non profit

Reflections Of Northern Brazil: The World Cup 2014

Reflections Of Northern Brazil: The World Cup 2014 by Lucas Reckhaus

 photo

 

The airplane is packed with Mexicans. Oversized Sombreros, eagle feathers and

wrestling masks stick out above of the seats of the plane.

Beneath, vast fields of grass and sugarcane have given way to a deep green forest.

We’re on our way to Natal—the city of  nativity—and one of the most northern

host cities of the World Cup. Getting this far already involved a missed flight out

of Newark—resulting in our missing luggage—a miraculous dash to JFK onto another

plane, and a layover in Sao Paolo before three more hours to Natal.

 

As the plane touches down, the Mexicans erupt like an Aztec volcano: a spontaneous

symphony of drumming, singing, screaming and clapping, all in perfect harmony. A

tear wells up in my eye…I’ve made it.

 

Our missing luggage turns out to be a blessing in disguise.  The uncle who picks us up

is driving a car the size of a shoe-box; not remotely big enough to fit the two giant

suitcases, filled with tools, wheel-chair parts, clothes and presents, brought along by

Tony, plus the giant suitcase of his daughter Camilla, and my own bag.

 

The air is hot, the sun bright, the earth red, the smell is sweet. We leave the airport

along an unfinished highway—cobblestones along the edges are missing, grass and trees are yet

to be planted, unpaved earthen roadways branch off every so often—it was ‘finished’ only three

days ago.  After the tournament, few expect it to be completed.

 

Natal is almost an hour away we’re told. There is a functioning international

 

airport right next to the city, but that was closed down in favor of building the new

terminal at which we arrived, far out in the middle of the jungle. Word on the street

is someone with political connections owned the land and made a hefty profit.

 

The towns we pass through are covered in yellow, blue and green. It is the first day

of the tournament and Brazil plays in one hour. Everyone is on their way to watch

the game. Three people packed on a motorcycle (barefoot) with a Brazilian flag

flying behind them pass us. We grace them with a loud honk!

 

Watching the game at at our host’s place, you can feel the excitement in the air.

Every touch of is met with groans and shouts from the neighborhood, watching in the

street. When Brazil scores, explosions sound.

 

Natal is changing. It is obvious as soon as you drive into the heart of town. The

center is filled with residential high rises, and our hosts are quick to point out one

of Brazil’s largest malls. Yet the city is not particularly compact, most people live in single

storey homes, protected by walls mounted with broken glass.

 

The stadium is dubbed “Las Dunas” for the famous orange-yellow-red dunes that

surround the city, and lead down to the sea. At night, when lit up, its resembles a

glowing sea-shell. Our game is a dud, neither the Greeks or Japanese can create any

kind of rhythm in their game. The Japanese fan block is great though, inhaling and

exhaling in a single breath with every move of their team, drumming non-stop.

 

Outside the stadium security is average. There are fan activities, and a Coca-Cola

sponsored charity event where poor children are sent a kind of party/care bag

signed by you, the privileged attendee… a pittance of a gift compared to the 11 billion in spending the

government chose to lavish on the tournament, instead of hospitals and education.

And then there is the rain, every day a monsoon for several hours. After two

straight days in the apartment we jump ship on an overnight bus to Maceio.

I’m sitting next to a boy of 12, he’s traveling alone to see his father. I’m impressed.

We talk through my broken Portu-Spanish about American popular culture, what video games are cool, TV

shows, etc. It’s the usual big names, though I struggle to understand his pronunciation at times. Outside the

bus passes through an endless landscape of small towns and houses along the road. Every so often people

gather together at a lone gas station or late night bar.  Our own bus stops in time to watch the second half of England

against Italy in the Amazonian city of Manaus, the “Rumble in the Jungle.”

The Entire bus floods into the rest-stop, everyones eyes immediately scanning for the TV.  For half an hour the place is

filled with people doing their best to watch, eat, and drink, all at the same time.  The score is tied 1-1, but low and behold,

the Italians prove more cunning than the English and score.  In the World Cup, history provides the guide to future success

and failure.  English fans know this better than any.  As we leave, I can see the waiters' pace slowing back down to their

usual late night norm.

We reach Maceio around six in the morning.  My little friend says his father will pick him up,

but he doesn’t have a number for him. He is surprisingly calm. We leave him with a “best of luck” wish.

Maceio is the chosen home of the Ghanaian soccer team. Their hotel is next to

our building. The beachfront is lined with posters welcoming them as guests. I’m

impressed by the location. After the tournament however, it comes out that their

football association had been cutting costs, and that the team was unhappy with

the accommodations, oh well.

 

The best part of the beach is the reef. At low tide small boats will sail you out to the

shallow water teeming with fish. The full bar and grill with swimming waiters is the

kind of genius that only exists outside of America. The interior of the city is mostly lower middle class,

but it has all the amenities one would expect. Still, the action is down by the water.

The Festival Sao Juan is taking place. There is a competition in which dance teams

from all over the north perform. The story boils down to that of a shot-gun style

wedding between a bride and groom, capped by the appearance of the bandit.

The men carry toy guns, the women knives. The costumes and choreography are

exquisite. After each show, at least one dancer falls unconscious. Medics quickly assist them.

We order kebabs. The old women promptly takes them off the serving stick…last

year someone was stabbed and now they can only be presented that way.

 

Our bus ride back has a layover in Recife. At four in the morning, the bus stop is a

grim place. Its hot, flies circle the people at the one open bar. Stray cats roam in

plain sight. The entire second floor is closed off and looks like its been that way

for years. The exterior of the building is covered in soot. Later I read an account

of the child prostitution going on nearby, and how allegedly taxi drivers have been

advertising to tourists they pick up at the bus station….

After a brief return to Natal we navigate our way back to the wayward airport in the

jungle outside the city, and catch a flight to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil’s first capital,

and the African heart of the country.

Salvador lies on a bay. The old city is divided into two parts, high and low. A great

white elevator connects the two areas, and is one of the celebrated landmarks of the

city. In reality, the city is not divided between high and low, so much as rich and

poor, with a middle class navigating the world between the two.  The “Arena Fonte Nova” sits in the intersection of these three worlds, with favela's looking down into the colossium on two sides, while a park and the city's new elevated subway grace the other two.  Illegal venders selling beer and water line the ramparts leading to the arena for a half-mile.  Fans move in to the stadium as if sucked in along veins leading to a pulsing heart.  The Fonte Nova becomes dubbed the “The Stadium of Goals.”

In the tourist center, colonial buildings stun with their beauty, and sadden by their

abject state. Often only the façade is still standing. Centuries of dirt, graffiti, and

neglect are evidence of the longstanding disinterest of the government in maintaining

the historical past of the city. Yet new buildings have faired no better. The business part of town looks

apocalyptic at night. Not a light on, no one walking the streets, not a store open.

The buildings equally dirty. We are parking our car there en route to the barrio alto

for another carnival festival. As we look for a spot, people jump out at us to “assist,”

and “guard” our car. A common occupation in Brazil, but here the competition is

particularly fierce.

 

In the old part of town, high up on the hill overlooking the bay, the scene changes.

We emerge into a square packed with people dancing. Beer and Caipirinas flow

along the five hundred year-old cobblestones, music is booming out from a giant

stage, while in the center of the packed crowd, an island of vendors are selling food

and drinks. We stick together in a tight pack lest we be separated.

A street leads down-hill from the main square to an open area.   Another music stage is set up.

I'm told this was once the place where slaves were publicly punished.  Now it’s the scene of a dance.

photo 6

The Stoop continues every Friday in November!

Every Friday of the month!!

on Gander.TV! 6-8pm

Prof Steve Cannon will be workshopping (Bob Holman will be in & out due to traveling this month). Take a gander at this geezers as they make poems out of air & give 'em away for free.

Stoop Poetry Workshop @ A Gathering of the Tribes
w/ blind professor Steve Cannon & non-blind professor Bob Holman, Artistic Director of Bowery Poetry Club((The Stoop was the MFA (Make Fantastic Art) writing workshop of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe from 1991-5. Founded and led by Professor Steve Cannon and Bob Holman, it aimed to give a free space for new work for the poets who were making a name in the heady days when the Cafe just reopened and Slam, Hiphop and Multiculti all settled in at the Friday night slams. Roll Call went something like this: Paul Beatty, reg e gaines, Tracie Morris, Willie Perdomo, Dael Orlandersmith, Ed Morales, Ra, Edwin Torres, Dana Bryant, Mike Tyler.
Tune in LIVE at www.gander.tv.com (We will post every weeks event the day of)

OR drop by live 745 E 6 St #1A, or phone in your poems 212-777-2038. )

This will be ongoing! 6 wks through November.
$125 prepaid for ALL 6 weeks, check/cash/money order/paypal (payable to A Gathering of the Tribes & tax-deductible)
Send all your poems to gatheringofthetribes@gmail.com with a letter introducing yourself. Workshop limited to six poets, so you'll get lots of personal attention. This workshop will be broadcast live on Gander.TV so you'll get plenty of public attention, too.

