Thursday, July 31, 2008

“This very deep, dark fault;” The “Gap” Between Constructed Artistic Identities in Murakami’s “Dance Dance Dance.”

Demonstrations of theories about identity construction abound in contemporary (particularly “post-modern” and post-”post-modern”) Literature. I stumbled on one recently that spells things out in an interesting way, so I figured that I would share.

At a pivotal moment, in the midst of a tense piece of dialogue in Haruki Murakami’s 1988 novel “Dance Dance Dance,” Gotanda, an actor, explains to the unnamed narrator, “I get this gap between me Gotanda and me the actor and stand back and actually observe myself doing shit. I’m on one side of this very deep, dark fault, and then unconsciously, on the other side, I have this urge to destroy something.” This is a problematic phenomenon for the troubled character, who expresses that it “never happens when other people are around, though. Only when I’m alone.”

Through Gotanda’s dialogue admissions in these passages, Murakami establishes a paradigm, and at the same time a paradox, of the ways in which artists (and artistically-minded individuals) construct their identities. By doing so, he also sheds light on the construction of his own novel, as it becomes suddenly apparent that the narrator, who, on a surface level the work seems to be telling the story of, is NOT being portrayed as having a dynamically constructed and artistically-minded identity in the same way that Gotanda and most other characters in the novel do, thus shifting the narrator’s position within his own narrative from subject to something more akin to a Greek Chorus, a mere facilitator of the tale actually being told.

Gotanda’s “gap” is something expressed as a virtual constant for artistic individuals. The artist builds two distinctly separate identities, one for “self as artist,” and another for “self as private individual.” The “gap” is the void left by the discrepancies and differences between the two constructions, which, as one is distinctly intended for public consumption, while the other functions in terms of private self-perception, is why Gotanda points out that the gap is only present, is only something that he notices, “when I’m alone.”

The identity/ construction -free narrator (who is symbolically identified as such by the very act of remaining nonchalantly unnamed throughout the novel) is able to fulfill his “facilitator” role within the work of allowing stories about the gap to be told unencumbered by the necessary problems created by the nature of the constructs themselves (a description of identity, without the sort of foil provided by the narrator, would necessarily be presented within the context of either one construction or other, the intended “public” or “private” personae of the artist relating the self-involved anecdote). As Gotanda tells the narrator in this conversation about murder over beers, “whenever I’m with you, I feel so relaxed. I never feel the gap. You don’t know how precious that is.” Precious indeed, to an even greater extent to Murakami himself than to Gotanda, as the way in which the narrator’s character is constructed provides the precious necessary neutral backdrop on which to make the author’s larger points about personal and artistic identity. The ironies, complexities, and contradictions with which this is done are far too detailed to expound upon completely in a medium such as this. He is a character skillfully constructed for a difficult purpose; he is, in a broad sense, an “artist,” which allows him to empathize to certain degrees with Gotanda and others and come and go effortlessly or accidentally within their lives and social circles, yet, due to the nature of his “art” (which he views as existing in the realm of “commerce rather than “creation” and refers to frequently as “shoveling cultural snow”) he is devoid of the need to think of himself in such a way that requires a construction of an artistic identity. He lacks “the gap,” therefore, because he has built the constructions on neither side of it, and is therefore able to present Gotanda with a surface on which to lay his own bare, and demonstrate a theory on the way that the construction of identities operates for artists.

We are what we create ourselves to be. Just mind the gap.

(Image courtesy of Alloy Images; I am indebted to Sara Jane D'Agostino of that organization for exposing me to Murakami's writing.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Politics of an Underwritten Sense of Identity; Three Digits, Four Digits, Four... Dotted Line.

I’m not usually much for
Outwardly “political” poetry,
Some things have been…
Festering… lately that I’ve
Been having an increasingly
Harder time trying to

My attention is short for
Chosen ideologies based on
Personally biased concerns,
Personally motivated, pay-check,
“Real world” based
Partisan decision-making…
Cries and whines of “isms” based
On “because of the ‘system’
My ends won’t meet so it’s
Obviously the ‘system’s’ responsibility
To make them, to even playing-
Fields, tear down the
Institutions that tear us
Down,” or, just as bad, the
My vote will ensure that
My dollar’s not going to
That,” with no concern for
Broader philosophy or any
Larger concerns than your
Personal take-home pay.

To quote a wise anachronism whose
Name on principle I
Refuse to capitalize,
“Render to Caesar
That which is Caesar’s”
“In {something vague and
Elusive} we trust” printed
In so many different
Words and symbols
On the fronts and backs of
Bills, and “trust” is
Something that you know I’m
Not one terribly quick to do.
These bills belong to a
System that we’ve
Chosen to participate in…
In theory.

Cue the back-beat backing-track
Break-down as I spin you a
(Mock me in your mind as a
“Wonder Years” monotone for a
Lecture-like moment) Spin of
Reel-to-reel, “START.”

In order for a “Democracy” to
Function as such, based on the
“Will” of the “people” to
“Choose” their own “freedoms,”
The “people” must have the
“Freedom” to “choose” to
Opt out of said otherwise-
Sham of a “democracy.”

But most of us were
Born into this system,
Tagged with codes of
Threes and fours and
Fours to mark our
Places within, our debts to
Jurisdictions inside
Ever closing in, continually
Smaller sets of borders,
To contain us within the
Laws of our “personal” fiscal

I must stress here, you
Don’t need to desire to
Exist outside of the system
For that freedom to be
Active and pertinent.
That “freedom,” however, must
Be constantly conscious
In the way that our
“Chosen” institutions “choose”
To conduct themselves,
And the way that we relate
Ourselves {as now in
Shackles} to them.

