Sunday, December 31, 2006

Year in Discoveries: 2006

I love this list: the things that Fosco discovered in 2006 that gave the year its identity. Of course, many of these things were actually not new in 2006--just new to Fosco. With that in mind, let's tour Fosco's 2006 discoveries...

  • Arrested Development: Fosco watched all three seasons on DVD during his recuperation from The Accident. I don't want to exaggerate (or to come across as a pussy), but I think that without this series, I would have been crying most of that first week.

    I've always loved Jason Bateman--ever since as a young queer boy, I crushed hard on him as the lead in the short-lived It's Your Move. I think I even bought a novelization of an episode of that show from the elementery school book club--remember those? But it's not just Bateman that makes AD (as the Kids call it) brilliant: the entire cast is superb and the writing is funnier than anything I've seen on TV, INCLUDING The Simpsons (which is not easy for me to admit...). I mean, this is the show that featured guest appearances from Liza Minelli as a sex-starved widow with vertigo. And then there are the words and phrases that I can't stop repeating to my sister: nevernudes, Bob Loblaw's Law Blog, Motherboy, the dizzies, Anne Paul Veal, "Marry Me."

    At this point, there is no question that this is the best television series to air in the first decade of the 21C. There, I said it.

  • Illinois by Sufjan Stevens: released in 2005, but Fosco didn't start listening to it until the beginning of 2006. It became particularly important to Fosco in November of this year (and, in fact, he is listening to it as he writes this). While Sufjan's Michigan disc was high-quality (and captivated Fosco because of home-state pride), Illinois is truly exceptional. How is it possible to write an achingly beautiful song about the life of John Wayne Gacy? Or a jaunty bluegrass ode to Decatur? Oh, and did I mention that he's hot?

  • In-N-Out Burger: the West Coast institution, praised extravagantly by Fosco here.

  • Kathy Griffin: I know, I know... This is so cliche: a homosexual who likes Kathy Griffin? Shocking. But, to tell the truth, I never really cared about her until I watched her My Life on the D-List. She's really so appealing and down-to-earth. And she tells such funny stories about Anna Nicole Smith and Gay Gaykin and his Gay-Mates.

  • blogs: As 2006 was the year that Fosco launched this little project he likes to call Fosco Lives!, blogs were clearly an important influence on him this year. But which blogs? Almost every morning, Fosco gets his niche news from several outposts of the Nick Denton Empire, including Deadspin, Defamer, and Gawker. And Fosco never travels somewhere without researching Gridskipper for tips on where the cool kids hang out.

    More importantly for Fosco and Fosco Lives! however, are two personal blogs: Ted Gideonse's The Gideonse Bible and John Mackey's blog at OstiMusic. These two blogs have served as inspirations for what Fosco Lives! can be and I read them religiously (which is really the only way to read a Bible). Merci, gentleman for a great year of blogging.

  • John McPhee on geology: his Pulitzer-Prize-winning Annals of the Former World served as Fosco's guidebook as he drove from Michigan to Santa Cruz along I-80 this summer, stopping along the way to pick up rocks. You can read about Fosco's adventures along the way in the Fosco Lives! Archives here and here.

  • "The Nietzsche Family Circus": I have literally spent hours on this website this fall. It cheers me up whenever I'm down. Who would have thought that pairing a random Nietzsche aphorism with a random "Family Circus" cartoon would be the best thing ever? I've permalinked to some of my favorites here, here, and here. Oh God, I'm laughing too hard...

  • Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 9: Fosco saw this art film three times, despite it running three-ish hours. Do yourself a favor and watch the trailer. Then read Fosco's earlier review.

  • Lindsay Lohan and her vulva (SFW). First, I would like to explain why I refuse to participate in the popular convention of referring to pictures like these (NSFW) as pix of Lindsay Lohan's vagina. I may be a homosexual who hasn't touched a woman's vagina in like five years (or so), but I did take Health Class in Junior High and I think what we are looking at is actually Lindsay Lohan's vulva.

    Whatever we are looking at, I'm pretty compelled by it. Not the vulva per se, but the idea that a popular teen star would regularly flash her privates to the paparazzi. This plus her drinking problems, her barely literate emails, and her strange belief that she will be aided by Al Gore, make her the most fascinating case of pub(l)ic self-destruction I've seen. Britney (NSFW) is a total amateur compared to Lindsay. The way I see it, Lindsay is one marriage to a homosexual (does she know Clay Aiken?) away from becoming the Judy Garland of this generation. And I can't wait to see what degradation is yet to come!

Year in Music: 2006

I think it would be better not to embarass myself too much by admitting my too-mainstream taste in non-classical music. Other than my complete obsession with Sufjan Stevens (which I've noted in almost every post in the past week), I would make a top ten list with a truly pathetic amount of emo on it. So I'm not going to do that.

Non-Sufjan disc of the year? Two words: Black Parade.

There, I've said it and I'm thoroughly ashamed.

Year in Books: 2006

It's the last day of 2006: let the Listmania begin! Let's start with the year in books:

Best: Special Topics in Calamity Physics. No surprise here. The long-time reader of Fosco Lives! knows that Fosco loved this book. Haters need not reply.

Second Best: Twilight of the Superheroes. Sometimes Fosco thinks that he is one of the last 100 readers in the world of short story collections. In the past, he has had a fraught relationship with the short stories of Deborah Eisenberg. Not anymore: four of the six stories in this collection are masterpieces.

Best Cover: Icelander. McSweeney's books are almost always beautifully designed. You can't really get a sense of this cover from the picture (because there's glitter embedded in it!). Good cover.

Biggest Disappointment: Against the Day. Fosco was so looking forward to this novel--for months! After all, Pynchon's previous novel, Mason & Dixon, instantly became one of Fosco's five favorite books ever. So you can imagine Fosco's disappointment to discover that Pynchon's new novel is... terrible. I mean really bad. (True-blue Pynchon fans shouldn't bother to accuse me of misunderstanding on this one: I've read every word he's ever written and I understand the virtues of Pynchon. This novel just doesn't contain most of them.)

Second Biggest Disappointment: The Keep. How did this book make the cover of the NYT Book Review? Did the reviewer only read the first half? And why can't Jennifer Egan write a good second half of a book?

Book I Keep Forgetting That I Read: Trance. Huh. Apparently this book came out in 2005. But pretty much everything about this book is news to me anyway.

Book I Started and Never Finished: Icelander. Fosco loves Iceland and so this well-reviewed book should have been a slam-dunk. But he only made it through page 11, to the end of the descriptions of the characters in the novel: a character list which included "Philip Leshio" and "Constance Lingus" (wait for it...). After he read these names, Fosco thought to himself: "Do I really need to read this?" The answer was no.

Book I Probably Should Have Read: The Emperor's Children. I heard it was good.

Well-Reviewed Book I Have No Intention of Ever Reading: Absurdistan. I don't care if the NYTimes Book Review editor knocks on my door and begs me to read this novel. I won't. I read the excerpt in The New Yorker and I hated it. As far as I can tell, this book is like Borat for highbrows.

Book Everyone Hated That I Liked: This Book Will Save Your Life. Maybe most readers found the title to promise a bit too much. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for A.M. Homes and maybe that's why I was willing to accept the emotional resonance of this novel.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Thanks for the presents, Satan! Er, Santa.

