I Like __ A Lot
Stuff I Loved in 2011
That’s the feeling I look for, right? In whatever I’m eating, be it real food, or entertainment, art, people. The major event. A safe, manageable portion of the inner land or map blown away, torn out and away, dissolved or smoked. I only know a couple people who really seek that, or when they say they want that destruction it’s a good lie, and maybe they’ve said it enough so it’s shared and indistinguishable from truth. Regardless, it’s a common myth, a familiar dragon to chase, that of the Art That Changes For Good. I rarely recognize the mountain exploding in realtime, while reading something or watching a movie, it’s felt live that way maybe four times in my adultish life. Mostly it’s just feeling the echo of the boom a time later. Still, standing mountains aren’t terrible, and are often really nice. But sometimes you get lucky (pictured, pictured). Here’s what my year looked like:
This year was more so filled with people and events, but some books and movies were important: I read Nothing by Blake Butler in the third floor bedroom in an old house in Sezze, Italy. The room was incredibly hot, and the open window often sent in weird, angry voices over bullhorns; it sounded like some kind of really violent political rally/concert. I read it in three long nights, about six hours of sleep between them. We finally figured it out: sleep in the bottom floor. The stone walls helped. ‘Great’ is used a lot, it’s an easy word to say and type, but Nothing is great. I reviewed it in full over here, but the experience of reading it both induced a 7 day long insomnia in me, and let me unlock and inhabit old memories and soft new thoughts about myself, my mind, death and living. It’s a big book. And so fucking admirable and beautiful that HarperPerennial published it. Another one from HP that I read this year is The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper. I tried a review at that one here, too, but it’s a book that’s perfectly confusing and a strain to talk about in any typical way. Which is very good. I’ve read it three times.
I read 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. It took at least three months. It’s worth all that time and more. I’ve never read a book that feels this bottomless (a very different sensation than full, like Finnegans Wake or Infinite Jest even). Through the long span of reading it and not reading it, just looking at it, or carrying it around, I kept thinking about art. It’s power, its lack of power, what it does to the hypercultured; I’d call most readers of this blog hypercultured. Does it blunt us to the real trauma around us? To the relationships and forms that are actually unavoidable? I wouldn’t be surprised. I do know that art really can “humanize” someone, in that it can make them really aware of other minds and ways of life, painfully & acutely aware, for the first time. It’s becoming harder to fight off the idea that art is best as a benign storehouse for excess energy, for ideas or behaviors that would normally be considered weird or offensive, and that, at its best and most beautiful, is contagious and hooks people into its practice and community, in order to grow itself as a form of human activity; but why fight this? In other words, art as/is the least harmful cultural node. 2666 seems to me like a thing made to be a symbol and signal of chaos and fear, maybe a reminder to be reverent, at the least.
Then, in a wholly different way, I read Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber. Which is just information & knowledge porn. So pleasurable. It’s an amazing story about money, what money has ever been, what it has wrought. A serious work of scholarship and synthesized histories. If you’re curious at all about the most powerful force of human organization in the last 5,000 years, uhh, read this. Disgustingly dogeared. Hey, publisher Melville House: congratulations!
Movies were rough. Mostly. Martha Marcy May Marlene captured some time and sequences that were bafflingly good and poetic, and is probably my favorite movie released this year. Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty is really good, really interesting, and the clearest successor to Eyes Wide Shut that I can think of. Wonderful to see a film from a first time director (and a novelist!) be so clear in its style and force. Elizabeth Olsen and Mia Wasikowska gave the two best performances I’ve seen this year. And I got so emotional in Warrior, it was great. And the movie handles a lot of the necessary tropes really deftly. And I know it wasn’t released this year, but I saw Inside Job for the first time. It effortlessly lays out the finance industry’s crimes, it’s fun to watch, and it’s the movie I think everyone should be forced to see before they take a job or sign a mortgage.
Another book I enjoyed: Berg by Ann Quin. And Deliverance by James Dickey is so lush and tense simultaneously. (thanks Derek, thanks Gian!)
There’s other stuff of course, always: websites, articles, scattered writing, images, video games, art in large buildings. But overall, it was a year mostly full of friends and moving in the meat world. This is the stuff that let some air in.
Tags: 2666, Ann Quin, art, berg, best of, blake butler, david graeber, debt, Deliverance, Dennis Cooper, elizabeth olsen, har har har har har, inside job, James Dickey, martha marcy may marlene, mia wasikowska, nothing, Roberto Bolaño, sleeping beauty, the marbled swarm, warrior, year end list motherfucker
holy shit balls. just read the synopsis for sleeping beauty. fuck.
all good recs, ken. thanks
i read deliverance this year too, mostly due to gian and my friend erin gushing, and holy fuck what a snack
thank god somebody else besides me actually really liked Sleeping Beauty; all my film-friends who were geeking out over the trailer who then went on to see it at festivals said it was disappointing; while the trailer is an entirely different beast than the film itself, I thought it was fucking great, great great great (I like it a lot more than Eyes Wide Shut, but I think we’ve kind of talked about that).
also: those pictures are fucking amazing
Mt St Helens as viewed from Mt Rainier?
I was in a driveway in Portland shooting hoops when St Helens erupted–not nearly so dramatic, but arresting nevertheless.
Cool list, Ken.
Are Rainier and St. Helens that close to each other? My guess was Iceland.
it’s definitely St. Helens. Maybe from Mt Hood?
Or photoshopped. Intense regardless.
