Darkrooms

It's almost a decade too late to mourn film photography, but yesterday I was given a clutch of exposed black and white rolls. Their contents are a mystery. There are enough of them that I considered buying new bottles of chemicals, retreating to the bathroom at night, and plugging the gaps with towels. Even though I have the time, it seemed like too much of an ordeal, too risky (I've ruined rolls of film before), and it's all just going to end up digital anyway. At this point, developing my own negatives just to scan them would be an affectation, and not something I would ever do again. While I still have a film camera somewhere in my closet, why buy film for it and go to the trouble of developing the film when I can take digital photos?

Possibly because one doesn't have to be a utilitarian; the goal of photography is technically an image, but its draws are many.

These days, film photography can only be approached via nostalgia--the conviction that the older the thing, the more real and the more beautiful it is. When I did a lot of dark room work, however, was the transition period during which the technical superiority of digital photography wasn't yet established. Even professional digital cameras weren't yet as high resolution as 35mm film.

Darkroom developing was taught in high school. Maybe it still is--what is taught there is less knowledge than discipline, which darkrooms require a lot of. I didn't take the class; my prints were sloppy. I wasn't so interested in the meticulous work that photography brandishes as a sign of its artistry. Not because I had anything against work as self-justification, but because I was lazy and I was a stubborn autodidact, which really just meant I relied on other channels. I was taught by friends who had taken the class, so for me photography was about belonging, intimacy, and conversely, solitude. Taking photos I was an obsessive, nitpicking aesthete, but in the darkroom I was a romantic.

It can be a mean place, though, waiting in the dark. In my makeshift arrangement in the bathroom, you couldn't open the door while film is developing. It could take about ten minutes. It's a long ten minutes, sitting in on the floor, listening to the timer tick. That lengthening of time was exactly what I wanted. It's a ritual; there is a great deal of preparation, and certain elements that must be in place. I learned these elements from the same friends who taught me the technical parts, and carried them to my time with myself.

In the contours of this practice's dissemination I detect a whiff of adolescent sexuality; having no similar experience to corroborate this intuition, I can only conclude that the scent is that of an idea of how adolescents get ideas about sex. Nonetheless, there was something erotic about developing photos with company. There was no physical contact, but there was the possibility of touch, or rather, touch diffused. The dark both depressurizes one's sense of inhabiting a discrete body, and heightens the awareness of sensation. A darkroom is not without light, but the lights illuminate photos, not people. Gazes do not meet, but fall on the images made by projector lamp or slowly accumulating dim and red on wet paper. In a room where all attention is on images, the sensuality of the dark becomes like the colorful static you see in the absence of light--atmospheric.

One thing I learned was that above all there must be music. A darkroom is as evocative a place to listen to music as a moving car, but in a different way. Rather than propelling, the music soaks.

But the music, like the dark, can grate. I once boasted that if I were punished with being locked alone in a room for hours, I would actually enjoy it. "Yes, you would," they said, but the truth was that I did this to myself regularly, and it was punishment. It had the same volatility that any extended period alone with your thoughts and few distractions does. "Nonstop you," the Lufthansa slogan that for Elif Batuman "seems to encapsulate the full horror and nausea of human consciousness," is, for the same reason, a good descriptor of being in a darkroom alone. Thankfully, there is one distraction from you, which is the work you do there.

I always hoped that the time would be meditative, which it rarely was. I remember either trying just to get it over with and having to turn off the music, which irritated me, or being caught in a high that teetered between euphoria and anger. Things can easily go wrong in a darkroom, and when your expectations are sky high, overexposing a print can be cause for cursing. I'm not a graceful person, and excitement makes one even clumsier.

More often, though, my moodiness in there had little to do with what I did or did not do. It was simply that there--like the minutes before sleep--you remember things you would otherwise not.

The more familiar you become with darkroom technique, the more you work in your imagination. I did a lot of trial and error, the imperfect results of which stuck around, and cost. Eventually, you get better at estimating contrast filters and exposure timings. On a computer you can do anything, you don't have to pay for paper, and the results are immediately visible. Delay defined the darkroom. Imagination lives in the often frustrating place where it cannot be realized, and Photoshop has made everything easier. Which is what I'm going to use to turn the developed negatives into positives, thankfully.

