Monday, February 18, 2008

Judith I (1901)

Judith I (1901)

Any artist who trucks in the transgressive could be forgiven for wondering what reaction a given piece of work might elicit (unless that’s the sole purpose for creating it, which I would say cheapens the artistic process, but let’s not go down that road for the moment). Will it be praised, jeered, banned, destroyed? All of these have happened to various works at various points in history, but Klimt’s Judith I is the only painting I am aware of in which a portion of the public reacted to the offense it caused them by pretending the subject was something other than what it was, right down to refusing to call it by its rightful name.

Judith I depicts the title heroine, a Jewish widow who snuck into the camp of Holofernes, an Assyrian general sent by Nebuchadnezzar to clamp down on the populace, seduced him and then lopped off his head. He chooses to present her in a contemporary context, as indicated by her fashionably Viennese clothing, the ornamentation of which blends in with the representative background, even bleediing out onto the frame. Once again, the male presence is muted; for starters, he’s just a head, but he’s also clasped down to her side near the bottom, half of his face cutoff by the edge of the picture. But that’s okay; it’s her face we need to be concerned with anyway.

Having decapitated a man, Judith doesn’t just seem peaceful, she seems positively, even defiantly serene. She proudly sports ornamental jewelry, is completely indifferent to her nude torso showing through her tunic, and with her eyes nearly shut, she gives us another depiction of Klimt’s persistent sleep/dream motif. It has been speculated that the picture is a (possibly unconscious) reaction to the growing influence of women in public life, indicated by the reversal at work in the fact that Judith used sex to lead a man to his demise, and yet is it she who seems aroused in the picture. She enjoys all of the power and all the pleasure as well.

The impudent empowerment angle alone might have been enough to raise eyebrows in a society, cultural renaissance notwithstanding, as repressive as the one in which Klimt lived, and if that didn’t, the juxtaposition of eroticism and violent murder might have done the trick. Add to that the fact that the subject is a revered Jewish heroine of the Old Testament and you’ve got all the ingredients for a public outcry. What is most interesting is the way the public, notably Vienna’s Jewish bourgeoisie, opted to react – namely that the artist must have made a mistake. This wanton vixen, with her languorous and lascivious expression, couldn’t possibly be the noble Judith of legend; clearly Klimt had intended to depict a different Biblical figure associated with decapitation, Salome, the young tart of a dancer who played the patsy in convincing her stepfather King Herod to take a little off the top of John the Baptist. So eager were they to believe this that they managed to create what we now call a meme, and the result was that numerous catalogs and journals for years afterward continually referred to the work as Salome. All this despite the fact that Klimt, as you’ll notice if you take another look at the painting, name-checked his subjects at the very top!

Judith II (1909)

Judith II (1909)

Eight years later, Klimt would revisit the subject with notable differences. Judith is still unapologetic, defiant and bare-breasted, but instead of being clasped to her side, her hand resting in an almost gentle manner upon it, Holoferne’s head now dangles, his hair wrapped around her bony fingers. Gone is the suggestion of sexual pleasure to be replaced by a far more raptorial expression and stance.

I do not know if there was any correspondingly negative response to this work as there was to its predecessor. (If there was, not, in fact, an outcry over Judith II, it may say something, given their differences, about exactly how long the ‘violence=okay, sex=bad’ mentality has been floating around.) But then, by that time, having renounced governmental sponsorship after the rejection of the Faculty paintings, and making a nice living off of a steady stream of society portrait commissions, Klimt probably wouldn’t have cared one way or the other.

Next: ???

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Assorted Water Maidens:

One of the more consistent images to show up in Klimt’s work was a repeated variant on the water maiden. He was interested in female sexuality and he was interested in mythology, so it is not surprising that he would turn to the playfully erotic image of the naiad, the mermaid, the naked water nymph whose long, lustrous locks flow in tandem with the currents that stream about her and which carry her downstream as she stretches her lithe frame through them. (In Mermaids, he even goes so far as to put the full weight of the figures’ sexuality on their hair, eliminating the bodies and depicting the women as floating manes with hungry faces peering out of them.) One can see this image of flowing, water-like hair in many of his non-aquatic subjects as well, including Danae and the Nuda Veritas (1899), and even examples in which the female sexual power comes off as downright dangerous, such as the Furies from Jurisprudence or the Gorgons from the Beethoven Frieze (1902).

