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Cremaster 2


  1. n: a thin muscle that serves to raise and lower the testicles in response to temperature and other stimuli.
  2. n: a hook-shaped protuberance from the rear of the chrysalis casing, by which the caterpillar fixes itself to the pad of silk it has cemented to the underside of a perch.
  3. n: a film cycle created and executed by Matthew Barney that has been described as self-enclosed aesthetic system consisting of five feature-length films that explore processes of creation. The cycle unfolds not just cinematically, but also through the photographs, drawings, sculptures, and installations the artist produced in conjunction with each episode.

Based on the original meanings of the word cremaster, processes surrounding sexual generation, metamorphosis, and continual differentiation are central to the series concept. In this 2nd in a series of 5:

The episode focuses on Gary Gilmore, his girlfriend Nicole, his parents' meeting with a fortune teller, his final homicide at a gas station, and his execution symbolized by a rodeo on the Bonneville Salt Flats. A phone call is made to Gary by the lead singer of Morbid Angel in a studio with Slayer drummer, Dave Lombardo, playing to the drone of bees, a scene said to refer to Gilmore's last phone call from Johnny Cash. The film also connects Gilmore to Harry Houdini (played by Norman Mailer, writer of Gilmore's story The Executioner's Song) and his meeting with Baby Faye Lafoe (represented as Gilmore's grandmother and supposed spiritual medium).

No way, that was not Johnny Cash...never has a film been so inaccessible. If it hadn’t been for the Walker film curator who set up the film, the experience would have been completely unintelligible. Within the framework of Barney’s narrative, the various visual metaphors take shape. It’s really only these metaphors...and the cinematography...that I can speak to.

the metaphor of the metamorphose

I’ll limit my self to recounting bees and execution. Bees, beeswax, and hexagons are everywhere, as well as conceptually, masters and drones. This symbolism points to biologic as well as social differentiation. Execution also deals with such differentiations. Gilmore’s actuality by firing depicted as a rodeo bull ride. The sequence was brilliant.

The bull funneled through the chutes was very evocative of guiding the condemned to their execution...
...reminded me of Selma’s execution played by Barney’s wife Björk in Dancer in the Dark.

Barney/Gilmore in a prison stripes rodeo/prison jumpsuit bound to his bull...
...Björk/Selma hooded and strapped to the board at the gallows.

Released from the gate...lurched out of the chute...slowly succumbing to weight and to death...
...released from the gate...lurched through the trap door...immediately succumbing to weight and to death.

Gilmore metamorphosed...
...brown paper packages tied up with strings; these are a few of my favorite things.

panning this film

Clever or not, I’m not sure whether it is I who’s panning this film. Ultimately, it was simply too obtuse, which apparently a saying a lot for me, but it has proven fodder for discussion ever since. It is Barney himself who, out, over...all so slowly. Whether, this technique was supposed to have had any significance to the story telling is uncertain, but it became intrusive. Otherwise, there is a simultaneous quality of lucidity and dream. Hard focus of surreal sequences and soft lighting of the immovably real.

Last night I watched...

...Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie...a French film by the Spanish Surrealist Luis Buñuel. Interesting.

How old was this movie? I've never heard of it.

1972. It was a film that didn't have a plot so much as a premise, and when it was "fin" I was like, ok...I get it...I think.

Ha ha—that's why Fred doesn't like most French movies. He thinks they're too psychological.

Psychological: true in that what you see is not what you get. That is the motions of the plot were really incidental to what the point was...and the point was rather subtle at that. But also sometimes psychological is equated with complex, and this film was on the contrary rather simple in the end.

It was interesting, because since Buñuel is noted as a Surrealist/Dadaist...and I had seen one of his whacked-out earlier films (Un Chien Andalou — 1929, and that Marxist screed Las Hurdes — 1933)...I was expecting surreal to be trippy and in your face. Instead what it was about was the absurd and absurd situations...representing the absurdity of the bourgeoisie...especially the absurdity of form over content.

There, now I've done it: I gave away the secret.

