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The Invisible Truth: 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Black Swan: Tchaikovsky meets Aronovsky

Black Swan is a new, terse psychological thriller from film festival darling Darren Aronovsky, featuring Natalie Portman playing a ballerina. Her character is as memorable as she is neurotic. Having been selected from her company to play the prestigious role of queen swan in Swan Lake, she descends into a frightful world that treads the border between delusion and social manipulation.

The director of the ballet, thinking she has some distance to travel into her dark side in order to appropriately play the Black Swan half of the part, seduces and torments her to push her into a schizoid state. Alternately leading her to believe that she will be replaced by a new dancer and that her arrival into the star system of ballet is imminent, he cruelly toys with her passion and her obvious fragility, which Portman's performs in an exhilarating and admirable manner.

Aronovsky lends the film psychological depth through the lead character's fraught relationship with her controlling mother, who seems obsessed with living out her fallen dreams vicariously through her daughter. This relationship is echoed in the plot through Nina's overtures to both her predecessor and heir apparent in the company's star system of primogeniture, as figurative mother/daughter relationships. The dethroned prima ballerina resents Nina, verbally accosting her at a fundraiser at which the director announces her retirement and her replacement's ascendence, calling her a whore.

The reality of some of the attacks on her competence, however, are subsequently destabilized in the plot through the introduction of hallucinogenic or delusional episodes. Beth, the former prima ballerina ridiculed by the other dancers for her age, is hospitalized after being hit by a car, and there are subtle suggestions that she is either the victim of the director's cruel whims or that she herself does this intentionally to express her discontent with the company, her waning star status, and to rattle the rest of company out of its rhythm.

To add to the intrigue of the ultra-competitive dance company, Nina's heir apparent seduces her as well, imploring her to live a little and relax her rigid discipline in order to "let herself go" and finally lose herself in her dancing. It becomes apparent finally that the director may have engineered this fatal ménage a trios -- between the director, Nina, and Lily -- to force Nina to plumb the depths of her soul and find its darkness, its aggressivity unto the basic predatory instinct expressed by the crime of murder. 

The anxiety-wracked climax of the film, during which there are continuous suggestions, even through the opening performance of the ballet, that her rival will replace her in the lead role, effectively keeps the viewer on their film-watching toes (pun intended). This climax leads to a violent confrontation in the dressing room between Nina and Lily, which has homicidal and suicidal overtones. The boundary between art and life becomes blurred for the brilliant protagonist.

This confrontation is the flip side of the erotic encounter between the two dancers a couple nights before the opening performance, seemingly precipitated by Lily surreptitiously spiking Nina's drink with MDMA. Lily denies this encounter happened, and this encounter figures as part of the psychological torment that Lily and the director inflict on Nina in order to evoke the best possible performance from her. This drugging incident could be sabotage, or it could be a conspiracy for Nina's benefit: the narrative evades closure and keeps the viewer anxiously guessing all the way until the end and beyond.

Some familiar Aronovsky tropes appear in Black Swan such as the blurred borders between madness and genius, the abject figure of abandoned and forgotten celebrity, and skin-crawling scenarios of gore. What is new is the virtuosity, the polish. This film is excellent on all counts: the cinematography is innovative and deeply creepy; the score is surprising and subtle, full of background bass wooshes and surround sound panning that generates voices that seem to emanate from outside the dark space of the cinema; the writing is solid; the acting is nuanced and bold. Also new are the beautiful sequences of dance, which feature long balletic shots where the camera transcends static reality and becomes a participant in the dancing, a partner to the protagonist in her dance.

This shows Arronovky's flirtation with versatility that is the sign of a truly gifted artist; he has achieved fluency in two poles of film language. On the one hand, in Requiem for a Dream, another of his films that features a harrowing climax, he gives the pivotal sequence its intensity through sophisticated editing and montage techniques. On the other hand, Black Swan takes the long shot to new dynamic heights. Rather than the aleatory tracking shots of Robert Altman's in Gosford Park, or the fantastical slow panning shots of Peter Greenaway in The Cook, His Wife, The Thief, and Her Lover, or the Hitchcock's attempt at a single-shot film in Rope, Black Swan introduces a mobile element to the long shot that is rare and masterful.

Aronovsky gives the psychological edge of this film expression through handheld camera shots, which he tastefully limits to avoid the nausea-inducing verisimilitude of The Blair Witch Project or  Cloverfield, and through shots following the protagonist as if the camera depicts a stalker's point of view. In this film, there is suspense a-plenty. 
Furthermore, the director avails himself of CGI technology in a similarly tasteful and unobtrusive way. There is no fetishization of technology for its own sake here. The uses to which he puts the dramatic digital manipulation of the film are governed by the internal logic of the film. Nina's skin at different points in the film bristles with energy, and the sores which her mother attributes to her neurotic scratching of her own back are also the site of the emergence of black feathers, signaling the transformation central to her performance of the Black swan and her negotiation of the binaries within herself.

