Sunday, 25 June 2017

The banality of relationships

"I come rough, tough like an elephant tusk
Your head rush, fly like Egyptian musk
Aww shit, Wu-Tang Clan spark the wicks, and
However I master the trick just like Nixon
Causin' terror, quick damage your whole era
Hardrocks is locked the fuck up or found shot
P.L.O. style, hazardous 'cause I wreck this
Dangerous, I blow spots like Waco, Texas"
- Ghostface Killah on the Wu-Tang Clan song Bring Da Ruckus

More than once I've pondered whether noticing (and pointing out) a resemblance between two things is banal.

Rappers for whom everything is like something else are one example (although don't get me wrong: I think Wu-Tang are great), but there are also critics who attack someone for resembling something:

"[Michael] Gove sort-of looks like a fucking balloon animal or something doesn't he, he has that kind-of eerie air to him."
- The comedian Frankie Boyle talking about a British politician

I've also been guilty of it myself, as with this post juxtaposing paintings by Tiepolo and Mondrian.

But it turns out there are far fewer ways of relating two different concepts than I'd realised. According to the philosopher David Hume, there are just three: resemblance, contiguity in time or space, and cause or effect.

It's worth reiterating that, I think: there are only three different ways in which any two ideas or thoughts can be connected.

(Steven Pinker, in whose book The Sense of Style I learned the above, says linguists have identified about a dozen different kinds of connection, but that the extra nine or so are essentially just subdivisions of Hume's trio.)

So if I'm a rapper trying to inject some colour into my rhymes, I've only got three options.

Likewise, if I'm a critic examining something, I can only introduce ideas not inherent to the thing itself in one of three ways (unless I want my writing to be disjointed and incomprehensible; not so much of a problem with rap, admittedly).

Hell, even if I'm just making small talk with someone at work or in a bar, there are only three things I can do to keep my words from drying up, without abruptly changing the subject.

Suddenly I feel so much better about my shitness at chit chat: it's not only that I lack imagination, it's also that there are so few courses of action anyone can resort to!

Quite why society hasn't yet invented and embraced a device for generating topics of conversation at random, I don't know. Maybe that can be my gift to the world...

"I don't really know anything about cactuses ... Or the Spanish flu ... Or temperance ... Ah look, a flamingo! Did you know that science can't yet explain why flamingos stand on one leg? We do however know that they're pink because they eat algae ..."

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Alien sculptures

There's an otherworldliness to the Ron Nagle sculptures currently being exhibited in the Amended Testimony show at the Modern Art gallery near Old Street in London.

Each of the twenty or so small works on display comprises at least one pocked, sedimentary, blocky chunk suggesting a segment of rock or slab of construction, and most also have an amorphous, smooth, shiny blob dribbling or oozing somewhere on or near the crusty part.

Eight-Track Mind, the piece that most captured my attention, also has a shaft a bit like a tree trunk, of a similar or the same texture as the block - blocks, actually, since there are two in this work:

All of the pieces are otherworldly, but Eight-Track Mind is the apotheosis of otherworldliness, like something seen through a tear in the fabric of the universe.

The ceramic blob, which swells pregnantly and precipitously on the edge of the uppermost epoxy resin block, seems somehow sentient, as though malevolently purposeful.

Meanwhile the shaft, which has a hint of having been amputated, damaged but not destroyed, seems - perhaps because of its grey-black colour and the way it's lit in the exhibition from above and behind - strangely incorporeal, like a projection or digital image. It's an other-dimensional presence in this otherworldly tableau, which is monumental despite its small size.

These two parts of the piece seem to be interacting, or about to interact: the blob radiating a kind of cold menace; the shaft like the embodiment of some mystical force with no say over its own use or abuse.

I've never felt so transported by a sculpture, or been so transfixed - although not actually fixed, since the piece encourages you to move around and view it from every possible angle, to better appreciate the suggestive bulging tension of the blob, the weird, eye-fooling texture of the shaft, and the changing relation between the two as your vantage alters.

I didn't want to leave the exhibition, and after I'd left I wanted to return. It's like Eight-Track Mind really is an alien artifact, able to lodge itself in your consciousness. It's invaded mine.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Quotes #12 - Virtue

"Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing."
GK Chesterton, A Piece of Chalk, as quoted in Janet Malcolm's Forty-One False Starts

Quotes #11 Life

"Too bad she won't live. But then again, who does?"
Bladerunner, 1982

"You only live once,
And that's not guaranteed."
He's Gone, Doris Duke, 1969

Quotes #10: likes

"You should not feel guilty about coveting your neighbour's wife if she is better looking or more fun. You cannot really change what you like."
James Watson, Nobel-prizewinning biologist, as interviewed by Christopher Swann for the Financial Times (2004)

"It is in the nature of the mind that the more we cultivate and familiarize ourselves with positive emotions, the more powerful they become."
The Dalai Lama on Twitter, 2017