Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Electric Kool-Aid Dickless Fuck, 2

When Tom Wolfe died, in mid-May, I grabbed From Bauhaus to Our House from my shelf.

I had managed to avoid it when it came out in 1981. I was a community organizer then, and, though I was interested in writing and had read some of Wolfe’s stuff (I had soared through The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and jetted through The Right Stuff), I cared about issues that affected poor people not about the built form of luxury towers. And when it came to New Journalism, I relied more on Joan Didion and Norman Mailer and Terry Southern and Gay Talese and Hunter S. Thompson  than I did on Wolfe.

When I plunged into From Bauhaus last month, the first thing that struck me was how thin it was: 111 pages packed with more literary references and art history exegeses than most textbooks. Wolfe, I realized, was an erudite dude. And, of course, the book pops with Wolfe's trademark exuberant and unapologetic use of exclamation points and his lust for the best non-egotistical one-letter word in the language -- the gaping vowel O.

Still, the biggest surprise in reading From Bauhaus to Our House thirty-seven years after it was published was to discover that the book’s dominant metaphor is buttfucking.

Wolfe never describes anal reaming outright. As with The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test before it, there are no penises present. But after you hit the ass sex for the first time almost halfway through, it becomes the book’s refrain, a leering chant from a cracked Greek chorus.

It first arrives on page 51: diminutive Louis Kahn – Wolfe savages him as “always having a little cigar of unfortunate hue in his mouth” – hammered Yale University's big wigs so hard that they “yielded to the destiny of architecture and took it like a man.” And Wolfe gives the line a second coming in the very next sentence: “Administrators, directors, boards of trustees, municipal committees, and executive officers have been taking it like men ever since.”

Ten pages later the anal image rises again: “Eventually, everyone gave up and learned, like the haute bourgeoisie above him, to take it like a man.”

And, just to make it clear that he’s talking about getting fucked up the ass, and not verbal abuse or getting slapped or any of the infinite number of other ways one can be demeaned, Wolfe trots the image out again on the next page: “And the mightiest of the mighty learned to take it like a man. Not even the bottom dogs, those on welfare, trapped in the projects, have taken it so supinely.”

You know, on your back, legs in the air.

Indeed, buttfucking is the climax, the denouement of the book. The chorus razzes shrilly, knowingly, conclusively, in the very last line of text: "And the client still took it like a man.”

Perhaps this frenzy of dickless buttfucking was what got the critics excited. Perhaps that’s what The Wall Street Journal implied when it said From Bauhaus “squeezed a funny tale out of glass and stone.” Perhaps it’s what New York Magazine meant when it saluted the book as “a search-and-destroy mission.” Perhaps it’s what People Magazine was thinking of when it called Wolfe’s opus “marvelously right.”

I mean, there's an undeniable thrill in tucking references to a taboo subject into a mass-market read. I know this first-hand: years back, I was hired to ghost-write part of a marketing textbook, and I remember being ridiculously elated that I managed to shovel the phrase “the only thing that matters is what’s between the buns” into a mortuary-worthy anecdote about rival ad campaigns by burger chains.

But, in hindsight, From Bauhaus is mostly a missed opportunity. Wolfe remains right – star architects are dicks, I'm sure, and their clients are, for the most part, cucks – but, in his pursuit of booty-sex, Wolfe neglected a larger and more important theme that was emerging just as he was writing. A new building called Trump Tower was rising on Fifth Avenue in New York City. This structure was well under way when Wolfe published the 2-part essay that became the book in Harpers in the summer of 1981. The design (by Der Scutt) was known: gaudy as hell, skinned in bronzed reflective glass with little outright ornamentation but cut on one corner like an over-wrought piece of jewelry to present 28 facets to the avenue. At its base, an ostentatious atrium draped in rose/peach/mango marble.

This fool's gold plinth was not the work of some recumbent corporate board being schtupped by a stumpy architect. Rather, it was being built, as most buildings are these days, by a developer, who used the form prescribed by modernism to fulfill a much more basic urge: the desire to maximize value. 

Form follows function after all. But function, to a developer, is eternally the same: to use the full zoning envelope, to get bonuses to build even bigger, to create the most buildable, rentable, saleable square feet possible, and to get a tax break to make it all even more obscenely profitable.

What Wolfe missed, in his derisive envisioning of the haute booboisie with their heinies on public display, is that it's no longer the client who is being fucked up the ass. It's all of us. From Bauhaus to Our House, but with an unintentional new meaning.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Electric Kool-Aid Dickless Fuck

I didn’t realize what was missing when I first read the two touchstone books of New Journalism.

Here’s a scene from one of Ken Kesey’s famous LSD parties, as described by Tom Wolfe in his trailblazing bible of the 60s, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test:

The girl had her red and white dress pushed up around her chest, and two or three would be on her at once, between her legs, sitting on her face in the sick ochre light of the shack with much lapping and leering and bubbling and gulping through furzes of public hair while sweat and semen glistened on the highlights of her belly and thighs and she twitched and moaned, not in protest, however, in a kind of drunken bout of God knew what and men with no pants on were standing around, cheering, chiding, waiting for their turn, or their second turn, or the third until she had been fenestrated in various places at least fifty times.