Hmm, I almost understand what you are saying—

Rethinking Nothingness

The western way of thinking tends to equate nothingness with nonexistence or annihilation, which of course makes nothingness an unattractive proposition. It also has the scent of atheism, and so is rejected as alien or contrary. But it would seem that the eastern way of thinking conceives of nothingness differently. Nothing would be more precisely understood as ‘no-thing’, or that is, stateless Being infinitely beyond any attributableness. This is simply extreme negative (apophatic) theology. So then, achieving nothingness isn’t nonexistence, it’s attainment of great knowledge of that no-thing.

And this way of conceptualizing God certainly isn’t alien to western thinking. The Via Negativa, in a less rigid form, is the theology of Byzantine and Oriental Christianity...God the ineffable. Latin Christianity (as well as the endless stream of sects that have split off from it) tends to employ cataphatic theologies, or the theology of attributes...a God of things. But even that isn’t so clear cut. The Byzantines and Orientals share the same creed (which paints God as things) with the Latins. Also the Latins have a deep tradition of the Via Negativa as seen in the mysticism of The Cloud of Unknowing or St. John of the Cross’ The Dark Night of the Soul. Also, while God is the unmanifest no-thing, he is also the manifest incarnation. More so, God places attributes on himself: God manifests himself in archetypes like lover, father, or judge; and God manifests himself in matter in a very real way like a flame, a son, or bread.

Bauform: I

Says Kermit the Frog, it isn’t easy being green. Sometimes it’s micromanaging pseudo-science, and sometimes it’s a new way of thinking.

The High Line: converting an abandoned elevated rail structure in Manhattan, being reclaimed by nature, into a public green space.

Black Maps: environmentally impacted aerial landscapes as abstract art.

The Dwell Home: a green, modern residential design competition. Not what modern was or what modern is, but what modern will be…that bowl.

Be careful what you ask for

Those who sacrifice to other gods will go to those gods. The ancestor worshipers will go to their ancestors. Those who worship the elemental powers and spirits will go to them. So, also, My devotees will come to Me.

What of the self-worshipers, shall they go to themselves...eternity constructed of infinite iterations of self and nothing more. What manner of hell is this; and so too the demoniac shall go to the demons.

Hunter Lake




At Rest in Motion

   At rest, I lie in a hammock.
   The hammock rocks fixed to the tall pines.
   The tall pines sway in the wind rooted to rock.
   The plates of rock shift over the surface of Terra.
   Terra spins on its axis...
   ...a terrestrial sphere orbiting Sol.
   Sol too revolves around the center of the Milky Way.
   The Milky Way races away from the universal...
   ...point of singularity.

East Meets West: I

There are many similarities between the world’s religions, so much so that some think that all religions are just different paths to the same end. As a result, new ways of thinking and new religions have been constructed to promote this ideal such as New Age spirituality or the Bahá'í faith. But do all of the many paths lead to the same place? I don’t think that they do, because while there might be so many superficial or even uncanny similarities, there are also many fundamental and mutually exclusivizing differences.

My query begins at this point: parallels...what does it mean exactly?
<< Preface      East Meets West: I      East Meets West: II >>

It’s difficult for any nondevotee to really understand another’s religion. Krishna said, "Having gained this knowledge, one quickly attains supreme peace or liberation. The irrational, the faithless, and the disbeliever perishes. There is neither this world, nor the world beyond, nor happiness for the disbeliever." On a simpler level what I think he’s saying is that even if you read the scripture and study the religion, if you don’t have the faith, you just won’t "get it". This would be applicable to any religion, but there is more to it than this. Religion is not only about what one studies and believes, it is not only about what one does and how one lives, it is about Who one loves and how one gives them devotion and service.

This is just as true in Christianity as it is in Hinduism, but I think that it is helpful to begin by thinking of Hinduism as really more of a cultural framework (than a singular religion) in which are found many varying schools of thought, religions* (yogas**), and cults***.

