Robot walks into a bar/Orders a drink, lays down a bill
Bartender says “Hey, we don’t serve robots”
And the robot says,”Oh, but some day you will”
Silver Jews, “Frontier Index”
I work on my book most days. When I don’t work on it, I think about it. During this stage of the process——maybe a quarter- to a third-way through——I look for books and movies and art that line up or inform what I’m doing myself. I found the right book a few weeks ago, after a lot of false starts and frustration. It’s not that the books I’d started before weren’t worthwhile, but they weren’t jibing with where my head and heart were at. I’ll try some of them again after getting this current thing out of my system.
Movies are a little different in this regard. Sometimes I want to watch something to check out, turn the gears off. But it’s extra gratifying when I turn to one on that clicks. I binged on Fassbinder last year and even used stills from a bunch of his films for paintings and drawings during the time I had no access to live humans as subjects. I resisted watching his World on a Wire because it was described as sci-fi and my gut reaction is always to reject sci-fi.
I turned it on the other day and it totally upended all my prejudices against the speculative genre. Sure, it’s nominally set in the future and there are scientists messing with a simulated-reality program that, surprise surprise, starts to infect their reality. But we’re now fully living in the dystopia Fassbinder created in 1973.
——Weißt du was Angst ist? (Do you know what fear is?)
A character asks our hero, then, when the hero turns his head, the man vanishes into thin air. The movie is full of unsettling moments where people have to repeatedly question what they assume to be agreed-upon, factual knowledge. The hero thinks he’s on a mission to uncover a conspiracy when what is happening is that he’s just a rat in someone else’s maze. It reminded me a bit the Philip K. Dick thing where the guy who thinks everyone else is a robot is himself a robot.
On the face of it, this has nothing whatsoever to do with a book about artists who just want to be TV stars (or internet influencers, same difference). But something about the way Fassbinder gives lip-service to genre conventions while constantly riding the fence between farce and drama nails part of the tone I’m going for. I want my book to be funny, but have a point. The hero of my book is also constantly hoodwinked and taken advantage of, but he’s not as innocent as he’d like to think, just like Stiller in the movie.
Stiller is sure he’s the good guy fighting to save his world against a cabal of craven opportunists, but he may well be worse than the lot of them. I haven’t figured out the end of my book, but this type of self-delusion might be a part of it.
There’s also the overall feeling of waking up one day and sensing you don’t belong in a world you’d assumed was yours. Nobody wants to be left out of one’s culture. Painters have to cope with this feeling all the time. What use are oil paints, linen, and turpentine when all the means of expression have become intangible, virtual, and ever-shifting. Like illuminating a room via match and candle when it’s equipped with a voice-prompted wall of LEDs.
Still, there’s an irresistible impulse for a few of us to keep on with this old-fashioned shit. If nothing else, when the power grid collapses, my sketchbook will still work.
—I wrote a list of favorite recent things and talked about It Follows and have a few pieces up at Webster’s Wine Bar in Logan Square. Also, went to Kyle Beachy’s book-launch. You should all buy his book.
—Another collage book movie for you.