“Béton armé” de Philippe Rahmy

En revenant de Los Angeles l’an dernier, je ne trouvais pas de fil conducteur à mes expériences en essayant de les raconter. Je n’avais que des bribes difficiles à faire tenir dans un ordre chronologique. Ainsi, j’ai demandé à mes amis grands lecteurs des références de récits de voyage qui parvenaient à se passer de chronologie. @Invidiosa m’a de suite répondu en me conseillant “Béton armé” de Philippe Rahmy. Je l’ai commandé en un clic. Lorsque le livre est arrivé, il est resté longtemps sur la pile à lire (c’est une fatalité). Mais j’ai fini par le lire presque un an après: je savais qu’il me fallait le lire (sans doute était-ce aussi une fatalité).

J’ai bien fait car le narrateur de “Béton armé” se demande aussi comment décrire le voyage au début de l’oeuvre. Et sa réponse est très très bonne. Le récit raconte un voyage et une plongée dans un autre monde. Le narrateur tout comme l’auteur est atteint de la maladie des os de verre. Un mieux dans son état de santé coïncidant avec une invitation de l’Association des écrivains de Shanghai, il décide de partir. On suit le narrateur alors qu’il entre dans Shanghai, comme il le perçoit… La langue travaillée et poétique de Philippe Rahmy s’emploie, pleine d’élan, à décrire ses découvertes.

Le récit narre un voyage en solo souvent difficile. Le voyageur prend les transports en commun. Il aime revenir aux mêmes endroits et y passer du temps. Les obligations protocolaires draînent son énergie. Il est absorbé par les scènes de rue. Et comme tout voyage, c’est aussi l’occasion d’une touchante et fructueuse introspection: une exploration de souvenirs personnels.

Je n’ai pas fini d’y penser et mes idées autour de ce livre n’ont pas fini de prendre forme. “Béton armé” fait partie de ces oeuvres qui restent à l’esprit longtemps. C’est un beau voyage.

“Drawing Blood” by Molly Crabapple

Molly Crabapple is an artist, journalist and author. Her work is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. She’s drawn and reported from Guantanamo Bay, Abu Dhabi’s migrant labor camps, and in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, and Iraqi Kurdistan. She is a contributing editor for VICE. Her byline appeared in The New York Times, Paris Review, and Vanity Fair among other publications. Most recently, her latest painting series “Annotated Muses” is on view at Postmasters Gallery in NYC until Oct. 15 and a video narrated by Jay-Z she illustrated entitled “The War on Drugs Is an Epic Fail” came out last week. She also published a memoir entitled “Drawing Blood” last year chronicling her life up to this point.

I don’t remember exactly how I became aware of Molly Crabapple’s work. It must’ve been through “Week In Hell” since I featured the project in this tiny blog posts in French. It was then housed on fabulousse.ch a long forgotten cultural blog I wrote alongside my cousin.

Not being able to thank whoever made me discover this artist saddens me. Attribution is so hard on the web and attributing the discovery of something is even harder. Tools like Instapaper could work to make that easier… but I digress. I digress because footnotes aren’t supported by WordPress Core but that’s another digression.

“Week in Hell” is an art/endurance experiment wherein every surface of a hotel room was covered with paper and then drawings. It lasted a week and many of her friends visited her as she drew. The project worked great and gave rise to a book and a mini-documentary.

To this day, I regret not having anything to pledge at the time and/or learning of the campaign too late — can’t remember the details. Of course, in the meantime, I got a job, bought most her books and a couple art prints too which make me very happy when I see them. They also lend charm and sophistication to my living room.

When her memoir was announced, I immediately pre-ordered it. It was in March 2015. It came out and I received it around December 2015. Much to my shame, I just read it the week before last. In the last few years, since I finished college, in fact, reading on paper got very slow. To make matters worse, my unread pile grew fast, got shuffled and reshuffled.

Now, I am well aware that none of the above ramblings could ever help you decide if you want to read the book or not. It shouldn’t even be a question: you do want to read that book. Writing a helpful review about it is difficult since I wouldn’t highlight anything in the beautiful illustrated hardcover. Such a prized object.

Seriously, though. Molly Crabapple’s memoir “Drawing Blood” offers insights into her path to becoming… her: a great artist and a distinctive voice. It is a tale of becoming. Many aspects of it were inspiring to me as I am living through my early 30s. Her focus and self-discipline in perfecting her craft push me to try harder with my writing. Her drive to get noticed and the business sense she developed to function in New-York City are inspiring to me as a young professional striving to show his work and get more in Geneva, another expensive and competitive city. Her search for meaning, purpose and political engagement makes me wonder how I can be more engaged with the world and find purpose for myself.

