Monday, August 20, 2007

They were even using the word 'hermeneutic'!

Terry Castle has a very funny piece at the LRB. Hmmm, I wonder whether she is writing a full-length memoir, that would be excellent! The part about rubber stamps is especially good (Castle is traveling with her girlfriend and her mother in Santa Fe):
I get my first inkling that my daughterly snobisme (it sounds even worse in French) is about to be compromised when my mother spots the rubber-stamp store. We’ve been indecisive so far about what museum to do first; just then Stampa Fe floats into view. One of my mother’s polymer clay pals has said it’s great and she’s instantly psyched. Panting a bit, Blakey and I hoist her and chair up the stairs (it’s on an upper floor and there’s no elevator) and I wheel her in – unable to suppress my own rapidly growing excitement. For I too, I’m chagrined to confess, am a rubber-stamp addict. As Bugs Bunny might say: a weal wubber-stamp fweak. I’ve got hundreds at home; they’re taking over all the drawers in the work table in the spare room. Blakey rolls her eyes, sits down, pulls Richard Rorty out of her bag and prepares to wait for several hours.

I guess I left this part out earlier: that I’m as ‘arty’ as my old mum. Can’t help it: it’s a mutant gene, like homosexuality. And though I can neither draw nor paint I’m fairly good at working around my limitations. Like numerous five and six-year-olds – or Max Ernst and Hannah Höch, as we ‘creatives’ prefer to say – I do collage. Rubber stamps, along with scissors and glue and glossy pages ripped out from The World of Interiors, are an essential part of my praxis. (I have the art-world jargon down pat. Yeah, I work in mixed media. Gagosian’s doing my next show.) It has not escaped my notice that even in London at the very centre of the intellectual cosmos – the London Review Bookshop on Bury Place – there’s a rubber-stamp shop right next door. Titillating to admit, but as local surveillance cameras would no doubt corroborate, I have sometimes been seen to nip into Blade Rubber (‘the biggest range of stamps and accessories in London’) even before I go next door – Game Face on – to peruse the latest tomes on Stalinism or global economics.

What sorts of subject have I tackled? Blakey informs me that it is called ‘blog whoring’ to publicise one’s blog in print, so I won’t even mention Fevered Brain Productions, my digital art website. Oops, it popped out. Let’s just say I’m a neo-surrealist – a bit dark, a bit Goth, a bit grunge – a sort of lady Hans Bellmer. As a child I was enchanted by the Surrealists’ Exquisite Cadavers game – the one in which you make comic figures out of mismatched body parts. This love of the grotesque has never gone away: even today, I enjoy putting dog or cat heads on human bodies and vice versa. Always on the lookout for detached torsos, legs, feet, hands, eyeballs, lips etc – anything to dérégler the senses, if only a teeny bit.

In Stampa Fe my mother and I go on a mad bacchanalian spree. Piling stamp blocks into my basket, I am even less restrained, I’m sorry to say, than she is. (Given her eyesight problem and seated position she has to struggle and claw a bit to drag things down to her level.) I try to pretend that the stamps I’m grabbing up are ‘cool’ – that my choices express my highly evolved if not Firbankian sense of camp. Thus I eschew the ubiquitous Frida K; ditto anything with Day of the Dead skeletons on it. I avert my eyes from a stamp showing Georgia O’Keeffe in her jaunty gaucho hat. But somehow I end up with things just as bad: a Japanese carp; multiple images of the Virgin of Guadaloupe; a slightly dazed-looking cormorant; a sumo wrestler kicking one of his fat legs in the air; a woodcut style picture of little people with sombreros on putting loaves into a mudbaked Mexican oven. Despite a longstanding ban on rubber stamps (or coffee cups) with sayings on them – Cherish Life’s Moments, Happy Easter, You Make Me Smile – I succumb to A NEW THRILL FOR THE JADED. I’ll stamp the envelope with it when I send off my next property tax bill.

When we finish our sweep and I’m swaying groggily at the cash register – my mother slumped in her chair behind me like a satisfied pythoness – I’m forced to confront a terrible possibility: that Mavis and I may actually be more alike than I prefer to believe. (B. has sometimes intimated as much.) Even as the plastic machine regurgitates my Visa card with a malevolent whirr, I’m flooding with self-doubt. Whom am I kidding, after all? Is a lurching sumo wrestler in a loincloth really any less vulgar, aesthetically speaking, than my mother’s mermaids or kitty cats? Than a frog wearing a top hat? A poodle playing a tuba? An abyss seems to open up for a moment: I see, as if in Pisgah-vision, the appalling triteness of my sensibility. Forget Agnes Martin: I’m as banal and bourgeois as any of the hundreds of thousands of middle-aged ladies who do ‘scrapbooking’. (See Google for depressing lowdown on this new billion-dollar US leisure industry – the postmodern white-suburban-female equivalent of cyberporn.) And with my mother egging me on, just as she did when I was a child, I clearly can’t control myself. When B. finally comes to drag us away from the place we look like the survivors of a jungle plane crash who have had to resort to cannibalism to survive: the same foam-flecked lips, hollow cheeks and shifty, demented expressions.
And here are the visual aids....