the alcoholic nightmare of jonathan ames . . .

(click images to enlarge)





—from Jonathan Ames’ first graphic novel, The Alcoholic, illustrated by artist Dean Haspiel. Vertigo, 2008. 

walter benjamin on branding (!)


W.B., brand guru, fills out a creative brief for Slivovitz Cola.

Chaptal, in his speech on protecting brand names in industry: "Let us not assume that the consumer will be adept, when making a purchase, at distinguishing the degrees of quality of a material. No, gentlemen, the consumer cannot appreciate these degrees; he judges only according to his senses. Do the eye or the touch suffice to enable one to pronounce on the fastness of colors, or to determine with precision the degree of fineness of a material, the nature and quality of its manufacture?" Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal, Rapport au nom d’une commission spéciale chargée de l’examen du projet de loi relatif aux altérations et suppositions de noms sur les produits fabriqués [Chambre des Pairs de France, session of July 17, 1824], p5. — The importance of good professional standing is magnified in proportion as consumer know-how becomes more specialized. [A7a,4]


—Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project


time & obscurity

In any case, the various futures have already been lived out, played out, and all one can do is wearily continue along these set paths. Only the past remains obscure. It hasn’t happened and perhaps it never will.


—Hugo Wilcken, Colony

working wisdom


It is not required of you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.


—Rabbi Tarfon

dour dexter snubs sister!

the curmudgeonly canine turns his back on his sweet sibling & baby sister addie

american pulp

"There are thirty-two ways to write a story, and I’ve used every one, but there is only one plot things are not as they seem."


Jim Thompson

It took me fifteen years, but I finally found a copy!

from the back cover:

Duff Anderson works hard on a railroad gang makes good money ($80 a week), and has learned to get along. But he wants more. He wants to be a man down South where, at best, he’s called boy. And he’ll settle for nothing less. This is the unforgettable story of Duff Anderson’s world and the people in it: his father, a hopeless alcoholic Josie, the well-educated girl who loves him; Josie’s minister father, an over-cautious Uncle Tom; and of Duff, himself, who wages his own personal battle as he seeks to become nothing less than a man.

a visit to the psychotherapist

from robbe-grillet’s project for a revolution in new york

For this underground area seems entirely devoted to amusements: on each side of the huge central mall open out huge bays filled with long rows of the gleam­ing


I discover without difficulty the shop window I want, easily found because it displays nothing: it is a wide plain ground-glass sheet with the simple inscrip­tion in moderate-sized enamel letters: “Dr. Morgan, Psychotherapist.” I turn the nearly invisible handle of a door made of the same ground glass, and I step into a very small bare cubicle, all six surfaces painted white (in other words, the floor as well), in which are only a tubular-steel chair, a matching table with an artificial marble top on which is lying a closed en­gagement book whose black imitation-leather cover shows the date “1969” stamped in gold letters, and behind this table, sitting very stiffly on a chair identical with the first, a blond young woman—quite pretty perhaps, impersonal and sophisticated in any case, wearing a dazzlingly white nurse’s uniform, her eyes concealed by sunglasses which doubtless help her endure the intense lighting, white like everything else and reflected on all sides by the immaculate walls.

She looks at me without speaking. The lenses of her sunglasses are so dark that it is impossible to guess even the shape of her eyes. I bring myself to pro­nounce the sentence, carefully separating the words as if each of them contained an isolated meaning: “I’ve come for a narco-analysis.”

After a few seconds thought, she gives me the antici­pated reply, but in an oddly natural voice, gay and spontaneous, suddenly bursting out: “Yes … It’s quite late … What’s the weather like outside right now?” And her face immediately freezesagain, while her body has regained its mannequin stiffness at the same time. But I answer right back, still in the same neutral tone, insisting on each syllable: “It’s raining outside. People are walking with their heads bent under the rain.”

“All right,” she says (and suddenly there is a kind of weariness in her voice), “are you a regular patient or is this your first visit?”

“This is my first visit here.”

Then after having looked at me again for a mo­ment—at least so it seems to me—through her dark glasses, the young woman stands up, walks around the table and, though the narrowness of the room does not at all require her to do so, brushes against me so insistently that her perfume clings to my clothes; in passing she points to the empty chair, continues to the far wall, turns around and says to me: “Sit down.”

