Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Unfamiliar Tongues

I have to admit, I would have felt much better prepared and interested in the lecture if I had read the Illiad and had some familiarity with its background. The reality is that I do not have the slightest clue what it is about or why it was written, even after Tuesday's lecture. The answer to these questions will remain unknown until I seek these books and devote the time to reading and investigating them. Altough I didn't understand much, there were a few lines that connected with me. Dr. Esposito mentioned that pain caused by humans is more absurd than illness. The definition absurd means utterly obvious or senseless, illogical, or untrue. It is foolish and irrational. In that sense, that statement is completely correct. Pain caused by humans is unecessary. It is senseless on the perpetrators' behalf. Unlike many other natural pains within the body, pain caused by humans is obvious and avoidable. She mentioned pain caused by humans as a celebrated feat. Not only is pain absurd, illogical, and senseless, but it is celebrated too. How can the most advanced species celebrate such an illogical occurance? An event that destroys their fellow brothers and the earth from which they rose. I do not know much about the Illiad, however Dr. Esposito stated that every man in the Illiad must bow his head to force. I take this to mean that every man is born doomed to fail. He who bows his head to force is not wise. All men are created missing an element for survival - they must bow their head to peace. The Illiad tells us that glory is attained through fatal challenges. If we could look at war as a fatal challange, we will see that glory is not free. Glory is paid for by struggle and millions of deaths. War and death only generates more war and more death.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Women in Triathlons

This week's topic unexpectedly crept under my skin and managed to get me a bit flustered. Women now compete in what once were male-dominated areas. Triathlons present a different path. Combining three sports into one means tripling the endurance. The question remains: are women made to do this? The Ironman competition is not called Ironman for nothing, although many choose to overlook the name and deem it an equal opportunity competition. Another competition which has risen out of this competition is the Irongirl. But isn't this competition called the Ironwoman?

The fact remains that women are portrayed smiling while men are fiercly conquering each event. As agenda setters, the media aid in the fact the traditional women's role is preserved. Susan Williams, the Bronze medalist in the 2004 Olympics, is portrayed holding her daughter in most pictures associated with her title. This ensures that she is a nurturer first and foremost, and then an athlete. For some reason women are not allowed to be fierce; that may be too threatening. In addition images of women crawling over the finish line of the Ironman competitions dominate media in order to portay women failing in a men's event.

It is said that the Ironman is not about winning, it is about battling against one's self. But again it seems that women have a different mission. The training video we watched during the lecture revealed some of the main reasons women join a triathlon training team: aging, break-ups, and weight loss. These reasons appear to be different that simply putting your body to the test. I asked a male friend who has completed several triathlons why he competes. His reply was that he simply wanted to push himself to the limit. Female triathlons seem to have a different motive. A popular short triathlon for women, the Danskin, is driven by profit and marketing. This "warm and happy event" does not seem to be about pushing yourself to the absolute limit. Some may even ask where is the pain?

Finally we were forced to consider what a female triathlete was. What did she look like? As most other "models" in society, the female triathlete was much leaner and more fit than the majority of the population. Not only do women have to be thin to fit the profile of a triathlete, they have to wear the right gear. The sexy tri-suit. Fitting the profile comes with a price, both physical and monetary.

Those who do not fit the profile of a female triathlete will find themselves in the Athena category. As someone who is tall and over 150 pounds, it came as a reality check to me that I would be considered over weight in this particular event.

Overall triathlons are a whole different kind of animal. This is a place where eqipment, weight, and age matter. They are the ultimate markers of success.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Wow, and I mean wow there are some interesting sexual niches out there. Although that's the aspect which stands out most in my mind, Claycomb brought up many other valid points. "Everything we experiance is a language construction", he said. He challenged this statement by pointing out that the experience of pain challenges language theories.

It is safe to say that when we experience pain, it is anything but a language construction. Arthur Frank would say that experiencing pain is being trapped in a chaos narrative. Likewise, Scarry brings up the valid argument that physical pain resists language. She goes one step further to say that pain actively destroys language. While in the state of pain, we experiance revision to a state anterior to language.

Claycomb's points about the subjectivity of language were not unheard. It his relation to pain that brought something new into the mix. We could never denotatively define our pain since every word used to describe our pain has a different conotation to different audiences.

I enjoyed his words about identity as a construct. I would like to think that DesCarte's words, I think therefore I am, are true. Everything beyond nature is obtained through language. In this sense our identity is constructable, it is what we say it is - we just have to believe.

Perhaps Claycomb was right when he said that there is no authentic self. We are all different people in different situations and contexts. We are made up of many identities - as people say there is a time and place for everything. This could simply mean that we have an identity for each different situation. It is true that the person I am in class is not the person I am at dinner with my friends or at home with my family.

