Sunday, November 27, 2005

Aaron vs. Analysis

There is nothing like a semi-philosophical debate about the purpose and nature of analysis to sober one up. (You can try singing the previous sentence to "There is Nothing Like a Dame" but I don't think you'll get any further than I did.) In any case, it's practically a rule (going hand in hand with the whole 'not eating' thing) that every self-proclaimed artist have a manifesto. At the least, it's something bulky enough to burn for heat when the power goes out; at the most, should you ever make it, it's something strong enough to justify your success. So here's mine.

I believe the reader is just as much a writer as the author, and unless both are fully involved in the creative process, it's just literary masturbation (one-handed).

It takes two to tango, folks, and I'm sick of the chick-lit or junk novel, the light beach reads or glorified (and simplified) crime novels that tell you everything up front. An author's job should be to put words on a page - words that move him or her - and, as a teacher of mine once said, to let them live. Most readers, especially the stupid ones (but hopefully the smart ones), are just going to put words in your mouth (or is that page?) anyway. That is, everybody has a unique perspective, their own slant on language, and it's a guarantee that nobody will see exactly what I meant to be seen. So as I figure it, why even have a fixed image anyway? Just write something that's aesthetically pleasing, something that lives, that fits the premises (or doesn't, if that's the point), and allow the reader to take it with them.

Which brings me to the bane of my existence: Analysis. Considering how strongly I feel that a writer's work should be ambiguous, aesthetic, and enjoyable (so as to encourage personal thought), the idea that we should pick apart existing works and proclaim one solitary meaning (or pick apart the interpretations of others) is offensive. If you want to make an annotated version, that is, to research terms and to look for anagrams and wordplay, that's fine, because you're just pointing out an author's cleverness for stupid people. However, if you also want to explain what the purpose of each character was, to say that Quilty or H.H. was a double of the other (I have lapsed into Lolita here), I think you're mad. You know why? Because it doesn't matter. Even the annotated notes don't really matter. I should get whatever I get from the book when I get it. If I need Cliff Notes to understand it (as we're frequently training our students to use), it didn't have any effect on me, and we should move on to the next book. It's not necessary (or even conducive) that we understand every sentence, every phrase, or even every idea. Nor do I see how sitting about writing about this or that is going to add any value to this world. If you think the author was using a certain theme, and you liked it, good. Write a story that uses that theme.

Let me take a step back: the conversation originated with poetry. I made a comment that John Ashbery's poetic standpoint was very appealing to me. He writes poetry that's meant to be experienced, straight through, without mulling over lines or re-reading. If you miss something, you miss it, that's part of the experience (just like seeing a movie on the big screen, where you can't rewind). The very act of missing something will redefine what you even get from the poem, and if it's only one word, one phrase or a single image or idea (or even nothing); you've still gotten at least that from it. You don't walk away empty handed. Of course, to then try to analyze one of Ashbery's poems would be redundant. You'd be experiencing it out of context, as it wasn't meant to be read (just like Shakespeare is meant to be performed). If you want to justify historical references that are oblique (again, annotations, not commentary), then append away. That's why the appendix is that thing we don't need. The point being: poetry and fiction should move you WITHOUT an explanation. If you get moved my studying it, then you're attracted to analysis, not the work itself, and that's a whole other kind of sad: second-hand transfusions.

Now, lest I be construed as shitting in my own pool, let me clarify that there's a difference between analysis and criticism. Analysis, to me, is a deadening effect: it involves a thesis and, like many scientists in the Bush Administration, requires looking purely for the lines that support that thesis, while ignoring all other comments (or trying to explain them). That's no good, nor can it possibly be accurate. In fact, the only way to truly analyze something would be to go line by line, at which point you'd have just rewritten the novel itself. Why pick out themes and what not, just for the sake of illustrating what the "deeper" meaning was? If all I can do is float on top of the water, knowing there's treasure at the bottom isn't going to help me. And seeing pictures of the divers going under, that's just living vicariously through analysis.

Criticism, on the other hand, is a lively and opinionated affair. We're not trying to prove a point with arts criticism, not really. If there's any analysis, it's meant to be one-sided (and acknowledges that). We're just trying to say: hey, don't (or do) see this (read this) and here's why (why not). It's not meant to explain something to the reader: it's meant to convey an emotional reaction that one person had. In many ways, at its best, criticism should be like a creative piece itself. Refreshing, aesthetic, full of images and wordplay: enjoyable to read. There's no need for a plot summary; the point is to be visceral, not superficial. Or at least, so I believe. I can still remember Harry Knowles's "Fucking The Monster" review of Sphere (I met him at a conference once, when I was first starting out as a critic): not a single word about the movie, but damned if I didn't want to never see the film after reading the review. It's color commentary, edgy and productive, that gets me going, that justifies what we do.

Along those lines, I guess if people wrote "color analysis," I might be more interested. But too often, I find analysis to be derivative of the product, and criticism to be its own separate animal. Analysis is indirect in getting to the point; criticism should be short, sweet and a direct response. Which leads me to a rule: Analysis is always wrong, Criticism is always right. Analysis presumes to be fact-based and supported, but the text it uses is liquid and subject to constant interpretation, so it's no more supported than a leaf in a tsunami. Criticism is an opinion, and despite what some bad teachers may say, your opinion can't be wrong. Q.E.D.

Now, before this gets any more analytical (and self-defeating, to the point where I need to excoriatingly criticize myself to get back on track), let me just wrap things up, a plea to all writers, critics, scholars and creative geniuses:

There is only Write and Wrong. Wrong is Wrong. So just Write. (Period)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Aaron vs. Public Transportation

This is not a love/hate relationship I'm in: Emotion has nothing to do with it. This is S&M, plain and simple. I, like many others in the vice-tight grip of the dystopic MTA, am a submissive; I smile as police interrogate me; I laugh when trains reschedule and delay with capricious delight; I contort myself into sardine tubes and jockey for position; and yes, I pay for this abuse. I wouldn't give it up for anything in the world. I can't.

