What Difference Does It Make: The Two Literatures

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Leaving Antje Öklesund one January evening during the most beautiful snowfall

On the dance floor of “What difference does it make!” I met someone whose take on common interests were so different from mine, it made all the difference.

How two people from the humanities can amazingly miss the connect:

Concerning Hegel:

Me: I took a class on his Phenomenology. 

Literature: I took a class on his Logic. 

(the phenomenology / logic divide)

Me: Did you know Hegel’s writing desk is in the main Humboldt university building?

Literature: You mean the building next to a sculpture of his bust?

Me: What sculpture?

(the desk / sculpture divide)

Concerning French Philosophy/ Literature

Literature: I started a Lacan reading group.

Me: I only vaguely remember Foucault. I’m into French literature.

(his literature was German and philosophy French, my literature was French and philosophy German)

Concerning Art

Literature: What do you like doing?

Me: I like going to galleries for contemporary art.

Literature: Did you see the Mondrian exhibit at the Martin-Gropius-Bau?

Me (thinking): shit I missed a Mondrian exhibition… there is a gap is my information flow

Literature: I guess Mondrian is modern and not contemporary

Me (still thinking): I can’t believe I missed that

(the modern/ contemporary art divide)

Concerning German Romanticism

Me: I like German Romanticism.

Literature: Brentano?

Me: Brentano is the one Romantic I haven’t read.

Literature: His style is similar to Tristram Shandy…

Me (thinking): I tried to read that once and couldn’t stand the writing…

(the Brentano/ all the other Romantics divide)

Concerning the Application of Trust

Literature: I translated an academic paper on “trust” today.

Me: I used to sell “trust” to e-commerce retailers.

Literature: How do you sell trust?

Me: with a feedback management system… customer and product reviews

(the translation/ selling of trust divide)

Concerning Quentin Tarantino

Literature: The only Tarantino film I thought was good was Reservoir Dogs.

Me (thinking): That is the one film I am not interested in seeing I haven’t seen that one.

(the Reservoir Dogs/ all other Tarantino films divide)

Concerning Politics

Me: Do you know Nate Silver?

Literature: Never heard of him.

Me: All my information on politics comes from Nate Silver.

(the political information divide)

 

Meaningful Litheness in Pink Hues

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Lit in the hues of a dandy’s uterus, we have two male service workers regimented like androids. In their dance of maintenance and service, the missing parts of the female body are either man-made or artificial. What is real and in the flesh are the two male bodies. The sculptural piece in the shape of a vaginal opening and the long strands of a ponytail acting as both whip and ornament are present but not relevant.

Beyond the body, this beautifully futuristic piece by Adam Linder and Shahryar Nashatyou further dissects the components of eroticism and labor and then substitutes and categorizes the obvious parts for the underrepresented. Service work is elevated and the face often times dismissed as secondary to the sexual act is now the pornographic visual. At times contortionist in bodily movement, ‘hair care’ hits and brushes against the marble with gentle lovingness. The two choreographic service workers, Adam Linder and Andrew Hardwidge, lithely perform their maintenance labor with hair prosthetics attached to white gloves or leather head straps. As a reinterpretation of Ravel’s Boléro plays during the intermissions, one waits until the dancers come back and the video flashes sexually suggestive close-ups of functionally forgotten parts of the human face such as the tear ducts, earlobes or nostrils.

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The Course of Life on “Ecke Weserstrasse”

Course of love

I first discovered Alain de Botton’s “Essays in Love” at 22 and still young enough to keep tabs on when writers wrote what. de Botton was 23 so I felt hypothetically, I had a year. (victim of the arrogance of youth) Since then, he has written on every single subject I ever wanted to write about – status, architecture, Proust, travel, work, airports – and now back to love (not to mention his School of Life). In his new novel “The Course of Love,” he provides what has been lacking in the art of love stories, how to understand the transition from passionate love (Romanticism/ Before marriage) to companionate love (Enlightened Romantic Pessimism / Many years after marriage) and the strong role that psychology plays in being able to tolerate each other’s “crazy.” That in the future, the main thing we will want to know about a potential partner is “How crazy are you?”

The only way for couples to perpetually exist in a state of magical enthusiasm is to die at the height of that feeling, this is one of the first things we learn from Romeo and Juliet. de Botton reveals that during the lifespan of a marriage, we all realize we married the wrong person. Instead of finding a soulmate, what we in fact decided on and found was a particular kind of suffering to spend the rest of our lives dealing with. Not until we realize this, can we really enjoy/understand/practice the institution of marriage and be more accepting and kinder to our chosen form of misery.

The biggest culprit in misaligning everyone’s general understanding of love and its discontents lies heavily in the hands of representation in literature, love songs, and the movies. If only we had more movies and books about the separation of sex and love at times, the helpless infant living within us all, and how normal it is to just be bored most of the time, then maybe there would be less failed marriages and more people reaching the heights of companionate love (happening sometime in our golden years). Love starts not with the finding but after the marriage.