And she has immediately vanished, through a door so well concealed in the white partition that I had not even noticed its glass knob. The continuity of the sur­face is re-established, moreover, so quickly that I could now suspect I never saw it broken. I have just sat down when, through the opposite door opening onto the shopping mall, walks one of the men with iron-gray faces I glimpsed a few minutes earlier stand­ing in front of a bookshop window: his body was turned toward the row of specialized magazines and papers on display, but he kept glancing right and left, as if he was afraid of being watched, though at times his eyes rested with some deliberation on an expen­sive magazine of which an entire row of identical copies were displayed at eye level, showing on its cover the full-color photograph, life size, of an open vagina.

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cultural criticism from gary indiana


american novelist and journalist gary indiana is best known for his fictionalized accounts of american crimes, including resentment, a reworking of the murderous brothers lyle and erik menendez, and three month fever, about andrew cunanan’s murder of fashion designer gianni versace.


but indiana is also an essayist of american mores and morals, with an archness of tone and range of reference that brings to mind the best essays of gore vidal.


from utopia’s debris: selected essays (2009):


Cover Image



The Madness of the Day


There is an appliance in every living room that makes people stupid. This was a widely known fact before the late George W. S. Trow’s essay “Within the Context of No Context” appeared in The New Yorker in 1980 (and in book form soon after), but Trow’s impressionistic meditation on the world of television, and the world of television’s effect on mass culture, fingered the trance effect of the medium’s stupidity, and the medium’s message, with arresting precision — arresting not least because the essay’s form mimicked the fractured pastiche that was, in 1980, only beginning to be called “postmodernism,” a condition of things engendered by television which Trow clearly viewed with fascinated disgust.


The essay made waves. It was, among other things, the revenge of The New Yorker, as it then was, on a punitive construct The New Yorker called “downtown,” the retort of a vanishing class to the barbarians at the gate. This was not so much the important thing about the essay as it was its throbbing little imperfection. Like Renata Adler’s jeremiads against the avant-garde in Toward A Radical Middle (1969), it pitted its imperious adultness against a perceived culture of mushrooming infantilism, and sometimes cited little well-intended things that didn’t quite work as powerful, malefic symptoms of regression. It proceeded from assumptions that mostly rang true, and sometimes (just when they began to seem irrefutable) betrayed the careless impatience of hereditary snobbery.


Like Adler before him, Trow had been raised and trained in an upper middle class whose values were no longer viewed by people outside or even inside that class as desirable or necessary. That class had expected to define the mainstream from generation to generation, and suddenly no longer did, or if it did, the mainstream it defined no longer held any cultural authority. In “Collapsing Dominant,” Trow’s new introductory essay to the reissue of WTCONC, the author’s candor on this point is blunt and admirable, and, in its way, as subtly irritating as the tone of his original essay.


That said, the meat of Trow’s book, in both essays, is impressively fresh. As a diagnostician of American consciousness, Trow brings to his job a playfulness and poetic finesse that demonstrate how much the literary mind can do that ideology can’t. He has a genius for parsing the inanities that batter an audience into a demographic, a problem into a product, an idea into a jingle. His subject is the chasm between private feeling and “the grid of two hundred million.” WTCONC is about agreements and betrayals, unreasonable promises scrawled in vanishing ink into a fraudulent social contract, the art of the con job on a massive scale. “No one, now, minds a con man,” Trow writes. “But no one likes a con man who doesn’t know what we think we want.” What Trow does best is show how what we think we want is invented and projected with less and less reference to anything real. And implied in all this is the desperate emptiness of most American lives, without which television as we know it would never be necessary or desirable.


What are we being sold, and how much are we paying for it? Why are we buying it? What’s the implicit exchange? Applying such questions to game shows, talk shows, serial melodrama, celebrity gossip, popular magazines, and “programming” in the broadest sense, Trow sees the original impulse behind such phenomena — the initiating, plausible need — decaying over time, as the context of earlier values (of authority, say, and the principled flouting of authority) crumbles, leaving a foreground of empty forms which then becomes the background against which ever-emptier forms appear. One apotheosis of this process is a “new cable television channel called TVLand. And on TVLand one will view, as entertainment, Classic Commercials … I think people will reinvent their history using specific images from a more organized moment.”


The highly disorganized moment we are living in now, which Trow nailed with such prescience seventeen years ago, owes much of its tinny, squalidly masochistic flavor to the erasure of historical consciousness. We no longer know who we are because we no longer know who we were, which makes it rather easy for other people to sell us an identity. This is a core issue in Daniel Harris’ The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture, a brilliant suite of essays that ranges across many facets of gay culture — from camp, drag, S&M to “lifestyle” magazines, personal ads, pornography, and AIDS kitsch — and which, like Trow’s book, injects the historical sense into a seemingly ahistorical present. Trow documents the collapse of a dominant class; Harris delivers an unsentimental eulogy for a vanishing ethnicity, one that’s been assimilated into commercial culture at the expense of its defining characteristics.


