"The Mormons settled this ominous country, and then they abandoned it, but by the time they left the first orange tree had been planted and for the next hundred years the San Bernardino Valley would draw a kind of people who imagined they might live among the talismanic fruit and prosper in the dry air, people who brought with them Midwestern ways of building and cooking and praying and who tried to graft those ways upon the land. The graft took in curious ways. This is the California where it is possible to live and die without ever eating an artichoke, without ever meeting a Catholic or a Jew. This is the California where it is easy to Dial-A-Devotion, but hard to buy a book. This is the country in which a belief in the literal interpretation of Genesis has slipped imperceptibly into a belief in the literal interpretation of Double Indemnity, the country of the teased hair and the Capris and the girls for whom all life’s promise comes down to a waltz-length white wedding dress and the birth of a Kimberly or a Sherry or a Debbi and a Tijuana divorce and a return to hairdressers’ school. "We were just crazy kids," they say without regret, and look to the future. The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past."

— Joan Didion Slouching Towards Bethlehem, (2000)

Photographs by Katy Grannan from The Nine (2014).

@3 weeks ago with 70 notes
#Art #Photography #Katy Grannan #Literature #Journalism #Writing #Joan Didion #California 

"The writer has a fundamental responsibility to write well or to write the best he can, because if he doesn’t he’s not a writer. And when a writer writes, he’s always referring to a social and historical context. It’s impossible for Argentinian writers not to write as Argentinians, because to be Argentinian is a circumstance of fate, like it is to be Cuban. When you analyze the bourgeois writer’s novel, you see the shortcomings of bourgeois society. Even when you try to write a fantasy story, in some way that fantasy is going to be connected to a reality. But regardless, if someone is a true writer—not an opportunist who wants to be in favor with the government of the day—that person is always going to be for freedom. Because the simple truth is that without freedom, the writer cannot exist. And the writer who is for freedom is, by definition, not for any totalitarian system. So the duty of the writer is to write well and champion freedom. And he champions freedom because he has an obligation—what better obligation than this?"

@6 months ago with 55 notes
#Art #Literature #Reinaldo Arenas #The New Yorker #Ann Tashi Slater #George Orwell #Politics #History #Cuba #Castro #Totalitarianism 

In his poetic, impassioned and elegant introduction to the collection of essays Between The Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics, John Berger quotes the French poet Paul Valéry, who wrote that “[t]he eyes are organs of asking”. Berger continues: “The first answers to such asking are visual not verbal, precise yet inexplicable, familiar yet strange. Appearances contain more messages than we ever allow them to tell us — except perhaps when we are in love.”

In his seminal essay on photography, “Appearances”, published some eight years earlier, Berger wrote that:

“The one who looks is essential to the meaning found, and yet can be surpassed by it. And this surpassing is what is hoped for. Revelation was a visual category before it was a religious one. The hope of revelation – and this is particularly obvious in every childhood – is the stimulus to the will to all looking which does not have a precise functional aim.”

Looking again at the fragile, gilted images in that small wonder of a book, Treadwell, by Andrea Modica, Berger’s words attain an unshakeable clarity and depth. In a sense this may seem a contradiction, or at least some form of anachronism, given that when looking at portraiture of this lucidity it might seem that the image begins precisely where words run dry. And yet, the question posed by these resonant, elliptical, hypnotic images is of a piece with some form of revelation - however minor. Moreover, there is a basis both for hope and a welcome sense of mystery in this work, one that is grounded in the most elusive of the many qualities that these photographs possess - “the stimulus to the will to all looking which does not have a precise functional aim.”

What follow are some words excerpted from "Reliquary", the introductory essay to Modica’s book, written by E. Annie Proulx:

"There is a Treadwell, population 200, in rural New York south of the Susquehanna, south of interstate 88, and it is the place where, ten years ago, Andrea Modica took the first and now famous photograph in this study, two children caught in the hands of adults; we look and wonder, are they sheltered or imprisoned, resigned or straining against the hold, is the clasp tender, is the bathrobed child prevented from hearing something dreadful, is the other seeing something that can never be forgotten? The slant of white buttons, the tiny downward glint of a ring introduces us to the richly fleshed and beautiful child who is the central figure in Treadwell, moving from this moment out of childhood toward the shoals of adult life.

