A Frolic of My Own

Jazz, Books, Macs, Food, and Life Outside the Academy

Blogging from Cleveland Park, DC

iJunkman at hotmail dot com

Pages Written
in 2004 = 3

March 31, 2004
Should the Whitney Biennial become a traveling show? In the Wall Street Journal Tyler Green proposes that the Whitney pack up its twice yearly selection of the best American art and head off to the hinterlands with curators and actual artists in tow. Mount a exhibition in Phoenix. Send a mixed media artist into an elementary school in Oklahoma. Add a few local artists to the show in Omaha.

For a museum like the Whitney, focused broadly on American art, it would seem a natural project. The details might be difficult to work out. Who would pay for the show? Our country's national arts endowment barely survives, and its leader boldest initiative plans to introduce Americans to a little known English writer named Shakespeare. How would you entice the artists to travel beyond the cities? Many of them might have fled these very places and relocated years ago to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Would anyone show up to see the art?

Judging from the Wall Street Journal's readers' responses to Tyler's modest proposal, the rest of America would just as soon confine contemporary culture to the largest cities. David Lincoln believes that Norman Rockwell is the only artist the rest of America needs. Hal Goldman offers New York a bargain--the city can keep its "offensive culture" and the hinterlands won't make Manhattanites "listen to country music or eat Jell-O with marshmallows in it." That's what they do for fun in the fly-over states? I've been living on the east coast for far too long.

Tyler received more encouraging words from his own readers at Modern Art Notes, but the Journal's readers paint a depressing picture of the cultural war's aftermath. The right won that battle, of course. Conservatives, by parading across the nation's television screens a few artists they knew would upset large portions of the public, managed to convince too many people that contemporary art's primary medium is offense. The problem was not that a few contemporary artists were denied public funds. The problem is that the right created an atmosphere were an artist's attempt to engage with contemporary life are greeted with suspicion. It is not specific artists that were attacked, but an entire way of confronting and understanding our lives.

On a positive note, it's heartening to see a blogger break into a mainstream publication.

March 30, 2004
Libby Copeland, writing in the Washington Post, studies the mating habits of ambitious Washingtonians and discovers that, when trying to get laid, they are as likely to use an Excel spreadsheet as a clever pick-up line. Crashing Friendswaps' annual party, an overly organized attempt to get lonely young people out of their offices, Copeland finds a diversity of backgrounds, since "some of the singles here got their law degrees at Harvard, while others got them at the University of Virginia, and still others at George Washington University."

Last week, I was talking to a current resident of New Orleans who used to live in Washington. When in D.C., he often found himself at parties full of World Bank workers. It was great, he said, to be around folks from every corner of the globe. After a while, though, he began to wonder if countries selected only their most boring citizens for jobs in Washington.

March 29, 2004
Other People's Prose:
As my mother and I left Paris on the gloriously sunny morning of June 10, 1940, four days before the Germans took the city, we became part of a panic-stricken caravan whose surreal mayhem still haunts me. The road to Tours, the destination of most Parisians (and also of the French government, which decamped for Tours that very day), was clogged with every possible invention that could move on wheels. Amid a cacophonous din of bleating horns, fire trucks, ambulances, ice cream vendors' vehicles, funeral carriages, municipal street-sweeping trucks, tourist buses racily labeled "Paris La Nuit," even wheelbarrows and prams mingled with the chic limousines, sports cars, and family sedans that were heading south toward the Loire, where, so deluded gossip had it, French troops might still "reconstitute a front."

The opening of Francine du Plessix Gray's essay "The Debacle."

March 28, 2004
Reading Junichiro Tanizaki's Diary of a Mad Old Man, a story of an impotent old man's desire for his daughter-in-law, I had a sense that the flat prose fails to express a greater subtly in the original. Since I can't even guess at the Japanese's grammatical structure, I assume that Tanizaki's language must be more complex. I'm more likely to be satisfied, it seems, with a translation from a language closer to English, even if I know nothing of the original text.