This film features a spectacular synergy of talent; to miss it is to thumb your nose at film's inherent potentials. Bravo!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Artist Spotlight: Christopher Peet

Christopher Peet is a hardworking, local Toronto artist who has recently finished a painting entitled "Songs in the Tree of Life." While his previous work tended towards watercolours with a special emphasis on architectural detail, this painting explores universal themes in a surrealistic manner. He also teaches art, and he has contributed political cartoons to many Canadian newspapers and magazines.

Although the surrealistic influence is new, this painting still shows his meticulous rendering of the built world, with a wood-paneled dwelling dominating the top right third of the painting. Its blue eaves and window edges "rhyme" with the blue of the sky. The two dormers stick out of the house's face at improbable angles, the one in the background seeming subject to the pull of the arc of the brick structure. This structure itself suggests a bridge, with the water underneath likewise at a surprising angle to the bridge. This water is painted as if the viewer is looking into a well. The water is implied skillfully through the presence of ripples, but ultimately left transparent, so the viewer can see a small clutch of narwhales.

To the right of the painting, the bricks lose their cohesiveness in a furious fire that evokes creation and destruction simultaneously. Creation is suggested through the connotative association of bricks to the ovens in which the materials of earth are transformed into bricks by human labour. All the elements are represented. A herd of land animals gathers at the apex of the brick bridge; narwhales swim in the pebble-bedded well water; and two butterflies dominate the air in the upper left third of the painting. The tree, emerging out of the clouds in the sky, is an organism of the earth; half of the tree in reality -- the root system -- hides underground.

The herd of animals on the bridge are painted in a more ambiguous manner than the incredible detail of other areas of the painting. When I spoke with the artist, he said he painted pairs of animals – giraffes, elephants, seals, deer, and bears – to represent in partial form the story of Noah's Ark, which puns on the arc-like curve of many of the lines of the painting. Putting the focus on the butterflies effectively challenges the tradition of centering the focus of the painting, and emphasizes the notion of transformation.

The "tree of life" ironically has no leaves, and its Kabbalistic and Edenic connotations tease out the both biblical and materialist resonances of the painting in a refreshingly complex way. At the right side of the painting, the artist's hand is painted, in the act of reaching for the house. This implies both the human influence over the material world: our active re-shaping of the world around us, as well as the longing for home and shelter. Below the hand and above the house are planetary bodies; the red one evokes mars and earth respectively.

The point of view of the painting is not grounded in one point around which the perspective is arranged; it is deployed in a diffuse, if not fragmentary manner. That earth's various manifestations are visible to the viewer at the same time as the earth itself, as if from space, presents us with a surreal assemblage. In this dream-like scene, we are granted the privilege of seeing things we could never see juxtaposed in real life.

I see some modernist echoes in this painting as well. The tree in the sky is reminiscent of Magritte's floating Castle, which itself perhaps referred to Kafka's novel of the same name. And the transformation of earth into building materials and elements is evocative of Diego Rivera's murals at the Detroit Institute of Art.

"Songs in the Tree of Life" is being sold for $8000. Its size is 24 x 24", and it is acrylic on canvas. You can get a high-quality print for $500 or $600 depending on whether you want it printed on canvas or paper (canvas is the more expensive), and there are extra charges up to $125 depending on how you want it framed and stretched (regular: $100, gallery-style: $125). You can visit him on the web here: http://www.christopherpeet.com/index.html.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Yessirree, I am a nanowrimo WINNER.

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I will be cleaning up the novel and submitting it to publishers over the holidays.

Friday, October 22, 2010


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Saturday, October 16, 2010

The man who knew too much

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The Man Who Knew Too Much,
starring in A Family Romance

The man who knew too much
had no qualities,
no dirty laundry, no new lush policies
to plant like new year’s resolutions
in eroded soil.

Even to grow flush at a function
was too much, his speech
ragged and frag-mushed into gruelling
sounds that leeched the boisterous
of their fun-blood.

The man who knew too much
stayed cool, even under gunfire,
but one well-placed, orchestrated
scream undid everything he knew,
mesmer music strode not on
rails, but in bubbles,
full sinuses popping with blood.

The man who knew too much
kept messages hidden in the pill
bottle, the medicine cabinet, a little
toiletries bag you take on long trips,
when you are driven along by horse-drawn carriages,
the ghost of Franz Ferdinand, and
jolly everymen drawn into rings
of political intrigue.

Like smoke rings out of Teddy Roosevelt’s
head at Mt. Rushmore, we
take care it never happens to us.

Revenge is a dish best served cold,
but what do we do in this steambath
called the family romance?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

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Direct Action activist Nokolai Alexeyev has been working hard with his organization Gay Russia to improve the conditions of the LGBT community in Russia. Although homosexuality was decriminalized there in 1993, many prohibitions and persecutions remain. After successfully revoking the blood ban on gay men (which, incidentally is still in effect in Canada because Blood Services is an NGO), his group has embarked on direct actions to support all facets of LGBT rights. Recently, Alexeyev was arrested for his active organization of Pride marches in Moscow, which have been formally banned by Moscow's homophobic mayor. He was held for 2 days without access to a lawyer and harassed because he had refused to remove his shoes at a security check at an airport.

