by Ryland Walker Knight
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Rooting around inside "Borges & I," identity becomes unfixed and mutable, a liquid temporality. By the end of the single-page, two-paragraph essay, the first-person "narrator" has evaporated. In this diffusion the text moves beyond a simple separation of Author (Borges) and words (I) to a realm where there is no "I" and words fold back to define both Borges & I, enveloping the two in a catch-all network of language outside human being. The distinction, so clear at the outset, does not blur as much as fork, and the text, at the end, blossoms into "a point-counterpoint, a kind of fugue, and a falling away—everything winds up being lost...everything falls into oblivion." Each sentence branches off from the previous one, building a latticework of words.
While the first sentence may still ring true at the end, “It’s Borges, the other one, that things happen to,” that division is no longer defined by the last line, which reads, “I am not sure which of us it is that is writing this page.” The syntax of the final sentence tells us there are at least two people struggling to claim these words but it also renders that fight moot and misguided. In fact, it could be more than the duality of the title. The word “us” is not limited to Borges & I since the word “I” is a shifting pronoun; instead, it casts a broader net including all readers because when the reader reads the word “I” the reader becomes that “I” as well. So, at the close, its knotted roots overlap and confuse the play between Borges & I. The push-pull give-and-take eventually yields:
It would be an exaggeration to say our relationship is hostile — I live, I allow myself to live, so that Borges can spin out his literature, and that literature is my justification. I willingly admit that he has written a number of sound pages, but those pages will not save me, perhaps because the good in them no longer belongs to any individual, not even to that other man, but rather to language itself, or to tradition.
Each movement in “Borges & I” takes the central pair and obliterates them. Here its impetus is Borges “[spinning] out his literature” and not the narrator. But the narrator says not even Borges can claim “those pages” — they belong “rather to language itself, or to tradition.” Therefore, words are forever autonomous, yet still within the grid of traditional language. It’s a limited free play but it’s one neither Borges nor the narrator can control, per se, only build on and contribute to. And yet, they both must let go each branching sentence they render (if, of course, one or the other or either did, in fact, set this text down in words). To spin out literature is not to write but to perform a culling creation — an intricate organization ever expanding. There’s a constant mutation like in a fugue (as referenced above) and the latticework becomes a spider web’s net, a more fragile and fluid framework.
These obliterating movements all stem, ever nimbly, from that initial theme of a duality inside Borges’ character. There’s Borges, the academic literati and there’s “I,” the narrator, on a “walk through Buenos Aires” which stops and starts, “mechanically now, perhaps”. The walk immediately moves the reader through “the arch of an entryway” to a home where the narrator collects mail, then further to an academy where Borges’ name adorns a list, and then at last to a library where you can find Borges “in some biographical dictionary.” The discontinuous list in this second sentence lays the groundwork for the essay, an odd overview of this tour Borges (& his "I") will spin out for the reader.
As readers, we’re paused, somewhat mechanically, scanning the page and the arch of its argument (entryway). This news-history-difficulty of Borges and his other, more intimate “I” reached us through this sheaf of letters (mail). Borges is joined by other academics in this text, if briefly (Stevenson, Spinoza). And the essay itself is a kind of biographical dictionary, delineating the difference between Borges the academic/writer/other and his subjective, narrator “I,” aiming to define the space they both occupy and move through, sometimes together, sometimes apart; however, their world and text are equally riddled with complications that require specificity.
This mechanical pause, to reflect or qualify, comes to define the text. Littered with asides, “Borges & I” takes its time. Sometimes an aside appears an outright tangent, like when Spinoza pops, late, into the first paragraph: “Spinoza believed that all things wish to go on being what they are — stone wishes eternally to be stone, and tiger to be tiger.” What grounds it is the next sentence — a crucial juncture that reads, “I shall endure in Borges, not in myself (if, indeed, I am anybody at all).” Borges is eternal and will eternally be Borges. Thus, the “I” cedes power and legacy to the name taking over his life: "Little by little I've been turning everything over to him" so that he is “falling away…into oblivion” where he does not even exist. By the end, no individuals exist. The text, Borges and the narrator are a mosaic as watercolor, a confounded miasma. After leapfrogging through the time and space of Buenos Aires, “hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typefaces, etymologies, the taste of coffee, and the prose of Robert Louis Stevenson” the tour’s destination is a curious nothing, an eternal oblivion where identity is lost. When the mass paragraph ends and the next, a one-liner indented underneath, reads “I’m not sure which of us it is that’s writing this page,” it’s an alarming shift. After twenty-six lines of packed-in text, the reader has to jump
to the next paragraph for one sentence, shocking the eye.