It's been eleven days since some moronic teen bimbo named Mica totaled Fosco's car with her whoremobile. The days without Percocet are starting to run together, which I guess is a good thing. Although, the ribs are still smarting and Fosco generally prefers his ribs with a nice Memphis dry rub.

I've been sitting on that joke for five days now and, in retrospect, I think I could have sat on it a bit longer.

But despite the best efforts of Mica, Christmas still came for Fosco and he got some loot. He was trying to decide whether or not to catalogue some of his favorite gifts on this blog, so he ended up asking himself WWJMD (aka, "What Would John Mackey Do?") And, fondly remembering JM's photo essays of collector's watches, Fosco realized that a brief list of Christmas presents could be enjoyable to one or two readers... So here are a few of Fosco's favorite gifts (one or two of which he purchased for himself) from his recent Percocet Christmas:

  • the Christmas box set from Sufjan Stevens. Fosco loves him. Loves him.
  • a fancy clay cleansing mask from Anthony: Logistics for Men. I think it will be a very enjoyable and useful skin care treatment, but to be completely honest, my favorite part of this gift is that there is a company (Anthony) selling skin care products as "Logistics for Men." Check out the website: it's like a cache of classified documents. Finally, a CIA dossier that Fosco can trust...
  • the hospitality book I Like You by the one Sedaris I like.
  • a gorgeously-framed Japanese movie poster for Matthew Barney's Cremaster 3 (my favorite Cremaster film!) that my lovely sister, Maggie Tulliver, bought from Tokyo. She's so brilliant at gifts.
  • A sampler of fancy artisan cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery. Mmm. I had tasted one of them as part of my very first experience with the "cheese course" at my fancy birthday dinner last summer at Tru in Chicago.
  • a personal seal (a seal, not a seal nor a Loose Seal/Lucille, silly!), with sealing wax from the Pirate Supply Store at 826 Valencia. Maybe now I will write you a letter!
  • and a bunch of schoolish-related books, including Alain Badiou's Being and Event. Trust me on this one: Badiou is the next big thing. Get off the Levinas bandwagon--that ship has sailed.
I hope that Satan was generous to all of you as well! Hail Satan!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A day without Percocet is like a day without no pain.

Yesterday was Fosco's second day without a Percocet. It was also the eighth day since The Accident. What progress can be reported?

Well, for one thing, the royal purple of Fosco's bruises has faded in some areas, replaced with a yellow most frequently associated with liver failure. Oh, and as it is now possible for him to actually palpate his bruises and broken ribs without screaming, allow Fosco to report that there is apparently a two-inch thick tube of hardened, congealed blood running through his torso, exactly in the shape of a shoulder harness and seat belt. How charming! Let's hope that it sticks around, as Fosco would love to explain it to his next trick at The Watergarden. (Oh wait, there's no going back there for a long, long time--there are still those shaved EKG spots that need to grow back in...)

Are you getting a sense of Fosco's mood? It's a bit dark, like some of that fancy unrefined Spanish chocolate Fosco bought for his mother this Christmas. How dark is that mood? Just ask the blonde whore hostess at El Palomar who Fosco felt the barely-controllable urge to punch in the face this evening. But don't get the wrong idea about Fosco. He's not a misogynist (or even much of a misanthrope)--he's just in pain.

Wait, did I just describe Fosco or Dr. Gregory House? Tune in Tuesday nights at 9 (8 Central) and see for yourself!

On the other hand, Fosco's powers of concentration have returned enough to allow him to read half of the 19th-century French Satanist novel that he picked up at Logos last night. What is it about the French and Satanists? Did you know that Dickens never wrote one novel about Satanism? Not one! I'll have to check the biographies, but I'm pretty sure he never even planned one! So what was in the water in 19C Paris?

Here's another good sign (besides Fosco's newfound interested in nineteenth-century French Satanism): Fosco did manage to spend a peaceful half hour (and nearly $200) browsing through The Literary Guillotine with his sister before dinner. (These brief daily bookstore/food outings are entirely her idea, for the benefit of Fosco's mental health. However, after the whole "Palomar hostess debacle", I'm not sure Fosco's sister is going to be eager to try another one tomorrow.)

As Fosco's physical body is most likely going to spend its New Year's Eve on the couch (maybe there are more 19C French Satanist novels!), his bloggy persona has some blog-related pyrotechnics planned instead. Watch this space as Fosco prepares to wrap up the year in style!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Post-Percocet Malaise

Yesterday was Day 1 without Percocet, and it wasn't pretty. After an afternoon of failed attempts to read and teary recriminations, Fosco's sister Maggie Tulliver finally dragged him reluctantly out of the apartment toward downtown. Of course, half the restaurants on Pacific Ave. were still closed for the holiday and there was some sort of monsoon going on. We figured our best bet for cheering me up up would be a heart-warming holiday film like Mel Gibson's Eucalypto.

I guess it was okay, but I am confused on two points:

  • which one of the characters was supposed to be Jesus?
  • and which actress was Rigoberta Menchu?
But seriously...

Actually, we went to Logos and I bought a bunch of books (books that, ironically, my pain and medication withdrawal make it impossible for me to concentrate on).

Monday, December 25, 2006

Ideologies of Christmas

As Fosco attempts to come to terms with his threefold Christmas disappointment (1. no well-hung boyfriend from Santa, 2. only one more Percocet, and 3. ONLY ONE MORE PERCOCET, DID YOU HEAR ME? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! MY RIBS, MY RIBS!), he turns his thoughts to the meaning of Christmas.

Alas, Christmas is entirely meaningless. The word has become what Slavoj Žižek calls a "master signifier": a word like "God" or "nation" or "democracy" that no longer means anything. Rather, these are the terms that everyone tries to make mean something--words that we all attempt to fix in support of our projects and desires. Or, more sinisterly, this is where ideology gets quilted into language.

Today, as a good Victorianist, I thought I might want to read Dickens's A Christmas Carol, something I'm not sure I've ever actually done. Of course I know the story--after all, like all good ironists, I've been mocking it for years. And, when you think about it, it is actually maybe a bit impressive that the story has managed to survive all of the creative violence that has been done to it over the years, from Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol: The Musical to Duran Duran's John Taylor as the Ghost of Christmas Present in "A Diva's Christmas Carol".

But I'm not going to use this post to tell you that you should read the Dickens original (although you should--it's much better than you think). Rather, I was struck by a line from Scrooge's nephew in the book, when he tries to describe Christmas to his uncle. He says:

I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round--apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that--as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

Of course, it is pretty easy to make fun of this speech (and a thirteen-year-old should have all of the ironic tools to do so) and not much harder to tease out the problematic ideologies in it (both implicit and explicit). But, the more I think about this ideology of solidarity, the less I find it worth the time to object to. As ideologies go, this one is maybe one of the better ones--certainly better than anything Pope Gremlinus the Magnificent had to offer us today (N.B., Don't get the Pope wet! Don't feed him after midnight!)