A review of The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon by Nancy Mercado

A review of
The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon
by Nancy Mercado

Penguin Books, 2014

Willie Perdomo’s latest collection of poems, The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon, published by Penguin includes four sections that interplay voices and characters, the language of music, street jargon, Spanish and English and Spanglish.

As a Nuyorican poet who emerged on the scene in the 1990’s, Perdomo is comfortable in meshing a variety of elements that may have no business being together but come out clean and intelligible in the end. His book is a fusion of street culture, life in the halls of learning, dual languages, dual homes or no home that resulted in a multifaceted life.

In the first section of his book: How I Came to My Name, the book’s main character, Shorty Bon Bon describes himself to the reader in the first person. In adjacent poems another character (perhaps a spirit) describes Shorty to Perdomo in past tense. The language used includes musical terms in both English and Spanish much of which is slang. In juxtaposing the communication between the characters, between the reader and the poet, in Perdomo’s particular use of language and in his creation of instantaneous mixtures of images, the complex and fast world of Shorty Bon Bon is made vivid.

A musician by trade, Shorty is also a slick street hustler. His hustle has found a home in his musicianship. Shorty learned his craft by listening to the masters not by attending school. He is so sure of his greatness, he is arrogant:

So cool

     That I chased God like he was on the run.

 […]

So cool

     That when Puente heard my speed, I made him bite his

     Tongue. I’m saying—I made the Mambo King bleed.        (12)

Rather than being distasteful however, Shorty’s arrogance is amusing. Besides, his greatness is validated by the spirit who addresses Perdomo.

In the second section; To Be with You, gone is the “spirit” character who communicates with Perdomo and introduced is Rose; a singer who is Shorty’s girl. Here, Rose’s tumultuous relationship to Shorty takes precedence. Their separate accounts of their struggling liaison and of one another, sustains the play of communication established in the first section. Rose addresses Shorty through a series of letters while Shorty addresses Perdomo directly. The language Perdomo uses is again a sofrito of English, Spanish, Spanglish, street talk and proper terminology e.g., the use of the word pubis.

The greatness of Rose as a singer is a metaphor for her amazing intellect, beauty and female power. Rose is a formidable challenge to Shorty. So much so that regardless of Shorty’s coolness she leaves him in the end.

The third section of the book; Fracture, Flow, sees Perdomo melding into Shorty. The communication here is between the poet and reader; the voice in the poem is the poet’s and that voice is Shorty Bon Bon’s. Set in Puerto Rico, in this group of poems, Shorty recounts life on the island vs life on the mainland, the treatment of Puerto Rico by the United States and the island’s political state. Through the use of metaphor, Perdomo refers to such historical events as Columbus’ treatment by the natives when he lands on the island, the dignity of Puerto Rican nationalists, the Ponce massacre, how the island and mainland are treated with the same brutality by those in power, the selling of the illusion of freedom.

The final segment of the book; The Birth of Shorty Bon Bon  45, realizes the death and rebirth of Shorty Bon Bon. Just like the poet himself, Shorty has died and is reborn anew. His transformation played out on a metaphoric 45 vinyl sides A and B.

Telling the story of one character throughout a book of poems is a risky proposition; a tool usually reserved for novelists and short story writers. But the persistence of a character among the sewn shards of language and colliding metaphors throughout Perdomo’s book, unifies the work and gives pause to the reader to ponder; is Shorty Bon Bon really Willie Perdomo?

The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon is a must read for anyone seeking a poetically visceral experience of what it is to be an amalgamation of things which, in the end is truly American.

________________________________________________

Nancy Mercado is a writer, editor and activist whose work appears in dozens of anthologies and literary journals. Most recently, she presented her work at Casa de las Americas in Cuba. Mercado is an Assistant Editor for eco-poetry.org and an Associate Professor at Boricua College in New York City. She authored the collection of poetry titled: It Concerns the Madness. For more information go to: http://www.pw.org/content/nancy_mercado 

Tribes announces..... Tribes 2.0- Live from Steve's couch

We are announcing Tribes 2.0: Live from Steve's Couch ---as a way to keep the old Tribes spirit alive  -- and keep a flow of new energy into the 6th St space. So Gander TV put in a camera and mic in 6th St for us.

The working dynamic here is that since Steve left 3rd St and the open door, every night a performance policy there, there has not been the kind of flow-through energy that sustained him and Tribes for a couple of decades. This is an attempt to find a way to find some new Tribes energy, to enter the digital world, and to have some fun with art.

You don't need to do anything different than what you always do here at Tribes, shoot the shit, heckle and read to the blind guy. The only thing that will be different is it'll be taped for people to watch live! (And there will be future events which we are in process of developing)

We will be setting up times and dates for people who want to participate. If you're interested please send us an email at gatheringofthetribes@gmail.com

Poems by Erika Simone

Writer/Poet:  Erika Simone

Bloom

Spring has ascended

from its annual resting place

as indicated by

popping bluebonnets

and plants leaning

into sunlight:

east then west

 

and up uP UP;

they close at nightfall,

roots expanding below

ground to soak up

sporadic showers

and the nitrogen

they call upon

for their own survival;

awaken at dawn, beside

sprouting hints of

verdant buds of

what-have-you.

 

The tackling of unwanted growth,

the labor, the struggle, gratifying:

 

snip prune groom bloom;

 

you lay down rocks for landscaping limits,

watching the movement of

orange-breasted robins laying eggs

high in the hovering pine tree

who fly down, then up, to feed.

 

bushy-tailed rodents gather to consume what

other birds’ feeding has dispersed

on the ground below the hanging feeder,

and run away, bellies satisfied;

 

one tries (unsuccessfully)

to defeat the garden barrier

to consume vines of

squash and melon,

and, foiled, jumps

kamikaze

from the top of the fence

to the next yard’s tree.

 

. . .

 

Three doors down,

sun is rising:

fresh adolescent hearts

break

to the sounds of

digital alarm clock beeps.

 

Sun sets,

and they

joke around like

ruffians from 1979,

fall off skateboards

at high speeds,

laugh off their injuries;

do it again the next day:

 

ride, fall,

break, laugh.

 

. . .

 

Next door, contractors work

into the evening

cleaning pool filters

and preparing decks for sun;

the sound of hammers

to nails

to wood

echoes down the block:

one, two, three,

twenty,

two hundred:

 

("Father, why 

have you 

forsaken 

me?”)

 

But oh,

"Daddy, 

daddy,

you 

bastard, 

I'm through.” 1

 

Removed, you listen,

conflicted by your

hammer’s

own song:

 

one, two, three,

thirty-three,

two hundred.

 

sun becomes hostile, browns

exposed skin and leaftips.

makeshift overhead sunshades

are put in place,

no wind to

fell their fragile frames.

late 90s Billboard hits

blast through cheap speakers,

and through fence;

 

you think,

“unfortunate taste.”

you think,

“why did they complain

about previous neighbors?”

and you think,

“well, tit for tat."

 

. . .

 

Still,

best neighborhood

as far as

neighborhoods go

and it’s yours,

your place in the sun;

your roots,

temporarily pinched,

now grasp through

layers of loam

for down-deep things

 

that will nourish in you

a blooming peace of mind:

 

reaching

east

                              then

 

west,

 

amidst this

popping,

growing,

consuming,

breaking,

laughing,

cleaning,

building,

browning,

blasting,

 

all of which

close up by nightfall and

awaken again

at dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1) Plath, Sylvia. "Daddy." The Collected Poems. New York: Harper & Row, 1981. N. pag. Print.

 

 

© erika simone 2014

Steve Cannon's poem in Live Mag! NYC

MAKE THE CUT

Listen to me What it is No goddamned excuses Yawn, yawn, yawn Ask for more Yeah, yeah, yeah Fuck that shit I said, “No…” Well, excuse me Back and forth Working out good The blue shirt Tell the truth With open arms

http://livemagnyc.com/about.html

_________________________Steve Cannon

 

 

Response to senior's murder recalls infamous case

Response to senior’s murder recalls infamous case

The Villager

BY GERARD FLYNN |   Although it has been 50 years since Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death near her Kew Gardens apartment, her brutal murder was evoked Monday evening at a vigil in the East Village, where another senseless act of violence recently took place.

