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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in kara vanderbijl (75)

Tuesday
Dec172013

In Which We Vaguely Know You Come To Life

Above Corruption

by KARA VANDERBIJL 

I have a hard time with art galleries, whether they are very small rooms on the way to work or large museums packed with artifacts. I would like to enjoy my time in them but for the most part, I do not. I have never had a satisfying experience in an art gallery and I would not say that it is the gallery’s fault or even particularly my fault. Why speak of fault at all?  

Art is about embodiment, and the space between the walls where the paintings hang protected and my body is large. I cannot be what I am seeing or do anything about it. I must blindly consume, pronounce a judgment, feign a stronger emotion than I am feeling. This appreciation is dismembered; much like standing in a crowded room, when I do not have enough hands to touch every person around me in greeting, enough mouths to speak to them, I cannot give enough of myself to this experience. I am paralyzed, made unbodied.

The only gallery I enjoyed visiting is the Villa Borghese outside of Rome. Many of Bernini’s sculptures live in this manor, where only small groups of people are permitted to enter at a time. Apollo and Daphne, one of Bernini’s best-loved works, stands in the center of a room. You can walk up quite closely to it and look at the folds of stone cloth and the dimples where Apollo is pressing his fingers into Daphne’s flesh. Apollo wants to rape Daphne. He has been chasing her through the woods, and when she realizes that she will not be able to outrun him, she calls upon her father to transform her into a laurel tree. As Apollo wraps an arm around her waist, he discovers bark where there was once soft skin. Her fingers and arms turn into branches. Her hair sprouts into the very wreath of leaves that Apollo will later use to decorate the heads of victors, of men become gods...

Only what is incarnate can be violated.

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Being a body narrows you. Genetics predetermine the star of your face, the hills and valleys nourished below. I cannot be all things, as a body. As a mind, I can bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. But my body is a full stop, a contained space, an impermanent expression of creative energy.

Art objects, too, are narrow. “Writing is a little door,” said Susan Sontag, “Some fantasies, like big pieces of furniture, won’t come through.” An art object is a slice of the world, a representative, perhaps male or female, of one race or another, a tightly-packaged experience. I want this object to be all things but to ask it to contain more than it does is to deny its very being. As an embodiment, it is bound by its curves and contours.

When I ask, “Why doesn’t this art object embody an experience that is important to me?”, and become angry, it is a bit like shaking a child and screaming, “Why aren’t you a bird?” I may marvel at the fact that this object could have been any number of things, so long as I recognize it for what it is, give it credit for the beautiful disaster that is its embodiment.

Criticizing an art object, faulting it for its lacks and limitations, is a violation; a small one, yes, but a violation nonetheless.

+

“What about bad art?”

Irrelevant question.

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Dance, then, is absolutely pure. And isn’t it ironic that it is this form of art, this form of expression, that causes the most panic and self-consciousness? We dance in small, dim spaces, mostly hidden from view. The act has been called frivolous, childish, dangerous, yet there is no form of embodiment more intense than dancing. Here, various incarnations touch, interact, share a moment in time. If anything this is the only place where art can be panoramic: bigger than itself, more than a single voice, experience or expression.

 

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What do I mean when I say embodiment? I mean quite simply that the objects we create are incarnational. They are ideas become flesh, dwelling among us. They are real and not deceptive, although they are incredibly disruptive. To create an art object is to endow a beloved or feared thought with arms and legs and a will of its own and watch it build and destroy worlds. This has nothing to do with whether or not it is “good” by any standard. This has something to do with an old, bearded God reaching upside-down across the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and touching a human into life. “I know you, come to life,” he says, “now go do.”

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Tastes and preferences change over time. If I am starving, I will eat what is put on the table in front of me, even if the meat is tainted or the fruit is rotten. Given the choice, though, I will eat what is satisfying, nutritious. Given a myriad of choices, I will eat what is popular, easily acquired.

Like so many people, I am secretly starving for companionship. I will listen to what voices I can get, at the press of a button, at the recommendation of a web site. I will not necessarily go looking for the relationships that truly fulfill me. Then, poorly satisfied, the words mal-absorbed into my system, I will complain that what I found was not what I was looking for.

When I learn that an object is poisonous, I know I should stay away from it. But it doesn’t take much pride for me to continue consuming it, believing as I do that my body is above corruption and violation.

I ask, “What will this do to me? What will I do with this?”

+

Is it important that I identify with an art object? In my view, I am simultaneously the most beautiful and the most foul being imaginable. This double vision applies, too, to art; what enamors me can in its own time become frightening. What is delicious can be too rich, too much for me to handle. I am not always ready to encounter what I observe. Like my relationships, the traumas of which mold and shape my personality, my interactions with art have taken me out of myself, made me intensely uncomfortable. The ones that have not done so, the ones that have been too cloying, too reassuring, I have not been able to trust.

This is, after all, a personality flaw.