So, even if Christmas doesn't actually mean anything, I would like to persuade you to make it mean something--and to make that something gentle and life-affirming. I hope that any of you who celebrated Christmas today did so in a way that made life seems a little more pleasant--both for you and for anyone else in your life. And because this whole post may just be the last Percocet talking, please forgive Fosco his brief foray into sentimentality. The cynical Fosco will be back tomorrow and will probably be in some serious rib pain, which should make for some great blogging.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Boyfriend in my stocking

I'm pretty sure that Santa is planning on bringing me a boyfriend this Christmas. I mean, after all, I haven't had one this year. And, I totally deserve one and stuff. Not to mention that I was in a horrible car accident last week (Mica, you WHORE!). So, clearly there should be a high-quality boyfriend in my stocking tomorrow morning.

Of course, the question then becomes "Which boyfriend?" Who should Santa bring me to massage my aching neck and to count out my remaining percocet (hint: not enough)? I would suggest that Santa use the following list as a place to start (although, if he must shop off list, I would take a Gyllenhaal, I suppose). Here are some options, in alphabetical order.

  • Gideon Defoe. Pros: a witty author of hilarious books about pirates (and everyone loves pirates!), kinda hunky in a British way, has a very sexy first name (and last name for that matter). Cons: is the kind of author that my more serious friends might giggle about behind his back, may have traditional British commitment phobia, may not be willing to move to Santa Cruz.

  • Dave Eggers. Pros: one of the most talented contemporary authors, committed to writing instruction for underprivileged youth, runs an independent pirate-supply store, friends with famous and influential literary types (including David Byrne), from the Midwest originally (like me!). Cons: painfully sensitive could equal high maintenance, may be a little too clever, did once try out to be on MTV's "The Real World," constant feeling of inadequacy that I am not funny enough to be dating him, currently lives in Brooklyn (I think).

  • Justin Hartley. Pros: plays "Green Arrow" on Smallville and plans to organize a Justice League, starred in the ill-fated Aquaman pilot (why is this a pro? how can you not love a man who has played TWO superheroes!), has a criminally-delicious torso, would be excellent arm-candy for Literature Department Holiday parties, luscious smile. Cons: ummm, dating an actor? It would be fun and sexy and all, but do you think we'll talk much about Heidegger? On the other hand, I would like to like all that hair on his chest...

  • David Lat. Pros: he was my college roommate and so we know each other well, we're both internet personalities (of one sort or another), we successfully tested our sexual compatibility during sophomore year. Cons: he's pretty weirdly conservative, and a lawyer, and won't reply to my emails. Also, he has this strange romantic fixation on closeted-sodomite Nino Scalia.

  • Alex Ross. Pros: he writes my favorite column for the New Yorker and does my favorite music blog, he's a graduate of my alma mater, he hangs out with Matthew Barney and Bjork, and he always has something intelligent to write. Cons: Hmmm. I'm a bit stumped here. Is it possible that we were meant to be the perfect couple? Alex Ross, will you marry me?

  • Sufjan Stevens. Pros: he's the darling of adult-contemporary-indie music, he lived only miles away from me in Holland, Michigan, his music is ambitious, brilliant, and moving, he's a total hunk and yet seems completely genuine. Cons: he seems to be some sort of silly born-again Christian. And that's basically a dealbreaker.

  • Jeff Samardzija. Pros: he may be the best wide receiver in Notre Dame history, his nickname is "Shark," he will be drafted by an NFL team next spring and has already been drafted by the Chicago Cubs baseball organization. Oh, and have you seen him? Oh my. Cons: there might be a smidgen of an age difference between us, it's hard to be professional athlete with a gay boyfriend, no one could spell our hyphenated surname.
I know it's only 7 pm (PST), but I'm going to bed--I can't wait to see which hunk is waiting for me in my stocking tomorrow morning!

Friday, December 22, 2006

SFMOMA Roundup: "There is a light that never goes out."

Last Friday, Fosco and his sister Maggie Tulliver spent an afternoon in San Francisco. Of course, there was a visit to Beard Papa for creampuffs (try the milktea flavor--it's splendid!) and to the Pirate Store (where much money was spent and where sister Maggie got mopped). But the highlight of the trip was the visit to the SFMOMA to see two exhibits.

The first exhibit we saw was the retrospective of recent work by German artist Anselm Kiefer, entitled Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth. The organizing principle of the show is Kiefer's concerns with heaven, responsibility, and the afterlife. And, of course, because this is Kiefer, you can bet that there is collective German guilt in there as well.

I've always been a bit suspicious of Kiefer for several reasons. First, looking at his paintings always makes me wonder what kind of nightmare it is to curate his work. The paintings are so huge and so clumpy: how do you move them? Does stuff fall off? And what about all that lead? Does the curatorial staff have to wear hazmat suits? And isn't it all so heavy? And what to make of all the non-traditional materials in the paintings (e.g., straw, sunflower seeds, sticks)--aren't those things going to start to rot at some point?

The second reason that I can't quite catch Kiefer-fever is the overwhelming seriousness of his paintings. They are entirely irony-proof. I mean, how do you laugh at works that are so dark and that almost always make explicit reference to the Holocaust? All that German guilt is a big downer (and a bit heavy-handed).

That being said, I was surprised, however, at how powerful some of the work in this show was. There were actually several pieces that were absolutely ravishing, including Sternenfall (1995) (seen below):

There was also the amazing piece below, which is about six feet tall. Each page is coated with lead and depicts a different star field map. (Of course, there are conservation issues here too--there was a grey lead sheen all over the floor under this one).

The problem with these pictures is that they don't capture how gigantic these works are. Kiefer's paintings dwarf you--and that's often part of their power. There was a third work that was just gorgeous, but that I am only finding in a very low-quality image file online. It's called "The Sixth Trumpet" (1996) and you can see it below.

I'm afraid it doesn't look like much here, but imagine it in its true dimensions: 16 x 18 feet. At that size, the cloud of black dots look both beautiful and menacing. From a distance, you wonder what that cloud is: locusts? black rain? However, when you approach the canvas, you realize that the dots are black sunflower seeds--one of the more remarkable touches in Kiefer's work in this show.

Of course, there are still a few clunkers here. My least favorite was the painting you see below, entitled "Quaternity" (1973). You can see the traditional rustic cabin interior of Kiefer's early work, plus three flames and one serpent. Each of the flames is labeled with the name (in German) of one of the members of the Holy Trinity; the serpent is labeled as Satan, making the Trinity a Quaternity. Get it? Yeah, you and anyone with an IQ above a precocious ten-year-old. This painting isn't quite what I expect art to do for me...

However, it would be churlish to dwell too long on the shortcomings of this painting (and a few of its ilk) when much of Kiefer's recent work is much better. I may not have become a complete convert to Kiefer after this exhibit, but I did find several works of his that I love.

Luckily, the perfect anecdote to Kiefer's Teutonic Gloominess was taking place just one floor above, with an exhibit of new work by Phil Collins. Oops, I meant this Phil Collins. Collins's video installation, entitled dünya dinlemiyor (2005), is hilarious, sweet, and completely compelling. Basically, Collins has filmed young Turkish people in Istanbul doing karaoke to songs by The Smiths. They sing in English against generic backgrounds of "pretty scenery" (e.g., mountains, beaches, forests). Some are pretty good and some are pretty horrible. All of them are absolutely fascinating. I had intended only to watch one of the performances (because I hate karaoke), just to get the idea, but I ended up watching the entire hour. Sure, the performances raise questions of imperialism, consumerism, and globalization (how do these Turks know The Smiths? Why do they all seem to want to be rock stars?); however, this is the least interesting aspect of the work. Rather, it is extraordinarily thrilling to watch the self-presentations of these (mostly) youths--their joy and confidence are infectious, their vulnerability is heartbreaking. I feel that I know these people quite intimately (and yet, I know nothing about them).