30 November 2012

Beers Queued At Your Feet

In Clue, you must travel from room to room. Each turn you must leave a room, enter a room, or make progress between rooms. You can't stay in the same room, even when you're certain it is the right room. The game requires you not to give away your certainty.

Some players of clue hmm significantly, others throw sidelong glances that appear sly to the degree that they aren't. These acts make a theater of thinking, but are adjacent to thinking. Adjacent, yet sometimes you find yourself looking hard at your notepad, as if looking hard forces deductions from check marks to avail themselves, or as if deductions furrow the brow. It isn't clear there are deductions at all, yet a certain arbitrary boldness of logic often seems necessary to play. You look at everyone's movements as if they're significant.

Are movements more or less significant after two beers? Principally, these movements are to enter beers into the beer app. Principally, these beers are drank to enter them into the beer app. At least, so the drinkers claim. If there is suspicion about the drinkers' motives, only consider your ambivalence towards Life, which--third beer--is what you're now playing.

Already you appear to be roughly 50, according to your position on the board. You have passed all the forks, at each of which you may take the longer path or the shorter path. You took all the shorter ones, finished second, and ended with the second most money. Your score is how much money you end with. You thought it was better (in the game) to go as slowly as possible, to accumulate as many Life chips as possible to cash in at the end. But going faster--which somehow reduces your chances to get into costly accidents--appears to be more lucrative.

However little time Life takes to complete, it is a boring game, and you often get distracted. You forget to take a pay day or two. You fiddle with the beer app. Was that beer a two or a three? Would you recommend it? Your friend toasts you, or rather toasts your addition and rating of the beer, or rather your friend pushes a button, across the table. It is unclear what the difference is between this act and the clinking of glasses.

There is a large bag of chips. The players crunch, slide pieces, spin dials, roll dice, drink. Each time you grab a handful of chips from the bag, you imagine it will be all you'll need. This turns out to be true, for a short period of time. The period gets shorter when there are not other actions available. The game is a distraction from chips; the chips are a distraction from the game. Distraction: stopgap.

When the chips run out, the drinkers have another reason, besides unlocking the acheivement of drinking 12 beers of the same brand. They can't enter that they have drank these beers without having drank them. What makes games fun is rules. Does following those rules also make the game fun?

Fun and useful are different; the beer app mixes. (Minimally) fun choices taken in game are paralleled by useful choices out of game. Then again, are short paths fun and reticence, useful? Actually, ending the game soon seems safe, and safety, ruinous.

25 November 2012

Homeland's Lightning Rod

I've given up editing this. Writing demands that you believe in something which is ultimately flawed. This is a problem of time, of stretching the moment of first draft before it gives way to editing (as Teju Cole puts it, "writing lives or dies by what’s produced in that moment"), yes. But it is also a problem of reconciling mania and depression. Isn't it?

Ideas only sound like good ideas to someone who is out of touch with their own limitations and the limitations of the world. Indeed, the necessary belief in the communicative possibility of writing isn't quite on. I write this because I think a someone might read it and understand. It's a gambit for recognition.

Which surely is not always a delusional wish? It's hard to judge. The labelling of mental illnesses gives the appearance that distinctions between sanity and insanity can be clearly drawn--that one can judge. But if the afflicted's problem is conceived as one of judgement, only semantic hocus-pocus can be offered. As advice from one bipolar person to another, "there's good gut and there's bad gut; sometimes I really have to clean out the fridge and set it on fire--that's bad gut" is perfectly opaque. This is what Carrie's father tells her in Homeland when she's in the middle of a manic episode and she tells him something she really has to do. His advice seems to suggest she is capable of both precognitive retrospection and seeing herself from outside herself (which are basically the same thing).

She spends the worst of her mania holed up in her sister's house under constant supervision, away from messy stimuli and eyes who would see her craziness. While she's being reigned in, the boundaries blur. Her "condition" gets her fired; her employment depended upon the relative control medication offered her. Yet her brilliance as an intelligence operative is clearly related to her bipolarity. While she's manic she does some of her best work, albeit in a nearly incomprehensible manner. She becomes a kind of Cassandra, subject to bursts of insight that nobody believes. Her friend and father figure, Saul, though, is able to put it all together, to provide the translation. She idealizes their relationship as one might a family in an earlier era: a refuge of love in an unforgiving world (Langley, in this case). His complaint is that he does most of the foriving.

