30 April 2006


We live in a nation of fools – perhaps a world of fools. We – collectively, though not necessarily individually – have forgotten the value of these words: I disagree. I love these words and what they stand for. To disagree is one of the most remarkable capacities that we as beings have been endowed with, but an ability we use far too little. Here, perhaps, I should clarify a little, explain what I mean.

Disagreement and opposition are not the same thing, nor is disagreement the same as argument, or criticism. According to the Oxford American Dictionary – i.e. my dictionary widget – to disagree is to “have or express a different opinion.” It requires that the person who disagrees listens, or has listened, to what someone else has said, understands it, and formulates – and I would say ideally expresses – an alternate opinion. To disagree at first demands participation, involvement with the other; it is a collaborative activity that breeds coexistence.

But before one even reaches the process of disagreement – listening, considering, and responding – one must participate in a more fundamental activity; one must be willing to stand up as an individual and be held accountable for one’s thoughts, to separate from the common discourse and be right here, right now as a person. Disagreement can be general, but the statement “I disagree” is always here and now: this moment, this issue, this voice.

Further, to disagree means that one must also consider the possibility of agreement, to expose oneself to the risk of having one’s mind changed. Opposition, argument, and criticism are easy. Opposition is a simply bodily act: I stand here before you and bar your way; none shall pass. Argument needs no reciprocity – lawyers do not speak to each other to argue their case; countless arguments are made to justify one’s action rather than discuss them. Criticism perpetually adopts the trope of neutrality – objectivity – rather than suffer the possibility of disagreement.

Disagreement is personally dangerous just as it is potentially meaningful. One disagrees and thus opens their opinions up for disagreement, and thus discussion. To disagree is to disagree with something, some other opinion or belief. It must adopt a commonality, a space for discussion, a set of ideas that are under consideration – at least provisionally. Disagreement sets up a calculus, a set of methods and reasoning by which to attempt to understand, a calculus that must at some level be shared to allow disagreement to occur. It is unlike argument, which allows parallel statements that share no ground, in fact that may be entirely unrelated. Disagreement demands relation, and this is why I love these words – I disagree.

I disagree with a lot of things: When I hear that art is primarily about aesthetics, I disagree; when I hear that the current administration is doing a good job at governing, I disagree; when someone says that Punk is coming back, I disagree. In fact, I am probably an extremely disagreeable person, or at least I disagree a lot. I don’t know if that is necessarily a good attribute, but it is one I wish I found more often.

There are too many topics we avoid – the ones that are too difficult – hence there is too little understanding. We – again collectively speaking – are afraid of disagreeing, but when we try to allow ourselves the possibility, we simply lapse into argument, opposition, and criticism. I too often find myself weary of being politic, of fearing disagreement. I wonder what else I really have to offer. Isn’t this – the ability to disagree – the purpose of having a mind and of having words? I think of disagreeing as a responsibility, an obligation that comes from listening; it is that willingness to participate in the discussion. Disagreement concedes the possibility of agreement – whether immediate or gained through disagreement, discussion, and eventual resolution. Disagreement is an act of faith that discussion can occur; it is a gift consisting of examination, reflection, and consideration.

I want to understand the world around me; I want to find a way for it for make sense to me and, ideally, for others. Even more, I want it to work: that is, for the greatest number of people to have the greatest amount of contentment. I believe the first step in these processes is to stand up and assume the risks of disagreement: whether it be risking the disagreement of others, or assuming the possibility of agreeing or disagreeing oneself.

Perhaps I am watching too many Sunday morning news shows, reading a few too many Op-Ed pieces online, hitting too many twenty-four hours news sources. Perhaps I just have too much time to think and write these days. Maybe there is just too much to disagree with and I have yet to reconfigure my means of outlet properly. Whatever the reason, this phrase – I disagree – has been weighing heavily on my mind lately; it seems to be the dominant expression rattling around in my skull. It seems such a significant, meaningful act, but one that seems most neglected when I look around. But then again it may have nothing to do with anything out there. Though someday I would love to wake up, read the news, and find people engaging in meaningful disagreement – or better yet agreement.

29 April 2006


Today I simply offer three images from my recent travels, evidence that most of the world is far dumber than it should be. I have found myself feeling aghast far too much of the time lately, so today I share these images so that you may join me.

P.S. If you can’t figure out why I am horrified at all of these, you only need to look more carefully.

28 April 2006


Today’s post is going to be all about back-story; thus I shall begin with the end: I may have changed my mind about working as a designer in the industry. With that said many of you should immediately see the need for some back-story here, and hence my first assertion. Questions abound, such as: What was my position relative to working as a designer? Why might I have changed my mind? Why has this even come up? And, of course, what has this to do with the marriage ceremony from the 1662 Church of England Book of Common Prayer?

I will get to all of these questions – and assuredly several others in due course – but only in my own special way. Today I feel like teasing the words out, wandering through them, inducing phrases to form sentences and paragraphs as they please. During my trip to Philly I spent much of each of my evenings continuing my reading of Daniel Deronda, and have found myself returning often to Eliot’s phrase “all this yeasty mingling of dimly understood facts with vague but deep impressions…” It seems rather appropriate to the way I have been thinking about things as of late, so today I shall abandon myself to that mingling and see what the writerly fermentation might yield up.

So, some back-story perhaps. I was in Philadelphia the past few days to interview for a teaching position at Philadelphia University. At the moment I wish to bypass that topic and push this narrative along in another direction – though, so as to not leave the insiders hanging, I rather enjoyed myself and feel it went about as well as could be hoped for. That said, I shall divert your attention to the hotel bar in Philadelphia. It is a reasonably nice place: Yuengling lager on tap, a piano player who was not intolerable this particular evening, and eventually karaoke that could have been far worse and much more drunken. Hence, this was a perfectly good place to read for a while and pass an evening in Philadelphia.

A short while into the evening an exceedingly gregarious gentleman arrived at my right, announcing himself as a lawyer who graduated from Harvard Law. He flashed a wad of cash, ordered an espresso Martini – a sure sign of a dumb-ass – and began to question me for some unknown reason. He was quite evidently drunken already, and I am giving good odds that he was quite happily coked up. He asked to know what both the man to my left and I did for a living and it turned out we were both designers: he in the industry in Philly and myself in academia – though not at the moment, hence the trip to Philadelphia in the first place.

Now, it must be understood that I am not your traditional designer, but since you are here you probably have already guessed that on your own. I am not quite sure exactly what I am anymore when it comes to career or academic designations, but designer fits as well as any of the others; so I run with it. Actually, I do consider myself a designer, and am rather proud of that as a premise; I simply hold to a rather expansive understanding of the definition of designer.

At this moment we – you, the reader, and I – stand together on the precipice of two of the back-story questions. At the moment I prefer to meander through my past relationship to the design industry first – a relationship which isn’t really much of a relationship at all. We have largely ignored each other thus far. When I was younger I was one of those kids whose parents regularly found “DOES NOT PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS” one his report cards. It was not that I was a violent child – I just didn’t like other people, or more to the point I found them to be dumb. That is generally how I think of clients, and – based on most of the ads, commercials, and design work I see in the world – is probably how I see most designers. Thus I have stayed in academia – despite its own manifold difficulties. I have managed to have one reasonably good client relationship – though to call them a client may be a stretch. I redid the website for the Art & Design Department at Drake when I was teaching there. This one worked out well, I believe, though that is because I essentially hijacked the entire process. Now that I have left they have ceased to update it, leaving it to suffer digital decay. Otherwise I still often do not play well with others: clients and designers alike.

