Thursday, August 7, 2008
Richard Avedon’s portrait of Warhol imposes a particular/directed reading
And: Unprompted promotional charity on the Internet, self-demeaning jocularity, promise of one lucky winner, praise for a particular play, events punching beings, an Appalachian whorehouse, Shakespeare’s contemporariness, lyrical rhizomatic explosions, postcard biographies, the critical treatment of the life of Andy Warhol, a sculpture made out of information in the shape of its subject, the centrality of absence, an anecdote about identity...
1. The Corresponding Society is giving away a copy of the first issue of Correspondence for fun. This is called promotion, I guess, I’m not sure. To qualify, all someone has to do is read this very entry we have posted on our Internet blog (I pray that qualifies at least one lucky so-and-so) and be the first to send us an email informing us that she is the winner (whereupon we will happily mail out her spoils gratis [though in the more likely event that she is somebody we know and see on a daily basis, who has just avoided spending money on a copy, we’ll just deliver it personally]). We wish every one of the many devotees of this Internet presence the best of luck in this matter.
2. The Corresponding Society urgently implores all residents of New York City to make reservations to see the play Twelve Ophelias, written by Caridad Svich and presented by the Woodshed Collective. It’s playing through August, with free admission, at Williamsburg’s delightful McCarren Pool. The production has systematically astonished just about every available member of The Corresponding Society recently. I saw it first knowing nothing about it⎯it’s just one of those things, those serendipitous events that punch your being unexpectedly. Quite loosely, the conceit involves Ophelia resurfacing to find herself in an alternate existence where Elsinore is a whorehouse in Appalachia and Hamlet is a backwoods miscreant called the Rude Boy. No other recent production predicated upon Hamlet has proven how alive Shakespeare’s play still is, how important, how adaptable. As a writer who has been closely studying Hamlet for over a year, it was an indescribable experience watching the play I love and know so well breathing inside and through a new body. Hamlet is ours, Hamlet is depthless, and this interpretation lyrically explodes Hamlet rhizomatically. Also, it’s a musical.
3. Michael Kimball, author of the new novel Dear Everybody, is also a prolific biographer who writes the life stories of strangers on the backs of individual postcards; recently he profiled the poet Lonely Christopher (though forwent mentioning the subject’s status as web editor of The Corresponding Society) on his blog. To segue awkwardly into the more appropriate use of first person when referring to myself, I was intrigued to participate in this project. When my postcard biography arrived in the mail my reaction was decidedly mercurial, but as a dedicated reader of books on the lives of others I have come to understand and accept that biography is an art of interpretation: a writer doesn’t explicate the life of his subject, he performs it. I recently read two biographies of Andy Warhol, one by Victor Bockris and the other by Wayne Koestenbaum. The former, thicker and more grounded, posed as an objective account of a life but implicitly failed to avoid shaping the Warholian data into a writerly narrative necessitating judgment, a sculpture made out of information and opinion shaped like its subject. The latter was far more flamboyant about its distance from a definitive conception of Warhol; Koestenbaum knew he couldn’t reconstruct his subject in facsimile⎯so he took the available data and thoughtfully used it to build a structure around the absence. When I read my own abbreviated biography I saw Kimball performed a reduction of the accumulation of source data, like a sculptor addressing a block of marble (or maybe a preexisting, larger, and more detailed marble statue), to narrow and redefine my self-narrative into his narrative of my self as his subject. The extremely compact nature of this project is illustrated by how, ultimately, my biography is reduced to a list of drastic labels perhaps meant to suggest taxonomy (ergo I am summarized with words that imply concision yet are calculated to corroborate the stance of the whole piece). While some of what he posits upsets me or strikes me as a misreading (“As a form of self-medication, he started drinking as a high school freshman.”), there is at least one imposition of causal narrative that I found illuminating (“In kindergarten [he] couldn’t tell the difference between writing and drawing, which still influences his approach to writing.”). To put it differently, allow me to retell (rewrite, perhaps, or write) an anecdote from Bockris’ treatment of Warhol without having the text available for reference. Warhol lived with his mother Julia Warhola in New York City; perhaps he mistreated her, perhaps she was taken to drink. Maybe there was an argument and Julia’s resultant departure from the house, whereupon she returned to Pittsburg where she had raised Andy and his brothers. Consequently, Andy’s household might have fallen into neglect (presumably because Andy was helpless without his mom). Julia was probably convinced to come back by those concerned with her son’s welfare, and she did come back, but when she did she stormed into the apartment, threw her suitcase angrily down, and, in front of her son and most likely some of his close friends, declared of herself, “I’m Andy Warhol!”