Monthly Archives: September 2006

In The Hague, or Den Haag

van Dyck - Self portrait

Made a quick day trip out to Den Haag today, just about an hour’s train ride from Utrecht. My main stop was at Mauritshuis Museum, home to a number of paintings from the Dutch golden age – Rembrands, three Vermeers, and more. While I always like to see Vermeers in person, one particular painting caught my eye. It’s by Anthony van Dyck (that’s him above, in a self portrait with sunflower), and the painting is Portrait of Peeter Stevens, 1627. I couldn’t find a decent online image of the painting that I could access, but the website at the museum offers this kind of funny feature to ‘zoom’ into a painting and see details, if you click on the painting at their site. Something about the look of the face and the sort of wispy hair just looked very natural to me, and unlike the vast majority of the paintings from that time.

The most marketable image at the museum currently appears to be this one, by Vermeer, Girl with Pearl Earring from about 1660:

Vermeer - Girl with Pearl Earring

Today was the first actual sunny day I’ve seen in the week I’ve been in the Netherlands; I’ll hope for a few more!

Bas Jan Ader

Bas Jan Ader

Yesterday in Rotterdam I visited the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, which is quite an interesting spot.  Of note was a retrospective of conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader, who disappeared in 1975 while doing a solo sailboat journey across the Atlantic, as part of his “In Search of the Mysterious” project.  At the show there were a number of short films, some photographs (often of similar scenes from the films) as well as other odds and ends.  The photo above is titled “I’m too sad to tell you” and was created as a postcard in 1970.  At the website linked above you can see part of a film done several years later with the same title.

A number of the projects have to do with the concept of ‘falling’; the still below shows the start of his film of him falling off the roof of his house in Los Angeles.  In another he falls on his bicycle into a canal in Amsterdam.  In ‘Nightfall’ he is lit by two lights in a small garage, and he picks up then drops a heavy block on each of the lights, ending in darkness.

Fall - Ader

Apparently there’s quite a cult interest in Ader, and I found the work strangely affecting.

Here’s an Artforum article on Ader from 1999.

Critical Mass – Dave Holland Quintet (2006)

Critical Mass CD

While I knew Dave Holland‘s name from the Miles Davis days, I hadn’t heard any of his later music.  Decided to pick up his new CD, Critical Mass, by his Quintet band which has been pretty stable over the past 10 years, and I like it.  Nothing too wild here, just very solid, compositions by every band member, and great ensemble playing.  I intend to dig further into his catalog.

Warhol doc (2006)

Warhol Soup Can

I saw part one of the new Ric Burns documentary on Andy Warhol tonight.  Covers the early years to 1963, without getting into the early films.  Despite a few annoying voiceover analysts, it’s a good overview of the strange man who had a burning desire for fame.

An interesting comment: that despite the fact that Warhol himself could barely tell a coherent story or narrative, his life itself is quite a fascinating story.

It’s on PBS on Sept 20 & 21 – look for it.

The Emperor's Children – Claire Messud (2006)

The Emperor's Children

I saw a few very good reviews of Claire Messud’s new novel The Emperor’s Children, and decided it was worth a try. Indeed, it is a pleasure to read, just slightly rich so that you may not want to take in too much at a time. Set in New York City in 2001, centering on three characters who are 30 years old, and each one a bit lost, not quite able to do the things that they are capable of.

The book deals with 9/11 in a way that acknowledges the personal impact that the day’s events had on each person, along with the more sweeping political changes. If anything, I wish the book had gone on further, to follow these characters along, to see what changes they would make in their lives.

Mission of Burma – Doug Fir – 16-Sept-2006

Mission of Burma live shot

Last night was the third time I’ve seen the re-formed Mission of Burma since 2002. And I’d say last night’s show was the closest in spirit to the old days; at this point people aren’t surprised and amazed just to see them playing again, instead they are ready to rock and mosh. And the band delivered. Two strong sets, new ones mixed with the ‘hits’ – I was especially pleased to hear “Academy Fight Song”. Long may they rock!

