Archive for the ‘That is SO Postmodern’ Category

After some cajoling, a little bit of lying, and overcoming my natural aversion to things that are recommended to me by others, I finally read  David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  Having conquered Gravity’s Rainbow under extreme duress last year, Wallace’s ginormous tome seemed the natural step.  It’s spectacular, it’s amazing; the Decemberists based a music video on one of the scenes! Well, it is pretty big.  And a lot does happen, not all of it coherent.  But I am of two minds on this one.

Wallace certainly had a deft touch and was capable of making even banal events seem fascinating.  He dedicates huge swaths of the book to characters that never appear again, or only have a slight effect on the plot.  Whole scenes and subplots are introduced only to be summarily dismissed.  Figures who seem initially under drawn come back 500 pages later and the reader who has managed to pay attention feels somewhat rewarded for her efforts.  I am incapable, however, of not comparing this book to the other great post-modernist novels; i.e. to Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, even American Psycho.  And what I conclude, the more I consider it, is not that Wallace is a bad writer (he’s not) nor that he’s overrated (he isn’t) but rather … well … it’s been done.

I don’t mean that anyone else has ever attempted to write a 1000 page book involving a tennis academy, a dead filmmaker, and a halfway house, among others; I mean that Wallace’s whole project simply smacks of overwriting.  I was about 150 pages into it when I suddenly realized that either this was the most brilliant book ever ever, or it was needlessly verbose.  Long-winded, if you will.  I happen to love ridiculously long books — I figure that I’m getting my money’s worth.  And I enjoy getting involved in the ups and downs of characters over several hundred pages.  If a book is good, how much better to get to spend lots of time on it? I’ve read almost all of Charles Dickens for that very reason.

My problem with Wallace is that I’m not convinced he’s as good as he’s supposed to be.  For all its circuitous nature, Infinite Jest is still a pretty standard, easy-to-follow book.  It does not take you on a roundabout journey through the contemporary moment — in fact, it’s already quite dated.  The technology has stopped in the early nineties, when the book was written, although it is set in the future.  The extensive examination of drugs and drug usage has been done so much, in movies, books and articles, that it feels quite tired.  And that is perhaps why, for me, the book ultimately fails to rise up to the status of a great work of literature.  Gravity’s Rainbow is set in WWII and was published in 1973, but it still resonates.  It’s a novel of apocalypse, of human folly and deconstruction.  It is long and confusing and packed with references real and imagined.  Love it or hate it, it is still a mindfuck.

I would not argue that a book has to be complex or almost impossible to comprehend in order to be great.  But I do think it has to transcend its time period.  Novels I consider great (War and Peace, Gravity’s Rainbow, Bleak House, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, A Confederacy of Dunces, Slaughter-House 5, to name a few) are all of their times, but they ultimately move past their times.  They do not merely attempt to define a moment or a generation — in fact, they do not seem to make it their project to define anything.  They are novels of humanity, stories that strike to the heart of what it means to a human being and do so with humor, tragedy, pathos, cynicism.  I felt curiously disconnected from Infinite Jest.  I admired the writing, but I did not feel connected to it.  It was being told a story that no longer felt relevant.

I don’t really want to set up any author as more worthy of admiration than Wallace … but I’m going to anyways.  Tristan Egolf is from the same generation, and operated in much the same milieu (and like Wallace, he committed suicide).  But to me there is more depth to the few books he completed than in all 1000 pages of Infinite Jest.  He’s unique; his characters are Amish werewolves and punk-addled teenagers with shotguns.  Lord of the Barnyard has no dialogue; Kornwolf occupies a lot of space in describing the experience of listening to punk music.  The novels are edgy, insane grotesqueries, breaking most conventions and totally annihilating others.  The author, like his characters, simply does not give a fuck.  Egolf writes like the end of the world is near.  And the only thing to do is to go out in a blaze of adrenaline-fueled glory.  I must admit, that’s something I can get behind.

Anyways, here’s a music video:

“Just to let you know, your facebook statuses are getting douchier and douchier.”

My dear and always honest friend Lindsay expressed this to me several months ago, when I was in the midst of a paper on Nietzsche and postmodernism that was, like, totally blowing my mind.  And my, but my facebook statuses were indeed getting douchier and douchier.  No question.  Since that fateful day, however, I have begun to hear the word douche used in new and exciting contexts.  How douchey can we be? seems to be the question of the day.