Similar to the circumstances of Genovese’s death, Wen Hui Ruan — a retired garment factory worker, originally from China — was returning home alone at night Fri., May 9, when he was attacked on E. Sixth St. near Avenue D, just a block from his apartment.

A surveillance video shows his assailant approaching him from behind, then, in an extremely brutal attack, throwing the 68-year-old against a concrete wall, before viciously punching him once and stomping him three times on his head.

Ruan died the next day. Four days after the assault, on a tip, police arrested a local man, Jamie Pugh, 20, for the murder.

Provoking outrage among some in the community, however, the footage also shows passersby either witnessing the attack or its aftermath, but without offering assistance, as Ruan lies mortally injured.

Family members comforted Wen Hui Ran’s sobbing widow at the memorial. Photo by Gerard Flynn

Family members comforted Wen Hui Ran’s sobbing widow at the memorial. Photo by Gerard Flynn

Steve Cannon, the blind poet and longtime operator of A Gathering of the Tribes Gallery, was returning from dinner with friends and missed the attack by two minutes. He said he was appalled by what happened in the six minutes before police arrived.

After finally vacating his home / gallery in the former E. Third St. Tribes space due to an agreement with the landlord, Cannon recently moved to E. Sixth St. — right next to the spot of the murder. He sat at the vigil with Ruan’s family members, who sobbed uncontrollably, as well-wishers placed flowers before a makeshift shrine at the scene of the attack.

“By the time we got to the ramp he was coughing up blood,” Cannon recalled. He could barely contain his outrage as he recounted how a local woman, child in tow, screamed for assistance outside Cannon’s building, frantically ringing door bells, in vain. No one in his building came to her aid, or helped detectives in their follow-up investigation the next day.

“These mother f——- are so crazy they don’t know that s— can happen to them, too,” Cannon said.

Chinatown activist Karlin Chan also shared his indignation.

“This goes back to the Genovese murder,” he said. “This is a classic example. Maybe people didn’t want to get involved or were afraid, but at least you can go down the block and make an anonymous call to 911.”

Mourners were joined by local City Councilmembers Rosie Mendez and Margaret Chin and Borough President Gale Brewer.

Community board representatives were also present, as well as staff members for state Senators Daniel Squadron and Brad Hoylman.

Brewer, who lost a family member to violence, said she shared the councilmembers’ outrage over the shockingly violent assault.

Despite Chan’s claims that the attack’s ferocity suggests a racial motive, Mendez said she has no reason to believe that was, in fact, the case. It doesn’t necessarily mean area crime is increasing, either, she added.

“Violence happens and it happens here but it’s not happening on a daily basis,” she said.

Recalling how people saw the beating and walked on, Chin reminded everyone that such an attack “could happen to anyone.”

“Any violence in our community is our problem,” she stressed.

The Two- Character Play reviewed by Carl Watson

In the Cage of Our Own Making:

The Two-Character Play by Tenessee Williams

At 292 Theater

(292 E. Third, NYC, April 2014)

With Regina Bartkoff and Charles Schick. Directed by Romy Ashby.

 

The Two-Character Play (originally entitled Out Cry, 1971/1973) is a late play by Williams; it is also what we might call a meta-play, in contrast to his more famous tragi/romantic works. It is William’s version of a post-modern psycho drama—a play within a play within a life in which the characters are aware both of being in a play that seems to repeat itself, but also that the play is their life, and therefore they cannot escape it. They interact both as if they are on stage and as if they are not. They know the audience is there, or rather that the audience is possibly, perpetually arriving, but they are unsure if they should be concerned about it or not. (Sound familiar?) Despite being a departure from his normal style, The Two-Character Play is considered to be one of Williams’ most personal plays, with the characters Felice and Clare being somewhat based on Williams himself and his sister Rose, both of whom were at some time in their lives comitted to mental facilities. Therefore madness and confinement are part of the dramatic equation here.

 

The plot, such as it is, revolves round a brother and sister, Clare and Felice (played respectively by Regina Bartkoff and Charles Schick) living a reclusive life in their old family home, which is also “a decrepit state theater in an unknown state.” They are, of course, actors and believe themselves to be “on tour,” even though they never leave the house/theater. Felice and Clare can indeed seem “mad” as they argue constantly over their “confinement”—should they should leave the building? can they? and, more importantly, what has happened there that keeps them from leaving? This “what” is the murder/suicide of their parents, of which we never get a complete explanation. The brother’s and sister’s witness to, and possible participation in, this traumatic event serves as the elusive backdrop to their dilemma. Who is technically guilty in these deaths and/or why they happened, however, becomes less important than who feels the shame and guilt, and in this sense the idea of original sin makes its entrance, along with a whole slew of possible Oedipal concerns.

            The play may well be the thing here but the play is a mystery constructed around layers of theatricality and purposeful confusion. There is a performance scheduled, but it seems the producers have pulled out, so it is unclear whether the play is actually supposed to go on. The “two characters” seem to be unsure if they are performing the play or rehearsing it as we watch it. Or are they merely talking about it? In any case, they edit as they go, cutting parts and disagreeing about what parts they should cut or whether they indeed have cut anything (kind of like editing one’s memory). They argue about the props and what use they are and what they might signify. They argue about the audience. Is the audience merely the outside world, i.e. the world outside their enclosure, which is the house/theater they live in, or is it us? The Two-Character Play provides plenty of metaphysical and psychological grist for the analyst’s mill, with both Existential and Freudian overtones, as well as some philosophical commentary on “theater” itself—what is its purpose is and how it can be distorted? All of this keeps the viewer intrigued as they try to figure it out.

Back to the core of the story, which is the crime that took place once upon a time. The audience is led at first to believe that the father murdered the mother (for reasons unknown). But the children think they should spin the story so that the mother has murdered the father and they would therefore be eligible for an insurance payout (I missed the logic behind this figuring, but it doesn’t really matter). As the play progresses, who killed who grows more ambiguous, and it is also becomes possible that the children have something to do with the murder. They have the gun (stowed in the piano, under a print of the Holbein Christ). and it is sometimes used as a threat between them—an end to their misery.

The narrative tension of the play comes from the character’s need to get through the day/week/year, while planning their “production” and carrying this incredible burden of guilt that is never resolved. In any case, it is this increasingly complicated psychological web that keeps them trapped in the house. Consequently, the two characters have little to do but spin their wheels in an endless cycle of repetition. In fact, repetition itself could be considered a theme, or at least a source of therapy, grounding the characters in a comforting routine. I’ll return to this idea presently, but for now it is worthwhile to consider a couple of ways to look at this murder/suicide as the center of their paralyzing vortex.

1) The murder/suicide may be the product of incest or abuse, between the parents or between the parents and the children. These types of hidden family secrets are common undercurrents in Williams’ work. The audience wonders what exactly was the dynamic between the parents leading up to the event? Were the children involved? Was it self-defense, retaliation? We will never know, and may well be misguided in thinking along these lines. But the aura of incest is there and seems to color the brother/sister relationship. (I am reminded here of the movie Shame, 2011). Returning to the theme of repetition, it is worth noting here that trauma often has the psychological result of trapping its victims in repetitive cycles of either reliving the traumatic event or repeating an imagined “alternative” scenario—both of which can be considered forms of theater perhaps.

2) Another way to interpret the murder/suicide (which does not preclude the first) is in the realm of metaphysics—a metaphor for the death of God perhaps (or some form of ritual sacrifice). In a pious Southern context, such a loss of authority would leave the pair spinning meaninglessly through their repetitive lives. It may seem a stretch to go all cosmic on the plot like this but there are precedents to do so, and we will address those precedents soon. For now I wish to reiterate that we cannot escape the importance of the role of theater, and we can even think of its ritual re-enactments, and the double life it provides, as an answer to our existential dilemma. Theater establishes repeatable patterns for reality and in doing so it tames the obliterating nature of time, providing a semblance of mean ing in an absurd and meaningless void.

It helps to remember that The Two-Character Play arises out of the Post War Era, and a traumatized Western culture which has also recently gone through significant social upheaval. As a way of contextualizing the above-stated issues, and perhaps providing a framework by which to analyze The Two-Character Play (1973), I will now briefly examine some works that preceded Williams’ play and which treat similar themes: Sartre’s No Exit (1944), Becketts Waiting for Godot (1953), and Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel (1961). While I will not claim that there is a direct influence, these works all deal with issues (guilt, the possibility of murder, suicide, the impotence of religion, existential entrapment) that recur in The Two-Character Play. Indeed, Williams could hardly not know about these works; he even admits to an influence by Beckett in his later career.