Some of the highlights, include the tightly-focused young man (below) singing the gorgeous ballad "Asleep." His sensitivity and introspection were powerful.

I loved the two girls below, who sang "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out." The verses were performed competently, but it was the rush of enthusiasm that overtook them at the chorus that was priceless. Watching them sing "If a double-decker bus crashes into us..." was funny and charming.

There were two other performances not to be missed (but for which I cannot find pictures):

  • the incredibly sexy young man who performs "Ask" with his shirt entirely open (and who has beautifully hairy chest)--woof! Gaydar doesn't always work cross-culturally, but I have my eye on him...
  • the delightful indie chick who performs "Half A Person" with a completely startling voice (reminiscent of Edie Brickell) and a killer smile. If there is such a thing as "Turkish Idol," I think she could win it. [N.B., apparently the Turkish version is called "Popstar." Why does this not surprise me?]

If you want to get a better sense of what all this was like, I would hesitantly point you in the direction of this clip on YouTube. Unfortunately, it isn't the best performance from the installation, but it might give you an idea.

All I know is that, the whole way home, I sang along to Smiths songs. Apparently, that's all we need to bring the world together.

A Percocet Christmas

In a fast [American] car
I'm amazed that I survived
An airbag saved my life.

Radiohead, "Airbag"

Things were going too well--that should have been the first warning. Fosco's December had been a delightful carousel of family and friends (including JennyT's visit). Just as exciting, December has included a month-long visit from the East Coast of Fosco's beloved sister--let's call her Maggie Tulliver of Mill of the Floss fame. Maggie Tulliver hasn't been to Santa Cruz before, and so Fosco has been thrilled to show her the glories of his Life in Exile.

To that end, on Tuesday, Fosco, his sister, and his mother took a day trip down Highway 1. The weather was sunny (but chilly) and the waves were magnificent. We saw seals, sea lions, and sea otters. It was truly a spectacular day and, as we headed south from Carmel after lunch, we were looking forward to the second half.

And that's when an 18-year-old girl named "Mica" (or some such nonsense), trying to make a left turn onto Highway 1 going North, pulled her white Toyota Highlander into the Southbound lane and just stopped there--just in time for us to smash into her head on. We were travelling 40-45. The airbags deployed. Fosco and his sister were strapped to backboards (complete with head chocks) and rushed to the emergency room at Monterey Community Hospital. Six hours of X-rays and CT scans later, Fosco was diagnosed with broken ribs (broken by the seat belt, ironically). Luckily, his sister and his mother had nothing broken--just deep bruising and some cuts.

That was three days ago. Since then, Fosco has spent most of his time alternating between sharp pain and Percocet haziness. He wakes up every four hours to take his painkillers and can't lay any flatter than a 45 degree angle (otherwise he couldn't manage to get up). It all makes him feel pretty helpless.

Yesterday, Fosco had to be driven back down to Monterey (imagine how much fun that was...) to clean out his car and to release it to the insurance adjustor. Oh, did I mention that it was totalled? Here's a pic:
The adjustor was amazed that we escaped without more serious injuries. I'm sure, once the Percocet wears off, I will feel more appropriately thankful.

I'm sure that, as time goes on and I gain more critical distance from this event, I will have wisdom to share. However, I already have a few observations to offer:

  • contrary to my expectations, my life did not flash before my eyes right before impact. Nor did I (as a committed atheist) backslide into any sort of prayer. Rather, I think I was concerned more about the potential damage to my beautiful face. My sister recalls me screaming, "Not the face! Not my beautiful face!"
  • airbags turn out to be a lot less pillowy than they look on TV.
  • airbags also produce a moderate amount of acrid smoke. Do not, in your post-collision confusion, do as I did and start yelling about how the car is on fire and we need to get out "before it explodes." It turns out that cars explore mostly on television.
  • Remember how when you were a kid and your mom would tell you to wear clean underwear everyday in case you had to go to the hospital? Well, all I'm going to say is that we left on our drive very early that morning and I didn't bother to take a shower (because we were just going to be walking on beaches) and I didn't see any reason to put on a new pair of boxer briefs... It turns out that the old advice is correct--you are more embarassed to be undressed in the Emergency Room when you are wearing yesterday's underwear.
  • ditto for socks with holes in them.
  • most books make absolutely no sense when you're Perc-ed up.

At this point, Christmas looks like it will be a bit low-key. I'm just hoping to feel well enough to do some reading. And, as this post suggests, I can do some blogging--so watch for that. If the spirit moves you, Get Well messages, Chanukah gifts, and soiled briefs from Justin Hartley are always appreciated!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Chapter 26: In which Fosco's culinary adventures become ridiculous.

JennyT has the coolest job. As a very important executive in a company that imports bronze Buddhas from Thailand, she frequently gets to visit the SF Bay area. You may recall her previous visits in the last few months, chronicled heah and heah. And remember that time she and her husband, the Swedish Meatball, visited Santa Cruz? Yeah, me too. That was fun.

Last week, she was back! And we spent a drizzly afternoon eating our way across San Francisco. I've mentioned before that JennyT and I both consider eating to be the primary touristic activity, but this time we took it to an absurd level.

We began at Fosco's new favorite place in the whole universe (even more than The Watergarden!): the Ferry Building. This place is a foodie's absolute DREAM! No wonder Rachael Ray began her San Francisco episode of "Tasty Travels" there. JennyT and I started with lunch at retro/hipster burger joint Taylor's Automatic Refresher (and, may I add, James Beard award winner!). I enjoyed my Texas Blue Ring burger (bleu cheese, bacon, bbq sauce, topped with an onion ring) and garlic-parsley fries. I wish my cell took better pix, because those fries were smackin'.

We then browsed through the specialty shops in the Ferry Building Marketplace. However, we kept running afoul of a twenty-person production crew in teal polo-shirts filming an episode of some show called "Take Home Chef." As far as I can tell from my 20 second perusal of the website, it appears to be some sort of cooking show with a chef/gigolo. It all looked a bit dodgy to us in person: the "chef" was wearing pancake makeup and appeared to be a graduate of Handsome Boy Modeling School. And whenever we tried to shop at a store, the crew would show up and push us out of the way. It was so not cool. Who would have thought that you need a twenty-person crew to film a show that I've never heard of?

Eventually, Johnny Fancypants and his cameras left and we were able to get down to serious dessert-hunting. We stopped at Miette for pastries. I had a delicious chocolate cupcake capped by a perfect Taj Mahal dome of marshmallow cream. JennyT enjoyed a dark chocolate tartlette. So buttery was that crust!

Of course, preparations had to be made for future desserts, and Fosco found himself enthralled by the creations of boutique chocolatier Michael Recchiuti. At $50/pound, Fosco was unable to buy the five pounds that he wanted. However, he still managed to buy at least one of almost every assorted chocolate (which he consumed later that evening while in his pajamas). His favorites:

  • Bergamot Tea
  • Cardamom Nougat
  • Tarragon Grapefruit
  • Honeycomb Malt
and, although it was a little strange, Fosco is still a bit haunted by the Star Anise and Pink Peppercorn chocolate.

