. . . Joe Brainard

. . .

My favorite joke from A Nest of Ninnies by John Ashbery & James Schuyler:
"We can't let a lady drink alone, can we, Marshall?" Mr. Kelso said.

"Sometimes it's difficult to stop them," Marshall said.

Otherwise? The book's kind of OK, I guess. Like Dawn Powell except with no characters or structure. If you've read all the Dawn Powell novels, you might as well go ahead and try it.

Calling O'Reilly: I'd love to see the Joe Brainard cover illustration for this edition recycled on a Cross-Platform Java reference volume....

Cover Art

. . .

On my only day off for the last two weeks of February, I visited the inspiring and inspiriting Joe Brainard show at UC Berkeley's art museum (a little room packed to the gills with lovely bustle -- may we someday have a Brainard Memorial Mansion packed to the gills with such little rooms). More than any other late-20th-century artist I know of, Brainard created for the sheer consummating-and-fecund love of artifact. Sings like a fucking bird.

Not an easy bird to spot, either. Although I expect to expound more after my return visits in March and April, here's early notice so that other San Francisco Bay Area clubmembers can have their own shot at multiple visits.

. . .

Spuriouser & spuriouser

I'm unhappy and writing less.

I'm not unhappy that I'm writing less; I'm writing less because I'm unhappy. It wasn't until I was thirty that writing began making me feel less unhappy, and if I ever start feeling happy again without writing I'll feel fine about it.

There's nothing ignoble about passive consumption. We are, after all, only speaking of consumption. Is it less polite to show appreciation for a good meal through digestion than by spurning it in our own rush to serve the 8 PM tables, or by afterwards pressing a scholarly finger down our throat, or with the long loud burp of the critic?


There is as you say nothing ignoble about passive consumption. Yet one does feel a certain ignobility in having written something (to continue the eating metaphor) delicious, and then to write nothing further. Many of us find ourselves en mÍme bateau.

Now that remark really does make me sad. Should I desecrate the graves of authors I admire because they haven't published anything for a while? If not, do the living deserve less gratitude than the dead? No creator owes us a better end than Joe Brainard's view of Veronica Lake, with the flea circus barkers of "the art scene" lost in the flip-flap of pages of Victorian novels. May all our boats be drunken ones.

i'm trying to find out about why the word 'yellow' means someone is afraid or 'chicken'

You've come to the wrong place, my friend. I'm so pig-ignant I don't know what "aquarian pronoun" even means. (Do you?) But if I had to fake it, I'd fake like it referred to the jaundice of the lily-livered.

what are you unhappy about?
The ignoble-feeling One seems to be assuming that One's own dishes were so delectable and nutritious that others would starve without them. There are enough provisions in the world to last us all a good long while, even if we all leave off cooking. And so many of the dishes that we serve up ostensibly for others' delectation were never really meant to nourish anyone but ourselves, like the mouse pie that Ribby the cat so graciously prepared for Duchess the dog. (Admittedly, the pie did have bacon in it....)
Your readers might resist lumping your consistently illuminating eructations in with a pack o' "the critic." I felt a bit cheered coming across this the other day, (from Mr. Kafka): "It isn't necessary that you leave home. Sit at your desk and listen. Don't even listen, just wait. Don't wait, be still and alone. The whole world will offer itself to you to be unmasked, it can do no other, it will writhe before you in ecstasy."
one writes not from discontent, but towards it

So I'm a discontent provider? That seems fair.

Brian R. Hischier writes:

All I know is that it's been over six months since I visited your website --- in the meantime, in fact in one short fortnight, I've come across nearly 659 blog-stories about T. C~~n Boyle. I'm fed up, sir. So I've returned to the false-footlift and found a lovely short two paragraphs (a couplet of chunks) about giving in to a less-than-blissful penna-less existence (I appear to have rediscovered for myself the hyphen: apologies). I did that last January. Stopped cold after depressing a man in Switzerland only 23 pages into the first novel. Starving the page lasted only six months, I'm sad to say. I started a new book in June. Coincidentally (in the true sense of that word), I'm less happy now than in January. And like you, not because of the writing.
I hates it when you is sad.