Claycomb moved onto identity as a sexual portayl and construct. Indeed, we act as women or men because we follow the behavior of the women and men which have set the standards throughout history. What does it mean to be woman or man? Who decides on these subconcious codes?

It is clear that language and the body are connected for the purpose of constructing our identity or identities. It is not true however that we experiance everything through language. There are just some things we need to find out by doing. For example you tell a child not to touch the stove burners because they are hot. The child may not give up, however, until he or she has found out first hand. Once the child feels the pain of that the burner has caused, they fully understand that the burner is hot. The pain that a hot surface can cause cannot be clearly communicated through language, it simply has to be experianced. In this sense, there are just certain areas where words are not enough.

Everything is taken to an extreme when we look at Bob Flanagan's work. His S&M performances are said to have isolated and controlled the pain he felt from his battle with cystic fibrosis. Indeed, he survived into his fourties, an age many patients with that condition never live to see. I feel that he survived for that long because he believed.

When it comes to the works of Athey, a similar artist in a sense, I feel a different connection between his performances and his past. As Claycomb pointed out, emotionally damaged people feel the need to tear their bodies inside out. His performances release his inner pain. In that way he makes that pain real and he communicates it to the world. As Athey put it, his body is a "fleshy prison which houses the pain". He refers to a razor as a trusty friend. More importantly, he states that the razor is a release to a pressure valve. There is something more at play here. When it is your own hand that administers relief by means of releasing the body's blood there is something evil and grueling inside which scrapes at the insides screaming for air. It seems as though the cost of releasing this thing and letting it rise to the surface would cost life itself. This means permanently living with a pain which causes self mutilation over and over, but never extinguishes the pain itself. A cut simply gives the pain an impermanent voice. It is this kind of pain that cannot be written or performed. It is a never ending experiance for those who feel it and must bear its pangs.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Everything is Illuminated

This is yet another great film we have had the opportunity to watch in class. The many elements within the movie added depth as well as humor. Johnathan's outragous, obssesive collecting habits were hillarious. The description of all the characters, in addition to the camera work really made the situation complete.

This movie evoked personal feelings in me since I could relate to the situation. Johnathan went back to Russia to trace his roots and collect the pieces which made his family. Being from a bordering country, Bulgaria, made everything within the movie seem so familiar to me. Even the language throughout the movie was a call of home. I could understand the key words within the sentences enough to know what they were saying. This made the movie strangely real to me. It was like I had been to alot of these places. I could relate to the characters and the people they saw along their journey to finding themselves.

One scene which really stood out to me was when the grandfather walked down into the field and looked upon the remains of war. There were ruins and infantry pieces. The foreshadowing effects of this scene are striking.

At this point it was clear that the grandfather had some connection to this land and to the war. The suspense built as the movie continued. I found myself wondering if the grandfather was one of the Germans or if he himself was Jewish.

One of the stark images in my mind was the vast contrast between the two groups' shoes, displayed by an explicit camera shot. The Jews, fearful and defeseless, wore ragged, torn shoes or no shoes at all, while the powerful Germans who held the Jews' fate in their hands wore shined, black boots.

This movie went from laughter to tears and covered a vast array of issues such as ignorance, anti-semitism, death, and suicide. The humerous descriptions were later supplemented by serious undertones. It turned out that Johnathan's habits of collecting things were driven by his fear of forgetting. The grandfathers funny, yet rough manners are later explained by the events he faced in the past. When he managed to walk away from the dead pile of Jews, he threw down his jacket, and with it, his religion. He was hardened by his circumstances and made to forget his true identity.

However, the end of the movie points out that our identity never disappears by means of Alex's interpretation of the term inside-out. Our true self is always on the inside of us looking out.

The grandfather burried his past in the banks of Trachinbrod, like the rest of the ill-fated people whose lives were taken there. The important thing is that in the end he returned home and recognized his true identity. For the first time he was content.

This movie said alot about searching for your roots and coming to know yourself. It is about leaving a part of yourself behind for the world to have. It is about searching for your past. Most importantly, it is about future generations' ability to find the answers to their search, so that they can come to know the inside which looks out.

Friday, March 13, 2009

If that was a pain cry...

The impact of images, in terms of portrying pain, is rather significant in our society. The importance of displays is the conotative meaning they carry. They offer the opportunity for the viewer to interpret the pain and the message being conveyed.