New concerns about Alexeyev's safety have emerged, which you can read about here: http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2010/09/new-concerns-for-safety-of-nikolai-alexeyev.html

What can we do to help?

Well, first of all, since Canada has identified Russia as a "Trade Priority," as shown in the chart above, you can write to your local MP to encourage them raise the issue of Russia's treatment of the LGBT community in concert with their trade agreements to ensure that their human rights are respected. Our minister of trade is Stockwell Day, so you can also write to him. Collect signatures on your letters for greater effect.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Love Life, Despairing Love

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Monday, August 30, 2010

Nolan Returns to his Roots

Inception is the blockbuster of the summer, which is basically the season of blockbusters in the North American film industry, having made $622 551 540 in box office receipts worldwide so far. It is also the latest film by Christopher Nolan, who is rapidly becoming James Cameron's biggest competition for Hollywood's most popular director. Fresh off his record-smashing and billion dollar success The Dark Knight, Nolan seems to be returning to the narrative techniques and themes of his first film Memento. He also seems to have shed the more "cutesy," if totally extraneous, aspects of blockbusterism, largely borrowed from the repertoire of Stephen Spielberg, such as the scene in The Dark Knight when the two boys are pretending to shoot a car that subsequently explodes during the chase sequence where the Joker is trying to abduct two-face Harvey Dent from his police escort. His return to his roots is a good thing.

For one thing, his challenging narrative technique, which has baffled even some critics, pays due respect to the intelligence of the audience. It panders to intelligence rather than the lack thereof. Secondly, the theme of memory repressed from the outside-in, a clever reversal of the by-now familiar psychoanalytic account of memory repressed from the inside out as a result of trauma, makes a powerful return. Whereas the protagonist of Memento has his memory stolen as a result of a head trauma caused by a vicious assault, in Inception there is a developing tension between the protagonist's increasingly dangerous and uncontrollable memories of his wife, and his vocation. As an extractor, his job is to steal people's memories by sharing their dreams, and with his team, to provide the space within which the dream occurs. As such, Inception shares with Memento a non-linear narrative structure and the themes of memory, grief, and loss.

That said, Inception, I would argue, is not quite as well-rounded achievement as Memento. I think it is a very good film, and not in the sense of it's good . . .
for a blockbuster, but on its own terms. It is complex, novel, has interesting characters, especially the aptly-named Ariadne, who functions in the film as a kind of conscience for Leonardo Di Caprio's character, much like Harper Lee figured as Truman Capote's conscience in Capote. Ariadne, in Greek mythology, was mistress of the labyrinth, weaver, and wife of Dionysis. Her job in the film is to design the spaces within which the shared dream of the inception job occurs. The protagonist recruits her from the best of his father's students, and his test of her is figured in terms of her ability to spontaneously generate labyrinths.

One of the exciting elements of this movie is the aspects of visual culture it draws upon. Without realizing it, I've been waiting for a film to take on the paradoxical and perspectivally warped work of M.C. Escher. Indeed, the scenes where Ariadne learns to share dreams, especially the one where Ariadne takes the streets of Paris and folds them into a three-dimensional box, are obviously directly inspired by the work of Escher. The scene where she takes two mirrors and faces them together, creating the illusion of infinity is also suggestive of the visual art of Escher, and the fictional world of Jorge Luis Borges. However, this trick has of course been done already in a film – Habla Con Ella, by Pedro Almadovar – and to a greater effect in the scene where that film's protagonist meets his friend in the confines of a prison to explain his rape of a comatose patient. But the folding Paris scene is great in that it subordinates the potential of new digital techniques in a film to a strong concept and challenging narrative, rather than fetishizing the technique as a value-in-itself, as happens in films such as The Transformers.

The fantasy world of the protagonist and his wife is also the urban dreamscape of modernist architect Le Courbusier. That this world is crumbling by the end of the film is fitting seeing as some cultural critics, such as Charles Jenks, locate the beginning of postmodernism in the destruction of a Le Courbusier-inspired Pruitt-Igoe neighbourhood in St. Louis.

While Nolan uses the nested narrative technique effectively to create the disorientating experience of being in a dream within a dream, and, later, a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream, the writing isn't as strong or memorable as it is in The Dark Knight. It also doesn't have the awe-inspiring performance of a Heath Ledger to guide it through its weaker spots. Don't get me wrong, the performances are good; it's just that none of them scream "Oscar" to me. Di Caprio does a solid job of playing a man damaged by a guilt that is preventing him from achieving his goal: a reunion with his children. Although I've always been a fan of Joseph-Gordon Levitt's film work, and his zero-gravity combat scene in the hotel is cool (not the parkour-inflected Casino Royale chase scene cool, but cool nonetheless) I still don't think any of the performances is worthy of an Oscar.

However, Inception's concept and narrative complexity are its strengths, and in the long run, they are both more important than the level of the actors' performances. Also, the score is strong, thankfully not overwrought as blockbuster scores tend to be, and it is considerably more interesting than The Dark Knight's score.