“Long before homosexuals were accepted by mainstream society,” Harris writes, “we had become so financially useful to the business world that our integration as respectable Americans was inevitable, for how could any ethnic group that contributed as heavily as we did to the nation’s economy be ostracized forever?” In America’s urban areas, at least, this integration is fairly complete. With the help of repetitive propaganda from magazines like Genre and Out, fashion designers like Calvin Klein, endorsements for understanding and tolerance from Hollywood’s “role models,” and a publishing subindustry of self-help literature, homosexuals have achieved the middle-class mediocrity, and even the Pavlovian patriotism, typical of successfully assimilated groups. Harris has no great longings for imaginary good old days, but his book has the immense virtue of exposing the unspoken, i.e., what gay people have had to abandon in order to be accepted and absorbed. Not all of it was good; much of it was pathological. But none of it was quite as banal as the current emphasis on gay marriage and monogamy, for example, or “coming out” as the endlessly restaged, central drama in every homosexual’s life, or the compulsive mimicry of mainstream tastes and “lifestyle” options promoted by bourgeois gay media. While gay politics has suffered serious recent setbacks, gay culture, in a drastically sanitized form, has won the patronage of corporate America, eager to exploit a vast market of “dual-income no kids” consumer units. Gay culture has, in effect, had its vectors swallowed by the pulsating pudding of disintegrated contexts that Trow describes as “adolescent orthodoxy.”


The exchange involved here — and it is an exchange, for which liberationists have avidly lobbied, not a unilateral colonization — requires the suppression from public view of everything that really does, or really did, make the homosexual different from the average American, whether it’s male effeminacy, elitist artistic taste, specific sexual practices, or the forming of easy alliances between same-sex persons of radically different classes. The reward is the transformation of the outcast into a welcome, faceless consumer. “The permission given by television is permission to make tiny choices, within the context of total permission infected with a sense of no permission at all,” Trow writes. For “television” substitute “corporate benevolence” or “inclusion in the demography of a product’s target audience.”


Assimilation hurts. Harris’ argument is similar to that of Pasolini’s Lutheran Letters, i.e., that the special features of distinct groups fall away as these groups are homogenized into commercial culture. In the case of gays, much of what is disappearing came into existence in the first place as defense mechanisms against exclusion — camp, for instance, provided a species of wit that turned straight culture’s artifacts into double entendres, by which homosexuals devised a rich, densely coded underground culture, that despite its abjection, had an uncanny quality of difference no longer discernible in contemporary gay life. (Harris makes the point that young gays, today, have more in common with young heterosexuals than they do with older gays; what Harris calls “glad-to-be-gay propaganda” is almost exclusively focused on people under forty, and its points of cultural reference are exactly the same films, music, books, celebrities, consumer products, and leisure activities promoted by mainstream media.)


The process of hidden-things-becoming-visible that’s unfolded since the late ’60s has been one of seasonal identity crises for the “gay community,” a construct that requires quotation marks since part of these crises has always been a question about which parts of this “gay community” the culture at large is prepared to assimilate. Another part has been a question of redundancy: at what point do we admit that something is no longer “transgressive,” no longer a challenge to the dominant society, no longer interesting? As the raison d’être of such phenomena as drag evaporates from a culture where gender roles are no longer strictly codified in clothing and behavior, getting up in drag becomes an exercise in folkloric kitsch, with no more subversive content than the costume pageants at Colonial Williamsburg.


Many years ago, Fran Lebowitz said that if you removed the homosexual influence from American culture, what you’d have left would be Let’s Make a Deal. Today, the social oppression that drove so many homosexuals into the arts is disappearing. As Harris puts it, “When gay men no longer feel degraded and insecure and therefore driven to prove their worth to the heterosexual mainstream, they will cease using culture as a means of achieving social prestige and, as a consequence, will stop flocking to art schools, the stage, the concert hall, or the opera house, becoming much more conventional in their aspirations and gravitating to less creative jobs in the business sector.” While none of us exactly long for the oppressions of the past that brought us everything from Ronald Firbank to Lypsinka, the passing of this culture cedes ever more ground to the philistinism and mediocrity of the consciousness industry. In their different ways, Trow and Harris sound the alarm that Let’s Make a Deal is quickly becoming all we have.


“sliogo made me and sligo undid me…”

from sebastian barry’s costa-winning the secret scripture:


“My father was calling, calling, in enormous excitement in the towwer, “what do you see, what do you see?’