Now, the etymology of the word ‘douche’ has a long and complicated history.  When we call someone a ‘douche’, we are not, of course, referring to the actual item of feminine hygiene.  Nor are we particularly comparing said individual to that item.  Back in the day, my father informed me, to call someone a ‘douche’ was one of the worst things you could say.  Now, we say it routinely.  It references someone (very often male) who behaves in a pretentious, obnoxious, or generally … uh … douchey manner.  It continues to be a derogatory term, of course.  Or does it?

Recently, I have heard (and used) the word ‘douche’ in a highly self-referential fashion.  ‘Hipster douchiness’ has become a regular statement among my circle of friends here in Edinburgh.

“Come and be a douche with us!” stated a text message, inviting everyone along to hang out in the Meadows.  When one sits in a cafe, drinking organic coffee, typing one’s novel on one’s MacBook (or, for true douchiness, iPad), one is achieving a true level of douchiness that few ever arrive honestly at.  Dressing like a hipster, saying things like ‘That is sooooo Postmodern’, reading Nietzsche, speaking of one’s existential self, updating one’s blog with ironic referential comments, shopping at Urban Outfitters, complaining of the difficulty of one’s life while lying in the sun, being a barista in any capacity, talking about being a barista, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, listening to obscure folk music … these are not the hallmarks of true douchiness.  No, true douchiness must be achieved by being AWARE of true douchiness.  By the recognition that one is behaving like a total, complete, remarkable, capitalized Douche.

“We’re so hip, we’re going to a band that even we haven’t heard of!”

This, my friends, is true douchiness.  The Way of the Douche is fraught with peril, for the pitfalls might turn you into an acoustic guitar playing juggler on a unicycle who has no freaking idea of how douchey he/she truly is.  It might turn you into a twenty-something would-be novelist in a cafe bitching about how no one gets just what post-postmodernism is.  The Way of the Douche must be carefully discovered, hopefully with people just as pretend-douchey as you are.  For the true Douche is not a douche at all.  Just someone who enjoys a ironic joke, a scene of pop-culture referentiality, an honest moment in the sun with friends.  Someone who can laugh at themselves.

So, verily, I say unto you: go and discover the Way of the Douche.  I know I have.

If, like me, you are a cinephile, then I wish for you to take a brief moment to imagine the following film.  Imagine that Luis Bunuel around about his Mexican time period (when he was making a lot of films in the desert) suddenly came across a young producer by the name of Roger Corman.  Imagine that Corman asked Bunuel if he would be interested in writing a movie with a promising young man named Pynchon.  Imagine finally, that Bunuel and Pynchon wrote that movie for Corman, that Bunuel directed it, and that David Lynch supervised the editing process.  You might very well come out with Quentin Dupieux’s flawed but immensely entertaining ‘Rubber‘.

As everyone who has heard of ‘Rubber’ is well aware, the film centers around a psychopathic tire named Robert with telekinetic abilities.  That in itself was enough to make me want to see it.  What is pleasantly surprising about the film is that the psychopathic tire is only the beginning.  The film opens with a character addressing an on-screen audience, touting the need for a factor of ‘no reason’ in the greatest of films.  The lack of reason for Robert to become ambulatory, much less murderous, is what drives the plot.  Why does Robert wake up, shake off the sand that has covered him, and begin rolling across the desert? No reason.  Why does he suddenly discover a destructive ability to explode things (bottles, bunnies, people’s heads) just by … well, shaking a lot, but the implication is that he does it with his mind? No reason.  If the lack of reason in the film is meant to comment on the malaise of modern filmgoing, then there’s a problem.  But if, as I suspect, it is meant to be exactly what it says it is (an homage to No Reason), then it is remarkably successful.

That on-screen audience provides the highest dosage of meta commentary, as audience members (standing in the desert watching Robert’s progress) comment on the action.  And here the movie lags, then threatens to disappear up its own tail-pipe.  On-screen audiences show up far too much in cinema to be unique, although handing them binoculars and then torturing them in various way is a nice conceit.  Their comments neither move the action along, nor contribute to the enjoyment of the off-screen audience.  They are too self-conscious to be interesting, and the scenes centred around them become increasingly wooden and dull.  And about mid-point through, the entire film becomes derailed to concentrate on this audience in an overlong scene of metafiction.  The fact is, we really want to see what Robert will do next, not what the audience members think he will do next, nor how aware the characters are that they’re in a movie.