After leaving the Ferry Building, we realized that it was time for a second dessert and so we headed over to SoMa to enjoy the brilliance of Japanese creampuffs at Beard Papa. I had never had a Beard Papa cream puff, but nothing says delicious like beards... Have you seen this Beard Papa guy? Clearly, this is a gentleman who enjoys cream puffs.

Will it surprise you that they are delicious? They are, although the best thing about the whole experience may be the whiff of fresh creampuff that greets you at the door.

Although they are a franchise, it seems that you're out-of-luck unless you live in the Northeast, California, or Hawaii. Or Japan.

Next, JennyT and I did our only non-food-related activity for the day: we paid our respects at the Tower Records Wake/Going-Out-of-Business Sale (at the oldest Tower Records in San Francisco--since 1968). On the day we went, the CDs were 70% off. The DVDs were even cheaper. I bought that Radiohead documentary and a bunch of emo-ish CDs (how is it that they were still on the shelves? Oh yeah, everyone but me hates emo.) The nearby "Classical Annex" was already shuttered--classical fans had cleaned it out weeks ago. I think JennyT bought some store fixtures. This was a particularly poignant activity for me, as I spent probably thousands of dollars as a college student at the Tower Records in Harvard Square. Probably half of my classical CD's are from that store. Alas.

Shopping made us hungry. And so, we headed for dinner at hole-in-the-wall hipster hangout Emmy's Spaghetti Shack in the Mission District. It's really pretty brilliant, actually. The spaghetti with meatballs is killer--and I mean that. Spaghetti is not an easy dish to make interesting/memorable at a restaurant, but Emmy's does it exceptionally well. I also enjoyed a delightful Lime Basil Mandarin Martini (pictured at right, a la John Mackey): Ketel One, Lime Juice, Basil Simple Syrup and Orange Water. Yum! The one drawback with this place was that JennyT and I were seated between two tables of foul-smelling bohemians (you know, like the characters is Rent). I have written at length about the problems I have with the Left's lack of hygiene, but this was just gross.

And just think: if I hadn't had to rush back to Santa Cruz for a social engagement, JennyT and I might have been able to have Second Dinner together as well!

It's the end of the quarter. Do I feel fine?

Whew. It's over. The Fall Quarter is finally over and, now that Fosco has slept for a week, it's time for the recap. Ergo, we have Fosco's post-quarter wrap-up...

1. Fosco was warned that the quarter system is noticeably different from the semester system and it's true. The problem is that 12-14 weeks of work are condensed into 10 weeks of class. This isn't a major issue with lecture; however, it is extremely problematic for writing a paper--it turns out those missing weeks are necessary.

2. I spent most of the quarter writing what turned out to be a thirty page paper on the Slovenian theorist Slavoj Žižek and his Hegelian-Lacanian rehabilitation of the Cartesian Cogito.

I spent most of the quarter reading almost all of his oeuvre, vacillating between repulsion and ambivalence. I think I ended up somewhere near ambivalence.

Following Ted's admirable example, I will excerpt a couple of paragraphs from my paper here. These paragraphs occur near the end of my argument as I transition to my conclusion:

Žižek’s third objection to Heidegger contrasts with the first two in that it lacks sustained development in his work: in fact, it appears only in an endnote. However, I want to claim that this criticism of Heidegger is the most telling in that it exemplifies most clearly Žižek’s project and reveals him at his most strangely hermeneutic. In an (endnote) discussion of the differences between Heidegger’s early and late phases, Žižek notes that both phases share a similar style: “they are both ‘deadly serious’ […]. What is missing in both cases is joyful irony, the very fundamental feature of Nietzsche’s style” (Ticklish 67 n.16, emphasis in original). As Žižek never elaborates on this apparently meaningful feature of Heidegger’s style, I do not want to develop an argument here to justify this criticism (although it is certainly easy enough to imagine one). On the contrary, I prefer to read this criticism as a symptom of a preoccupation of Žižek’s own project. While this endnote functions as a denigration of Heidegger’s style, it also serves as a celebration of a philosophical style of “joyful irony” and “playfulness” (as one possible opposition to the “deadly serious”)—a style that Žižek ascribes (rightly) to Nietzsche. However, at the same time, there is another practitioner of joyful irony present in this endnote: Žižek himself. After all, it is Žižek who conducts interviews with himself (Metastases 167-217), discusses cultural differences in toilet design (Plague 4-5), who begins his most philosophically-accomplished work with a discussion of film noir (Tarrying 9-12), and who, even at the height of pure philosophical seriousness, interrupts his explication to recount a dirty joke (too many examples to cite). It is Žižek who titles chapter divisions things like “It’s the Political Economy, Stupid!” or “Toward the Theory of the Stalinist Musical.” And it is Žižek who (unfortunately) in the first paragraph of the introduction to Enjoy Your Symptom! exclaims (in an homage to Thomas de Quincey) “How many people have entered the way of perdition with some innocent gangbang, which at the time was of no great importance to them, and ended by sharing the main dishes in a Chinese restaurant!” (ix). How many, indeed.

Why is Žižek trying so hard? At the beginning of this essay, I quoted Denise Gigante’s characterization of Žižek: “rather than importing interdisciplinary texts and events to his own theoretical perspective, he functions as a ‘vanishing mediator,’ mediating between various theoretical points of view” (153). While I agree with Gigante that Žižek does function as a mediator between theoretical points of view (while refusing to provide an identifiable “Žižekian” theoretical conclusion), I would insist that there is nothing “vanishing” about Žižek’s performance of mediation. Rather, Žižek’s style is calculated to prevent his vanishing—when you are reading Žižek, it is impossible to forget that you are reading Žižek. Žižek’s pose here is interesting in that it seems to gesture toward what Foucault identifies as one of the fundamental characteristics of hermeneutics: “one does not interpret what is in the signified, but one interprets after all: who posed the interpretation. The basis of interpretation is nothing but the interpreter, and this is perhaps the meaning that Nietzsche gave to the word ‘psychology’” (278). In a very real sense, Žižek is offering this possibility to us, his readers. By mediating, yet refusing to vanish, is the ultimate activity in interpreting Žižek actually literally interpreting Žižek?

Yeah, I know: it's hard to believe this is what I get "paid" to do.

3. I think my first experience as a TA for an English class was successful. My students were pretty amazing, actually. I was particularly thrilled by the student who approached me after our final section and said "Thank you for not being an asshole." I'm thinking about making this the primary tenet of my pedagogy: don't be an asshole. It's not bad advice, actually.

Of course, it has been five days since I turned in final grades and I've already gotten one student complaint... Does that make me an asshole?

4. Next quarter, most of the faculty in the Literature department will be located in the new Humanities building. As far as I can tell, this is the UC's devious plan to ghettoize the humanities. After all, the new building has no ceilings (it was over budget by that point...) and no sound-proofing in the walls (true!). Even more interesting, the story making the rounds has it that History of Consciousness Professor Angela Davis has likened the new building's concrete interior to that of a prison. And she should know. For some reason, I don't think the sciences have to deal with facilities like this.

Watch this space for some non-academic updates in the next few days...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Fat Studies hits the big time [rimshot].