No Exit dates from 1944, and this is the play about which Sartre famously said, “Hell is other people.” No Exit might easily be called “The Three-Character Play.”  Three characters, Joseph, Inès, and Estelle, who are dead, are introduced to a nicely appointed room in the afterlife where they expect to be punished for their previous sins but are in truth only confronted with each other. The play centers on the eventual confession each one makes as to their moral failings, all of which have to do with infidelity and the damage it causes. Joseph’s infidelity causes his wife to die of grief; Estelle’s infidelity leads to the murder of her child and the suicide of her husband; Inès’s infidelity causes her lover to murder her husband. When the three characters discover the door to the room is open and that they are free to leave, they cannot, as they still feel bound to justify themselves to the others. Not only are suicide and murder part of the characters’ past, but they become issues in the present. However, death is turned into a joke when Estelle stabs Inès and there is no result (as they are already dead). Then, in a parody of suicide, Inès even stabs herself producing fits of laughter amongst all three of them. They could kill themselves over and over again; it amounts to nothing but talk—there is indeed No Exit. We can easily see some of the themes we saw in The Two-Character Play as being prominent here: the hidden crime, the impotence of suicide, the inability to escape due to the need to justify one’s existence. Might as well pass the time arguing, as Joseph says: “Oh well, let’s continue . . .”

The second and perhaps more obvious possible influence on The Two-Character Play would be Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1953), wherein two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, live the same day over and over again waiting for someone named Godot to show up. If you believe, as most do, that Vladimir and Estragon are in fact waiting for an ineffectual God, or authority figure, we can see how this waiting is similar to Clare and Felice’s anticipation of an audience which would justify their existence as actors. And just as Felice and Clare confront the dilemma of to be or not to be in the play, the Godot characters are also aware of the theatricality of their plight. This is reflected in Pozzo’s and Lucky’s stagey “performances,” but also in Didi and Gogo’s subtle “awareness” of an audience (often more prominent in actual staged performances). Argument as an attempt to fill the endless time, is also a theme in Godot, as when Gogo says “That’s it, let’s abuse each other,” entreating Did to join him in a dialogue of insults which eventually peters out. Even the idea of some past unspeakable crime such as murder and suicide, is part of the Godot discussion, albeit on a fairly abstract level. The idea of murder comes into play when, early in the second half, Estragon accuses Vladimir of murdering “the other,” which quickly becomes the “others,” or all the others, the murder of humans in general. In Godot this could be a reference to the recent catastrophic World War, but it doubles as a reference to original sin, and not the sexual sin of Judeo Christian theology but the “sin” integral to all life—that it depends on death.

Albert Camus once claimed that suicide is the only real important question that an individual faces in life. In other words, faced with the meaninglessness of life, does one continue to live or not; it’s a choice each of us has to make. In Godot, Didi and Gogo challenge each other to end their misery by hanging themselves. In The Two-Character Play, the siblings challenge each other to end their misery with a gun.

In both cases the suicide does not happen. In Beckett, the characters use the flimsy excuse that they just don’t have the right equipment—no appropriate rope. Williams’ characters simply can’t do it. It’s worth noting that there is another similarity between these possible suicides. Clare and Felice would use the same gun that was used in the murder of their parents, therefore re-enacting the annihilation of authority/comfort that once structured their lives. In Godot, the two hobos would hang themselves from a tree, thus re-enacting the death of their God (Christ), a god who should have provided structure and comfort for their lives, and whom they have replaced with the ineffectual Godot. Beckett puts this Christianity front and center, but in Williams, if it is there, it is obscured.

Lastly I would briefly address Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel, which came out in 1961, roughly corresponding to the time that Williams began to work on The Two-Character Play. The plot of the film is a group of people who find they are unable to leave a dinner party at the lavish manor of their host, Señor Edmundo Nobile. There is no reason they can’t leave except that they seem to be trapped by their interactions with each other. Over time the party degenerates and more animal instincts come into play.  The guests become hungry and hostile, even murderous. One young couple, Béatriz and Eduardo, commit suicide in despair. It finally occurs to one of the guests, La Valkiria, that if they analyze their conversations and actions from when they first arrived, they may be able to free themselves. In other words, the trap is to be found in the development of their relationships, their need somehow to justify their existence to the others. The web that keeps them in bondage is their conversation and once these ties are exposed and unraveled they are able to leave and, in fact, they do leave. However, the fate accompli of repetition expresses itself when, in a similar situation, some of guests go to seek repentance for their sins in a local cathedral. Suddenly all the people in the cathedral realize, for some reason, that they are unable to leave. In effect, the situation at the Nobile manor is repeating itself; they might have left one enclosure but they are then trapped in another. Just like the endlessly repeating day of Vladimir and Estragon or Joseph, Inezs and Estelle; just like the repeating play of Clare and Felice—all the drama we produce is not only a trap, but it may well be a welcome one. Do we really want to escape? Is there even an existence outside of these traps?

While the other works discussed above share similar themes to Williams’ play, we can feel that they they may not be nearly as personal. They tend to be abstract meditations on the modern problems of human existence. What makes The Two-Character Play unique is the way Williams brings those psychological and existential issues close to the heart. He combines the cerebral with the personal, the architypal with the quotidian. The viewer cannot remain at a distance, as he or she is in the living room of the dilemma, feeling the anguish.  So while The Two Character Play may have been negatively received as too great a departure from the Williams’ ouevre, it is in fact of a piece with his other works, only with a different focus, a different perspective, something that all great artists strive for, if only in trying to understand themselves.

Bartkoff and Schick are obvious fans of Williams, especially little-know Williams, as evidenced by their 2012 production of In the Bar of A Tokyo Hotel, and they bring great passion and detail to the production. The Two-Character Play is seldom produced and Bartkoff and Schick are to be commended for bringing it to life. Thanks to Romy Ashby, Brandon Lim and Michael Aguirre, the excellent set design is appropriately surreal and claustrophobic—a perfect match for the play’s psychological landscape—and the audience sits so close they are implicated in the actor’s emotions. The walls are papered with magazine and newspaper clippings of the era, which gives the room an aura of psychotic nostalgia as well as lingering OCD. (Incidentally, the paintings on the wall are the works of the actors themselves.)

            I would be remiss here not to mention the comic elements in the play, a kind of self-aware absurdity, that the actors bring to life, fluidly switching between comedy, tragedy and psycho-drama. In this sense it is, like Godot, a tragi-comedy. Williams himself used the term “slapstick-tragedy” to refer to some of his later works. Both Bartkoff and Schick are comfortable and accomplished with comedy and so managing the shift between comedy and drama here is a feat they pull off effortlessly. My only comment on the acting (at least when I saw it) would be this: it could afford to slow down just a tad to draw out the weirdness and dreamlike qualities. I felt sometimes they were too caught up in a rapid fire dialogue. This was something the troupe was aware of and as the play ripened over the course of its run, the dialogue did slow down to a more natural pace

            That said, Charles Schick as Felice, channels various southern smarmy psycho cliches but he does it with a sense of self-aware, even self-mocking irony that makes Felice seem a thousand years old, while at the same time a child, and justifiably disengaged from this absurd situation he finds himself in.

Regina Bartkoff plays the traditional Williams role of the very breakable but potentially violent female albeit with a slightly manic energy balanced by a comic self-regard. She too has a kind of worldly been-though-this-a-few-times-before knowing smirk to her character. They both bring their characters a contemporary edge without sacrificing the Williams’ aura. It should also be mentioned that Bartkoff and Schick are a real life couple augmenting the aura of intimacy to this very intimate play.