Overall, this is a film worth seeing at least once, although the caveat that you need to see it more than once to "get" it is a little exaggerated.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

Seventeen Year Old Girl writes to Kim-Jong IL and asks him to blow up Toronto

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The Perfect Thing

Dear Kim Jong-Il:

How are you? I’m not sure you’ll get this letter, or if you do, if you’ll even read it, but the smallest chance that you will is worth it. My name is Sherry Delgado. I live in Canada, you know, that country north of the axis of evil. Lately it has been outdoing the axis of evil in the perpetration of those everyday acts of evil. I know that sounds strange, but I have a feeling that if anyone will understand, you will.

I’m seventeen years old, and I go to Ted Rogers high school in Toronto. It’s in a neighbourhood called Moss Park, maybe you’ve heard of it? Yes, the school is named after the man who started the telecommunications empire. Corny, I know, but whatever.

I bet you’re wondering why I didn’t email this to you. Well, I would have, but my mother took away my internet privileges because I was chatting up this creepy old man. You know, flirting with him and stuff. I would never meet such a dirtbag; I just tease them to torture them. So here I am, snail-mailing this to you because my mother’s a bitch. I hate her and her new boyfriend. They’re all goo-goo ga-ga over each other, and it drives me nuts. Like, if either of them had a life, they wouldn’t need to dote on the other’s every whim. It’s disgusting.

I should get to the point, because you’re the great leader and probably busy negotiating some South Korean movie star hostage exchange for some nifty weapons technology. That’s right. I’ve heard about your power moves all the way here in Canada ;). Of course, all the papers and the television news here make fun of your size and the way you look. They think you’re pretty insane, what with all the authoritarian communism and stuff. I swear every report talks about how poor the people are in your country, how they’re all starving like they’re robot idiots who don’t even know how to grow rice and vegetables. But I know better; I can see through their dirty propaganda.

My point is actually not a point, but a favour I want to ask of you. I know, you’re probably thinking, who does this little peon Canadian girl think she is, asking a favour of the great leader? But hold on a minute. You might enjoy this favour. When you get your nuclear missiles all ready, and you’re about to shoot on the capital of the axis of evil, could you maybe miss a little? I mean, could you shoot at least one so it falls short and hits Toronto?

Now you’re probably thinking that I’m going to ask to be brought to North Korea and be saved, but I’m not. I want to die with everyone else. Why? It’s complicated.

I hate how people treat each other here. Everyone’s always cussin’ on each other, or fighting, or shooting up the neighbourhood, or shooting drugs into their veins in the park to take away the pain of living in this screwed-up world. Either that, or they try to make someone else miserable so they can feel better about their own lives. I’m sick of it all. I think a clean slate would benefit this place in a big way; a huge white ball of fire and a beautiful mushroom cloud is just the ticket. Do you know that expression? Song-nah at school told me that most Koreans speak English, so I assume a great man like yourself does, but I don’t know if you know all these slang expressions. “Just the ticket” means the perfect thing. Anyway, I have a feeling you would understand me perfectly if you read this letter.

You might wonder why I don’t want to be saved. It’s because I’m part of all the awfulness, and if I lived, I would probably spread it.

If you feel like Toronto doesn’t deserve it, remember that our banks were stable during the recent recession. You know, the worst capitalist crisis since the great depression? Or maybe that’s just another lie. You never know these days who is lying and when. Anyways, if it’s true, then they were probably stable because they were screwing with someone else’s numbers. People can control computers remotely nowadays and everything. Crazy, eh?

I will let you go now because I know you have important things to do. I really hope you get this letter. If you decide to do this little favour for me, thank you thank you thank thank you thank you thank you thank you.

Yours eternally and gratefully,

Sherry Delgado

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Whore Derv Returns! And he's pissed!

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This edition of the Whore Derv of Canada is brought to you by Telefilm Canada, the nation’s organization devoted to financing and enabling the domestic film industry. No, they are not paying me, although they should. I mean rather that this post would not be possible without their continued existence as a state institution. And rather than simply honour an individual of special talent, fame, and appeal, this particular award has been given to an amorphous social group. A mass, you might say.

This award goes to all those fake patriots out there who cheer like mad for Canada during the Olympics, who riot after hockey games, those who wear red and white on Canada Day, who have Canadian Flags tattooed on their body, but who shop at Walmart (where most things are manufactured from abroad), who buy vegetables genetically engineered in Guelph but grown in California, who favour the privatization of Ontario Hydro, and most importantly for the purposes of this award, never go to cinemas to see a Canadian film.

Yes, people, IMAX technology was developed in Canada. Unfortunately, because Hollywood studios have vertically integrated so that they own a large percentage of cinema screens that show the movies, most IMAX films are not Canadian, because such films are expensive to produce and the kind of venture capital necessary to make them are found in places like Los Angeles and New York City. It’s a phenomenon we in the study of communications and in the film industry call “block booking.” That is, Hollywood spends oodles of money producing films, and to ensure they recoup their costs, they book cinemas all over the world with these blockbusters long ahead of time. It’s sort of hit-and-miss as to which films actually blow up, which is why you have disasters such as Kevin Kostner’s Waterworld, or surprise low-budget blockbusters whose revenues are almost purely profit, such as The Blair Witch Project.

