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sunday post: back in the garden knowing what we know

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Lars von Trier is famous for never flying, and thus never visiting America, despite the fact that he’s set most of his recent films there. Some laugh about this; others compare him to Kafka when the latter is up to this sort of thing:

As Karl Rossmann, a poor boy of sixteen who had been packed off to America by his parents because a servant girl had seduced him and got herself a child by him, stood on the liner slowly entering the harbour of New York, a sudden burst of sunshine seemed to illumine the Statue of Liberty, so that he saw it in a new light, although he had sighted it long before. The arm with the sword rose up as if newly stretched aloft, and round the figure blew the free winds of heaven.

Back to Antichrist: Americans do not as a rule own Scandinavian-style summer shacks deep in the woods, unreachable by car, and which they arrive at on weekends via train and then taxi and then hike. We don’t have trains like that, and if we did we likely wouldn’t have taxis like that either. We drive. This even goes for psychotherapist/grad student couples who live in Seattle, who would pull the Subaru up to the sidedoor of their cabin just like any other red-blooder USAer.

That said, there’s a way that Von Trier’s strange euro-goggling of America and my own meet. When I lived where I lived before London, my little rust belt burg, I extremely often coped with things by imagining that I was actually living in some sort of small, Mitteleuropean city. I’d tool around the autobahns (interstate highways) in my VW, shop at a food-coop where all the brands were not the brands that I grew up with, eat lunch outside at a wine-bar cafe, buy furniture at IKEA and the like. It was a coping mechanism that didn’t really work – there weren’t any trains to take anywhere, and no one spoke any interestingly baffling languages on the streets.

One of the ur/unwritten posts of this blog is a post that I have been meaning to write for years about the IKEA catalogue and notions of Europeanness. I wish there was someplace where I could look through back issues, as there’s one image in particular that’s stayed with me for years, but which I’ll never find again in all likelihood.

At one point, I thought somewhat seriously about buying a little plot of land on the shores of the prettier of the two Great Lakes in the vicinity and planting on it one of those prefab little cabins, the sort where a truck pulls up and dumps your parts and an instruction manual and then you work on it every weekend until its done. This seemed like a very Scandinavian idea to me – weekends at a remote cabin without utilities, on a lake without tourist infrastructre. Obviously, I never did it.

At any rate, please don’t laugh. We all cope with America whatever way we can – it takes a lot of coping, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person with self-made psycho-visual filters and screens devised for such uses…. But think about it for a second. Von Trier consistently sets his films in America because he wants to criticize this place that he has never visited, but in setting his films there without really knowing the place, he ends up creating a strange Euro-slanted America, the America that is the America of my dreams when I am stuck there, hating the place. Or even, in a certain limited sense, the America that I’d love to see happen.

Of course, I dreamed these little waking half dreams mostly on weekends, on Saturdays and Sundays, as that was when I had the most time to look around and to worry about what I was seeing.

***

Saturday night I went out back for a cigarette and smoked while listening to the kids next door. Parents are away, teenager is having a party. She has had parties for three straight nights. They go on about this or that and then suddenly, at one point a phrase slips through my mind: When I am 18 again I wonder if..

Ah dumb brain! Tragic paraphraxis! The entire history of religious belief as merely a prolongation of a mechanical fault in the wires. How much of life do we live with stuff like that floating about in the back parts, only barely audible, visible, legible? How often do we ignore it? And what sort of deformative effect does it have upon the stuff in the foreground?

***

K-punk has a really good post up that brilliantly ties together his recent honeymoon at Disneyland Paris (huh!) and Michael Jackson. It ends in the following way:

Postmodernity has meant the repudiation of the Father. Fathers are either absent, bad or ineffectual. Cosetted by the maternal superego, no-one wants to say no… no-one wants to pay the price of success….

But the problem isn’t that childhood is curtailed too early, it’s that it never ends… This is how Jackson exemplified our plight… To truly overcome the Father-Thing you would have to occupy its place, but who is willing or able to do that?

I have been wondering the same thing lately, but (of course) in a more personally-directed and much less abstract way. That is to say, I have been wondering about what it would take for me to “occupy [the] place” of the Father-Thing, once and for all.

***

My wife is going to start guestposting on my blog so watch out for that! She’s a better writer than I am, so this can only be to the good. Unless she chickens out. I wonder what will happen… Sorting out an account for her tonight.

***

We worked that out – that is to say, I hired her – while we sat on Primrose Hill Saturday, one kid asleep and the other not. We’d already done the Zoo, and later we’d have dinner at Marine Ices in Chalk Farm, which, I must say, makes pizza good enough to eat and is kid-friendly so there you go. We lolled, we were run into by our neighbor (the husband of the woman who’s becoming my wife’s best friend, it seems….), we talked about writing.