Additionally, the combination of images spoke directly to the Art Noveau focus on natural forces – the female from which humanity is born luxuriating in the wellspring from which all life emerges.

Other familiar aspects show up here as well. In Water Serpents I, the two lesbian mermaids (women romantically intertwined was a theme that popped up quite a bit, mostly in his sketchwork) float in each other’s arms, the face of the one turned towards the viewer displaying the sleep/dream eroticism. Moving Water has a muted male presence, landing somewhere between the ‘face turned away’ depiction of many of his works and the reduction to a single rectangle in Danae. Here we have a somewhat toad-like figure standing off to the side of the current upon which the women float, peering up at them with, well, certainly with interest, possibly desire. It seems open to interpretation.

Lastly, it is worth pointing out, for humor value alone, that the playful Goldfish is believed to be a deliberate thumb to the nose to those critics who took exception to his portrayal of sexuality. Not only does the figure in the forefront have hair of an even more flaming red than usual, she also saucily looks back at the audience as she points her bare backside at them.

Moving Water (1889)


Fish Blood (1898)


Mermaids (Whitefish) (c.1899)


Goldfish (1901-02)


Water Serpents I (1904-07)


Water Serpents II (1904-07)


Next: Judith I (1901) & Judith II (1909)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Faculty Paintings

Much of Klimt’s early success was centered around commissions to create work that was not just to be exhibited but to become a part of public life, such as his depictions of ancient forms that were installed above the doorways of Vienna’s premiere art museum. In this vein, the Ministry of Education commissioned him and his business partner Franz Matsch to paint what came to be known as The Faculty Paintings, which were to be placed on the ceiling in the Ministry’s great hall. The three that Klimt was assigned, Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence, were expected to be celebrations of the achievement of rationality in the modern world. This was not, however, what the artist delivered, and the controversy stirred up by them ended with Klimt buying the paintings back from the government and renouncing any further state patronage. Many years later, the paintings were stolen by the Nazis. They were eventually destroyed at the end of World War II, along with other works, in a fire at Immendorf Palace set by retreating SS troops. I can only imagine what it would have been like to see these paintings in the flesh, so to speak, as their enigmatic quality, reduced as it is by the necessity of viewing them in the photos that survive, still has the power to provoke chills.

Philosophy (1907)

Klimt - Philosophy (1907)

Klimt advocated a school of thought that emphasized the idea that, regardless of man’s copious achievements in terms of science, intellect, etc., he was still subject to nature’s whims. (I may be presenting that somewhat simplistically, but that was the gist. It is tempting to wonder how well-known his belief in this viewpoint was; his status as Vienna’s most revered artist notwithstanding, surely the Ministry would have been reluctant to hire someone who was prone to undermining the “light conquers darkness” sort of portrayal they wanted.)

Klimt portrays humanity as a column of bodies. While they display such common human traits as passion and despair, none of them seem to be in control of their destinies. They merely float through the universal ether, out of the darkness of which looms a sphinx, whose sleeping face is indifferent to them, much like the universal mysteries it represents. At the bottom of the painting, a solitary woman’s face peeks out from behind a cloak, her eyes peering out at the viewer as a lone indication of human sentience.

Medicine (1907)

Klimt - Medicine (1907)

Medicine shares a number of traits with Philosophy. Once again, humanity is represented as a floating column of bodies, though this one clearly illustrates various stages of life (including a skeletal death), most represented by women. Instead of Philosophy’s sphinx, we get Hygeia, daughter of Asclepius, granddaughter of Apollo, Greek mythology’s Florence Nightingale. She performs a ritual task, but is as indifferent to the nearby humans as the Sphinx was. And, like the solitary woman in Philosophy, we have one figure to the left, suspended in space, a baby at her feet, her arms thrown out in a display of vitality.

The nudity in Medicine caused a bit of furor, but it was nothing compared to the anger directed at Klimt by the city’s physicians. The artist’s representation of man’s journey and the ambiguous importance of the symbol of medicine was not the celebration of the healing arts that they had expected. But if the city elders had hoped the experience had taught him some kind of lesson, his third Faculty Painting would prove otherwise.

Jurisprudence (1907)

Klimt - Jurisprudence (1907)

It has been speculated, but can’t be conclusively proven, that Klimt changed his original plans for Jurisprudence in light of the trouble the first two paintings had caused him. The picture shows a spindly, naked man, bound and placed within the confines of an octopus’s tentacles (I’ve always felt that the octopus was deliberately made to look like the sort of courtroom box in which a prisoner might have been confined). Before him stand the three Furies, and far above them, surrounded by judgmental, disembodied heads, are depictions of Truth, Justice and Law.

