Behold Numbers 4 and 5

Jonathan Monk Do Not Pay More Than $80,000

Jonathan Monk Do Not Pay More Than $80,000


As more of us rail against wealth concentration from our online pulpits, I’d like to clarify that my beef is not that fewer people are getting rich, it is that fewer people are getting by. Except for my poorest phases (university, and the period when I devoted 100% of my time to my artistic practice), my means have always been “middle class”. Suits me fine. If capitalism truly is meant to motivate everyone to strive to get more, maybe capitalism has to eliminate the middle class, because, in my middle class experience at least, who could want for more? A modest house, a modest car, modest holidays, modest charitable giving, some lower end “luxuries” like occasional fine dining and an expensive smart phone. How sweet it is. I say all the plutocrats must do in order to keep their barricades from being stormed is keep all the non-plutocrats in the “middle class”. This seems unlikely, however, as it appears that there is a line somewhere in wealth accumulation beyond which one does not just strive for more marbles, but instead requires ALL of the marbles. Fatal flaw.

Anyway, there is an exception I have noted in the satisfactory comfort of “middle class”, which was the impetus for dropping this post actually. The plutocrats are taking art. This is not new, but it is accelerating. I read about the price of the new Aston Martin ($200,000), and the fact that I cannot even strive for that – my realistic ability to improve my position, by so much that I could afford that car, is tiny – well it simply doesn’t matter to me. What I do with cars (get groceries, drive to the campsite or the ski hill) would not be significantly better in that car. Ditto the reportage of the price tags of the designer clothes and jewelries of the red carpets. Those things would not improve my life.

But art. Specifically the art of the gallery, museum, auction and fair. Consider: part of the happiness of middle class existence, for many, is the enjoyment of music recordings and performances, books, cinema and theatre. Sure, there’s a range of costs there, but even the top end would fall under “special occasion treat”, while the bottom of that scale is a weekly expenditure for many. The cost of a novel considered among the best written is the same as the cost of the latest beach reader. The cost of a recording of music considered among the finest created is the same as the cost of the rough first recording of any band anywhere. Mass reproduction, you say? Photography, I say. If you believe that Gursky’s photos are special, and would be more enjoyable to live with than the prints of a local art student, you should stifle that preference right now because you can’t have the Gursky. But also, guess what? You can barely have the student prints! Certainly not on a weekly basis like a movie, and often not even on an annual splashout like your traditional birthday opera. Perhaps simply by virtue of the fact that Gursky is working in the same line, the unestablished photographer’s work starts at a much higher price point than the acclaimed novelist’s work does.

Imagine if each work of Wes Anderson, Jane Campion, or Spike Lee was henceforth screened once only in twenty cities worldwide, each screening limited to 50 viewers at a cost of a new Aston Martin Rapide S. That would produce a $200 million gross, which would have been a top fifteen gross in 2013.

That’s imagining down a sad path. If you’d prefer to imagine down a happy path, to a scenario in which masterworks of painting and sculpture are as accessible to everyone as are movie tickets, you will quickly encounter the barrier presented by the concept of scarcity. Wes Anderson’s art is instrinsically reproduceable. No discernible difference watching print number 200 than watching the master. Not so with original paintings, or sculpture, right? Behold, numbers 4 and 5.

Point Finale

I am glad to chat up anything Quebec right now, as the integrity of that province is on such magnificent display these days. (Although I have always felt that Quebec is the best part of Canada. Right now they have just taken that to another level).

In any case, I very belatedly took multiple advices last night and watched Café de Flore, Jean-Marc Vallée’s latest, starring Vanessa Paradis. It is very good. It did not surprise me that it was made in La Belle Province, where, also not surprisingly, much of this country’s truly great cinema originates.

