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Archive for May 2009

dream 1 – parking lot 11201

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Just to test the limits of my new, no limits blogging, a dream from last night…

Running late, as usual, getting home after a night of drinking. For some reason I get stuck, I stop, at a vacant lot, a parking lot, on the north side of Atlantic Avenue. There is of course no parking lot on Atlantic Avenue, but this one is directly across the street from that Shell Station. This one, only at night….

I have my bag that I always carry there with me: books and magazines and notebooks, and my eee and its plug. Perhaps I am giving up. It is too late to go home; I have blown it, and not for the first time.

Just then a “madwoman” – overlayered as the homeless are during the New York winter – and swinging about broom or a rake with neither intent nor reluctance to injure slowly makes her way up the sidewalk and into the lot where I am standing. She thinks that I’ve done her wrong; whatever she is angry about it is my fault. But it is easy enough to disregard the charge. Clearly she disturbed, and moving under the guidance of something other than reason.

She moves past me and down the block, past a few buildings, to yet another vacant space, another parking lot. In this one, however, is the little shed where the attendant sits, the person in charge of both this lot and the mine.

I get there, to the other lot, just after the menacing woman has left. There’s a young woman in the little shed, in her early twenties, neither particularly attractive nor particularly unattractive. She is frightened, but not too frightened. This sort of thing must happen all the time to her, working nights at a place like this. I offer to walk her to the train, just to be sure – the F stop at York Street. It doesn’t make sense – York Street is two stops away, Bergen Street is basically right around the corner. But she reluctantly agrees.

I realize I’ve left my bag back in the other lot, so I decide to head back to retrieve it. I further decide to take a weapon with me, just in case. The only thing available is one of those branch cutters – long handles, tiny scissoring head. I can’t figure out how I’d use it as a weapon – you certainly wouldn’t try to snip somebody with it, and if you swung it by a single handle that wouldn’t work either. Obviously the answer is to hold the two handles, one in each hand, and swing it like that, but it doesn’t occur to me in the course of the dream. I take the cutter anyway.

I know before I get back to my lot that everything will be gone. The eee, probably my notebooks, the memory stick. My phone is still in my pocket. But when I get there, a man is just leaving – sheepishly, only half-stealthily – with a book in his hand. It’s Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Money, and Interest…. except that’s not what it’s called in this dream, it’s simply called Theory of Unemployment. When I yell at him he turns, walks back to my bag, drops the book in, and then disappears and then I am woken up.

Elements of dream that recurred from the waking day that preceded it: I was a bit late getting home. I wrote a post on Brooklyn in which I mentioned Atlantic Avenue.  I worried about the fact that there is a hole in the bottom of the bag that I carry, and that old keys that I don’t need anymore were threatening to fall out. I mentioned to someone that someone else really doesn’t understand Keynes’s General Theory.

Elements of the dream that have appeared in previous posts: Aside of course from Brooklyn, the tool.

Other contextually significant elements: I visited that Shell station repeatedly when my car developed a mysterious “power drain” issue – leading to battery failure at inopportune times, such as in the JFK airport parking lot after a 24 hour long flight back from Beijing or in the middle of an intersection on Clinton Street. My first daughter was born in the brown brick building visible to the right of the gas station – that’s Long Island College Hospital. My good friends may well be in that hospital tonight, delivering their second child.

Strange matters for report: I never would have walked drunkenly from Cobble Hill to Brooklyn Heights by myself. Quite the opposite. Generally when I came home worse for wear, I would have taken the 2/3 to Borough Hall and then walked down Court Street from Brooklyn Heights to Cobble Hill. When I did live in Brooklyn Heights, I never drank in Cobble Hill / Carrol Gardens. Strange that I was headed in the other direction, against the stream of personal history as it were.

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May 8, 2009 at 9:42 pm


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I like this collection of brooklyn photos (via woodslot) a whole lot. Lived a few doors down (and fifteen years later) from this one above. They seem to be mostly from the mid-to-late 1970s, and I’m actually a little suprised that things look as OK as they do in them, as the word (from the likes of Jonathan Lathem, but also neighbors etc) always was that things were pretty dicey past Atlantic Avenue before the waves of gentrification swept down over lower South Brooklyn.

A few doors down and across the street (and, again, fifteen years before I arrived) these guys look like they’re having a good time, no? I’m guessing it has something to do with the snazzy, what is that, a clockradio with futurspeakers? Do you think they’re listening to 1010 WINS? Do-do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do-do. That’s the Kane Street synagogue visible through the window, no? I’m surprised it extends that far down the street if so.

I’ve been (again, again) getting nostalgic for Brooklyn, for greater New York. Bunch of reasons for this. It’s baseball season – I can even take my iPhone into the back garden here and listen to the Yankee games, but it’s not the same and they’re on at the wrong time, way too late. The middle-aged men wear Arsenal jerseys instead of Yankee hats on Saturday afternoons. More than that though. One of my good friends who lives in the neighborhood, a few blocks away from what’s pictured above, is having a second kid as  I type.