Robert is the most developed character, as we watch him come to life, discover his powers, discover sex, discover death and destruction, suffering and excitement.  Without speaking a word, without having a face or eyes or being anything other than a tire, he manages to evoke sympathy, terror, humor, and a good amount of self-awareness.  One gets the sense that Dupieux’s interests lie in the same place and that he was suffering from too much cleverness when he added in the running commentary.  If only he let Robert do the talking, the film would have rolled along much better.  As it is, though, I cannot resist the sheer enjoyment of watching a tire best humanity, without speech and finally without reason.

I’m assuming that ‘Rubber’ can be viewed in theatres, but it can also be downloaded from iTunes.  Really, it is well worth it.  

This is going to be one of those ‘geez, my life is fascinating’ sort of posts.  Brace yourself.  I live in Edinburgh–a glorious city, beautiful, gothic, that drives me completely insane 9 days out of 10–and, this being Scotland, it was something of an event when the sun shone yesterday.  Not only did the sun shine, but the wind had sunk to a light spring breeze, the sky was totally clear, there was no chance of getting all four seasons in one day, as there usually is in Edinburgh.  So as I am on ‘vacation’ from grad school, so to speak, I betook myself to the Meadows, a public park in the middle of the Old Town.  There I witnessed what happens on a sunny day in a place known for its continuous greyness.

It seemed that the entire city turned out to picnic in the park.  There were people juggling, boys on unicycles, crowds of students with those little barbeques you can buy at Tescos, couples sleeping, children playing, bicycles inexplicably and dangerously traversing the crowd.  I laid down on a nice sunny patch of grass, had my lunch, opened my book, turned on my music and settled myself in for a few hours of existential contemplation.

The problem with existential contemplation on a sunny day in Edinburgh is that you begin to consider, naturally enough, your existential self.  Which I did.  It happened when I sat up to remove my shoes.  In a flash, I saw myself, sitting there on that green expanse.  And I did not like what I saw.  I saw a twenty-something girl in Levis, H&M tank top, wearing worn down red Converse with no socks, listening to folk music on her iPod, iPhone tucked into her back pocket.  I saw a girl drinking an organic smoothie while reading ‘American Psycho’, eyes shaded against the sun by her horn-rimmed, retro sunglasses, head propped up on a messenger bag with pins that read ‘Peace: Back By Popular Demand’ and a picture of Che Guevera.  I saw (and I tremble as I write this): a hipster.  The only thing missing was a pashmina and skinny jeans.

Allow me to rephrase that: I saw a fucking hipster.  Because I, like the rest of the civilized world, do not like hipsters.  They are false creatures of darkness who use ‘ironic’ ironically.  They move in packs, like werewolves, and listen to bands you’ve never heard of just because you’ve never heard of them.  They ride unicycles…and there is nothing I irrationally despise more than the unicycle (it defies all laws of God and Man, but let’s not get into that).  They are pop-culture leeches and they have usurped all the good things, like Godard and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and acoustic guitars.

And I am one.  Joanna reassured me that I could not be a hipster if I wasn’t doing any of the things I was doing ironically.  But of course, I am ironic by nature.  I’m a sarcastic, snarky film snob.  And isn’t not doing something ironically that  you should be doing ironically by extension ironic? The irony of being un-ironic in an ironic setting? Dear.  God.

Kerouac defined the hipster of the 1940s, but went on to say that there are a million and one false hipsters out there.  There’s an excellent quote from ‘Desolation Angels’ about this, but I can’t find it.  And now I’m referencing Kerouac and my cliched nature is complete.  Fuck.

In my defense (from myself), I actually want to read American Psycho.  I have a Che Guevera button because I respect him, and I have read some of his work.  I love my Cons, and my iPod, and my iPhone Caligula.  Levis fit me, and they are not artificially distressed.  I was drinking a fruit smoothie in an attempt to get my 5 a day.  If anything, I am a sincere hipster.

How very ironic.