Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bowling with Sisyphus: Suicide or Revolt?

Vague thoughts on Cory Arcangel's 'Beat the Champ' installation at the Barbican in London

As you enter, the installation curves away to the left with panel after panel of computer bowling games projected against the far wall.  The games are ordered chronologically with the first dating back to the 1970s and the last 2001.  Each game has been rigged to play on a loop with each bowler launching the ball into the gutter at every throw.

My first thought was of Sisyphus and his own particular bowling game doomed by the gods to failure.  Arcangel has had all his games rigged, committing each computerized bowler to share Sisyphus' fate.

What does it mean for each computer bowler to be condemned to a failure inescapable despite technological advancement?  What of the gamer seeking meaning in the computer console?  Is Arcangel's message entirely pessimistic?  Are we, in a desperate search for meaning, doomed to repeat the failures of past generations in spite of seeming progression?  In realising the impossibility of escape, is it correct to argue, as Carmus does, that "The struggle enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." ?      

As I left the installation room, walking back from later to earlier computer programs, I noticed a bowler from an old Atari game quietly knock down one of the pins.  I'm still not certain that this was actually part of the show -  all games were supposed to be rigged to fail.  Did one rebel?  Was the seed of revolt more powerful that that of suicide?


Friday, April 22, 2011

Philosophies of Insomnia 2: Eli Siegel

Love and Jobs
At rest 
On her breast, 
He lay. 
And he thought 
Of his job 
Next day.

From Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana: Poems (Definition Press)
© 1957 by Eli Siegel


Letter From William Carlos Williams to Martha Baird - November 3rd, 1951

My dear Martha Baird: 
I cannot adequately thank you for first writing me and then sending me the copies of Eli Siegel's poems. I am thrilled: your communications could not have come at a better time. I can't tell you how important Siegel's work is in the light of my present understanding of the modern poem. He belongs in the very first rank of our living artists. That he has not been placed there by our critics (what good are they?) is the inevitable result of their colonialism, their failure to understand the significance, the compulsions, broadened base upon which prosody rests in the modern world and our opportunity and obligations when we concern ourselves with it...

...You say Siegel is alive and working. Greet him for me and tell him of this letter. I congratulate you on the intelligent direction of your work and the heart behind it.  



The Philosophy of Insomnia 
By Eli Siegel 

There was a person who told me he was troubled by insomnia, among other things. Sometimes he got angry with people. Sometimes he felt he was the most persecuted and most intelligent person in the world. Insomnia was one manifestation of the dislocation he had made between what Aesthetic Realism calls Self and World. He'd been having insomnia for a long time. His family doctor told him it came from a recondite kidney ailment. A neurologist of the advanced Freudian school told him he couldn't sleep because he had the death instinct. A psychoanalyst, somewhat less advanced, said he wanted to kill his mother.

In my work, one way of looking at the self has been through sentences. A person has been given two words, standing for matters crucial in his mind, and been asked to write a sentence with them. I gave this man the words magnificent and bed. The sentence he wrote was: “I am magnificent in bed.”

He unconsciously saw himself as most important in bed. He had trouble with his brothers, his father, his mother, the foreman where he worked. In bed, he said to hell with all of them. The tendency to be a king or queen or emperor or (more conservatively) a lonely duchess in bed, is tremendous. The loneliness of bed is used against the things seen and endured in the street. When you're in bed, the world is yours. This person had seen bed as a place where he could get back at everyone who had ever annoyed him.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Philosophies of Insomnia 1

1. Halfway up the Holloway Road

My thoughts come in squat brick-like chunks.  Each as incoherent as the next, but each showing promise!  They could lead to something?  Could they lead to something?

What am I saying?

I am frog marching myself toward the Holloway road, shoes clicking fast against the pavement, collar up, hands pushed hard into broken pockets.  There is no sound except my heels.  No, that's not quite true:  There is the wave crash of distant cars and the passing threat of motorcycle engines.

Is insomnia something to be feared or celebrated?

I should be doing some of my best thinking now, in this free time gifted to me - a time oceans from the clock time of commerce.  but here the clock sounds off the seconds like a broken piano.  The key is struck and I feel rather than hear its tick.  Thud.  Like a falling body.  Deep behind the eyes.

Some houses flicker with the blue of tv screens.  Why am I walking?  Why not wrestling with this thing in the safety of my own bed?

How awful that I can't drag anything close to poetry from this private time, when whole sleeping worlds seems to belong to me and me alone.  Shouldn't that be everything?  I embrace the feeling a moment, lifting my head high a step or two.   But then my body asks: what are you doing halfway up the Holloway road?  Why cast adrift like the walking dead?  Where are you?

In three hours it will be morning.  Light's lines will trace across the walls and everything will begin again.     

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Diaries of Arnon Grunberg (13)

Arnon entered Lucien on first and first and asked for a stool at the bar. He looked at the menu without much appetite, then finally ordered the foie gras maison with the cheapest red wine at twenty eight dollars per bottle. It was the first time that Arnon felt comfortable in a social environment for months. He had concluded that his preference to stay at home and read, was a mental condition that he needed to break through, and diligently he had made reservations at nine. He drank his first glass and poured a second, drank a second and poured a third. There was no reason to his thoughts, he was not thinking, just realizing that he had not been thoughtful in many weeks. There was no purpose to his existence, cause there was no thought worth considering. This was the New York life that made New Yorkers unwillingly distressed, irritated, hasted. You traveled two hours south to Washington and life let you breath again. Arnon pondered only how this city with so much stimulation and diversity, managed to create such a uniform lack of thoughtful relevance. Was it the immigrants who came from poverty, sacrificed themselves to offer their children a better future, and like a maelstrom of ambition, they dragged Arnon down with them into their gutter toward just the same empty future. The thought itself made Arnon hate immigrants. He poured a fourth glass and measured the bottle to be half empty. The room seemed to detach itself from the street and the building in which it was located, and started floating in the night, tables started dancing, voices started conversations and faces looked at Arnon with a friendly smile. The waiter offered him not only a broad grin but complemented him with a pear liquor that went down smoothly with the foie gras without purpose or thought.