It's a mantra that translations always fail the original, and I'm willing to accept this with poetry. On the other hand, having read plenty of fiction and non-fiction in several Romance languages, and occasionally consulted an English translation out of curiosity, I'm not so sure that a good prose translation doesn't often capture the original.

There are great stylists who always look like awkward tourists outside of their own linguistic realm. Cervantes, for example, writes with a deceptive grace that translators often match with overworked and florid language. Most prose writers, though, at best produce uncluttered language, perhaps enlivened with an occasional metaphor. A careful translator can reproduce such works with reasonable fidelity.

March 27, 2004
Heart of Canada and Rana both note the number of academic bloggers abandoning the academy over the last few weeks. I suppose it's that time of year, when the last hopes for landing a permanent job have passed and the paychecks for Spring semester teaching are about to dry up. Rana wonders, though, if a link exists between blogging and turning your back on the academy?

My own blog started almost a year ago, at a time when I was finishing my dissertation and deciding to leave the academy. The two events, I think, are not unrelated. Certainly, Frolic gave me the opportunity to vent some frustrations about the difficulty of finding a job when you have too much education and too little experience. At the same time, through blogging I felt connected to a community of intelligent writers, which convinced me that interesting things were happening outside of universities. You could say that blogging encouraged me to leave the academy, and this might be the case with the other bloggers who have recently made the same decision. Would we have sought this community in the blogosphere, though, if we were satisfied with what we found in the academy?

After reading the Washington Post's review of Lawrense Lessig's Free Culture, I had planned to buy a copy. Lessig's book examines how current copyright laws stifle creativity. Today I found out that he has posted it for free on the internet, proving that Lessig practices what he preaches.

March 24, 2004
I visted Balitmore for the first time Saturday, and as I drove through the area around Johns Hopkins "gritty" was the only word that came to mind. Mai, an old college friend, lives there, and a third member of our small undergraduate clique was visiting. Mai lives in a grand old apartment building, which oddly enough has an Indian restaurant in the lobby. I'm sure the curries were good there, but upstairs my friends treated me to lobsters and risotto.

Of the seven or eight people in my circle of college friends, Mai, Stephen, and myself were the only three who didn't end up in law school. Mai studied public health, and has spent most the the last seven years in Vietnam. Stephen went straight into the art history program at Chicago. I spent my years in the academy as well.

It was the first time we'd been together since graduating, and it felt like little had change over the years. Perhaps it was an effect of reconstituting the group dynamic. Perhaps it's because all three of our lives are still unsettled, much like they were when we finished school.

On the way home from Baltimore, I had to detour several blocks off St. Paul, one of the major streets, due to inferno in an office building.

With their unemployed t-shirt, Old Navy abandons irony and just labels my generation for what it is. Over the weekend, I was talking with an old friend who teaches in a one-year humanities program at the University of Chicago. Many of his students had great jobs until 2000, and now they live with their parents. If you broke down unemployment statistics by age and education, what percentage of the well education people around the age of thirty would be out of work? [link via Wonkette]

OxyContinOxyContin has gone off patent. I don't know much about the law, but I think this means that now you can legally cook hillbilly heroin in your basement.

March 23, 2004
Invisible Adjunct has left the blogosphere. This time, I think it's for good. After failing to secure a tenure track position, she has decided to give up both adjuncting and her blog devoted to that particular form of servitude. Leaving the academy isn't easy, but I think eventually we'll all be better off.

March 22, 2004
If you've ever watched cable television after 11:00 p.m., you've seen Matthew Lesko leaping around in a purple suit covered with question marks and telling you how the government wants to give you money. Saturday afternoon, I saw Mr. Lesko driving in Woodley Park. He was wearing the purple suit and his yellow subcompact was covered with black polka dots.

March 18, 2004
DupontI was waiting in the Dupont metro tonight, when a woman approached and said, "In America they don't like people from my country. Could you tell me why?" With no idea what country she meant, I answered that I didn't know.