She is in general someone who lets her burdens fall on others. She uses her sister to provide her with the experimental drugs that allow her to function at her job, and falls back on her sister's care whenever she immediately needs it. There is therefore a perverse moralism in others' burdens being displaced onto her.

It strikes me that this characterizes well my relationship with myself in the process of writing, and that while depressed it's not that insight isn't possible, but that it always sounds like "bad gut." While my upswings are nowhere near Carrie's nor my mother's manias, they are productive to the same degree that they are foolish. While my decisions are less drastic than setting the fridge on fire or accusing someone of planning to blow up the vice president, they do nonetheless seem very wrong in retrospect. Which sounds, if you ask me, like the structure of consciousness, rather than a bipolar pathology.

When her dad tut-tuts her for staying up late working, she retorts "I feel pretty great." "Wired. There's a difference." It's hard to deny the distinction--there are different kinds of happiness--however, he's not distinguishing among a field, but putting the one above the rest. The one is that calm, enduring, enlightened happiness waiting at the end of therapeutic narratives. It's that much touted and aestheticized in-the-momentness. At the very least, this ideal state does not characterize American nationalism, whose Homeland Security overcompensates for the wrongness of 9/11. Carrie along with it, as we are reminded every episode by her saying "I missed something ten years ago, I can't let that happen again."

Where is the wrongness in the right and the rightness in the wrong? This is what Homeland is concerned with, and how interiority is so obsessively cultivated there as a mystery between contradictions.

The supreme contradiction is of course Brodie, the American soldier who is an impassioned anti-American terrorist. When he finally gets caught by the CIA, Carrie calls the eight years of torture and intimacy that created his passion "brainwashing," which means, as far as I can tell, "brainwashing that isn't ours." She uses this term despite knowing that the boy Brodie babysat for three years died in an American drone strike.

At the end of the first season of Homeland I wanted Brodie to blow up the vice president (who ordered said drone strike). This isn't just out of a need for violence, or even just a need for a break in the binds that Carrie and Brodie increasingly inhabit. The show puts us in this position because if Brodie suicide bombs himself, he vindicates Carrie's reasoning, which we know to be sound. If he doesn't go through with it, nobody will know that she's right. That he ultimately thinks better of it is crueler (and therefore more pleasurable) to the viewer than if he had gone through with it. Life, it turns out, is more demanding and more brutal than death. Its reproduction requires the repression of truth. For life to go on, Carrie and everyone else must believe that she's insane. In lieu of others' deaths, Carrie can only go on by consenting to electroshock therapy, which she admits will potentially cause some amnesia. "I can't go on like this," she says to Saul, "after all that's happened, it's probably better that I forget." And really this is what the vice president and Carrie's boss are asking of the world--to forget. "It's just a turd, leave it alone," says the VP. This puts the viewer in an excruciating position: she's atoning for something that we know wasn't wrong. Yes, she may be "a little intense," and "off," but her analysis is spot on.

The CIA in this show operates under the assumption that all policing does: that bad things are ultimately caused by bad people, and that bad things can be stopped by stopping bad people. Not to say there's really much of another option. To admit that the very life it's their job to protect is violent in its repression, and that the excesses of this repression have such fallouts as terrorism would be more or less to give up on this life. Part of protecting life, or at least national life, is to protect the illusion that others threaten it, rather than itself. When Carrie and Saul's investigation threatens to uncover the nation's (and the CIA's) complicity in an act of terrorism against it, this must be repressed. It is a threat not just to the CIA's ideology, but as Carrie's boss points out, to the nation itself. "You'd be handing the enemy the best recruitment tool since Abu Grabe."

But uncover that aptly labelled "turd" she did, and so she must bear its burden. By the end of the first season--which comes to a close with her running around making what sound like insane accusations--she is the mad woman in the attic. Her work doesn't save the world from itself, but becomes internalized as the sign of her madness. Her relationship to the world is not to be trusted.

Writing ultimately fails, in part because there is no Saul to translate the intimate workings of our minds to the world. More to the point, because neither the world nor the mind is fully equipped or inclined to articulate its own undoing. That's why writing, in the peculiar and irritating sense I have meant it here, is work--because inhabiting the negligable space between living and dying is an effort. One buries the death drive so far one becomes its rushing expression, or one lets it seep into consciousness and slows nearly to a halt. Between these is not stability or sanity, but normality. There's a difference.

