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Shields & Powell; Slahi; Oates; Erdrich; Treisman; Ai Wei Wei


February 2015 - Carol

   --David Shields and Caleb Powell’s new book, I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel. I found the interview with the co-authors conducted by KCRW’s Bookworm Michael Silverblatt, to be deliciously—authentically—raw and perverse. Shields and Powell, who are teacher and former student argued with each other, often talking over each other and tossing Bhartes and Bactine’s tenets like grenades, each zealot anxious to blow the other out of his fox hole, and discover what remains of the question, is it art or is it life? This seems a false dichotomy to me, (rather like nature-nurture), but still I am terribly fascinated, even gratified by the dialectic, and by any book that brazenly matches form and content to make its art inseparable from life.


   --Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantanamo Diaries. The detainee becomes the diarist, and as his editor describes injects us with a badly-needed dose of his own humanity. And he does so with humor and grace. Mohamedou gives Gitmo a face, a soul, and takes his (our?) paradoxical netherworld beyond the very abstract and the very real.     


   --“Mastiff,” a short story by Jouce Carol Oates (published in The New Yorker, and available as a podcast read by Louise Erdrich, award-winning author, and discussed with Deborah Treisman, NY fiction editor). Erdrich says she chose “Mastiff” because its vivid description and startling word choices still linger with her long after she firt read the piece. Indeed, the writing is compelling and made memorable by the monster dog’s panting tongue,”rosey like a sexual organ,” and the late afternoon sun setting like a “bloody, broken egg,” among other things.


   Erdrich and Treisman go on to discuss the circumstances—forces—pulling at the two characters known as “the man” and “the woman,”and the relationship developing between them, fragile and fraught as it is. The two hike the hills above Berkeley, and the reader learns that the man is a scientist who wears boots and carries bottled water and expensive cameras in his backpack. The woman, a gallery director, wears simple sneakers and a light sweater and carries nothing. Each is annoyed with the other, he because she is ill-prepared for the hike, and she because he is so absorbed for so long in his photography. Yet he will save her from the jaws of the ferocious mastiff, and she will devote herself to nursing him during his hospital stay.


   The story stays with me, too, and makes me wonder if their relationship would have been so awkward and loveless had the man been the gallery director on a lark clad only in shorts and sandals, say, and the woman had been the physicist, serious-minded and well-equipped to summit Wildcat Peak?


   --The Decemberists’ new album, What a Beautiful World, What a Terrible World. The title alone, paradoxical, ironic, even absurd is interesting enough , but it was the NPR interview with Colin Meloy, the band’s singer-song writer that took hold and landed me in the thickets where it came to to stir up my new blog, “Thoughts and Thickets 2: Paradox.”


   --Kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken artifacts using gold mixed in with the glue resin. This is the art of highlighting, respecting—celebrating—the history of the piece and all that has happened to it. Life has damaged the piece, yet imbued it with an essence, a spirit that makes the cracks beautiful. Kintsukoroi gives me a beautiful metaphor about the art of damage.



   --The @LARGE: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz exhibition provides a provocative glimpse at history and complaint and of efforts to control and instincts to resist. He confines kites and their messages of liberation meant to soar and windmills meant to turn within the confines of the rusting, broken-glass unrestored industrial arts building. He creates dozens of portraits of individuals known for their courage and unique willingness to speak out against oppression using that most ubiquitous and neutral of mediums – Lego bricks, reminding us that while we are each one of us “just another brick in the wall” we don’t have to be silent in the face of wrong.


   In the cell block at the top of the hill, visitors are invited to shift, at least for one small moment, from faceless and actionless brick to involved human by inscribing notes of encouragement on postcards that will be sent to imprisoned dissidents worldwide. Individual prison cells are staged with only one small stainless steel stool along with printed and audio quotes from unquenched voices of criticism, the backdrop of grafitti’ed walls carrying the echoes of long dead residents. Upstairs, delicate, pure white porcelain flowers fill the toilets and sinks and tubs of the prison’s hospital.


   This is an exhibition that cries for the freedom to express alternative viewpoints and which decries authoritarian efforts to muffle and muzzle unofficial statements. To me, the most ironic (albeit understandable) presentation was the small non-Ai Weiwei signs scattered throughout that forbade everyone from writing on these tired and disfigured walls. As “unfettered” visitors we had less freedom to leave

our mark than those who had been caged and silenced.


   Just another brick in the wall…

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