March 17, 2004
untitledTyler from Modern Art Notes was kind enough to invite me to join him for drinks with some DC collectors. After a few minutes, it was clear to me that I know far too little about contemporary art. That was no surprise. Having spent years focused on baroque Spain, I feel ignorant about contemporary culture across the board. This blog have been a good way to think about new subjects, and sites like Tyler's are helping me fill the chasms in my knowledge. I also realized, though, that I don't make an effort to visit galleries.

Museums have always been like playgrounds to me. Galleries, however, feel like jewelry stores. I'm afraid to admire something, since the owner might quote me a price and make it clear that I should direct my interests towards more modest objects. If I ever want to know what living artists are up to, I must get over that feeling.

untitledWashington fundamentally misunderstands mass communications. Billboards and buss shelters are plastered with ads to sway the votes of a few hundred law makers. Commuters crammed in the metro are encouraged to buy multi-million dollar weapons systems. The D.C. tax forms note with a bullet point that you can skip filing in the city if "you were a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and were not domiciled in D.C. during any part of 2003." If you need to make sure nine people know something, wouldn't it be more efficient to contact them directly?

March 16, 2004
Freedom HarlemIf the new prime minister in Madrid makes good on his threat to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq, America will be left with no choice but to respond linguistically. Bars will only serve freedom peanuts. Americans will only use freedom fly as an aphrodisiac. And Mayor Bloomberg will rename that New York neighborhood Freedom Harlem.

Our geographically challenged nation might even forgo burritos and enchiladas. Difficult times require sacrifices.

March 15, 2004
untitledLast night I wandered around Georgetown with my wife and her friends. I was not only the sole guy in the group, but also the only one who had never enrolled in law school. My time may be coming, though. We started the evening at Georgetown Billiards, located off Wisconsin in a courtyard facing the kitchens of several restaurants. It had a strong undergrad vibe, but it was hard to verify the scene since the place was almost deserted.

Andrea and I insisted on eating, so we moved down to J. Paul's. The restaurant is basically an upscale Applebee's with a raw bar and truly captures the spirit of Georgetown.

I managed to wrangle five vacation days from my boss, and today I cashed one in. Since we've decided to take a cheesy vacation to Puerto Vallarta this June, we've been reading travel guides for the past few today. Today, we both were in the mood for a taco lunch at Mixtec. After lunch, I spent my vacation wandering through the zoo, paying close attention to the coral reef exhibit. I'm hoping to take some scuba lessons while we're in Mexico.

Photo bonus: All this week, Frolic Photo will be featuring photos from the National Museum's coral reef exhibit.

GadflyThe left needs to get tough, and Gadflyer plans to teach progressives how to fight harder. The on-line magazine debuted today, and it looks like a winner.

March 14, 2004
To Do List:
  1. Hear local author and National Book Award winner Edward P. Jones read from his novel The Known World Wednesday evening at the MLK Library.

  2. Study the architectural plans and drawing on loan from MOMA at the National Building Museum's Envisioning Architecture exhibit.

  3. Start an argument with Peter Singer, controversial Princeton philospher, when he reads from The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush Friday at Politics and Prose.

March 13, 2004
Zagat'sSpend a few moments reviewing a restaurant for Zagat's, and they'll send you a complimentary copy of their guide. Even if you never eat out, just make something up! Hurry, the Washington, D.C., survey closes Sunday.

untitledThursday night I had planned to see Douglas Gordon's exhibit at the Hirshhorn, but the security guard explained that only in the summer could they afford to keep the galleries open late. I decided to stick around, though, to hear Eric Fischl, the figurative artist, discuss his work. Who knew that a painter more famous in past decades would draw a standing room only crowd of Washigntonians. It was the hippest gathering of people I'd ever seen in this city.

Fischl, trained by abstract expressionists, soon broke with his teachers and embraced figurative painting. His first figurative painting, of a nude boy standing in a kiddy pool, established his own visual language, and the slides he presented showed little stylist changes or progression from this initial point. Not surprising for a painter who appeared primarily concerned with the content of his work. Often, his painting feel like film stills, alluding to story taking place just beyond the frame.

