Monthly Archives: October 2012


I hate every name that describes what I love. Cin­e­ma. Maybe it’s that final “ma” syl­la­ble (just like dra­ma) but I sound like a douche every time I try to use it seri­ous­ly. Plus it’s one of those names for inex­plic­a­ble things that comes through the util­i­ty door : the ear­li­est machines that both record­ed and pro­ject­ed the mov­ing images were called cin­e­matographs. Lat­er, the halls and the­aters where they were exhib­it­ed were referred to as cin­e­mas. And of course, the law of lin­guis­tic metas­ta­sis requires that even­tu­al­ly such a name will become the short­hand for the entire experience.

Film. Ugh. You can almost imag­ine where this one came from — “I loved watch­ing your mag­i­cal light show. But how did you con­jure it?”

I ran a bunch of pho­tographs strung togeth­er fast enough to cre­ate the illu­sion of motion.”

Hot shit. But how did you get it on the wall ? I thought pho­tographs were opaque.”

Yup­pers. Instead of paper I used trans­par­ent cel­lu­loid with a thin film of sil­ver emul­sion that allows images to be pro­ject­ed with a light source.”

What the…? You made mag­ic with a film?”

Okay, sure.”

Sick. Got any films with asso­cia­tive dialec­ti­cal mon­tages that resem­ble Marxist/Hegelian philoso­phies enough to claim a new rev­o­lu­tion­ary art form ? Or, if not, any films with naked girls?”

I’ll check.”

Using the word film to describe the art form is like call­ing nov­els pages or paint­ings can­vas­es. And film­mak­er ? Even the teenagers mak­ing lattes at Star­bucks have cool­er names than that. Then there’s the word I use the most : movies. It’s corny and grace­less, and it cre­ates a false dif­fer­ence between films and movies. But the one thing it has going for it is accu­ra­cy. As Dieter said to Eddie Mun­ster on Sprock­ets, “Susan Son­tag said that cin­e­ma lies at 24 frames a sec­ond, Eddie. Any com­ments?” Movies are still images sep­a­rat­ed by dark­ness, mov­ing fast enough to fool the brain into per­ceiv­ing motion. Does it mat­ter ? Prob­a­bly not.

Except wait, it does. Con­tin­ue read­ing

Quitting the Paint Store

This is an essay I read years ago in Harper’s Mag­a­zine. It’s hard to find now, but I kept it online. Our cul­ture val­ues orga­ni­za­tion, effi­cien­cy, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, and hard work. This essay speaks to that sad condition.


On the virtues of idleness

By Mark Slouka

Harper’s Mag­a­zine – Novem­ber 2004 issue

I dis­trust the per­pet­u­al­ly busy ; always have. The fre­net­ic ones spin­ning in tight lit­tle cir­cles like poi­soned rats. The slow­er ones, grind­ing away their fourscore and ten in right­eous­ness and pain. They are the soul-eaters.

When I was young, my par­ents read me Aesop’s fable of “The Ant and the Grasshop­per,” where­in, as every­one knows, the grasshop­per spends the sum­mer mak­ing music in the sun while the ant toils with his fel­low formi­ci­dae. Inevitably, win­ter comes, as win­ters will, and the grasshop­per, who has­n’t planned ahead and who does­n’t know what a 401K is, has run out of luck. When he shows up at the ants’ door, car­ry­ing his fid­dle, the ant asks him what he was doing all year : “I was singing, if you please,” the grasshop­per replies, or some­thing to that effect. “You were singing?” says the ant. “Well, then, go and sing.” And per­haps because I sensed, even then, that fate would some­day find me hold­ing a vio­lin or a man­u­script at the door of the ants, my anten­nae frozen and my hills over­due, I con­found­ed both Aesop and my well-mean­ing par­ents, and bore away the wrong moral. That sum­mer, many a wind­blown grasshop­per was saved from the pond, and many an anthill inun­dat­ed under the gold­en rain of my pee.

I was right.

In the life­time that has passed since Calvin Coolidge gave his speech to the Amer­i­can Soci­ety of News­pa­per Edi­tors in which he famous­ly pro­claimed that “the chief busi­ness of the Amer­i­can peo­ple is busi­ness,” the domin­ion of the ants has grown enor­mous­ly. Look about : The busi­ness of busi­ness is every­where and inescapable ; the song of the buy­ers and the sell­ers nev­er stops ; the term “worka­holic” has been fold­ed up and put away. We have no time for our friends or our fam­i­lies, no time to think or to make a meal. We’re mov­ing prod­uct, while the soul drowns like a cat in a well. (“I think that there is far too much work done in the world,” Bertrand Rus­sell observed in his famous 1932 essay “In Praise of Idle­ness,” adding that he hoped to “start a cam­paign to induce good young men to do noth­ing.” He failed. A year lat­er, Nation­al Social­ism, with its cult of work [think of all those bronzed young men in Leni Riefen­stahl’s Tri­umph of the Will throw­ing cord­wood to each oth­er in the sun], flared in Ger­many.) Con­tin­ue read­ing

The Rhizoid Amanuensis

When I first was thrown up against the the inter­net, I was in grad­u­ate school at USC in 1993. Stu­dents were giv­en elec­tron­ic mail accounts, though none of us actu­al­ly used them. I rarely sent nor­mal mail, and I could­n’t under­stand how doing it dig­i­tal­ly would make it any more palat­able. I for­get the par­tic­u­lars, but there was also a way to access an ear­ly ver­sion of the Mosa­ic brows­er, but again, I don’t remem­ber much that you could do with it oth­er than access the depart­men­t’s phone num­bers and office hours. The 300 baud modem I had attached to my Mac Plus did­n’t add any juice to the idea.

I’ve nev­er been a futur­ist, because I think nest­ed with­in that idea is a sort of unbri­dled opti­mism, and that’s some­thing I’m more sus­pi­cious of than prone to, but I could dim­ly under­stand the promise smarter peo­ple saw in the dis­sem­i­na­tion of inter­net access. Peo­ple like me, writ­ers, artists, musi­cians, would no longer have to cre­ate in iso­la­tion. We would be able to con­nect with each oth­er ; work could become com­mon to all of us, and each per­son would become an author of every work, a sort of rhi­zoid amanuensis.

I do remem­ber one of the first web­sites I stum­bled across though. It was a col­lec­tion of vorarephil­ia fic­tion and art called some­thing like Swal­lowed by a Whale. I read sev­er­al sto­ries that all cen­tered around the extreme plea­sure of either swal­low­ing some­one whole or being swal­lowed whole by anoth­er. My mem­o­ry is famous­ly spot­ty, so for these sto­ries to be still so vivid today indi­cates how deeply they were scarred into my cor­tex. I did­n’t real­ize it at the time, but that was already the begin­ning of the end of the promise of the inter­net and the begin­ning of some­thing much more famil­iar and disappointing.

Today, I write alone, in iso­la­tion, some­times by hand, some­times on an old type­writer, or some­times with the wi-fi turned off — a fire­wall between me and the world — and the idea of oth­ers tak­ing my work and turn­ing it into some­thing com­mon to all sounds like a shit­ty smart­phone com­mer­cial. I’m not nos­tal­gic, and I’m not opti­mistic. I am how­ev­er, deter­mined to make what­ev­er is left of the inter­net work for what I want to do. This is the beginning.