But during the rambling couple of hours that ensued this particular evening in Philadelphia a question was asked. Amidst discussions of the history of Punk, thoughts on both the recent and far past of graphic design, considerations of the role of art and design schools and how well they are doing, the gentleman to my left asked me a question: was I interested in working in the industry? I must admit I have my reservations, but I may be changing my mind. That evening we talked about the relationship between theory and practice, and the relative merits of each. This mirrored a discussion earlier in the day with someone from the university about the relationship between research and practice within academic design. In this I perhaps find myself at a crossroads. I have an expansive definition of design – as I have already stated – but my experience of this definition has essentially excluded a swath of experience. I do not think I ever have to work in the industry to be a designer, but why not? What might I learn there? Further, what more might I be able to do? What resources for pro bono activity might be at my fingertips? Perhaps it is time I give it a go. Perhaps it is time for me to stand up and speak from within the arena, which brings me back to the Book of Common Prayer.

When the wife and I got married we slightly altered the modern Christian wedding vows to exclude "obey" and to include the phrase “and thereto I plight thee my troth,” from the early Anglican Church. This phrase has recently re-emerged in my thought in a more academic manner, though not an entirely unrelated one. While I was working on an abstract for a paper the wife suggested I look more carefully at the origins of the word "truth" and suggested a book to read. As one would expect it was a brilliant suggestion, one that has produced a cascade of thoughts and implications: one of which is that I have been thinking of design in relation to troth-plighting.

I will be brief in my description, but the medieval conception of truth was far more complex than the modern premise tied essentially to facts and verifiability. Truth – or troth, or trowthe, or several other spellings – ran across social, ethical, legal, theological, and intellectual senses. [See A Crisis of Truth by Richard Firth Green.] Troth-plighting was essentially about standing up and pledging one’s truth, one’s integrity, one’s faithfulness and more. It was a contract of believability, of meaning, not simply bound up with evidence but with trust. I have been thinking of the designer in much the same way – at least when design can be seen as culturally relevant and not just as empty shilling for culture-consuming product launchers. That was the basis of my talk at the university earlier in the day of the evening in question. The way for designers to make themselves heard is to stand up and have something to say, to speak with audiences in meaningful ways, to learn to speak well and to embrace the responsibilities of speaking at all.

Perhaps I should be considering taking that responsibility, of entering the industry and speaking responsibly. I have spent the past three-and-a-half years trying to teach my students to do so, but I have yet to try it. Maybe it would be a way to improve the practice; to become one of those who does not reduce design to being a simple tool set; or one who allows it to rely on racist, sexist, and homophobic devices in the place of speaking in any depth. Maybe, or maybe not, but I may have changed my mind. Not that I expect to hear from the gentleman to my left ever again, despite a pledge to drop an email. I shall have to think some more about this, wait to hear back from a school or two, ponder this and that and what else I may want to do with myself, but perhaps it now grows even more complex. For the moment I believe it is time for a little Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey, some more Daniel Deronda, and perhaps a game or two of pinball at the local pub. Thus I bid you adieu.

24 April 2006


Before I leave for Philadelphia to do another campus visit – and thus go for another couple of days without fulfilling my writerly duties here – I wish to leave you with one of my favorite designs – along with a view thoughts about it. I am referring to the classic 1977 poster by Jamie Reid for the Sex Pistols. [I have a link to a brief history of Jamie Reid over to the right.]

If you haven’t figured it out by now – and through my work – Punk has had a significant influence upon my visual activity; not just as an aesthetic understanding, but as a political, social, and cultural philosophy, as a response to and extension of the Student Revolution of 1968, as a form resistance to cultural apathy. Punk – if examined in it depth and breadth – was a remarkable critique, one that was highly literate, culturally self-aware, and artistically progressive: see The Velvet Underground, The Talking Heads, Devo, Siouxsie and The Banshees, et al.

Jamie Reid is perhaps the designer most closely associated with Punk – having worked with Malcolm McLaren before the whole Sex Pistols thing; McLaren brought Reid on board when the Pistols took off. While most of you hopefully know the God Save The Queen posters, this one – my favorite – is a little less well remembered, perhaps because it is a bit too complex to undergo the popular packaging of punk that far too often reduces its intellectual undercurrents.

Anyway, this is Reid’s poster for the release of the Pretty Vacant single – No Fun was the B-side. [click image to the left to enlarge] Note the ripped off typography, the two buses going to NOWHERE or BOREDOM, the ornate frame – part of the poster – and shattered picture glass, not to mention the extreme refusal of color – part intent, part necessity. This poster contains a wonderfully subtle set of iconography that belies the simplistic interpretation of punk, a subtlety rarely seen in design these days.

Even though I feel a certain nostalgia for punk – can it really be nostalgia since I pretty much missed it when it was around? – looking back at Reid’s work also gives me hope for future possibilities, that design can still speak like this. Reid’s designs made a claim, a demand on viewers; it spoke with conviction and searched for ways to meaningfully convey alienation of a generation of disenfranchised youth – this poster perhaps better than any other of its period. Visual proclaiming that we could go – it isn’t that hard; just catch a bus – but there really is nowhere to go, or if there is it will be the same as here. Reid – though he grew up in suburbia – captured and created the anti-suburban impulse remarkably in his work; perhaps never better than with the shattered glass from a fist striking out in impotent rage at the narrow social mandates of the, at that time, recently settled self-satisfaction of suburban consumerism.

I could go on about this for hours, but today I am busy. So, dear readers, I leave you with Jamie Reid.

Fuckin’ right.

23 April 2006


Have you ever experienced profound self-doubt? I am going to assume – since you are presumably human – that you have. Well, there are many things of which I am afraid – which comes as no surprise to those of you who know me. I am afraid of spiders and bats, sticky seats and crowds, Wal-Mart and occasionally butterflies, but of the manifold things I fear, there is none so much as obsolescence.

The wife pointed out a Milton sonnet to me this afternoon after I had been pondering my own possible creative demise:

When I consider how my light is spent
E're half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my maker, and present
My true account, least he returning chide,
‘Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd?’
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies, ‘God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best: his state

Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o're Land and Ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.

Today I am drawn to this poem. It speaks for me far better than I could put it at the moment. I am feeling a mixed doubt, doubt tinged with enormous confidence, confidence tainted with an uncertainty as to whether I shall ever fulfill what I believe I can do. Milton was 43 [-ish] and half blind – if not all the way so – when he wrote this, and I feel a certain kindred at the moment.

While I am not yet blind, nor am I particularly old, I am starting to feel the age of my career upon me. I know I am still quite young by artistic standards, but the drive to the youthful genius pushes forth around me. I am more cautious than I used to be, more scholarly perhaps; my passions seem to be more circumspect, less prone to creating a furor – or a court case for that matter. When I too “consider how my light is spent” I wonder if what “Talent” I was given – here note the double implication of money and ability, hmm… I should read more Milton – is “Lodg’d with me useless.” Am I simply grinding away for no greater purpose, whit no hope of climbing higher? Today it feels that way; today I wonder if I have already made my best work as an artist.

Yet, I am still confident. I know I have not thought my finest thought, have not even toughed the fore-edge of ideas lodged within me – please pardon the use of typically modernist interiority motifs; I am suffering doubt. I don’t know what form they may be in: written, performed, viewed, or touched seem all within possibility. Perhaps I will work in forms yet to be conceived. Yet I know I have more; I find hints and suggestions as I continue to work, but never seem to grasp the elusive idea whole. Still, I remain confident.

Then doubt returns. Doubt’s harshest words simply remind me that I have committed myself to art – not simply as a career, but as something I believe in deeply, at least in theory. The confidence I feel tells me that it doesn’t matter what I make, how I speak, that good work will inevitably win, that the past forty years of art have made simple distinctions irrelevant. But doubt – perhaps proving that I am all too human – need only prod me, gently nudge and prick me to take control of my thoughts. Yes John, I understand that:
Thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o're Land and Ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.

I have a long career in front of me – a long life full of successes and failures – but that still leaves me with today and the sense that I too am a forty-three year-old blind man.

22 April 2006


So, my friend in Ohio has tagged me. I suppose I am it, whatever that may mean. I have been compelled – though not forcefully – to list six of my quirks. Apparently this is something she was tagged to do herself; thus I am participating in a long chain of events. I would not consider my decision to involve myself in this a quirk of mine since I generally recycle chain letters and that sort of thing as quickly as possible. But, since I have been tagged, today I shall comply – also because I still feel I owe the readers a nice, long post after having gone missing for about a week. So, without further ado, six quirks.