Not only does it contain inspiring facts. Her writing style is as distinctive as her art. I love her prose. Part of me can’t help being a little envious of it too to be quite honest. Her writing flows while also being, at once, precise and concise. She adds the exact amount of feeling and linguistic flourishes to convey her meaning and push the reader forward — never an ounce more. It is mastered, shows restraint and –unlike this blog post– merciless editing.

You do want to get acquainted with her work, follow @mollycrabapple on Twitter, and read her memoir. Trust me, you do.

“The Dead Ladies Project” by Jessa Crispin

“The Dead Ladies Project” opens with the author convincing police officers that she won’t commit suicide and will seek help. She sieves her life down to two suitcases and leaves for Europe in search of her dead ladies: expats from different times and places. In her quest, she stays in Berlin, Trieste, Sarajevo, Galway, Lausanne… among other cities.

From her travels, her confrontation with these dead people and her introspection, lessons emerge on how to be in the world and how to relate to it and how to relate to the self as well — “être au monde” as the French expression combining the three says.

The book is very much a tale of solo travel. In each city, she establishes a new temporary dwelling, new routines, overcomes hardships, meets people and describes the atmosphere in beautiful prose.

From Trieste on, street scenes come hurtling through her consciousness, her descriptions become breathless enumerations. In the midst of these momentous series of observations, there are always bitter-sweet gems of biting humour which never fail to connect with the curmudgeon in me.

She addresses darker moments with the same grace. Hardships of solo travel are often difficult to bear: making all the decisions and arrangements, schlepping luggage, feeling OK. She writes, for example, she wishes for a companion in her adventures: an Isabel to her Richard Francis Burton.

Reading “The Dead Ladies Project” provides literary discoveries on each page. Numerous authors, all of which should be more widely known, make appearances. The book might send you on a journey through the world or through a library or both. Her recommended reading section may very well house your next favourite author.

Jessa Crispin’s point-of-view is refreshing. Her prose moves forward with momentum and a quiet resolve, just like she travels through Europe staying in cities weeks at a time.

“The Dead Ladies Project” is a book of the best brand of criticism. Jessa Crispin searches for her dead ladies in their cities, their biographies, their texts and the spaces in-between. In doing so, she effectively questions key elements of our contemporary culture beyond literature. At one point, she questions self-help and the pathologizing of emotions. In her Maud Gonne chapter celebrating magic, spirituality and the power of story, she pokes giant holes into the reigns of materialism and rationalism. Much to this reader’s delight.

This memoir is a very enjoyable read. There are insights in there that spoke to me and my own issues. No doubt it will do the same for you. It gives me hope that one can open their own path. Change. Enter a truce with the self and the world. You should read it too.

Suicide Squad: Hammered into shape with Harley’s mallet

First of all, be warned. This little essay is riddled with SPOILERS. There are a lot of SPOILERS here. Every second word is a SPOILER. I’ll assume you saw the movie. You’ve been warned about SPOILERS. Don’t come crying to me about SPOILERS. So many SPOILERS. So many.

We’ve lost the SPOILER-averse? Good.

“Suicide Squad” is not as good as it could’ve been. They hammered elements into the scenario with Harley Quinn’s mallet. The movie struggles to contain all that has been thrown into it. This doesn’t work.

Suffering from indecision

The movie suffers from a problem that affects most comics-based movies. It has trouble balancing fan service and broader appeal. In its bid to appeal to everyone and explain everything, its exposition is long and strange and forced. Members of the squad are introduced one by one as Weller speaks with high ranking national security officials in the restaurant. That structure which works in heist movies such as Ocean’s Eleven feels wrong and unnatural here.

Having secondary characters come to the fore and important characters (like Batman) recede in the background is an ambitious project. To pull it off, character development should at least work well and fast. It doesn’t. Character development in “Suicide Squad” has too many moving parts. They take up all the space to the detriment of the story. Focusing on fewer elements would have stoked the ire of some fans but would have made things easier to order into a more functional cinematic narrative machine.