Hard to explain what Brooklyn is, what it is to me. I will admit absolutely right off the bat that I am one of those New Jersey kids who drove a UHaul in and parked in on Monroe Place in Brooklyn Heights, unloaded my stuff, ordered a pizza, and fell asleep that night thinking motherfucker, I actually live here finally. To make matters worse, I am one of those who, a few years later, pushed a stroller into Cobble Hill park, having purchased lunch at the ridiculously slow pseudo-French place next door, and proceeded to eat the lunch with kid squirming in the stroller. I will further admit that, well before the UHaul, the stroller, I was one of those New Jersey kids who’d drive to South Mountain Reservation on Friday nights to smoke pot and fuck around with girls in the woods but mostly to stare at the stunning  glitter of what was down the hill, past the Oranges and Newark, in the distance.

You can read Philip Roth, starting right from Goodbye, Columbus to figure out what that hill, that overlook, means if you like.

What is one supposed to do? Lie about it? That’s where I came from, and that’s why I came. Absolutely, Brooklyn is a sort of paradise for people like me. Authenticity, blagh. I’m not sure I care all that much. It’s more stuff that can’t be taken away, even by the arrival of people like me in the Borough of Kings. Seasmell that drifts through the neighborhood at moments, and the glimpse of open ocean from the Verazanno. The typeface and color circles on the subway. The fucking food, god almighty. I have lost weight for lack of proper lunch options, and really there is only one proper lunch option…

But also the people. I miss the people, the warmth of the place, which you only understand when you’ve moved some place much, much colder. And there are no Catholics or Jews here, and when you say that even to right-thinking people in North London, they respond “Oh, there’s Jews galore in Swiss Cottage – you should try there. It’s swimming in Jews.” Which is, of course, not the right answer. Not at all.

But it’s also one’s native flora – what grows when you neglect the garden is the stuff that you’ve seen grow since you were small. And the papers are unreadable here – there’s a lot of them, yes, but I’d take the Times, despite it all, in a second. And there are too many pubs, and the pubs are too delightful and tolerant, but for all that they still close immensely too early.

At any rate, my first child was born in Long Island College Hospital while the second was born in Camden, the borough of Camden. The latter is already a citizen of the United Kingdom, and can freely live anywhere in the European Union for as long as she likes. The other, um, can still be president of the United States….. There’s probably a novel in that, a bad one, which I’ll leave them to write if they like. But my wife and I have birth certificates that list birthplaces we’d rather forget, so I guess that’s progress.

It’s nice here, and I don’t mean to complain. I’ve been very lucky, jesus. But expatriation is a hard road to hoe. And when there’s a place you feel like you belong in, at last, and you’re sensitive about place, well, there you are.

(After much consideration, too much, have decided just to post whatever the fuck I like on my blog. Have had complaints – in comments, in person, in person at second hand – about the “narcissistic posts.” Have decided I simply don’t care. I really don’t mean to sound hostile, really don’t. Blog, such as it is, is not a vehicle for “good work.” Blog is because I like to write things like the above. Or bitch about writing and work. Or sometimes play around with ideas. This blog is not to be taken seriously, except in so far as it is by me…. You can read it if you like, or not if you don’t. I am not checking hit counts or links from here on out. And that’s a promise…)

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May 7, 2009 at 11:17 pm

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in treatment: genre and psychoanalysis

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Gaby Wood a little while ago in the Observer on In Treatment:

The American series has been such a success that all the major TV buyers around the world have taken it up, with one prominent exception: Britain. (It will be screened at the Edinburgh Festival, though, this summer.) France, Portugal, eastern Europe, Sweden… Levi begins to reel off the countries that have bought it, and interrupts himself, mystified. “What do you think? What’s different about England? Maybe the British are too discreet for this.”

“Too repressed,” I suggest.

“Well,” he sighs, “that’s another way to put it.”

Ha! That’s something, isn’t it. When basically every country in the world shows the thing, except this one, the diagnosis slips from “just not interested” to “please, seriously, I don’t want to, I can’t, see that.” Anyway, enough for now on that line…

We loved the first season, chez Ads, and are currently twenty half-hour episodes into the season currently showing back home. (Thank god, really really, for bittorrent…) It’s a softly terrific show, humanely soft, and nicely written throughout. Unlike The Sopranos, which certain American therapists got hoodwinked into thinking was saying something positive about their line of work, In Treatment is, I think, an advertisement for the practice and value of therapy. *

But there’s something interesting about what it has to negotiate in order to be this. Almost all workplace narratives shown on television, whether of a dramatic or comedic turn, depend upon sexualization of said workplace in order to function as entertainment. And further, the particular form that this sexualization takes when inserted into the workplace might be called the erotics of hierarchy. Doctors sleep with nurses, patients, and other doctors. Ad men sleep with their secretaries. Partners at law firms sleep with junior attornies. It’s a tic of the genre, but admittedly the interplay of power and desire does make for interesting drama. (This is probably why no one’s ever made a good TV show about academia – showing teachers sleeping with students would probably be titilating but a bit too disturbing, even for HBO…. I am a bit surprised Showtime hasn’t taken up the concept yet… **)

But the funny thing about it, in the case of In Treatment, is the fact that unlike the law firm or the hospital, sex and its prohibition are actually the defining characteristics of the workplace in question. Hospitals aren’t built to keep doctors from fucking nurses, but as Adam Phillips has said (quoted here, which I found via this),”psychoanalysis is about what two people can say to each other if they agree not to have sex.” It’s an astoundingly smart description, though it tempts one to wonder if the formula is reversible: when people talk after agreeing not to have sex – happens all the time I imagine – is it automatically psychoanalysis? Hmmm…. Perhaps you need to sign a contract, or maybe it’s a question of the couch, the carafe of water positioned just out of reach, the tissues on the table.