Because Canadian cinemas are usually booked long ahead of time with Hollywood Blockbusters, there is relatively little time left to book Canadian films. As such, the kind of promotional campaigns run for big-budget films, which themselves run into the tens of millions on top of the production costs of the film, are basically a waste of money. As a consequence, this mass of Canadians the award goes to rarely hear about Canadian films, except perhaps through newspapers or free weeklies like Now Magazine. Furthermore, because these films aren’t on their radar, they don’t go to see them. Mind you, the situation is improving in the trailer department, especially trailers for DVDs. And I know for a fact some people become interested in films through trailers. I recently rented the film The Messenger, an independent American feature, and it was preceded by a trailer for Trotsky, a Canadian film. Promising, but is it enough? I mean, following the predominant values (deducted from their actions) of this social group, the fact that we need a state institution to support domestic film is alarming at least.

The situation is even stranger because I have a feeling that many of this amorphous social group is not only capable of enjoying, but that they would actually enjoy the excellent films being produced in Canada. Films such as Defendor with Woody Harrelson, or 7 (Les Septs Jours Du Talion).

Therefore, we here at the Invisible Truth offer this award to those who don’t make it a point to go to Canadian films and support the domestic film industry. Congratulations, and thank you for your shallow flag-waving enthusiasm. It has driven most of our film talent (Jim Carrey, Paul Haggis, what’s-his-face from the Austin Powers movies) from the country. Way to clear the room of your precious celebrities!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Howdy Readers

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First of all, I would like to thank all my readers for visiting The Invisible Truth. I apologize for my sluggish summer publishing schedule, but I have been very busy. I am in the process of moving to new digs in Parkdale, a far cry from my current downtown pad. Also, I have been putting the finishing touches on two academic papers to submit to journals such as Topia, The Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies and Film Philosophy. Finally, I've been asked to submit a book proposal to Yorkshire Publishing, so I will be busy with that as well. To keep you all happy, I have dug up a photograph from my archives. I remind you to take a few seconds to click on the google links on the right, as I get a few pennies for that, seeing as I do this blog pro-bono, except for the few pennies I get from google for ad revenue.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A semi-personal/political Queer rant

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There is no better proof of the depth of homophobia in Canadian society at large than spending a good few years living in the Church/Wellesley Village in Toronto. I happen to be attracted to older, sometimes hairier, and much to my bleeding-heart liberal sensibilities' dismay, men of European descent. Many of these folks are the veterans of the struggle for GLBT rights, and for their efforts towards these ends I am eternally grateful.

But wait a minute. Many of these men are so damaged that their treatment of the younger generation leaves much to be desired. That they have been so shabbily treated through their lives because of homophobia and their position of privilege as the power structure of those "old white men" makes for a particularly poisonous cocktail. "The Secret" that wreaks its own havoc in the subconscious, when lived through in the open air, becomes a standard to bear, and it can become a weapon against even less enfranchised people.

In some of my relationships, I've been treated like a house boy, a trick, something useful for a few moments, but ultimately disposable. I do not like being treated as such, although sometimes out of what I perceive as necessity I will play the role. In common speech, these power moves may be thought of in the parlance of the day as "fierceness." Yeah, but maybe it's just sheer cruelty as well. I know my devotion to values such as compassion and kindness are old-fashioned, but maybe "fierceness" is just a relic of homophobic violence that we wreak upon each other.

Sometimes I find myself wishing that I could consciously change the direction of my lusts. But each attempt has failed. Alas, the damage continues to percolate across the generations.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Sculpture by Tom Bendtsen

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An artist, Tom Bendsten is building this huge book sculpture on the main floor of the Metro Reference Library for the upcoming Luminato festival of the arts in Toronto. He has also done work for the Nuit Blanche all night arts event in October. His work is a plastic meditation on the fragility of arguments: take a few books away and the whole thing falls like Jenga! Notice how he even uses colour as a structuring principle. Please excuse the crappy quality of the picture as I was forced to use my netbook's webcam to capture the image. LOVE IT!!!!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

D.I.Y. and the Canadian Left: Linguistic Overdetermination, or Coincidence?

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D.I.Y and the Canadian Left

I intend this article to try to explain the shortcomings of the Left that have enabled the success of the Right in the last three or four years. It comes from a cultural, rather than a political, perspective. First, let me first explain that one of the problems of the political culture in Canada is that it is widely thought of in terms of a straight line with a small batch of communists on the far pole of the left, who are by and large excluded from public discourse, and the former Reform Party sectors of the new Conservative Party on the far pole of the Right, some of whom hold very important positions at the current juncture, such as Jason Kenny, the minister of education, or Stockwell Day, the minister of trade. I would like to propose thinking of the political spectrum as more of a continuum: a circle, even.