Picture above is not from last night’s show. The McCarthy sign was not in evidence, nor were Roger’s headphones. Peter said that Roger had part of his brains scooped out and replaced with internal headphones, so now he can play loud music for the rest of his life.

Listen to new stuff from Obliterati – first song ‘2wice’ is excellent!

2012 : The Return of Quetzalcoatl – Daniel Pinchbeck (2006)


Finished this weird trip of a book this morning. I had read Pinchbeck’s earlier Breaking Open the Head so I knew what I was getting into. Plenty more drug experiments here, but this one is (semi) focused on the question of whether we are due for a massive change in consciousness, somehow foreseen by the Mayans and their calendar which ends on December 12, 2012.

There are many many threads of information in the book. For me the most interesting had to do with questions of how consciousness structures experience, and how perhaps time and calendar systems do something similar. Add in some quantum mechanics about the observer collapsing the probabilities and you’ve got a heavy brew. I had not heard of Jean Gebser before, a German with ideas about an evolution of our consciousness of space and time. Gebser: “Instead of intensifying time, man has quantified it by rational thinking into a cascading motion.”

Here’s a pretty reasonable review of the book from Daily Grail.

You can listen to Pinchbeck speaking with RU Sirius.

Letter to the NY Times

I wrote the following letter yesterday in response to a David Brooks column about the visionary George Bush.

To the editor:

David Brooks manages to bury the only ‘vision’ laid out by George Bush (“Ends Without Means” Sept 14, 2006). Brooks reports that Bush “asked us to think about what the world could look like 50 years from now, with Islamic radicals either controlling the world’s oil supply or not.” In other words, the Bush vision has always been one of securing oil supplies for America (a ‘vision’ that dates back to Carter if not far earlier), and the Bush strategy has been preemptive war. History will judge the effectiveness of this strategy.

The true visionaries today can imagine a world where in 50 years or less America does not need Middle East oil.

Update:  this letter did not run, but one of the five letters reacting to the Brooks column did pick out the identical quote, and made a very similar point.

A Scanner Darkly (2006)

A Scanner Darkly - Bob Arctor

Finally saw the Richard Linklater ‘animated’ film of PK Dick’s A Scanner Darkly last night. Overall, so-so. I thought there were a couple great scenes of stoner paranoia/confusion (Freck’s attempted suicide and whole episode around Barris leaving the house door open). The animation helped make the ‘shift-suit’ concept work pretty well, although it was hard to understand how anyone could consistently identify the same character when many people are all wearing the suits.

The downside was mostly, for me, in the way the story twisted at the end. It just seemed to change the tenor of the film and felt a bit forced and tacked on. But certainly worth seeing. Watch out for Substance D!

Kingdom Come by J.G. Ballard (2006)

Kingdom Come

Kingdom Come is the new novel by the master, J.G. Ballard. The format is familiar, a three part story of a man who encounters the violent tendencies underlying seemingly placid modern life. This time the story centers around a giant shopping mall called the Metro-Centre, out in the suburbs of London near Heathrow Airport. Richard Pearson is a suddenly out-of-work advertising man whose father is shot at the mall, so he goes out to deal with the estate, and investigate the life and death of his father.

This protagonist seems mostly confused about his role in the burgeoning violence that Ballard associates with the shoppers. Pearson helps design a new, morally ambiguous campaign for the Metro-Centre, while seeing that the unhinged are taking out their frustrations on innocent minorities. The usual Ballardian ‘hero’ gets more of a lift from the sudden new possibilities that arise as society breaks down, but Pearson seems obsessed with the new mall society in a fairly negative way. Seems to me that this book is a bit of a re-hash. Of his recent novels I felt Super Cannes was the strongest.

Here’s a review from M. John Harrison, who sees Ballard as having fallen behind the times, caught in his own visions.