As yesterday has reminded me, I am afraid of ants. Actually I fear a lot of things: ants, spiders, bees – let's just call it all bugs and bug-like things, snakes, sharks, fish swimming around me, in fact any kind of crowd around me [including once when the wife and I went to a butterfly zoo-like thing and I swear I was being attacked and it freaked me out], small things that move quickly around my feet, I suppose I could go on…

But yesterday it was ants. We had ants in the kitchen – perhaps a dozen or so – but what I saw was that image from Un Chien Andalou with the ants crawling out of the wound in a man’s hand. I saw the ants crawling out everywhere in my mind. It was horrible. Thus we spayed non-toxic bug spray yesterday and today I have been scrubbing the kitchen including washing every glass, dish, plate and piece of silverware that we own. Some may consider this behavior a bit quirky; I just call it cautious and hygienic – that goes for all of my fears in fact: perfectly reasonable caution and cleanliness.


I love the number nine. I can play with it for hours. Have you ever really considered the number nine? Did you know that every multiple of nine eventually adds up to nine? Let’s take nine times two hundred and seventy-three: Two thousand, four hundred and fifty-seven. Thus 2+4+5+7, which equals 18, and one plus eight equals nine. This works for every possible multiple of nine; I promise.

Further, have you ever considered the first ten multiples of nine? They form a beautiful inverse pattern, as follows: 09, 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72, 81, 90. If you can’t see it then I am profoundly sorry for you. And if you do see it and don’t get how elegant numbers can be, how wonderfully, aesthetically remarkable they are, then we need to talk. When I explained the phenomenon of nine to the wife she – a serious arithmophobe – had to admit that it was, and I quote, “hot.”

Which leads me to my next quirk…

I am ridiculously in love with the wife. I know this may not technically be a quirk, but it quite often feels like one. I mean, surely this can’t be normal. For example, I have an inexplicable propensity for making up songs for the wife – I suppose it is quite explicable: I am in love with her — but, nonetheless, I make up strange, often meaningless songs for her. Sometime they verge on the quite insane, the mildly disgusting, or the flat out wrong. It is just that at that particular moment – the moment of singing – I simply must sing to and/or of her.

I make up stories for her too. Now that isn’t odd in and of itself, but I make up short stories, really short stories. We have a collection of three to eleven words stories somewhere in a notebook. For a while we thought it would be a good idea to write them down, but we have forgotten where that notebook is. Most of these stories followed a simple something does something somewhere narrative line – nothing particularly complex — but it was simply to tell her a story. I think the process emerged when we were living in different states and we would call to say goodnight – both exhausted – and the most I could muster was a very short bedtime story.

I also make stuffed animals for her. Such as Oliphant the Elephant – pictured here. Oli – short for Oliphant – also has a game of her own that I made one birthday for the wife. If you want, you can give it a play. It is quite an absurd little game, but well, perhaps that is fitting. It is chock full of inside jokes and personal quirks of its own, but those would be stories of their own.

I also made her a stuffed stegosaurus named Blum. Blum has a song as well, but that one is just between the wife and me, so you shall just have to remain in ignorance on this one.

Now that I write all this out, this love for the wife definitely has some of the characteristics of a quirk, and I say it qualifies, whatever you might say about it.

I generally like bad art more than I like the art I am supposed to like. When I say bad art, I don’t mean Thomas Kinkade and other schlock like that. I mean string art, paint-by-numbers, needlepoint ships, and toilet paper cozies.

I have an insane collection of bad art – including six different paint-by-number versions of the “Last Supper.” I find them fascinating, the differences in each one, the divergent patterns that are sold, the unique approaches to handling the paint and relating to the lines. I am especially proud of my collection of paint-by-numbers executed by R.E. Evermann. I don’t know who this guy is – or was – but I found about six or seven by this guy in Iowa over a period of a year or so. I am guessing he passed away and his family was dropping these off at thrift stores as they went through his things. This leads me to why I love bad art.

These are not good art – self-evident, I guess – but someone cared about them. Someone put these paintings, or bits of embroidery, or whatever into a frame and hung them on their living room – or bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, or whatnot – walls for a while. And then something happened. For whatever reason these pieces of bad art had to be disposed of, but they mattered too much to be thrown away, yet no one could be found to keep them. So off they went to the thrift stores, unwanted, but safe from destruction. Here is where I rescue them, give them a new life. Yes there is a component of the ironic involved here – I know these are bad – but I also like them in a quite genuine way. I see these speaking up for an artistic imperative, even if the quality is not high. There is a care and concern in these pieces that I find touching. So, I collect them and appreciate them. Sometimes I buy ones I don’t really like that much, but just have to save them, to keep them from being relegated to the dumpster, from being forgotten.

What may perhaps be my proudest academic moment is having found a way to legitimately teach Joe Versus The Volcano. It is not so much that I taught this film, but that I am inordinately proud of having done so. That is the quirk. There are far better reasons for me to feel pride – I am pretty sure I am damn good at being a professor. But, still, I found a way to get this film into a class and use it to actually teach my students something – and further, they got it. I shan’t bore you with chunks of my Joe Versus The Volcano lecture here, but let me just say that it is good. [Pause while I pat myself on the back. Pat. Pat. Pat.]

Finally, my greatest athletic skill in the world is Wiffle Ball. I mean I am professional caliber, if there were such a thing as a professional Wiffle Ball league. I am the Pedro Martinez of Wiffle Ball. I am flat out unhittable. Just call me Cy Young. I end my semesters with a Wiffle Ball game that includes the challenge that if any student gets a hit they receive an automatic A for the semester – they know I don’t really mean that, but even if I did it wouldn’t be a problem. I have a four-foot and an eight-foot curveball, a back-door curveball, a nasty little knuckle-sinker, a wicked rising fastball thrown sidearm that goes from your toes to your nose, and a change-up that will leave you looking like a moron.

Yes folks, I am serious about this. I am a god of Wiffle Ball – at least as far as pitching goes. My hitting remains as it was in Little League – where I had two hits in three years but could draw a walk and steal my way to third like the dickens. I will challenge anyone to Wiffle Ball. Need a ringer for a company picnic this summer? Just bring me along; I am your man.

So, there you go. Those are the six quirks for the day. I freely admit that these are not the only quirks, but they are the six that came to mind today. I wish it to be known that I embrace my quirks; I believe they are what make me so endearing. They also propel me to make sense of stuff, to produce stuff, and to try to figure the world out. They may seem odd – otherwise would they be quirks? – but I contend they are perfectly normal, for me that is. If you want to know if they come together to form a worthwhile totality I suggest you ask the wife. From what she tells me I think they do.

21 April 2006


Dear readers…

I am sorry to have been so long away, to have left you without writing. I must beg your forgiveness and attempt to atone.

Last Wednesday I embarked for Atlanta for the Popular Culture Association national conference. All in all everything went well, though Atlanta is undoubtedly the worst city in which to attend a conference – unless you particularly enjoy dinner at Hooters or the Hard Rock Café. Seeing as I enjoy neither of these, it was a bit dire. But otherwise the conference went well. [And I must say that the conference itself gave out some nice schwag – that would be stuff they gave out that included their logo.] My paper went rather well – or so I must presume. I had a request from the editor of a film studies journal to submit it for publication. To any of the academic colleagues out there who want to give any suggestions for revising this for publication – your help would be gratefully received. You can read it online as an HTML document or download the PDF and print it out. Or for anyone who might be interested in a paper titled Scribbled Notes or a Body of Writing: Memory, Writing, and Reading in Christopher Nolan’s Memento; go ahead and give it a read.