For a decade Modica followed her subjects from one decayed farmhouse to another, photographing in an atmosphere of crowded rooms and generations of bad luck. The photographs are not some chronicle of despair, but caught moments in lives ruled by hard situations; there are possibilities of anything. …

A skeleton of a horse lies in the dead leaves as it fell, surrounded by a mazy thicket of saplings. We stare and see the hooves still standing, eerily upright, like a spare set the skeleton may use some moony night. And there beyond the saplings, as though risen from the bones, is that a ghost horse, an after-image of life, a reincarnation, a dream-animal, or another fragment in the reliquary of Treadwell? …

There is a beginning, a flow of events and episodes, the children grow older, sexual tension increases, lipstick is smeared, caries eat at the teeth, a finger points. … There is a sense of beating, scratching life, of inchoate longing and suppressed anger. …

Modica has a strong eye for the human condition. We are able to catch telling pieces of lives in a single photograph, glimpse private intimacies, animal pleasure, the comfort of skin. She sees, and shows us how to see, a kind of beauty in mean lives, the beauty of affection and gesture, of imaginative play, even with such a macabre object as a decaying fawn head – relic of deer, of hunt, of deed.”

Photographs © Andrea Modica, words © E. Annie ProulxPublished by Chronicle Books, 1996.

@9 months ago with 112 notes
#Photography #Andrea Modica #Portraiture #Documentary photography #Writing #Literature #Criticism #E. Annie Proulx #John Berger #Poetry #Paul Valéry #David Levi Strauss 

The inestimable Toni Morrison, giving a reading on the modern fixation with evil in contemporary literature for the annual Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality at Harvard University, December, 2012.

@9 months ago with 13 notes
#Literature #Toni Morrison #Art #Culture #Society #Fiction 

"The resources available to us for benign access to each other, for vaulting the mere blue air that separates us, are few but powerful: language, image and experience, which may involve both, one, or neither of the first two. Language (saying, listening, reading) can encourage, even mandate, surrender, the breach of distances among us, whether they are continental or on the same pillow, whether they are distances of culture or the distinctions and indistinctions of age or gender, whether they are the consequences of social invention or biology. Image increasingly rules the realm of shaping, sometimes becoming, often contaminating knowledge. Provoking language or eclipsing it, an image can determine not only what we know and feel, but also what we believe is worth knowing about what we feel.

These two godlings, language and image, feed and form experience. My instant embrace of an outrageously dressed fisherwoman was in part because of an image on which my representation of her was based; the image was supported by language — swiftly intimate with the curls and curves I recognized. I immediately sentimentalized and appropriated her. Fantasized her as my personal shaman. I owned her or wanted to (and I suspect she glimpsed it). I had forgotten the power of embedded images and stylish language to seduce, reveal, control. Forgot too their capacity to help us to pursue the human project  which is to remain human, and to block the dehumanization of others. If we are lazy the godlings can hinder us in that project; if we are alert, they can foster it.

But something unforeseen has entered into this admittedly oversimplified menu of our resources. Far from our original expectations of increased intimacy and broader knowledge, routine media presentations deploy images and language that narrow our view of what humans look like (or ought to look like) and what in fact weare like. Successful merchandising, pivoting as it does on standards and generalizations, limits our scope in order to delimit our desire and in so doing abjure those who do not or cannot buy. While succumbing to the perversions of media can blur vision, resisting them can do the same. I was clearly and aggressively resisting such influences in my encounter with the fisherwoman. Art as well as the market can be complicit in the sequestering of form from formula, of nature from artifice, of humanity from commodity. Art gesturing toward representation has, in some exalted quarters, become literally beneath contempt. The concept of what it is to be human has altered, and the word truth so needs quotation marks around it that its absence (its elusiveness) is stronger than its presence.

Why should we want to know a stranger, when it’s easier to estrange another? Why should we want to close the distance when we can close the gate? Appeals in arts and religion for comity in the Common Wealth are faint.