There are two popular interpretations of the painting. One goes directly to the idea that Klimt felt persecuted for his previous work (some believe the man is a self-portrait), and the other posits it as a metaphor of sexual shame. Certainly the Furies, who give off an air of both sexuality and malevolence, would seem to support the latter, as could the man’s posture, bending as he does in what could be considered guilt. Regardless, the fact that the lofty ideas of jurisprudence are far removed from the individual and the arbiters of his punishment speaks quite loudly. Here Klimt has moved from depicting the main theme of the painting as indifferent to man to making it downright hostile.

Next: a bevy of water maidens (1889 through 1907)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Danae (1907-08)

Greek mythology has a lot to offer modern civilization, including acting as a primer for any swinging gadabouts (godabouts?) who’ve split Mount Olympus and are looking to score with some mortal chicks. Klimt depicted two such happenings, including this painting of Zeus having his way with Danae in the form of a shower of gold. This, of course, is the beginning of the story of Perseus, but that doesn’t concern us right now. In fact, Klimt places us so firmly in the moment that the rest of the story might as well not even exist.

This is, in my humble opinion, the most purely erotic piece in Klimt’s entire catalog (just beating out his assorted, highly sensual depictions of water maidens). He enjoyed baiting the people who chastised him for the sexuality he put on display; hence the use one of his favorite devices: the brazen, flowing red hair. The sleep/dream eroticism hinted at in The Kiss is in full effect here. And again, we have ornamentation, this time used to slightly humorous effect in its furtherance of Klimt’s emphasis on female sexuality. The round symbols on the cloth beneath Danae (likely taken directly from antiquity, although I couldn’t tell you which one; Greek would seem to be the obvious choice given the subject, but I can’t be sure) are obvious, but the male presence has become downright negligible, at least from a symbolic standpoint. Where the man was once resigned to merely turning his face from the viewer, he is now made of pure suggestion, including the one vestige of the male symbols that remains: a single, solitary black rectangle floating beneath the golden stream. Between Danae’s body, drawn up into itself, and the look of focused intensity on her face, one gets a sense that she is no longer even aware of the presence that is giving her such pleasure. Subsequently, the image becomes an expression of female sexual independence while still retaining the charge of male sexual fantasy of the story from which it was taken.

Next: The Faculty Paintings (1907)

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Kiss (1907-08)

Even if you think you’re unfamiliar with the work of Gustav Klimt, if you’ve spent any notable amount of time in a dorm that houses college age women, you’ve likely seen at least one of his paintings, indeed his most famous, The Kiss. Posters of this particular work are ubiquitous in the domestic collegiate arena, and young women seem to hold a particular affinity for it. And I’m sorry if that sounds sexist, but it is a romantic painting, the sort of thing a certain cross section of young women are apt to appreciate, and I doubt that the majority of them are full-blown Klimt enthusiasts, given the dark and frequently male sexual dynamic of a lot of his work.

The Kiss depicts a man and woman kneeling on a bed of flowers. Their bodies are pressed tightly together under blankets that envelope them. He holds her head in his hands as she bends it back to allow his lips access to her cheek. One of her hands clasps his while the other lays draped over the back of his neck. Her calves can be seen protruding from under her blanket and her feet stick out past the flowerbed, which ends at a place that almost seems to drop off into the void.

Klimt was a big fan of ornamentation, and each blanket is covered in its own particular symbol, long, shaft-like blocks on his, circular figures on hers. (Decidedly unsubtle in this post-post-post-Freudian world, but bear in mind that Freud himself was only just beginning to simmer his theories at the time this was painted, in the very same city no less.) Through the way her blanket lies you can see a clear indication of her body, and yet at the same time the very fact that his blanket melds right into hers, coupled with what little of their actual bodies are exposed, come together to suggest that they are united as one entity, an important factor in the painting’s inherent romanticism.

Some find a theme of male domination in the work: his grasp on her, his position somewhat looming above her, the slightly phallic aura that caps their heads. But to me the peaceful, pleasurable look on her face belies any negative connotation of this variety. Klimt’s portrayal of the female face was ever expressive (as opposed to his depiction of men, whose faces, except in specific portraits, tended to be turned away from the viewer), and in this piece, and even more so in Danae, painted around the same time, he achieves a mystical sense of sexual ecstasy that almost seems to suggest sleep, and subsequently dreaming.

