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Crush: To compress with violence, out of natural shape or condition
To live in fantasy is treacherous. As I revise the myth of the artist, I give myself license (artistic license?) to violate what is real for the world outside of me. The object of my desire is revised in this violation and given shape and form. Do I violate the object? I am compressed out of natural shape and condition with violence.
Where do we draw the line in the context of artistic license? Can I create a person out of an idea? And then crush myself? Where does pretend stop and real begin? Does it even matter? Keep an open mind, he says. Get real, they say. Get real. And then I open my mind and crush myself. This weight that crushes me is deliciously insinuating. But I like it, I say. And they shake their heads at me. The proverbial them. Are they watching me like I watch them?
Object: A tangible and visible entity; an entity that can cast a shadow; The goal intended to be attained (and which is believed to be attainable); The focus of cognitions or feelings
M: and i find it creepy that they figure out my schedule.”not sleeping yet? why not?” “on a lunch break? not in office?”
Objectify: Make external or objective, or give reality to
Meanwhile, I create a person all by myself. I draw and crush myself with the known and the unknown. I want to be crushed out of shape. Revise me, please. Crush me while I bend you out of shape and mould you into an object of desire.
Who are you? Who are you, really?
“My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for.”
From A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
A friend suggested A Handmaid’s Tale and I cannot help responding to it – in my own context, mostly. This book has shaken me somewhat but I wish to limit my musing to myself and not aspire to make sweeping statements or have opinions about the world of men and women. Frankly, I am as lost as the next person. I am merely a revisionist. I revise myself as I see fit (or unfit). Sometimes, I feel like I have no right to opine on anything since everything revises itself.
My “context” is also revised – by men and women alike. I usually feel like a bystander, watching people tell me who and what I am. I revise myself and I watch as others revise me. And I am aware that I am not a victim. This is just how things are, I suppose, within a social construct. I can only bitch and whine. “Take control” they say. And I nod and plod on. What else is one to do?
I know and don’t really know, how others view me. Communication is deceptive. Sometimes, I catch myself believing them. Sometimes, I feel paranoid and withdraw into myself. No harm done. However, I feel a disconnect that I cannot explain or articulate. Is it the curse of the artist? I keep revising the myth of the artist, you see. We watch and we make. We watch from afar. We watch unseen. We have a gaze – the all powerful gaze, that is borrowed from the world and then given back to the world. The audience takes over and we are gone. Maybe we are living on borrowed sight.
This disconnect is powerful. It takes away my sense of self and emotion. It hollows me. Maybe I am living on borrowed self.
“nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for.”
In the book, the word that struck me most was Unwomen: Unwomen are sterile women, widows, feminists, lesbians, nuns, and politically dissident women: all women who are incapable of social integration within the Republic’s strict gender divisions.
Dissedence is deceptively alluring. I am a person who dissents from established policy only to assent to another established policy. The show goes on. Only half of me is really awake. The other half is disconnected.
From my post last year on March 23rd:
In Pakistan this day marks the passing of the Lahore Resolution. Republic Day of Pakistan was first observed in 1956 when Pakistan officially became an Islamic Republic (previously Pakistan had the status of a Dominion). The main events of this day include a full military parade and the awarding of honours at the Presidency (Presidential Palace) by the President. Every year, on March 23, the Pakistani people commemorate their National Day in remembrance of “The Pakistan Resolution” passed on March 23, 1940, in the historic city of Lahore which is also the day the country was declared a republic.
I was at Minto/Iqbal Park, Lahore on March 23rd this year for Lahore Agitprop Theatre performances (more on that here) and encountered a strange phenomena that I can inarticulately call a “moment” that changed my perception. And for a while, I didn’t feel cynical, bored or jaded. Perhaps it was the day itself, the space, the city, the performances and my students that created this amazing feeling. I am convinced that any other combination would not have worked.
These days all I feel is despair. The future seems bleak. I have no affiliations with any political party or their odious bullshit. I feel that I can do nothing; that I am helpless. Every day, I face people who are monstrous in their hate and ignorance. I work with such people; those who are teaching despite their ignorance and the vile poison they preach. I feel dejected and depressed. I don’t even remember what I believed in that brought me here.
But that moment at the park, I realized I was amused, delighted and moved. I am not jaded afterall. There is still work to be done. I don’t know how long this feeling with last but I intend to make the most of it. Maybe I should thank my students and colleagues with me that day. Maybe I should live in it for as long as I can.
“last man standing after an all night drinking marathon” Bill Cardoso, 1970
Hunter S. Thompson’s disparaging innuendoes have me all hot and bothered. Sometimes, you gotta live it to love it. Last man standing, yes? Here we go again. Coherence be damned.
After a half-night of incoherent, inarticulate boozing and a morning of colorful dreams accompanied with a massive headache, I can’t help thinking of Thompson and his suicide. Considering that my evening began with talk of a friend’s suicide, it makes sense. Was I resentful? Did I feel anger? I think I was broken a little. My friend lived the myth, right to the very end. I wish you love.
Visual artists of Pakistan, where are we headed? One of us gave in and ended his life. One can attribute personal disorders to such behavior and shove it under the carpet. I refuse to let it go. We are all responsible. I claim responsibility. I claim friendship and love. I claim empathy. It has been 2 years. I don’t think I can ever forget.