The 292 Theater is everything the East Village used to be: scrappy, visionary, experimental and intimate. It is run by dedicated artists who love the work and do it “for art’s sake.” All in all, this is a truly exciting presentation of a play that is unustly obscure and we can only hope that this production leads to others

 

 

 

 

 

End

 

 

The Friends of Steve Cannon: A Evening of Poetry and Jazz In Celebration of A Gathering of the Tribes & An Incredible Man

The Friends of Steve Cannon: A Evening of Poetry and Jazz In Celebration of A Gathering of the Tribes & An Incredible Man A National Poetry / Jazz Appreciation Month Benefit for A Gathering of the Tribes

Hosted by Mariposa, Frank Perez & Sheila Maldonado

Featuring: Jesus-Papoleto Melendez, Melanie M. Goodreaux-Fielder,Stephanie Agosto, Dusty Rhodes, Ron Kolm, Danny Shot, Tsaurah Litzky, Bonafide Rojas, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Patricia Spears Jones, Paul Beatty, Eve Packer, David Henderson,Bob Holman, Sophie Malleret, Bonny Finberg, Howard Pflanzer, John Farris, Willie Perdomo, Anyssa Kim, Jill Rapaport, Thaddeus Rutkowski and others

Wed, April 23, 2014 @ The Nuyorican Poets Cafe 236 E. 3rd St. (Pedro Pietri Way) Bet Aves. B & C http://www.nuyorican.org/

Doors open 5:30pm Show 6pm - 9pm

ADMISSION: $20 at the door / $15 in Advance Students & Seniors $10

"Come hell or high water, Tribes will exist." - Steve Cannon

For more info: http://www.tribes.org/web/

Tribes, exuberant East Village arts space, faces eviction

BY SARAH FERGUSON  |  Last week, the Howl! Festival announced that it had selected blind poet and playwright Steve Cannon to be 2014’s poet laureate of the Lower East Side. But the news of this latest feather in Cannon’s cap is bittersweet, because he and his iconic E. Third St. gallery/performance salon, A Gathering of the Tribes, are now on the verge of losing their home.

According to the terms of a legal settlement with his landlord, Lorraine Zhang, both Cannon and Tribes — which has operated out of Cannon’s second-floor apartment since 1991 — have to get out by April 15.

While the 78-year-old Cannon has been battling to stave off eviction for the past three years, news of the finality of this legal agreement came as a shock to many of his supporters.

“It’s the deathknell of a generation. It’s the end of the free spirit of the anarcho-artist of the Lower East Side,” charged Bowery Poetry Club founder Bob Holman, who is on the board of Howl! “The era of the poets crashing on couches has been taken over by Airbnb. Tribes is the last holdout for the gallery/performance crash pad,” Holman opined.

But though he may have lost his legal fight with Zhang, Cannon says he’s not ready to quit holding out just yet. In a letter last month to supporters, Cannon once again pitched the idea of finding a “benevolent donor” to buy back the four-story row house at 285 E. Third St. and help convert it into an artists’ residence.

As the letter notes, Zhang, who purchased the property from Cannon for $950,000, is looking for a buyer — the property is currently listed online at $3.35 million.

“It would be a tragedy to lose our space in spite of such ongoing recognition of the services we provide as an arts incubator on the Lower East Side,” reads the Feb. 19 appeal. “We are one of last places left that nurtures young aspiring artists in all disciplines. Please help, or help pass the word. SAVE TRIBES!”

Among Tribes fans, there’s now talk of a Kickstarter campaign to muster funds, or even a last-ditch occupation to “fill the place with bodies” and so pre-empt the marshals from carrying off the blind professor (along with his myriad books and poetry zines).

“People should contact Steve, go by his house, the door is always open,” urges Holman.

It’s all pretty 11th hour, which is why Cannon concedes he’s simultaneously  looking for another apartment in the neighborhood where he might continue some scaled-down version of Tribes.

“I could keep the Web site and publish a few poetry books a year,”  he said. “That’s the backup plan. But, really, my hope is to find a way to stay here,” Cannon added, sunk into his living room couch where he has held court for decades.

Zhang declined to comment and referred all questions to her attorney, Steven Gee.

“We intend to enforce the litigation,” Gee told The Villager. “I hope he can relocate his organization. He should have been looking for a long period of time. There’s been plenty of notice.”

Cannon first purchased the crumbling row house back in 1970 for $35,000, using the royalties from his first novel, “Groove Bang and Jive Around.” In 1989, after his failing eyesight forced him to quit teaching at Medgar Evers College, Cannon began informally schooling young poets and writers on the stoop of his building, located just a block away from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and catty-corner to the old Living Theater.

That stoop workshop became the genesis for Tribes, which morphed into a literary magazine, art gallery, poetry salon, periodic performance venue and perpetual hangout.

Over the years, Tribes has received funding from the New York State Council of the Arts, the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the Andy Warhol Foundation and an abundance of private donors. In 2007, Mayor Bloomberg even issued a proclamation honoring Tribes for its role in hosting the East Village’s annual Charlie Parker Festival.

Nevertheless, Cannon fell into debt trying to sustain Tribes and maintain the dilapidated building. (A fire in 1990 had gutted the top floors, and Cannon’s former partner ran off with the insurance money, he claims.) Frustrated with trying to play landlord as a blind man, Cannon sold the building to Zhang in 2004, with an agreement that he be able to continue living there, and holding “non-for-profit” [sic] arts activities in his apartment and the back garden for another 10 years.

Cannon concedes it was a bad move to set a time limit on his and Tribes’ occupancy.

“I was just looking for a good person to run the building,” he explained. “I thought I would let her take over the building and I would just stay here, that’s all.”

The initial agreement allowed him to remain for five years at a rent of $1,000 per month, with the option to renew for another five years at $2,200 per month. So, even if he didn’t get into a court battle with Zhang, legally he only had the right to remain in his apartment until August 31, 2014.

Cannon says he realized he was in trouble in early 2011, when he found out that Zhang had listed the building for sale. Later that year, Zhang moved to evict Cannon, alleging that Cannon had never given proper notice of his intent to renew the second five-year term of his possession agreement, and that Tribes’ late-night gatherings were disturbing other tenants and neighbors.

Zhang also charged that Cannon’s use of his apartment for Tribes was illegal, citing a 2006 violation issued by the Department of Building, which claimed Cannon had converted his apartment into an “office and art gallery.” In fact, according to the city’s zoning laws, it’s legal to have a noncommercial arts space in one’s home under the so-called “home occupation” provision, as long that use does not exceed more than 500 square feet. (Whether the foot traffic or noise generated by Tribes’ at-times boisterous happenings would be permitted under that statute was never determined in court.)

Faced with a trial and the possibility of having to pay Zhang’s legal costs if he lost, Cannon’s attorney recommended he settle the case. Last year, Cannon agreed he and Tribes would leave by May 30, 2014. But the date got whittled back to April 15 after Zhang moved to take Cannon to court again for allegedly exceeding the number of public events allowed under the stipulation.

Zhang and her attorney declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

“The pleadings speak for themselves,” Gee told the Villager.

Indeed, Gee seemed exasperated by the continued uproar over Cannon’s loss of the space.

“He wasn’t supposed to occupy forever,” Gee pointed out. “There was an agreement all along that he would have to move out. Now we’re at the end of the agreement, it’s not fair for Mr. Cannon to say it’s unfair.

“If this case had gone to trial, he would have faced a shorter time. I don’t understand why now it’s such a big affair,” Gee added.

For his part, Cannon says he regrets not taking the case to trial to present his side of the story. He claims that Zhang’s real motive for getting him out is financial. He says Zhang got into hot water after she subdivided the building’s other three floors and began renting out the rooms to students and tourists. In 2009, she was cited by the Department of Buildings for operating a “transient hostel.”

“She put 33 beds in two small apartments,” charged poet Chavissa Woods, who was living in Cannon’s back room at the time. “There were dozens of people moving in and out at all hours, and then the place got infested with bed bugs. Steve was covered in bites, and the neighbors were complaining,” Wood claimed.

Gee declined to comment on any of these allegations.

The Buildings Department slapped Zhang with fines and issued a vacate order for the subdivided floors, leaving Cannon the only rent payer while Zhang worked to restore the other apartments to single-family residences.

City property records show Zhang has accrued substantial debt on the property.

Still, Cannon probably didn’t help his case by allowing young artists to continue to stage exuberant performances on both weeknights and weekends, some of which carried on into the wee hours. One neighbor forwarded a video she shot in 2011 from her back window showing a stripper flogging herself in the backyard while audience members seated on risers in the backyard hooted and hollered. Earlier this month, Cannon confessed he’d just let a group host a “Chinese punk art show” in his living room.

“It was funny as all hell,” he quipped.

In spite of such unorthodoxies, Cannon’s downstairs neighbor told The Villager he didnʼt mind  having Cannon and Tribes there.

“I can’t begrudge a blind guy for doing something interesting with his life,” said the resident, who asked not to be named. Similarly, the neighbor who sent the newspaper the video said the noise problems had subsided two years ago, and even offered to write a letter in support of Tribes.

According to supporters, the real problem is that Tribes’ freewheeling existence clashes with the now-gentrified norms of the far East Village.

