Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Special Topics in Calamity Physics features the Epic Tale of one Blue van Meer. Full of words like "Timberlaked" and "paninied" (as in sandwiched) and oddly capitalized Special Events as well as endless numbers of book quotations and citations (see The Book of Books and Their Citations, Torchlite Publishers, 1989), this book is entertaining and insightful for most of its 700 plus pages.

Blue van Meer is a remarkably unique voice emerging from the pen of Marissa Pessl (who is from Ashville BTW). Not unlike other young, plucky, wiser-than-their-years heriones of late (see Juno, 2007), Blue is presented with a much-larger-than-normal slice of life's problems in her senior year of high school in Stockton, N.C. This book confidently creates its own world with memorable characters and slowly entraps you into wanting to know all the unexpectedly conspiratorial details behind the murder of a teacher at Blue's elite private school.

To begin quoting this book is to quote the whole thing but here are a few to tide you over until you can read it for yourself:

"Denial is like Versailles; it isn't the easiest thing to maintain."

"Very few people realize, there's no point chasing after answers to life's important questions," Dad said once in a Bourbon Mood. "They all have fickle, highly whimsical minds of their own. Nevertheless. If you're patient, if you don't rush them, when they're ready, they'll smash into you. And don't be surprised if afterwards you're speechless and there are cartoon tweety birds chirping around your head."

On walking while being tipsy: "I stood up and tried to make my way to the door, but my legs felt as if they were being asked to measure the universe."

On being on a stakeout: "We were stationed somewhere, oceans from home, afraid of things unseen. Leulah was shell-shocked, back straight as a flagpole, her eyes magnetized to the door. Jade was the senior officer, crabby, worn-out and perfectly aware nothing she said could comfort us so she only reclined her seat, turned on the radio and shoved potato chips into her mouth. I sort of Vietnamed too. I was the cowardly homesick one who ends up dying unheroically from a wound he accidentally inflicts upon himself that squirts blood like a grape Capri Sun."

"If that weren't enough to knock the wind out of me, she had to go entirely Southern Gothic, dragging the Devil and his grin into it, and whenever someone with a fudgethical Southern accent said devil, one inevitably felt they knew something one didn't-as Yam Chestley wrote in Dixiecrats (1979), 'The South knows two things through and through: cornbread and Satan' (p. 166)."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Picturing the World

Ackland Art Museum has a very powerful and oft-times disturbing exhibit of photographs by North Carolina's photo-journalists. A good photograph like any good art has a power to move. Some of these photographs not only are beautiful they can be a firm kick in the solar plexus. Photo-journalist Adrea Bruce's pictures of the Iraq war are not only beautiful they are deeply moving. A powerful image of a child crying after the accidental shooting of her parents by American soldiers is particularly poignant. Janet Jarman's series of photos following a Mexican family's odyssey in America tells the tale better than any words on paper could. Their initial condition, their aspiration to come to America. The cultural and class divide once they get here and their ultimate failure to secure an economic foothold here. There is a particularly telling picutre of the young Mexican girl Marisol staring over the fence of her new American backyard at a little American girl of the same age. The American Girls' parents have forbidden her to play with Marisol, and yet they meet at the fence, the great cultural divide of class and economics. Not all the pictures tell sad stories. Often you would not know a photo represented a harsh reality based on it content and composition. In this case its well worth it to read the explanations and enjoy the art even though it might unsettle the mind.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Future is so Meta: DJ Spooky at UNC

Friday afternoon in the Great Hall at UNC there was a lecture / performance by DJ Spooky a.k.a. Paul Miller. Paul is the master of the cultural remix and its most eloquent advocate. His talk began with the idea that modern artists, writers, composers and technical people began fragmenting and segmenting and remixing culture at the beginning of the 20th century. He cited the evolution of collage, stop motion photography and other technologies for developing what he called the "photoshop quality" of mind. That mind is a layered, changable, multi-faceted experience and the 20th century has been mostly about simultaneous fragmented experience.

He also explained that disciplines that used to be considered separate (writing, composing, art) are being increasingly blurred and unified by software. Combine this trend with the amount of data we can collect and store digitally in the 21st century and you have a deeply experiential art/remix culture blurring the lines of art and creative disciplines. Paul offered that historically art has been valued for its scarcity (it was all originals or limited copies)and that the future of art was its endless digital availability (as its all copies). He created his own remix experiment by giving everyone one of 5 remix cds he made in different genres (classic pop, jazz, reggae, etc...) He encouraged us to burn them for friends and remix them crossing up the genres.