akira rabelais – eisoptrophobia (2001)

Akira Rabelais, one of my best Myspace discoveries – remember that strange place? I love this video, too, which was not available back then – one simply couldn’t stream hour-long films online. Get the album Eisoptrophobia (which is a term for the fear of one’s own image in reflection) HERE.

joan didion, interviewed by linda kuehl in 1977

Here are some excerpts from an interview with Joan Didion that appeared in The Paris Review No. 74, Fall-Winter 1978. She talks about the performative violence of writing, and of the sometimes paralysing self-consciousness that attends it.

Reading her responses, I identified so personally that at points it felt like she could have been writing my own thoughts, down to the constrictions of that harsh Protestant ethic. But I’m not as strong as Joan. The nausea tends to silence me… except when it’s overwhelming: then, I vomit it out, sometimes all over unsuspecting passersby!

I especially liked what she says about how growing up in a dangerous landscape can affect one’s engagement with the world. I have often wondered whether I would be at all like I am if I hadn’t grown up in the turmoil of ’80s and ’90s South Africa. It wasn’t just about the weather, here.

Joan Didion, 1977. Photo: REX FEATURES

Joan Didion, 1977. Photo: REX FEATURES

INTERVIEWER

You have said that writing is a hostile act; I have always wanted to ask you why.

JOAN DIDION

It’s hostile in that you’re trying to make somebody see something the way you see it, trying to impose your idea, your picture. It’s hostile to try to wrench around someone else’s mind that way. Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. Well, nobody wants to hear about someone else’s dream, good or bad; nobody wants to walk around with it. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.

INTERVIEWER

Are you conscious of the reader as you write? Do you write listening to the reader listening to you?

DIDION

Obviously I listen to a reader, but the only reader I hear is me. I am always writing to myself. So very possibly I’m committing an aggressive and hostile act toward myself.

INTERVIEWER

So when you ask, as you do in many nonfiction pieces, “Do you get the point?” you are really asking if you yourself get the point.

DIDION

Yes. Once in a while, when I first started to write pieces, I would try to write to a reader other than myself. I always failed. I would freeze up.

INTERVIEWER

You say you treasure privacy, that “being left alone and leaving others alone is regarded by members of my family as the highest form of human endeavor.” How does this mesh with writing personal essays, particularly the first column you did for Life where you felt it imperative to inform the reader that you were at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in lieu of getting a divorce?

DIDION

I don’t know. I could say that I was writing to myself, and of course I was, but it’s a little more complicated than that. I mean the fact that eleven million people were going to see that page didn’t exactly escape my attention. There’s a lot of mystery to me about writing and performing and showing off in general. I know a singer who throws up every time she has to go onstage. But she still goes on.

INTERVIEWER

Did any writer influence you more than others?

DIDION

I always say Hemingway, because he taught me how sentences worked. When I was fifteen or sixteen I would type out his stories to learn how the sentences worked. I taught myself to type at the same time. A few years ago when I was teaching a course at Berkeley I reread A Farewell to Arms and fell right back into those sentences. I mean they’re perfect sentences. Very direct sentences, smooth rivers, clear water over granite, no sinkholes.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve called Henry James an influence.

DIDION

He wrote perfect sentences, too, but very indirect, very complicated. Sentences with sinkholes. You could drown in them. I wouldn’t dare to write one. I’m not even sure I’d dare to read James again. I loved those novels so much that I was paralyzed by them for a long time. All those possibilities. All that perfectly reconciled style. It made me afraid to put words down.

INTERVIEWER

I wonder if some of your nonfiction pieces aren’t shaped as a single Jamesian sentence.

DIDION

That would be the ideal, wouldn’t it. An entire piece—eight, ten, twenty pages—strung on a single sentence. Actually, the sentences in my nonfiction are far more complicated than the sentences in my fiction. More clauses. More semicolons. I don’t seem to hear that many clauses when I’m writing a novel.

INTERVIEWER

You have said that once you have your first sentence you’ve got your piece. That’s what Hemingway said. All he needed was his first sentence and he had his short story.

