YOUR HEART IS OPEN

Touring with The Ex was a wonderful experience, even in cities like Chicago where a predominantly ‘rock’ audience has overtrained themselves into a ‘stare-at-the-spectacle-onstage’ template. Minneapolis and Baltimore were the best — folks got loose during my set and the energy just kept mounting as The Ex took over. “I saw The Ex last night, and they were probably better than any band I’ve seen in the last five years!There’s talk of us touring Ethiopia together, stay tuned…

Here’s a more recent Ex track, from their 2004 CD, Turn.

The Ex – Huriyet

i’ll write more about the tour later, mmmm, maybe even review a review or two. Because I am not down with music journos who both can’t I.D. any of the tracks The Ex played and write about my set only referencing the tunes they can recognize. Epistemological corniness will not be tolerated…

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Met up with Michael Taussig and Marcus the other day. On the way over I was leafing through Taussig’s My Cocaine Museum — one of those asymptotic books that i haven’t finished, because it is too good; the closer to the end the slower i go — and was reminded, yet again, of just how special the darn thing is. The rigor, rhythm, and quickmix effervescence of his prose underscore the conservatism (structural if not social as well) of most lauded contemporary fiction writers.

(What other artistic form has changed less over the past 100 years than that of the literary novel? Opera perhaps?) Of course, Taussig isn’t writing a novel; he writes anthropology but bends it deliciously, a slide through thought and heat. The chapter A Dog Growls begins:

A dog growls in the doorway of the house where I am staying in Gaupí. I have never heard this dog growl before. I look out into the street, There are two armed soldiers walking by on patrol in standard-issue camouflage. Strange how the dog picks up what most of us feel but do not express. What would happen if we all growled when soldiers walked by? A whole town growling! How wonderfully appropriate to growl back at the state, mimicking it, growl for growl, watching it magnify in the fullness of biological prehistory, writing being but another form of hair rising on the back of the neck. Slap up against the wall of the forest, you get an acute sense of the thing called the state. To me this is more than a heightening of contradiction exposing something hidden. I think of it as natural history, the natural history of the state.

Writing is sixth sense, what does are supposed to have, same as what filled the space between the words. …

Unleashing dogs on Indians was, like the use of the horse, a principal weapon of conquest by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century. J.H. Parry tells us of mastiffs — the name alone makes my hair stand on end — weighing up to two hundred and fifty pounds. Is that possible? Could a dog be that big? Two hundred and fifty pounds of vengeful teeth ripping Indians apart in one leap? These are the canine ancestors of those you see today sniffing in airports, leaping at baggage carousels, and asleep at the feet of guards in black Armani-like outfits in the doorways of pharmacies in Bogotá and Mexico City. “Their dogs are enormous with flat ears and long, dangling tongues,” says a sixteenth-century Native American text found in the Florentine Codex. “The color of their eyes is a burning yellow; their eyes flash fire and shoot off sparks. Their bellies are hollow, their flanks long and narrow. They are tireless and very powerful. They bound here and there, panting with their tongues hanging out. And they are spotted like an ocelot.¨

What beauty there is in these monstrous dogs of prey! And note that other mimesis, not just the one that converts cruelty into hollow-bellied fire, but the fear on the part of at least one conquistador that the Indians might raise dogs to attack the Spaniards! Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, fabled conquerer of what is today called Columbia, told his kind early in the sixteenth century that as the Spaniards had made gifts of dogs to Indians, there were now many villages with five hundred to a thousand dogs. He envisaged a day when the country as a whole might rise up “because they could use their packs of dogs against us.” A whole town growling! How wonderfully appropriate to growl back at the state, mimicking it, growl for growl, watching it magnify in the fullness of biological prehistory, writing being but another form of hair rising on the back of the neck.

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which reminds me, tomorrow is as good a time as any to quote Galeano on Pinochet, who is dead.

