On Inspiration – 25 July 2016

Inspiration is a great motivational force in the creation of art, in the performance of duty, in writing and painting and music. We hear about the Muse, Calliope for writing poetry (there are nine according to Hesiod — including Clio, discoverer of history and guitar. Seriously) and we assume that all great art is great because of inspiration, genius, or prodigious skill. Mozart’s music is often seen as inexplicable works of effortless talent and ability. This may be true of some of his music, but it does a disservice to what was surely the product of a life of endless hours of practice, time, and effort put towards the creation of such works as Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute, and his piano concertos. It makes an excuse for any failure on behalf of the practitioner of creation, to think that all such work is the product of nature’s endowment, an endowment not afforded everyone at birth. It is an excuse.

This assumption of prodigy can misplace the admiration in the creation of such work: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, took nearly 20 years; of course he had great natural talent and ability, but talent is nothing without being willing to put that kind of effort into a work of art, to spend that much time getting it right. Surely there was great inspiration behind the movement that brought those works to our attention, but to admire only talent or genius is misplaced: the admiration of study, hard work, and dedication should be just as important.

If everyone in the business of creating art was waiting on the dictates of the muse, we’d might have less terrible artwork but assuredly we’d have less great works too. less works we assume to be the products of great inspiration and motivation. Inspiration, then, is less a divine flourish that spills purely and perfectly onto a page and more of a constant factor in pushing someone towards the completion of their work. Do not wait for Calliope by the time she arrives, you should be too busy to notice. After all, no great work of art has ever been accomplished by thinking really hard about it. 

The Shame of Franz Kafka – 15 July 2015

Kafka was painfully earnest, in all moods, but never as intensely as in defense of himself. Not his looks, his sense of masculinity, but the defense against his right to existence, and each time one of his stand-ins dies, he’s letting these personalities, so vividly abstracted allegories, become a way of accepting judgment of himself. Kafka wasn’t unsuccessful, not by modern terms. He held a series of jobs in law offices, but was as naturally talented as Schiller and Goethe, and more intensely naked. He exposes himself and allows, beckons the jeering of the crowd, as he does in his final story A Hunger Artist. It is the most kafkaesque thing Kafka ever created.

It is not his most popular story, but in it, a performer fasts for a record number of days, and this is much to the enjoyment of fans. A hunger artist went days without eating, showing their strength. A drop of water daily, not a bit of food, and his features become emaciated and rigid as stone, as a corpse, and it is his greatest thrill for those watching to be entertained by his self-mutilation and starvation. It is an allegory of his fans.

While he wrote this story, Kafka was unable to eat anything without great pain from what eventually killed him, laryngeal tuberculosis. He died 4 days after his hunger artist reveals the truth about his performance, his public performance of his acceptance of death and nothing and the long intensity of silence, he admits that had he only found something to eat, he would have been more admirable. He simply didn’t have an appetite, and was not to be admired. Indeed, he is replaced by an animal, a panther, that is voraciously hungry and full of rigor and vitality. The hunger artist died while a crowd cheered for his dumb replacement, the blood and devouring of flesh over simple, existing without need for approval or admiration, it is, in the face of death, saying, death cannot bring this much pain to me. Take me, you Coward of a god, take me if you dare. He said this to everyone, the judges, his father, though he deeply wanted his approval, or at least his sympathetic understanding. I have no father figure as degrading and imposing as Herman Kafka. No, mine was a Noble man. Herman, sharing a name with Kafka’s abusive father. My father Herman is in no sense the obvlious, insensitive father Franz had to endure, but there are specifics that are uncanny. Kafkaesque.

He is that rarely genuinely gifted writer of great drama amidst a period of utterfluff in Europe (with few exceptions) and he was worthy of recognition, every bit as much as Goethe’s tiresome, Romantic Sorrows of Young Werhter whose titular young Werther, a stand-in for Goethe, (Gerh-deh, is one way to say it) and Werther, (pronounced Ver-tah), a mary sue if you will. He devotes his life to a vain, arbitrary opportunist who hangs on while he devotes himself utterly and flatters the object of romantic obsession. When the relationship turns sour, he simply understood and Goethe, unlike Werther who killed himself over the woman who had spurned him, he grew up; he was accepted, his work was the first true international best-seller, praised by commoners and royalty, even Napoleon, bragging of how many times he read it. Had the conquerors after Napoleon (long dead by the time Kafka was writing) read the works of Kafka, the greatest Czech writer in history, perhaps their romantic notions of war and themselves as great powers and conquerors would have been deflated, showing them as tiresome, arbitrary statues incapable of understanding the suffering of another, seemingly meek man.