Fosco is a conference whore. Last fall, he presented a paper at the Midwestern Popular Culture Association Conference on a Fat Studies panel. Now, according to the NYTimes, Fat Studies is huge [giggle]. Read about it here. It was an excellent conference, actually. And the Fat Studies people (several of whom are quoted in the Times article) are really interesting and helpful.

For your consideration, here is an excerpt from Count Fosco's paper presented last fall. It was entitled "Can Fat Men Be Gay?: The Tension Between Obesity and Homosexuality Within Gay Male Culture":

To the extent that, to modern sensibilities, male sexual desire and fatness are unimaginable together, the animosity of gay men toward fatness becomes more explicable. Being gay in our culture is, almost by definition, a matter of sexual desire. The gay man identifies himself as possessing a certain type of sexual desire—a desire that, to a greater or lesser extent, focuses on other men. Gay pride, the explicit use of the “us” that Savage employs in his discussion of hate crimes, is, in this view, a solidarity based on sexual desire. Savage identifies with this group because he has similar desires. If Gilman is correct in suggesting that the fatness and desire are viewed as incompatible, Savage’s exclusion of fat gay men from his idea of “us” becomes more understandable: if fat men do not have sexual desire, they cannot be included in a group that is defined by sexual desire. In this view, the answer to the question of this paper’s title is clearly “no”: fat men cannot also be gay.
I am not suggesting that all of gay men’s antifat prejudice is due to the belief that fat gay men do not share the same desires as they do. There are plenty of other negative stereotypes about fat people that gay men, like everyone else in the culture, are exposed to on a daily basis. I don’t want to downplay the other negative stereotypes about fat people, like that we are lazy or lacking in willpower. And I certainly don’t want to discount the powerful anti-fat attractiveness norms that have developed in our society, such that fat people are automatically coded as disgusting. However, I do want to suggest that some of the prejudice that gay men feel toward fat people, as well as some of the anxiety that gay men feel about getting fat, is attributable to the belief that fatness is incompatible with sexual desire. Fatness, then, strikes at the root of a gay man’s self-definition; it is easy to see why fatness becomes threatening. Although the multiply-determined nature of anti-fat prejudice makes it difficult to combat, this analysis suggests that, in order to combat this prejudice among gay men, the realities of fat sexual desire need to be asserted. The belly-dancers-of-size need to be seen at more than just the gay pride parade—we need to see them on television, rub elbows with them in the bars and clubs, and, yes, even read about them in our erotica. Only then will gay men truly begin to build a solidarity based on sexual desire.
Okay, so maybe this wasn't the most academic paper that Fosco has ever written... but it sure was a hoot to present. However, I have no doubt that there will be more opportunities for Fosco to do some good Gay Studies scholarship. Here's to the fat, fat future!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Happy Birthday, Parson Yorick!

On this day in 1713, Laurence Sterne was born in Clonmel, Ireland. Fosco has for years now been a fan of Sterne's masterpiece, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. This quarter, however, as a TA for the 18-century novel, Fosco has come to appreciate Sterne even more. His modernity is uncanny: in Tristram Shandy, Sterne managed to write a postmodern novel in 1760--at least 200 years before the such a category was even recognized.

Sterne work can be difficult, but it is extremely rewarding--mostly because it's hilarious. For the course this quarter, we read Sterne's travel novel, A Sentimental Journey, in which Sterne's alter ego, Parson Yorick, embarks on an impromptu journey to the Continent. This is no traditional travel narrative, however. Parson Yorick spends most of his time flirting with filles de chambre, mocking previous travel writers (like Tobias Smollett), and finding excuses to cry.

Here's a charming excerpt from A Sentimental Journey, in which Sterne makes fun of Smollett in the guise of "Smelfungus":

The learned SMELFUNGUS travelled from Boulogne to Paris--from Paris to Rome--and so on--but he set out with the spleen and jaundice, and every object he pass'd by was discoloured or distorted--He wrote an account of them, but 'twas nothing but the account of his miserable feelings.

I met Smelfungus in the grand portico of the Pantheon--he was just coming out of it--'Tis nothing but a huge cock-pit, said he--I wish you had said nothing worse of the Venus of Medicis, replied I--for in passing through Florence, I had heard he had fallen foul upon the goddess, and used her worse than a common strumpet, without the least provocation in nature.

I popp'd upon Smelfungus again at Turin, in his return home; and a sad tale of sorrowful adventures he had to tell, 'wherein he spoke of moving accidents by flood and field, and of the cannibals which each other eat: the Anthropophagi'--he had been flea'd alive, and bedevil'd, and used worse than St. Bartholomew, at every stage he had come at--

--I'll tell it, cried Smelfungus, to the world. You had better tell it, said I, to your physician.
I love it. That response is the eighteenth-century equivalent of "Tell it to your therapist." How can you not love Laurence Sterne?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Gratitude Journal

What are you thankful for? Fosco tries not to be too thankful, because well, Oprah seems to think it's a good idea... (and that's a good enough reason to avoid it). But, if Fosco has to make a list of what he is thankful for, this is it:

Happy Thanksgiving from Santa Cruz.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Showing Off Santa Cruz

You may remember JennyT's last visit to NorCal. Well, apparently the metallic paper business is treating her well, as she was back in San Francisco on business again last week and this time, she brought her Swedish Meatball husband, Mantis, along as well (you may recall that JennyT and Mantis were Best Couple Ever nominees not too long ago). This time, they stayed an extra weekend for some sightseeing and a road trip to Santa Cruz last Saturday. That's them right there in Fosco's living room (looking purposefully cranky).

The best thing about JennyT (well, okay, one of the best things) is that she, like Fosco, loves the "eating vacation"--the vacation where one visits as many different good restaurants as possible. Of course, we always find ourselves rubbing up against that damn "three meals a day" limitation of the human body. But we fight it valiantly. Mantis, on the other hand, likes to walk on vacation. And walk and walk and walk. He spent most of his week (while JennyT was in business meetings) exploring a rainy San Francisco on foot. But, Santa Cruz is Fosco's territory, which means that we mostly ate and did not walk.

JennyT is such an experienced vacation eater that she managed to find a restaurant that she wanted to try on the drive from SF to Santa Cruz. Well-played, mon ami, well-played. I had never heard of the Bay Area chain Hobee's, but JennyT and Mantis recommend it highly. They arrived on Fosco's doorstep with an entire Hobee's blueberry coffeecake (with cinnamon-sugar crumbles on top!) for Fosco and it was delicious. Fosco will drive up to Hobee's someday soon. You know what else is good about Hobee's? The picture at right (from their website) of their president. He's kind of a tool, huh?

After another (typically) exceptional lunch at Gayle's, I got to show J&M my fave Santa Cruz sights, including the West Cliffs:

The crazy Steamer Lane surfers:

And the view from the Lower Campus at UCSC:

We took the requisite nature hike through UCSC Central Campus and everyone was duly impressed with the mysterious redwoods. We visited a local "attraction" (more on this later). We had a deliciously sushirific dinner at Shogun on Pacific Ave. In all, it was a delightul day with two of my favorite friends.