DIDION

What’s so hard about that first sentence is that you’re stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you’ve laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.

INTERVIEWER

The first is the gesture, the second is the commitment.

DIDION

Yes, and the last sentence in a piece is another adventure. It should open the piece up. It should make you go back and start reading from page one. That’s how it should be, but it doesn’t always work. I think of writing anything at all as a kind of high-wire act. The minute you start putting words on paper you’re eliminating possibilities. Unless you’re Henry James.

INTERVIEWER

I wonder if your ethic—what you call your “harsh Protestant ethic”—doesn’t close things up for you, doesn’t hinder your struggle to keep all the possibilities open.

DIDION

I suppose that’s part of the dynamic. I start a book and I want to make it perfect, want it to turn every color, want it to be the world. Ten pages in, I’ve already blown it, limited it, made it less, marred it. That’s very discouraging. I hate the book at that point. After a while I arrive at an accommodation: Well, it’s not the ideal, it’s not the perfect object I wanted to make, but maybe—if I go ahead and finish it anyway—I can get it right next time. Maybe I can have another chance.

INTERVIEWER

Have any women writers been strong influences?

DIDION

I think only in the sense of being models for a life, not for a style. I think that the Brontës probably encouraged my own delusions of theatricality. Something about George Eliot attracted me a great deal. I think I was not temperamentally attuned to either Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf.

INTERVIEWER

What are the disadvantages, if any, of being a woman writer?

DIDION

When I was starting to write—in the late fifties, early sixties—there was a kind of social tradition in which male novelists could operate. Hard drinkers, bad livers. Wives, wars, big fish, Africa, Paris, no second acts. A man who wrote novels had a role in the world, and he could play that role and do whatever he wanted behind it. A woman who wrote novels had no particular role. Women who wrote novels were quite often perceived as invalids. Carson McCullers, Jane Bowles. Flannery O’Connor, of course. Novels by women tended to be described, even by their publishers, as sensitive. I’m not sure this is so true anymore, but it certainly was at the time, and I didn’t much like it. I dealt with it the same way I deal with everything. I just tended my own garden, didn’t pay much attention, behaved—I suppose—deviously. I mean I didn’t actually let too many people know what I was doing.

INTERVIEWER

Advantages?

DIDION

The advantages would probably be precisely the same as the disadvantages. A certain amount of resistance is good for anybody. It keeps you awake.

INTERVIEWER

What misapprehensions, illusions and so forth have you had to struggle against in your life? In a commencement address you once said there were many.

DIDION

All kinds. I was one of those children who tended to perceive the world in terms of things read about it. I began with a literary idea of experience, and I still don’t know where all the lies are. For example, it may not be true that people who try to fly always burst into flames and fall. That may not be true at all. In fact people do fly, and land safely. But I don’t really believe that. I still see Icarus. I don’t seem to have a set of physical facts at my disposal, don’t seem to understand how things really work. I just have an idea of how they work, which is always trouble. As Henry James told us.

INTERVIEWER

You seem to live your life on the edge, or, at least, on the literary idea of the edge.

DIDION

Again, it’s a literary idea, and it derives from what engaged me imaginatively as a child. I can recall disapproving of the golden mean, always thinking there was more to be learned from the dark journey. The dark journey engaged me more. I once had in mind a very light novel, all surface, all conversations and memories and recollections of some people in Honolulu who were getting along fine, one or two misapprehensions about the past notwithstanding. Well, I’m working on that book now, but it’s not running that way at all. Not at all.

INTERVIEWER

It always turns into danger and apocalypse.

DIDION

Well, I grew up in a dangerous landscape. I think people are more affected than they know by landscapes and weather. Sacramento was a very extreme place. It was very flat, flatter than most people can imagine, and I still favor flat horizons. The weather in Sacramento was as extreme as the landscape. There were two rivers, and these rivers would flood in the winter and run dry in the summer. Winter was cold rain and tulle fog. Summer was 100 degrees, 105 degrees, 110 degrees. Those extremes affect the way you deal with the world. It so happens that if you’re a writer the extremes show up. They don’t if you sell insurance.

