November 15th, 2004

Self-Reflection

Alright, take a closer look at that picture in my last entry, the one of Skylar in her Dorothy outfit, standing amid the red-and-greenery of our Sonoran front yard. I've taken enough photos from that spot to know what background effects I can achieve without compromising the foreground. Sometimes they work out, sometimes not. But I know there's a chance. I'm pleased with this portrait on several grounds, not least of which is that it serves as a self-portrait that perfectly captures my relation to the spaces I inhabit or, more properly, haunt. It matters enormously that Skylar is not looking at my looking, that her gaze in fact represses my own, only to have the repressed return in the window behind her.

When she was first born, Kim and I used to joke that our little girl thought her father was a camera:

In this case, I wonder whether the onset of the reality principle -- "The camera is not my father" -- would actually have taken her further from the truth than the fantasy it supplanted.

This line of inquiry leads to the vexing question of whether learning to ignore the camera when the father is its bearer is a blow or an aid to patriarchy. Joan Didion explores this topic brilliantly in her novel Play It As It Lays, though in that case it's not the father himself but his replacement, the lover, who takes the pictures. She gives an excellent sense of what it feels like to constantly be on the object side of the objectif. So does Blow Up, incidentally, though that may not have been Antonioni's intention. In both cases, the identification of photography with the male look is impossible to overlook. Maybe Skylar isn't thinking along such rarified lines, though she is no stranger to abstraction. I do know that she usually refuses to strike a for-the-camera pose for me, even though she will gladly do so for her mother.

These days, I say, "Smile!," in order to make Skylar resist the injunction visibly: better an animated face than one frozen in anticipation or inert refusal. In fact, I'm happiest when she isn't looking at me. It makes for better pictures, more often than not. What I'm trying to figure out is whether the pleasure I take in this particular photograph of Skylar in her red shoes as a masked self-portrait is a pleasure I should be trying to resist or at least limit on ideological grounds. Because in the end I'm still looking over Skylar's shoulder, monitoring what she's looking at so I don't have to pay attention to my own looking. Then again, that's what I just did, isn't it? Time to turn the murderous portion of my subjectivity on the part of me that takes pleasure in writing about the troublesome pleasures of self-reflexivity. Maybe infinite regress is a developmental concept. The more you look at yourself, the further you retreat into a world where you see yourself going on forever. I think I'll go listen to Tommy and follow Pete Townsend's lysergically sage advice.

  • Current Music
    All Of The Ants Left Paris - Tarwater - Animals, Suns &

Degrees of __________

So if Condoleeza Rice becomes Secretary of State, should I feel good about the fact that I was once part of a hiring committee in which she was one of the candidates who didn't get the position or acknowledge, more soberly, that the Friends of Ron, Pete, and a plethora of Georges on that committee were ever so close to finding a way to maneuver her into the job? Somewhere, I still have her resumé. It was pretty damned impressive back in 1996, the operative word being "damned." But that was nothing compared to the circles of flame it has passed through since she left Stanford.
  • Current Music
    Al Michaels and John Madden, amazingly

The Long Haul

I had a half hour today to spend before picking up Skylar. Since I was already crossing Glenn on Campbell when the realization hit me, I made a right turn in front of Rubio's Baja Grill and headed into CD City. Impecunious after the birthday insanity, I went straight to the back, where they have the 2 for $5 bargain discs. Here's what my searching turned up, with links to the relevant All Music Guide reviews and the number of stars each record receives on their five-point scale where appropriate:
1) Status Quo, Dog of Two Head -- 4 stars
2) Pete Seeger, Live At Newport -- 3 stars
3) Pete Seeger, Dangerous Songs -- N.A.
4) Gustav Mahler, Symphony #5, Zubin Mehta conducting -- N.A.
5) Serge Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet ballet score (highlights) -- N.A.
6) Superconductor, Hit Songs For Girls -- 2 stars
Despite the two-star rating, it's that last record that I was happiest to find. I've been looking for it for a long time. Destroyer and the New Pornographers' Dan Bejar was in Superconductor, which is good enough for me. I'm listening to the album right now and it's pleasingly steel-toed.

The classical picks were no-brainers, since I'll take anything that's a first or second-quality recording -- none of that post-1989 Eastern European musical sweatshop fare, please -- and am a fan of both Mahler and Prokofiev.

The Status Quo I got because I like the Camper Van Beethoven cover of "Pictures of Matchstick Men" and have been listening to the new CVB record all week.

As for the Pete Seeger, well, he has been a huge influence on me. I have extraordinarily fond memories of those times in Pennsylvania when I was nine or ten and, my father out of town on business, my mother would appropriate the otherwise sacred record player to play me her favorite folk albums. Later, living in D.C., my parents took me to see Pete Seeger at Wolf Trap on a number of occasions. And we must have watched that PBS special on the Weavers' reunion five times.

I'm partial to anyone who was blacklisted in the 1950s. But Pete is at the head of the list. Although I probably would have turned into a leftist without his provocations, it would have happened later and with less humanism. I know, I know a self-professed "bad subject" should be wary of all that touchy-feely populism. In the end, however, I'd side with the American folk tradition over Althusser. Perhaps that makes me a bad bad subject. I don't care. This is for you, mom.
  • Current Music
    I'm Gonna Knock Your Block Off - Superconductor - Hit Songs For Girls