Eschatology • 16 November 2008

The city’s on fire. This morning the sun was blood red coming up through the ash. There are two streams in the heavy air, pushed down from the mountains by Joan Didion’s Santa Anna winds (but montionless, eerie-still, outside my wall of windows).

First is is a smell like life—the fast-living oxidation of brush fire. Earthy with undertones of vetiver just like my brother’s French cologne. Our father, also a volunteer fire chief, taught us to love grassfire because the hard-scratched soil couldn’t work without its nitrogen, and love forestfire because that’s what it takes for pine cones to open (there’s a sermon on “refining fire” in which he burns open a pinion cone on the altar—god no wonder I’m doing what I do now).

But, second, there’s just death stench in the air. Homes converted to tarry gas. Grass burns white; forest fires are browned by treesap; but a house burns a horrible plume of black—shingles, paint, insulation, carpeting, appliances, overstuffed furniture, shoes, records, photographs.

We are fine here, eye of the hurricaine style—a mile south of the Getty, a mile east of the beach. But others are not fine. Twenty-six square miles ablaze, 800 homes down. Yesterday on the north end of the city 500 trailer homes went up: the fire chief unfurled a charred American flag and wept in a school gym, telling a evacuated thousand senior citizens the team had done everything they could to save their little hamlet. Usually when my dad calls to ask about fires, I’m just disappointed he cares more about nature’s reclamation of  hilltop mansions that never should have been built in the first place—I ask whether he’s read The Tortilla Curtain yet and change the subject to some less natural disaster.

But this time feels apocalyptic, I guess. I’ve been wearing my apocalypse goggles for months, it’s true—those years training as Armageddon lookout coming back around with every ATM out of service and every thoroughfare billboard painted white because there’s nothing to say now, and nothing to sell. Even art in this moment feel apocalyptically bad. We saw Synechdoche NY last night and wished we’d sold out instead for a quantum of narrative solace. As the Editor said, it's fine for an artist to misunderstand Borges or Baudrillard, but don’t make art demonstrating that ignorance. Abstract referencing is the "art" of unlived experience with a private school degree in lit crit: sophomoric in the extreme. In this case, an incoherent mixing of two conceptual schemas (parallel worlds and infinite regresses) insults the audience–referring to nothing as if winking to a knowingness shared only by "deep" people.

EDIT: The script is so vacant that I was tempted to interpret it as a meditation on emptiness and form: but nothing is not nothingness. Any ape can pelt signifiers at a canvas: what that yields here is neurosis and death, not emptiness and form. I emerged from the theatre awash in manufactured mysterey pumped up on the raw but dehumanized emotion of beautifully rendered little episodes. Over the hours, my irritation grew as I realized that conceptual art has the greatest possibilities but the lowst standards, and that a conceptual piece that seems to be fashionably Buddhist would shortchange me with half-baked nihilism.

Pretentiousness is one thing, but pretentiousness that trades on fake depth blows. Like the Santa Annas. Is this what America has to offer as high art? Dada existentialism? In the end it’s just Kaufman throwing at the screen whatever shit (literally) surfaces from his subconscious, flattering the audience that this shall spark “deep” recognitions about the nature of whatever. Letting the shadow wander on screen is genius when David Lynch does it. But Charlie K is no David Lynch. The film rings false, a small falseness amplified by self-satisfaction, enormous budget, and the adoration of confused reviewers. It's a movie about lit crit posing as a movie about experience. It feels like the end of art not because it's a final statement, but because it's really, really bad.

I do worry for a culture that praises this as its own high art and funds it to the nines. But… Kaufman isn’t really America’s idea of profound. He’s Los Angeles’ idea of profound. Or at least what's left of this town's Bush-Schwarzenegger era conceits, playing themselves out.

Today we burn. Down through the tar to the vetiver, I hope.


  • Posted 16 November 2008 at 9:05 pm | #

    Hi (0v0)
    I’m sorry about those dangerous fires and the destruction they cause. It is true that development happens in areas that are truly fragile, and sometimes development encroaches on natural areas that should be preserved. In any case, it is people’s homes and memories that are at risk. It brings to mind the importance of sites such as that give you guidelines of preparations for emergencies. I admit to not preparing with all of the things recommended there. I hope your lungs are OK because of the fumes.

  • Posted 17 November 2008 at 3:36 am | #

    Disembodied news headlines, from great distance, read, “LA burns.” As if all of it burns equally, which demonstrates an ignorance somehow like that you discuss above: obviously the writer knows not how large that territory called “LA” actually is, and this likely extends also to its demographics, race, class, blah.


    Quantum is a revenge picture, seemingly written by 20-somethings who know the formula but don’t know humanity yet. Lots of cross-cutting, lots of quick-edited mock-action like the BLADE franchise has. Lots of DESIRE to kill people; does that make sense? My heightened sensibilities from efforts toward a certain backbend who shall go unnamed, really didn’t care for this open revenge narrative.

    Have you seen my recent blog comments?

  • Posted 17 November 2008 at 3:52 am | #

    Yes I have seen them. I sent my objections to nihilist, running-away zen (contrasted to infinite, all-embracing zen) to CP in an email. But look at that, I guess they filtered in to the above as well. 🙂 I’ve been noticing how my first drafts can be windmill-tilters.

    Interesting the word on the street is “LA burns.” A metonymy, of which synechdoche is a subclass. And I misused metonymy above too—saying Kaufman is LA’s idea of deep. But you’re right: he’s screenwriters’ idea of deep. LA is bigger than that.

    Maybe Quantum would have been worse in that it wouldn’t have echoed much at all. I love action films because for the hour after I leave the cinema the world is on steroids. Cheap thrills. Art film’s halflife is at least a day.

    BTW, on topic of this post, I just saw that the NYTMag wrote on Lewis Hyde today. Wonderful. I link here so I’ll remember to come back and read it when there is time, and in case others share my likes.

  • meniscusmerangue
    Posted 17 November 2008 at 10:16 am | #

    Such films are NOT for the likes of you. What were you expecting? Stick to Visconti. Or Shane Meadows.

  • Posted 17 November 2008 at 10:55 am | #

    I’m watching the fire on Les Infos. Glad you’re safe.

  • Posted 17 November 2008 at 4:01 pm | #

    Don’t fret – missing QOS was no great loss. Daniel Craig is a great Bond but the plot was weak and the editing made hash of the the many, many chase scenes. Then again, I like my Bond was a heavy dose of cheese, which means Roger Moore for me (or Brosnan – he’s dreamy!)

  • grimmly
    Posted 17 November 2008 at 6:40 pm | #

    “Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”
    Walter Sobchak The Big lebowski

  • Posted 17 November 2008 at 10:01 pm | #

    So you think the fire may have been started by a homeless turkey-roasting gone awry?

  • Posted 17 November 2008 at 11:25 pm | #

    GOOD CALL!!!

    Both of you.


    Love it.

  • Posted 17 November 2008 at 11:30 pm | #

    P.S. Yes, funny the 007 franchise has gone from cornball to so very vindictive. I liked the 70s-era in that case too.

  • V
    Posted 18 November 2008 at 11:40 am | #

    I loved QOS. Probably because Second was taking me back to my teenage years, where there was a lot of unresolved anger.

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