Current Projects


Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about genre and contemporary music. One very clear observation has emerged, but the rest is fog. What has become clear, from my reading of Bakhtin, is that the music of The Talking Heads, is really closer to traditional folk music than almost anything else being played today for precisely the reasons that critics have attempted to understand it as a “new wave” in music. And the only currently active oeuvre which we can compare to that of The Talking Heads is the solo work of David Byrne. But this raises a question that should loom large over all of us: why do we, save for the prodigious efforts of David Byrne, no longer make folk music? This puts me in mind of a comic about the life of blues guitarist Charlie Patton, which I couldn't excerpt here but this will do

Whenever I devote any time to this question I start to second guess myself. There is a good case to be made for the German band CAN being traditional folk music, but already there seems to be elements of rock music that predominate in their output. The same goes for the Beatles and Billy Joe Shaver. Joan Baez, Kate Bush, Bjork, Nina Hagen, The Thompson Twins, The Specials, and more provide ample room for consideration but all that is found is the bad faith pretense to a good sense of humor that emerges out of not just a decision to stop making folk music but an inability to make folk music. This cannot be a good thing. Although “New Wave” is of course receding in popularity, or at least in relevance, the conditions of it’s generation have not changed. Nor did they arise with “New Wave” for a demonstration of this we need only point to the angst of punk rock. We might even be able to understand all of the rejections of, and retaliations against previous form in the short history of rock music going all the way back to Little Richard as expressions of this strange inability that does not remit the desire to create folk music. 

Anyway, here is a fucking bizarre video of Vladimir Putin singing Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” Singing Putin: 'Blueberry Hill' 

Also known as the American Song of Solomon, so dubbed by this author :). 

The other observation that I thought I made was that of a genre relationship between rock music and the book of psalms. The tenability of this connection is complicated by a variety of factors, the first being that the book of psalms is itself divided between the 150 psalms and the Song of Solomon. And according to Wikipedia: 

“The book is divided into five sections, each ending with a doxology, or a hymn of praise. There are several types of psalms, including hymns or songs of praise, communal and individual laments, royal psalms and individual thanksgivings. The book also includes psalms of communal thanksgiving, wisdom, pilgrimage and other categories.” 

Raising the question of whether psalms do all conform to a single genre. Wikipedia goes on, stating: 

“In English, the title of the book is derived from the Greek word ψαλμοί (psalmoi), meaning "instrumental music" and, by extension, "the words accompanying the music".” 

So there is a negation at the heart of every psalm, that each are, unmasked, not truly “psalms” meaning instrumental music. Similar to the negation that seems to propel the history of rock music forward. To say nothing of their both being essentially instrumental music. 


I have to admit that although of course I sympathize with the writers guild in Hollywood striking for fair pay and am absolutely confident that they will get it, I don’t feel the same way about their demands regarding “AI.” I put “AI” in quotations because I agree with something Adam Conover said on an episode of The Majority Report when he called it a “marketing term.” And it is kind of sad that the ingenues of what is truly a minor revolution in computing have so overshadowed their own achievement with that dubious title. 

My reason for doubting “AI” is a simple thought experiment. If artificial intelligence really has been achieved (and if we have all read our Descartes there should be no quibbling about what that is) then all of the problems of linguistics have been solved. But do we hear all across the country the sound of linguistics departments on campus shuttering their doors? No. Obviously. And the partisan of AI will tell you it is because AI can tell us how it understands language but not how language actually works. And therein lies the fundamentally untraversable gulf between today’s headline’s frankenbot and true artificial intelligence; that somewhere in its entrails would lie the key to universal grammar. 

