Surprised by joy
Looking east from 16th and Noe at four in the afternoon, foreground to background, shaded street, shaded near buildings, sunlit far buildings, sunlit bay, sunlit docks, sunlit hills, blue heaven. A narrow angle on the water sets the towers and hills more than usual into one design on opposite shores.
It’s an embarrassing emotion, and always out of place: there’s never a proper time for it, you’re always flouting some nearer sorrow that deserves your attention, you’ll be paying it back with interest. That kind of accounting has been second nature for so long.
People and pigeons gathered at the library steps, waiting for the opening... five till ten, white mist, everyone’s cold. “Jade mist,” Li He would call it. I read those poems for years thinking jade meant green, not white.
Back home in the untended garden, we left R.’s slackline wrapped in the fork of a poplar for a year or so, and scales of bark grew right around the weave. I had to dig it out with shears. Nothing wants to live as much as a poplar.
The door opens, I pass into the bright lemon-walled reading room with all the other bad characters. There’s my friend’s novel on the display shelf with its circular “100 Notable Books of the Year” sticker... someone picks it up, reads the back, sets it down. A lot of the text in this library is in Russian; there’s a flyer for a reading group:
СТИХИ И ПРОЗА
POEMS & VERSES
That’s not right, is it?
“Ian used to spot the riffs,” says Peter Hook. “We’d jam; he’d stop us and say, That was good, play it again. We didn’t have a tape recorder then: imagine! He spotted ‘Twenty four hours’, ‘Insight’, ‘She’s lost control’—all of them. If it hadn’t been for his ear, we might have played it once and then never again. You didn’t know you’d played it half the time. It’s unconscious, but he was conscious.”
—Jon Savage, “good evening, we’re joy division,” liner notes to the Heart and Soul compilation
The generative process and the curatorial process: you need both, and it’s hard to fit them in the same skull. All that inspired writing that, once you dig into the drafts, turns out to have come from an inspired editorial pairing; all those singers and guitarists that could never do it apart as well as they had done it together. The only means that I’ve found to replicate it solo is time: wait long enough and your work becomes a stranger’s, and will accept the hatchet. But it’s vexing in music especially to know that things go so much quicker with multiple people involved, and to never be able, at this age, in this regional economy, to get multiple people detached enough from the rest of their lives to practice on schedule.
I’ve been playing with the algorithmic drummers in Logic, and not having kept up in recent years, I have to say they’ve gotten pretty good. There’s a decent aleatory component to the pattern generation, which I assume means that they trained a neural network on a lot of real drummers playing MIDI kits. The product does behave like a real drummer, albeit a fairly inattentive real drummer that doesn’t pay much attention to its surroundings and perhaps hasn’t had the best songs on its playlist that week; but the great advantage is that it frees the human involved to be wholly curatorial. You tweak the sliders and the mechanism generates, generates, generates till it blindly hits something that works, not necessarily at all what you had in mind; and you grab a snapshot before it washes away. What matters is that the generative process come from outside. Which means, I guess, that desktop-sized AI has gotten good enough to work around a certain kind of loneliness.
Looking back on the waning year, and several years before, it’s all “achieve your dreams... Burger King... achieve your dreams... Burger King...”
The narcotic of work. The narcotic of doing well in a sphere where the criteria for success are so clear and so readily given in advance; there’s nothing like it for putting ambition to sleep for a day, a week. But it wakes up in a bad mood.
Fifteen years ago, when the web was an alley, we put on weeknight shows in bad lighting, with no sound system, and a few had talent, luck and hustle to get out of the alley before it was condemned. God above, stars were born! (It was that story; I didn’t see it coming.) The stars will object: a red dwarf is not Betelgeuse. We answer: such differences of degree mean nothing as against all those smaller lumps of hydrogen that never caught fire, and please the gods with no light.
The idea of being vindicated has to go. Nothing can prove to Baudelaire that he is not inferior to those he despises.
Montale again: La vita che sembrava / vasta è più breve del tuo fazzoletto. The life that seemed vast is briefer than your handkerchief. In Italian a handkerchief can be brief.
On the other hand we got a huge black radish delivered to the house, so I sautéed it with sesame oil and garlic and it tasted basically like a turnip with more bite, fuck yeah, black radish.
As if you’d outlived yourself, and your own fruitless remains were the badge of shame you were given to carry in public. All those years practicing attitudes in the mirror, playing chess into the night against hooded skeletons; and when you finally reached across the board, you found your opponent spattered with glow paint and held up with piano wire. Well, of course! It was always you making the moves on both sides. Outside it’s been raining for years.
If he clear-headedly knows that his present projects are solely the projects of his youth, how does he know that they are not merely that, unless he has some view which makes sense of, among other things, his own future? One cannot even start on the important questions of how this man, so totally identified with his present values, will be related to his future without them, if one does not take as basic the fact that it is his own future that he will be living through without them.
This leads to the question of why we go on at all.
—Bernard Williams, “Persons, Character and Morality”
Not Christmas but Yule. The dead walking around, the army of bad intentions at the top finally starting to shamble in the same direction. The early evening of drear-nighted December, freezing the mind’s stream—which I didn’t always know. I was fifteen years old and running a temperature of 101. I didn’t care. I was lying in an arroyo in the dark and everyone was out on the street looking for me. I didn’t care.
That was a mire, and no one less than me expected the climb out of it. Over the next few years I made a mechanism, let’s say, out of components near to hand (there was quite a lot near to hand, that can’t be denied). A kind of vehicle, a kind of self. A steerable boat good for twenty years. There was even a website, the entry to which read 404 Not Found—so Winnicott had the key to the whole production from the start. From 1997.
The components are still around, more or less as before, but I think the mechanism has come apart. The waters never led out of themselves. Despite that they’re nothing like they were.
Or D.W. Winnicott: “In the artist of all kinds I think one can detect an inherent dilemma, which belongs to the co-existence of two trends, the urgent need to communicate and the still more urgent need not to be found”; as juxtaposed with psychoanalyzing a child: “Here is a picture of a child establishing a private self that is not communicating, and at the same time wanting to communicate and to be found. It is a sophisticated game of hide-and-seek in which it is joy to be hidden but disaster not to be found.”
Isn’t it an abjection? Aren’t we ashamed?
sure, sure, but without social media would we even have met each other?
“I want to keep a blog about the occurrence of a certain sensation. To this end I associate it with the sign ‘S’ and post this sign on my blog for every day on which I have the sensation.”
The ground state is “die in the snow like Robert Walser.” Assuming you don’t wish to die in the snow like Robert Walser, you still have to work your way outward from that ground state, one step at a time.