“Maybe we don’t really have a great legal defense, but what we have is an artistic, and very human defense,” Woods insisted. “Steve is preserving what’s been happening down here since the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, and now people are complaining about that. When people say we’re crazy, well, O.K., but that’s what made this neighborhood so valuable in the first place.”

http://thevillager.com/2014/03/20/tribes-exuberant-east-village-arts-space-faces-eviction/

STEVE CANNON NAMED POET LAUREATE OF THE LOWER EAST SIDE

PLOTLES PR.031014

PRESS  RELEASE

10 March 2014

Beloved Wordsmith and Living Treasure Honored

howl festivalPhoto: "Steve Cannon On The Couch" © 2014 by Eugene Hyon.

STEVE CANNON NAMED POET LAUREATE OF THE  LOWER EAST SIDE HOWL! Arts Inc. is pleased to announce that Steve Cannon—Writer, Poet, Playwright, Teacher, and Sage—has been named 2014’s Poet Laureate of the Lower East Side (PLOTLES). Cannon will be featured at the signature Allen Ginsberg Poetry Reading that opens the HOWL! Festival on Friday, MAY 30.   HOWL! Festival will take place in Tompkins Square Park Fri-Sun, May 30, 31 and June 1, 2014. Visit howlfestival.com. Cannon’s work and life is part and parcel of the neighborhood. Founder of A Gathering of the Tribes, the iconic East Village Gallery and Performance  space, Cannon has been a local legend and East Village treasure for more  than twenty years.  Mentor and magnet to young poets and seasoned. Bards alike, his residence as salon has provided a nurturing forum for art exhibitions, poetry readings, musical events, and other  activities which showcase the East Village’s cultural history, energy, and grit.  For more on Steve’s remarkable life.

“Steve Cannon is the only admittedly blind gallery owner  in New York City, as well as the only Paid Heckler in town,” says Dean of the Scene Bob Holman, founder/proprietor of the Bowery Poetry Club and board member  of HOWL!. “When you walk into his gallery aka his living room, you know this is the secret  portal to the real Art World—as open, creative, wild, and outside the establishment as it's been since the days of the Beat poets and Abstract Expressionist painters.”

But as the neighborhood changes, artists and creative spaces are being displaced by rising rents and gentrification. “This is a call to arms,” says Holman, as Mr. Cannon is being threatened with eviction from his residence  and Tribes as an incubator of visual and performing artists may be shuttered. To help out, contact Tribes Here.

About Tribes

Tribes was conceived as a venue for underexposed artists, as well as a networking center and locus for the development  of new talent. The formation of Tribes was motivated by the thriving artistic community in and around the Lower East Side: poetry  at The Nuyorican Poets Café; performances and plays at the Living Theater; activist art at Bullet Space; as well as hundreds of artists trying to find and develop a voice in their medium and a place in which their work might be appreciated. Housed in a historic federal house built by the founder of The Nation magazine, (Hamilton Fish), Tribes is located on East 3rd Street  between  Avenues C and D.

About HOWL! Festival

Founded “to lionize, preserve,  and advance the art, history, culture, and counterculture unique to the East Village and Lower East Side,” the HOWL! Festival is a call to arms across time and boundaries of culture, taste, and creative expression. Named the Village Voice’s Best Outdoor Festival, HOWL! Festival is the quintessential community event celebrating the history and creativity of the EV/LES. The spirit of Allen Ginsberg comes alive as more  than 350 artists, poets, and performers, including youthful new talent, transform the Park into a participatory artwork  infused with the creative energy, flamboyance, and panache that’s the hallmark of the neighborhood. A three-ring circus of wonderment and amusement, HOWL! Festival is entirely FREE. Signature Events include:

•   The Great  HOWL! OUT LOUD Kids Carnival

•   Art Around the Park and Kids Around the Park

•   The group reading of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl

•   Riki Colon’s Men in Skirts

•   Chi Chi Valenti and Johnny Dynell’s Low Life 8

•   Soap Box Poets

•   The Beatification Station featuring dance and theater

•   And continuous performances on the Main and Kids Stages

 

X            X            X            X            X

For further information, high resolution images, interviews contact MartinMPR Susan Martin / 505 685 4664 /  susan@martinmpr.com or Norma  Kelly / 818 395-1342 / norma@martimmpr.com

SAVE TRIBES! For Immediate Release!!!

2/19/2104

From: Steve Cannon Director of A Gathering of the Tribes

SUBJECT: Help us turn 285 E. 3rd St into a non-for-profit arts residence !
!Dear Friends:

As you may already know, our landlord Lorraine Zhang has put 285 E. 3rd St. on the market, and has taken Steve Cannon to court for what she asserts is an unlawful use of the premises. As a result, we are now subject to a legally binding agreement to leave by April 15.

We are reaching out to you now with an urgent appeal to avert the displacement of Cannon and the dissolution of this internationally recognized arts space.

A Gathering of the Tribes was founded in 1990 here at 285 E. 3rd Street. We are a 501 C3 and have received funding support from the New York State Council of the Arts, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, Jerome Foundation, Andy Warhol Foundation, Bloomberg LP, as well as an abundance of private donors.

Our literary magazine, which is published annually, is distributed to museums, schools and libraries worldwide. Our gallery space showcases both seasoned and emerging artists from across the US, as well as Russia, India, China, Africa and beyond. We host an average of 10 exhibitions per year, in addition to the annual Charlie Parker Festival in August. Fly By Night Press, our publishing arm, publishes poetry by writers from diverse backgrounds. Tribes also sponsors and hosts music and dance performances, poetry readings, lectures, forums, open mic’s, and other happenings. We have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, literary magazines, art journals and numerous local and international publications.

Because we’ve been established for close to 25 years and have made the East Village our home, we would like to continue to operate here and offer a base of support and community for artists in our neighborhood.

This is why we need your help. Tribes is in search of a benevolent donor to purchase this property on behalf of our 501 C3. We plan on continuing and expanding our activities on the second floor as described above (gallery, poetry and performance salon, publishing magazine bi-annually, as well as 2 to 4 books per year). And we would like to convert the rest of the building to residences for poets, writers, musicians, and artists of all stripes. Our plan is to partner with foundations, schools or other institutions that can provide stipends to artists to reside here for 3-6 months, up to 1 year periods of time. We will continue offering internships through local universities to young artists, who can get involved in our programming and be mentored by the artists we house.

In order to manage such an operation, we would expand our staff to include at minimum a full-time office manager, grant writer, program coordinator, online editor and maintenance staff.

[The cost of running this building is relatively low. Fuel is approx. $10,000 per year (heat and hot water), insurance is approx. $5,000 per year, and real estate taxes are just $3620 per year. That’s a total of $18,620 annually. ]

There are many possibilities for how Tribes can thrive and grow—including leasing floors to groups that could fund such artist residences. We are open to any and all kinds of creative financing. At this point what we need is to secure the building.

If you are interested in buying the building or donating to a fund to purchase the building, please get in touch. We have exhausted our legal appeals, so we either need to find someone(s) to purchase the property or get out.

This year, the HOWL! Festival will honor Steve Cannon by naming him the poet laureate of the Lower East Side. There is even now a Two Boots pizza named after A Gathering of the Tribes.

It would be a tragedy to lose our space in spite of such ongoing recognition of the services we provide as an arts incubator on the Lower East Side. We are one of last places left that nurtures young aspiring artists in all disciplines. Please help, or help pass the word. SAVE TRIBES!

Thank you for your careful consideration of this matter. If you would like further information about the property or any details of our legal situation, please do not hesitate to call.

Sincerely,

Steve Cannon Director, A Gathering of the Tribes aka the Blind Guy

Carl Watson reviews Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge

Clicking into the abyss

Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge

 

Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel,Bleeding Edge, could be described as a mixture of cyberpunk, yenta detective fiction,New York self-admiration/mockery, and good old Pynchonesque conspiracy/paranoia.Set between the 90s dotcom collapse and the September 11 aftermath, the novel portrays a kind of privileged hyper-connected Upper West Side life; it’s a techno-noir complete with ambiguous bad guys, compromised good guys, numerous facilitators and walk-ons with various agendas and a general air of what the hell is going on and who is in control?The answer to the last question may well be nobody at all. The number of characters is just large enough to make it difficult to keep track of.*  Significant people keep reappearing to re-establish their place in the plot, but due to the story’s length and complexity you often can’t remember what their role originally was. That’s okay though because what’s important may only be this confusion, that and the fact that you, the reader, remain caught up in the flowof ramifying possibilities.Pynchon piles on layers of possible meanings and branching narrative lines as the plot moves forward, promising intrigue, laughs, critical insight, etc., most of which is delivered in abundance.