*religion comes from Latin and means to bind, so a religion is a system in which someone is bound by and to that which and to whom they believe (see cult 3). This does not need to imply the supernatural in any way, as based on this definition scientism, humanism, atheism, etc are all beliefs that bind conscience and behavior and can therefore be construed as religions. However, the most common context for religion is spiritual or supernatural and so is a system of how one is bound to or united with a god or spirit. In Christianity, for example, we hear Jesus say, "take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me."
**yoga comes from Sanskrit and means to yoke, so from an etymological standpoint, religion and yoga are equivalent. This is particularly true when yoga is used in its broadest sense where it is the process of attaining union with the Ultimate Reality. But there are also many types or schools of yoga. Of particular interest in this context is bhatki yoga, which is the spiritual practice of rendering loving devotion to God. Many in the west are also familiar with hatha yoga, which involves physical and mental exercises practiced so as to order the mind, command the body, and control the passions. For some this is the end in itself, but in the greater context of yoga, these exercises are part of the discipline of devotion and the process toward union.
***cult should always be used in the nonpejorative sense: 1. formal religious veneration; 2. a system of religious beliefs and ritual; 3. a great devotion to a person (deity), idea, or object.

The reason why one should think of Hinduisms instead of simply Hinduism is because there are so many fundamental differences in cosmology, theology, and praxis between the various schools, but instead of looking at this time at these differences within Hinduism, I’m more interested in looking at the first fundamental difference between Christianity and Hinduism.  

What’s the matter?

What is the value of the material universe? The Judeo-Christian view on matter is "and God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good. And the evening and morning were the sixth day." Since this is the end of the "sixth day", we know that includes every aspect of the created universe including that uniquely spiritual-material being...the human person.

Now not everyone thinks that matter is so good. There have been many sects, who have believed that matter, and therefore the universe is either profoundly flawed or even evil, and that the person is essentially solely a spiritual being who is trapped in a human body, i.e. degenerate or evil matter. Within the western traditions, Gnostics (Manicheans, Bogomils, Albigensians (Cathars), and Waldensians) are some sects that have held some combination of such beliefs. Carried to the extreme, such beliefs have perpetuated an encouragement of sodomy, contraception, and abortion for the purpose of preventing spiritual beings from being incarnated into matter and even encouraged suicide and euthanasia for the purpose of liberating spirits from their material existence. Christianity has rejected all of these means and all of these ends, although some protestant sects have backtracked on this rejection in the past century.

Indeed, Christianity is centered upon an incarnate God...a God who saw that His creation was essentially good, yet in need of redemption, and assumed form within it. Back to Hinduism, we also see a tradition of the Ultimate Reality or Supreme Personality of Godhead assuming material, human form millions of times. Since it’s unlikely that divinity would pollute itself with something that is essentially evil, it then would then be reasonable that the Hindu view is that matter is not evil. However, and this is a big however, common to probably most schools of Hindu and also Buddhist thought, is the concept of maya in which the material world is a lesser reality and a form of illusion to be overcome. This leads to the common view and goal in both Hinduism and Buddhism of the final release of the individual soul from any reincarnation into material existence. What this in turn results in varies by school. For some it is the extinction and absorption of the personality into either nothingness or into Godhead, and for others it involves the preservation of the personality while achieving union with Godhead. In contrast, Christianity teaches the resurrection of the material body into a glorified form, while also preserving the personality and achieving union with God.

There’s a lot more to the matter of matter, and there are many more religions to survey for differences, but the important thing to take notice of in this brief survey is that the understanding of the very nature of the universe and the human body is fundamentally and radically different in various religions, whether these things are essentially good, neutral, or evil is of no little difference. Returning to the question do all of the many paths lead to the same place? Well, the various paths usually state where they believe they lead, and we can see that some paths claim to lead to different, similar, or the same place. Since there’s a world of difference between annihilation and a personalist union with God, why then, should anyone maintain that all paths lead to the same end?

But is it Art: II

§: expression

The more words I use to paint an idea, the less that painting resembles the idea.

Impressionism can leave itself open to more and erroneous interpretations, this is merely unfortunate. But there are too many times that the abstract simply cannot be expressed with realism. This is a tragedy.


Pills – blech! Give me the paraphernalia; give me the rituals.

Models: premod & postmod

ecclesial – devotion – monastic – healthcare – given as love


love/sex – domesticity –corporate/state – healthcare – demanded as rights

This is Granville...doors open on the left at Granville...