I thought I would make my Legendary comment on this film in the form of remembrances. After all, Quebec’s motto is “je me souviens”. Here then, are the things I remembered today about the film, without trying:

  • the first time you see the little hand grasp the back of the drivers seat, just for like ten frames or something
  • the use of extremely brief shots, in general
  • the boldness of opening with an extremely brief shot
  • the older daughter’s astute observances, particularly “he smells good” to her mother as her father heads to a “meeting” (where his future wife is waiting)
  • the “flight attendant” line dance
  • the breastfeeding
  • the airport arrival of what seems to have been an all-Down’s-Syndrome flight
  • the fantastic performances of physical intimacy, of all sorts, from all performers
  • the most beautiful gutter puddle ever
  • the man who briefly passes by in the distance outside the window of the seemingly secluded spa
  • the silent scream

The film opened in Australia and Russia last month, and the UK this month, and for those of you who still have the opportunity to see it in the theatre, I would say that yes, it is a big screener.

PS In addition to making Quebec seem, impossibly, cooler to me, this film has similarly enhanced my already high opinion of Johnny Depp.

Still not convinced? The soundtrack includes Stars of the Lid. Point finale.

Next Time, Blow My Mind

The serendipity was divine. In a long stretch of overwork, with almost no time for any of my leisure habits, I was in front of a television with a couple of hours to spare at the very moment Beginners was about to air. I’d looked forward to this movie’s release, but it had become another item on this year’s long list of missed.

I’d looked forward to it for many reasons: had connected with author Mike Mills’ previous work and interviews, will always love Captain Von Trapp, had enjoyed all of Ewen McGregor’s performances I’d seen, interested to see the story of a 75 year old coming out to his son after his wife’s death, and fabulously, A TALKING DOG.

I was not immediately disappointed. In fact, I had such high hopes that I held off disappointment until the credits, when I had to face the reality that no further redeeming content was coming. To be fair, it is these same high hopes that cause me to scribble about “disappointment” referring to a well-made picture I enjoyed. I just thought it might be a favorite, a multiple screener, a special features watcher.

The funny thing is that my beleaguered brain had forgotten that it is a Mike Mills joint, and as the end came and my impression – of superficial self-absorption spoiling things a bit – became clearer, his title card appeared and with it my eureka. My eureka looked like this:

That’s Miranda July and Spike Jonze, two artists whose work, like Mills’, I enjoy and respect but, like Mills’, leaves me a little cold. I think what happens is this:

I relate to the perspective. Those are my people, or it is the point of view of my people at least. I feel like so little of the mass culture we’ve lived with has been written for us or by us that it’s kind of thrilling when I encounter culture that has been. I proceed through the encounter, eager to be told stories from that perspective, to contemplate themes and ideas informed by that point of view.

But I find, again and again, that the perspective is the story. The point of view, itself, is the idea.

This is an exaggeration of course. These books and movies and performances convey ideas about the human condition, alienation, communication, growing up. But in terms of content by volume, there is a lot of space given to pure demonstrations of the point of view and not much else. Call it quirky-cool, call it hipster – it may be pointless to try to categorize, actually – but the extended and detailed display of the tastes, idiosyncracies and hobbies of the heroes suggests, necessarily, that these tastes, idiosyncracies and hobbies are significant and to be noted. So you mark it down, okay, and then….they aren’t actually germane. All of the things which happen to the hero or are learned by him would also have happened or been learned if he was into jogging rather than roller skating, or if he worked in an administrative office of the municipal government rather than in the arts. The importance of telling your own stories, of working from a personal pov? Sure, but how come the bureaucrat joggers don’t position the jogging as a central part of the story? Answer: how absurd! Joggers are everywhere and have been for decades. The majority of the population either does it or has done it. It would be like making a movie featuring the toasting of bread. (Which, ironically, would be quirky.) So. What we are really talking about is difference. Mainstream versus marginal. And the tendency for several decades now, to elevate difference, in and of itself, to something significant. It is the foundation of the culture of “cool”. Why do we care so much about tastes, preferences, idiosyncracies? Because relative wealth has enabled the extensive contemplation of the self. And of course commercial interests have enthusiastically cultivated and exploited that trend.