It’s another mechanical pause (one similar to turning the page of a book, in fact), an almost flippant aside toying with the reader. The page ends in a lurch, a final move that, at once concludes and confuses the piece. This last offering is an explicit illustration of the text's complicated identity game of diffusion and proliferation. Throughout, the narrator is creating a tangible history with Borges, layering sentence-branch over sentence-branch, spinning webs of words that catch time — briefly and awkward — to distill it, forever as mythology. The world of “Borges & I” is a fluid compound reality that will never cease to re-invent itself in all those who take it up, into their hands and heads, only to wrestle it back down, into sense and sensibility, even when the trellis of words grows only taller, eternally.
Monday, March 19, 2007
["Our moods do not believe in each other." -- Emerson]
Ziyi Zhang and Tony Leung have just had sex for the first time in 2046. Ziyi's character, Bai Ling, just exited the shared bathroom and fixed her purple bathrobe as she walked back into her apartment, excited. But then Tony's character, Chow Mo Wan, complicates everything: he's dressed and leaving the room. Furthermore, he tries to give her some money, saying "It's for your torn dress." Her on a dime reactions slay me.
I've got one of those "illegal" Region 0 DVDs Netflix and other outlets had before Sony Pictures Classics bought the distribution rights so these stills aren't as beautiful as they should be. STILL, she's pretty adorable. And then there's that tear...
"I wasn't selling."
Friday, March 16, 2007
[The translation I originally linked to in the email post below really dissatisfied me. So I thought I'd break some more copyright laws (Fuck off Viacom and the like!) and offer the translation from my course reader, which can be found in Labyrinths but, honestly, I'm not sure where this translation comes from or who performed it as our reader has none of that information. It's simply thrown in directly after Roland Barthes's seminal Death of the Author!]
[Please enjoy these yummy words.]
It's Borges, the other one, that things happen to. I walk through Buenos Aires and I pause--mechanically now, perhaps--to gaze at the arch of an entryway and its inner door; news of Borges reaches me by mail, or I see his name on a list of academics or in some biographical dictionary. My taste runs to hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typefaces, etymologies, the taste of coffee, and the prose of Robert Louis Stevenson; Borges shares those preferences, but in a vain sort of way that turns them into the accoutrements of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that our relationship is hostile--I live, I allow myself to live, so that Borges can spin out his literature, and that literature is my justification. I willingly admit that he has written a number of sound pages, but those pages will not save me, perhaps because the good in them no longer belongs to any individual, not even to that other man, but rather to language itself, or to tradition. Beyond that, I am doomed--utterly and inevitably--to oblivion, and fleeting moments will be all of me that survives in that other man. Little by little, I have been turning everything over to him, though I know the perverse way he has of distorting and magnifying everything. Spinoza believed that all things wish to go on being what they are--stone wishes eternally to be stone, and tiger to be tiger. I shall endure in Borges, not in myself (if, indeed, I am anybody at all), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many other's, or in the tedious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and I moved on from the mythologies of the slums and outskirts of the city to games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now, and I shall have to think up other things. So my life is a point-counterpoint, a kind of fugue, and a falling away--and everything winds up being lost to me, and everything falls into oblivion, or into the hands of the other man.
I am not sure which of us it is that's writing this page.
[It strikes me now, after this transcription, that Borges would have loved how the internet has exploded and expanded into this complex network of classifications and definitions and identities we exist in & through -- every day, here and now. There's more there in that germ of an idea, I'm sure, but that's for another paper. That is, not the one I'm wrestling to the ground, character by character & letter by letter (word by word!) until we're all exhausted. Back to the mat! No tapping out!]
[Just cause it needs it, even if it's a jagged jumble. Just cause I gotta sing. More later, but for now here's an email I just wrote, edited only slightly.]
From: Ryland Knight
To: Keith Uhlich, Ed Gonzalez
Subject: battle in heaven
I just watched it a second time.
You ever get that feeling, after seeing true beauty, that you don't want to write anything down because it will, somehow, kill that beauty -- render it immobile and pointed, cemented in place? Of course, there's the opposite impulse fighting up inside as well: I need to speak it, sing it out loud! This is it! Look right here, I beg! But even that celebration does it an injustice. There's too many things to sing all at once. How perfect the key piece of music (in this movie) is a fugue! Life is a fugue, filling in, coloring and layering time and loves and fears and deaths and cars and musics and footballs and cocks and pussies and breasts and bloods and crosses and feet and mountains and antennae and glasses and knives and jackets and cities and mud in some eternal return of present tense living.
