|by Thom Fowler
Autumn seems to be coming early. Itís overcast and there is that ďEnd of the WorldĒ feeling in the air. Is that too much? Is that going too far? I was talking to Willem DeFoe tíother day about his new film AUTO FOCUS. He said something like ďpersonality is fluid.Ē As an actor, he appreciates more than most how easy it is to become someone else.
As a writer, I can certainly appreciate all the ways I fictionalize myself in my creative non-fiction, such as this. At some level, itís all true.
There are a lot of cafťs in Los Angeles. But not a cafť society. Everyone is waiting to be discovered rather be the discoverer.
Iíve been hanging out in cafťs since I was in high school. The idea of drinking espresso seemed so exotic and being close to Berkeley, and around all those college students and leftover radicals, gave me a fertile environment to explore the world of ideas at an early age. College students today seem to be like overgrown adolescents, but then, I probably looked the same even though I took college very seriously. Growing older is a sure fire way to gain perspective. I spend most of my time, it seems, just watching myself get older. Iím surprised I made it this long. All of 32 years, getting on 33.
And now for that question that is not just irritating, itís wearisome. What does it mean! Iím grateful that I have been left alone to invent my own concept of reality and Iíve managed to not get so involved in my fanciful perception of it that Iím able to be a coherent, productive person. But then I work in the entertainment industry where all kinds of aberrant behavior is rewarded. A refuge for people like me who are much better at the make-believe world of parties and social scenes than the slightly more consequential arena of business or politics. Art. Business. Politics. Religion.
Thatís the whole world in a nutshell and my bread and butter. Iím trying to imagine my psyche as represented by the sections of a city daily. Section A, page 6 is probably where youíll find my ego. Style, Business, Local, National, International, Classifieds, Lit, Calendar, Entertainment, Arts, Editorial, Food, Travel, Comics. Try mapping your life and mind along those axes. Categories are pretty useful when trying to organize information around some plausible taxonomy. I think the Style and Arts section should be the Front Page in an homage to William Morris. And then a ream of gossip and sensational drama but tucked away in discrete sections called ďNationalĒ, ďInternationalĒ.
I keep a little list next to my computer, somewhere near the Chicago Manual of Style I never use. It is a list of ten things that make something newsworthy. Prominence being number one, followed by nine other very useful guidelines, like Trends, Novelty and Experts. I know its very traditional, but I use that guide more than anything when I begin layering a story. I try to include three or four elements in each story. If it is a novelty story, can I get an expert to comment on it. Am I an expert commentator?
Remember Rubikís cube? What Iím interested in is cultural phenomena. What captivated us about that little cube, which can be easily solved by a fairly simple mathematical method. I remember being amazed when watching the guy who could solve the Rubikís Cube in less than a minute on Thatís Incredible. I thought he was some kind of genius. I thought I was some kind of idiot, like the Rubikís Cube was a national IQ test. The real test was Ė if you had access to the right information, would you remember a few simple steps, and then, would you ever pick up the cube again? Learning how to do it can be a maddening process, but then youíll amaze your friends, your kids, your boss, your nieces and nephews, in short, everyone who will wonder ďHowíd you do it?Ē (http://jjorg.chem.unc.edu/personal/monroe/cube/rubik.html)
What am I trying to say here. Life is full of possibilities, limited normally by our imagination and often by our attitude.
I canít help it, Iím feeling nostalgic. When I donít have much future to go into it, I retreat in the past. Luckily I didnít put off living until I made more money, had a better lover, lived in a better city, had nicer clothes, was thinner, etc etc so Iíve got a few stories to entertain myself. And you.
A new Off The Radar is up. (Information about the URL will be supplied on a need to know basis. In just a few short paragraphs, YOUÖ will need to know.)
You know how you feel after great sex, or a good workout? Spent but energized. Iím in a floaty daze after jumping so fast through topics that deserve volumes in their own right.
Kind of a Mary Poppins, my work is done, afterglow. Itís not easy to keep an objective distance from your subject when you write about stuff that you care about or actually interests you. If I did my job, I preached not the choir, but was able to create a sufficient framework to interpret the work of Survival Research Labs. I should have just played up the pornographic angle of it. Big Machines Destroy Stuff. Lots of Fire. Not even a cutaway to the audience reaction, or an interview with the creators, no editorial at all. Just Ö HULK SMASH!
