Saturday, January 2, 2010

Notes from the end of the decade

(as transcribed from my notebook, written 12/31/09.)

I am sitting in a bookstore in Seattle, at a well worn table and sitting in a good sturdy chair. With two books. One: this David Weidman retrospective, the other: "The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility and other Writings On Media." (Walter Benjamin, edited by Michael W. Jennings, etc. ISBN: 978.0.674.02445.8.)

(I of course learned it as Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction, it practically falls off my tongue like too much food in a single bite, but that's translation for you. What is more accurate and more correct may not be what was originally taught, and thus will not fall off the tongue like little driblets but will rather feel tough and gamey to the pallet.)

The former, the David Weidman book, opened up my brain to new and wonderful things, made me instantly happy, made me need to get out my notebook and explore. It inspired my coming to the table and setting up camp in the first place.

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The other I picked up initially, it was my starting point today at the bookstore. Because I've been thinking a lot about Mr. Benjamin and his concept of "aura" (which is how it used to be translated, anyway,) and how it relates to this idea of "soul" I've been thinking of, in terms of just about anything. Any THING. Any object. I need to re-read his essay before I really start to work this idea out, because it's (finally) been awhile since I last read that essay at gunpoint for class and I want to give it the time it deserves. And the other works in this anthology seem like delicious brain food, something to curl up to late on rainy nights with tea or something stronger and really dive into.

I relish this thought until I remember: this romantic idea of curling-up-with-a-hearty-book-at-the-end-of-the-day has yet to come true for me. With two jobs (one to feel passionate about and one to pay the bills with) what generally happens at the end of the day is a complete and utter collapse of the system. I can scarcely manage to make dinner if I haven't done a fair amount of the prep work ahead of time, much less do something mentally stimulating. Usually what I want to do most at the end of the day is snuggle with my cat and listen to the radio. On the rare occasion I do curl up with a book it's bound to be some light reading -- a novel I've been pecking away at for far too long, a book of essays, a picture book. My Brain Food category has been steadily growing since college, and until I designate time into the routine for brain food, that pile is going to keep growing unless I wise up and Stop Buying Books in this category. I'm an English Major for corn's sake, I have enough Norton Anthologies to last the rest of my life if we want to talk about a place to start with substance.

This is one reason I feel apprehensive about this Benjamin book. The other is: although I feel confidently qualified for this book in terms of mental prowess, it is decidedly more dry. That is to say, it did not have me instantly digging in my bag for my notebook and did not have me re-thinking the way I look at buildings and my use of line the way the Weidman book does. And frankly, instant artistic catalysts are exactly what I need immediately, to fuel momentum. I can pause and opine when I know for certain where next month's rent is coming from.

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A long time ago a self-proclaimed Pragmatic Progressive Pluralist had me alone in his parent's house. We'd been talking. He'd reccomended a book by Charles D'Ambrosio that he claimed was out of print, showed me a copy that he didn't give it to me, which was the first clue. I found a book of essays by the same author four summers later, in this bookstore, and found a copy of the book he'd recommended two days later at Powell's in Portland. This bookstore is the first bookstore I visited in Seattle, with these same people that are sitting around me at the table. We are all here, about two years after our first visit.

It isn't such a long time. But it would have seemed like it, if you'd told me then, sitting there getting the book recommendation from this smarmy know-it-all. Eight years to a seventeen-year-old. It's almost half a lifetime.

This bookstore though, Elliott Bay. It's been here for almost four of my lifetimes, now. Soon it's moving locations,. It seems wrong. I'm not sure why it's moving, but it's 2009 (only just), so part of me assumes: money troubles.

It's like the Tattered Cover in Denver -- there are a few roped-off vacant sections, and one can't help but wonder if they've been growing. The used book section is bigger than it was the last time I was here, and it's not integrated with the new stock. It seems they want to push the full priced merchandise. Who wouldn't in times like these?

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I'm not helping, since I found this gem, performed a quick search, and then found the same title from a local store back home for half price. So I didn't buy it for full price at this bookstore, and then by the time we got home someone had purchased the cheaper title I'd seen online.

We live in such a strange time. Such a strange world.

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