Reading the complete interview here: Joan Didion, The Art of Fiction No. 71.

justine musk – redefining what it means to be bad

This piece by Justine Musk was first published HERE. Thanks to Emma Arogundade for sharing it on Facebook.

Justine Musk – “Well-behaved women seldom make history”: Redefining what it means to be bad

I posed topless for a female photographer who specializes in boudoir. I’m lying on the bed in a man’s velvet smoking jacket, hair blown across my face. I look at the camera. It’s a beautiful portrait (the photographer is very talented) and I’m proud of it. It reminds me slightly of Manet’s Olympia. That painting caused a scandal at the time (1863) — not because the subject was nude — but because of how she stares at the viewer instead of looking away demurely.

It’s that act of shameless eye contact that makes her – according to the moral dictates of the era — truly “bad”.

Édouard Manet - "Olympia" (1863)

Édouard Manet – “Olympia” (1863)

I once said to someone, “I don’t know if I’m a good girl with a bad streak, or a bad girl with a good streak.” But I was being ironic. My real point was that, like any other woman (or man), I am both and neither.

In fact, it’s kind of amazing to me that the good girl/bad girl dichotomy still exists. It came up again when movie star Reese Witherspoon accepted an award on television and took her speech as an opportunity to slam other, younger women for being “bad”.

“I understand that it’s cool to be bad, I get it,” she said, in that tone of false camaraderie women sometimes use before they slip in the knife. “But it’s possible to make it in Hollywood without being on a reality show….And when I was coming up, a sex tape was something you hid under your bed…And when you take naked pictures of yourself, you hide your face! Hide your face!” She finished off by declaring that she was going to try to make it “cool” to be a “good girl”.

But imagine this:

Instead of criticizing the same young women for the same things that everybody else is already criticizing them for, she could have slammed reality shows for their misogynist (and monotonous) depiction of women.

She could have criticized the kind of media that turns a girl like Paris Hilton into a celebrity in the first place.

She could have pointed out how advertising – which is so very everywhere that we no longer notice it as we’re breathing it in – co-opts rebellion and sells it back to girls in the “you’ve come a long way, baby” pseudo-liberation supposedly found in a package of cigarettes.

She could have criticized a culture that trains girls to define themselves by their sexual appeal only to punish them for it.

She could have echoed Laurel Ulrich’s famous comment that “well-behaved women seldom make history” and pointed out that ‘bad’ doesn’t have to mean shallow and self-destructive. It can mean cutting against the traditional good-girl dictates of passive and pretty and pleasing and quiet. It can mean speaking up against the status quo, the double standard, the beauty myth. It can mean rejecting the idea that your moral nature depends not on what you do, but on what you don’t do (have sex).

It can mean revolution not rebellion.

She could have said: If you’re going to be ‘bad’, make it MEAN SOMETHING…other than self-sabotage.

Recently I was struck by two different dialogues on Facebook. One was about Charlie Sheen. The other was about Britney Spears. A man posted a status update about going to Sheen’s show, and the thread discussed how smart and funny and talented Sheen is and that despite the controversy and general hubbub, “he’s fine, he’s okay” and “a brilliant marketer” and “totally knows what he’s doing”.

Meanwhile, I’d posted a link to a Britney Spears video on my own Facebook page, partly because I’m fascinated by the way people react to her.

Britney immediately came under fire for being “a poor role model” to young girls everywhere.

No “brilliant marketer” comments for her.

Both Sheen and Spears have a noted history of drug use. Both are sexy and openly sexual. Both are, or have been, at the top of their professions. Both have undergone episodes of bizarre, even tragic behavior that is suggestive of addiction and mental illness.

Yet in the buzz around Charlie Sheen at the height of his notoriety, what I didn’t hear was anything about how he serves as a poor role model for boys.