...well, actually this is the viaduct between Granville and Loyola on the Chicago red line. For all of your CTA needs and fascination:

Brideshead Revisited Revisited: II

§: it is only shades of gray between a sort of primitive savage and something absolutely modern and up-to-date.

You know Father Mowbray hit on the truth about Rex at once, that it took me a year of marriage to see. He simply wasn't all there. He wasn't a complete human being at all. He was a tiny bit of one, unnaturally developed; something in a bottle, an organ kept alive in a laboratory. I thought he was a sort of primitive savage but he was something absolutely modern and up-to-date that only this ghastly age could produce. A tiny, bit of a man pretending he was the whole.

— Lady Julia Flyte

But is it Art: I

§: a primer

Not quite a working definition, but Teachout pens a most helpful contribution to the conversation.

Art portrays truths using beauty:
hence good art is universal and good art is pleasing.

What is art if it lacks truth: a beautiful lie?
What is art if it lacks beauty: an unpleasant truth?
A beautiful lie or an unpleasant truth…this is the news…this is propaganda.


Brideshead Revisited Revisited: I

As if a young infatuation
an explosive seduction into the aesthetic
that nexus of senses and truth
can legitimately be used to cast the free-agent into an identity
an identity of inversion.

That is a time to find heroes
a time to find understanding.
Then we make our transition
and leave the pool where we loitered gazing at our reflection.

Six Six Sixties

I am one of the injured
A tear blurs flesh
Dissolving like an injured dog
Like wasted limbs get smaller
Pain is the stimulus of pain
But then of course nothing is cured
This is the world now
Move a fin and the world turns
Sit in a chair and pictures change
Try to eat us
Get trapped
Or injured


*Font of Inspiration for the Muses near Mount Olympus

A little learning is a dang'rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pyrean Spring*:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

The Third Man

Screenplay by Graham Greene

This is Film Noir most terms of cinematography: chiaroscuro, long shadows, angular framing...and in terms of setting: opening and closing in a cemetery, underground locations, bombed out locations...and also in terms of plot: chasing after a dead man. But there is something not so noir about this film, and ironically, it’s a bit unsettling. Is it the score? Is it the flippant characters? Is it that irony itself? The thing is, while The Third Man is absolutely intriguing and throroughly enjoyable, there is little that is sufficiently gripping about it...let alone menacing.

Fast forward 42 years to Lars von Trier’s Zentropa. Zentropa is gripping; it is menacing, and in many ways similar to The Third Man. In both the protagonist is an American who’s just arrived to the bombed out rubblescapes of post WW II Europe. Both have a phantasmagoric quest; Holly Martins is trying to find his friend Harry Lime who’s supposed to be dead, but keeps appearing all over the place; Leopold Kessler is trying to find something a little more elusive...his purpose...indeed his life. Both men also find themselves involved with femme really wouldn’t be Noir without them.

Overall, I find Zentropa preferable. The storyline is much more opaque, but it is also much more layered and critical. I also was rather impressed with the cinematography, which has already been best summed up here:

...Lars von Trier's bag of cinematic tricks...include old-fashioned film techniques mixed with modern high tech. Some of the dialogue and interaction are arch and distant, resembling an old 40s B movie, while some is devastatingly personal. Occasionally, the film shifts from grainy, newsreel black-and-white to spurts of color – most frequent during the scenes of violence. There is even extended use of the old rear-projection format, complete with spinning, disorienting camera work.

This reviewer criticizes the film for having a story that is secondary to the cinematic tricks, but I absolutely disagree. Others are even less charitable and charge von Trier with so much cinematographic masturbation. Nonsense. The techniques used have several outstanding effects: one is that the layering of the narrative is given visual form; another is the impression of speaking through symbols, which I think universalizes what is being portrayed; and finally the viewer is rendered less passive and is actually drawn into the movement within the narrative even to the point that you can come to believe are on a train in Germany...


n: something that covers, screens, or guards. v: to veil under another appearance.

Ah, the Shroud of Turin, one of those parts of pious legend that I neither really accept nor deny. I’m open to its mystery, but also cautious of all the efforts to both prove or disprove its authenticity. Four thoughts:

I find it most incredulous that the shroud should have been held under wraps until 1357, a time, furthermore, rife with forgeries of relics. Still, that in itself is conclusive of nothing.