But in the same way that I would not want a friend who would not tell me true — even if it meant that I had to see myself in a garish new light, hang in a different, less-visited corner of a gallery — I do not want to surround myself with art that does not occasionally put me on edge, or break my heart.

+

It takes two to create: myself, and the strain of thought inside of me that won’t be still until it has been given a body. 

Kara Vanderbijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about her trip to New York City. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"A Beautiful Night for a Party" - Scouting for Girls (mp3)

"Rockin' All Over The World (live on the BBC)" - Scouting for Girls (mp3)


Friday
Dec062013

In Which The Greatest City In The World Is Smaller Than You Think

Studies in Claustrophobia

by KARA VANDERBIJL

On the back of a postcard I scrawl, “New York City: smaller than expected.”

That’s it; those are the only notes I managed to take during my seventy-two hours in Manhattan. Exactly what I planned for the extensive scribbling I meant to do eludes me now, three weeks of outlining and imagining and remembering later. After beginning this essay a thousand times, I became convinced that the only thing more difficult than living in New York is writing about New York.

It’s strange that I should be overwhelmed with the subject when I did find Manhattan petite — a water-lapped gray island of which I could see every last corner from the plane. I spent my weekend there navigating tiny spaces. Restaurant tables were so close together that I stood on tiptoes and bent in awkward angles to get to my seat. In public restrooms (of which there were few), my arms touched the walls on either side of the toilet and I had to duck my head to wash my hands. I stepped out of restrooms into kitchens and backed into bookshelves that doubled as wine cellars.

On the High Line, we walked single file between rows of native shrubs, not-so-native Germans, and two couples taking engagement photos. Behind them, buildings crowded en masse to fit inside the small screen of the digital camera. I covered a distant skyscraper with the tip of my finger, feeling like that primordial ape attempting to catch the toy city whirring around my head.

Below ground, the air was close and smelled like what it sounds like when brakes squeal against iron rails: burnt. The subway cars were long but squat, as if the tunnels had been pressing against their ceilings for decades. Inside one, I slid slowly off the tiny plastic seat into the crush of people talking about work and ugh, really? in Brooklyn? We climbed steep stairs to come up for air. I thought I could smell the Atlantic but I also smelled pizza, sewer, coffee, metal and perfume. New Jersey loomed close over Manhattan’s shoulder, the less desirable bank of the river.

Sitting on a stranger’s stoop hip-to-hip to eat a slice, we went through a thick wad of napkins mopping up grease. Entering Central Park through the Women’s Gate, we caught a whiff of fermenting November leaves and ducks. After a perfunctory stroll, we exited onto 5th Avenue somewhere in the 70s. At a book stand, they were selling stiff new copies of The Great Gatsby with Cugat’s original cover, that yellow blue silhouette somehow bigger, somehow brighter than the city blurring into the dusk around me.

Before long the crowds made me feel anxious, and we caught the subway downtown, watching groups of friends get on and off and plan to meet for drinks later. In an exhausted stupor, we lifted miraculously out of our seats at the right stop by the promise of Katz’s pastrami on rye and half-sour pickles. The deli was the only thing in New York that was bigger than I thought it would be, tables going on forever, people biting into sandwiches under pictures of Johnny Depp and Bill Clinton and the Kennedys clasping Katz's hand and smiling.

Meat slid out the back of sandwiches, plopping soft onto plates in greasy folds. An Eastern European bus boy, or rather, middle-aged gentleman, came by to shove napkin-covered plates into a dirty tub. At the neighboring table, two ladies compared cosmetics and sipped Diet Cokes. “Hope you have what she had!” crowed a sign above the table where Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan sat in When Harry Met Sally. We hope you’ll all have what we’re having.

Even after a day during which I had done everything I could think of to experience the city, to feel its pulse underneath all the kitsch, it was here — on this holy kosher-style ground — that I realized I’d been hearing the New York City narrative running through the crowds the whole time, like a half-muffled scream.

It’s a survivor’s tale, except instead of chopping through jungles to flee a starving tiger, the survivor is a girl crying on the subway, her mascara running down her cheeks, and she’s on her way to her entry-level job (which, in Manhattan, is probably located in some basement far below street level). And nobody is looking at her, because she’s just another anonymous survivor who won’t quit the city because this — this story of living in less-than-humane conditions is what thrills her, this always reaching and never getting is the greatest story she thinks she can write, because after all, this is the greatest city in the world…

This, I think, is what makes it hard to live in and write about New York. The city will always be bigger than you, her sense of self will always be more important than yours, and no matter how many times you laugh at someone who moves away, breathlessly saying, “They just weren’t tough enough,” a small, stifled part of you wonders if you, too, will be swallowed by this machine that chews, and chews, and chews away at your sanity, your guts spilling out the back into the Hudson like so much pastrami. Writing a New York City story is a study in claustrophobia.