I don’t really think that this “AI” is going to replace the work of the writer or become even a minor contributor to literature and I’m confident in my belief because I know that I would not like to read something written by an “AI” even one infinitely more sophisticated than the one we’ve been presented today. I think there is perhaps a fundamental misconception surrounding what literature is that even the dickweed technologists of AI have bought into: the idea that we don’t really understand art. We just do, even if we cannot articulate it, we simply just do. And not all of us are unable to articulate it, here Plato and Aristotle get the better of us. The progression of literary and artistic criticism is not just a history of airy self-indulgence or an ostentatious feast of bickering. We produce new understandings of art, and we should. Only rarely does a romantic figure like Bakhtin come around who points his finger at the whole tradition coming before him and says “no you do not know what a novel is" and flattens out all that came before him. But this has become paradigmatic, and shackles even sincere students of literature in a boring if not cynical relativism. 

That was kind of a digression, but the point being, because I understand what literature is, I know what I want to read next, or I know at least from what pool I want to select my next read (that limited and anachronistic category of works produced by human authors). Works that despite their failings or distance from me in time or language or perspective do have the power to humanize me. 

I think the fear surrounding “AI” that people are expressing is coming from a profound and widespread misunderstanding of literature. All around us we see people engaging in books and TV shows and movies as a form of escapism rather than as a way to reach an almost alchemically distilled form, the essence, of real life that is denied us in our real life. This is, perhaps, an even more critical understanding of the Platonic perspective on art, that there is a true contradiction (one that cannot be discarded for being a contradiction) at the heart of genuine aesthetic appreciation. But if art is to be nothing more than transportation then I can tell you what it will eventually become in the future, and there is no need for AI. Eventually we will just plug into our virtual reality headsets and experience the life of a man living in the Philippines with 10 pounds of cameras and microphones and smell and tactile imaging technology strapped to his body as he goes about his day manufacturing military drones or narcotics or seed oils or whatever else we’ve decided are the bare essentials of living. The fact that some art is required even in producing schlock like Remarkably Bright Creatures shows that audiences have not yet given up on understanding what art is, and so, can save themselves from the hell of mass produced “AI” art putrefying the culture. 

The more serious concern and more dangerous potential of “AI” is that we are remade in it’s image. Human nature does exist but it is attained not something that exist already in it’s most perfect form and so is to be exploited by us however we wish. In fact, it exists, at least from the beginning, in it’s most wretched mutability. This “AI” is based on a fundamentally self-interested model of what real intelligence looks like, and defenders of the view that human beings are fundamentally self-interested not only abound but find themselves in high positions in the business world (not surprisingly), the government-think tank merciless idiot complex, the media, and even in academia where the true Freudian interpretation of Darwin (where human nature is understood to be a site of mysterious and conflicting drives) has been excised from curriculums leaving only the earlier understanding of Darwinian self-interest to mutate into figures like Richard Dawkins (whose main contention being that even though we are self-interested our reflection of who we are in our culture is somehow more self-interested in its potential atomization). 

Oh, and I don’t have any sympathy for the striking writers’ demands against “AI” because I would like to play around with it and try to push it to the limit of what it can replicate when it comes to writing literature. I would like to someday be a writer as a profession, and perhaps “AI” will take those jobs away from me because of people like me. But the gratification of a sense of play may be the cost of a fundamentally disinterested human nature.


As the school season was winding down this spring a not unfamiliar pressure asserted itself in my belly; the hunger for an idyllic campus novel. Earlier this year I read In One Person by John Irving, although I didn't find it particularly thrilling Irving managed to lock me in his cage in the way that only great artists can; I thought about the book for months after I had finished with it. I had wanted to read something else by John Irving for a while, and I picked up The Cider House Rules thinking that the "Cider House" must be a fraternity house known for drinking cider instead of beer on the pristine Phillips Exeter academy campus that he offered such tantalizing glimpses of in In One Person

Once again I was burned, I am always burned by these campus stories. The last time was at the hand of National Lampoon's Animal House, one of the most boring pieces of filmmaking ever attempted, yet one I couldn't have been more excited to see after the phenomenal A Futile and Stupid Gesture. It's not that The Cider House Rules was a bad book, it was, a tremendous book (perhaps about 1/4 too long, but still excellent) it just was not at all a campus novel. "The Cider House Rules!" was not something shouted by strapping young men after winning the annual campus boat race on the strength of their dirty tricks against the Alpha House with whom they had been engaged in a year-long prank war, it was, instead, a house on an apple orchard where migrant workers slept, drank, socialized and pressed the apples into cider. The Cider House Rules tells the story of Homer Wells the orphan protégé of a obstetrician offering illegal abortions in a declining 1930s lumber town and Melony, a fellow orphan and Homer's first girlfriend. Spanning three generations and featuring two protagonists, who are separated for the majority of their lives, historicizing the birth of the women's movement as a popular (rather than elite) movement and offering a commentary on contemporary abortion politics the book is massively ambitious and a singular achievement. 