It might be said that many of the characters confirm a criticism that is often leveled at Pynchon: that his novels are peopled byrather shallow cartoons,twisted stereotypesin extremis.  We might also say his characters are merelyhyper-real, overdone on the surface, even if psychologically underdone.This is not to say that Pynchon’s people don’t have real-life problems, peccadillos, fetishes, etc., but that such indications of depthoften seem to serve only as markers of authenticity in an increasingly inauthentic mediatedmilieu. It’s also true that whether you believe in them or not is probably unimportant. In Pynchon’s universe they are merely signsof the post-modern human condition, where late capitalism’s vaunted “individuals” (read “consumers”) have basically evolved into a form of the very media they have created and within which they thrive. Allthis goes along with the author’s general tendency to privilege surface over depth, i.e., there isn’t anything but surface, and depth is an illusion, a human construction, a matter of computation, either of the computational brain or some other machine, say the machine of the media brain.  All those complexities of character that people value so much inold-time literature are really nothing more than the reactions of biological bags of chemicals reacting to their chemical environment. This may seem a mordantnote, but from this reviewerit’s meant as a compliment.

That said, a partial list of important characters in Bleeding Edge goes like this:

Maxine Tarnoff is a late30ish-40ish something protagonist, living on the Upper West Side where she runs a fraud-hunting agency, called “Tail ‘em and Nail ‘em,” that often has dealings with the various overblown tech companies of the era. Maxinemight be considered a kind of Jewish Marlowe, if Marlowe knoshed at a Broadway Deli and had to escort kids to their liberal private Montessori-like school, Kugelblitz.Yes, Maxine has two sons,with the appropriate hipster names of Ziggy and Otis, and they, like all New York kids from the Upper West Side, are wise beyond their years. She also has an ex-husband Horst Loeffler, who is not exactly out of her life. Horst is a Midwestern transplant, a cliché that is used as relief to show off the cleverness and sophistication of the New Yorkers around him.He moves slower, or at least more deliberately, is less frantic than the others, and apparently likes sports and the outdoors. Described as“A fourth generation product of the US Midwest, emotional as a grain elevator, fatally alluring as a Harley knucklehead, indispensible (God help her) as an authentic Maid-rite when hunger sets in.” That last comment lets you know thatHorst also serves as practical ballast to Maxine’s frenetic life.Maxine’s sister, Brooke, is married to the LikudnikAviDeschler, who if not directly involved in the current plot of the novel may well be involved in some other bit of international intrigue.

March Kelleher, Maxine’s friend, is often an aid in her investigations, but also seems to be caught up in clichéd 20th century forms of conspiracy theory that are inadequate to her era, mostly because they depend on agents who actually have agency, and many people in this book seem to be more like puppets to a technological or capitalist mind that operates far beyond their ability to understand it. March’s daughter Tallis, happens to be in a southbound marriage to one Gabriel Ice, a Bond-like villain/mogul and the brains behind hashslingerz, a super-powerful and somewhat secretive internet company. Hashslingerz’s actual activities are foggy at best, but there is no doubt that through his corporate vehicle Ice is making a bid for internet and telecommunications dominance, both via plain thuggery and by buying up all the bandwidth and infrastructure that he can get, as hereadies his profit margins for the coming techno surge of humanity. Gabriel Ice may be apossible government fixer, but he is also an untouchable Oz, as we know about him only by rumor and hearsay. When he does show up in person, he’s kind of an arrogant dork.

There are other entertaining characters such as Igor, Misha and Grisha, a triumvirate of Russian gangsters who seem to be unallied in terms of the various competing powers. They can be dangerous and bumbling at the same time, and they are both allies and enemies of Maxine; she’s never sure which, and she may even be working for them. There is the foot fetishist, Eric Jeffrey Outfield, a super computer nerd,who Maxine masturbates with her feet after picking him up in a Queens strip bar, where she has posed as a dancer specifically to find him. Eric will be first to take her into the Deep Web. There is Conkling Speedwell, a professional nose who has built an olfactory smell detector of some small importance. Justin and Lucas are California techno-geeks who have invented the webspace called DeepArcher which lives in the Deep Web, and which plays a significant role that will be discussed later in the review. These are just some of the players in this rolling serious farcical who-dun-what.

Given the cast and temperament of the characters, there is much to suggest conspiracy, in the best Pynchon fashion. Things grow increasingly sinister as the threads seem to tighten around an actual plot or revelation. This plot, or rather Maxine’s part in it, begins with the discovery that someone has been syphoning a lot of money out of the hashslingerz revenue stream and Mr. Ice does not take kindly to such actions. A certain Lester Traipse ends up dead gazing up from beneath the pool floor of The Deseret, a ritzy, if sinister,west-side apartment building where Maxine and others take recreational swims. Maxine is sort of hired, or not, to unravel all this.Ice of course is a suspect, but he would never pull a trigger himself and one possible finger-man is Nicholas (Dust in the Wind) Windust, agovernment hit man or fixer who remains rather mysterious throughout, in fact mysterious enough to arouse Maxine’s libido, so that she ends up doing him doggie style in a ratty, west-side safe house, where they conduct a supposedly info-sharing rendezvous.Of course this leads to further intrigues, part of which have to do with a secret DVD video of anonymous individuals manipulating rocket launchers on top of that same building. The DVD is delivered by Marvin, the mystical Rastafarian messenger, who always has very significant deliveries to make to Maxine and which seem to come only from anonymous sources.

 

All this culprit-chasingplays out in the landscape of New York City, and Bleeding Edge is definitely a targeted NYC-centric novel. Everyone goes to therapists. Maxine goes to an emo-therapist named Shawn, who himself goes to a therapist that specializes in therapist therapy. Everyone in the book is also quite quick on the conversational draw,barely waiting for the end of a sentence before they fire back a knowing and pertinent response, often so larded with cultural references that you might miss the wit, were you not as clued in as they are.Indeed we all know people who do speak or attempt to speak in this way, tying themselves into the pop-cultural universe as a means of self-validation. In Bleeding Edge, people toss such references back and forth as if creating a language of exclusion against those not entranced with the product and entertainment world in which they are ensconced. It’s also true that everyone seems to know way too much for their own good, as they say, and whether or not Pynchon means this as irony, comedy, criticism, or sarcasm even,is for the reader to decide.But this again is a typical Pynchonesque surface affectation posing as depth.

I like to think the knowing banter is meant to indicate a hyper-sophistication reminiscent of those wisecracking old George Cukor movies such as The Philadelphia Story orHis Girl Friday. If you took a Cukor script and updated it to include a great deal of techno-speak and contemporary cultural/product references you would be approaching Pynchon’s style here. With lines like “I thought you loved me for my psychosexual profile,” or “Enough dress code violation to get thrown off the L train,” it makes for great reading if not necessarily realistic human portraits.It might be said that one problem with this type of dialogue is that everyone sort of sounds the same and because Pynchon often fails to provide speaker attribution in the long pages of dialogue it is easy to get lost and discover you don’t know who is talking to whom. Again, this may well be on purpose. It is worthwhile noting here, that Pynchon sometimes tries to write in dialect, or street, generally to poor effect.

While I have been claiming that New York is in some sense a character in this book (in reality no other place exists, except California—another nod to the NYC mindset), it is also important to reiterate that this is a particular New York, that of the turn of the millennium with its attendant events, includingthe dubious Wall Street machinations, the dotcom bubble and bust and the looming shadow of the yet-to-occur September 11. Silicon Alley has crashed and most of these characters are rooting around in the detritus, remembering the elaborate parties and the various highs of money, drugs and sex. Indeed, the glory days of Silicon Alley before the downfall is one of the running themes throughout the conversations of Maxine’s crowd, who were all caught up in the flow of positive futures and the endless web-based possibilities for making huge quantities of money. Web moguls and telecommunications entrepreneurs like Gabriel Ice are the kingpins of this circle, drinking and coking in the clubs with seemingly few consequences while utterly failing to see the collapse right around the corner.What accompanies this period of decline is a sinister sense of foreboding, of things being out of control. Not that the dotcom bust was engineered by mysterious powers, but that there was never any control to begin with. But there’s more to this air of menace than mere economic chaos or social decadence, and this brings us to the looming event that shadows the entire novel—9/11.

