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The image below, a Kelly Freas (or Freas-ish) jacket illustration for Philip K. Dick's 1965 novel Dr. Bloodmoney, hails from a near-comprehensive gallery of PKD covers (thanks to dratfink for pointing it out). Of the wide variety of scanned, scuffed editions on display, the Ace Books covers from the mid-'60s consistently score highest in originality and emotional impact (in addition to Bloodmoney, The Simulacra also rocks). Can you imagine an illustration like the one below appearing today in a grocery store rack? It's just too weird, lonely, and raw by today's standards of bookselling. The hand-drawn letters add a hint of Strangelovian zaniness to the ghastly scene, especially the cartoon Fat Boy (or is it Little Man?) around the word "bomb." The flying man possibly merges two characters in the novel: Walt Dangerfield, an astronaut trapped in an orbiting space capsule, reading Of Human Bondage to an entertainment-starved populace after WWIII, and Dr. Bluthgeld, a Nazi scientist who emerges as a strange, elemental being in Marin County, where the book's action takes place.
A more recent novel threading its way through a Dickian, post-disaster cosmos is Jonathan Lethem's excellent Amnesia Moon. Also set in Northern California (but ranging east as far as Wyoming), Lethem's book keeps alluding to a past "crisis event," the particulars of which no one is sure of except to say that "everything changed" (shades of 9/11). People move in and out of each other's dream-worlds, Palmer Eldritch-style, with each scenario offering a different interpretation of what life would be like after a world-shattering disaster. One character imagines living on varmints in a Mad Max-like desert; another envisions a suburban dystopia of endless government testing and surveillance; yet another fights a losing war-of-attrition against an alien hive creature. Or are these really dreams? (Annoying personal synchronicity reference: a copy of Amnesia, which obliquely mentions Bloodmoney, was bought by yours truly at the World Trade Center bookstore a few days before 9/11. Cue theremin.)
The AFL-CIO says that "not one dime" of Congress's $15 billion airline bailout will go to laid-off workers. The executives, of course, will be able to continue to live in the lifestyle to which they've grown accustomed. Here's a modest, utopian proposal, which would benefit taxpayers and restore a measure of economic sanity to the country. Henceforth, all private companies that receive federal money (not just airlines) will have an "executive de-incentive" mechanism in place. For every worker laid off, a $1000 benefit to that worker will be deducted directly from the CEO's annual income (including stock options, dividends, salary, and benefits). So if a CEO lays off 10,000 workers, that CEO makes $2 million that year instead of $3 million. This will be a hardship for management, of course: the president of the company may not be able to build that swimming pool this year and his kid may have to go to Thomas Edison High instead of Choate. To which most of us would say, boo-hoo. And bear in mind, this isn't socialism--it wouldn't be mandatory for all companies, only those who expect to be supported by taxpayers...Hold on, someone's at the door... It's Ashcroft's goons! Holy smoke, they're taking me away!!!
Images, even abstract images, or maybe especially abstract images, take on added resonance from their surrounding cultural and political settings. Matt Chansky's Who's Afraid, 2001 (color image below, or click here for a larger version), created in the aftermath of the WTC disaster, might have a had a different reading a year ago--assuming the piece could travel back in time and be divorced from the moment it was produced, which is admittedly a big assumption. The little arrow to the left might have been described as a "cursor," the balloon of static an "information haze." That reading is complicated, of course, because the cursor has the archaic, incandescent feel of a carnival barker's arrow and the corpuscular "haze" belongs more to the bio-lab than cyberspace. But forget all that art-critical quibbling: at this particular moment the arrow can only be an airplane and the "static" a fireball. Put most of the TV-watching world on the psychiatrist's couch and that's what they'd see.
My painting Visceratecture (click here to view) similarly dovetails with the moment in inevitably political ways. What might have been a proud symbol of modernity 80 years ago, when Joseph Stella painted his headlong, high-speed view through the Brooklyn Bridge, has acquired an edge of surgical, Japanimation creepiness. To paraphrase a somewhat ghoulish quote from Survival Research Laboratories' founder Mark Pauline, "The perfect marriage of technology and the human form is death." The struts and girders of our idealized modern Architecture become intertwined with disconnected gobbets of flesh, while dead center, the womb becomes a techno-totemic figure yielding blankness and annihilation.
Much more uncanny, however, is Claire Corey's 2b5a, (click here to view) which was painted a few days before the sky fell here in New York. In an email dated September 5, I described the painting as "a cyber-rendition of Franz Marc's Fighting Forms with one form being the grid." Now it's difficult to see it as anything but a skyscaper with acrid, toxic smoke hemorrhaging out the side. Even the bold, intoxicating baby blues and purples fail to soften this image of collapsing, fragmenting modernity. Like Nostradamus (minus a few centuries), Corey saw the future, a reminder that artists are, as Ezra Pound observed, "the antennae of the race." Maybe we are, but with all the impact of a pair of foil-wrapped bunny ears.