Next: Danae (1907-08)


As indicated on the main page, this is all the work of a layman. I am not an art scholar; merely someone with an abiding interest who is attempting to learn as much as possible while sharing some of what I've learned. Also, since I'm basically commenting on works as the inspiration strikes me, these will not be presented in chronological order (hence, the hopping of the title).

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), b. Baumgarten, Austria

Gustav Klimt (c. 1908)
The artist, circa 1908.

Gustav Klimt is not an easy artist to classify. He is generally referred to as a member of the Art Nouveau, or Jugendstil as it was called in his neck of the woods, a movement characterized by paintings utilizing ornamental, decorative touches often inspired by nature, which is a fitting description of some of his work. But he was also known to incorporate elements of Impressionism from time to time, and he, like many Prussian artists of the era and the several decades that followed, is linked to Expressionism (a term itself difficult to define), both through select pieces from his own catalog and his friendship with and influence on the Expressionist Egon Schiele (who I hope to examine at some later point). And it would be unthinkable to examine Klimt’s work without considering the assorted antiquities that inspired him so.

This latter point was a big part of what led Klimt to co-form the Vienna Secession, a group of younger artists who broke away from their predecessors in a battle between Historicists and Modernists. This was an ideological difference between embracing the past and letting it lie, although which side was which may not be as easy to guess as one might think. The Historicists considered art to be an ever-evolving form that need never look back – in their view, once a particular period was over, it was over – whereas the Modernists wanted to be free to incorporate anything that had come before that stirred them. Indeed, to look at certain Klimt pieces, it is clear that he did not just wish to incorporate images from the past – he wanted to make them vibrant enough to seem to be things of the present. This included not shying away from their inherent eroticism when appropriate, a tendency that would cause him some trouble (though not as much as certain thematic approaches).

But while sex was an abiding element of much art from this period and the decades to follow, sometimes in forms more explicit than might be expected of the time, Klimt’s works have a vibrancy to them that makes the eroticism radiate out from the canvas. Klimt clearly loved painting women, and the lion’s share of his allegorical images would be expressed through their assorted forms and shapes, although to view them as merely symbolic is to miss out on part of the picture. Indeed, he seems, when painting mythological figures, to be attempting to transcend their stature as mythological figures, to humanize them, and sensualize them, in a way that will speak more to the viewer’s sense of themselves than their sense of history.

The Works:

The Kiss (1907-08)
Danae (1907-08)
The Faculty Paintings (1907)
Assorted water maidens (1889 through 1907)
Judith I (1901) & Judith II (1909)

Monday, November 13, 2006

About the Author (Except Not Really (Well, a Little Bit (Somewhere at the End (It Should Be Pretty Apparent (I Mean, It’ll Still Be a Bunch of Smartass Bullshit, But It’ll Have At Least a Kernel of Truth, Y’Know? (Which Is Realistically the Most We Can Hope For At This Point (This Title Has Officially Crossed the Line of Parenthetical Abuse and Will Be Duly Reported to the Commissar…Make with the Closers)))))))

(Bio compiled by Professor Devotion)

Marxo Grouch was born in Nineteen Hundred and Seventy, Year of Jack Lord, on the island of Manhattan. And yet he has never drunk a Manhattan. Why is that?

He established his reputation as a critic of dubious ethics early on in a review for his high school newspaper, The Carbuncle, of the drama club’s production of ‘Spring’s Awakening,’ in which he lambasted the lead actress for her work in a scene that it turned out had been excised for this particular production. He was later forced to admit publicly, and pantslessly, that he had in fact spent a good portion of the performance in the bathroom beating off to a yearbook photo of the afore-mentioned actress with a cut-out of his own head over that of her quarterback boyfriend. (Nota bene: Contrary to rumors, his involvement in said boyfriend’s complete subsequent loss of body hair has never been proven.)

He continued his higher education at the St. Peteawhack Academy for the Deceptively Lazy, and there fostered his ongoing love of making lists of seemingly arbitrary words. One of the best of these (‘1. Cheesecake 2. Parapet 3. Moron 4. Fermented 5. Gangrenous 6. Tit-sling 7. Whoops’) is currently hanging in the Neue Gallery in New York. Taped to the back of a fire extinguisher on the 3rd floor.