One artist that really made an impact on me was Tracey Emin. Overall her work was really exquisite. Her blanket type tapestries were very detailed and percise. Most importantly, beyond the construction of her works, was the message she was sending. I loved her work because she said what women were afraid to say. Through her work she exposed her feelings for the world to see and created something which will leave a piece of her behind forever.

"Mad Tracey" touched upon many women's issues revolving around women's sexuality. After being raped at the age of 13, Tracey has every right to call herself "Mad Tracey". I like her persective of sex as an adventure and an escape. Power to her for playing the game and turning her sexual life into works which make her rich both socially and economically.

Similarly, Sue Williams touched upon women's issues through her doodles. I feel that these convey more of the pain she must have experianced in her life. Where Emin seems to be pleased with her sexuality and seems to desire sex, Williams seems hesitant and upset based on her experiances.

I found it very amazing to know that the photographer who shot the famous "Napalm Girl" took the subjects in the photo to a hospital after the photo. It takes alot for a photographer to cross the boundary of his lens, a world apart from reality.

One thing which cannot go unmentioned is the artists which chose to inflict pain on themselves as a form of display and call it art. If they say it is art and they have an audience, then surely it must be art.

This brings me to the ultimate question within this whole discussion: WHAT IS ART? I believe there is a clear line between art and display, although both gather audiences. How authentic artists' work is will remain something unknown to the viewer.

I encourage the pushing of limits. Pain is a source for artists to investigate and challenge. All of this may prove the power of people. However I have to wonder if witnessing the artistic act of getting shot in the arm desensitizes us more than the real images on TV? There was a person in the same room as the viewer, who voluntarily took a shot in the arm or cut their body. More importantly, there were people in the room who voluntarily watched this event. What does that say about our society? Perhaps we are all masochists.

Dr. Highberg posed the question of which was the most beautiful image we witnessed within the lecture. My personal favorite area was Larry Clark's work with crystal meth. "Once the needle goes in, it never comes out", he said. I think the most powerful image was the pregnant woman shooting meth. Was it beautiful? Well that is just another level of dementia. We cannot call this beautiful. This is supposed to be art, but in front of the camera lens is a real subject shooting meth while carrying a life.

Pictures documenting actual painful events can never be beautiful for the sole fact that the viewer has no right to look at the event, stripped of its raw power. We see a still image of a pregnant woman with a needle of her arm. We do not see the ugly, disturbing, and raw events which follow. We see the baby in its coffin which is another grim, yet dressed up, portrayl of what took place between the last photograph and the outcome.

The worst part about the picture of the pregnant woman shooting meth is the fact that the fetus inside her never got a chance because her desire and addiction took that away from it. This photograph's purpose is not beauty, but recording. This is an event recorded in history. It has the power to make us feel, like any image of pain. This is an image portraying the hidden pain, dispair, and lost chances - it has more than done its job.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Falling, Floating, Dancing, Fading...

To be honest I was not at all excited about Dr. Pozorski's lecture. "Here we go, another talk about different representations of 9/11..." The picture of the "falling man", which was posted for us to look at before the lecture, made me feel uneasy. Generally, I feel that we are a nation who witnessed 9/11 and wether we were directly touched by it, or not, we all came away with different interpretations of the events that took place. For some reason, I have found that we are all happy with our own outlook on 9/11 and no so much with others'.

The biggest problem with a picture like the "Falling Man" is the fact that once it's published it is up to the viewer to interpret it as they wish. There is no background, no revelation of the person falling. While some are in shock, others are in awe. What was it then, that the man was expressing? Was it willpower, resignation, stoicism, or even freedom?

His fall became a part of history, the photographer made it history. The fact is that the picturItalice froze the falling man as a still object, but the man was falling. Those who can look at this picture and call it beautiful due to the symmetry and the posture of the man's body are turning the subject in the picture into an object. In reality, the picture of the "falling man" features a condemed man. His jump is a brave act caused by fear. That in itself is an oxymoron. This man lost faith. With no way out, he sought his freedom. By making the active choice to jump this man chose the means to his end. He ultimately gained control of the uncontrolable situation. But was he really? I am sure that the 11 shots surrounding this one will reveal that he was not so stoic. While traveling at 150 miles per hour, this man fell just like everyone else, "trying to hold onto th elife he was leaving", according to the Esquire article.

What is this "falling" that we are talking about anyway? There is a gravitational attraction which has an end, but like Dr. Pozorski pointed out, there are no words for such a moment. When something falls, it is usually an accident. This picture of the falling man shows no accident. He was willingly falling. Willingly losing control. Willingly departing this earth. How is it that people who witnessed this horror called it a vision of flight or birth? I suppose that when we witness something like this we must become dellusional in order to make ourselves feel better. To think of "falling well, and entering a world head first; while it is we who are falling" is a bit dellusional, but in the end it makes sense. It connects the falling man to something else. We always do.