12 thoughts on “YOUR HEART IS OPEN”

  1. It was great discovering your blog in 2006, the jump cuts between grime and Zizek and djing anecdotes. Glad to see it’s continuing in the same vein. This is a lot easier to read as well. All the best

  2. chicago could use some more real musicians; return often. i wish i was there to witness the spectacle-that-of-the-crowd! mmm… watermelon bullets! 😀

  3. I recently moved out of Chicago, and unfortunately wasn’t able to attend the show there. I think the problem re: standandstare is one of venue. Played at the Empty Bottle right? Don’t forget, we birthed house! Lots of dancing kids in the city, not many of them are patrons of the Empty Bottle.

  4. dowjones – true, venue has a lot to do with it. esp. something like the EmptyBottle with its awkward space & sightlines. that said, i played there 3 years b4 w/ kid606 and remember a lot of dancing…

  5. dowjones, chicago isn’t what it used to be. i’ve been to many venues, but missed a lot of the dancing kids somewhere, they’ve moved to elite clubs where money and looks are everything. the empty bottle is known for its experimental and electronic edge. the seminar was a very popular drum n’ bass thing that attracted a lot of well-known UK dnb producers/djs. well, it closed down a few years ago, and they tried to re-open it, and apparently the original crowds have gradually disappeared (this comes from many people I know who used to be around during the heyday). the scene has dispersed. they had some grime nights, fragmented crowds. empty bottle, fragmented crowds. the infamous chicago “indie” scene, fragmented as ever and poor attendances to all of the above.

    jace, 3 years ago (with kid606), i think chicago was different. the city is evolving… to what, i’m not sure yet.

    heck, funkstorung played to a crowd of maybe 20 people. even these well-known international electronic musicians can’t get chicago people away from the couch and television, and not only that, but the club was giving away free tickets online to the $10 show, and they still wouldn’t come out! it’s a shame, imho.

  6. I know what yr getting at, metro, how does one explain the rise of Chicago juke? I think the people who like to dance in Chicago who don’t fall into the all about money category (and isn’t it almost always all about money anyway? I digress) don’t really care about well known international electronic musicians, and are more concerned with Boolumaster.

  7. jc-
    terrific blog, keep up the good work. would you elaborate, though, on your comment about the literary novel? there have been enormous innovations over the past 100 years in the structure of the novel.

  8. hw – “there have been enormous innovations over the past 100 years in the structure of the novel.” care to point out a few?

    I’m talking about (relatively) popular literature rather than the tiny-readership avant-garde, although part of my argument would be that someone like a modern-day Beckett would never be able to reach the level of visibility and public acclaim in these times.

    think of the lasting and profound structure changes & evolution/mutation in ‘popular’ music all across the world since 1907, not to mention fashion, architecture, slang, critical theory, film, the plastic arts, and on and on and on. when comparing other cultural objects’ to the lauded literary novel, the good ole novel seems like its moving in molasses, carefully conserved. even the way of writing about it and analyzing it often taps into my ‘identity politics is the new colonialism’ bit, such a strange marriage, the critical tools often seems to confine high-level literary discussion to some tight, patrolled areas.

  9. just a few of the formal leaps forward for the novel of the last 100 yrs, off the top of my head: ulysses, a la recherche du temps perdu, the trial, the magic mountain, the sound and the fury, hopscotch, molloy, pale fire, if on a winter’s night a traveler, gravity’s rainbow, the erasers, the emigrants, time’s arrow, dark back of time, a heart so white, cloud atlas…

    if you’re talking about the “average novel” on a bookstore shelf (if there is such a thing) then i think if see your point. although i think even there it may be less a matter of what happened over the past century than of where we happen to be, in the cycles of literary fashion — for ex., henry james is a model for many leading novelists today, whereas he would have been rejected as an influence by many 50 years ago.