The other thing we talked about – our theme of the day, really – was our disgust and incomprehension at the way modern day men in big cities of the developed world comport themselves post, say, 25. In particular, we were serially shocked by what we already knew, all too well, which is that grown men dress stupidly, childishly. The tee-shirts! Tee-shirts with cartoon characters on them! Tee-shirts with very dumb jokes written on them! The Arsenal-wear and the Hotspur-wear!

There is a dad of a kid at my daughter’s school, a normal looking guy who is probably in his worklife a lawyer or tv executive or something, who on weekends dresses up in his favorite CBeebies t-shirt and rides a fucking scooter around the neighborhood. It’s more than just a getting in touch with my toddlers sort of thing, as it’s a relatively common site to see the family at the park, mom watching the kids in the playground, while dad scoots or skates around the other parts of the park, trying out moves on an apparatus that is his, that does not belong to his children but was probably some sort of father’s day present or something.

We talk, my wife and I, about the women attached to these men. We talk about the deformative effect this sort of thing must have upon their sex life. Maybe some women would find that sort of thing cute and boyish and thus warm and maybe from warm get to sexy. But I, imagining things through a woman’s eyes (do I imagine anything any other way? Les femmes, ces sont toutes moi) can’t quite work out the erotomath. On the other hand, I’m sure the kids love it… Until they start to really, really fucking hate it.

***

Disclosure: I adore athletic wear, officially branded merchandise. I love soccer jerseys and baseball hats – there is perhaps nothing I love more purely and simply, though of course, as posted recently, it’s probably not all that simple a love at base. I will further disclose that I have a rather large collection of the stuff hanging in my closet. But I do not wear it out! I am not a child! I used to wear a River Plate windbreaker when I lived in Brooklyn, but that just had I’ve just been to Buenos Aires hipster appeal, the most hipster appeal I could ever muster. But even this has been left hanging in the closet now that I’m, you know, fully adult.

***

Engels lived for a long, long time in Primrose Hill. See?

***

I had a hard time finding a bank machine tonight with funds available after the long drunken weekend (London’s not mine) and thus ended up wandering past Blockbuster (yep, they’re over here too, sadly), did a little doubletake misstep on the pavement, and headed inside to rent LVT’s The Idiots, which I’d never seen.

(Worth mentioning, and definitely fodder for another post, but I am one of those people who can and does fantasize themselves the world’s leading expert on certain novelists and one filmmaker on the basis of reading (or, in one case, seeing) one or two or maybe even three of their works. Not sure whether it’s a fox / hedgehog sort of thing, or just delusion. But I pull it off, and it works, and who knows, maybe in a few cases I’m not that wrong.  I feel no responsibility to the oeuvre! What’s up with that? Another post, another post.)

Wow! What would it be to have the balls to waste your audience’s time for 95 minutes all in service of an astoundingly brilliant final 5 minute run? Un coeur simple meets Baader-Meinhof! A vertible cinematic thesis on the incisive question of the minor character.

We didn’t fail to note, as we watched it, that the male characters spent much of the film wearing really stupid T-Shirts. Is that part of the idiotic pose or not?

***

Today, we had a lovely picnic in the park and some wiffleball to boot (we use a bat that has a huge MLB logo on it, imported natch, so that the local yokels don’t think we’re playing fucking rounders.) We’re not – this is plastic baseball. My daughter has surprisingly sweet swing, liners to all fields, for a four-year old. She refuses to pitch to me or play catch so I guess it’s the American League for her, when it’s time. My broken finger, still untreated, forces me to throw with three rather than two fingers on the ball.

During and after the picnic we talked more about this whole “adulthood” and “child rearing” issue and decided that it’s impossible to speak publically about without sounding like a dick, generally a resentful dick. So perhaps we’ll leave it at that till next weekend.

***

The FT had lunch with Lars Von Trier this week…

Asked to “justify” the making of the film, he refused outright, reminding the members of the press that they were his guests, and attributing the work to “the hand of God”. And then, for good measure, he informed his audience straight-faced that he was “the best director in the world … and I am not so sure that God is the best God in the world.” Many artists cite divine inspiration for their work; not so many assert their overt disappointment at what their deity has to offer.

You know, as artist / divinity comparisons go, that’s not bad. I happen to think he is “the best director in the world,” and I certainly would agree with the God part, if there were a God.