This article in the Guardian reminds us that World Trade Center architect Minoru Yamasaki also designed the Pruitt-Igoe towers, a public housing project that was so unpopular it was imploded on national TV in 1972. For architect and theorist Charles Jencks, the Pruitt-Igoe tear-down was a turning point in architectural history, signaling the end of deterministic, Cartesian Modernism and the beginning of postmodern eclecticism. The article describes the WTC towers as "respected rather that loved," but even that seems generous. The towers were hideously banal; the only thing they had going for them was intimidating scale.
On the sheer, perverse un-naturalness of skyscrapers, J. G. Ballard's mid '70s novel High Rise comes to mind. Ballard envisions attacks not from without but within, as war breaks out among the upper and lower strata of an enormous, sealed-in, glass-and-concrete residential building. Instead of office-workers racing to the lower floors, the book describes a violent quest by lower-floor residents to reach, and conquer, the top of the building, where the elite-of-the-elite dwell. The book is a dark, Lord of the Flies-type parable, rather than a tale of camaraderie and heroism such as we've seen in the aftermath of the WTC disaster, but the point is it's hard to think about huge, hermetic, man-made structures without thinking about related cataclysmic scenarios. Big buildings are a real estate necessity in super-dense NY, but no one should be romanticizing (or vowing to rebuild) Yamasaki's twin follies.
CNN has its banner in place: "America's New War." It's back to the glory days of '91 for the network, as it is for Bush Junior, who was doing pretty poorly his first few months after stealing the election but now gets to walk around in his daddy's combat boots. For the few who are disgusted by all the war talk, please check out counterpunch.org, which has sane, worried observations about the coming national security state, speculation that CNN's footage of Palestinians cheering may be a recycled shot from '91 (since retracted), and excerpts of war cries and other jingoistic insanity from Congress and the press.
I watched the second World Trade Center tower collapse from a friend's sixth floor apartment window. It was very surreal and scary: it disappeared in seconds.
I can't watch TV or listen to the radio anymore--Day One was news; Day Two it's all platitudes and jingoism, with "America Under Attack" graphics and theme music. The 24-hr. news radio station WINS has a sickening montage they play every half hour or so, of professionally edited sound clips from yesterday: (Dirge-like musical chords under) "Oh my god, the building's collapsing!" "There were bodies falling..." "I saw people linked arm in arm..." (Little girl's voice): "Why did they have to die?" (Actually that last bit is probably from the sound library, or maybe it's the station owner's daughter.)
In an early speech, Bush referred to the terrorists as "cowards": uh, I don't think so. Those acts took nerves of steel and utter conviction that the US was an enemy.
The conservative columnist David Horowitz says "America is in denial that much of the world hates us, and will continue to hate us. Because we are prosperous, and democratic and free." They hate us, all right, but it's because we're perceived as a bully and an empire-builder; they (rightly) abhor the corruption and repression of our client states (Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, etc.). Personally, I think we just paid a price for the cynical realpolitik we've practiced in the Middle East: one minute we're propping up Saddam, the next minute he's our sworn enemy, etc. It's all about the oil, isn't it? We act like we're entitled to it, so we can drive SUVs and run our air conditioners around the clock.
Here's an interesting quote from Michael Zanini, a graduate fellow at the RAND corporation, from a Salon interview: "Bin Laden actually issued a declaration of war against the U.S. in the mid-1990s. For his organization, the larger aim is to liberate the holy sites. Their problem is the U.S. military occupation of the countries of the greater Middle East. They want the Middle East to be free of unbelievers, among other things. And they probably also have an opposition to U.S. hegemony worldwide. They've declared war, and up to this point, they've targeted government assets and infrastructure: U.S. embassies and the destroyer USS Cole. That's U.S. government property, which is what an army would target."
Another friend has been listening to the call-in shows, lest he be out of touch with the Real America: he says it's all "let's kill the towel-heads." Great.
Jason Little's great cartoon strip Bee (recently picked up by the New York Press) is available online (the first 35 episodes are viewable in a click-through version). Set in Manhattan, with knowing references to the downtown art and music scenes, the strip follows the adventures of a perky moto-photo employee, whose curiosity about the off-color photos she collects from unsuspecting customers leads her blithely down the trail to the dark side. The panels are beautifully drawn and smartly written, and the online layout is much better than the print version.
Three artists making exciting drawings and/or paintings with the computer right now are Marsha Cottrell, Matt Chansky, and Claire Corey. To view a small slide show of their work, click here. A couple of images may load slowly, and you'll have to scroll up and down a bit to see them, but to shrink them any more would be criminal. More images and discussion will be added soon.