Yet, the film isn't perfect or anything and it's hardly enjoyable in any kind of "traditional" way. But there's something so crystal clear in its construction and execution that, as with any great film (any great art!), of recent or earlier vintage, you feel the world has substance. We aren't aimless. We are living and, while it can be scary and ugly, this is a great world to inhabit -- a great life.
Writing on this is already tough and gorgeous but I will do my best. Soon. But I probably should have waited on watching it until I was done with my Borges essay for Monday. Maybe if I get this out of my system and stick it down in words I can find a way to shift my brain back to Borges & I.
I can't wait to see Japon.
Eyes open, fists up, spirit wide,
PS - 2006 was a fucking tight year for movies.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but of the clay is vile
Benearth our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
by Paul Laurence Dunbar - 1896
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Friday, March 02, 2007
Thursday, March 01, 2007
by Ryland Walker Knight
That David Fincher’s new film, Zodiac, is the first major Hollywood release made entirely through digital means without any tape mediary goes against the film’s entire fascination with paper trails, with tangible proof, with building knowledge. Its being is illusory. This isn’t a film about a serial killer and the terror he wrecked on the greater San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Rather, it’s a film about how knowledge and identity remain elusive, to the end, even in the face of what appears self-evident truth.
Which is why Zodiac is inherently problematic, yet wholly engaging. Fincher’s films (such as thrillers Panic Room, Fight Club and Se7en) are habitually obsessed with violence first and ideas second, and it’s never been better illustrated than in the halving of Zodiac. In the first half of the picture we’re given non stop serial killer narrative, complete with gruesome murders, inquisitive reporters and the cops assigned to decipher these crimes. And, oddly, the second half is muddier—and better.
Jake Gyllenhaal expertly plays Robert Graysmith, aloof San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist & avid library advocate: our mediator (and surrogate) within the film. Through Graysmith’s obsession with the Zodiac killer, and his elusory trail (footprints, handwriting, scathed victims), we will see the world, and this case file’s particulars, unfold. His first access point is Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.’s physical precision expressing Avery’s mania dazzles), the Chronicle’s crime editorialist with a knack for the scoop and a taste for the sauce. As the case (and time) progresses, Avery disintegrates and fades from the story under the weight of knowledge he perceives to own. In his place, Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo’s paunchy, certain posture belies his sensitive voice) picks up and carries the narrative weight for most of the film’s middle section. Where Avery cherry picks random facts to serve his needs, Toschi is bent on culling coincidences to build an infallible case that hangs together solely for him. Both fail: By foregrounding their investment in the investigation they lose sight of the investigation itself.
Only after the killings are past tense does the film engage thought as an essential process—not only to understand the murders and identify their perpetrator, but how to negotiate and balance our lives. Yet the film is a near-exclusive boy’s room, crowding out the women and minimizing their resonance, thus unbalancing the film and unsettling the audience. But this friction, coupled with the structure’s deferred focus on Graysmith, helps us identify with his confusion in the face of so much jumbled information.
Graysmith, then, is the definitive curator of the film’s knowledge. He’s the only character to use the library, the only one we actually see opening books. His engagement with words defines, and solidifies, his involvement. Also, he is the only man to dialogue with a woman as a peer, his wife Melanie (Chloe Sevigny, always good); he understands his responsibilities, and how he’s failing them. In this, the second half is about how, in identifying the Zodiac, he will reclaim his life.
What’s odd, then, is how Graysmith articulates this identification: by writing a book. All his verbal exchanges lead to more questions, more uncertainty. When presenting his final culmination of research to Toschi, Graysmith is forever shuffling pages, presenting papers, positing printed words as proof. After Graysmith’s expositional monologue, Toschi thanks Graysmith for breakfast and implores him, “Finish the book.” Finishing the book, like the pithy eruption of histories that end the film, will somehow ground reality. But even in the ending, the facts don’t add up and you’re left wondering what truth to believe. Or, is there a truth to believe in? Zodiac, maturely, would have you believe there is—but it’s a scaffolding you erect for yourself, alone.
[The review is supposed to be available here but The Daily Californian's website is mostly unreliable.]
02007: 154 minutes: dir. David Fincher: written by James Vanderbilt, based on a series of books by Robert Graysmith.
-- Ryland Walker Knight
This year, the most shocking thing about the 79th Annual Academy Awards was no doubt Jack Nicholson’s fat, pale, bald head. A pageant like this should have some razzle dazzle but it seemed, in an effort to streamline, everything went, well, too smoothly.
[For the rest of the essay, click here, and you will be redirected to The Daily Californian's website.]