In the early ‘90s, as part of an ongoing study of the parameters of psychedelic art, Mr. Grouch, under the name of The Really, Very, Truly Reverend Denton X. Q. Mazda, seceded from the United States along with a number of fellow outpatients, among them Dr. Androcles T. H. C. Drofruh and Professor Robert Merry Christmas, to form the glorious, free-floating nation of Eunice. Conceived as a way of killing time until the snack bar opened for dinner, the neo-nationalist fervor soon spread like eczema to the far corners of the quad. A debate immediately ensued as to what qualities should embody their national stereotype, a counterpart to Germany’s stoic efficiency, France’s snooty estheticism, America’s loud, arrogant anti-intellectualism, etc. They finally settled on the seemingly unlikely twin set of delirious melancholy and perpetual arousal, the former because they liked the way it sounded and the latter because it was true. Upon reaching that decision it was time for grilled cheese with bacon and tomato for everyone. Fiercely loyal on the inside, casually indifferent on the outside, the citizens of Eunice have since drifted to all parts of the world. You may very well have rented a video from one today.

More recently, Mr. Grouch has devoted his time to trying to popularize the zither as a heavy metal instrument, stalking Naomi Watts, doing what he can for Charity (until she broke it off, then it was back to shaking hands with the vicar), inventing recipes that utilize extraterrestrial ingredients, staying regular (if not normal), and penning a burlesque show filled with striptease and pie-throwing, patterned after the Ring Cycle.


Never having cared much for his birth name, he has been known to adopt the moniker Marc Beschler, largely for use in posting on message boards dedicated to erotic macramé. This name is a bastardization of a phrase from the language of a lost Amazonian tribe meaning, “This crocodile has not been properly cooked.”

Endowed by nature with perhaps the most glorious baritone voice to be heard on the American stage, he has also been known to lift entire jokes from Tom Lehrer, following them with jokes that only diehard Tom Lehrer fans will understand. He charmingly blames this for his outsider status, ignoring the real problem.

Mr. Grouch is one of only two people on the planet who know what the letters in the anagram CAEU (pronounced like it’s spelled) stand for. And actually he’s forgotten the ‘U’ and isn’t 100% sure on the ‘E’. Come to think of it, it’s been so long since he’s talked to the other guy, it’s entirely possible that he, too, has forgotten it. You know what, just…forget it.

He considers his crowning achievement as a critic to be the time in Montmarte that he got into a girly slapfight with Jean-Luc Godard when he dared to confront the oh-tuhr, demanding to know whether it was in fact two things or three. It was at that moment he determined that obscure art film jokes were the way to keep people COMING BACK FOR MORE!

Reviewing this bio I see that precious little of it is actually true, even some of the parts that are, though the part about being born in Manhattan and never having drunk one is. And incidentally, I’m still waiting for an explanation as to why.


Tch. You people are useless.

To add a degree of authenticity to this I guess I should mention that Mr. Grouch enjoys: beer; hardcore punk; the grand old city of New York; zombie flicks; art deco; stewed greens; large breasts, both real and otherwise (in your face, Chuckles); Bosch and Breughel the Elder; beautiful women in slapstick situations; lemon Coke; psychotic felines; film noir; the sound of light traffic gliding along the avenue (bonus points if it’s in the rain); the haunted island of Nantucket; punk rock chicks; horseradish; singing in harmony; people with a well tuned sense of their own epicurean and aesthetic tastes who yet manage to avoid snobbery (he said, somewhat snobbishly); selected prog rock; sour cream; surrealism and/or absurdism; pulp novels, preferably printed on real pulp; getting, but not giving (that’s right, I said it); long late night walks with some good music, a deli beer and having a little laugh; whistling; olfactory-induced memories; black velvet; harmonizing; German/Austrian expressionism; big band; women in garters; a really good sandwich; you know, I could go on like this for a long, long time, so to preserve a bit of mystery, I’ll just stop now.
Professor Devotion is the author of Camembert Conspiracies, The Adventures of Captain Motherfucker, and Shaving Your Inner Armpit, as well as the legendary series of articles featured in Melted Gazebo Magazine, “Doesn’t That Go Over There?”, about the infamous Sutton Place feng shui scandals. The Professor enjoys Venezuelan cuisine, Stuart Kaminsky novels, starting flame wars, and hiccupping.