It took some time for me to understand my unreasonable claims on that fisherwoman. To understand that I was longing for and missing some aspect of myself, and that there are no strangers. There are only versions of ourselves, many of which we have not embraced, most of which we wish to protect ourselves from. For the stranger is not foreign, she is random; not alien but remembered; and it is the randomness of the encounter with our already known — although unacknowledged  selves that summons a ripple of alarm. That makes us reject the figure and the emotions that it provokes  especially when these emotions are profound. It is also what makes us want to own, govern or administrate the Other. To romance her, if we can back into our own mirrors. In either instance (of alarm or false reverence), we deny her personhood, the specific individuality we insist upon for ourselves.”

Toni Morrison, excerpted from her essay “The Fisherwoman” from the seminal book A Kind of Rapture by Robert Bergman. Listen to a full reading of the essay by Toni Morrison here.

@6 months ago with 118 notes
#Photography #Robert Bergman #Portraiture #Art #Literature #Toni Morrison #Storytelling #Inspiration #The Other #Identity #Poverty #Power 

"You write the book that your nature inclines you toward. You write the book that your education, your temperament, your training, your class, your race, your gender, your nationality incline you toward. You can’t write a book as another person."

@8 months ago with 811 notes
#Literature #Art #Hermione Lee #The Paris Review 

"TV may become malignantly addictive only once a certain threshold of quantity is habitually passed, but then the same is true of whiskey. And by “malignant” and “addictive” I again do not mean evil or coercive. An activity is addictive if one’s relationship to it lies on that downward-sloping continuum between liking it a little too much and downright needing it. Many addictions, from exercise to letter-writing, are pretty benign. But something is malignantly addictive if (1) it causes real problems for the addict, and (2) it offers itself as relief from the very problems it causes. A malignant addiction is also distinguished for spreading the problems of the addiction out and in in interference patterns, creating difficulties for relationships, communities, and the addict’s very sense of self and soul. The hyperbole might strain the analogy for you, but concrete illustrations of malignant TV-watching cycles aren’t hard to come by. If it’s true that many Americans are lonely, and if it’s true that many lonely people are prodigious TV-watchers, and if it’s true that lonely people find in television’s 2D images relief from the pain of their reluctance to be around real humans, then it’s also obvious that the more time spent watching TV, the less time spent in the real human world, and the less time spent in the real human world, the harder it becomes not to feel alienated from real humans, solipsistic, lonely."

@9 months ago with 37 notes
#Fiction #Television #Literature #David Foster Wallace #Culture #Art #Solipsism #Addiction #Alienation #McSweeney's 

"

Lots of us don’t publish, though—it doesn’t mean we’re wasting our time.” What I had first taken as aloof and supercilious, an arrogant condescension and insensitive refusal to lower the ladder from one who has reached the dazzling heights to another who is stranded in the depths, I now saw as both an identification with my plight and a coded missive that publication was not the promised land I thought it was. I choose to believe that he was including me in his use of we and us, and that he genuinely drew little distinction between those of us who had found publication, who were graced with the approbation of the world, and we who were still toiling in the darkness.

I think Wallace truly believed that we are not wasting our time, even if our words are never seen by the world at large. The world has never been the best judge. It has never equitably distributed recognition to all those deserving. It sometimes gets it right, as I think it did with Wallace, but more often than not it fails us. So what he was telling me was not that publishing is not a good thing, but that it isn’t everything. It does not bestow value or worth on one’s work or on one’s self. It does not make a published book better or worse than an unpublished one. And while the failure to achieve it may be no cause for despair, its attainment is certainly no cure. He was telling me what I already knew but had forgotten during my struggle for acceptance and societal validation, that creation is its own reward, that the project of writing is its own gift, provides its own consolation. Half a century before in The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus claimed that despite the absurdly futile and hopeless task with which the condemned king was punished by the gods, “the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

"