So I was in Atlanta until early Saturday morning. By early, I mean insanely early. We are talking my wake up call was requested for a good three hours before dawn. Note to Self: do not schedule a seven AM flight out of Atlanta. Anyway… I left Atlanta on Saturday, but had to leave again on Sunday for a campus visit at Marshall University in West Virginia. Since the wife and I live an hour from the airport, it seemed silly to drive home only to turn around again bright and early the next morning. Hence the wife and I stayed in a hotel in Syracuse Saturday night – we spent most of the day asleep.

Sunday morning I took off for Marshall – flights five and six within five days. I shall not write too much about the visit just yet, but I think it went quite well and the faculty was right peachy, though I am pretty sure I ate something that did horrible things to me. By the final day of my campus visit I was broken. I think a combination of too many hotels, perhaps a meal that was off, and not enough sleep simply put me away. I actually fell asleep during the hour-long drive from Marshall to the airport. I am sure that cannot be good etiquette, but it could not be helped. The only other option was vomiting. From there, at the airport – under the advice of the wife—I took a couple of Dramamine, which hit me like a rather large rhinoceros dropped from a significant height. Flights seven and eight for the week are a complete blur – though I have a vague recollection of buying a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the Detroit airport. The wife was left to virtually carry me to the car when picking me up at the airport. Speaking was beyond my capabilities. I slept for two days; I barely exaggerate this point. I awoke to find water and nutrition; that is about all. The wife nearly had to nurse me back to health, but at least I have finished running the gauntlet, or so I thought…

Yesterday I received a call for another campus visit: Philadelphia University. I had assumed they had moved on. We had talked a while back – during the trip to visit the wife’s mother. If you missed it or have forgotten – you can refresh your memory. But yesterday, they called and I shall be revving up the dog and pony show once again. Mind you, I am not complaining. Philly is one of my favorite cities, and here I would get grad students and join in what seems a rather fantabulous media program. In fact, the wife and I are both quite fond of Philly. So this visit is a good thing; I shall just have to remember to take a few extra naps this weekend.

Thus, dear readers, please accept my apologies for my absence. I shall do my best to ensure that future disruptions are kept short.

On another note, the Online Exquisite Corpse Writing Project seems to have petered out; lack of interest I suppose. To those of you who expressed interest, I am sorry. To all the others who have not, ptttthhhhwk – that is the sound of me sticking out my tongue and making a rather rude noise. Perhaps I shall attempt to reconfigure it in the future, perhaps not. For the moment I shall leave you with a copy of my Memento paper if you really want a reading fix.

20 April 2006


Last week my friend in Ohio had a birthday – one for which I have yet to extend a greeting and/or celebration. I have been away on travels and trials, far too caught up in my own existence. I have been thinking, though, of how I should commemorate the occasion of her thirty years. I am still not quite sure of how one really does such a thing, but something she once wrote came to mind in the process:

“I'm pretty predictable: bright primary (but not neon) colors, the boldness of the unexpected, the breath-catch of a painstakingly meticulous easy detail.”

So, for your birthday – and I am sure you will know who you are – I wish to share with you one such moment of mine, an experience of art that I cannot recommend enough, a brief encounter which I knew I would hate and now admit could never have been more wrong in that expectation.

A few years back I went to MOMA – this is back before the new MOMA opened up. I wandered through the galleries at my usual rapid clip – I can get through a hell of a lot of art in a very short period of time since I generally consider most of what I see as crap. About an hour into my high-speed stroll through the museum I hit the color-field painting room – in expectation of yet more of Barnett Newman’s pseudo-sublime self-indulgence I immediately dropped my head and quickened the pace. Seeing as this was a circular gallery – or at least is in my recollection – there was no straight line out. As I took the curve at full speed and was about to reach escape velocity I was arrested dead still, mid-stride, just a few feet from the door. From the corner of my vision I was captured by one of the most stunning paintings I have ever seen, extraordinary, radiant, mesmerizing, and seductive. Yves Klein’s Blue Monochrome of 1961.

It stood there on the wall about six and a half feet tall, glowing at me. This was blue. I mean, freaking blue, abso-fucking-lutely blue, but subtle. It screamed out blue, electric, incandescent blue, but it didn’t raise its voice at all. It radiated the deepest, most intense blue I had ever seen; yet at the same time it seemed to reflect my face, my body in its surface. But it didn’t, at least not quite. I felt my reflection in the blue more than saw it. I was captivated, held by it. I couldn’t believe it because I hate this kind of crap. The color-field room should have been my own personal hell, but there I was, staring, absorbing, absorbed. Then I got it, I got Yves Klein – at least when he wasn’t performing his misogyny with breasts and paint. He was not painting a sublime void, he had nothing to do with Barnett Newman’s past. In fact this painting had nothing to do with the void, but instead the leap.

If you don’t know what I am talking about here, this is Yves Klein’s classic photomontage Leap into the Void of 1960. This painting is not about the void, the space – or absence thereof – into which one leaps. It is that leap, the moment after the decision is made, the it is too late, the deed is done and now I must have faith. It is the glowing, vibrant vitality of nothing else to do but continue, to experience the decision after it has been made. It is becoming an observer of one’s own observations. It is resonant and deep and lush while still seeming razor sharp and dangerous.

I can’t remember how long I looked at the painting that day – though it wasn’t one of those cinematic moments where one is roused by a guard having spent hours unknowingly in the museum but now it is closing time. I looked for a minute or two and then walked away. It wasn’t about duration, it was that mid-step arrest that it made. It was the experience of captivation, of being suspended in-between that it offered and demanded. Just an instant – or a moment – was plenty. Every once in a while I remember it, come across that experience, or even capture it in my work; that, as you put it “breath-catch” of a moment that resonates and resounds.

So, dear friend, I implore you to go to the MOMA, to race through the galleries, to hide from the works in order to be halted, to be taken hold of, to be held up in mid-leap by this painting. I also wish you a happy birthday – although a week late.

10 April 2006


Today I offer you two signs – quite literally – though I cannot help but consider them figuratively as well – as signs.

First: the covered sign.
I keep wanting to know what is under there, whether it was covered up because it is no longer true, or because it is not yet applicable, waiting to become useful. It hovers between these states: either no-longer or not-yet, or perhaps both. I cannot know its role – perhaps it is a periodic sign, waiting to re-emerge when its time comes, only to be covered again. Does that explain why it is covered? If it were never to be needed again, why not just take it down? If it is not yet needed, why has it been up so long?

This sign has been like this ever since I resigned my job and moved to live with the wife. It just sits there at this intersection – the one between the college and the town, between the highways leading to different periods of our lives. I want to look under the garbage bags used to cover this sign up, but I can’t bring myself to do so – I stood in front of it for a few minutes after photographing decided whether I should; I didn’t. But I keep wondering why it is there, or still there; whether it is facing obsolescence or a potential waiting at some now unknown time.

For the time being I just wait until a storm – or perhaps a couple of teenagers, or pack of drunken students from the college – tears the garbage bags off of the sign so I can finally see what it has to say. Until then, I wait and wonder.

Second: the numbers.
I can no longer count the number of times I have been over this one in my head; it is so utterly inscrutable. It sits there alone at the base of the hill that leads to campus, and to home – for the time being. There is no other sign nearby to give it context, to help explain its existence, its rationale, for being where it is – unlike the covered sign, which is surrounded by a bevy of off camera signage.

There is no sign like this one elsewhere on the street, at least not that I have found. It only seems to mark the beginning of the ascent, the moment at which the walk begins to get a little rougher – the counterpart to the easy trip into town. I look for patterns, relationships between the sets, I consider possible correlations to the nearby highways, or perhaps it is a geographical marker, or elevation. To me it could mean anything, therefore nothing. This sign stands there as the opposite to the covered sign, which seems to full of potential – whether expended or expectant. This one seems to just be there, isolated, awaiting someone who will be able to decipher it and put up a companion to occupy that seeming superfluity of space on its post.

I am both confused by and drawn to these signs today. A few days ago, perhaps, they would have made one of my lists, maybe been relegated to a rant about the absurdity of our human endeavors, the excessive need to mark territory or the ease with which we allow things to drop into disuse. Instead, today, I see them as they are, as signs.