***

LVT has four kids. I didn’t know this, and actually I was wondering in light of the child-death stuff in the film. But it makes sense… The first sign that She is going mad is an episode of phantom crying… And if you’re a parent, you totally understand the uncanny realness of that sort of thing. You’re sitting in your living room, having a drink, watching tv, when suddenly there it is clear as day. Somebody is crying, somewhere. You leave your seat, you go to the bottom of the stairs, and it is gone. I tend to think that it has to do with the attunement of your audial receptors to certain frequencies, frequencies that can be hit by other sounds but signal only child in trouble once you’ve got an infant.

Going through the process of having a couple of kids certainly does open up one aspect of the work that might be a bit harder for some to see. Or several aspects, actually. IT, who’s already written what looks to be a fairly definitive post on the film, labels the opening scene “almost comical” in her post. Here’s the full quote:

The moppet that dies in an almost comical opening scene manages to combine the trauma of the primal scene with the premature suicide of a little Oedipus in a matter of moments; the film is not about his death in any meaningful way, and the very creepy abuse – creepy because so utterly minimal – that we discover his mother has inflicted on him (routinely putting his shoes on the wrong feet leading to a mild distortion of the bones noted in the autopsy report but not deemed a significant factor in his death) says far more about Gainsbourg’s disturbed mind than it does about the child.

And it is comical, in a limited sense – the limited sense of the comical, always struck through with tragedy and gore, that pervades LVT’s work. The corpsestink grinning that he does is what makes him a properly (converted and now ex-)Catholic artist, and its really no wonder that the hacks keep comparing him to Bosch and the like.

The perfume-ad-quality of the sex bits of the montage, the obviousness of the primal scene moment (but these things do happen, don’t they?) and of the scenario in general might make you think comic, yes. But on the other hand, the child death isn’t played, I don’t think, primarily to comic effect, and it certainly won’t’t strike, from what I can tell, most parents who see the film that way. Rather, this is the very stuff of cliché, generic, yet all the more powerful for that, as it taps right into the deep parental anxiety, the nightmare dreams that I am sure all of us in the family way have and probably on a nightly basis. The reason why people worry about the height of the crib bar and install those awful fucking gates on their staircases (far more likely to kill you as you stumble to the toilet in the middle of the night than save your toddler), why I have to wear a jacket when I go outside to smoke (SIDS / smoke exposure), etc.

My own version of the dream is as stock as they come. I am getting myself and my daughters out the front door. The oldest one takes off out to the sidewalk, as she always does, and I am struggling and getting frustrated. I catch a glimpse, just a glimpse, of her pink jacket disappearing between two parked cars. And then another car, this time moving, comes to a sudden stop in the street. There was a low thump, a thump knowable at once but which you only hear somehow a few seconds afterward and then likely forever and ever and ever after that. Stock, see… And just to get it from the other end of the montage (again, this is obvious, but I’ll go on anyway): There is almost nothing (sure, I mean there are some things, god) more psychologically disruptive to a couple’s sex life than the birth of a child. It’s not just a matter of having no time and the like. It’s that you’re constantly (if lucky!) sneaking away to steal a few minutes (can’t ask really for more than a few minutes) but once you’re there you don’t so much fuck as wait to get caught fucking. Phantom crying morphs into phantom footsteps and door creakings, and the funniest part of all is that even after you’ve stopped action several times because one of you has heard something, even then, with uncanny regularity just before the finish of things, then the door does in fact silently open, no footsteps at all, or if you’re lucky enough to have locks (there are other problems with having locks – Christ, do I have to explain everything on here? No but we should get some locks…) and everyone rolls away and covers up and curses under their breath and exchanges meaningful looks and takes care of the kid, who may or may not just have seen the scene (again? how many times can it still be primal?) that they talk about in the crazy-people books.

Sorry to be crude about it, but it’s like they somehow know when you’re about to, erm, finish. And really, why wouldn’t they – its a vexed issue for them on the wider level, the sibling thing. More partial gene carriers good, spliting up the family fortune very very bad, etc.

Anyway, all the reviewers who have kids seem to mention the disturbing power of the opening scene in what they write. From the FT piece again:

Forget the bloody mutilations, I say. As the father of a young son, it is the first 10 minutes that are the most unbearable to watch. “Yes,” he nods. “I have four children. You think that the more that you have, the easier it gets but that is not how it is. You worry more and more.”

I believe him on this score. And there’s more to it than that. The most bathetic thing in the scene, the way the kid’s little stuffed animal follows him down out the window, commits the same meters per second per second contortions on the way down, he’s not only playing yet another familiar, and familiarly evocative thing for parents, he’s setting up one of the major (and majorly ambivalent) rhymes of the work as a whole. The pacified animals that He sees at the end – animals that appear double-cooked in film, spliced in from some sort fading reel out of the archives labelled Bambi-vivant – represent a nature retamed, restuffed, a reversal of the children’s book trope of the stuffed toy come to life.