This is interesting to me, because – unlike Britney, at least to my knowledge – Sheen has a documented history of domestic abuse.
As in: he hits women.
As in: he once shot a woman in the arm.
Let me repeat that: he freaking shot the woman.

But this is no big deal. It gets glossed over. Whenever I brought it up – in person or online – people would lift their virtual shoulders in a virtual shrug and move on.

(Possibly because the women involved were so easily characterized as ‘bad’ girls.
Which in the end comes down to this: slut.
Which means: vile and disposable.)

In comparison to Sheen, Britney did reveal her belly button at a young age. And that, of course, is a threat to civilization as we know it.

Spears is held up as a “poor role model” because we can perceive her as trashy and slutty and “asking for it”. Once you reduce a girl to her sexuality – and god knows that never ever happens in this culture – she becomes less than human, so you no longer have to treat her as a human. Which means the Charlie Sheens of the world – rich, powerful, white – can do with them as they please. If the girls get, you know, a little bit shot — well, it’s their own damn fault. That’s the message that some boys are absorbing from Sheen’s treatment of women and our celebration of him. That attitude, I suspect, will prove more dangerous to girls than any of Britney’s outfits or dance moves or little-girl singing voice.

There’s some irony in the fact that, like Britney, Reese Witherspoon got pregnant at a young age – but unlike Britney, who was married, Reese conceived out of wedlock and had a shotgun wedding.

Also, she said “motherfucker” on stage.
Also, she is still young — and divorced.
Also, she’s an actress (which used to be synonymous with prostitute).

Not so long ago, these things would have pegged her as morally defective. She wouldn’t technically qualify as a “good girl” (which means she’s probably “cooler” than she gives herself credit for).

But what Witherspoon seemed to be getting at in her declaration of herself as a “good girl” has to do with the idea of exposure. Whether it’s a reality TV show or an unfortunate cell phone picture, a good girl does not show herself to the world in this way — or if she does, she “hides her face”.

She guards her shame.

She never makes eye contact.

A “good” girl is not only virginal – and thus qualifies as morally sound, even if, like Jessica Wakefield in the Sweet Valley High novels, she’s kind of a sociopath – but modest and quiet. She covers up. She is seen – without being seen. She talks in a nice voice and smiles a lot. She’s the angel of the house, and stays in the house, which was the historical point of this exercise in the first place.

She’s not loud or opinionated, she doesn’t rock the boat, and she doesn’t draw attention to herself.

All of this is convenient for others. The funny thing about silence is how it tends to favor the dominating person or group. The dominating narrative, the ruling point of view, becomes a sort of truth by default: what we as a culture assume when we’re given no reason to assume otherwise.

It’s the winners who get to write history, after all. The others are silent or silenced.

Which is not my way of saying that appearing on reality TV isn’t a form of evil in its own right, or that a girl should take provocative pictures of herself and post them on the ‘Net. Neither is power so much as a mistaken idea about power (and perhaps too many shots of tequila): when the culture seems to be urging you in one direction (“it’s cool to be ‘bad’”) and you haven’t had time or experience to learn otherwise.

But there does seem to be a link between sexual expression and self-expression, in that a ‘good’ girl is not in full possession of either. Her body doesn’t belong to her: it ‘belongs’ to her father, to her future husband, to the government that decides if she can have an abortion or the religion that decides if she can use birth control.

Her voice doesn’t fully belong to her either: she has to be careful what she says, and how she says it, and who she might offend.

‘Goodness’, then, seems to involve an amputation of the self. You make yourself ‘good’ to be loved and accepted, and in the process sacrifice your authenticity. You give yourself away until you no longer know who you are – assuming you ever did.

I’m not sure what you actually get for this, in the end.

Fitting in, as the wonderful Brene Brown so astutely points out, is not the same as being accepted for who you are – in fact, the one renders the other impossible. Being trained to please and serve leaves you ripe for exploitation; the inability to assert your boundaries makes you easy to abuse in large and small ways.