22 November 2012

Turkey Nouns

Turkey

Thighs. Thanksgiving.

Turkey Skin

Grease. Brown. Armor.

Turkey Gravy

Grease. Brown. Mushrooms. Neck.

Turkey Soup

Turkey. Bones. Bits. Potatoes. Translucence.

Turkey Dinner

Turkey. Knives. Vegetable. Potatoes. Opacity. Mass.

Turkey Sandwich

Mayonnaise.

21 November 2012

Lincoln

Light and shadow (mostly shadow)

Painterly

Dust motes

Shawls

Liberal triumphalism

Boyish mischief

Monologues

Looking straight on

Irresponsible hysterical narcissistic woman not as verbose as a certain someone

Rooms

1 war scene

1 (important) death off screen

1 son

2 sons

Touch

Quiet talking

Physicality of politics

Pythagoras, abolitionist

Labor assets, moral assets

"The purest man in America"

21 November 2012

the war room

Cooking with someone is to encounter the division of self and other. It's even more acute, I think, than stepping into another's home. In another's cooking I can't avoid that each has their own habits, anxieties, superstitions, and turn-ons. It would seem logical to suggest that infatuation softens the perception of another's culinary peculiarities, but actually I think those peculiarities are among the most difficult to sop up with a romantic narrative. Sexy food movies have it all wrong; the kitchen is not where you fall in love, but where love is strained. It's where pet peeves exert their strongest impulse, and you're forced to realize that the other is a person, and that you might also be one. Or maybe it's just me.

For the same reason, if one is inclined toward psychological or anthropologic curiosity, the way another cooks is an object of fascination. The most interesting discoveries are made, as in those two fields, when one's position as an observer is most compromised. When you discover that those slices of onion are too large, that blenders are not used that way, that no not a big on salt, that hashbrowns must have the liquid squeezed from them before fried, that you must not mix anything together before everything is measured and ready, that certain ingredients are equivalent, that shrimp must be veined or you must burn in hell, etc.

18 November 2012

Skyfall

"It's like Home Alone!" my friend said, just as I was about to say the same. It went from Bond movie to The Adventures of 007 and M (as they drive off to his acestral Scotland in an ancient car), and, finally, to Home Alone.

The man behind us made many things better. He teased the first sex scene: "oh, Bond." First? Only. I would say this is new, but we're not spared the flirtations of Bond and Moneypenny.

I was reminded of The Wrath of Khan by this dogged theme of mortality. Can such things survive in a Bond movie? The suggestion that 007 might be fallible and violable was new in Daniel Craig's first Bond movie, but it remains an anomaly--one which this plot aims to dispell. In the end it's less about death--however thickly the dialogue is ("bloody old warships," bla bla bla)--than it is about flaccidity. Jesus really failed to answer the burning question: after you're resurrected, can you maintain an erection? In Craig's case, the answer is of course--well, witness his gait.

The world is this genre's playground, but that's nothing new.

The sneaking scene of mirrors and neon in Shanghai was, however, beautiful. As is all of the scenery.

Speaking of which, action sequences in Bond are aesthetic flourishes more than they are locuses of tension. It's not exactly that there are no rules, but rather, the impossible is the most likely course of action. Survive getting shot and falling hundreds of feet into a river? Yes. Motorcycle on rooftops? Yes. Slide down the metal barrier between opposing escalators? Well, I guess that's neither aesthetic nor impossible.

The reboot is these days as obligatory as the dub step trailer. But self-consciously bringing hints of realism to Bond? (Q says to Bond something like "it's a tube train, I know you've never been in one.") Surely that's straining the genre. Which is the point, I guess. I find myself asking the question what's worse, the Bond movie tradition, or the recent attempts to shake it up?

I wasn't aware that old necessarily meant conservative, but I stand corrected. Apparently, the world is a scary, scary place that can only be saved by "a paragon of British fortitude." (If you like Judi Dench as M, you have to assume she was making fun of 007 by calling him this in his obit.)

She says that the villain is "from the same place Bond is, from the shadows." Sorry, Gandalf?