The myth (the goddamned myth) comes and bites us in the ass, yes? Am I fighting the myth or living it? How can I dissect something without objectivity? How can I be objective when I am so deeply immersed? Oh the burden of pop culture. It weighs me down.
Sometimes, nothing can be done. However, I get this nagging feeling that saying that, or thinking it even, is the easy way out. Perhaps I am too emotionally invested? Maybe I need to quit blaming myself and everyone else. But that again, is only natural. Maybe in a few years, I will come to terms with the entire business and have something more intelligent to say about it. Though, I doubt if one can ever be intelligent about the loss of a friend.
Meanwhile, I keep watching them as they live out their fiction and I live mine. Fiction is often the best fact – just like Thompson said. Just like he said.
I cannot stop thinking about the myth of the artist. A teacher of mine from college brought this notion to my attention. Infact, her exact words were “living the myth” and I was struck dumb. Of course! I thought to myself. I was in college at that time and it was many years (many, many years) ago. Everything struck me dumb. But this was a revelation of sorts. It gave words to something that I had inarticulately tried to understand for a while. The myth did not bother me at all. I was exposed to a lot of popular culture that made the myth seem very desirable. I could love myself passionately if I lived the myth.
That brings me to the idea of the “self portrait” – the performance of the self on canvas (or any other surface/in any other space). In a way, the myth of the artist demands a self portrait. Where else do you begin? It’s ridiculous romance is hard to resist.
And so begins my half-assed rant. The painter is condemned please. Bataille, here we go again. You bite me, you do.
He (the other, watching me) uses words like succinct and reductionist and I’m watching his mouth. I watch mouths and I watch myself. I wonder how they see me. A friend recently told me that they (the proverbial them) only see ugliness in the difference. But again, that is just pop culture. The inevitable self-portrait of the artist. I see them as they see me and I see them. We all watch each other, watch ourselves. And there goes coherence, down the drain. Down, boy! Down it goes.
As a visual artist, I am condemned. This notion is fast turning into a belief. I could write pages of coherent rubbish disclaiming and claiming it. I could support all my bullshit with references. But here I am, writing about the self-portrait, fighting temptation – fighting the myth.
Fragment – consider revising. Ah yes. That old spiel.
What do you see? Do you see me? When I draw myself (when I draw myself out) do I see what you see? If I see you watching me, can I see what you see? I think I’ve tired myself of the pornographic form vs. content debate. I think I’ve tired myself of all the debates. My practice suffers from delays. And then I see such beauty and I am humbled. I am humbled by their mouths and their glances. I am humbled by the gaze. And yet, I draw myself over and over, hoping to see what they see as I watch them. I like to watch.
The self-portrait can be torture. Bataille, you bite me. In my metaphorical ass.
The painter is condemned to please*. The practice of art is cruel. And therefore the artist is terribly romantic and inscrutable; obscure and deliciously mysterious. Art practice becomes even more obscure and informed by glorious muses and the void beyond reason (and so on). This is what they gave us with their history books and their slides. This is what they gave us with their documentaries and biographies. This is what they gave us at art school.
The institution of art school is a strange notion in itself. But I find myself more interested in what it has done to me – and perhaps what I’m doing for it now. I have never really stopped what they started. I am rolling along, absurdly, caught up in my own miseries and the romance of art-induced angst. Do I believe in the myth of the artist? Do I believe in the myth of art-making?
The romance of a torturous, tragic existence is very powerful. Some get so caught up in it, they never leave. Ofcourse, some disregard it completely, but it’s always lurking in the dark corners. While performing the painter, I find myself a little ridiculous. Then I get drawn into the old self and the other rhetoric. And so, I am a romantic soul again. It is a nice self-contained cycle of pleasure and pain.
I am condemned. To please. To give pleasure. Inadvertently, I am condemned to torture. If one is to believe this mythical position, then one must believe in one’s greatness in the larger scheme of things. This causes (in my opinion) a kind of psychological conflict. In this world, there seems to be no time for sentimental introspection. It defeats the purpose of practical techniques and form. In this world, there also seems to be all the time for sentimental introspection. Content must be loaded with profound meaning. In performing the painter (or the artist), one is fucked, really.
The tortured soul of this mythical artist must then be put on display. It must be curated to appear in all its glorious intensity. It must be seen, viewed and taken apart with words and more pictures. It must represent and reflect and “change” something. It must be loaded with meaning, content and comments. The intimidating walls of the gallery consume this tortured, pleasing entity. Or, it is displayed in public to be seen as some kind of effrontry or a tribute to humility. It must define space and time. It must be courageous or cowardly or merely introspective. It is given names like political, psychotic, personal, sentimental, gay, sexual, sexless, present, absent…In this crowd of words and meaning, the myth of the artist and the personal mythology of the artist become one and the same. Or maybe it’s just me. The myth of the artist wears you down something awful.
Inspiration: Arousal of the mind to special unusual activity or creativity.
When you’ve got paper, you can draw faces. When you’ve got leeches, you can draw blood.
Disclaimer: I started writing this post with an intention to rant about art practice and then it twisted itself into wild introspection. I still don’t know what the practice of art demands from me. I have stopped hoping I will ever know for longer than those moments when I seem to know what it wants. Then we all fall down.
* from The Cruel Practice of Art by George Bataille