Monday, February 26, 2007

Story as Performance Art

This is one of the most interesting pieces I've seen in a while. Author Shelley Jackson has taken volunteers to get one word of the 2,095 in her story "Skin" tattooed on his or her body. The story is sent to each participant upon completion of the tattoo. So far, over 10,000 people have expressed interest. Several hundred have all ready been inked. Jackson only sends the story to participants; no one else can read it. She also refers to participants as "her words" and says that she will "make every effort to attend the funeral of a word."

This appeals to me, but I had to think for a few minutes to figure out why. Every author wants (on some level) this kind of intense reader response when they write. A tattoo is pretty intense. Although, I suppose good literature does change people's lives--or at least people's perspectives on life, which is just as good. At what point does this desire turn into unhealthy arrogance? Does calling participants "words" marginalize them? It seems strange to me. Almost as if, when a word dies, Jackson feels that a part of her story has died too. (Really, should one be worried about a tattoo when a person has died.)

In short, I love the creativity but wonder about the motivation. Also, I love the way these typical fonts look on skin. Some of the tattoos, and a description of the project, are available for viewing here.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Recently Learned...

My reading of the first papers for my TA class yielded the following gems. Really, this makes my grading so much more enjoyable.

King Henry the VIII was the King of Whales. This was by far my favorite. He was pretty portly, but the King of Whales is taking it a bit far.

King Henry reigned "in the time of England." (Obviously a long time ago.)

Ever wondered what Gandhi's first name was? I learned it: Mohammed. Yes, Gandhi experienced a spiritual conversion late in life.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Gathering (a poem)

Stand in Notre Dame Cathedral if you like, or Westminster—
windows cast brilliant Mondrians on the floor,
though I prefer Sacre Coeur, a small, dark place
where light springs from circular portals,
convincing everyone that glowing is the beginning of beauty.

We are mere shards of a colored pane—
not dropped exactly, yet broken.
A dirtied mirror, even when pointed at the sky,
reflects light only poorly. Who can see it? We
do not believe in bad luck, but certainly in evil.
You ask how one becomes many
on its own. A troubling question:
How did the first cell divide?

John recorded the beginning: be one, even as We are.
East and West shout across a frozen lake;
ears strained from such a distance:
"We will tell you where Spirit comes from."
The stained glass window cracks—then fractures,
nail pounded into door, sword into flesh.
Corruption petitions the night for indulgence—
the king is sharpening his axe!
"I will marry whomever I want."
We scream and scream, and, and, and, and:
"We do not like the way you paint or sing."

Glass bits fly out to sea-worthies,
cross into an experimental world, settle into the dust—
we prefer our secluded corners and cracks.
Convenience has created multicolored grains of sand—
coming soon to a beach near you! Sing praise!

I have taken to washing windows on the sides of skyscrapers—
hoping that one day, after removing the stain of grime,
the stain of colored glass will be revealed.
Though they reach toward Heaven, they are not
another of Cana’s wonders. Still—
set aside the best till now—imagine
reflections from a building made all of glowing windows.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Word of the Day: Portmanteau

Portmanteau: 1) a large suitcase with two compartments. (Apparently very archaic and rare.) This is the definition I know, probably from reading 19th century novels. I think a traveller could carry pretty much anything in a portmanteau. I would carry gold in mine, if I had one. And if I had gold.

2) the combination of parts of two or more words into one, which yields a new meaning. e.g. Lunch and Breakfast into brunch, or smoke and fog into smog.

Lewis Carroll's poem, "Jabberwocky," famously uses lots of portmanteaus.

All of this makes me want to own an actual leather portmanteau, but it would have very little practical value. I wonder if I could keep files in it?

Yes, I learned most of this from wikipedia.

I also suggested this for the title of the new USC literary journal. I hope it wins, but maybe it's too French-sounding.