There is a nagging need in all writers, I think, to be a type of performer, to hear applause and to read praise, and it is that nagging need of validation that Kafka has for his fathers approval, or just to hear him say, “It’s okay you’re you, that is more common than you would think, and not just with fathers, with anyone worthy of your love, unlike Franz’s. One of the turning points of his life was a rather common one: one night the young Franz cried out for water. His father exploded. He pulled him from his bed in nothing but his night shirt and took him onto the patio and left him there all night in nothing but his night-shirt, alone, afraid, and freezing. After this, he wrote, “I was quite obedient.”

This episode works its way into his work, too, with remarkable emotional poignancy and depth. Over and over in his work are figures of arbitrary power, judges and trials, and the family who decided he should just go off and die in The Metamorphosis — after they see him as perhaps saw himself, a bug, akin to a bedbug, meek and powerless, but always obliging. He had this persistent fear that some great power, under which he was significant to the point of less than mattering, less than being of consequence, but arbitrarily existing in its sphere of influence and authority. Kafka always relented under these figures, in The Judgment when the narrator’s father is sickly, his son is praised and adored as a great caretaker. But upon his recovery, he realizes, he didn’t need his son after all. He commands him to commit suicide, and Kafka, ever obedient, duly obliges.

My relationship with my father has no such moment of arbitrary cruelty, but there is a moment that stands out. Well, a few, and these symbols creep into my fiction over and over. It is a type of reverse allegory, projecting your life in a distorted mirror to tell an essentially, emotionally true story as confession disguised as fiction. I have avoided the moment, as you would’ve seen from reading that last paragraph, because I’m trying to go through a series of moments, to see which one is comparable to that of Herman Kafka leaving Franz on the patio in his nightshirt. There are three candidates for this moment of arbitrary horror, but the following has been the most long lasting and traumatic.

When I was 13, my brother and I would sometimes sneak a cigarette from a pack lying around the house and hang out the back door and smoke during the night, my brother standing lookout while I leaned out of the back door blowing smoke into the wind. If our father got out of bed, my brother would tap twice on the kitchen door and I’d drop the cigarette in a cop of water (we’d been found out by a flickering ember from a tossed cigarette that by chance landed on a bag of trash), slide the door against the sock in place, lock it, and move as quickly back into the bedroom as possible. He just as good as caught us that night, as he was on the threshold of our bedroom (the kitchen and backporch just beyond), and claimed to smell smoke in the air. That night we decided we wouldn’t sneak and smoke out the back door anymore: we would cut a hole in the mesh of our bedroom windows so we’d be able to fling the cigarette and be back in bed before he, with his limp and emphysema, could make it to our room and catch us.

Two days later, after using a boxcutter to cut out the mesh just beyond the raised window – we’d found out it was more than just a mesh screen, as we had thought, as the air came rolling in when we opened the window, quietly as to not wake our sleeping father on the other side of the house. It went well. We both got to smoke in relative peace, finished, dropped it in a bottle of water, and then dumped the water and cigarette into the toilet, flushing it away. We left the window up, hoping the smell of smoke would be out by the time he got up the next morning. We fell asleep with the window up, and in the summer in the South it is often chilly in the morning, or at least cold enough that it wasn’t uncommon to see young boys and girls with jackets on in the morning and tank-tops and t-shirts by the end of the day. I was awake when my father passed the window the first time. I closed my eyes as he passed, doing that “pretend to sleep” face all children must learn, and waited on the sound of the percolator and his breakfast. Shortly after sitting down, he stood, I could hear the chair being slid back ever so slightly against the polished linoleum floor. The feet drew closer – he was at the window, I could sense his presence there in the room, and – strangely, I realized then what I should have the before: the tell-tale window was confessing our crimes for us, as we lay just a few feet away. The sound of his labored walking trailed off toward the living room, ah, I remember sighing with relief. He had gone back to bed. I was tired, and suddenly less anxious, and I closed my eyes to go to sleep. For real. My brother asleep beside me, I got comfortable and closed my eyes.