That Leonardo da Vinci was such a genius and trickster. Maybe so, but he was a genius who was born in 1452.

The 1988 C-14 testing of the shroud’s fiber was supposed to be scientific proof that the shroud was a forgery. In fact, it was more proof that careless scientists produce junk science. The sample tested was from a medieval reweave, and so naturally it produced a medieval date. More than this though, the cloth may with all likelihood be completely undatable using the C-14 method. The 1532 fire that the shroud survived would have saturated the cloth with micro-fine carbon particles that would radically skew any test results.

Now the latest discovery is all very bright and skeptical (in the most Scewtapian sense). So it has been demonstrated that a natural manufacturing process using the sun’s radiation can produce an image on cloth. Once again, all hail science, but how does this disprove that the radiation from a resurrecting god-man didn’t produce an image on cloth? The supernatural would still have all of the laws of nature at His disposal...laws that He would understand infinitely better than us.

Update March 16, 2005. Elsewhere, Xon writes:

Yes, mcmlxix, but Wilson himself is quick to point out that he hasn't "proved" the Shroud to be a fake. But, he does say that his experiment might very well take away one of the major elements of the Shroud apologia, the claim that "nobody knows how this could have been faked." Wilson appears to show (though more tests are needed) exactly how it could have been faked by a medieval. Does that mean it was faked? Not necessarily. It just means that Shroud believers can't continue to say that it couldn't have been.
And Wilson is hardly a "all hail science" kind of guy. He would stand with you against modern scientism.

This is a good point of clarification, but I don’t think that my contention was with Wilson or his hypothesis. I realize that he acknowledges that he hasn’t proven anything. My reaction had to do more with how others will read and understand his conclusions. Given my experience, I’m more concerned with the amount of cynicism (of that self-satisfied Screwtapian sort), as well as that ready and uncritical acceptance of whatever is in print or on The Discovery Channel. Innuendo of what one wants to believe is usually more convincing than facts of what one doesn’t.

Third Eye Blind

Lisa: Can I ask you about that dot?
Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilon: What would you like to know?
Lisa: What's the deal with that dot?
Bart: Can you see out of it? Does it turn color when you’re ticked off?
Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilon: You tell me.
Bart: Nothing yet...
In Vedic thought आज (ājñā) is the nexus of intuition...the third eye, once awaked, can come to look upon the divine...

...exit stage west...

...unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe. But the Word...reveals Itself only to he who loves is revealed only for a moment and only to Its lover. The eye opens...the eye closes.

The problem with tolerance

Imagine hearing from a parent, child, spouse, or just about anyone really, "I tolerate you." What the hell...

Tolerance has become the preeminent virtue of our age, but the problem with tolerance is that it’s not even a virtue at all. It’s really a just clever bastardization of that genuine virtue brotherly love. Of course to grow in any virtue, we really need to also overcome its corresponding this case envy. Ironically, the paradigm that has imposed the dogma of tolerance on our culture has as its source the Gramscian politics of identity and division, which in turn has at its very core envy. What’s even more ironic, the high priests of tolerance won’t hesitate to excommunicate dissenters under mortal pain.

How terribly sad to be merely tolerated, we want to hear that we’re loved...or at the very least, admired or liked. More than this, the word once spoken needs to take concrete shape, and there is much that genuine love simply can never tolerate...this includes behaviors and attitudes that are injurious to self or others. To begin in understanding the sources of injury we need to look at the vices...the seeds that produce bitter fruit. How much better to cultivate virtues...even as we may be deeply aware of the messiness of the human condition...they are the sign posts.

Foucault's Pendulum

Umberto Eco

I didn't really know what to expect with Eco. While I find the topic of esoterica and secret societies fascinating, often the result is puerile this novel itself acknowledges. Also, my concern was with Eco's notoriety as a preeminent postmodern novelist...what with postmodernism being a bugaboo of mine. What I learned from reading this novel however, is that like it or not, to some extent, we're all postmodernists now.