  10. a great list hw, but, i still feel that the ways in which these formal leaps have been accomplished are quite narrow in terms of comparative cultural bandwidth.

    for example, much music — pop & otherwise — of 2007 wouldn’t even be considered ‘music’ by someone 100 years back. Most of the men (all men) in your list are using techniques found in Don Quixote. the novel resembles itself, still, relentlessly. this is what i was trying to get at. other artistic forms have progressed in quantum leaps…

    One response to my criticism might be that the novel is a sensitive thing, so tiny stylistic changes are actually large and significant — i believe this partially, for example I’m psyched to see Marias on your list (twice) although he is Jamesian indeed. I just dont want to see the novel turn into wine-tasting, where rich folks go to chateaus and throw adjectives, drunk on a lengthy list of similar texts with similar functions invoking similar pleasures and trespasses.

    obviously, these men are self-consciously pushing formal innovation and virtuosity (to the extent that they don’t negate each other) — and so i think a parallel be drawn to the musical avant-garde of the 20th cent. (schopenhauer, stockhausen, even aphex), the same self-conscious formal radicalism among some of society’s most comfortable members. i think popular notions of formal leaps occur largely unconnected to avant-garde currents.

    (i find it odd that there are no lauded collectively written novels. THAT would be a weird structural shift & it doesnt seem to hard to accomplish. is the myth of the Author a particularly strong preventative here, or might it be related to the novel’s Bildungsroman-backbone?)

    long entry! thanks for the list & points, i’m being cranky w/ you and hope you dont mind!!! — I’ve been meaning to check The Erasers & Cloud Atlas….

  11. thanks for the responses/food for thought.

    maybe a lot of our differences are somewhat semantic. i don’t know that its fair to compare just the novel (as opposed to literature itself) to music, as equal categories..and lots of groundbreaking novels, ulysses and gravity’s rainbow for example, wouldn’t have been considered literature at all by 19th century readers, and indeed were given the same treatment by many contemporary readers.

    maybe i view the novel in a way narrow enough to make its development seem conservative by definition: i dont consider the tv series the wire a “visual novel” the way david simon does, but doing so would expand one’s point of view of the novel’s development.

    then again, maybe the same is true for the way i view structure (although in your critique you don’t seem to differentiate between style and structure quite as much i might): for instance, i don’t think that a collectively written novel would represent any kind of structural innovation at all. how would you be able to even tell it was collectively written from the text? that isn’t intrinsic to the novel we would be holding in our hands as readers in any way. maybe gravity’s rainbow was actually the product of a shadowy collective — pynchon’s secretive, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t make you wrong, who knows? this wouldn’t change the novel, or the Novel. if, on the other hand, you would consider a lauded collectively written novel a structural shift, i think you would be compelled to apply the same judgment to the nba-winning echo maker, which richard powers wrote using voice recognition software.

    most importantly, i don’t think the level of innovation going on would necessarily be affected one iota by whether or not the great novels of an age were all written by rich men living in comfortable chateaux — although i don’t think either of us believe that an accurate description of the reality. a great novel doesn’t epitomize its author’s sex/culture/politics/sexuality/etc, it transcends them to tap into things that are universally human.

    it is, perhaps, characteristic that the novel is constantly declared exhausted (just as poetry often rises to its own defense), which may have much to do with the fact that, with the quixote, it was conceived in self-parody/irony.

    as a sidenote, interesting quote from david mitchell: “I think fiction is an aircraft with four engines: plot, character, theme and structure. Like all artists (if I can call myself an artist) I don’t want to do what has already been done. Every possible way to portray a character has been done. There are no new discoveries to be made. Also there’s not much you can do with a plot that hasn’t been done. You can tell the plot forwards, you can use flashback or you can tell the story backwards. Theme moves forward at the speed of the world, at the speed of change. Of course it was impossible to write an internet novel twenty years ago, but you have to wait for the world to change before new discoveries can be made in theme. This leaves us with structure. It sounds quite a boring word, it is more an engineering term than an artistic term but, perhaps because of this, there are still discoveries to be made in how to structure the narrative. I used to be very interested in attempting to make these new discoveries. How can you disassemble a traditional structure and still have a readable novel?”

    all right, done clogging the comments section! but what a fascinating question…

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