Once you look at the political spectrum as a circle, you can start to see how cultural phenomenon of the Left, such as aspects of DIY culture, can actually undermine the success of the Left. Let me first define DIY as I understand it. I grew up in a mid-sized city in Southern Ontario that had an amazing music scene. One of the characteristic features of this scene was its relative independence from the industrial entertainment machine, as exemplified by the major music labels, the big publishing houses, etc. It was youth putting on shows for younger youth, and the profit motive was a marginal component of this culture. The DIY punk scene in particular was highly politicized, opening critiquing the military strategies and foreign policy of the mainstream political culture as well as the shallowness of consumer culture, and the lack of quality of its products. DIY stands for Do It Yourself. In other words, rather than accept the standards and criteria for achievement prescribed by the industrial entertainment machine, make the music you want to make and share it with your peers and others.

I was an active participant in this culture, and in 1999 I started my own record label. Due to various difficulties, changes of interest, and my general lack of business savvy, I quickly realized my imminent failure. Perhaps the linguistic singularity of “yourself” in the acronym DIY became a psychological barrier for collective action. Great things have rarely been accomplished by people acting on their own. While I was certainly not the first to have started a record label, others in my circle quickly followed suit and started their own record labels of similar material. This led to local competition that, from my perspective, undermined the collaborative and collective aspects of the scene. Perhaps if DIY instead stood for “Do It Yourselves” that would have emphasized the collective nature of successful resistance. Instead, the movement atomized its individual members; some DIY magnates actually became consultants for the political Right when they grew up.

I propose that strategies the Left has used in their struggle against the Right have been uneffective. Rather than dismiss the Right outright and uttlerly, the Left should study the tactics they have used that have made them successful, and incorporate some of these tactics into their own strategizing. While it is true that some consider it problematic to frame resistance in terms of the “Master’s tools,” at a certain point, the left will lose support just because people don’t enjoy losing. Coalition building is important, and for that we need to identify points of priority and solidarity, not to eliminate our differences, but to be more effective in our struggles. The circle folds in on itself: after all, individualistic anarchism is the point at which the far Right joins the far Left in the political circle. Max Stirner is closer to Alan Greenspan than you may think.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

Negative Writing

I took this page from an old zine I published. I managed to sell around 56 copies. That is only 10 or so less than the first edition of the first volume of Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I had this idea of writing negatively - by taking existing, published texts, and crossing out letters and/or making substitutions to create a new, mythological text. By doing it in this format, I have preserved the entire process of negative writing. The perpendicular text in the background visually represents the kind of "unofficial" speech that surrounds and in-forms the background of stories, told by "official" storytellers, vetted/or seen as such by their speech communities.

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Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Old Poetry of Trevor Cunnington

I wrote this poem about war when I was 16 years old. I am now 35, and I have renounced my former pacifism. I still think this is not a bad poem. One of the few I wrote in my adolescence that has any staying power. I redesigned it and released it in a zine when I was in my mid-twenties, and now I am re-posting it. Personal archive fever!!!!

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Monday, March 22, 2010

The Life of Pie Graphs and Spurious Projects

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The latest Whore Derv is awarded to one of the shining stars of Canada’s literary firmament. While I must give him a priori and de facto respect for contributing to the re-invigoration of reading and writing in our nation, strong and free, I must admit that the concept of his latest book smells like poo. Writer’s Block is a pain in the ass, isn’t it my friend?

After selling over 1.2 million copies of the novel that won our winner a Man Booker prize, which is the most prestigious book award in the Commonwealth, our hero was the first Canadian appointed to represent the Washington Arts Commission. He has also been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for fiction, and won the Hugh MacLennan Prize for fiction. The book that won him a Man Booker prize impressed me simply for the fact that many people who don’t read a lot asked me if I’d read it, expecting that since I was a rabid reader that I would have. Granted, my taste tends towards the obscure sometimes, and I still have not read this book. But I cannot pooh-pooh anyone who gets people who don’t usually read excited about reading.

What I can pooh-pooh is a bad book idea, and a total waste of time. Our winner’s latest project is mailing the prime minister a book every two weeks on the general theme of stillness. He has then compiled in a book all these mailings: the book plus a page or two written by our great author on the book he mailed. His reading list, I must say, is excellent. Having read around 50% of the titles, I can flatter myself that I am very well-read, flattery which embodies the real purpose of any of these reading list books. Useless. . .

What he hopes to gain, or what his very purpose is, is beyond me. Perhaps he thinks reading makes you a better person. Perhaps it does, but I doubt it. The Prime Minister responds to our great writer only twice, and for that, I suppose we should be outraged. What?! Our Prime Minister isn’t secluding himself to read all of these books a famous Canadian writer is suggesting to him! FOR SHAME! Absolutely outrageous! Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of the current Prime Minister, and I’m sure a little extra reading wouldn’t hurt him.

But really the whole premise of this project is ridiculous. First of all, the Prime Minister is a busy fellow, even though he prorogued parliament when there was a lot of business to finish. Maybe he suddenly thought that the great writer was right! He hadn’t read all these masterpieces, and perhaps he started to feel a little insecure. Perhaps the prorogation of government was actually so Stephen Harper could catch up on his reading, about which our great writer has steadily been harassing him. Yes indeed, if anyone else had embarked upon this, besides one of the most famous living writers, I think we would have to regard this project as harassment. That would make the prorogation that pissed off the whole nation at least partially the great writer’s fault!!!