For one artist in particular, the terrorist attacks came to be represented by his mural, featuring two blindfolded men, silently screaming amongst ruins and a fallen people. Again this is simply a representation, a dellusion of realtiy. It is art. This is where I would make the argument that history and art, although intertwined often, have no place together. This painting is beautiful. It has silent fury to it. It is sad. However it is not raw and ugly, it is not loud and screetching like the voices of those who witnessed 9/11 or lost someone in its rubble.

I support Dr. Pozorski's mention of a double bind, where people tell the truth in testimonies through figuritive speech. This is the chaotic state of mind that Frank was talking about in The Wounded Storyteller. Our words can never express the pain felt during that time. It is a time remembered and untouched. That is why no piece of 9/11 art should or could make us feel better about what happened. It is simply art, separate from the actual events that took place that day and our individual memories of them.

As for the two men in the mural, blinded and crying out? They are blind, they never saw their terminal fate coming. They are crying, yet they are silent because no one can help them now.

Again, tieing this historical event to something else from the past, the entire thing reminds of the mythical being known as Icurus. Icurus, out of curiousity or vanity, flew too close to the sun. His wings, which were made out of wax, melted and he fell down into the depths of eternity.

I have to ask why the U.S. was attacked on 9/11? There are other powerful nations who are threatening. The answer is unknown, but the fact remains that we are on top of the world. Perhaps we flew too close to the sun and for that, the wax wings of many innocent victims melted, as they fell into the depths of what was soon to be the remains of the World Trade Center.

Because everything is connected and there are different ideas through this lecture I realized that it is worth talking about 9/11 time and time again. The lecture that I was not really looking forward to left me surprised and searching for more. It was presented in a very interesting manner and I look forward to working with the subject and the knowlege I gained from Dr. Pozorski in the future.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ageless Love

Harold and Maude gets five stars from me. This movie encompasses death, love, age, synicism, suicide, fun, and appreceation for life all into one wonderful bundle. The words I just used to describe the nuances of this movie would never fit together otherwise. They just don't make movies like this anymore. Anything from the feel of old technology to produce film to the characters is so outdated yet timeless. I simply do not feel that this type of movie could be recreated successfuly. There is a genuine aura surrounding it.

I never thought I would laugh at death, yet I did numerous times throughout the movie. It is so synister and quirky - smart even. The greatest scene in the entire movie has to be when Harold pulls the Ferris Bueller face and we see his smirk which quickly turns back into a blank face when he turns towards his mother. Right there the viewer has to know that there is no outsmarting him.

All of the elements in this movie are so carefully thoughout out and so fitting for the situations. I loved the hurse that Harold drove, the train car Maude lived in, the fake arm which saluted the painting, the falling veterans...etc. With a movie like this, detail is very important, it is half the humor in the situations which Harold finds himself in.

Harold in himself portrays hope in such a hopeless world; survival in the desire for death. He is so composed and serious about his interests - funerals and mock suicides. It's almost ironic that he is so young and so dead. Maude, on the other hand, is this vivacious and vigorous figure. Again it is ironic that she is so old, yet so alive. Together this characters combine to make a whole. Maude helps Harold embrace life, and death in some ways. Together they thrive because they have a different eye for the world around them. Ususally the viewer would be disgusted at such an old woman and such a young man in a relationship, however the insparation of the film helps us ignore their age and they simply turn into timeless figures.

Maude utters the wonderful words: "how the world loves a cage". In a way Harold loves his own cage. He is so involved with his mock suicides and trying to get a reaction out of his mom that he is not living. "I am not living, but I have died a few times", he says to Maude. Yet Maude is completely free of this cage. "The earth is her body, her head is the stars". She speaks of people as her species, notices the differences in daisies, and envisions herself as a flower.

While the characters are comical in many ways, this movie does show subtle political and historical undertones. Maude has a number tattooed on her arm, indicating that she was a Jewish Concentration Camp Prisoner. The impact of this is much greater than just the flash of her numer on her arm, which is left without mention. (Another clever and subtle technique, I thought) While she is this fun, free, and loving spirit she has endured great pain in the past. This shows us that the best of us percerviers and conquers our obstacles. She is the ray of hope in this movie both for viewers and Harold.

"If you want to sing out, sing out; If you want to be free be free; There's a million things that you can be; You know that there are. If you want to live high, live high;...There's a million ways to go; You know that there are". Maude helped Harold choose the better path. Through all the pain of losing true love and preying on death we, the viewers, are instilled with hope.