Mr. Grouch (right) cracking up a local celebrity. Yep. Obscure art film jokes. Works every time.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Cosmic Unconsciousness

“You know how everybody’s into weirdness nowadays?”

The scene – Beneath an overpass in the sun-bleached aqueducts of Los Angeles, a scrawny, stubbly guy in coveralls, a second skin made of filth having long since formed on his body, shovels trash into a burning oilcan with a stick, while another guy, twitchy, with a buzzcut and a dorky short-sleeve-shirt-and-tie combo – a punk trying to “dress like a detective” – looks on.

“Say you’re thinkin’ about a plate o’ shrimp. Then suddenly somebody says ‘plate’, or ‘shrimp’, or ‘plate o’ shrimp’. Out of the blue. No explanation. No point in lookin’ for one either. It’s all part of the cosmic unconsciousness.”

“You do a lot of acid, Miller? Back in the hippie days?”

Originally, inspired by this low-key yet infinitely memorable moment from Repo Man, I wanted to dedicate this section of the site to odd moments of coincidence like the one that Miller, in all his grimy flakiness/savant-like wisdom, describes, both my own and those submitted by other people. This plan hit two snags: first of all, though I’ve experienced many such instances over time, quite a few, more than I would have guessed, have disappeared from memory, eliminating a large portion of my prospective material. Secondly, it occurred to me that in having just anyone send me their personal examples, it would be impossible for me to be certain of their authenticity. Not that this is intended to prove anything about supernatural forces, but if you can’t be sure that it really happened, that feeling of the possibility of something just outside the realm of understanding at work would be absent, essentially defeating the purpose.

So I’ve decided to turn this section into a blog, not of the diary or political variety, but rather the type where I just post whatever fits my mood that day. I’ve got enough random effluvia languishing on my hard drive that no one has ever seen, so I’m even covered for those days when I don’t feel like writing something new. And I haven’t completely abandoned the original idea, but for now I’m only going to include my own experiences and those of friends, because that way I’ll know I’m not being bullshitted, or, in the case of certain acquaintances, at least the bullshit factor will be predetermined.

To get the ball rolling, here are three different examples of what I have in mind. Firstly: sometime early in 2002, I was out for my nightly walk, listening to the soundtrack to Mulholland Dr. (For the uninitiated, Mulholland Dr. is about two women, one a blond hopeful looking to make a go of it in Hollywood, played by Naomi “I don’t care how many times you’ve seen King Kong; I’ve loved her since Tank Girl” Watts, the other a mysterious brunette who has lost her memory, played by Laura Elena “Also quite fetching; I’m just not obsessed with her” Harring.) I stopped at a deli to buy a beer, and as I was paying, two girls entered. They walked up to me and began asking about a 24-hour diner, one they claimed was supposed to be somewhere on the outskirts of Central Park. There was nothing remotely like that anywhere near where we were, but I turned to give them the best advice that I could. I had faintly noticed as they entered that one was blonde and the other brunette, but now I saw their faces, and goddamned if the blond one didn’t look a hell of a lot like Watts; not exactly, but close enough that they could easily have been sisters. Thankfully the brunette didn’t particularly look like Harring, because that might have sent me crawling into the salad bar.

Was this an example of my mind making more out of the situation than actually warranted? Entirely possible. And by this time I can’t even conjure up the blond girl’s face to be sure just how great the resemblance was. All I have left is the memory of what I felt, and at that moment I felt that the girl standing in front of me looked remarkably like an actress from the film the soundtrack to which I was listening to at that time, which, coupled with the blonde/brunette dynamic of the situation, added up to a pleasant little moment of coincidence.

Another more bizarre and yet at the same time possibly more explainable example: one night I dreamed that I was with a group of people hiding under a porch-like structure while hostile alien beings zoomed about outside. At one point, I shot out my hand and began ‘karate chopping’ these beings, which were whitish and cylindrical in shape. As my hand passed through them, they shattered, much like a stack of china plates.

A day or so later, I was choosing something to watch out of a large selection of films I had taped off of cable. Some were a part of my campaign to broaden my knowledge of kung fu flicks, and since it felt like an escapist night, I chose Five Deadly Venoms, a film about five fighters, each of whom has been trained in a different style. The film opens with the man who trained them describing their individual techniques with visual accompaniment. One of them is shown practicing his technique…by smashing flying stacks of china plates.

