks fun, but it seldom satisfies the way even a quick 16 bit death does.  Lights and bumpers. A glass coffin showing the height of mechanical-age fun.  From the speakers mounted near the ceiling, the sound of an intergalactic arrival broke into the rude quick bird whistle of Steve Miller Band's Jungle Love.  I looked at the teen.  He was old enough to drive, to have a steady girlfriend, to have a part-time job, to under-age drink and casually use drugs, to jerk-off.  He was wearing fingerless black pleather gloves.  He was thin and he never acknowledged the other players, never chatted with the other teens who controlled the other machines. He just played.  


Recently, I met a former boxer at an end of the summer pool party.  We spoke a little bit about diet and he explained boxing to me.  My appreciation for the sport has always been limited, but boxing, he told me, was a mental sport.  You take two men who weigh the same and who are more or less evenly matched and the sport comes down to their preparation, their mental toughness.  He was still going through a prolonged period where he forbade himself most meat, sugar, wheat, dairy.  In the months before a fight, he did little other than exercise. He refused sex, coffee, alcohol, and nicotine. He went to bed on time and woke up early.  I was struck by his sense of dedication, his self-discipline. It was this time, he said, that mattered-- the months before-- that decided the match.  


I finished In Search of Lost Time at the end of this summer.  At a point soon after Proust stumbles upon his epiphany, that life is joyless unless we learn how to live outside of time by finding those analogous moments within our lives and allow their resonance to take hold, once he has decided upon his life's work, he offers a statement about friendship that, while appearing partially true, and certainly apt within the confines of the Parisian society he has described within the preceding volumes and doubly apt as a justification for the hermitage he undertook to write his masterpiece, it misses what may have been one of the keenest portions of the novel's deeper play.

...the artist who gives up an hour of work for an hour of conversation with a friend knows that he is sacrificing a reality for something that does not exist (our friends being friends only in the light of an agreeable folly which travels with us through life and to which we readily accommodate ourselves, but which at the bottom of our hearts we know to be no more reasonable than the delusion of the man who talks to the furniture because he believes that it is alive)...

This is different than both Lemuel Gulliver and Friedrich Nietzsche (who wound down their lives talking to horses). This is the man who sees the horse as his contemporaries and who reluctantly obliges the social norm by passing time with another person. There are a number of inconsistencies through the last volume, Proust worked on Time Regained up until the moment of his death. And though elsewhere in the volume, he states that the novel itself is only an optical apparatus that allows the reader to discover a greater portion of his or her self, this point strikes me perhaps as the last tragic sliver of Proust's blind spot, of the depth of his loneliness.  Though our lives are plagued by uncertainty and the experiences of our growth and education are in fact just the shedding of layers of ignorance and misunderstanding, it is precisely the play of these points through time that allows us ever to achieve any claim to clarity or transcendence, even if that transcendence is only turned inward.  We may misunderstand one another in situ so that later, when we are ready, we can misunderstand to a lesser degree.                

The boxer went on to tell me about a man called Electrolyte, who he visited in the Bronx. Electrolyte ate only bland foods. He kept a battery pack on his belt.  He could turn on a lightbulb by holding it in his bare hand. He pulsed energy directly into the boxer's muscles.  I mentioned I had heard of yogis in India that had gained control of their involuntary reflexes by deep meditation and could turn their body temperature up high enough to light a small piece of paper on fire.  It occurred to me, to be a boxer, to be alone in his kind of physical and mental discipline, it would be a relief to find a man like Electrolyte, a man who had mastered his body and and broken through the daily discipline to find some strange deep power lurking within, but I noticed the boxer was smiling and I couldn't tell if he was putting me on.  


In 2666, Ingeborg recounts in one of her early meetings with Reiter (later to be Archimboldi) that the capstone on Mayan temples would be a block of obsidian polished to transparency and that the tribe would gather in the temple in the midst of a human sacrifice and the light in the temple would be filtered through the blood and the obsidian and this is the light in which they would see one another.   


A sacrifice is made in Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle.  Volume 1 shows Knausgaard propelled through adolescence on a marvelous vapor trail of petty happenings and deep transformations.  While reading I had the sense that the author was confronting his feelings about his life and his family in real time, that he was not editing.  The use of his family's names in part provides this, but so too do those half-digested bits about his older brother, Yngve, that breakup the breath-taking house-cleaning sequences (seriously-- the command of detail in the house-cleaning parts gives order to the whole book) to his time finding suitable writing space in Sweden. He admits to as much when he mentions that he had attempted to write about his father several times before and here he has done it, but it seems he still could not express his feelings about his father, instead he exposes his father's death and his family's role in enabling or allowing it to occur.  The key seems to reside somewhere within all of those mundane details, all of those hours poured out in the first volume, an inability to grasp time as it passes at its slowest and an equal inability to grasp reality, to seek a redemption from time's passage, an absolution.

It may be worthwhile to note here that though Proust speaks a little about his father in the early volumes of In Search of Lost Time, his father is otherwise unmentioned as the books progress and remains a kind of sphinx written in to Proust himself and his desire to make good on his literary ambitions, his detailing of the life of Swann and the other men of the Faubourg Germain.  I don't know whether this was an act of conscious or unconscious suppression.

Knausgaard's expression feels compulsive, but it also feels willed.  In breaking the rules, in sacrificing the names and his impressions of those in his life, Knausgaard takes away a measure of their dignity, their privacy.  He is solitary and presents himself as much, as an outsider within his own family (even his grandparents asked him to stop hanging around so much) and the act of publishing his book establishes this isolation and ensures it. He cannot, at least at this point, navigate past his need to speak out and may in that adolescent way seek to redeem himself and his family by decimating that same silence and coolness that allowed his father's death. He sacrifices his own humanity to try to get at the truth.


As an aside: even saddled with picking up the fractured plot pieces from the ends of the various Marvel movies that have been running the shew-biz game for what feels like a decade now, Guardians of the Galaxy may be the best American movie I've seen in years. It takes a painfully accurate CGI raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper to deliver the message that everyone has dead people, it doesn't excuse stupid acts of revenge. Even better, it just knows how to have fun.

Knowhere-- the floating head of an ancient alien being/ mining outfit.  If you want to speak to twelve-year old me, he'll be wintering there this year.   
Steve Miller Band Serenade
Panda Bear Last Night at the Jetty

Thursday, September 11, 2014