09 April 2006


Okay everybody. I have been working out how this might work and I believe I have a workable procedure that will be effective for those ranging from the highly skilled web practitioner to the casual user. So, everyone who is reading this is welcome to participate and to invite others.

Note: If you have no idea what I am talking about here, go back and read the initial post on this topic.

Note: I expect at least a few people from the old stomping grounds at Drake to participate. Hamilton folks, the same goes for you. And hey, if you have visited this blog more than three times you ought to feel obliged to give this a whirl.

Note: The Exquisite Corpse to the left was done by Andre Breton and friends. If you don’t know who Andre Breton is, or why he is important to this project, you should look him up. He is worth looking into.

Thus, the rules will be as follows:

1] Send an email with your preferred email address to: contact@fourinchesofego.com along with a message indicating your desire to participate. You must do so by Friday, April 21.

2] I will generate a random sequence. I will then notify the first person in the sequence to write/produce their segment. I am not imposing a strict definition of what writing is, so feel free to stretch some conventional definitions or not as you see fit. I do ask that you write your segment relatively promptly – no more than 24 hours.

3] That person will then email to me the final three words of whatever he/she wrote – or a similarly small final fragment of their segment. [For example: if you were to use a sequence of images, only send the last one, or even just a part of the last one; you will need to determine what is an appropriately small fragment. You can always ask me if you are uncertain.]

4] I will then forward that word/fragment to the next person on the list, which will be the starting point for the next person’s segment. This process will repeat until everyone has written/created a segment.

5] At this point I will notify everyone that it is time to post. Once you post your segment you will need to email to me the URL of your segment – if you are using your blog please email me the specific URL of that post, not just your blog address.

6] Once I receive all the URLs I will email each person with the URL of the post segment that follows theirs. [i.e. if you are the third person in the sequence, I will send you the URL of the post from the forth person in the sequence, and so on.] You will then add a link to that URL at the end of your segment; thus the Online Exquisite Corpse Project will come together. This will also allow people to access the entirety of the Online Exquisite Corpse Project beginning at any segment within it. Whoever composes the final segment will link to the first.

So that is how I envision it running. I am open to suggestions and tweaks from those participating about how to smooth this out. I am also willing to assist those who want to participate but have questions.

For all of you out there who do not have a blog, I can make suggestions about creating an accessible location to which you can post your segment. The first thing I would suggest would be to create a MySpace account – or one at a similar site. That would give you an easy-to-edit place to post. Other places you could try would impose more contextual pressure – such as a dating site profile: just join and use your profile/description. You could look around on the web for any place you can join for free and create a user profile. These almost always offer you an editable profile that will provide a URL.

If you have something you want to try but are unsure about finding a place to post, just drop me an email and I will try to help. What really matters is that you have a stable URL to which the previous contributor can link. I might even have some emergency options in my bag.

Therefore, it is time for you, dear readers, to join me in this experiment. Drop me that email. Recruit your friends and colleagues.

08 April 2006


The last twenty-four hours has been a period of systematic rage for me. For those of you who know me, this should not come as a surprise. Not that this is a violent rage, rather it is an intense reaction to the stupidity of the world around me, a deep sense of aggrievement that things such as what I have encountered over the past day actually happen, are allowed to happen, and go unpunished. Thus, I have made a list. I shall call it My List and it is not a list on which you want to be. It is a bad list.

Number Five: The writers of V for Vendetta
The wife and I went to see this film last night and we were pleasantly surprised by the film as a whole. You may ask why then did the writers make My List? Well, to put it simply, they violated my trust. After thoroughly enjoying V’s opening alliterative monologue:
"Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is it a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished, as the once vital voice of verisimilitude now venerates what they once vilified? However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin van-guarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose vis-à-vis an introduction, and so it is my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V."
The writers had convinced me of V’s literacy. This was not your run-of-the-mill mentally suspect tormented-hero-in-a-mask. No, no. This guy reads. I like this one. And then WHAM. He goes and pisses it away. He refers to something or another as – and I quote – “a myriad of.” Yes ladies and gentlemen, a myriad of. If you aren’t outraged, you should run to your dictionary. It took me a full thirty minutes to get over it, though I never fully regained faith in V.

Actually I want to add the editor or director or whoever chose to end the film with Street Fighting Man by the Rolling Stones. Throughout the film there were references to the Sex Pistols: an Anarchy in the UK from a convenience store robber; a print of the Supreme Chancellor, or whatever his title was, the design of which mimics Jamie Reid’s album cover for God Save the Queen. The film was building to s Sex Pistols song through references and tone. And then it copped out and went more mainstream.

While neither of these infractions kills the film, it makes me want to find the responsible parties and call each and every one of them a wanker, perhaps even a bloody wanker as I drip with irony for pretending to be Sid Vicious.

Number Four: The Three Teenagers Who Walked Past The Wife And Me In Target Last Night.
So… Why these particular teenagers? Why not teenagers in general? Surely they all are deserving. Yes, they are, but My List is not a list of generalities. My List is specific and it is just, and these three teenagers have risen above the crowd to show themselves as worthy of my – and hence everybody’s – scorn.

These three were actually discussing whether their friend or their friend’s sibling looked more – and again I shall quote – “chinky.” Yes folks, “chinky.” For those of you unfamiliar with this term I can verify that they meant, “appearing to have the characteristics of someone of Asian descent.” I am not kidding here. Use your imagination to fill things in a bit, but this is pretty much what the wife and I heard as we were killing time before heading over to catch the movie [see above]:
"Teen 1: Do you think she looks 'chinky?'
Teen 2: Not as much as her brother.
Teen 3: He doesn’t look as 'chinky' as her.
Teen 2: No he has more Asian features.
Teen 1: Yeah. He is definitely 'chinkier'"
And they fade behind an aisle of sheets and comforters on their way to the dire selection of pop atrocities that Target might offer in the music section, that realm of the store I resolutely avoid so as to lessen the likelihood of outrage. But alas, last night the outrage sought me out and found me. I found myself just wishing I could stop them, the teens, just for a moment and give them the Three Stooges treatment: smack them all upside the back of the head in one grand motion and leave them with a resounding utterance of “Dumbasses” echoing through the housewares department.

Number Three: George W. Bush
We all know that in a press conference in 2003 GWB stated:
"I’ve constantly expressed my displeasure with leaks, particularly leaks of classified information… If there’s a leak out of the administration, I want to know who it is. And if a person has violated the law, the person will be taken care of."
But this is not why GWB garnered position Number Three on My List today. To be quite honest, he is here simply because he exists. I find it more and more difficult to feign surprise at what I already know is happening. Gee Whiz. GWB knew about the leaking of classified information, but he said he hated leaks. Wait. That doesn't jibe together. Something ain’t right…

See… It just doesn’t ring true anymore. So, I’m sorry to all those out there who are outraged, but this just doesn’t rank that high on My List. In fact I found it hard to even sneak GWB past the grammatical violations thrust upon me by those wretched scriptwriters. [Though I also give Hugo Weaving a bit of the blame too. You should have caught that one Agent Smith.] Thus I feel disinclined to punishing GWB; I still so often feel that such abject idiocy – come on boy-o, get at least one of these stories right – can sometimes be left as its own punishment. Hence I shall be glad to cross off another day on the way to January 20, 2009: Inauguration Day.

Number Two: Sara Blakely
Sara Blakely horrifies me. If anyone out there actually knows who this person is go ahead and raise your hand and bow your head in shame. And if you have ever purchased one of her products you owe us all a serious apology. Anyone?

Okay. Sara Blakely founded Spanx. Yep. That is the name of the company. Spanx makes body shaping hosiery and such for women. I have no absolute opposition to such products – to each his or her own. But Spanx – pardon that awful pun, but there it is... As I was saying, what was even worse than the company name was the name of the product line sold at that same, ill-fated Target. Wait for it… Assets. You heard me correctly. And the package for said product displayed New Yorker-esque illustrations of the legs and asses of four women. Because, of course, those are the only Assets that really matter ladies. Assets by Spanx. Dear god I hate marketing people.