Fischl described working in a representative mode after abstraction as a "pain in the ass." Representation worked better, he said, when everyone shared a symbolic language. A deck of playing cards or a skull on a table carried the full meaning of the painting. Meaning, it seems, is the burden that the representative painter must bear. But why does he feel the need to create a story? Why must a painting of people be a scene from a narrative?

Fischl's strongest paintings, though perhaps sprung from a story known only to the artist, explore the way a body can move among objects and spaces. He seeks out postures rather poses, he said, and he demonstrates a deep knowledge of not just the way joints can bend but also how flesh in motion can stretch and mound. Much of his work adopts the modernist concern of exploring the implication of a single material, only Fischl has taken the body as his material and mediated it through paint. True to his representational mode, he strives to display his bodies in positions they might realistically hold and spaces where they might actually be found.

Boomer Deathwatch will be chronicling the final years of John Kerry's generation. They promise to continue posting for at least thirty years, until the last boomer has left the planet. [via Apt. 11D]

March 11, 2004
untitledTina Brown, who writes weekly for the Washington Post, often lurches off into an unexpected subject midway through her columns, as if she passed off the writing to an intern or just lost her train of thought in a chemical induced haze. This week, it seems, she was a little tipsy from the start. How else do you explain these opening lines: "The Martha Stewart verdict sent another chill through the chastened world of post-Enron America. United States Code, Section 1001--'Material misrepresentation to the federal government,' the sinister new Zip code of humiliation where Martha now lives--is the first course at upscale dinner parties." Not content to merely mix metaphor, Tina tosses them in a blender and cranks it up to high.

Tina must have realized she was a bit unsteady, so she numbered her seven insights into upper crust society just to make sure they had, at the very least, sequential order. Proving she can count from one to seven, Tina managed not to fall on her face completely this week.

SpainI first encountered terrorism in Spain, so I probably shouldn't be shocked by the torn up trains and the hundreds of people killed in Madrid this morning. Every time I was in the country, a bomb exploded not too far from where I happened to be. A bank would be targeted. Or a car would explode, killing a random pedestrian instead of the prime minister. Most attacks, until recent years, targeted politicians and police, and you could travel the country with the reasonable assurance that you wouldn't be affected. Being nonchalant about the danger was a way to prove you were cosmopolitan.

The size of today's attack, and the fact that it destroyed places I know well, took me by surprise. My friends in Madrid live and work just outside the city, so I they probably weren't affected. At least not physically. I lived hours from Washington and no where near New York on September 11th, but it changed me in some fundamental ways. For the first time, I felt a deep hatred towards a group of people. I lost my patience with moral relativism. For most Spaniards, terrorism has been a chronic illness in their country since before they were born. I'm sure, though, that something fundamental will change in their attitude to it as well.

Security has always been tight in Spain, and it seemed effective. You read frequent reports about plots that were foiled and cells of terrorist exposed. If the terrorists, and their must have been at least twenty, were able to coordinate this attack in a country like Spain, then what level of security could possible keep us safe?

March 10, 2004
Rate my committeeRateMyProfessors.com dishes the goods on my dissertation committee, who range from "well informed" to "boring" to "hot," as indicated by the chili pepper icon next to a faculty member's name. It's hard to shake the feeling that maybe, after a few beers, I might have contributed some of these reviews myself.

March 09, 2004
ABC NewsWhile Democrats and Republicans scramble to find an answer to the American People's growing concern over outsourcing, one Boston company shows that free enterprise, and not politicians, might be better suited to solve the nation's economic dilemma. According to ABC News, CMarket founder Jon Carson decided that instead of outsourcing programming in India, he would offer American jobs at Indian wages. Thanks to CMarket's "alternative to outsourcing" a group of formerly unemployed professionals are working again, albeit at half the salary of the average U.S. computer programer.

Wait a minute. Isn't that the danger of outsourcing--that wages will fall to the level of the developing world? Did ABC just describe the problem itself and call it the solution? Are network reporters really that dense? Or, has the job market gotten so bad that a 50% pay cut sounds like a good alternative to unemployment?