Instead I wanted to instill an appreciation for narrative and begin creating layer after layer of meaning. At some point I even said, ďthe history of industrialism is in every screw. The machines are sculptures of history and science.Ē
The editor is so funny. He wrote in the blurb on the home page, "How far OFF THE RADAR can Thom Fowler get."
Once you are off, you don't have to go any further to remain undetected.
This one got interesting. I touched on liminal states, cognitive dissonance and terrorism as art. The proofreader said, "I donít see how, when you use the word liminal, you are talking about paradox and contradiction." So I sent him this.
Notes towards understand liminality
I couldn't really go into to it deeply with just a couple thousand words and without completely losing the reader (because really, those big machines are just cool), but here are some selected passages from a quick web search that help define the way I'm using "liminal." Said's use of liminal is pretty much the foundation of my definition of it, although the religious/spiritual sense of it is interesting as well.
"In Representations of the Intellectual, in his lecture entitled "Intellectual Exile: Expatriates and Marginals," Said describes the secular critic's global predicament of continual transition and an ongoing negotiation of competing allegiances:
The exile therefore exists in a median state, neither completely at one with the new setting not fully disencumbered of the old, beset with half-involvements and half-detachments, nostalgic and sentimental on one level, an adept mimic or a secret outcast on another. (49)
Himself a liminal figure -- "nostalgic and sentimental" about his youth in Egypt and Lebanon (especially in After the Last Sky) but not altogether comfortable in his "new setting" amidst the university -- Said characterizes this "median state" as liminal space between the prerogatives of national interest, academic specialization, and filial piety. "
"...the critic mediates between "culture and system" -- a subtle liminal space that Said dramatizes throughout the chapter by means of a theoretical comparison/contrast between Foucault's "cultural" understanding of "knowledge and power" and Derrida's perhaps comparatively discursive or systemic notion of difference. According to Said, in other words, the global critic oversees the continual interaction of discursive, textual "systems" and the power structures that shape broader cultural struggles. "
-from Political Discourse - Theories of colonialism and post-colonialism "Edward Said's Liminal Intellectual"
"If liminal states are induced through processes of ritual they may be utilized to effect changes in consciousness where people experience a sense of spiritual unity, which can then be translated into social movements aimed at transforming the nature of society. This already happens to some extent, with musical genres such as punk rock and techno being associated with the DIY (Do It Yourself) anarchist movement, though at the same time this movement is scattered and sporadic rather than being an organised force in society"
-From an essay called "Freedom, Liminality and Social Change"
"Liminal states of consciousness, by definition paradoxical, are frequently associated with profound religious experiences and have been linked to ritual healing practices across cultures," the authors reported.
-From "Reiki Induces Relaxation, Liminal State of Awareness"
"The Liminal Institute is a group of people working with performance in all various ways, trying to blend the traditions of dance, music, theatre, fine arts, stamp collecting and the noble art of...... almost anything."
-From the Liminal Institute home page, - http://www.liminal.nu/
I'm quite proud of this one.
Off The Radar, September 6, 2002
Survival Research Laboratories
I donít think I need to point out that this is, however oblique, my 9/11 special edition.
I think I blew a gasket and I fully expect to lose half my readers and then gain them all back from a different sector. People for whom Neilson ratings donít apply. What exactly are the viewing habits of people who donít own a television? There is always a certain risk involved when attempting to liberate people from their mental slavery.
Did I just write that? Is this science fiction or am I for real? I donít even know anymore. But I think I like the story so far. Iím a cowboy, or an astronaut, or both. Iím a pioneer, an explorer, a scientist, a callous, self-serving, impulsive child. Iím afraid I may be too deep for Hollywood, too shallow for PBS.
I interviewed a digital artist once, canít think of his name right now, who said, ďI donít want to have to make art that is trying to be a social comment. I just want to work on my photography, cook good food and hang out with my girlfriend.Ē Damn those nasty, nagging pangs of social responsibility for the artist, the writer, the journalist, the critic and pundit. I couldnít agree more. So like, fix the world already, I wanna go outside and play.
I quit, I donít know where I belong. Hence this whole discourse on liminality. An important concept for a world in continual transition in an era of unprecedented global communication, cooperation and exchange of ideas.
I donít think I can do it today. Iím just too in the moment, too much in the flow and I donít have any comment, I just want to experience whatís happening right now. Think my thoughts, feel my feelings.
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=615
originally posted: 09/07/02 07:17:57
last updated: 09/07/02 07:32:52