Monday, 19 April 2010

When life is but disappointment, and nothing seems amusing...

...we struggle to find the joy that life is haunted by/but what ends when the symbols shatter? What happens to hearts?

I'm aware how there is a very real fear in our culture of how the social death can precede the physical death. Loss of employment or retirement loom large for many men, and suicide or the development of addictive behavioural patterns can be reactions to the loss of public recognition, and hence personal identity. There are other management techniques of course: how else to explain the seeking of refuge in spaces that are deliberately furnished to appear as non-domestic (i.e. non feminine) as possible? Think of the strictly utilitarian, as opposed to decorative, stools etc in your typical pub or workshed, for example. Many rural communities in Australia have taken this onboard to the point of establishing The Men's Shed on a permanent basis, as a place where some men, who would otherwise be at a loose end, can gather free of charge to use hardware on assorted building projects, thereby circumventing any excessive need to carouse, gamble, fuck or fight...each of which may be symptomatic of boredom and depression. It goes without saying that some effort is also expended to promote suicide prevention initiatives.

It's like my mother has always told me: "many women get used to invisibility fairly early in their lives, while more than a few men struggle to accept not always getting a parade". I hope this is changing over time. I'm able to recognise this palpable sense of dread from the perspective of the female character in the opening sequence of Safe that I've posted here: the mobile privatisation of the car winding its way through the dark labyrinth of suburbia to the accompaniment of an eerie synth score. Julianne Moore's character is basically swallowed by space. But I also get what my mum was trying to tell me: Age eventually unmaketh the man too. To drive the point home further, just look at how no one has yet written the white male middleclass equivalent of Betty Friedan's pioneering feminist work, The Feminine Mystique.

Other than Douglas P, whose lyrics I've quoted, perhaps it is not surprising how more forthcoming the New Queer Cinema has been about some of these dilemmas. I've decided to put up here some of my favourite scenes from movies by Todd Haynes and Gus Van Sant that capture entrapment, abjection and invisibility particularly well. John Hurt's character in Love and Death in Long Island is a case in point of someone who is reawakened by finding something beautiful where he least expected to find it. Many people can relate to this as this is surely part of the appeal of falling in love: a form of contingency that reminds you how life still has hitherto unknown possibilities, sometimes even for the most lowly, unappreciated self, who otherwise holds out few prospects for redemption. This brings my mind back to lyrics. Sadly, either possibility was ultimately too overwhelming for poor old Ian Curtis to handle, and he detailed this struggle in almost every song he ever wrote. For example, who can forget that Joy Division's debut album was called Unknown Pleasures, and what about this line too from the song "Twenty Four Hours" featured on Closer, "I never realised the lengths I'd have to go/all the darkest corners of a sense I didn't know/just for one moment I heard somebody call/look beyond the day at hand/there's nothing there at all".

You know it's strange, I started thinking about this stuff last night as I was watching the new series of Doctor Who. I'm sure many people dream of having the Doctor's lifestyle: just like a cowboy, he is a free agent who can travel but still periodically enter communities to perform good works, before departing again. Nirgal was similar in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series: he was a loner, but he wasn't a hermit. I find much to agree with too in Houellebecq's observation (in his Lovecraft book) that people who like to read and write are generally not that enthused about life in other respects.

These proclivities can be distinguished from the extremes I've posted here. I'm someone who likes pathos, and there is plenty to be found in the clips which follow. But I'll also never forget the guy at university who could only [read: exclusively] listen to Closer, who worked as a toolmaker. His other obsession was the tragic life of Jean Seberg. What I look back on most of all though is the stories he used to tell about growing up and the people he had encountered at work. So I'll recount my personal favourite about his working life: he had a workmate who used to get up early every morning to read Proust ("struggling to find the joy" perhaps). Anyway, one morning the workmate was talking continuously about the dilemmas faced by Raskolnikov (i.e. the anti-hero of Dostoyevsky's novel, Crime and Punishment). He disappeared into the bathroom at lunchtime, eventually re-emerging with a shaved head. His scalp was bleeding profusely as he'd used a very crude razor. Everyone just stood there in silence, uncertain how to react. What would be his next move? The man placed one of the workstools on the bench and sat himself down: "Now that I've got your attention, let me ask again: does anyone remember Raskolnikov?" Why be so demonstrative to try to get across a point? I won't pretend to understand, and suspect I'm not alone in that respect. So you might reasonably expect that psychiatric treatment would follow and this man would be certified as unfit for work, but according to my friend, that is not what happened. Perhaps these struggles are more common afterall than many of us realise, and people are sometimes able to find ways to manage their suffering more effectively than they're usually given credit for by so-called "experts" in mental health?

That's a pretty important point, so permit me to say something more about it. I don't claim any sort of superiority here because I've always preferred to think in terms of an anecdote Lacan related. A specialist in "ego psychology" informed him that she felt she was a good therapist thanks to her "strong personality". Lacan confessed that he felt the exact opposite: it was because he could empathise so closely with his patients' distress that he was able to treat them. In a manner of speaking, "there but for the grace of God go I".

Seeing I've posted the opening of Last Days here, it is fitting to close this post with lyrics by a band from the days of Seattle's grunge scene: the song is called "The Birds", and the band is Skin Yard. It's such a great summation that there is little I can add. It's worth watching the rest of the film too as there is another great scene of a door to door salesman meeting Blake at his isolated mansion. Blake is preoccupied by his own problems to the point he can barely communicate. To his credit, the salesman is not fazed by Blake's demeanor, or his disheveled appearance (Blake is also wearing women's clothing at the time).

I'm sitting in a rather small room
My walls have nothing to say
I memorize every hole
Squinting eyes all day

Fold me up and bring me home
With the night I cannot stay!

Violence surrounds my house
I'm a loco loser
Springing the noose, stay rather far

I rest from the fact
The birds cover trees on my side
Violence surrounds my house
So I sit on the side
These birds are mine, together
The friends of your blood
I smile, then divide
The birds all take mine

Fold me up and bring me home
No I will not stay
These birds surround my house
I cannot stay

I'm sitting in a rather small room
My walls have nothing to say
I memorize every hole
Squinting eyes all day

Resting from the fact the birds
The birds cover the trees, my side
Violence surrounds my house
So I sit on the side

These birds
My mind
They fly

On the side I hide my eyes
Stole my mind
I feel my flight

The milkman passes through today, on his way
He's bringing home the noose of mine
The birds are his tree
I'm sitting in a rather small room
My eyes of nothing left to say
I can remember a time I was
As pretty as the day!

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