“Raising a girl to be ‘nice’,” a therapist – a woman in her sixties, married and with daughters — once remarked to me, “is like sending her out into the world with one hand tied behind her back.” She should know. Many of these women turn up in her Beverly Hills office twenty years later: divorced, discarded, aging, with no ability to support themselves and no sense of who they are at core.

So honestly, in the year 2011, these are a girl’s options? She can be ‘bad’ (and disposable) or ‘good’ (and turned in on herself)?

I would like to think that there’s another option.

Not ‘bad’, maybe, but badass.

As in: you get to declare yourself. You get to express your sexuality any way you choose, whether it’s indulging or abstaining, and you’re responsible about it and willing to risk the emotional consequences. When you want or need to speak up — you speak up. You write or blog or paint or dance or study or put on puppet shows or raise your kids or start up your own company or nonprofit or do some combination thereof. You stand for what you believe in. You know what you believe in – and what you don’t. You own your life. You find your tribe. You look out for yourself (ie: you are ‘selfish’). And when you offend people, as anyone with an opinion is bound to do at some point — when people step into your space just to tell you that you suck — you shrug it off and move on, because you know disapproval won’t kill you.

You nurture the fire at your core.

I’m reading the book GAME FRAME, about the rise of social gaming, and came across the idea of “the magic circle”. The circle is the arena in which the game takes place. You step over some kind of threshold and into another world. You participate in a conflict that you recognize as artificial but, for a space of time, accept as reality. You willingly suspend your disbelief.

It struck me that we move in and out of different kinds of magic circles. There are games, yes, but also movies and theater and television and books. There are relationships that become their own world of intimacy. They form a private reality between you and your partner, in which you might ignore your actual experience to buy into an entrancement (“we are soulmates”) or belief system (“he is better and always right, and I am lesser and always wrong”).

And then there’s a magic circle that has to do with language and perception, with how we create our shared reality. The good girl/bad girl labeling strikes me as one of those. Instead of recognizing a woman as a complex and multi-dimensional being, instead of allowing her the flaws, mistakes and happy accidents that come with the trial-and-error process known as the human condition, we stomp her into a cartoon. We accept an artificial conflict (good girl vs bad girl) and make it important. We place her on a pedestal or in the dirt (or on the pedestal so we can knock her off later). We accept this as real instead of a game we can choose not to play.

You could say, instead: We’re all doing the best we can. We all do stupid things from time to time. But we won’t be distracted by this game of blaming and shaming each other. We’ll look to larger forces.

I like this video by Jeffrey Wright, in which he transfers the “willing suspension of disbelief” from the theater to the developing world, from acting to entrepreneurialism and social change.

With the power of your convictions, he says, with the ability to suspend your disbelief and act in the face of uncertainty, you have the chance to reshape reality.

Like Olympia staring out at the viewer — like Manet breaking the rules to paint her — you can reject the game and make a new one.

You can invent a new truth.

Olympia has come down to us through the ages. She refuses to “hide her face”. She is shamelessly comfortable in her own skin. She exudes a badass presence.

Her critics, now, are dust.

john stuart mill on happiness

Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way. The enjoyments of life (such was now my theory) are sufficient to make it a pleasant thing, when they are taken en passant, without being made a principal object. Once make them so, and they are immediately felt to be insufficient. They will not bear a scrutinizing examination.

Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so. The only chance is to treat, not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life. Let your self-consciousness, your scrutiny, your self-interrogation, exhaust themselves on that; and if otherwise fortunately circumstanced you will inhale happiness with the air you breathe, without dwelling on it or thinking about it, without either forestalling it in imagination, or putting it to flight by fatal questioning.

 John Stuart Mill, Autobiography (1873)Read the rest of it HERE.

“scrape”: it’s brilliant – go and see it!

This play is on for two more nights at the Intimate Theatre on UCT’s Hiddingh Campus. I went last night. It is an absolute tour de force – insightful, brutal, awkward, compassionate, hilarious. If you are in Cape Town, GO, GO, GO!

SCRAPE_REAL_large

Scrape is the story of an everyday woman suffering from an unusual condition.