On the other hand, as we all know, the prohibition of contact propagates – as prohibitions will do, psychoanalytically speaking – the very desire that they aim at countering. Thus transference and counter-transference and all the rest. So sex, according to the conventional wisdom of the business, is all over the place but also nowhere, held off on the sidelines – everywhere present but nowhere manifest, as long as things proceed as they should.

So we end up with a situation, when we’re thinking about In Treatment, where something interesting happens vis a vis genre and theme/scene. In its terminal reliance upon the sexual tension between analyst and analysand, a reliance that comes at once of the genre (sexualized workplace fiction) and the predispositions and market awareness of the means of distribution (think: mandatory Bada Bing scene in every episode of the Sopranos), the show ends up speaking some sort of secret but not-so-secret truth about the scenario that it’s taken up.

Every once in awhile, the interference of form is in fact the key to a sort of distorted realism – and revelatory distortion is always what was meant by the word realism right from the start. And furthermore (and sorry to be so telegraphic, but I’m getting tired) this relationship probably tells us even more about the genre of psychoanalysis itself, the sort of story it tells and it tells itself its telling, than it does about HBO programming and the anglo-telenovela.

* Can somebody explain to me what happened to Big Love? It’s our filler when we run out of In Treatments to watch, and while it was never a great show like the others, it was at least watchable. Now, jesus, not so much. A shame, really….

** Actually, you know, it’s not like I haven’t thought about writing up the made-for-cable campus dramocomedy. In fact, I talked to some colleagues about this, who have media connections, and perhaps another drink and we all would have started writing the pilot. Still, their connections are British, so the damn thing’d end up on the BBC, and thus likely in period costume and with all too many significant pauses and general overacting… Ah me.

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May 4, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Posted in psychoanalysis, teevee

lorem ipsumism: ballard and ads

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Rick McGrath is very good today at Ballardian on JGB and advertising. I especially like the bits about the lorem ipsumy dummy text. Here’s Ballard as quoted by McGrath:

The pages from the ‘Project For A New Novel’ were made at a time when I was working on a chemical society journal in London, and the lettering was taken from the US magazine Chemical and Engineering News — I liked the stylish typography. I also like the scientific content, and used stories from Chem. Eng. News to provide the text of my novel. Curiously enough, far from being meaningless, the science news stories somehow become fictionalized by the headings around them.

Dummy text – full-dummy or semi-dummy – is such a tantalizing concept and resource. Bouvard and Pécuchet’s copybook, automatic writing, collage, madmen cutting up letters to send to the coppers, flarf, the porn novels that come out of the machines that Julia works in 1984, even in a sense FID when taken to some sort of logical extreme all partake of the vertiginous promise of the lorem ipsum. It’s something like Barthes’s reality effect, that barometer (“Flaubert’s barometer, Michelet’s little door finally say nothing but this: we are the real; it is the category of ‘the real’ [and not its contingent contents] which is then signified”) sublated to the level of text itself, while at the same time resisting this sublation as it never feels banally real in the manner of the fictional detail.

As Rick McGrath says elsewhere in his piece:

Designed to be viewed from moving cars (Ballardian in itself), billboards offer the advertiser the benefits of a very large message, but the disadvantage of greatly reduced viewing time. Three to five seconds is the average length of time an individual has to scan a billboard, and this feat has to be accomplished in moving traffic. In order to compensate, successful billboard ads rely on strong, simple visuals and to-the-point messages. No one is going to drive around the block for a second view. It immediately becomes apparent that ‘Project For A New Novel’ breaks these rules by its sheer volume of words and complex, unbalanced layout — as well as the fact it seems to make no sense, offers no brand, no benefits, and no indication of how to respond. But that may be the point, as ‘Project’ is a quasi-surreal piece vaguely reminiscent of the ‘cut-up’ technique used by W.S. Burroughs. This same technical problem was identified by Ballard’s friend and Ambit editor, Dr. Martin Bax, ‘Most of the text you can’t read because when you see things on billboards you don’t read the small print, so the text is deliberately blurred — you can only read the headlines and some remarks.’

But of course that’s cheating, making it too small to be read at speed. It’s cheating because it makes the text into a mere image. The true lorem ipsumist aim is to actually get someone to read the stuff, to convince ourselves to read it, not out of sadism or masochism, but because one has a sense that something’s there if you could just figure out the right way to read it. And we’re not talking divination here. We’re talking in fact the exact opposite of divination.

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May 4, 2009 at 9:36 pm