You can find a similar message/ problem in Episode 3 of “Ecke Weserstraße” which I must applaud is so much better than the first two episodes. Here we have a group of young, urban, creative, internationals living in the coolest area of Berlin but their lives just don’t live up to the blogs, movies, drugged experiences and pop culture representations of what a cool life should be. Most of the time, they’re just bored, broke, and subliminally conscious that their way of existence is not sustainable (fireworks… no sparklers). If what fucked up Madame Bovary’s understanding of marriage was too many romance novels, in “Ecke Weserstraße” it comes from checking out too many travel blogs of couples documenting their romantic nomad getaways. (The girlfriend was so believable) Real jobs are boring and at times ridiculous so much so you just want to send off a Snapchat letter of resignation or make paper airplanes. As if life couldn’t get any worse, the hottest place to live now is Echo Park (like Berlin from the 90s or more Berlin than Berlin) as conveyed by a German to another German in stilted English.

Ironically, while watching this episode on YouTube as two of the flatmates portrayed a montage of a Berlin summer romance, I realized after all these years living in Berlin I never had a Berlin summer romance… but then I realized no, my life is not a YouTube episode, I will just be waiting in lines for gelato and trying to avoid the sun.

In the Waiting Room of the Black Lodge…

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In Twin Peaks, the Black Lodge exists like a fortune teller on Sunset Blvd., representing an ancient backwater mysticism of a town Agent Cooper comes to love while his urbane FBI colleagues scuff at the simplistic turn of the folk town. Faux classy and bleeding sleaze, the red waiting room is filled with circus freaks and gibberish, where the darkest truths are revealed in non-speak. The knowledge that awaits can horrify you, as the spirits, both good and evil, moving through its red cloth walls morph into monsters. It appears in dreams and exists in an unseen dimension through a portal in the woods and leaves behind the bad smell of petrol.

Somewhere on Sanderstrasse, Berlin has its own replica and for reasons unknown to me that was the first place I wanted to go in the New Year. I found myself typing the words Black Lodge into Tinder chats and hearing the words tripping off my tongue since the first day of January as either a date idea or friendly neighborhood bar visit with a girlfriend.

Every time I walked out of u-bahn Schönleinstrasse and tried to go, I’d reach into my purse to find my phone dead, requiring me to depend on someone else’s navigational skills. Each time we ended up circling away from Sanderstrasse. My friend kept walking us straight ahead till we reached a gas station on Sonnenallee (at the gas station I knew this couldn’t be it) and another time, a date escorted me to the canal then around the block and back again.

It was only after I finally made it there that I began to suspect that Berlin’s Black Lodge may not be such an innocuous replica of the imaginary existence of the real thing but by building it an energy had come, a force field of dark intentions and mischief. And that I, led by aesthetics and lack of depth of its true meaning, took myself and another innocent to unravel and reveal ourselves in its darkness.

Berlin’s red room was small and the seating lined its walls creating an enlarged BVG s-bahn bike area sitting arrangement in which you sat not facing your date but strangers sitting on the opposite side. Awkward.

Because of the strange events during and after my visit to the Black Lodge, I googled it and found through Wikia Twin Peaks that one’s actions in the red waiting room determined whether you would go to the White Lodge (love in a leafy environment) or to the Black Lodge (where pain and sorrow are the currency). In the red room one meets one’s shadow self, just as the Black Lodge is the shadow self of the White Lodge. Now I wonder had my heart been more pure and courageous at heart would I found entrance to the White Lodge.

The temptations of my shadow self came out when I recognized someone going to the bathroom. The male version of the girl I wanted to be, someone I saw everywhere from gallery openings to the art library (Kunstbibliothek), in the underground, walking to the HU library, and then in a bar on Sanderstrasse, as I was on a date with someone else.

His style of tweed suits and perfect grooming, carrying his large obscure art books while working on a paper at the Kunstbibliothek had attracted my notice in addition to being my spiritual Berlin art doppelgänger.

In my utter amazement at his sight, I blurted out, “that guy that just walked to the bathroom, I saw him everyday at the Kunstbibliothek for a month.”

“Did he see you?” ouch, thanks.

I made no reply but thought, he saw me now. At that moment, my shadow self came to the realization that my fairly good-looking date lacked my aesthetic taste in style. I imagined endless days of his musician uniform, jeans and a t-shirt, just as he was wearing that evening.

As I second-guessed my desires, I later realized he was plotting how to make me stop liking him. One telling moment of body language was the clue. He turned his body toward me for the first time that evening and strangely became overly interested when I related a story of how one of my most considerate and nicest friends, slowly got rid of me from her life. The distress in which I told the story showed how much I was still hurt, angry, still stunned, and surprised from the drawn-out death of the friendship. Unknown to me, I had just given him the blueprint to “how to make this girl never want to see me again.” Suddenly after that date, the “great human being” I thought I had met was working hard to get rid of me using the template my had friend chosen in real-time. The knowledge was shocking. What was at first a good first impression changed to face the other direction.