But then it got worse. I went home late that night and checked out the website. Try some of this copy on for size:
"So long, peeping thong...the Spanx low rise revolution is here! The new patent-pending Hip-notic from Spanx has lower tummy control without a waist band, so it blends into a woman's figure without digging in and causing waistline spillage or those dreaded "muffin tops." With unique butt-lifting and separating features and slick yarns that won't cling to pants or jeans, your figure looks as if you had nothing on underneath, even under light-colored pants and skirts. Plus, Hip-notic is designed to ensure that you'll have ample coverage in back, so you'll never reveal the wrong kind of cleavage when you sit down. Hip-notic comfortably smoothes and firms your lower tummy, thighs, and rear, and is guaranteed to mesmerize onlookers!"
Sara Blakely must be dealt with. She must be punished. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating violence here, simply humiliation. I want everyone who encounters her for the rest of her life to say no other words to her than “Empower This, Muffin Top.” And then just walk away. Sara Blakely, you should be doomed to hear no other words for the rest of your sad, sad life. I don’t care what Oprah says about you. Hell. She liked that James Frey putz too.

Number One: Reginald Finger
At last we reach number one. To top Ms. Blakely in pissing me off you know this guy has to be special, and I promise, he is. As I was reading a back issue of the New Yorker [March 13, 2006; I am catching up after some negligence as of late] this morning I came across the article on GWB’s approach to science. Much of it I already knew, but then I came across dear old Reggie and his wonderful perspective on HIV. No, he isn’t going to be overtly over the top – at least not to those not paying careful attention. But, get a load of this quote, the one that earns him Number One on My List:
"With any vaccine for HIV, disinhibition would certainly be a factor, and it is something we will have to pay attention to with a great deal of care."
This guy might actually oppose an HIV vaccine if there were one – hopefully there will be soon – because it might lower some people’s inhibitions about having sex. Right about now in the realization of what is going on here is when I find these words floating up to the top of my head: “You twisted, sanctimonious, sun-of-a-BLEEP. Are you saying what I think you’re saying? I mean… [From here the internal monologue degenerates into something resembling the ratsum-fratsum-fristsum-fratsum of Yosemite Sam]”

I have known for quite some time that the Christian Right is chock full of raving lunatics, but come on. Because an HIV vaccine – along with the currently delayed HPV vaccine – might interfere with the plan to have a single policy for dealing with STDs, pregnancy, and pretty much everything to do with teenagers and twenty-somethings: i.e. abstinence only – this schmuck wants to put thousands upon thousands of lives at risk.

Because this SOB [son-of-a-BLEEP that is] doesn’t want little Jimmy and sweet innocent little Chrissie to make the Beast With Two Backs, read anything other than Genesis for science instruction, or god knows what else he is opposed to, he is willing to condemn generations to HIV? You worry about your kids’ inhibitions Reggie, but when I have kids I damn well want hope there is an HIV vaccine and I am damn sure I will have my kids in line to get theirs. And if there is even the slightest chance that you and your posse have significantly interfered with the development of such a vaccine – or in fact keep the HPV vaccine, which is a great tool for preventing cervical cancer, from reaching the market – I will be the first one to demand that you be taken out into every public square and be kicked in the nuts. Yes, I said it. I know I shouldn’t advocate violence [*disclaimer: I am not really advocating violence; I think all violence really sucks] but in your case – Reginald Finger – I am making an exception. I want to personally kick you in the nuts and then deliver a rousing “Ha-Ha” a la Nelson of Simpsons fame.

And there you have it. That is My List. If you have an opportunity to mete out any of these punishments, by all means do so. And with that I shall bid you adieu. [Thomas bows his way off stage doffing his cap with a gesture the grace of which has never before been encountered and then promptly falls on his arse.]

07 April 2006


This afternoon, as I allow the stress of waiting to hear from School #1 following the campus visit of late March – they said I should be hearing on the 7th or 8th – and try to avoid chewing through my own inner lip, I have been perusing the online offerings of this year’s Whitney Biennial. I do not want to follow, here, in the footsteps of nearly every fashionable critic and waste your and my valuable time calling yet another Whitney Biennial dull and uninspiring – that seems a given for the biennial, but is neither interesting nor productive. And today – especially today – I want to be those things. I want to feel interesting and productive – even as I eyeball my fingernails with a crushing desire to bite at them, and even as I avert those same eyeballs from the conference paper that I seem profoundly unable to engage in anything resembling a productive way.

Thus, I shall try to find something interesting and productive to say about this year’s biennial – that bastion of conservative avant-gardism [yeah, you tell me how to spell that one if you think you know better].

And it actually isn’t that hard. Pretty early on in my meandering through the show I came across a piece I found myself actually liking – a rarity for me I must admit: Frederick Douglass Self-Defense Manual Series, Infinite Step Escape Technique #1: Hand Seeks Cotton by Dawolu Jabari Anderson [see above]. This artist is new to me, and I must say a good find on the part of the Whitney. I find the few drawings I can find of him out there in web-land to be absolutely charming, which is exactly what makes them so powerful. Their self-reflexive processes speak with great subtlety of the ways in which race – and the mainstream celebration thereof – is so often packaged as and reduced to those assumptions the celebration is meant to dispel.

Beyond the critique these drawings assert, I am absolutely struck by their handling: the awkwardly assertive renderings in Black History Month -- Feel What the Excitement Is All About [see left, click the image to see larger view], the wrinkling, folding and forced aging of the paper, the beatific expressions of the three girls as they witness the miracle of the slam dunk.

For all they ways these pieces attempt to dismiss themselves, to render themselves mundane – especially in the presence of the self-important projections of art that fill the galleries of the biennial – they only assert themselves all the more. They present that rare and astute wedding of materiality and message, speak in those subtle tones that resonate as though custom-made for the acoustics of whatever room you are in.

So, the rest of the art world can have the grandiose installations, the self-important video works, the derelict and dilapidated sculptures and the rest of the hauntingly abstract and/or figurative. Just leave me these pieces. Offer me a small side gallery, a few of these, and a little extra time to stick around and I will be happy – or at least something that resembles that as I resist the urge to crack my knuckles again.

And to all of you out there in the area of NYC, I suggest you swing by the Whitney and check this guy out. In my book he’ll be worth the general bother of shouldering through yet another biennial. I may even have to pack up the wife and make the little road-trip down to the city to take my own advice. Perhaps if I ever get this call – hint, hint, to School #1 – I will have reason for a celebratory adventure – a word that the wife tells me comes from the Old French aventurer meaning to happen, which makes sense of a lot about a lot of medieval adventures. But for more on that you shall have to implore the wife to start her own blog.

06 April 2006


Today I am empty. I mean… I got nothing for you. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Bupkiss.

I don’t mean this in any grand ontological manner; all is still well on the western front. It is just that today is right busy: home inspectors, realtors, contractors, more interminable waiting, and a conference paper to write. But, since I am trying my darnedest to at least write something every day, I will share my academic thoughts with you a little, or at least share what I am thinking about.

So. I have this conference next week and I still have to finish my paper – Scribbled Notes or a Body of Writing: Memory and Writing in Christopher Nolan’s Memento. I have been pondering the materiality of writing quite a bit the last couple of years both in my studio work and in my writing, so I finally decided to do something with it, thus the conference paper – good timing Thomas. Mostly I have been thinking about how writing – as material thing – can convey so much more than words thought of as merely information, that writing – as writing – is unbelievably dense communication. As Leonard himself understands:

You kind of learn to trust your own handwriting; that becomes an important part of your life. You write yourself notes, and where you put your notes, that also becomes really important. You need a jacket that’s got like six pockets in it, particular pockets for particular things. You just kind of learn to know where things go and how the system works. And you have to be wary of other people writing stuff for you that’s not going to make sense or is going to lead you astray. I mean, I don’t know, I guess people try to take advantage of somebody with this condition. If you have a piece of information which is vital, writing on your body instead of on a piece of paper can be the answer. It’s just a permanent way of keeping a note.