Focusing on characters and letting the audience spend some time with them could help us forgive problems with the story. Characters enter from the left and the right at odd times. Slipknot, for example, appears without any back story or forewarning only to be killed moments later. His arc exists solely to ensure that audiences understand nanobombs injected in all their necks are real and stakes are high. Katana appears seemingly out of nowhere too. So does the Enchantress’ brother/slave. These moves seem gauche and took me out of the flow.

Harley, Deadshot and ALL the others

Harley and Deadshot are introduced rather well — most probably because there might be romance in the air next. Their skills and motivations are covered early and they are therefore better established from the beginning. These characters work very well and the actors who portray them have stuff to work with. They do so very well. This creates expectations for other members of the squad which aren’t met.

The Joker is perhaps the biggest disappointment of the whole movie for me. The scene where the Joker offers Harley was out of character and didn’t do a thing to establish the nature of their relationship. However, the “Would you die/live for me?” was powerful and purposeful. Were it introduced sooner, it may have worked better.

Killer Croc is presented by Waller as damaged by the way he is treated because of his appearance. It is almost left at that. We’re not invited to try and understand his motives. He is an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, shrouded in character dysfunction. He is not one of the most well-known and oft adapted characters in the DC universe. The audience is right in expecting something more, especially since his unique ability to swim is very important to the dénouement. He deserved a better treatment.

For most other characters, seemingly random tidbits of backstory and dialogue are presented. They don’t form a coherent picture. It doesn’t smell like writers have the characters straightened out either. This problem is lurking throughout the DC universe and isn’t exclusive to “Suicide Squad”. As long as they are secondary characters, one can keep them a little blurred in a background of (sic) moral bankruptcy. As soon as you bring them to the fore, strategies to distance the “villains” from the “good” guys should be forbidden. Motives should be made clear. Moral complexity should be embraced. It seems the movie doesn’t bring them fully into focus and neither does it keep them in the background which makes for a blurry ensemble.

As antagonists go, the Enchantress and her barely one-dimensional brother are very sad. “She does magic, impressive shit — naked and covered in wet ashes” is the full depth of the character, it seems. Her brother is hastily introduced because the story reaches a stalemate in her confrontation with Weller. Neither him nor her have clear motives. The Enchantress’s plan materialises out of nowhere. Losing the brother, keeping the Enchantress under Weller’s thumb and making Weller the antagonist would have opened so many great doors.

A late glimpse of potential in the bar scene

Lots of the things I adore about the DC universe were definitely there.

  • Individuality and conformity in tension,
  • the impossibility (real or imagined) to adhere to “normal”,
  • the problematic relationship between mental health and criminality,
  • the age-old Gothamite question of contagious antisocial behavior

These are all themes and problems in the DC universe that I love. They are explored in “Gotham” way better and more thoroughly than here, obviously. In many ways, “Suicide Squad” could have been an even better venue to explore them because Harley and Mr. J. are present and everyone is farther along in their careers.

The bar scene is a pivotal moment. It made the characters’ struggles real and relatable. Three quarters into the movie is pretty late to establish the motivations and struggles of main characters. Elements about them gel and aggregate only at that point. If you’re gonna have a thin story, the movie could’ve been laced with more of a reflection around evil, what makes them bad, can they repent and reform, is a punishing prison system the best way. The elements are all there but they’re not developped to their fullest because of time constraints and completely out of order.

Amanda Weller does some terrible fucking things in the name of law, order and patriotism because she fears superhumans. Some prison guards are clearly sadists, what about that? What makes law and order so great if the “good” guys kill and torture too? What makes Batman different to Weller if he has offensive weapons? Deadshot and Flag have a conversation in the helicopter about their differences. Flag — whose name is funny in that context — gets out of the argument by stating that he’s a soldier. He has other reasons to be there but the argument just ends never to be referenced again. Loose ends like this are everywhere. It’s sad.

It would have been relevant to explore these issues more. As a culture, we desperately need more reflection around these topics as we grapple with gun violence, police brutality and various extremisms.

Reading “On Being an Unemployed Arts Graduate”

Reading “On Being an Unemployed Arts Graduate“, I tend to agree with the diagnosis. Humanities departments should be less ambiguous about their raison d’être. However, you can’t exempt the graduates and the corporations that fail to hire them of any responsibility so easily. Not seeing exactly what something is or what it’s for and pushing through nonetheless is a useful and beautiful thing. It requires a lot of grit, willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.

What I find most disheartening in this article is the focus on monetary value and individualism (and the self-helpy vibe). Therapy and individual well-being can’t be the sole purpose of Humanities. If we go down that path in reorganising universities, we will encourage creeping individualism.