However, it could also just be my shadow self working overtime in thinking these thoughts.

My paparazzi shot of a Ken Sortais Sketch

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I surreptitiously took this photo of a Ken Sortais sketch for DRAW A LINE‘s group exhibition show State of Mankind last year during Berlin Art Week. It was lying on a pile of exhibition newspapers next to boxes of Barefoot wine in the foyer of a Potsdamerstrasse apartment/space. I had been following the live drawing of Sortais’s mixed media piece Cosmology, Geology, Cervical on Instagram and then saw the finished piece in the gallery. They had dismantled and packed up most of the artwork but still had to transport the rest out of the space. I had arrived in the morning to find this sketch greeting me. I went over to it like paparazzi to a nude celebrity. I studied it and noted its oddly Japanese kamikaze feel, I guess all red circles and black lines do.

In the finished painting, it is harder to see the individual mess of bodies and looks more like the painful bloody stains of a hellish birth. The whole piece, with its twisting tube of an umbilical cord inflating a phallic-shaped sculpture resembling geological stone, represents a play on Atlas holding up the cosmos.

The Makings of a La Bohème Death

DSC_0069Around the corner from S-Bahn Humboldthain, down a dead-end alley through an unmarked door, three Koreans were renting out an art project workspace called AM Gallery. With no heating and a pot of glühwein on the stove, the open pages of a guest book were fluttering blank. It was girly and gangster, arched brick-walls that led underground, ending with a reminiscence of La Bohème TB. Four Korean guys were huddled, one bold and tattooed, one long-haired and long coat and another having the face of a Japanese samurai warrior but dressed like hipster barbie. They were brewing, communing around bent heads but only around each other, visitors and girls were left to interpret the photography for themselves. I found myself in the mist of a Korean art scene.

When we walked out of the exhibition, we saw someone. An aspiring Korean tenor and his oversized Dunkin’ Donuts plastic bag outlining the shape of a tilted box of donuts refusing to be held horizontal. He was framed within the alley walls. The light of a neon sign cast its luminance on his swaying body as he paced in front of the entrance, calling his flatmate, unable to find the art space.

We both saw the Dunkin’ Donuts bag first and his flatmate explained, “I knew it was him from the Dunkin’ Donuts bag.”

 

Kinfolk vs. Rocket

Father Carpenters cappuccino this fall at a table in the inner courtyard
Father Carpenters cappuccino this fall at a table in the inner courtyard

“Thus much of this [gold] will make black white, foul fair/Wrong right, base noble, old young, coward valiant.” Shakespeare

“What happens in a society and culture where money becomes the measure of all things and technological innovation becomes just a way to make more money faster? Viewers can only imagine the fully ripened fruits of such feckless sowing.” Ken Johnson

by way of Ken Johnson “Review: Simon Denny Sees the Dark Side of Technology at MoMA PS1

Like concurrently liking a Hegelian scholar and the writings of Kierkegaard, Kinfolk and Rocket Internet entered my life like two opposing forces of nature and without my realizing I was living a contradiction.

I had spent the previous year, lovingly gawking at the Alice Gao/ Kinfolk aesthetic of quiet corners and cups of coffee, donuts and ice cream; an aesthetic that was minimal and championed slow living. But then I found a job at a place whose main philosophical and commercial tenet was speed. Not average Joe speed, but give me the blood of your first born child speed, analogous to Amazon Am-holes, as documented in this nytimes article (during the research of this link I discovered that the Senior VP of Global Corporate Affairs Jay Carney was the young political pundit/ journalist I had a crush on in the mid 90s). This amalgam would result in what I will call the picture wars, workplace bullying and twitter mobbing.

I got hired by someone who craved power like no other office worker I had seen in the PR department of one of Rocket Internet’s spawn start-ups. After 4 interview sessions with 5 people and a copy test plus a social media business proposal for a country market that was like the US but not the US, a couple weeks of phone chasing through sickness and cross Atlantic trips, I finally got the job after flame hoops, quicksand, CEO refusal and reluctant final approval and written confirmations and all that LA DI DA what a party.

I found the office politics had such varied forces as the Syrian Civil War. On such a battlefield, my reading of social situations and loaded PR innuendo was so slow, it would take me a few hours to realize how low the jugular had been. Due to my new status and absolute zero power, I would liken myself to the innocent Syrian civilians. Ultimately because my ideas were initially favored by my boss, I became the persecuted and took my martyrdom in silence.

However, although I had good ideas, I started to become a liability because I not only made my own mistakes which enemy forces ran wild with (you could cut through the hate) but also I fell into every trap laid out for me. I spent the last month at war reading the 48 Laws of Power, researching Ramadan and imagining my direct colleagues as salivating dogs.

When the only person that ever wanted me there finally yawned in my face, and I knew it was over but not before I declared “I don’t want power, I want freedom” sealing shut my own fate.

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I flew to NYC and look what greeted me a Simon Denny art piece