After falling and scraping herself, Beth discovers that not only does skin heal, it can sometimes do so with a vengeance.

This one-person show, performed by Amy Louise Wilson, is presented by writer Genna Gardini and director Gary Hartley. It features sound design by musician and performance artist SIYA IS YOUR ANARCHIST and set design by 2011 ABSA L’Atelier and Sasol New Signatures finalist Francois Knoetze.

Scrape is presented by the new theatre company Horses’ Heads Productions. The production will preview at the Intimate Theatre from 19 – 24 March 2013 and go on to feature as part of The Cape Town Edge programme at this year’s National Arts Festival. Scrape will then return to the Mother City for a run at The Alexander Bar in August 2013.

Scrape, 19 – 24 March 2013, 20:00
The Intimate Theatre on UCT’s Hiddingh Campus
R50 general/ R40 students
To book tickets, contact 0827765490 or horsesheadsproductions@gmail.com

Director:
Gary Hartley is a theatre-maker, performer and television producer based in Cape Town. In 2007 he graduated from Rhodes University with a distinction in Drama. His production, WinterSweet, made in collaboration with The Runaway Buni Collective and writer Genna Gardini, won a Standard Bank Ovation Encore prize at the 2012 National Arts Festival. He currently works as a writer and producer at Greenwall Productions and has produced for shows such as The Showbiz Report, The Close Up and Screentime with Nicky Greenwall.

Playwright:
Genna Gardini is a writer based in Cape Town. Her play WinterSweet was produced in collaboration with Gary Hartley and The Runaway Buni Collective for the 2012 National Arts Festival and won a Standard Bank Encore Ovation Award. She has curated The Readings Upstairs, a monthly series of play readings held upstairs at the Alexander Bar, since 2012. Her work as a poet has been published widely both locally and internationally. Gardini has presented papers at the 2012 AFTA Annual International Conference and GIPCA Directors and Directing: Playwrights Symposium. She also works as a freelance arts writer for various publications, including the Cape Times and Art South Africa magazine. She is currently completing her MA Theatre-making (Playwriting) at UCT.

Performer:
Amy Louise Wilson is an actress living in Cape Town. She has studied Acting and Contemporary Performance at Rhodes University; Processes of Performance and Shakespeare Studies at the University of Leeds and Theatre and Performance at the University of Cape Town. Recent performances include The Petticoat Chronicle (dir. Lynne Maree), Voiced (under Clare Stopford) and 2012’s Standard Bank Encore Ovation Award winning Wintersweet (dir. Robert Haxton). She will be presenting her paper ‘Performance, Persona and Identity in the work of Die Antwoord’ at the New Directions in South African Theatre Today: Circulation, Evolutions, Adaptations symposium in France later this year.

Set Designer:
Francois Knoetze is an artist based in Cape Town. Having recently completed his Honours in Fine Art at Rhodes University, he is currently pursuing his MFA at Michaelis. His work is multidisciplinary, incorporating performance, assemblage sculpture and film. In 2011 he was a finalist in both the Absa L’Atelier and Sasol New Signatures competitions. Last year he was named one of Art South Africa magazine’s Bright Young Things. He has been involved in numerous theatre productions as set designer and puppet-maker, including works by the UBOM! Eastern Cape Theatre Company.

Sound designer:
Writer, journalist, musician and filmmaker SIYA IS YOUR ANARCHIST has written for publications like the Sunday World, The Event and The Callsheet. He has performed at the National Arts Festival and written several plays. He has also worked for TV shows such as Rhythm City (E-TV), Font (SABC 3), Breaking New Ground (SABC 2). He directed an SABC2 documentary on Aids activist Zackie Achmat called His Husband in 2011 and has exhibited multi-media installations for Goodman Gallery Cape Town and GIPCA Live Art Festival. He now works for Entertainment Africa as a features writer and is combining writing, music, art and media for the release of his upcoming musical EP.

For more information, see:
Scrape Facebook event
Horses’ Heads Productions Facebook page:
Horses’ Heads Twitter