Which leads us to the question: when will you visit Fosco in Santa Cruz?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Halloween: The Carnivalesque OR The Return of the Repressed

Everyone kept telling me that Halloween in Santa Cruz is a "thing"--as in, a thing not to be believed. This seemed strange to me as I haven't taken Halloween seriously since, oh, around 1985. Maybe five years ago, I dressed up--but that was only to attend a party. So Halloween being a "thing" here is pretty strange to me.

But Fosco is nothing if not a good sport, so he dressed up.

You know those "conceptual costumes" that are really popular with college students? The ones where they dress up as an idea or a pun or a phrase? And all because:

  • college students are too clever for their own good.
  • they're broke and it's easier to make a clever sign than to buy/rent a full sexy nun's habit.
Well, Fosco hates those kinds of costumes. Hates them.

And yet... Fosco is ashamed to admit that his empty pockets (did you know that UC grad students don't receive their first paycheck until November 1? It's true.) and excessive cleverness got the better of him, causing him to resort to costuming himself as... A THEORY. And not just any theory, sadly, but Lacan's Theory of the Divided Subject (the barred S, for those of you who are keeping score at home). I'm not proud of this, but luckily, there are no pictures.

I do have pictures of better costumes, such as those worn by Best Couple Ever nominees Michael and Laurel. As you can see below, Laurel is Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, despite the fact that she is unquestionably lovelier. Michael is tricked out brilliantly as Canadian hockey announcer (and all-around nutjob) Don Cherry.

The Santa Cruz Halloween thing involves going downtown (to the Pacific Avenue shopping district) and people-watching. How could this be entertaining? I guess I forgot to mention that 15,000 other people do the exact same thing.

And it's true: I could not believe Halloween in Santa Cruz could be such an event. For almost ten blocks, Pacific Avenue was packed with thousands and thousands of people in costumes, many/most of them drunk. What were the popular costumes? It varied, not surprisingly, by gender.

Popular Male Costumes
  • Nacho Libre
  • Borat
  • Ghostbuster (I know! Can you believe it? I think that was my 1985 costume.)
  • Jedi
  • sheepfucker (we saw THREE! see one below)

Somehow this guy (whoever he is) fails to be appropriately embarassed. Sigh.

And for women?
  • sexy devil
  • sexy butterfly
  • sexy angel
  • sexy cowgirl
  • sexy woman
Or, perhaps it would be more succinct this way...

Popular Female Costumes
  • whore
I really wanted to take a picture that would illustrate this point, but I felt a bit uncomfortable taking pictures of scantily-clad whore-women. Finally, I snapped the photo below from a distance. As far as I can tell, each of the women in it are a different variety of whore...

Does this make anyone else uncomfortable?

As a grad student in literature, there are two ways I like to think about this kind of Halloween event. On the one hand, the downtown scene seems clearly an example of Bakhtin's "carnivalesque"--the state of social disorder/misrule in which authority is (temporarily) overturned. I always thought this sounded like fun; now I'm not so sure. If Santa Cruz Halloween is a good example of the Bakhtinian Carnival, then it's actually pretty scary. Last year at SC Halloween, there were seven stabbings; this year, with increased police presence (and floodlights), there were only two (plus several melees). Although most of the violence seems to be gang-related, it's still pretty scary to be in the middle of a huge crowd where
  1. identity is almost totally concealed
  2. most people are intoxicated or high
  3. the police (despite being nearby) aren't close enough nor powerful enough to re-install order
  4. there are plenty of non-costumed middle-aged male spectators standing on the streets ogling the lingerie-clad women
Now, I don't want to live in a police state (did I ever think I would start a sentence like this?), but there is something to be said for everyday norms of public interaction.

The other way of thinking about Halloween is in terms of the Freudian "uncanny"--as the "return of the repressed." But what does this mean for Santa Cruz Halloween? My colleagues and I are puzzled. All of the sexuality on display on Pacific Avenue would seem to be a good candidate for repression IF these costumes weren't so similar to what women wear to go dancing every other weekend of the year. It's hard to consider this spurt of Halloween over-sexuality as a return of the repressed, if sexuality isn't repressed in the first place. Are our notions of Halloween now absurdly out-of-date? Has it become a holiday devoted not to the scary or the uncanny, but to the frankly sexual? I think I would feel more comfortable about this if it weren't just the women who ended up dressing like whores. Can I see some sexy men next Halloween?

Oh yeah, and it was freezing that night (well, actually around 45, but that's cold for here...), so Fosco got a smidge of a cold.

I am Lazarus, come from the dead

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all

You have just experienced, Dear Readers, a characteristic Count Fosco disappearance. But fear not foul play (unless one counts the pernicious influence of Slavoj Žižek as foul play). No--for the last two weeks, Fosco has roamed the Underworld, feasting on pomegranate seeds, and yet... he has been allowed to return to the world of the living.

I have come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all.

You see, it all started with Halloween...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

From the Annals of Poster Hermeneutics

The irony is that I saw this sign on the way to my seminar on theories of textual interpretation (aka, hermeneutics).

I would have stopped by, but I'm pretty sure it would have been too late by the time I saw the poster (and besides, I'm not very good in dangerous situations).

Friday, October 27, 2006

God Hates San Francisco

Fosco does like the occasional author talk, although unfortunately any future talks at Bookshop Santa Cruz are now totally out of the question, thanks to the store's nasty opposition to raising the Santa Cruz minimum wage. (If you're a Santa Cruzian, join the boycott!) But it was Fosco's personal assistant Geoffrey this time who dragged a worn-out Fosco to the Capitola Book Cafe last night to see geological (and more) essayist Simon Winchester.

Anyone who has read Fosco's recent journey across the country on I-80 (see Achives "2006-07-09" and "2006-07-16" below and to the right) knows that Fosco is fascinated by geology--especially the violent kind (sedimentation is, let's face it, a little snoozy). However, Fosco is a bit of geology snob: he prefers Princetonian and Pulitzer-Prize-winning John McPhee to "bestseller" authors like Simon Winchester. Of course, the problem is that Fosco has never actually read Simon Winchester... But Geoffrey has, and so there we were last night at Capitola Book Cafe, where Winchester was promoting his book about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

It turns out that Simon Winchester is really smart and entertaining. If I had known he was British (and an Oxonian), I wouldn't have resisted reading his books for the last few years. I'm not going to summarize his whole talk, which, interestingly, was a talk and not a reading (talks being preferable to readings, in my book); however, I will note three points he made:

  • He characterized the governmental response to the 1906 earthquake as something of which Americans should be "proud," in contrast to the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (of which Americans should "ashamed.") He also noted that the governmental response to the next San Francisco earthquake (and the clock is ticking) is likely to be bad, unless we start preparing now.
  • He traced the historical accidents by which the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake could be blamed for the rise of American Christian Fundamentalism. Apparently, one of the most influential Pentecostal ministers in LA made a prediction three days before the Earthquake that God was going to send a sign. The next week, his church was overflowing and the Pentecostal movement was born.
  • Sometime in the next 2500 years, the volcano under Yellowstone Park is going to explode, completely burying the entire Pacific Northwest under tons of ash. Of course, as Winchester notes, the human race will be extinct by then (even Americans!).

The thing that made me saddest about the 1906 Earthquake (I mean, other than all that death...) was that it destroyed the 1000 room Hotel Nymphomania. It seems that SF was Fosco's kind of city even then.

Here's a pic of Winchester preparing to sign a book for an aging hippie (ah, Santa Cruz...).