This, I guess, is the exception I take to the portraiture of quirk and cool that I see artists like Mills and July (married, as you may or may not know) draw out. It fortifies the narcissistic chains we keep ourselves in. I want my mind blown, I want my life changed, I want to lose sleep over books and films and performances, and I want to believe that this work can come from artists whose perspectives I relate to, like July and Mills. There’s no reason not to believe this – both surely have loads of work ahead of them. Beginners wasn’t it, that’s all.


The best antidote to hecticity is idleness. For complete idleness, mental as well as physical, I suppose one could meditate. But if that is an overdosage for your particular circumstances, you might try being still, staring into the screen, and programming the screen so there is less to process. More than a screensaver, say, which could return you to the level of meditation. But less, far less than the programming usually appearing on your screens, most of it unbidden. Try these:

Gerry – so minimal it is almost ambient. Do not watch this with anyone inclined to “what are they talking about?” or “well that doesn’t make any sense”. In fairness, I suspect co-authors Affleck and Damon’s inclinations (“scenarios”, “dialogue”) probably hurt Van Sant’s (time and space revealed?) and allow for such moot analysis.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – many many more things happen in this one than in Gerry, but it still sends audiences packing midway. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I get this non-getting, but the whole rest of my mind is like “PEOPLE! What do you have against ghosts, monkey-men, talking fish, and the absence of violence and evildoing? This is cinema utopia damnit!”

Jeanne Dielman – the influence of Akerman, especially this work, can be seen in Weerasakathul’s. Not the talking fish, nor the absence of violence, and in this sense it does not create that thrilled wonderment that a picture like Boonmee can. But hanging out real time while someone does chores can be mesmerizing, and comforting somehow. Actually, this is a good one to watch with your “what is that – a little stove?” friend who you’ll not invite to the Gerry screening. I wonder if I were watching it when it was made, without the constant appeal of “period” everything – decor, autos, wardrobe, architecture – would I still be captivated?

Despite this post’s title, it’s worth noting that pacing alone is not enough to satisfy a need for quiet. Remember this? Not a good comparison with Dielman’s vintage eye candy or Boonmee’s magic, perhaps, but why do I prefer the desert void of Gerry to that of A Taste of Cherry? It’s a question too challenging for my newly idle mind.

Wheel Within A Wheel

When I think of some of the things I was made to read at school, instead of Miss Lonelyhearts, I have more patience for the endless debate about The Canon.

I kicked off my camping season this weekend, and inexplicably, I brought with me the little paperback Miss Lonelyhearts and A Cool Million, which I have packed and unpacked in numerous changes of residence, yet somehow never read. I do respect the Buddhist precept about consuming only items that preserve peace in body and consciousness, and while my practice of it would not by any means be considered thorough, I do generally avoid depictions of extensive or graphic violence. Maybe that was the hold up.

In any case, I now know that in future, should I wish to consume some harshness, I should do so in solitude, in nature. Sitting and hiking and sleeping and sitting in the woods or at the shore tops up my peace…it may even create a surplus.

Of course, West’s story is a bit of a paradox for sensitive souls such as mine, as it is the story of just such a sensitive soul and the madness brought about through his consumption of depictions of rape, gang rape, gay bashing, and wife beatings which result in dental work. Tricky.

But it is a short work, a one-sitting read, and the sufferings are surrounded by astounding passages of philosophy, surrealism and humour. Its masterful and strange presentation of big ideas is moving, and while ultimately disturbing, it can still be peacefully consumed provided the reading environment is sufficiently serene and beautiful.

don’t turn a scientific problem into a common love story

Given the impact each viewing of Tarkovsky’s work has had on me, I cannot explain why it’s taken me ten years to watch four films. Maybe part of that can be attributed to watching The Sacrifice repeatedly. Maybe not.

Anyway, I need to take a little webspace to genuflect right now. Not to prowess, or achievement, or mastery, although I assume all of those must be present to create this kind of Stendhal-inducing work. Masterful filmmakers are not in short supply. However, from everything I have read, few if any have been able to create the particular experience Tarkovsky creates. I am admittedly prone to hyperbole, but on this topic, I risk writing stale if I employ concepts like spellbound, otherworldly, euphoric, and transcendental.