March 08, 2004
The Only SonFailure, rather than shame, fells the protagonist in most modern tragedies. Disappointment, though, appears less frequently in films or books. Perhaps disappointment, which requires us to empathize with one character's reaction to the failure of another, is too complex for most writers or film makers to produce. In The Only Son,Yasujiro Ozu proves his power as director of the subtle by creating a devastating portrait of a mother's disappointment at her son's miserable life.

In Ozu's 1936 film, a mother sacrifices her material comforts to support her son's studies in Tokyo. When, after years apart, she travels from her rural village to visit him, she finds her son living in a shanty town teaching night school classes. At first they speak through smiles like gritted teeth, but soon she confronts him. She is angry not that he lives poorly, but that he has given up after she has given him everything.

Ozu fills the film with details of rural labor among the silk-spinning industry and urban poverty in a Tokyo where 44% of the college graduates are unemployed. 1930s Japan, though, provides only a backdrop for the family drama. While the son points to other young men struggling in Tokyo, the mother makes clear that she cares about her son and her sacrifices. There are moments of partial reconciliation, but Ozu does not allow for resolution. In the end, the mother must resort to fantasies when, after returning home, her friends ask about her visit to see her only son.

Throughout the month of March, venues throughout Washington, D.C., will be showing a retrospective of Yasujiro Ozu's films.

March 07, 2004
JobsOnly a meagre 21,000 jobs were created in the 29 days of February, despite the robust performance of the stock market. According to Calpundit, all 21,000 new employees work for the U.S. government. In this case, I guess George W. Bush really does get all the credit.

Update: It looks like all those jobs were created by state governments. No points for Mr. Bush.

To Do List:
  1. See Yasujiro Ozu's The Only Son, a 1936 film about a son disappointing his mother, Sunday at the National Gallery of Art (4:30 pm).

  2. Hear Andrew Sean Greer read from The Confessions of Max Tivoli, in which an old man grows young, Thursday at Politics and Prose.

  3. Visit the survey of Douglas Gordon, the Scottish multimedia artist, at the Hirshhorn.

American PeopleIn this election year, you and I, the American People, will hear politicians presenting seemingly contradictory interpretations of the economy, the war in Iraq, and the importance of military service in Vietnam. How are we, the American People, supposed to know what to think? Luckily, Greg Knauss has built a website that posts every news story that mentions the American People. As an American Person, just read the site on a daily basis and adjust your opinions when they diverge from those of your fellow citizens. People of other countries, of course, are free to believe anything they wish. [Via MetaFilter]

March 06, 2004
MetroThe Paris metro, roughly equal in size to the Washington system, appears almost four times as dense in Fake Is Real's comparison of subway systems from around the world.

The site also notes that today, March 6th, the good people of Ghana are celebrating their independence. [Via Mike Daisey]

Word SpyWord Spy collects neologisms and clever phrases just days after they enter the English language. This ephemera--frienemy, reterosexual, latchkey dog--will fade away in a few months, but Paul McFedries' site provides a record of linguistic curosities no quite worthy of the OED. [via Bookslut]

UnoA few weeks ago, McDonald's closed up shop in Cleveland Park. This week, Uno's Pizzeria shut down, leaving not a single chain restaurant in a area dense with dining options. Starbucks and Fosters Brother Coffee, however, are still selling overpriced caffeine.

March 03, 2004
Janet JacksonIn the days after Janet Jackson forced men, women, and even children to see a fleeting glimpse of her right breast, Americans were too distraught to react calmly. Some called for fines, some a permanent ban on rock and roll, while others would not be satisfied until we invaded a small country or island. Cooler heads prevailed, though, and we realized that greater vigilance and a five second tape delay for live broadcasts would prevent such a disaster in the future.