Just as I relaxed, the covers were pulled from me, and then my father got me by the leg and swinging a leather belt beat me over the back for a couple of minutes until my little brother woke up. He started whipping Kyle while he was still asleep, waking him up to a confusing ogre of a man beating him, and unaware of what crime could bring this about. What had he done, the younger Nobles with the cigarette at the window, to wake to the sound of leather cutting the air and only slowly recognizing the brutality of the blows as they fell upon him? He would develop insomnia and anxiety after that, as did I. It persists, the anxiety and the insomnia. I sometimes imagine closing my eyes and relaxing my guard only for, at that moment, a beast of a man to appear above me just to beat me for my crime.

It’s easy to say this is common, the disciplining of children, but this gave me this almost unconscious fear of allowing myself to be seen exhausted for the very reason that sleep is something I put off, for when I dream I wake to the blows of an elderly man, a good man by all accounts, beating two sleeping children with the strength natural to an army officer. My father was a Private first class and sent to boot camp at Ft. Jackson; he was not unique among army men for their trust in spanking, disciplining, or otherwise intentionally inflicting harm in children for their misdeeds. My father believed in this very passionately, often, but more rare than his father had beaten him. My mother’s father committed suicide on his patio near the bus-stop where my mom and her sister Virgnia (my aunt Jenny) got off the bus to walk the alley-way through the apartments to their trailer behind the mill, where they found him dead, still holding the gun but feebly. My mother has this terrible sort of face whenever she sees a schoolbus, and I think that when she does she remembers walking up those steps to find her father — what had been her father — with a gaping wound in his head and one half-opened eye, peering at her in death. To see a schoolbus and have that sort of Proustian memory of a father’s suicide must, at least, be considered somewhat Kafkaesque in its arbitrary horror.

I am not comparing myself to Kafka as a writer: I have no comparable talent, wit, imagination, or even the pride of Kafka, but I share his sense of unworthiness, shame, and lack of pride; his style of allegorical confessional is a great and cathartic way of excising personal demons (as I have tried to do here) and surviving judgments one might not otherwise survive. Kafka is a monument in world literature, but during his lifetime he struggled to sell his stories, publishing one collection of short stories before his death. The rest? He tore them apart because he was so displeased with them. Now, not all people deeply unsatisfied with their work are secret Kafkas, but statistically speaking, there may be a living Kafka now, so ashamed of his own material he’d never show the world. Perhaps he’s failed to have some books published, or he never really got on with his father. Perhaps forced to live a life of unsteady jobs utterly beneath him. Perhaps, but it is not me.

Kafka is one of humanity’s great cultural heroes, and the Kafkaesque not just a byword for weird; it is the great eye of alienation that one recoils from in all bouts of true, existential crisis, when one finds themselves in an emasculating, alienating, deeply paranoiac, deeply confusing, judgmental world, with eyes and verdicts and pointing fingers in every mirror and window; everywhere a judge waiting to render a verdict on whether or not you deserve to exist. You do; you don’t need your father’s approval (or mother’s, or your friends’) anymore than Kafka did. It is a great tragedy that in his brief life on this Earth very few realized his genius, his talent, and above all, his generosity: he gave the world some of the best stories in centuries, including short stories such as The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and The Hunger Artist and his novels The Trial, Amerika, and The Castle. He is a monument to anyone who ever felt slight in regards to a terrifyingly large and arbitrarily cruel world, for anyone every utterly embarrassed of their writing and deeply unforgiving of their own failures, imagined or not. For that we must be grateful of his many gifts and be sure to take the time to read his work.

“A book must be the ax for the frozen seas within us, ” – Franz Kafka, 3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924 (aged 40).

Reject #3 for the Library of Babble

‘Mme. Nanty, have you ever thought of incorporating the audience into a performance?’

She was intrigued by this:

‘I mean, lots of shows break the fourth wall. Breaking the forth wall is when an actor or actress acknowledges or speaks to the audience. That’s breaking the forth wall. I’m talking about breaking the floor.

‘How would that be done?’ I asked.

‘First, you plant actors into the audience. They do this on shows in America to give the performance more weight, especially when the show is inherently fraudulent. Like mediums, a person who uses cold-reading to pretend to gain access to an audience member’s dead mother or father…’

‘That’s awful!’ I said. ‘How do they get away with that?’

‘That’s the thing: they get away with in broadcast more than they do with the audience before it’s broadcast, because the studio—the people producing the show—have actors intermingled with the audience. They have lines and costumes and no one, no one outside of the production staff knows about it. The idea could work to even greater effect in honest theatre. You plant actors in the audience and mix them. Give them parts to play, lines to read, and audio or visual cues to bring them into the performance. You do this and you take away the idea of deafness, the idea that the performers are separate to the audience or blind to them. The actors could use this to great effect. Think about it: what is never questioned in a performance?’