This is why I refuse
To wave flags intended
To represent false “freedoms.”

This option has failed,
As we find ourselves
Forced, within our sets of
“Obligations” as “responsible
Adults,” to sign our
Names on lines, scribble
Last four digits in boxes to
Underwrite every aspect of our
“Personal” conduct with the
“Insuring” capital of
Corporate conglomerates,
In case something were to
“Happen” to force you to
“Require” services within the
System built up as
Confining walls of bullion
Blocks around us that few
Humans alive could comfortably
Procure without the
Fiscal net you’ve bought and
Signed for, to reaffirm your
“Choice” to operate within
This “optional” system.

In twenty-six years “my”
“Name” has become
Attached to so many
Various forms of
Account numbers that
The fees would rise
Higher than the national
Deficit were I to
“Choose” to try to close them all.

And you wonder why I’ve used
So many alternate names for how I
“Choose” to represent "myself".

I’m not sure if I would
Personally exercise the option to
Opt-out if I had it,
But it’s integrally important to me
That we regain that
Most essential freedom
To actively choose not to sign
Our names and identities as numbers
On another dotted line.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Unexpected Situations on a Crowded Street," a preface in poetic explanative expiriments.

"Beyond superstition, I was aware, in a manner more forceful than anything my academic research had brought home to me, of the extent to which my identity and the words I utter coincide, the extent to which I want to form my own sentences or to choose for myself those moments in which I will recite someone else's. To be asked, even by an isolated, needy individual to perform lines that were not my own, that violated my sense of my own desires, was intolerable." -Stephen Greenblatt, "The Improvisation of Power (Epilogue)"

Unexpected Situations on a Crowded Street, Revisited.

“Cars overturned,
Fists are flyin’,
Houses bein’ burned,
Children are dyin’.”

Full circle…
Unexpected situations on a crowded…
What street?
This street,
That street,
The same

As the space in which we
Make these noises now
Sits a mere block-and-a-half from
That pad we inhabited
When I was a child…
In fact, I can almost see it from our
Grime-encrusted back-window as
I stand now sporting
Straight edge tattoo-work
Chain smoking Specials, sipping
Cloudy Green Fairy and red wine…

To those who think they’ve
Kept tabs on my back-catalogue
So much of this must
Seem a bit strange
So bear with me a bit as I lay myself bare,
I tend to think in some sort of semi-logical trajectory
This makes some semblance of sense,
I swear.

I’ll slit my
{Insert something
Censored here}
For you,
I really will…

This game of performance is a Riot

Leaving faceless idols of divinity hanging
Upside-down from trees,
With banners of perversity
For its own sake,
And so many dead
People from a country that
We all doubted that the song ever
Really had anything to do with…

As the circular nature of this
Leaves me battling
Myself now,
Pitting what I
Should do against
What I seem to have to…

As after trying to quit
Cold-turkey so many
Times, I pull the
Tourniquet so
Tight again to
Inject “Music”
And “Performance,”
The stuff that seems to
Kill, into my veins with
Rhythmic pulsing pump and
Flow again, banging out
Noise with these people who
Shared the same first ironic
Moronic cult of a “band,”
Performance-art shams,
Devoid of Concept besides
In anachronistic retrospect,
A willing pint we call and

As I battle the
Balance of
Sounds I can’t
Seem to cease making
With the words that
Prove my passion,
Squeezing my own
Voice within perversely
Problematic rehashes and
Re-fires of words from the
Past that I put in my
Mouth that weren’t really my
And try to make them fit
With what I really
Can’t stop needing
To say,
In speech and sounds,
In synthesis.

With this fire,
Raging blue with
Volatile and toxic
Plastic, we
Burn symbolic streets.

“Cars overturned,
Fists are flyin’,
Houses bein’ burned,
Children are dyin’.”

“Cops can’t do nothing’, even though they have those guns,
Youngsters on the sidewalk, glassy eyes turned to the sun.
You stand in amongst the throngs, try to stay alive,
Chantin’ pro-rebellion songs, smothered by the hive.
Ground comes up to meet your head, scattered mates call your name.
You’re gonna be left for dead, playin’ your private/public riot game.”

“Cars overturned,
Fists are flyin’,
Houses bein’ burned,
Children are dyin’.”

{The preceding is a piece of word-collage poetry that I posted on the Myspace blog for my electro-rock outfit Tipsy Cougar, who recently finally started posting some actual "music" to our site. It's intended to serve as a strange sort of preface to the next piece of noise that we intend to post, a drastically divergent reworking of the long-forgotten Moron Cult/ Pseudophonics song "USOCS". This seemed to be an ironically fitting choice for the outfit, as all three active members of the band were at one point or another at least tenuously part of the older act (in fact, depending on definitional technicalities, and at different junctures, Moron Cult was all three of our "first" band.) Thus, I must give credit where it's due and point out that some segments of the above that appear in quotations were originally written by C. Charles ("xian") Dyer of that outfit (while sitting next to me in driver's ed. class, in fact). Also, references and lyrical fragments are borrowed liberally throughout from many bands that I've contributed to in the past (we could make a game of it, if you like... cookies of some sort should go to those among you that can pick out and identify the most...)... This would probably be as good of a time as any to point out that if you haven't taken a listen to what I'm doing with Tipsy Cougar yet, you should. Conceptually, what I'm attempting there in auditory form is very similar to some terrain tread often within the pages of this blog.}