It takes a good ego-squashing to be a writer, but squash someone far enough below ground and they’re mining for salt to chew on between paychecks, not stories. There’s a name for the condition that makes a person vow To Leave or Never To Leave New York, and it’s “identity crisis”: when the setting of the story has engulfed its main character. Nor is the main character wholly to blame; everything in New York seems built to induce this crisis, from its perfectly miniature coffee shops blasting Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong down to the lox on your bagel. I worried at the small apartments that had no windows.

In the morning, I woke up early while the city slept on, West Village streets yawning sunbeams into one another, sidewalks stubbly with last night’s litter. I took my maps and my empty notebook and stopped at Patisserie Claude to buy a croissant and a cappuccino. From there I wandered to Washington Square Park, where I found the famed monument thinner than its Parisian cousin, living on a starvation diet of pigeons and piano music. At my feet, two squirrels fought over the crumbs from my pastry. The peddler pianist launched into Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

I wondered then, sitting alone on a bench in the sunshine, what I might have been if I had chosen to live here, how I might have molded my life to fit into the narrative of New York City. Would I have become best friends with Ambien or fashioned, out of a budding creative bent, an oxygen mask to filter out the high rent, the four-dollar coffees I finished in two sips? Would I have caught the tiny city whirring in dreams around my head? Would I have sacrificed the morning, my favorite time of day, for Manhattan’s endless night?

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about Donna Tartt's latest disappointment. She is a writer living in Chicago. She tumbls here and twitters here

Photographs by the author.

"I See My Mother" - Polica (mp3)

"Violent Games" - Polica (mp3)

 

Friday
Nov222013

In Which We Return To The Scene Of The Crime

All That Glitters

by KARA VANDERBIJL

The Goldfinch
by Donna Tartt
784 pp

We expect a bad writer to produce drivel; we can lament that a good writer’s work is not appreciated in its time. But that Donna Tartt, an incredible writer, should produce three wearisome books in twenty years is an enigma that I have been trying to solve since I finished her latest, The Goldfinch, this week.

The Goldfinch revolves around Theo Decker, a young New Yorker who is visiting the Met with his mother when a bomb goes off. He leaves the museum without his mother (she dies), Carel Fabritius’ 1654 painting “The Goldfinch” under his arm (he stole it from underneath a pile of rubble). Theo moves from home (that of the wealthy Barbours, the family of one of his schoolmates) to home (that of his alcoholic father in Las Vegas); the story touches on his guilt, exhilaration and the self-destruction that occurs where the two intersect.  As Theo works feverishly to protect his secret and maintain the painting he idolizes, he crumbles under the influence of drugs, alcohol and untreated post-traumatic stress disorder.

Like her previous works (The Secret History, 1992, and The Little Friend, 2002), Tartt’s newest monolith is extremely lengthy, and is at turns bildungsroman, thriller, and exposé on beauty. In fact, if you replace murder with heist, The Goldfinch is essentially the same book as The Secret History. Both feature an unlikeable, half-privileged half-tragic male protagonist and a cast of supporting characters who are somewhat more likeable, yet more likely to be bad influences. Both will thrill you at first. In fact, you’ll be tempted to include them in your “Top 5 Novels I Love” list. But then you get to the halfway mark, and it all begins to unravel.

If we’re picking someone to blame, her editor seems like the most likely candidate. You can allow a certain degree of extravagance, Donna Tartt being Donna Tartt (the characters in her first novel murdered someone during a bacchanalian rite, after all). But after she reaches the climax of the story, she’s not really sure what to do with herself anymore. During the last 100 pages of The Goldfinch, Theo monologues about art, beauty and life, like Tartt threw her personal notes into her manuscript and called it a resolution.

A reader will forgive a slow beginning if she can trust the writer to give her more and more reasons to believe that the book will dazzle her. But Tartt has consistently done the opposite: she carries her readers to the top of a mountain, then watches them slip and slide their way down the other side.   

Tartt’s biggest strength lies where action meets self-reflection; this is where she creates her most powerful scenes. However, when she leans too heavily either on plot or on a character’s introspection, she loses steam. For this reason, some parts of The Goldfinch feel false, like they were merely conveniences to move along the plot (really, Theo just happens to stop by Kitsey’s apartment and just happens to find out she’s cheating on him?), and other parts drone on and on, the vibrant thread of action getting lost in details about furniture restoration and personal histories which, while fascinating, do little to carry the reader through to the end.

It’s a shame because Tartt’s talent demands that we trust her. Her voice is that of a master. She paints an opulent picture of New York City, she seasons even the slowest moments with delightful details, like rain “peppering the windows”; the smoky fragrance of lapsang souchong tea; Theo’s many physical ills as he drifts in and out of drug dependence. She has a knack for drama, for creating believable characters and relationships. She has a sense of humor. She can get you to turn pages like there’s no tomorrow. Now, if she could just finish well... I’d follow her up another mountain and down the other side.

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about four things. She twitters here and tumbls here.

"The Light" - Stars (mp3)

"Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It (Com Truise remix)" - Stars (mp3)


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