Great list, Ken! I felt the same way about TMS and 2006; both continue to take up a lot of brainspace. I’m partway through reading Nothing now and really liking it. Never read Berg but it’s sitting on my shelf. I need to bump it up on the pile.
I agree about Martha Marcy May Marlene – wonderful film. The two movies that most knocked me out were Uncle Bonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Tree of Life. You not a fan of those?
well put: “art is … a benign storehouse for excess energy”
thanks for your precision
blake butler’s book gave you insomnia for 7 days? real talk?
Well, here are some pictures: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/05/mount_st_helens_30_years_ago.html . Look at photos #5 and 10 – 10 especially is from the south, with the winds (and wind-borne ash) prevailing easterly (left to right). I guess the above pictures could be from the south of St. Helens, too–but Hood is to its northwest. The above doesn’t look like the same eruption to me, but I can’t really see it well enough to be irascibly confident, ha ha.
Do scroll through the pictures, and have a thought about the “lateral blast” of the tree “blowdown” in #s 24, 25, and 30. Wow. (–and check the trees in Spirit Lake in 36 – and 35 still?? Why weren’t they harvested 30 years ago?)
“2666” WAS SUCH A POWERFUL BOOK THAT ZZZZIPP HAD TO PUT IT DOWN AFTER THE FIRST SECTION BUT MAYBE HE IS READY TO RETURN AGAIN HAVING GAINED SEVERAL LEVELS THOUGH HE HOPES THAT THOSE LEVELS DID NOTHING TO HIM AND THAT THE BOOK WILL STAND AS IT DID BEFORE
HOW DID ZZZZIPP MISS “NOTHING” ? ? ??? BLAKE ZZZZIPP THOUGHT THERE WAS A SPECTRAL CONNECTION BETWEEN US BUT PERHAPS THAT WAS JUST A DREAM OR A DESIRE, OR MAYBE ZZZZIPP DIDN’T EVEN THINK THAT AND WHERE IS BLAKE HE’S NOT “HERE” ZZZZIPP JUST WANTS TO READ THAT BOOK NOW
BOOKS THAT REORGANIZED ZZZZIPP’S LIFE THIS YEAR INCLUDE “BLOW-UP AND OTHER STORIES” AND “OBLIVION”.
THIS YEAR ZZZZIPP SPENT ABOUT A MONTH OR SO READING “THE KINDLY ONES”. THAT IS NOT THE BEST BOOK THAT ZZZZIPP READ BUT IS MAYBE THE BOOK THAT TOOK HIM OVER FOR THE LONGEST, EXCEPTING “OBLIVION” MAYBE. THOUGH THERE ARE ABOUT 100 PAGES OR SO THAT MAKE YOU WISH FREUD WAS NEVER INVENTED
merry christmas, deadgod
He ate the last beef stick then turned the plastic inside out and licked the grease off, which keeps the wine down. He leaned against a white concrete wall on the cement, close to the traffic, in the sun. He might as well be tied to a billboard on the freeway. A bus thundered by throwing a heat wave of fumes on him. At night it cooled off so he lay on a bench. Up north, Mount Saint Helens erupted. Trade winds carried the ash over the city. It rained ash all night and there was no morning. Everything was covered with gray powder and the sun was behind a thick gray mist. He sat up, drew a line on his arm then shuffled down the street. Yesterday he told me, “Nobody understands the whole system. It’s a continuous accident held together with banjo wire and duct tape.” All morning there were shouts and cries through the streets. Like after a riot everybody spilled out in a daze brooming off their cars. I walked in the ash to The Monroe. The ticket booth was coated with ash. The woman inside looked like a puppet. I was the only one in the theater. The lights went down and the snack bar movie started. Then the projectionist started bawling. His cries echoed off the ceiling and through the darkness ruining the happy dance of candy bars and popcorn tubs. I yelled, “Quiet!” Then the manager crept up and asked me to leave, handing over my money. I pushed out the soft doors into the sunlight and everything was back to normal like nothing ever happened.
Deliverance is the shit. Plot and lyricism do not need to be enemies.
[…] Baumann with best photo of the week. A post at that rag HTML DWARF. Not sure its origin. I was thinking Iceland then Photoshop or […]
Wow! What did it sound like?
Haven’t seen Uncle Bonmee yet, and The Tree of Life is vast, but it didn’t do much to me. Which I felt sort of creeped out by, considering The Thin Red Line and The New World ruined me, and I love them.
Yep. Not saying it was only the text, but boy fuck did it certainly help.
Don’t remember any sound, just a giant mushroom cloud. Is that photo for real, and what mountain is the climber on?
… and I’m sure that IKEA pull-out couch at our place on days 5-7 didn’t help!
Yes–is the view one of St. Helens from the northwest, and the wind hasn’t yet dragged the plume eastward? –and I’m schooled? Bah.
Happy solstice festivities, Guestagain. Normal like nothing ever happens–between nothing and something, can the grit be told from the pearl?
No way! That couch was heaven. I actually got the best sleep of the trip on it. For the first night, anyway.
No idea! I found it here: http://lazenby.tumblr.com/
Everyone should watch Toshiaki Toyoda.
Tree of Life was impressive to me technically on a first viewing, but the second one is when it started to make sense on an emotional level. Might be worth revisiting sooner rather than later.
[…] At HTML Giant, Ken Baumann talks about the books and movies he loved in 2011. […]
possibly a rhetorical question or recursive koan as pearls are formed from grit?
sleeping beauty does smell like eyes wide shut with an extra twist of lime