I am interested in this because Leonard develops an extraordinarily complex system of writing, one suited for the conveyance of enormous subtlety, but he unfortunately seems unable to follow his own stricture. He perpetually ignores the reminders he leaves himself – to “remember Sammy Jankis” – and treats writing as merely words.

This, for all of you playing along at home – is why I have become a designer. I have virtually no formal training as a designer – studio artist, yes, designer, no – but I have almost certainly become one. Typography, perhaps my holiest of holies, my most beautiful of forms, so many ways to make marks, letters, words, language-symbols, ideograms, what-have-you. So many ways to write, such elegant possibilities…

Everything from scribbling in the dirt with a stick to the ethereal penmanship of online writing still comes together under typography’s big top. Perhaps is it both why I design and why I write. I don’t know if I so much love language as much as I love writing – not just the act of it, my acts of writing, but the very premise of it, the that we write of this species.

Even if most of what we write is utter crap, I still like that we can.

On that note, back to writing… And yes, I know, I am already writing, but I mean the other writing I have to do, even if it, too, may be crap.

And okay, so maybe I wasn't quite empty either.

05 April 2006


Okay everybody… I want to try something. I know I have a few readers out there who are highly literate, in fact, exceedingly so – you know who you are. The others of you – and yes I know there are others – I don’t know about, but this post also applies to you. Actually this post applies to anyone who has a blog, or is willing to start one right soon.

As I said, I want to try something. I want to attempt an exquisite corpse blog post. For those of you who don’t know what an exquisite corpse is, take a gander at the one I lifted off the web. [This one was posted by Erin Dierking of the Louisville public school system, to give credit where credit is due.]

An exquisite corpse is a drawing or piece of writing or whatnot done by three or more people with each person only seeing the ending fragment of the previous person’s contribution. I want to attempt this blog-style. I am not quite sure how it would be arranged – I am sure I can figure out a randomization process and an email chain for passing the fragments without the whole thing falling apart or devolving into a hideous spam ring. Maybe each person doesn’t necessarily have to have a blog of their own, simply a place on the web where they can post and supply a URL for it to be found – what odd places might be discovered. Then, perhaps, I’ll set a date for posting, each post linking to the next in the chain.

This may be silly, perhaps pointless, or even stupid. But, still, I want to try. When the wife and I were visiting the wife’s mother, we did exquisite corpse drawings with the wife’s mother’s foster child. It amazed me how much joy and wonder it held for him, even the pride in participating in something larger than himself, the amazement at what unimaginable thing would result.

Not that I propose this to emulate that experience. I am quite sure we are all far too jaded and cynical to experience that again. But, nonetheless, I am interested. Perhaps this also stems from my fascination with peoples comments to posts on blogs, the addenda produced, relationships extended, and tangents explored.

There is something that draws me to this. The possibility of someone participating by posting their contribution on a dating site, or a fake help-wanted add, or through a comment on someone else’s blog, tt would assumedly move from writing to image, audio, and/or video and back and forth [all potentials that intrigue me, so long as they don’t become abusive]. This seems an inevitable by-product of blogs, of the web itself perhaps. I am sure this is nothing new, but alas, I still want to try it.

Actually, this is largely reinvention of a project I have been thinking about for about five years: URL poetry. Poems that consist entirely of a series of URLs, compiled to create a shifting metaphor set, ones that must remain open to changes in the listed pages’ content,links that may extend from the originally included, or even those URLs' removal from the web entirely. I have never gotten around to these; I am not sure I am really even interested in these beyond the premise.

But this, the online exquisite corpse writing project – let’s call it – I want to try.

So… I ask you dear readers, to take part. Drop me an email at contact@fourinchesofego.com to join the experiment, or leave a comment here. Give me an email address and I will keep you updated as far as when this gets off the ground. Go forward and recruit; seeing as this is the web, size constraints are not a problem. This is something that can even extend through time, perhaps even loop upon itself – or better yet spiral in an endless game of telephone [I’m sure you remember that one too].

With that said, I guess I shall await you, dear readers, and for your participation.

04 April 2006


Last night I made stew, or at least something that I am calling a stew. I am never quite sure exactly what makes a stew a stew; I never seem to have actually looked at a stew recipe – or at least not that I can recall. My grandmother’s stews always had potatoes in them – and probably beef as well while we’re at it, which is problematic here since neither the wife nor I eat the meat – and in my mind these are prototypically stewish. Despite this though, I have been working under the provisional definition that a stew is anything that you allow to sit and, well… stew, for a while, that is not, in fact, a sauce. In short, a stew is anything that you cook via stewing. And this is my topic for the day.

I love stews, but more immediately I love the concept of the stew. One throws a variety of ingredients into a pot, preferably the largest pot one has available, and lets it all cook for precisely a while. What ingredients? How long is a while? These details are largely irrelevant, as long as you don’t think about them too much.

Take, for example, last night’s stew. It had no potatoes, nor any beef. It didn’t really produce its own gravy-like substance – as my grandmother’s always did. It was primarily chickpeas and peppers, along with onions, celery, and carrots – these three being quintessential stew components. Furthermore, my primary spices were cumin and coriander. It seems to me that I was getting dangerously close to a curry here, but no, damn it, this is a stew – I say "is" since I used the largest available pot, the wife and I have days of stew ahead of us.

Since we are on the topic of pots anyway, I did not actually use a pot to make this stew; I used our large wok. Can one really make a stew in a wok? It is the largest cooking vessel we have, and it seemed appropriate for cooking all the vegetables before adding the chickpeas, artichoke hearts, and diced tomatoes, and letting the it all stew with the lid on. Does stewing have something to do with cooking over low heat with the lid on? Now that I think of it more directly, I am not even sure what it means to stew – even though I believe I have been making many a stew over the past decade or so.

Oh yeah, there were artichoke hearts and tomatoes, as well as jalapenos and other hot peppers. Do these ingredients help or hinder the argument for stew status? I am not sure. I think of tomatoes as being involved in stews – just remember stewed tomatoes – but artichoke hearts? Jalapenos? What the hell was it that I made last night?

Whatever it was, it was good. And that seems to be the point of stews. I have only the vaguest of recollections of my grandmother’s stew, of what it consisted of, or even if my grandmother really made stew, but I do know – whatever it was and whoever made it – that it was good. That is what a stew is to me, something that involves chopping stuff up, chucking it all into a pot, letting it cook while ignoring it for a while, and ending up with something good. That is why I love stew, and why I will hold to the belief that last night I made a stew, regardless of any strict definitional correlation.

Stews are a good way of going about things – despite the bad rep stewing has developed as an emotional response. Find some stuff, mess with it, and through it together, sprinkle a little of this or that in liberally, then wait. Worst-case scenario, you have a mediocre stew, but how bad can a stew really get? Unless you are a complete idiot, in which case you probably oughtn’t be cooking. If the stew works out well, make a mental note, “Remember to chuck these things in a pot together again, sometime.” Get any more specific than that and you are in trouble.

I think about a lot of what I do in terms of stews – teaching, art, writing. If anything I am a little more critical of my cooking than my work – though perhaps not, I am mighty critical.

03 April 2006


The wife has just been helping me edit a proposal for a fellowship for this summer, and we have managed to produce a colossal moment* of proposal-speak, as follows:

"With these pieces I intend to examine problematized conditions of memory as manifest within the fragmentary familial paradigms endemic to late twentieth-century Western culture."

May god have mercy on our souls.

* The wife says a colossal moment is oxymoronic, which is fine if that is the effect you are going for. I suppose a moment can be colossal... [At this point it is demanded that I stop transcribing.]


As I have said repeatedly, I have been thinking about art a lot as of late. Most recently I have posed myself the entirely arbitrary question: “What piece of art has influenced you, Thomas Knauer, the most?” Not surprisingly – if you know me and my history with art – it did not take me very long to come up with an answer: Opposition and Sister Squares are Reconciled [1932] by Marcel Duchamp.