That said, I look for ways to bite back. I rip that MetroCard through the reader, I punch through the turnstile, and I ram myself against the doors. And all the while I'm conscious of saving money (i.e. taking the bus so as to be able to transfer for a train within two hours), all the while, I'm thinking of ways to take that Card and shove it. It's a pretty passive resistance, but how else to deal with the illusory practices of the MTA.

Case in point: the MetroCard. Tokens used to be art; intricate and beautiful, they combined form and function. Ah, listen to me, gushing like some combination of Art History major and schoolgirl. Now we have these ugly plasticine devices that no doubt have conveniences for the ninja (no coins jingling means extra stealth), and moreso allow the MTA to sinisterly monitor our use (or abuse) of the sytem. And what they've done is to adapt the economic policies of this country, focusing their reparational attentions on the big hubs rather than the unsightly stations and train lines that the majority don't populate. Don't be fooled by the Wonkian design: this MetroCard is no golden ticket. It will get you where you're going, eventually, but it'll cut corners and punish you at every turn. On second thought: perhaps not so different from the Chocolate Factory, from which children fall down disposal chutes or are pumped through chocolate funnels.

Point the second: the Price. I'd never really paid attention to it until I started working a regular midtown job, but $2 dollars a ride is the kind of extortion that chips away at you, like acid-reflux or one of those other livable illnesses. Still, that's not infuriating so much as the Unlimited scam, for which you'll pay $27 or $76 for a week- or month-long pass. Consider how much these rates are inflated by how much you'd pay normally: you get a special rate of six rides for every $10 spent, so you'd need to ride 14 times to get your money back over the week. That's also assuming you don't lose the card: while it's not designed to be lost (like the iPod "Pico"), accidents do happen. And yet, if you're addicted to travel and keep your wallet tight (and your MetroCard tighter), I guess it's okay. Still, look at all the people lost and confused (no, not tourists). "Where are you going?" I'll ask, and they'll just scowl and walk away, or maybe reply, their eyes dulled with the subterranean glare, "Anywhere. Anywhere but here."

Which is interesting: to get where we want, we must be where we least desire to be, most notably during rush hour. Now, we don't have it as bad as Japan (where pedophiles justify their existence) and we're far more efficient than Russia, cheaper than London and open later than our US counterparts, but man, we don't live there. We live here, and we should really only shit in our own backyards. Anywhere else would just be rude.

One final thought though: despite the supplicant population of transients (our modern boxcar residents); despite the tactless graffiti (I guess the real artists of the street have been hired); despite the tumultuous passage of this metallic phallus through the vaginal underbelly of the city (thanks Freud); it's better than taking a cab. (Marginally relevant anecdote: I've only ever been hit by a car while in a cab. BY another cab. I guess you could say it was a auto-erotic moment, cab-on-cab action.) And, lest I shit all over those yellow bugs, my emergency egress, at least it's not a Pedi-Cab. Because for all the gouging of the MTA, at least they're practical. And God, despite what you may have heard, hates the ridiculous.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Aaron vs. Heights

Gosh, no, I haven't forgotten about all of you. But it's been busy at e-casa de Riccio, as I put my cyber-shop in order and my electronic affairs together. Now, in my new job as a freelance proofreader/copyeditor, I have gotten to see some exoticly mundane locations. It's funny, but being up more than twenty stories tends to elevate your perception of things. Forgive the pun: the height must've gone to my head. It takes a while to adapt to the literal pressure.

Take for instance, Central Park. I never really appreciated how scenic the whole thing looks, how urbane - a paradoxical word for the forested area of the urban jungle - the greenery is, sitting in the shadow of this concrete prison. But day after day, I'm looking out at this page from another book, and it makes me almost want to waste my time walking through it. Such a shame things are rarely as close as they appear, and like my stance on God, the moment I should grasp the beauty of the thing, it will become complete inaccessible by definition. In other words, I might go back and row around the pond because that's what I'm good at, I might play some softball, but I'm certainly not going to rusticate in Sheep's Meadow.

But that's not all I see: the shadow starts at the base of Central Park, but as the day slips forward in subtle incriments, all of "uptown" looms its scabby self at me. You ugly hideous beast, I love you. Which makes me forget for a moment, as I lean out to wrap you in my arms (you sweet embraceable you), that I'm quite high up. When I was younger, in a teen traveling camp, we used to dare each other to lean against the thin-seeming glass, that vitreous substance, and peer down into the ant-occupied minuret, "look ma no hands" free. What a frightening and exhilirating feeling.

Much like the experience of soaring on a rollercoaster. Of the few things my brother has ever done (intentionally or not) to better my life, his "chicken-call" convincing was How I Learned To Love The 'Coaster (or Dr. Rollerlove). In that bizarre black twist that defines my life, the way I finally justified the needless thrill was the reminder that if I died, I'd most likely be dying with many other people, and therefore, the embarassment of a premature death would be far less obvious. This same philosophy enabled me to fly to England; I guess it's the same philosophy that lets us live our anonymously famous lives.

This has been a wobbly ranting narrative so far, and it's not likely to get any saner. Suffice to say, I'm intoxicated with the feel of actually having a purpose (read: a job that I love), and maybe it's not just the oxygen-rich air that's doing it to me. Everything just seems better from way up here. But if you're wondering why you don't see me, relax, I like to stay far away from the edge.