Secondly, the Prime Minister was indeed busy. He was busy undermining the foundations of our democracy through his iron fist control over his media image. The notion of the press as the fourth estate, the watchdog of government, protecting citizens against the tyrannies, large and small, of the political apparatus, has given way to pervasive suspicion of the media, a suspicion which the Prime Minister shares. This suspicion is part of his pseudo-populist appeal. Fourth Estate be damned: Stephen Harper is subjecting all media coverage of his government to approval through the Privy Council*. Doesn’t our great writer think that more appropriate readings should be drawn from, say, the creative commons movement who valorize the free circulation of information and knowledge? I guess we should be grateful, though, our great writer didn’t recommend The Art of War by Sun Tzu, or Machiavelli’s The Prince, Hobbes’ Leviathan, or any books that may have been written by Goebbels.

If you haven’t figured out who our winner is today, it is Yann Martel, author of the legendary novel The Life of Pi. His most recent book, the reading list I have been discussion, is called What is Stephen Harper Reading? I must say, I don’t particularly care what he’s reading. I do, however, care very deeply about what he is doing as our prime minister. Congratulations Yann! I hope that writer’s block goes away soon, for everyone’s sake!

*information in this paragraph was revealed to me by Mary Higgins, who is about to embark upon a research project on political communication in Canada.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Yeah, that 100 million dollar surplus MUST be a sign of incompetance!

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The winner of this month’s Whore Derv has run the gamut of politics, not in the sense of crossing the floor and joining another party (ahem Belinda Stronach), but in the sense of holding multiple positions and jumping levels of government. A former Health Minister of Ontario during the heady days of dollar flux now known as the e-health spending scandal, he left that portfolio for the Environment. At first I resented his attempts to undermine incentives for property owners to invest in renewable energy, however, he eventually made good and introduced the FIT program in the Green Energy Act. For those who don’t know, FIT stands for Feed-in Tariffs, and it guarantees independent green energy producers a fixed price for their surplus energy against the vacillations of the market price. Bravo, energy minister.

He has jumped the provincial ship though, and landed in the lifeboat of municipal politics. By now, you’ve probably guessed that I’m talking about the (no longer) Right Honourable George Smitherman. He made the news last night, a desperate grab for a soundbyte, criticizing current mayor David Miller for announcing a 100 million dollar surplus in Toronto’s budget. He announced he was confident that the mayor knew of this surplus much earlier and merely waited for the campaign to replace him to “ride in on a white horse” and … presumably to save the day. George! I love the FIT program, and I was all ready to embrace you after the bitterness in my heart over Caplan taking all the heat for the e-health spending scandal waned. But no, you had to show up on the news and slam the current mayor, who is leaving of his own volition, for announcing a 100 MILLION DOLLAR SURPLUS. And this after one of the most severe recessions since the great depression! Am I the only one who thinks you sound like a total nitwit again?

Congratulations George! Rather than simply congratulating current Mayor Miller for his recent success, you chose to desperately grab a soundbyte and sound like a numbskull in the process. You have won the current Whore Derv. By peddling your infantile brand via a gigamillion pixels, and trying to revive a Miller hate-on that has for the most part waned since the city strike last summer, you have honoured the award.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Laundry

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I can’t sleep because logic’s

Recipe is full of tar and sand.

Equal parts get me out of this mess

And get me far enough in it

To not be able to tell the difference.

Underbellies of thought

Bring but subtle comforts to not

Quite born beings.

Once it happens, they say, it

Comes naturally.

As if something could not be natural.

Water breaks the surface

Tension, that but holds together

This ragged self

Tells of monopolies of exhaust

Worry, tear-drops to clear

Duct work

And preserve, above all else

The sense that chance is not so random.

That those little fists

Have healthy walls to beat on

That the light of day

Pokes through holes

And gives these objects

That clutter the space in my bedroom

Their very colour.

That soil will grow

Something fantastic

And tasty to shade the lawn

With the ichor

Of plenitude

The lenient feathers of

Winged visitors in night’s

Event of apparition,

Who tell me this tar and sand

Ropes thick through

Rolls of waves too

Frightening to behold

So you hold a mirror up to it

To see it but once removed

And once removed,

This veil of vision leaves

And sleep settles in

Like blankets

On the clothes line

When the wind



Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bay Street, circa 1924, or after the Apocalypse?

I found this image in the archives at Toronto's Metropolitan Reference Library. I guess it was a bad air day. The more things change...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Holy Zamboni! This Week's Whore Derv goes to...

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The winner of the latest Whore Derv is a juggernaut of local politics in Toronto.. As chair of one of the largest and most complex organizations, he has had an unfortunate convergence of publicity. His tall gangly frame has been in the news almost constantly for the last month. As a city councilor, he has been variously praised and scoffed. There’s something endearingly earnest about his face and manner, but I don’t think this feature will save him from his current downwards spiral.