I couldn’t think of anything. I’ve read critics, and not all of them were like Lain.

‘When someone fucks up,’ he said. ‘If an actor fumbles a line, or stutters in a meaningful scene, everyone knows they’d never intentionally fuck up. Incorporate that into a mixed audience, and you have a basic premise to break a floor: an actress is on stage—let’s say that it’s Renette here, may I call you Renette? Okay, thank you. Let’s say mademoiselle is on stage during a great, long monologue. She’s doing it perfectly, and there’s a member of the audience—a very vocal and proud fan of the piece. Let’s say I’m that guy, and I see her fumble the lines. I start shouting her down, and she fumbles more and more. Finally, she loses her shit entirely and runs into the crowd and beats the fucking shit out of the guy.

‘That’s when someone throws something, another actor joins in, and in minutes, you’ve got a crowd in chaos and only half of them know it’s not real. What would the person sitting next to me feel? Real fear. When you see something performed, something supposed to scare you, you’re never really afraid because you know you’re not in danger. You add to that, bring twenty, fifty actors into it, and have frustrated staff take to the crowd to kill them, what do you have? Fucking fear. You have a broken floor.’

‘Why do you want to scare people?’ mother asked. ‘Wouldn’t that make them, I don’t know, leave the theatre?’

‘Why do we go to the theatre?’ he asked. ‘We go to experience feelings. Of course some people go to be entertained, for an escape from the real world, to escape into fantasy. Some people go to the theatre to more intensely feel the real world, or at least become more aware of the things that matter about it. Think about it: when do you most care about someone in a show? The moment they lose the person they love. Their father, their mother, their spouse. It’s about fear and desire, at its core, every play, every drama, is fear and desire in contrast with hope and reality.

‘When do you care about someone the most? When you think they’re going to die. When do you want someone to stay the most? When you find out they’re going to leave. When you’re scaring someone, without them knowing, you’re teaching them to love and to love more and to love harder. Why scare them? Because when they’re clued in on the joke, when they find out everything is A-okay, they willnever feel greater relief, because there is no such relief in life. In life, when someone leaves a stage with a pistol and shoots ate real people around an audience member, the cadavers don’t jump back up and bow and let her know that it’s okay, it’s all okay, nobody is hurt. Because in those situations, those people are fucking dead and nobody gets back up, not after that. You break the floor just to show them how real the floor is, how vulnerable it is, how precious.’

Silence.

It took me longer than it probably should have, but it was only then I realized my mother had found someone with actual talent. I had consistently been asked to imagine by this person, not to think, but to participate in a process. I’ve heard a lot of proposals for ‘new’ types of theatre, and most of it is like that turd with its crown and cape. But breaking the floor was one of the best ideas for a theatre I’d ever heard. It’s hard to describe a person, much less get to know a person through another’s description, of a lifetime or a train ride.

Where little was said, even less understood or agreed upon, lots was at least given thought. If there is any way to get to know someone based on a book’s description, a lot of Lain is wrapped up in that idea, breaking the floor. That’s the scary part, truly: to give yourself to someone who knows how you’re put together is to put yourself in the hands of the person most capable of breaking you.

I plugged my dead phone into the wall and it glowed in the dark room as it blinked on, digital necromancy:

Arise!

Missed 4 call(s)

Camille

Lance

Camille

The Queen

The Queen!

The Artist’s Wish – short story, 11 July 2016

Once there was an artist who lived on his own by the bay. He painted and played piano, the violin and wrote poetry, plays and novels. Yet none were good, or so he thought, and so everyone seemed to think. And, frustrated, he gave it up and went to war. After many years away from home, the war ended and he was discharged. Returning home by boat, with friends, they found a strange man on a lifeboat. His accent was peculiar and his manner of dress out of fashion by some hundred years. Gradually he gained their trust and friendship and revealed himself to be a genie. His story was most interesting, as they had all heard the story of a genie’s lamp, or some variation, and as the self-proclaimed genie pointed out, in all those tales, what did they ever really know about the genie, the magician who granted them fortune and fame? Continue reading

Pretentious Spiel About Art, 7 July 2015

This essay was originally suggested by my weird and wonderful friend Diana. She’s a writer, a mother, and Doctor Who aficionado.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as we all know. We’ve all heard that at some point in our lives. And it’s true.  We find beauty in many different things and what we find beautiful is as varied as we are. Something can be aesthetically beautiful. That’s fancy talk for “it’s pretty.” Without an objective beauty, the term risks becoming arbitrary. A Picasso painting, for example, can be pleasing to the eye without really making sense, simply because of its arrangement of shapes and colors. And screaming animals depicted in forms of bloody black-and-white horror overseen by an evil-eye and a ghost on top of a dead soldier with stigmata are so delightful. Oh, Picasso, you cur! How fun!

guernicaThe most brutal attack a Frenchman ever inflicted upon a Nazi.