Of course, there are as many who have an experience of boredom, confusion, or impatience. Which is why my genuflecting webspace will be devoted to proselytizing thusly: many things which are good for you do not feel so good going in. If you are determined to reap the goodness, you must learn to find your way beyond the not good feeling. Tips:

  • “slow” can be good. Think food, think sex, think Tarkovsky. It’s a feast.
  • engage. Tarkovsky preferred mise en scene to montage, feeling that cuts are tricks. Instead of a steady conveyor belt of bite-sized meaning, you get an open field in which to wander, and joining you in the field at unpredictable intervals and angles will be various-sized meanings.
  • you think you are reading it, but you will read it differently as you go. What at first seems spooky will become romantic.

And what is the goodness to be reaped? Contemplative travel to some very rich and mystical ideas about life and death. Time distortion. Dreams, memory, magic.

But maybe you’re not up for that tonight. That’s cool too, you can totally just dig on the crocheted ponchos and the sound of the Russian language and the inexplicably floating chandeliers.

Oh, yes, the one that prompted this was Solyaris.

Truth Fully Avenged

I bought Don Domanski’s book All Our Wonder Unavenged about a year after it had won Canada’s most prestigious literary prize, the Governor General’s Award, at the end of 2008. Last night, a year and a half later, I finished it. I had loaned it mid-read, impatient to share its joys, and then it took a while to come back to me.

It was only the second book of poetry I’d read. I’ve enjoyed poetry as much as anything, but almost always in an anthology or periodical. I don’t know what possessed me to buy it, but I bought two – one for me, one for my Dad. Turned out they were the last two in the store, and signed.

I’ve been googling around about this poet today, as I always do when something moves me, and have reached the conclusion that Don Domanski is succeeding. Sure, I could have concluded this from the GG, but hear me out.

As I contemplated my experience of his poetry, I identified various sources of enjoyment. The subject matter – explorations of existence in pastoral settings – would tend to appeal to me. The accessibility of the language and structure welcomes the relative neophyte like myself. But what was lighting it up like transcendental truth? For these poems were fully true, true in every way they could be. Not just “I recognize the metaphor” true, “I agree with the observation” true. The magical property of the poems is that they seem to communicate the full essence of a thing.

Now, my point about succeeding. Here’s Domanski talking to the CBC:

“What I’m doing is making my way to presence…There’s a very deep truth there that strikes well below the thinking level, a connection richer than language, which can give words a more inclusive depth and reach.”

C’est ça! The transportational quality of the poems – drifting you here, and here, and here – does seem to originate from something richer than language.

This experience grows out of reading the poems for a little while, so I don’t want to include an excerpt or single poem here. But here are a couple of links to Domanski and his work:

All Our Wonder Unavenged on Amazon

On the Governor General’s Awards site

The CBC interview I reference

Preslav Literary School


Today I will be listening to my new WEBCRUSH. I’m downloading Preslav Literary School’s album Pretext/Context right now, and I think it’s going to sound marvelous in headphones later. I see on the site references to musique concrete, Basinski, and reconstruct/deconstruct. All informative descriptions. The broadest, simplest idea I would tag it with is “accessible experimental”. The accessibility stems from the human hand recognizable as author of the work, and the very earthly soundscapes created. Preview the work here.

Preslav Literary School is Adam Thomas, whose work you may have encountered at various European festivals, where he performs live tape collage. Or you may have encountered his taste in the work of others if you enjoyed transmediale.10, as he was involved with its curation.

His website, in addition to hosting recordings, contains creative writing both journalistic and fictional. I read without surprise that he was reading Gravity’s Rainbow in 2009, and of course I wondered if he completed it (observant readers of Even More Legendary may recall my confession that I have repeatedly failed to do so). The site also reports on projects he’s involved in, like the Berlin Tape Run, whereby a tape changes hands repeatedly over four months, resulting in a collaborative audio document; and Echolalia, featuring a live tape orchestra, a workshop, and a publication of speculative fiction.