At this point I assume half of you, dear readers, are running off to Google, the other half simply don’t care, and perhaps a few others are running to their good old Janson’s History of Art. Well… You are not going to find much out there on this piece, largely because most still don’t consider it a piece of art – perhaps step one toward becoming my favorite piece, especially since I also rank The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary as the piece of design that has most significantly influenced me.

So… What is Opposition and Sister Squares are Reconciled? It is a booklet Duchamp co-authored with Vitaly Halberstadt and published in 1932. It deals with endgame theory in chess – this is the period of Duchamp’s purported departure from art – specifically analyzing positions in which only kings and pawns remain, including the incredibly rare and even more obscure Lasker-Reichelm position from the Chicago Tribune in 1901.

Since I have never seen a copy of this booklet – perhaps step number two along the way toward being my favorite piece, I have never seen it – I am working from partial translations and synopses, but I do not see any problem here. Anyway… The Lasker-Reichelm position – as I understand it – is a position in which both kings are still free to move and white has 4 pawns all blocked – unable to move – by black’s three pawns. Those are all the pieces on the board and – from what I have been able to carefully gather – black can only hope for a draw and, given competent play, can produce one all the time.

Assuming the players Duchamp is dealing with are competent – which one assumedly can at the competitive level, and since Duchamp himself was a chess Master – these analyses are purely mind games, intellectual play, flights of fancy. No player worth their salt should end up in these positions, but sometimes they occur. These are situations that need to be played out to reach a conclusion as a draw, but everyone already knows the inevitable result – unless someone takes up a ludicrous position. These are not analyses devoted to winning in chess, or even to solving a particular problem. Duchamp is playing with the game, with a subset that opens itself out to a new realm of investigation – not of the solution, but of the playing itself. Herein lies the influence of this piece, its importance, and its brilliance. This is precisely where Duchamp fundamentally and inalterably changes the basis for discussion in art – even if the field still hasn’t fully understood what has happened.

But in the end, this booklet really is just an essay on chess, an analysis of improbably obscure possibilities played out because they can be. So why do I confer such high status upon this piece, or even call it art. Well… Let’s step back one more time and look at Duchamp’s supposed departure from art, abdicating his role as one of the leaders of his generation to play chess – very well by the way.

Dear old Marcel was part of an artistic family – for whatever it means his three brothers were also artists. He was actually one heck of a painter in a traditional sense. Then, between about 1910 and 1912 he did decided to run the gauntlet of contemporary art, to try it all on for size. This was not so much because he wanted to emulate these other artists – in this period he ran through Cezanne, Symbolism, Fauvism, Cubism, and by 1912 was already recognized to be mocking Cubism with his Nude Descending a Staircase (1912). Already at the age of 25 Duchamp was bored by what he called “retinal art,” art that was simply there to be looked at. Dearest Marcel wanted, demanded that art must be more than that, must engage the mind, that art – and artists – should be smart. [Can you guess why I love Duchamp?]

By 1915 Duchamp is making his famous Ready-mades – finally we reach what may perhaps be familiar territory. 1916, Dada [French for "hobby-horse"] is formed, and by 1923 it is already being accepted, in fact supported by a larger art community. This is renegade stuff of course, but it was smart and good, and a growing intelligentsia was accepting of it. Remember, Surrealism was fast on Dada’s heels and we are closing in on the headlong dash to solving the problem of art – paraphrasing the dreaded Clement Greenberg.

In 1923 we see the dissolution of Dada, Duchamp is growingly dissatisfied with the art world’s ability to recoup and aesthetisize pretty much anything, to revert even the most non-visual of things to “retinal art.” Duchamp most probably sees the writing on the wall as well, that the quintessentially modern premise of “solving” art was unavoidable. Those silly painters wanted to perfect the form – thus killing it – just as governments had been working to perfect the killing of people in World War I – one of the great influential horrors that brought Dada about.

Thus having completed The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even [also known as The Large Glass] in 1923, by 1926 Duchamp stopped making art. People did not want him to stop – fellow artists, friends, and collectors urged him to come back. But no, Marcel played chess. I find it difficult to see this move as a completely guileless maneuver. Duchamp was perpetually working to reject “retinal art,” was looking for what further questions needed to be posed within art, and chess had already contributed a significant metaphor set for his work. Chess was not a retreat from art for Duchamp, it was a fundamental part of his art, if not art itself. Chess offered a nearly infinite array of solutions but was in and of itself unsolvable; there was always someone better, more challenging positions, more elegant approaches. And it was in endgame theory that Duchamp found his ultimate metaphor, not for a particular expression, but for art and it future, its way out of the modernist solution-trap.

The positions Duchamp is dealing with in Opposition and Sister Squares are Reconciled are about unsolvability, they resist domination, they virtually require stalemate, a solution without defeat [dispelling in advance the heroic conqueror that the artist would become in Clement Greenberg’s hands as he brought forth Pollock]. Two kings and blocked pawns should always lead to stalemate unless one player can trick the other into making a mistake, accepting a false premise which will lead to defeat. This trick was exactly what Duchamp would consider “retinal art,” a cheap substitute for art that we leap at unknowingly.

So, what did Marcel see in these positions. At the point of inevitable stalemate the purpose of chess breaks down, it no longer becomes about winning and losing – both are rendered impossible – but the game still remains a game, the rules are in place, moves are still available, it is just the purpose that has shifted. Not the game is truly being played, not won or lost. The game becomes play, but not random or meaningless. The definition of a good move is essentially altered for the players involved: a good move is not one that helps you win – already impossible – but one that is interesting, that produces a potentially new position, that furthers the dialogue that is occurring on the board toward new and innovative directions, or perhaps arcane and unrecognized possibilities. In these positions chess is no longer about solution, but interest. And this was perpetually Duchamp’s question about art. And this is still the question that faces art.

Art is not solvable, nor is it necessarily the next logical move – as so much of the modernist project focused upon. I certainly do not know what art is, but I do believe that art has posed some of the most interesting questions, postulated some remarkable ideas, issued some of the most insistent challenges I have ever encountered. Within Duchamp’s work I don’t know where the lines between art, design, literature, music, theatre, and life lie. I don’t know if such lines existed as other than vague, blurry spaces [in fact, Duchamp problematized measurement itself early in his career with 3 Standard Stoppages. I do not see the differentiation of form as relevant.

If I, as an artist, write a short story – or even this essay – is it no longer art. Perhaps, perhaps not, but really I don’t care whether it is or isn’t. My concern – and hopefully the concern of all artists – is whether what I do is interesting. Not just for a minute as in “My, isn’t that an interesting bit of sting on the floor.” Rather, does what I do hold some significant interest, first of all for me the maker, but that is not enough. Is this work interesting within the larger cultural context in which it exists? Just as Duchamp did not go around to artists and show them his interesting chess positions, he took them to the cultural context in which they existed, the world of chess masters and crafted his understanding, yet he also knew that his actions were being watched – he was in no way averse to performance. So to should each work of art find its place. Yes, it ought function within the space and history of art – I suppose – but its real concern should be how does it fit within the world. Not in a pandering sort of way – i.e. will people like it – but as a vital concern, as a challenge, as an elegant next move.

Duchamp eventually returned to the official art world, though I do not think he ever left. He did a few more pieces of art, but I do not believe his heart was in it. I believe that in Opposition and Sister Squares are Reconciled he learned what he needed to learn. He found the way of expressing that beautiful challenge; he conquered his fear of the modernist solution-machine [a concept which would be made all the more horrible by World War II]. In Opposition and Sister Squares are Reconciled my beloved Marcel asked his invocation, “Here is my move, interest me.” And that is why Opposition and Sister Squares are Reconciled is the piece of art that inspires me every day, at times compels me to make nothing, and at others forces me to spend sleepless nights working and reworking perhaps only to gain a single images, a meager sentence or word, one line of code, the endeavor to do something interesting.