Given the time setting of autumn 2001, the reader has a particular advantage over the characters, anticipating something, which the characters can’t see. Thus so much of the suspicion/conspiracy atmosphere that surrounds the doings of Gabriel Ice, Windust, the Russians, and even to a degree the program Deep Archer plays directly to the reader’s special knowledge. To say this is a book about 9/11 though would be misleading. The actual event is emphasized less than the way it affects everyone’s life. Pynchon captures well the eeriness of the following days and weeks: the seeming distortions of time and other physical laws, along withthe disorientation many of us felt in our normal environments. 9/11 also allows the author to tie the dubious dealings of these numerous characters, the various ideas and paranoid theories into larger geo-political issues. Maxine and her friends immediately assume, of course, that there is more to know about the attack than is being told, as they circle through many of the now common conspiracy theories, all of which are put forward only to fall into a blasé pool of maybe, maybe-not, and maybe-it-doesn’t-matter.  Remember the rockets launchers on the roof of the safe house?  Is Ari, with his Mossad connections, somehow involved?The information economy is often questioned—is there just too much of it, so that the significance of every message unit is depleted and nothing means anything? Is that how this happened? At one point even 90s-style irony is blamed, Heidi, Maxine’s friend, writes in the Journal of Memespace Cartography, “As if somehow irony, as practiced by a giggling mincing fifth column, actually brought on the events of 11 September, by keeping the country insufficiently serious—weakening its grip upon ‘reality.’”

 

Critics have made note of two important pervasive qualities of Pynchon’s fiction:1) a ludic or humorous undertone that serves as a kind of reflection on, or manifestation of, the great joke of the universe, and 2) the elevation of paranoia to a creative, indeed, almost spiritual state of mind.Both are offered as solutions or perhaps palliatives to the post-modern human condition. Faced with the inscrutable complexity of the world, we humans may have no other alternative but to adopt a vaudevillian comic ethos that grants us parity with the grand laughter;we might as well join the joke, so to speak.Pynchon’s books also revolve around paranoia as a creative force, or as Reg Despard says, “paranoia’s the garlic in life’s kitchen.” It is something capable of both intensely focusing the mind as well as providing the cutting edge by which we might endlessly divide certainty from itself or reality from desire. In that sense paranoia produces ever-increasing fragmented sub-realities thus actually enlarging our world. We can think of it as a psycho-socialprocess of atomization, and that leads us to the book’s title and underlying theme—that of the Bleeding Edge.The phrase “bleeding edge,” according to Lucas, one of the designers of Deep Archer, refers to technology that has, “No proven use, high risk, something only early adoption addicts feel comfortable with.” The bleeding edge may call into question the purpose of human endeavors, a pertinent theme within Pynchon’s oeuvre, but in this book the author is using the term in a much larger metaphysical sense, something like an infection of quotidian life and communication where information can be manipulated to mean anything, which is the same as nothing at all, which may well be liberating in the end. So I will end this review with some of the possible ways we can read the “bleeding edge” of the text.

 

One manifestation of the bleeding edge is that of social uncertainty and moral compromise. Every character of consequence has some ambiguity attached to their actions. If there appears to be a general acceptance that things are not what they seem in the event world, it is also true in the world of personality, as most of the characters are not who they seem. We never really learn who they actually are, perhaps half physical agent and half rumor self-assembled out of gossip and media. Their roles are ultimately difficult to pin down.Who works for whom? What is anyone’s real job? Their marriages are all in some state of dissolving or reforming. Their companies and jobs are all in a state of flux. Take Maxine, for instance, who may or may not still be with her husband; unlike her hard-boiled fictional brethren, who often adhered to individualistic moral codes, she is no such knight.It’s hard to say she’s in the business for money because she never seems to actually receive any. She doesn’t solicit the jobs she gets in the novel, and she is never actually contracted to do them, she just sort of ends up as everybody’s agent of discovery. While middle-class, she is definitely attracted to the bad element, especially sexually, but also intellectually. She doesn’t seem to mind humiliating herself for an alliance. She wields a gun to excellent effect when she needs to, despite seeming to have little experience with it. She knows how to be where she needs to be even though it often seems like an accident that she gets there. Gabriel Ice is another example—an internet mogul who may be working with the government or may be working against it. He is either being investigated or he is running the investigation.

The characters are all in some wayindeterminate because their environment is. Part of this is undoubtedly something to do with obscene wealth and its manipulation of public and private morality. And while money affects business and personal morals it also changes the landscape itself, as March Kelleher says: “Between the scumbag landlords and the scumbag developers, nothing in this city will ever stand at the same address for even five years, name me a building you love, someday soon it will either be a stack of high end chain stores or condos for yups with more money than brains.” Another environmental cause of indeterminacy has to do with the nature of mediated existence as it ruthlessly fragments and reproduces infinitely iterated forms of information.Bleeding Edge may be a detective novel, but for all the leads or evidence that come Maxine’s way, or anybody’s for that matter, it’s impossible to pin anything down. Facts move around like electrons through cyberspace, they can be steered into accounts of the truth or into false scenarios, just as money is steered into various bank accounts.The line between puppetry and agency is increasingly blurred. Eventually most of the characters are contentto just go home, if they can determine where that is. One is reminded of what Jack Ruby said in the aftermath of the Oswald shooting: “The world will never know the true facts of what occurred.”

 

Another of the obvious bleeding edges is the frontierthat lies between physical meatspace life and virtual webspace.Webspace, the new, superior reality, is fluid and hallucinogenic, to a degree that seems somewhat prescientgiven the time setting of 2001.Maxine is introduced at some point to what is called the Deep Web, the web under the surface web that most user/novices know. One might see the Deep Web as a possible stand-in for thesubconscious but it’s not really, although it can be quite dreamlike. Within the Deep Web runs the program or webspace or game known as Deep Archer, which can be accessed by those in the know(or ultimately by hackers). Deep Archer is a mystery wrapped in an enigma: it seems to have no goal or point to it. It’s designers claim it is a sanctuary and possibly a landscape for spiritual quest, but if it is, it is also a space subsumed to late capitalism and its unstoppable insidious crawl. After agonizing over whether to go full-blown capitalist and sell for billions, the creators, Justin and Lucas, take the nobler path of going open source, only to find that Deep Archer, once out of their control, sadly capitalizes itself, becoming a kind of Times Square buried deep in the Deep Web like a virtual Atlantis. Certainly it is the “place” where meatspace bodies become avatars and where they can interrelate in disembodied way. But it is also the location of the final bleeding edge, where even the avatars eventually find themselves standing at the lip of a digital abyss that does not, nor cannot, resolve itself into a meaningful goal, where form gives way to chaos and reality leaks out into endless plurality—either that or nothing.

Maxine goes to the Archer for answers but also for sanctuary.Out there (or rather in there) she converses with an avatar, who claims to be on a mission to the edge of the universe, but who is also pissed off about the commercialization overtaking the space:

All these know-nothings coming in, putting in, it’s as bad as the surface Web. They drive you deeper, into the deep unlighted.  Beyond anyplace they’d be comfortable.  And that’s where the origin is. The way a powerful telescope will bring you further out in physical space, closer to the moment of the big bang, so here, going deeper, you approach the border country, the edge of the un-navigable, the region of no information.

 

What she’s talking about is the fact of being driven out and to the furthest edges of her digital Eden, driven out of her sanctuary by the craven masses and that there may be some positive result to such a flight. The idea, that one can plumb the digital depths, or as one character puts it, “douse the Void,” until you reach the end of information is repeated numerous times in the novel when the subject of Deep Archer comes up. Indeed, the object of the Archer may be precisely to arrive at this ambiguous frontier of space/time. As one avatar puts it: “the edge of the great abyss . . . far from an absence, it is a darkness pulsating with whatever light was before light was invented.”  Maxine, in one of her explorations, finds herself watching, “the unfolding flow of the starscape, Kabalistic vessels smashed at the creation into all these bright drops of light, rushing out from the singular point that gave them birth, known elsewhere as the expanding universe.”It is interesting here how Pynchon has linked light to information and that there is in fact an information horizon that we can (hope to?) reach, be it via outer or inner space, a frontier where we can look over and find peace from all the enmity that definition and categorization brings.  This light could be said to be literally nothing but pure potential, but it is also a place to escape to, which is why so many of the characters seem to find themselves searching for it.  As one avatar asks herself, “how long I can stay just at the edge of the beginning before the Word, see how long I can gaze in till I get vertigo—lovesick, nauseous, whatever—and fall in.”

Pynchon seems to be saying that what awaits us is not necessarily the apocalypse of terrorism, but a kind of existential wasteland of ambiguous meanings, where we will each eventually find ourselves as if we arrived at the furthermost regions of the codeable universe, gazing into a void of reality. This may be a good thing if we arrive there by choice.  Or it may be forced upon us as a form of annihilation, because the wasteland will eventually impose itself on surface reality.  This is probably the most pertinent and possibly frightening message the book has to offer.

 

end

 

* For a guide to the characters see: http://bleedingedge.pynchonwiki.com/wiki/index.php?title=H

 

 

 

***************