"All this running around, jumping and shooting, it's so exhausting," says Bardem, Assange, whatever his name is. So true.

007 takes up his father's old hunting rifle AT A FUCKING COUNTRY ESTATE.

Scotland = England, but "back in time" (oh god).

Bardem is lovely, unfortunately he's also here the specter of the "new" world's homosexuality, threatening to penetrate all things that like to think themselves unpenetrable (MI6, Bond). Oh no we must repair the leak in straightness.

The innuendos are really awful, as is all of the dialogue, but then, that's traditional. But then, this one wants to be taken seriously everywhere else.

Serious sillyness, silly seriousness.

If by the 50-year-old scotch and the equally old car it means to say that the Bond franchise is an artifact of the 1960s, then I agree.

Trauma narratives. At least the evil double (Bardem) laughs at his own.

The Gila monster scene was very Star Wars, my friend points out. Henchman picks up Bond's gun, which can only be fired by him, thanks to Q. He says "good luck with that"; henchman gets eaten by gila monster. I think it might even be George Lucas & Harrison Ford in general (it could be in Indiana Jones or Star Wars).

The finale really drags. But then, as Anthony Lane points out, it always does in Bond movies.

14 November 2012

Little Bags of Crisps

I just ran out of toast. There is the potential for "real food," I guess, but why properly cook when I can buy more snacks? Detectives, it seems, agree, but they are on the other side: They have no time for anything but snacks, and so they idolize meals. Watching them, and having plenty of time to cook meals, I lust for snacks.

I'm really just talking about one detective, though snacking is part of the genre. She crunches on little bags of crisps, and I salivate for all things snacky. Her face shocked me on the Hitchcock poster. I tried to emulate her haircut. This too was a grass-is-greener phenomenon.

Yesterday I had at my disposal an odd thing: a snack that I labored over for hours. I baked it because I ran out of topics that might interest a guest--ran out of talk altogether, actually--and turned the kitchen instead into a stage, where I performed Tarte Tatin. "Real pastry," he said, "good for you," and went back to reading coupons on newsprint.

When the morning came with its disappointment (consciousness) and relief (the guest gone), the previous night's labor allowed me to avoid one of morning's major groanings (cooking breakfast). All I had to do was coffee. Late afternoon came, and I ate more tart. It was not snacking in the way that chips provide an action for anxious cogitation. It was snacking in the I'm-too-lazy-to-cook way, and in its nutritional content: flour, butter, sugar (and a bit of fruit). Its rejection of all things "substantial."

One thinks one is allaying the passage of time by refusing to spend it cooking, and by lazing around with tart, coffee, book, and computer, but now it was already dark. It was time to go, and I had not eaten anything but tart all day. I ate another piece of tart, so that I wouldn't be hungry (I would be gone for three hours).

My guts undulated. I recalled an exchange with last night's guest. "Not much sugar you put in, did you?" "2/3 of a cup. Lots of butter though--a whole stick in the crust, and half a stick in the filling." (As if sugar and butter are interchangeable by virtue of being considered unhealthy.) There was a certain advantage, though, to filling the stomach with butter and coffee: I didn't want to put anything else in there. Guts had been inverted.

Those are the extremes of snacking's see-saw: I either don't want to eat anything, ever, or I want to eat ALL THE SNACKS (as Hyperbole and a Half would put it) and to never stop. Eating is either a bother or a never-complete transubstantiation. These might sound opposed, but both are attempts not to move forward--either through outright refusal or by the rapid lateral motions of a hermit crab. Detectives snack wen the case isn't going anywhere. When they're stuck. At a narrative level, an investigation consists of long periods of frustrated stuckness and desperate grasping punctuated by sudden leaps forward.

Meals punctuate. To eat a meal is to admit that one needs to eat, ergo to admit that time has passed since one last ate. It is especially difficult to admit that time has passed when one has done so little during that time now gone, and when one thinks that something has to be done with time, otherwise one does not deserve it.

Detectives who have not cracked the case eat "one of those frozen chili con carne things" one night and "one of those frozen chili con carne things" the next night. They do not appreciate someone butting in to cook "proper food" for them. Begrudgingly they will eat what is cooked for them, but they will not allow its punctuation. The cook will get angry and leave; the detective's problem with this meal (one of many) will thus be side-stepped.

3 November 2012