One last thing in this line. One of the things it’s principally about is the staggeringly heavy effect upon a couple of having an infant, in this case an infant that dies in the opening sequence of the film… But enough of the movie is invested in figuring out just what happened last summer, presumably the first full summer of the child’s life, that it remains a film about the fatal first two years of parenthood. All of a sudden, and despite all the good PC thoughts you were thinking when you decided to have the child, some very important things get set straight for you during the first few years of your first child’s life. The character axis of the film hits heavy on one of the most important things. He gets to keep working, gets to keep being the same indifferent rational machine-type being that he’s always been. She, on the other hand, gets all feral and animally. It’s hard to explain what it’s like, for both the male and female parties involved, the first time you see a new mother’s tits start to leak because it’s feeding time, a bit late for the feeding. Stigmata-y, except its animality rather than divinity that’s being revealed in the flow. The resentments that pass back and forth between the characters, but particular from her towards him, are familiar too. What else is She saying, other than something like I understand that this doesn’t accord with the rational plan for your life that you came up with when you were seventeen, but buddy, I’m bound up in something here and it’s calling the shots, not me. So get in line. What is that thing that’s calling the shots? “Nature” is one word for it, I suppose, but not quite the one I would want to use.

Under normal conditions, though, father and mother stay just too fucking busy to stop and fully consider the consequences of what has just been revealed to them, startlingly, about the way things really are vs. the way they’re talked about over shabby-elegant brunches on idle, childless Sunday mornings. But remove the child from the scene, and thus the busyness of parenting, and one might imagine all of this stuff coming back with a vengeance. We’ve been thrown out of Eden, and now lo and behold here were are again – except we’ve already learned the stuff about our nakedness, the fact that we’re more like the beast that we’ve named than the Guy who made us, as well as what the Guy said about bringing forth children in sorrow. There is an extra-therapeutic explanation for why She – despite the fact that motherhood seems not to have suited her – keeps jumping He for sex and why he keeps trying to resist her advances… It’s not him that’s throwing the thousand upon thousands of acorns on the roof of their place, it’s her…

I am going to keep writing about this film for a good while yet… I’ve not even started to say what I’d like to say about it. Despite the fact that IT seems slightly nostalgic for the hardy days of high child mortality and the survival only of the fittest of the brood (mourning the child becomes a bourgie “indulgence” in her post – as if they should just churn a few more out and see which ones can figure out how to use the can opener by themselves and certainly not waste time worrying over the ones that fall from the nest – where have we heard that sort of thing before, in another field of culture?) (UPDATE: IT has posted a response to this and adjusted her post slightly to remove the line I hammered on. I want to say that I feel pretty bad about what I did here… As I know very well that IT doesn’t support the things I’m saying here…) I’m extremely happy to live in a world where you have one or two or three and they’re likely to make it through to adulthood. But like most modern developments that I’m (we’re) happy about – like for instance sexual freedom in general, survival past the working prime, etc  – this development undoubtly is no doubt deeply out of sync with ageold and hardwired instincts and not easily adjusted psychosocial patterns. We, as a species, are very good at getting better at things, and that’s perhaps our biggest problem – and the problem that the film brilliantly takes up.

***

I only admire artists who work with a palette smeared in received technicolor, generic cliché. The only two moves are overmuch and undercut, and the rhythm of performing those two moves is what makes up the dance, the only dance, that I am interested in. Stock images make us feel because our feelings are stock. There is no shame in this, save for the very shame of being human and thus thrown and programmed, not really ourselves except in the sense that we are everyone else too. I admire LVT, admire him ever so much, because he understands this. The chatterering types get locked into a cyclic reiteration of this is too much and he’s having one over on us. They’re right, but they don’t quite understand the underlying point, the fact that there’s no other way to do it, not anymore or perhaps it was always already the case.

***

One last thing from the FT interview, something that perhaps overturns the entire post in the very act of tying it all up. As it turns out, LVT himself is one of those Child Men that were bothering us this weekend:

Von Trier, 53, is dressed in what I take to be Danish summer casual style, T-shirt, cargo trousers and sandals, which suits his portly figure.

Cargo-trousers? Sandals? Summer casual?

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 27, 2009 at 5:47 am

ikea modernism

with 2 comments

Facing an editorial query tonight, perhaps you can help…. Does Zizek ever reference the following Spike Jonze Ikea ad?

I’ve never seen or heard of him doing so, but someone thinks that he has? Has he?

(Beautiful ad though, no?)

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 14, 2009 at 12:39 am

Posted in ikea, zizek

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