Saturday, April 28, 2012

Game theory

1

In the middle of Loren Eiseley's essay "How Flowers Changed the World," the freshman comp class snapped awake for a moment when a girl hit a startling assertion and uttered a pretty little scream.

"Flowers are sex organs?" she cried.

"What did you think they are?" I Socratically responded.

Pause.

And then the girl ventured: "For decoration?"

2

The woman's denim pants from South Korea are purses for an invisible currency. Their decorated pockets hold nothing but an object of imaginative speculation. Playfully, they deploy optical illusion to shape an idea of the body they coyly hide.

Click to enlarge.

Playfully, too, they are labeled with nonsense words and an anachronistic image from a symbol system which still retains prestige in its provincial borderlands.

H. M. Regiment of Royal Korean Cowgirls.

3

The beggar is holding a sign which we can't read at that angle.


“Beggar’s dog – Hoboken,” ca. 1910-1915

Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection


But we can be sure what it must say. Advancing on our sympathy behind the shield of his sign, the beggar is notionally selling pencils and shoelaces: things everybody needs, things with a value in any economic system. But in the trade zone behind the sign, what is transacted is only an exchange of money from one pocket to another. Except for that transfer, everything in this image is decoration. The beggar's pencils are no more for writing with than a hedge funder's bling watch is for telling time.

Making it playful, the beggar has alienated his tin cup from the transaction by hanging it around his dog's neck. Accustomed to seeing pictures by the rules of narrative convention, we think of the dog as smiling. The dog is also wrapped in something gauzy. It may be something like a woman's shawl; it may be a completely threadbare blanket. Presumably it is worn against the cold, but we are going to read it too as part of the game. Coming closer and closer to the outline of the dog's body, it playfully beckons the decorative twists of the iron bars behind it into what might look like the final shape of a life.

That gauze, those iron helices, that dozing bald man, have become part of a pattern they can no longer outlive.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world

The fat man appears to be airborne over the ship's deck, hovering with arms stiffly extended forward and down like landing gear. His cushiony, shock-absorbing hands appear to be huge, but perhaps that's an illusion produced by foreshortening. In his image, outlined by a rectangular frame of decayed photographic emulsion, he is strongly foreshortened at every point.


 "W. N. McMillan." G. G. Bain collection, Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ggbain.18560/  
Click to enlarge.


At and around the man's hands, further decay has accentuated the contrast between the image's light and dark areas. The decay has done an artist's job: it has shaped an outline.

---

An outline is usually a line of demarcation which an artist lays down between his creation and the rest of the universe. Here, however, outline is an index of decay. The universe has invaded the physiology of this image like a virus and set it to manufacturing a counterfeit of the artist’s death-defying gesture of separation from time.


And the optics of photographic image-making have bloated the man into an incipient sphere: a fruit rounding as it ripens toward decay.


The rounding has been preserved in its incipience, however. It comes to us educationally, preserved through natural history as if it and we had been destined from the beginning to face each other from opposite sides of a vitrine.


Surrounded by the Library of Congress’s explanatory words, the image is a fat mute struldbrug surrounded by volubly signifying youthfulness. The words singing in the surround are a choir of still unravished brides.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A polite request for a miracle

As of March 31, Pastor Benny Hinn is in Honolulu for what his host church, King’s Cathedral on Kalanianaole Highway, is calling a miracle service. Mr. Hinn, a well known televangelist, is famous for waving his white jacket at a congregation and causing people to fall down en hysterical masse, as at a funeral service for a North Korean statesman.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVG1x-rh6FE

Another event on March 31 is that Honolulu’s streets are crumbling after a month of heavy rain. Right in front of King’s Cathedral the other day I hit a pothole that almost broke an axle. So here’s a request, Pastor Benny:
as long as you’re there, would you mind stepping out the front door of King’s Cathedral for a moment, walking through the parking lot past the Kentucky Fried Chicken, waving your jacket at that pothole, and getting it healed?

And all the other potholes while you’re at it?

Thank you. We’ll all appreciate it.