Oh, and here's a startling tidbit: according to Winchester, there is a 67% chance of a 6.5 magnitude (on the Richter Scale) earthquake occuring on either the San Andreas or Hayward fault by 2025. The San Adreas quake would flatten San Francisco; the Hayward quake would destroy Berkeley and Oakland. Assuming that Fosco remains in Santa Cruz for the next six years, basic probability theory explains that there is a 33% chance that the devastating quake will occur while he is here. Of course, either quake would be much less damaging in Santa Cruz, but still... Yikes.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The hantologie of Diamanda Galas, OR Cabaret in the Underworld

Fosco is a secret Goth. Sure, he doesn't participate sartorially in the movement, preferring khakis and button-down oxford shirts. However, he does frequently wear eyeliner. And, whenever he takes of those "which high school clique would you belong to" quizzes, he ends up as Goth (with Emo Kid a close second). (Strangely enough, Fosco was not a member of either clique when he actually was in high school, but these cliques were merely incipient back then.)

Perhaps Fosco's advisor Jody can sense his hidden gothness, as she suggested yesterday that he cut out of his evening class early in order to see Goth chanteuse Diamanda Galas in Santa Cruz last night. Although Fosco knew almost nothing about Diamanda Galas, he was willing to go for several reasons:

  • the title of the show was "Guilty Guilty Guilty," which is really an irresistible title. How can that be bad?
  • it was described as a "program of tragic and homicidal love songs and death songs." How can that be bad?
  • he had actual faculty permission to leave class early to attend a concert. How can that be bad?
Before you think that I'm setting you up for some ironic reversal, let me make it clear: the concert was PHENOMENAL. Now let me tell you about it.

Diamanda entered the auditorium from the back and walked spotlit down the aisle to the stage where she took her seat at a piano enveloped in fog. She certainly makes an entrance. She was dressed in black, of course, looking a bit like a less-purposefully sexy Elvira. For her first song, the curtain behind the piano was lit deep funeral-home blue, with a red spot on the piano. The opening chords were funereal (and there was some electronic distortion added to the sound). This was all great fun, of course, as Fosco likes a good spectacle. But then she opened her mouth...

And THE VOICE came out.

That's actually a direct quote from Fosco's notes (he was taking notes for you, my pretties). Right in the middle of the page, after his descriptions of the show so far, Fosco suddenly writes: "THE VOICE."

Her voice is not like anything you have heard (at least on this side of the grave). She opened with "My World Is Empty Without You," a track that is available live in iTunes (should you desire to hear it). You can get a sense of THE VOICE from it, but you have to imagine hearing it in person. This is not a pleasant voice, rather, it COMMANDS. It seems it can do almost anything, actually. Over the course of the program, she yowled, she whispered, she howled, she screeched, and she did some kind of thing where, like the throat singers of Tuva she produced two notes at once. According to one of the press clippings available on her website:
Galás plays the piano like driving rain slapping on concrete, and she sings like a demon going to war, a Valkyrie scatting, a lizard queen seeking revenge for the dead… Galás is profound, rigorous, vocally unlimited, terrifying and utterly compelling.
That sounds about right.

The program was almost entirely covers (as far as I can tell), but I would be surprised if the ordinary listener could recognize most of them. She did a version of "Autumn Leaves" (at least I think it was "Autumn Leaves") that can only be described as Evil. There were several songs in French (one of them supposedly an Edith Piaf cover--imagine that, if you can) and one in Spanish (I think, although it could have been Italian). The final encore was the bone-chilling "Let My People Go," which haunted me for the rest of the night.

It is no accident that I used the verb "haunt" here. I would like to suggest, in a Derridean moment, that there is a "hauntology" (or hantologie in French) at work in Diamanda Galas. She reminds us of what is not there in these songs (and in music in general). This is music that acknowledges the power of ghosts, of the dead--and, perhaps, channels those spectres into actual appearance.

As I struggled throughout the concert to figure out how to describe her, I finally settled on this metaphor: Diamanda Galas is what Cabaret is like in the Underworld. By the "Underworld," I mean the Greek Underworld (specifically, probably the Asphodel Meadows) where normal souls are not rewarded with Heaven or punished with torment, but rather mill about in a less-pleasant version of life on earth, haunted by memories of their life on earth and desirous of news of the living. This is what Diamanda Galas evokes for me. And I hope she is in The Underworld when I get there.

The other question that I kept thinking was this: does David Lynch know about her? And, if so, why hasn't she appeared in one of his movies yet?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Two Truths and a Lie (Part II)

Let's talk about a new series of posts. Every so often, I will collect three tidbits of info that don't really deserve their own entry and then squish them together... Oh, and one of them will have something to do with lying. I did this once and I like how it works. So let's go, let's go, L-E-T-S-G-O!

  • Stephen Colbert has issued the call to arms:
    We’re at war here, singles. Pick a side. You can be married or you can be gay.
    I know I've chosen my side, although I might prefer to have the singles team up with the gays to fight the marrieds... But oh well.

    At any rate, Stephen is going to be pissed about this: according to results released by the Census Bureau, married people in the US are now outnumbered by singles!

    The most interesting things about these data?
    Among counties, the highest proportion of unmarried opposite-sex partners was in Mendocino, Calif., where they made up nearly 11 percent of all households.

    The highest share of male couples was in San Francisco, where, according to the census, they accounted for nearly 2 percent of all households. Hampshire County, Mass., home to Northampton, had the highest proportion of female couples, at 1.7 percent.
    While it is no surprise to find that San Francisco is the place to live when you're gaymale and coupled, and while it is no surprise (to anyone who, like Fosco, has visited) that Northampton, MA is Lesbian Central, what is the deal with Mendocino County?

    Maybe I should think about moving to that swinger's paradise... I hear that Ukiah (the largest community in Mendocino County) has got a hella crazy club scene...

  • Have you heard of this tool named Aleksey Vayner? It seems he's been a viral internet celeb lately, but not in a good way.

    He's a Yale student (it figures...) and it seems that he prepared this totally narcissistic and bizarre video resume (entitled "Impossible Is Nothing") for some ibanking job. According to the NYTimes,
    Mr. Vayner’s seven-minute clip, entitled “Impossible is nothing,” presents images of him bench-pressing what a caption suggests is 495 pounds and firing off what is purported to be a 140-mile-an-hour tennis serve.

    The tone of the video seems too serious to be parody, yet too over-the-top to be credible.
    As for the footage of him doing the ski tricks? Well, that's only "probably" him. Oh yeah, he also wrote a book. It's self-published and entitled "Women’s Silent Tears: A Unique Gendered Perspective on the Holocaust." And did I mention that it's largely plagiarized? Yesss... I love this story. Read the rest of it here.

  • Fosco's self-promoting college roommate (God bless him), David Lat, is profiled in this article in the Legal Times.

    It's a good profile--quite fawning--and it doesn't dwell too much on David's bizarre and unpleasant conservatism. Did you know that David actually requires that his clothes be tailored by seven-year-old Cambodian orphans? It's true. If you want the real dirt on David Lat, now you know where to go...

    Oh, and does Fosco get mentioned in the profile? Not exactly, unless you know that Fosco is actually the nom-de-guerre plume of Jeffrey Toobin. But shhhh...