Now, almost one month later, we have enough emotional distance from that day that we can analyze it rationally. To truly understand the causes and devastating effects of Ms. Jackson flashing our nation, however, the U.S. government and Viacom's MTV must release the archival records historians need to draw clear conclusions about this unprecedented historical moment. The Smoking Gun, the Ralph Nader of the cyber-age, has taken a first step by posting 23 letters of both protest and praise received by the FCC following the Super Bowl. These documents provide an unparalleled glimpse into the collective mentality of American in early February of 2004, a country in some ways much like our present-day American and in other ways far removed from our contemporary lives. Concerned citizen Sharon Jenkins, for example, wrote:
i hope you do investigate the Jackson incident. i am anything but a prude i have owned a strip club and later a adult site but this isnt about 1st admendment rights this is pure lack of respect for american families and decency. Children were watching this and to mix sex/violence like this gives a really wrong message.on a lighter side to flash fake breast adds insult to injury! go getem !..............
Owners of adult sites, much like the owners of many blogs, appear ignorant of the basic rules of punctuation and capitalization. [Thanks Why I Hate D.C.]

March 01, 2004
Average JoeIt will be no surprise to awkward guys everywhere that once again the beauty chose the buff in the second season of Average Joe. Larissa selected the well built Gil over Brian, the earnest Bostonian. But the happy couple's bliss lasted no longer than a commercial break. Gil could not face Larissa's terrible secret: she had dated Fabio. Leaving in disgust, Gil said, "Every man watching can understand how I feel."

As Larissa curled up on a couch and agonized over the eternal curse of being Fabio's ex-girlfriend, I realized that this moment was the culmination of years of reality television. After such a strange spectacle, no more stunts or revelations could ever be shocking. No doubt the reality genre will now fade away until nostalgia brings it back in two decades. I am glad to have witnessed this historic achievement.

DodgeI drove down to Charlottesville this weekend in a Dodge Stratus. Since the rental agency ran out of economy cars, it was either the Stratus or a minivan. The Stratus, I will say, was damn fast. It was also somewhat embarrassing. The Stratus is the muscle car for the man who has yet to indulge in a full blown mid-life crisis.

I'm used to driving silly cars, though. My father buys used cars for fun, and he was always loaning me the oddest vehicles. A gray convertible Mustang with a black racing stripe. A red Capri so small my knees bumped the dashboard. A purple, convertible Le Baron. Given my conditioning, I could have driven the minivan with pride.

With spring finally arriving, I was reminded of how wonderful Charlottesville seemed when I first moved there. Sunday afternoon, Andrea and I parked outside our old house and followed the route through town and grounds that we marked out when we used to walk our dog Parsley. The Greeks must celebrating their formals, since I saw some soiled cummerbunds tossed along the sidewalk.

LSATI registered for the LSAT today. I don't know if I want to go to law school. With no clear path to a career, though, I need to give myself as many options as possible. I am good at being a student. I perform well on standardized tests. There is a strong possibility that I would be successful in law school.

Sometime in my senior year of high school, I decided that I wanted to be a literature professor. A strange goal for someone who had never been to college. I read books. I liked to write. Although I always got the A's that were expected of me, I had no interest in school until I realized that you could earn your good grades by reading novels.

I attended a rural high school filled with suburban kids. It was a conservative institution. Not conservative in the sense that everyone worshipped the same God and didn't mix too much with other races, although that was the case. As an institution, it was shaped more by the conservative instincts of middle class climbers, who believed that their children's success depended on a deep devotion to blandness. Any deviation or even documentable signs of personality might endanger their admission to a private college. The study of science and math was celebrated. All other subjects were offered because college admission required them.

When I discovered that people outside my town might value someone with an interest in literature, I slavishly attached myself to that subject for the next sixteen years. It seemed like a rebellion at the time. I can see now, though, that being a professor was the most conservative way to pursue that interest. Or so I might have assumed at the time.

Now, at 30 years old with a Ph.D. in hand and no real possibility of being an academic, I'm struggling with the fear and exhilaration of endless possibilities that most people face after graduating from college. I think the law would be interesting, but it also feels like a safe choice. I know how that story ends. Are there more interesting things I could do, if only I were forced to find them? Am I too old for such a search? Am I too timid?

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