Count your blessings. When I'm happy, I can get pretty obnoxious.


. . .

Jeepers, Creepers, and Peepers

"The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde" by Sianne Ngai,
Critical Inquiry Summer 2005, Vol. 31, Issue 4

Aesthetic theorists and researchers traditionally start from the Beautiful and Sublime. Having tangled questions of taste with investigations of experience, they then traditonally fall face-first into complete muddle.

So, as simultan kindly surmised I would, I like what Ngai's doing with Minor Aesthetic Categories. All I have to add to her essay relates to what it specifically isn't about. I mean, it says "the Avant-Garde" right in the title; I can't complain I was misled. But I think its High Art focus leads it to romanticize, overstate the centrality of, and miss some distinctions in cute-directed violence.

* * *

Impugning sincerity is tricky business. Goths genuinely are cute, and I'm sure as many kids go to art school because they're goths as the other way round. Nevertheless, sincere or not, there's no challenge when a contemporary fine-artist brutalizes the cute, or pretends it's a menace. In some cases, as Ngai kind of admits, it's macho-brat kicking against being perceived as trivial. In a lot of cases, it's just a cut-rate version of surrealism's habitual degradation of the desired. In all cases, it's easier to market "edgy" than "adorable".

In contrast, I admire Joe Brainard and Frank O'Hara for the conviction of their cuteness for refusing to buckle under fear of what the guys would say.

There are other artists, true, some inside, some outside high art circles, that I admire for the conviction with which they beat cuteness up. These come in two flavors.

  1. Kids who torture and maim their own toys. There's a lot of self-loathing in the play. Two obvious (and contrasting) examples from underground comix would be Vaughn Bodé and Rory Hayes.
  2. Kids who torture and maim other kids' toys. Here resentment is more important than identification: Tex Avery's sympathies didn't lie with the Disneyesque Sammy Squirrel. Although partly inspired by a photo of the director as an ugly baby, I have to believe similar hostility fueled the most hideous of all cuteness desecrations: Bob Clampett's original Tweety Bird. With its huge eyes and feet, sticky nakedness, and horrid leer, the creature's regressed past fluffy chick to fertilized egg: NEOTENY GONE TOO FAR.
Lizard About to Blow Balls Off at Flower: Vaughn Bode
Type 1
Shit-Eating Grin: Bob Clampett unit
Type 2

* * *

cute, a. 2. (orig. U.S. colloq. and Schoolboy slang.) Used of things in same way as CUNNING a. 6.

Gertrude Stein's book answered the riddle "What's cuter than a button?" Minima Moralia, on the other hand, I'd call cunning.

As those near synonyms (and as shithouse rats) indicate, "acute"'s move to "cute" was aphetic but not antonymic. (Speaking of etyomology, a scholar who keeps the OED so close as Ngai does will, I hope, be entertained to learn that "till" is not a shortening of "until".) The cutey-pie's wide eyes and soft skin signal receptivity and resilience.

Cute Eugene the Jeep is quiet, sure, but also indestructible and omniscient. Doghouse Reilly is notoriously cute. Young John Wayne is by no means harmless, but he's observant, non-judgmental, and cute, whereas old John Wayne is damaged, vindictive, and decidedly not cute. When Charlie Chaplin shambles on broken at the end of City Lights, he's definitely harmless, but he's no longer cute.

In nineteenth century North America, where both usages began, I suppose an infant might've seemed "cunning" in its sheer makedness: the extent to which the infant manages to resemble a perfectly engineered doll. "What a piece of work is a baby!" But the OED's "acute" citations seem to instead point towards "sensitive to impressions" and "having nice or quick discernment."

The most surefire "Awwww!" shot in movies is the one which shows an audience of children spellbound by a movie. And here's Chris summarizing a recent study of folk comparative psychology:

The baby scored really high on experience (higher, in fact, than the adult humans, including "you"), but really low on agency. This seems to imply that people feel like babies are experiencing everything, but have no will. I'm not exactly sure what to make of that.

More than just the viewers' vulnerability associates aesthetic response with cuteness.


I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can, and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use silence, exile, and cute.


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.