If you live in Toronto, you’ve probably seen, or at least heard about his zany youtube photo, depicting him engaging in various calisthenics to prepare himself for the race for the mayoralty of Toronto. In the end of the video, he declares himself ready. That was enough to make the news. But then the denizen citizen journalists, who sent in photos of sleeping TTC collectors, increased tension between the TTC and the public because of a fare hike and produced a good deal of criticism of the TTC, which is our winner’s ship to steer. Add to all the speculation of his mayoral ambitions and the negative press pouring in against the TTC under his supervision, the spectacle of a sex scandal. Not only did Adam Giambrone, this week’s winner, pull a Bill Clinton, but apparently he told the Ms. Lewinsky of the situation confidential information about the pending fare hike. All in all, poorly played Mr. Giambrone.

A young lad at 32 years, I can certainly forgive Adam his sexual dalliances. The public, however, is not so enamored of such promiscuity. Why else would it be a “scandal?” For all we know, his partner Sarah knows about his behavior and is cool with it, but that doesn’t necessarily make good television. But really, the ship seems to be sinking for our young captain. Let’s hope that time heals his wounds, and that he pulls his shit together to run for mayor. On the plus side, he has certainly got his name out there, and is probably by far the most recognizable name on the ticket. Congratulations Adam Giambrone, you have won this week’s Whore Derv award for refusing to let the media bully you into breaking down in tears on camera. The wildebeest knows best of a crocodile’s tears. Thank you, Adam, for sparing us the media’s lurid interest in human frailty. Dance, monkey, dance!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fourth Whore Derv of the Apocalpyse

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This week’s Whore Derv. goes to a singer, whose soulful devotion to our smaller, furrier companions, is truly mind-numbing. If this sounds like someone just being mean you might be right, but I doubt it. She is truly an icon of Canada, her songs lurking in outdoorsy craft shops on the outskirts of a town you’d live in to be close to point A but you can’t afford to live there. Her voice pulls your heartstrings while you shop for plastic waldo dolls or vintage arcade game shot glasses. She considers percussion some sort of anathema. Piono is her instrument of her choice.

It is Sarah McLachlan. A Liz Phair away from Tori Amos, Sarah has been singing the same song since the early nineties, and laughing all the way to the bank. Way to go Sarah! Her latest public service announcement, on behalf of the OSPCA, has had no shortage of airplay on CTV or on CBC; hell, it’s probably the soundtrack of your walk between your house or apartment to your car. Sarah, thanks for helping the voiceless, and for making your “one” song a part of our everyday lives!

From the people who like your music,

You’ve put us in a simulcast nirvana and we love you.

From the rest of us,


Monday, January 04, 2010

The Revenge of the Suburbs

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The Third Whore Derv of Canada goes to a long-deserving citizen and politician. Elected as one of the most crucial pieces of the governing party of Canada that was elected on a platform of free-market shenanigans, streamlined government, and increased transparency, he became the architect of the biggest government intervention in the Canadian economy since the great depression. Also a member of the largest Cabinet since Brian Mulroney’s 40 member Cabinet, excepting Paul Martin’s 39 member cabinet, he is also a governor of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The neo-colonial relations perpetuated by these institutions, namely the provision of funds for development of poorer nations, thereby saddling them with unwieldy debts, are well-known. The interest rates, set by these institutions, which are to a large extent run by people from former colonial powers or their closest satellites, preclude timely payback. Furthermore, they encourage to parceling out of arable land to grow cash crops for export, crops such as coffee and sugar, rather than food crops for domestic consumption. This cycle of poverty dependence is not unlike that shared by the lower echelons of the developed world’s economy, the huge majority of which are the working poor, becoming dependent upon credit with punishing interest rates. Granted, the poorest nations in the world, those with per capita incomes of less than $865/year, are sometimes given interest-free loans. However, the middle range poor nations, those with per capita incomes over $1305 are given loans with interest rates higher than market norms.

While we might laud this Cabinet Member for not being so rigidly dogmatic in his adherence to neoliberal ideology, and for incorporating a corrective dose of Keynesianism into his financial vision for Canada during hard times, his actions strike one as so out of step with his publicly-held beliefs that it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call him a nihilist. Moreover, Prime Minister Harper has recently asked Governor General Michaelle Jean to prorogue Parliament for a second year in a row. The reason he gave is so that the government can prepare the budget statement, due to be announced on March 3. Given that government critics have posited various theories explaining this move as an evasion of the Afghan torture scandal, or as a holiday for politicians to do some political schmoozing during the winter Olympics, the Invisible Truth does not wish to retread ground that has been beaten smooth. It is true that the committee designated to investigate the Afghan torture scandal will evaporate for now and face time-related obstacles in reconstructing pertinent events, especially if the Conservative paper shredder works overtime during the prorogation. Instead of these well-fleshed-out theories, The Invisible Truth dares to take the Prime Minister at his word.

Therefore, the third Whore Derv of Canada goes to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Congratulations Jim! If the government needs prorogation to prepare the next steps of Canada’s economic action plan, this implies you haven’t been doing your job. Because you haven’t been doing your job, the Prime Minister has dispatched government and subverted democracy yet again. Way to go! As a former member of provincial parliament in Mike Harris' government for Whitby/Oshawa, The Honorable Jim Flaherty has come a long way: he is also the government official responsible for the Greater Toronto Area. Take that you snooty urbanites!