Tuesday, September 30, 2008


My project for Miami was going well, then school (three studio classes, two coordinatorships, five school committees, seven graduate tutorials, four advancement-to-candidacy committees, etc) forced me to abandon it for two solid months. Today is the first day I have had some time to resume work on the project. However, I have now had a technical setback-- a laser-cutting problem-- for which I am currently seeking a solution. I hope I can get this figured out soon, and get on with this project.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fiction, continued

Back to a subject from an older post: the popular theory that all artwork is the logical extension of its maker's personal biography. In that post I described how Salman Rushdie expressed his annoyance at the prevalence of this theory. While reading about the recent death of David Foster Wallace, I came upon a review of his in which he expressed indignation at another writer's crude attempt to "explain" all of Jorge Luis Borges' short stories through the lense of his biography. Wallace found these explanations trite, forced and ridiculous, and asserted that "the stories so completely transcend their motive cause that the biographical facts become, in the deepest and most literal way, irrelevant."

The truth, briefly stated, is that Borges is arguably the great bridge between modernism and post-modernism in world literature. He is modernist in that his fiction shows a first-rate human mind stripped of all foundations in religious or ideological certainty -- a mind turned thus wholly in on itself.‡‡‡ His stories are inbent and hermetic, with the oblique terror of a game whose rules are unknown and its stakes everything.
And the mind of those stories is nearly always a mind that lives in and through books. This is because Borges the writer is, fundamentally, a reader. The dense, obscure allusiveness of his fiction is not a tic, or even really a style; and it is no accident that his best stories are often fake essays, or reviews of fictitious books, or have texts at their plots' centers, or have as protagonists Homer or Dante or Averroes. Whether for seminal artistic reasons or neurotic personal ones or both, Borges collapses reader and writer into a new kind of aesthetic agent, one who makes stories out of stories, one for whom reading is essentially -- consciously -- a creative act. This is not, however, because Borges is a metafictionist or a cleverly disguised critic. It is because he knows that there's finally no difference -- that murderer and victim, detective and fugitive, performer and audience are the same.

For the full article, see this link.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

No More Model Train Stuff

I have never really comprehended the meaning of the word "hobby". The very concept of a hobby always sounded so noncommittal, and connected to the baffling concept of "killing time."

I met up with my T.A. down in Salinas and we spent at least ten minutes watching guys play with trains in their cool clubhouse. I guess they had put most of their energy into "train stuff" that I (in my search for impressive feats of geological simulation in miniature) could not discern. Most of the "scenery" in this setup appeared to be assembled from store-bought parts, and offered me no special insight into diorama-fabrication processes. Afterwards, at lunch, we decided to eliminate the planned class field trip to the Model Train Expo later this month, in case it should prove to be, umm, totally lame. I'll go on my own, to possibly purchase some materials for the class.

At any rate, I actually enjoyed the drive down to Salinas and back. I hardly ever drive anymore since I moved back to San Jose (two blocks from where I work) over a year ago-- so driving offers an opportunity to briefly clear my brain of school-related bureaucracy, and so forth.

Back to the subject of the artist, Michael Ashkin (from a prior post). I remember discussions of his work back in the 90's, in which the implication was that he had taken the genre of model train landscapes, and "elevated" it into something less mundane, perhaps less "hobby-like." Years ago, my friend Chris Ware (whom I rarely see anymore since moving to California) was hailed by literary and art critics as having singlehandedly "elevated the genre" of comic books into something more. Chris always vehemently objected to this intended praise, insisting that the comic-book genre needed no elevation, by him or anyone else-- it was already a genre with an illustrious past. This ostensible elevation was accompanied by a new title for the genre-- graphic novels. Chris always maintained that he made comic books, not graphic novels.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

More Model Train Stuff

So, I've learnt that an important "figure" in the model train world lived in Monterey, and nowadays there's a posse of model train folks working in Salinas. They are occupying the "Railway Express Building" in exchange for restoring it. From what I can glean from the website, they are building a giant model of the Monterey and Salinas Valley Railroad in this building. They have an open house with workshops now and then. One is this Saturday, so my Installation Art TA and I are gonna go check it out, and talk to these train folks. Here's a picture of the in-progress model, from the MSVRR website.

Congratulations, Jonathan

Check out Jonathan Brilliant's show in Williamsburg, NY: http://www.jonathanbrilliant.com/dsg.