Now, I could have read about this particular scene in a review and unconsciously incorporated it into the dream. This does, however, presuppose that I had read a review of the film – truth be told I don’t spend much time reading kung fu reviews – and one that specifically mentioned this brief, inconsequential moment at that. It also assumes that I had already unconsciously chosen to watch that particular film a couple of days before my conscious decision to do so. All possible, but not necessarily probable.

But let me finish with one of my favorite examples. It’s actually quite simple, but requires a lot of backstory. Bear with me.

There’s a somewhat famous building on Park Avenue called the Lever House. It’s interestingly constructed, in that the majority of the ground floor by the street is an underpass, with open-air areas, no walls separating them from the sidewalk, on both the northern and southern sides of the building, and a little open passageway between them on the eastern side. The middle of the southern underpass is a sort of well, created by an elevated, insulated promenade, which runs out of and then back into the southern side, making a square with the building proper.

The décor in the underpass amounts to a garden of random shapes. Silver pillars shore up the promenade, sometimes kept company by squat, similarly quadrangle trashcan/ashtrays, their sides encrusted with pebbles. Backless benches appear in intervals, one round, the next rectangular, the next shaped like a tab of Tylenol.[1]

A while back they did some renovation on the building (though not heavily enough to prevent people from walking through), and the claptrap they put up to aid in the construction created cozy little corners that served as attractive crashing spots for the local homeless population. This lasted for a while, until the management either finally wised up or lost their sense of tolerance, hiring some security to patrol the place, with guard dog in tow, effectively ending the era of the Lever House Hotel.

One night while walking through, I passed the guard and dog, and the dog, apparently agreeing with certain members of my family that I sometimes dress like a vagabond, began barking ferociously at me. It was a startling moment, but I didn’t think much of it at first.

Well, ever since then, the damn dog has barked at me every single time he’s seen me. And I have to hand it to him: he’s remarkably on the job. He’s spotted me from quite a distance, sometimes in the midst of a fair amount of other people. I used to get a bit self-conscious about it when it happened during peak traffic hours with so many others around, until I decided to treat it like a game and pretend something else was going on, like I was a demon in human form, and much as Sgt. Fido tried to warn the humans through whose realm I walked otherwise undetected, they remained blissfully oblivious to my evil. Which is not actually that far removed from reality, provided you replace ‘demon in human form’ with ‘pervert,’ ‘humans’ with ‘women in business suits,’ and ‘evil’ with ‘attempts to burn holes in their clothes with my eyes.’

As the man and his dog patrol several blocks, there’s actually a far greater chance that I won’t encounter them as there is that I will (these days, in fact, appearances are remarkably rare), but a slight nervousness used to descend upon me when I passed through just the same. One night I guess I was feeling a bit more paranoid than usual. Approaching the building I scanned the immediate area and it seemed to be clear. I was listening to Naked Raygun on my Walkman, and as I entered the underpass, I began to relax; generally if I hadn’t seen man and dog by then, I was in the clear. All of a sudden, out of nowhere: “Woof, woof.”

I froze. Not that I actually had anything to fear from this dog (except in the fairly unlikely event that he got away from the guy), but because I hadn’t seen anything and this sounded like it was right on top of me. All of this took place within a split second, and it took me that long to realize that what I heard were words that the Raygun’s singer speaks at the end of the song I was listening to.

Bet you’re really glad you slogged through all that exposition, huh?

Is it profound? No. Does it prove anything? Of course not; again, it’s not meant to. Is it interesting? Blow me. But just as a part of me enjoys those completely arbitrary moments that life brings us (one of the main reasons I dig David Lynch as much as I do), another part – perhaps the fraternal twin of the first part – can’t get enough of those brief seconds when you can almost believe that some higher power or unseen force or the universe or whatever has reached down to you, not for the purpose of pointing out a path that you are inexorably to follow, but merely to nudge your arm and murmur a quick joke.

We now join the Cosmic Unconsciousness, already in progress…

[1] Just as an interesting aside, the Lever House was in the news a while back when infamous British shock artist Damien Hirst installed his piece ‘The Virgin Mother,’ a thirty-five foot high statue of a naked pregnant woman whose skin has been removed from the better portion of the right side of her body. The statue is inside the well and the torso is parallel to the promenade. I don’t have much of an opinion on the piece myself, but I can’t help wonder what it must be like for those who work in the building and must, on a daily basis, walk past a huge exposed fetus located just below a giant flayed hooter.