It certainly isn’t for everyone, Picasso’s style, and I’ve actually heard someone say, “A kid could paint something like that…” Which is interesting, considering the paintings Picasso did as a kid…

earlypicasso

…makes the stuff your mother hung on the fridge look like a big pile of shit…

picassoearlyEven your Dragonball Z drawings.*

Maybe something less … Picasso-y? For the sake of whatever this argument is, I’ll post a similar painting done in a different style, a different way to communicate ideas. And that’s realism as in, ‘what it looks like when I look at it.’ This was a revolutionary concept. Art historians and Jacopo della Quercia know that Caravaggio was an extremely influential painter and had many imitators. He also killed a pimp, spread profane rumors about his rivals, and the pope sentenced him to Death. By beheading. He was still a successful painter. Here’s his Death of Mary …

caravaggio

  Originally commisioned by the Carmalite Sisters in Trastevere, it was rejected after a rumor spread that Caravaggio had used a prostitute as a model for the Madonna. Seriously.

What is the difference between Caravaggio’s realistically painted depiction of a fictional account or Picasso’s exaggerated depiction of a real event? Caravaggio used models and costumes. Picasso had no models (only lots and lots of wives) and used only his imagination. They both convey the same feelings and have a lot of things in common, despite, you know, one looking like the work of a kid…

picassokid2His career would make more sense if he was Benjamin Button.

You can even find beauty in the most unlikely of places. Hell, for example, is a beautiful place to take in the sights, traveling on an unexpected adventure with Dante and his guide virgil, through rivers of sinners, winds of sinners, forests of sinners, the city of Dis (contains sinners) and we can travel to the heights of paradiso with Dante’s sweet sweet Beatrice. There is beauty in both journeys, to heaven and hell.

hbosch

Tonight’s nightmare brought to you by Hieronymus Bosch!

One of the most beautiful moments in classical tragedy takes place in Sophocles’ play Antigone. You might be familiar with Sophocles. He’s that guy whose play Oedipus Rex led to Freud’s creation of the Oedipus Complex, cementing the status of Sophocles’ masterpiece as a play forever remembered as, ‘The one where the guy fucks his mom.’ I understand completely. The guy fucked his mom! Besides, he could have gotten away with it. His nobility was disgust in himself. Now in Sophocles’ true masterpiece Antigone, the titular Antigone was a poor woman who went against the rules of law, the advice of her sister, and against the natural god damn biological instinct for self-preservation by openly defying a king in an era where that was very much frowned upon for the sake of her brother Polyneices’ honor. Just because her family honor was insulted, she destroys the King’s nobility and claim to the moral highground, which leads to a whole bunch of suicidin’. And she does it with a fierce kindness and appreciation for life. Murder by kindness. It’s what Polyneices would’ve wanted.

antigone

Considered the archetypal strong female character. Antigone was such a bad-ass only the strongest of men could play the role. And also, all the female roles.

What is beauty though, to me? Real talk: Beauty is the first time you felt the thrill of holding hands, the first kiss when your heart skipped a beat and your stomach fluttered, when you saw a shooting star for the first time, a speck, a meteorite dissolves away. Chopin and piano music, whiskey and wine. And art.


nunorgasmFor your patient waiting, I give you: the most tasteful depiction of a nun’s orgasm you will ever see.

The [beauty] of a picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky, and unfeeling act, to send it out into the world.

markrothko                                                                 Rothko, 1958, Committing Art.

*I apologize to any Dragonball Z fan-art aficionados out there I may have offended.

If you enjoyed this essay, stick around and check out some of material that’s twice as long with half the jokes.
Thanks to my good friend Diana for suggesting this topic and everyone else, whoever you are, for reading. If you liked this article, leave a comment or let me know on Twitter @MrBrandonNobles, where I occasionally say
stuff about things.