Colleges have also community missions: they help cities/states govern themselves, by informing and educating citizens. Humanities have a lot to offer in the domain of the political and the communal.

  • Urbanisation is rampant: how do we make inclusive cities?
  • Innovation is faster: how are we relating to technology?

#MyTopTenBooks, enfin!

Mon #MyTopTenBooks a été long à venir. J’ai finalement pris le temps de le faire et de le publier sur Twitter. Comme Shalf l’a souligné récemment, cet exercice est difficile et les critères que l’on emploie ne sont pas toujours clairs — parfois pour le curateur de la liste lui-même.

La Librairie du Midi à Oron a lancé un mouvement de “top ten” personnels. Depuis samedi 5 avril, toute la Suisse romande s’y est mis. Funambuline a rassemblé les données dans un Storify et Martin Grandjean a fait une analyse de ces données.

La méthode de génération de mon tas est empruntée à Martin Grandjean. En me promenant dans mon appartement, j’ai parcouru les étagères et sorti les livres qui me parlaient sur le moment. Ainsi, le classement est dépendant du contexte. Par exemple, “How To Think More About Sex” d’Alain de Botton s’est hissé dans le classement car, le matin même, je suis allé écouter Viviane Morey parler de la genèse de la Fête du Slip.

#MyTopTenBooks

“Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” de Jenny Lawson, à propos duquel j’avais déjà écrit ici, devrait bientôt connaître une suite. Je m’en réjouis d’avance.

Pour accompagner “Content Strategy For The Web” de Kristina Halvorson, je conseillerai aussi de lire “Elements of Content Strategy” d’Erin Kissane et “Content Strategy for Mobile” de Karen McGrane que je possède en e-books.

“The Areas Of My Expertise” de John Hodgman est le premier d’une superbe trilogie humoristique qui compte encore “More Information Than You Require” et “That is All” qui sont dans la bibliothèque en arrière-plan.

J’ai fait attention a avoir des auteures représentées dans ma liste (4 sur 10). Une autre chose remarquable est que tous ces livres sont en Anglais. Au delà de ces simples observations, peut-être qu’il n’est pas nécessaire de commenter cette photo dans les détails. Si vous avez des questions, je serai content de vous répondre.

 

Let’s Pretend This Review Never Happened

While reading “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir)” I would take long pauses to laugh and ponder the strangeness of life. When the time to leave for a 3-day trip to Paris came, I still had 60 pages to go.  It didn’t make sense to take the hardcover for such a low page-count. Yet, I wanted to know what happens next. Instead of obsessing over the book during the trip, I decided to finish in one long and laughter-filled sitting.

Jenny Lawson is a most courageous author, willing to write about subjects that most writers avoid. She manages to bring the fun out of every anecdote — even the ones that could be tragic.

All kinds of funny are woven into the pages of her book. It’s always fresh and surprising. For example, some exchanges that she transcribes between her and her husband, Victor, are surrealist delights. It’s as if the dialogue had been written by a Dadaist Aaron Sorkin. Only better. Because it never sounds “written” nor out-of-character.

While her prose appears spontaneous, this book proves — if her blog had left anybody wondering — that she’s a master writer. She plays with form, sometimes entering into a dialogue with an editor who battles to keep her on track. At other times, she embarks upon what seem to be monstrous digressions à la Montaigne but she always comes back. Unlike the French essayist, she must have thrown a whole lot of words out because there are no unnecessary ones left.

“Let’s pretend this never happened” is a celebration. Her outrageous love of language and — most importantly — life transpires between each and every line. What’s not to love about such a book? I hope there will be a sequel, soon.

« Blake’s Revolution » à Carouge

Le groupe de théâtre « Barbe-à-Papa » de l’Université de Genève dont j’ai eu le plaisir de faire partie jouera la dernière date de sa production anglophone « Blake’s Revolution » le 8 mai à 18h au Festival d’Ateliers-Théâtre à Carouge. J’ai déjà assisté à deux précédentes représentations.

Puisque le metteur en scène et responsable de l’adaptation, Nicholas Weeks, est un ami, je ne peux pas donner un avis objectif. Cela ne m’empêchera pas de prendre ici quelques notes qui vous donneront envie, je l’espère, d’aller voir cette production.