This is the long (the setup to the story is the first 500 pages) story of three men who work at a Milan publishing house who conspire to weave together all of western esoterica and secret societies into one total narrative...really as a hoax to be gobbled up by those with itching ears...and proclivities. What our three protagonists learn at the conclusion is that life imitating art is a metaphysically profound understatement. As far as I'm concerned, the mere 5 pages of chapter 110 hold a powerful key to the entire narrative as well as much understanding..."so we attempted to do what was not allowed us, what we were not prepared for. Manipulating the words of the Book, we attempted to construct a golem," but it wouldn't make the sense that it does out of the context of the 640 some odd pages, so jump in if you want, but also know that the dénouement has all of the dreariness of a resigned existentialism.

Tsunamis That Strike Our Existence

A man said to the universe: "Sir I exist!" "However," replied the universe, "the fact has not created in me a sense of obligation."
— Stephen Crane
The existentialist attitude can never comprehend meaning and so lapses into nihilism, but a personalist response that expects meaningfulness begins with the proposition: EX NIHILO...
The meaning of things—for us, who have not created them, nor who have made ourselves—cannot be demonstrated in an impossible, cold, logical concatenation of everything, but in the warmth of a relationship that supports us for the time necessary for its unveiling, which—in any case—at least in this life, will never be total.

A destiny that is simply fate does not take away tragedy: it sharpens it, because it makes the pain not only necessary, but also irredeemable. This is what the Gospel verse refers to, "Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did." That is, you will die without meaning.
Giancarlo Cesana

Kill. Faster! Faster!

the girl... Yeah, she saved Kirk by hopping in the jeep and motoring over Varla. Varla tried to muster one last karate chop but fell over and heaved her last.

but that girl... Did you notice her epiphany? She was all like, "I saved your life." Pause. "I saved my life too." Up until that time, she hadn't been much more than a clinging or sobbing bimbo, but she finally realized that she could take care of herself. The irony was that she learned this when her limited choice involved killing another.

Cutting up Frost

And miles to here To watch
if there is easy wind and
see me stopping But I have
lake The darkest harness bells a
promises to keep, I know. His
My little horse Whose woods these
go before I sleep, must think it
his woods fill shake To ask
dark, and deep, only other sound's
And miles to are I think
He will not go before I sleep.
woods are lovely, evening of the year.
up with snow. the sweep Of
near Between the He gives his
house is in some mistake. The
without a farmhouse queer To stop
the village, though; downy flake. The
woods and frozen

One Day in One Hundred Years

The pain
And the creeping feeling
A little black haired girl
Waiting for Saturday
The death of her father pushing her
Pushing her white face into the mirror
Aching inside me
And turn me round

— The Cure

The Animals are Waiting

I was in a dream orchestrated by the Legendary Pink Dots. Edward Ka-Spel chanter was there, as well as Niels van Hoornblower making his solitary, melancholy noise. The leer, urban streets were strewn with trash. Rib bone and bottle cap. All the while, the ghosts of retarded street children sang through their chanter...wan and eerie out of memory. The animals are waiting. Chant reiterated by the equivalent horn tones. This wasn’t a dream at all, but a parallel image, awake, outside my chamber door.

Echo I

Damn, and it’s cold here too on this altiplano — and beyond — where the jagged earth rises up to meet my sore feet. How close to the equator, but how much closer to the moon. Swift, agile, barrel-chested youths race by and by, up and down tracks with cords of knots.

It’s too numb cold right now, and the air doesn’t satisfy me either — like trying to bathe in just one drop of water; I have to get back. But I’m not even sure how I got here...or where back is for that matter. Back in time, deeper into my mind, some other land...still yet, further out of my mind, or back to the future. I focus again. Why are all of these people here — with their eyes full of stories and their mouths full of secrets.

Searching for the lost gold — isn’t that why everyone comes here — fumbling Pizarro dropped those buttery bricks. Goldbricks, the shape of butter sticks. Isn’t that why I’m get a taste of that buttery gold. How many sticks would I have to eat to get my blood just the right shade. Do the alchemists know. That intense bright, bright red...the red of gold based hemoglobin...not that dull rusty red of the iron based, or the blue of the silver based, or green of the copper based that you find in deep trenches under the sea or on orbs beyond the moon. We’re so much closer to the moon.