 What did I see, what did I know? It is sometimes I think the strain of ridiculousness in a person, a ridiculousness born maybe of desperation, such as also Eneas McNulty – you do not know who that is yet – exhibited so many years later, that pierces you through with love for that person. It is all love, that not knowing, that not seeing. I am standing there, eternally, straining to see, a crick in the back of my neck, peering and straining, if for no other reason than for love of him. The feathers are drifting away, drifting, swirling away. My father is calling and calling. My heart is beating back to him. The hammers are falling still.”


Roseanne McNulty, a one-hundred year old woman residing in Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital begins to write her autobiography, entitling it “Roseanne’s testimony of herself.” It details her life and that of her parents, in turn-of-the-century Sligo. She keeps her story hidden under the loose floorboard in her room, unsure as yet if she wants it to be found. The second narrative is the “commonplace book” of the current chief Psychiatrist of the hospital, Dr Grene. The hospital now faces imminent demolition. He must decide who of his patients are to be transferred, and who must be released into the community. He is particularly concerned about Rose, and begins tentatively to attempt to discover her history. It soon becomes apparent that both Roseanne and Dr Grene have differing stories as to her incarceration and her early life, but what it consistent in both narratives is that Roseanne fell victim to the religious and political upheavals in Ireland in the 1920s – 1930s (cribbed from wikipedia).


 Roseanne’s Testimony of Herself

chapter one


(Patient, Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, 1957–)

The world begins anew with every birth, my father used to say. He forgot to say, with every death it ends. Or did not think he needed to. Because for a goodly part of his life he worked in a graveyard.

That place where I was born was a cold town. Even the mountains stood away. They were not sure, no more than me, of that dark spot, those same mountains.

There was a black river that flowed through the town, and if it had no grace for mortal beings, it did for swans, and manyswans resorted there, and even rode the river like some kind of plunging animals, in floods.

The river also took the rubbish down to the sea, and bits of things that were once owned by people and pulled from the banks, and bodies too, if rarely, oh and poor babies, that were embarrassments, the odd time. The speed and depth of the river would have been a great friend to secrecy.

That is Sligo town I mean.

Sligo made me and Sligo undid me, but then I should have given up much sooner than I did being made or undone by human towns, and looked to myself alone. The terror and hurt in my story happened because when I was young I thought others were the authors of my fortune or misfortune; I did not know that a person could hold up a wall made of imaginary bricks and mortar against the horrors and cruel, dark tricks of time that assail us, and be the author therefore of themselves.

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night falls fast – chapter one


Sometimes when I pass a girl on the street, I remember what Mitchell Peters told me the first time he saw Serena. What he said told me so much more about him than about Serena, which is why I remember it, I guess. Mitch had a way of talking which made things memorable, but also left you wondering if he was serious about what he was saying. Anyway, about Serena what he said was this: “Christ, Henry, I was standing there on the beach talking to to the regulars — this was about 4:30 in the afternoon — and something made me turn around. I don’t what, ’cause I just froze. I mean something electric ran through me… there was this blonde in a blue dress which the wind was trying to pull off her, and she was with this guy who was walking about 10 feet ahead of her, telling her about his day at the office and how he was going to get to go to Las Vegas. He had no idea what he was missing, by not turning around and looking at what the wind and the blue dress were doing to her. I mean, I don’t care how many times he saw her naked, seeing this girl in that dress with those eyes and lips pouting against the wind — there’s no way a guy could ever get tired of looking at that. I mean, she was like Diana or Nike — not the princess or the shoe — like a fucking goddess like Diana who hunts alone, some kind of female force fully fleshed out right there, right in front of you, and this husband of hers is totally completely oblivious! Ignoring her in that blue dress in that summer breeze would be like going to the Sistine Chapel and not looking at the ceiling — it’s just not done! Naturally I was standing there staring, suddenly aware that my skin somehow felt more alive, when she stopped and looked at me… oh shit, Henry, I got another call I got to take. I’ll call you back in a bit.” Then he ended this monologue by hanging up. About two days later Mitch did call me back, and that’s when things started to get interesting. Meanwhile, I remember staring at the phone in my hand and thinking, poor old cuntstruck Henry… Diana the huntress and Nike the victory goddess — at our beach? Of all the people I spent time with in that period of my life, only Mitch would say things like that, and you could never quite tell when he was being semi-serious or wholly ironic. The possibility that he actually meant everything he said never crossed my mind, not until much later. But as I say, it was about two days later that I could tell something interesting was happening to Harry.