Le texte est un collage. La plus grande partie vient du « Mariage du Ciel et de l’Enfer » écrit par William Blake entre 1790 et 1793. Il fait aussi la part belle à Edmund Burke, homme politique et philosophe irlandais et à Mary Wollstonecraft, philosophe et féministe anglaise. Ces trois auteurs ont tous vécus et écrit à la même époque.

Le spectacle orchestre une tension entre la puissance poétique du texte de William Blake et le discours raisonnés d’Edmund Burke sur les révolutions américaine et française et les formes de gouvernement qui en découle. Cette mise en tension violente bien qu’apaisée par une touche d’humour, est particulièrement frappante.

Le collage n’est pas seulement textuel mais aussi disciplinaire. Différentes disciplines se marient  pour faire naître cette production. Barbe-à-Papa, la compagnie de théâtre anglophone de l’Université de Genève, met en commun ses forces créatrices avec Lucas Oettli, graphiste de la HEAD, du groupe de rock progressif Diaphonic, ainsi que l’atelier de danse contemporaine de Catherine Egger. Les différentes performances scéniques qui se mêlent ou se succèdent rapidement offrent une expérience enveloppante. Certains détails sont condamnés à échapper au spectateur, mais l’économie de décors et d’accessoire permet de se concentrer sur la performance des artistes.

Ainsi, si vous aimez les arts de la scène et comprenez l’Anglais, je vous encourage à aller vivre « Blake’s Revolution » le 8 mai à 18h au Festival d’Ateliers-Théâtre à Carouge.

Writers, how do you organize writing files and papers?

It’s late, so very late and I am once again desperate for something to publish thanks to the #back2blog challenge.

As I crawl through all the unsorted text files on my computer and through more than forty drafts in WordPress, I say to myself: «That’s crap. That’s not ready. Ah, that’s just a funny title and no more. Oh, I can never publish this». I begin to question the sanity of my process — and my own. Writing is bound to be messy. Some of that will show in the writer’s file organisation, I know. However, there has to be better systems out there.

So, I would like to seize this opportunity to ask you #back2blog participants and other writers how you keep your writing organized.

Many years ago, I’d print out and keep every version of every piece of teenage-angst poetry in a single giant binder. This binder’s subdivisions matched with the folders and subfolders in my computer. The system blew up when puberty hit, I think. I started writing pages upon pages of prose and couldn’t afford all that paper anymore.

In adopting Getting Things Done, I banned grey binders for yellow Manilla folders. Altough my reference material, my financial and other administrative documents are better organized than ever, my writing’s a mess.

If you would be so kind, please, tell me how you do it. In the comments, on your blog, in a private e-mail. Just tell me. If your writing’s messy, how do you cope? And if you have a system to keep your writing under control in your computer and out, how does it work?

Was releasing “House of Cards” all at once smart?

Yesterday on TWiT, the panel talked about “House of Cards”, the new Netflix exclusive political drama starring Kevin Spacey. Netflix is a video on demand service and they might be reinventing TV production and scheduling.

“House of Cards”, an original Netflix series with Kevin Spacey

On traditional TV, shows are usually released one episode per week. And all the episodes have to be the same length to fit the channel’s schedule.

In “House of Cards”, the fact that is it is video on demand frees the creators from these constraints. Each episode is, according to Brian Brushwood on TWiT #391, a different length. Moreover, they reveal the episodes all at once because the vast majority of TV show fans happen to be bingers.

Is it all positive?

The liberation from scheduling constraints is unequivocally positive as it will save us the filler montages à la Baywatch. However, the fact that they release it all at once could limit the cultural relevance of shows. Evenly spaced releases stroke the fires of conversation and ensure that viewers are all on the same page. These advantages might go away.
During TWiT, this change has been compared to the transition between installment-based novel releases in the 19th century and how publishers release novels all at once now.

Long tail

Whereas the 19th century oeuvres had to be printed on limited amounts of paper, the digital files can be copied cheaply over the internet. They can, therefore, sell and make profits for all eternity.

In one of his longer posts, Seth Godin makes a clear distinction between backlist and frontlist. On the one hand, just-released products garner all the attention and constitute the frontlist. On the other hand, the backlist of older products, says he, is where the real profits are made. So, tending to your backlist, growing it and using it –in turn — to grow your audience makes lots of sense.

With regards to Netflix’ strategy, the novelty of their approach makes their release into an event. When the novelty wears off, will their series continue to grab the public’s attention as efficiently? I guess, we’ll have to wait and see.