@10 months ago with 124 notes
#Art #Literature #Fiction #David Foster Wallace #Frank Cassese #Guernica magazine 
3 weeks ago
#Art #Photography #Katy Grannan #Literature #Journalism #Writing #Joan Didion #California 
6 months ago
#Photography #Robert Bergman #Portraiture #Art #Literature #Toni Morrison #Storytelling #Inspiration #The Other #Identity #Poverty #Power 
"The writer has a fundamental responsibility to write well or to write the best he can, because if he doesn’t he’s not a writer. And when a writer writes, he’s always referring to a social and historical context. It’s impossible for Argentinian writers not to write as Argentinians, because to be Argentinian is a circumstance of fate, like it is to be Cuban. When you analyze the bourgeois writer’s novel, you see the shortcomings of bourgeois society. Even when you try to write a fantasy story, in some way that fantasy is going to be connected to a reality. But regardless, if someone is a true writer—not an opportunist who wants to be in favor with the government of the day—that person is always going to be for freedom. Because the simple truth is that without freedom, the writer cannot exist. And the writer who is for freedom is, by definition, not for any totalitarian system. So the duty of the writer is to write well and champion freedom. And he champions freedom because he has an obligation—what better obligation than this?"
6 months ago
#Art #Literature #Reinaldo Arenas #The New Yorker #Ann Tashi Slater #George Orwell #Politics #History #Cuba #Castro #Totalitarianism 
"You write the book that your nature inclines you toward. You write the book that your education, your temperament, your training, your class, your race, your gender, your nationality incline you toward. You can’t write a book as another person."
8 months ago
#Literature #Art #Hermione Lee #The Paris Review 
9 months ago
#Photography #Andrea Modica #Portraiture #Documentary photography #Writing #Literature #Criticism #E. Annie Proulx #John Berger #Poetry #Paul Valéry #David Levi Strauss 
"TV may become malignantly addictive only once a certain threshold of quantity is habitually passed, but then the same is true of whiskey. And by “malignant” and “addictive” I again do not mean evil or coercive. An activity is addictive if one’s relationship to it lies on that downward-sloping continuum between liking it a little too much and downright needing it. Many addictions, from exercise to letter-writing, are pretty benign. But something is malignantly addictive if (1) it causes real problems for the addict, and (2) it offers itself as relief from the very problems it causes. A malignant addiction is also distinguished for spreading the problems of the addiction out and in in interference patterns, creating difficulties for relationships, communities, and the addict’s very sense of self and soul. The hyperbole might strain the analogy for you, but concrete illustrations of malignant TV-watching cycles aren’t hard to come by. If it’s true that many Americans are lonely, and if it’s true that many lonely people are prodigious TV-watchers, and if it’s true that lonely people find in television’s 2D images relief from the pain of their reluctance to be around real humans, then it’s also obvious that the more time spent watching TV, the less time spent in the real human world, and the less time spent in the real human world, the harder it becomes not to feel alienated from real humans, solipsistic, lonely."
9 months ago
#Fiction #Television #Literature #David Foster Wallace #Culture #Art #Solipsism #Addiction #Alienation #McSweeney's 
9 months ago
#Literature #Toni Morrison #Art #Culture #Society #Fiction 
"

Lots of us don’t publish, though—it doesn’t mean we’re wasting our time.” What I had first taken as aloof and supercilious, an arrogant condescension and insensitive refusal to lower the ladder from one who has reached the dazzling heights to another who is stranded in the depths, I now saw as both an identification with my plight and a coded missive that publication was not the promised land I thought it was. I choose to believe that he was including me in his use of we and us, and that he genuinely drew little distinction between those of us who had found publication, who were graced with the approbation of the world, and we who were still toiling in the darkness.

I think Wallace truly believed that we are not wasting our time, even if our words are never seen by the world at large. The world has never been the best judge. It has never equitably distributed recognition to all those deserving. It sometimes gets it right, as I think it did with Wallace, but more often than not it fails us. So what he was telling me was not that publishing is not a good thing, but that it isn’t everything. It does not bestow value or worth on one’s work or on one’s self. It does not make a published book better or worse than an unpublished one. And while the failure to achieve it may be no cause for despair, its attainment is certainly no cure. He was telling me what I already knew but had forgotten during my struggle for acceptance and societal validation, that creation is its own reward, that the project of writing is its own gift, provides its own consolation. Half a century before in The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus claimed that despite the absurdly futile and hopeless task with which the condemned king was punished by the gods, “the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

"
10 months ago
#Art #Literature #Fiction #David Foster Wallace #Frank Cassese #Guernica magazine