I finished school some time after I finished The Cider House Rules and by then my attention had turned towards other subjects, my readings for school, my rapidly declining skills as a painter, but of most enduring interest was, of course, my screenplay. My last project for school was to explain the essential unity of The Little Nugget and A Gentleman of Leisure. And so I spent a week in the library eating nothing but Dunkin Donuts and rereading those novels and taking notes. I'm glad I took my opportunity to go back to what I thought the project would be initially rather than just try to just squeeze out ten more pages, but I am unsatisfied with what I came up with.

The most significant finding of the project was the progression of perspective between the two novels. The Little Nugget, combining a third person "framing" story that is never really resolved with a first person narrative, A Gentleman of  Leisure utilizing a close third person narrative throughout, and concluding with a scene that implies a kind of framing story that seems like but couldn't really be pulled out and described as a framing story. Clearly the culminating third step from first to third person is a screenplay, which only strengthens my feeling of pre-ordination in this project.


On the advice of my friend Evan I tried writing in a café this weekend. Writing in public is just absolutely miserable I was telling him, I feel like I’m set up in the backseat of someone’s car but there my self-important lap-top and God help me if I have any papers are just looming over everybody else probably there on dates probably trying to find something to talk about and making fun of ME, or else deeply in love and somewhat disturbed by this face-scratching vein-in-eye-popping bust illuminated the screen to which his slavish keyboard clacking is devoted.

I’m pleased to say that it went actually O.K. this time around. I sought out a café that said it was open very late only to find that this café was also, mainly, an indoor soccer field. It was around 7pm when I got there and other than the soccer players, and the girl neglecting her job behind the counter, there wasn’t really anyone there. I bought a pineapple soda and set myself up at the only seating in the house with ready access to electrical outlets; a bar with some of those cheap tin low-back high-chairs that wobble. Right behind me was a muted TV and as soon as I sat down the girl neglecting her job reached for the remote and turned on the volume. Bithc. I thought maybe I wont even write at all but just look at the soccer players from the broad plastic-glass window separating the field from the café, but I couldn’t tell if they were playing a game or running drills, nobody really seemed to be moving but I could hear the ball crashing into the siding of the café. I thought of Hemmingway’s story “A Clean Well-Lit Place” and tried to remember what the main guy in that story was looking for.

I had produced almost two new pages by the time I left at 9pm. I was pretty thrilled I thought I had smoothed everything out and made it all more necessary but by the time I woke up in the morning I realized that all I had done was make the whole thing a load of plodding crap and that the guy I'd added to the most came out like a total creep. 


It feels good to get back to work. I haven't really touched my screenplay since last semester ended and I handed in my obligatory 20 pages, but I've been thinking about it often. Mostly I've been thinking that if I set about that poor screenplay against the mild afternoon and cup of tea rather than the reproachful eye of a screenwriting class's peer review hour that the skin will become loose and I'll start picking away at insignificant problems rather than charging onward toward the ultimate accomplishment of the piece. 

As it turns out this has somewhat been the case: I have boiled myself into the minutiae of scenes I know definitely the vibe of and can enrich and clarify, based on that knowledge, whenever. I've come up with various schemes to tackle this inertia but I am waiting to try any of them out until one absolutely strikes me:

As you can maybe tell the last one is the one that occurred to me this morning, and the one I am most intrigued by. Other than that my attention has been absorbed by where I'll set up my writing desk in my new L.A. apartment!