I keep a crumpled yellow note from that night; not all of the writing is decipherable, but some of it reads like this: “Pretty girl about twenty-five lying on a wooden floor, two or three on her all the time, one kneeling between her legs, one sitting on her face and somebody else holding her feet … teeth and tongues and pubic hair, dim light in a wooden shack, sweat and semen gleaming on her thighs and stomach, red and white dress pushed up around her chest … people standing around yelling, wearing no pants, waiting first, second or third turns … girl jerking and moaning, not fighting, clinging, seems drunk, incoherent, not knowing, drowning …”

The details in both descriptions (which came to mind because Wolfe died, at the age of 88, on May 14) are largely the same because they came from the same source. Wolfe was not at the two-day blow at Kesey’s place in La Honda, California where the Hell’s Angels met the Merry Pranksters, but Thompson was. So Wolfe borrowed Thompson’s tapes and notes.

On that first read, I decided that Wolfe had glossed it up while Thompson was more coldly accurate.

To be fair, Wolfe set the scene this way: “a lot of them [the bikers] piled in there, hooking down beers, laughing, taking their turns, making various critiques.” But his embellishments – ‘fenestrated’ instead of penetrated, ‘furzes of pubic hair,’ ‘sick ochre light’ – hyped the supposed druggie blur. And he further disembodied the scene by framing the fucking in two weird tenses – the conditional and the past perfect progressive. Significantly, Wolfe dropped the fact, clear on Thompson’s page, that she was held down on the wood floor, and he added that she was ‘in a kind of drunken bout of God knew what.’ I suppose this was supposed to mean that she was willing.

Yet, when I checked in on Thompson's book recently, I felt that he, too, fell short. From the crumpled yellow of his note paper (creepy, isn't it, that he hung around that crude cabin long enough to take notes) to the fact that his only verbs are gerunds, his account is oddly passive, presenting an affair with little grubby atrociousness.

What I missed when I read these books decades back, and what is obvious to me visiting them again today, is that both accounts never mention penises. In both of them, this was a dickless fuck. (Thompson didn't even call the possessors of these penises men; rather, he called them ‘people.’)

Two male authors describing the same scene both made a forest of stiff pricks magically disappear.  As many as fifty erect cocks. Erased. Removed. Disposed of. Airbrushed out. Neutron bombed. Disappeared. Poof!

To put the pricks in, to describe them, talk about them, make them apparent, active, palpable, powerful, would have tilted it. Because it’s got to be fucking impossible to stick your head into a room at a party and see a hoard of bellowing men – maybe not fifty but definitely dozens – with their pants off and their dicks hard taking turns on a solitary woman who's being held down on the hard floor and think, even for a moment, even if she doesn't protest, that it might be consensual. I mean, to maintain that takes some serious work.

Wolfe’s final assessment of the scene -- “But that is her movie, it truly is, and we have gone with the flow” -- only makes sense without the dicks.

Thompson's too. Though he was clearly conflicted, he dispelled that conflict in a twist of explanation. “It was not a particularly sexual scene,” he wrote. “The impression I had at the time was one of vengeance. The atmosphere in the room was harsh and brittle, almost hysterical.” At another point he termed what he witnessed as somewhere between a friendly sex orgy and an all-out gang rape.” In the end, though, the outlaw journalist handed up an indictment: “The Hell’s Angels, by several definitions, including their own, are working rapists . . . [ellipsis in original] and in this downhill half of our twentieth century they are not so different from the rest of us as they sometimes seem. They are only more obvious.”

‘Working rapists.’ What a phrase. A keeper. It takes in everyone from the President of the United States on down -- which makes it perfect for this godawful Sisyphean second decade of the twenty-first century.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

epa meets the epa

photo by Valerie Wiseman
The Environmental Performance Agency (EPA): Department of Weedy Affairs
Opening Reception: Saturday, May 5, 3–8pm
with "Towards Teaching a Human the Urban Weeds Alphabet" performed by EPA agent Andrea Haenggi at 3, 5 and 7 pm.

May 5 – June 16, 2018

At Transformer | 1404 P Street NW, Washington DC
with additional programs & events around the District

An exhibition and series of programmatic performances and workshops led by the Environmental Performance Agency (EPA), an artist collective (Catherine Grau, Andrea Haenggi, Christopher Kennedy and Ellie Irons) which imagines a governmental agency that is beyond human.

Read more here.

  • May 5-June 16: Environmental Performance Agency at Transformer Gallery, Washington D.C.
    • Saturday, May 5, 3:00 – 8:00pm: The Department of Weedy Affairs opens to the public with " Towards Teaching a Human the Urban Weeds Alphabet" by andrea haenggi at 3, 5 and 7 pm.
    • Sunday May 20, 2:00 – 5:00 pm: Crack The Patriarchy: Moving, Thinking and Feeling with Plants that Break Through Cracks in Asphalt, Meeting Point: National Museum of Women in the Arts (led by Catherine Grau and Andrea Haenggi )
    • Saturday, June 9, 2:00 –  4:30pm: Weedy Resistance: A Weedy Walking Tour on the National Mall, Meeting Point: Constitution Avenue NW and 12th Street NW, Washington DC (led by Ellie Irons & Chris Kennedy)
    • June 15, 2018, 2pm, EPA Meets EPA: A public walk to the US EPA Headquarters
      Meeting Point: Transformer, 1404 P Street, NW Washington, DC

 Andrea Haenggi in rehearsal @Transformer, DC
Other Upcoming Shows

  • May 5th  Opening of Wilder City 's  Group Exhibition  (Sadly I can not be in two places at once), Flux Factory/Windmill Community Garden, curated by Lorissa Rinehart and Nat Roe 
  • May 13, 12:30-2pm: EPA at Open Engagement: "Plant Talk Human Talk: An EPA Training for the Beginning of the World", Queens Museum, Flushing, Queens, NY

  • June 1 6:30pm- 8:30pm Ecopoetic , Digitaria durational performance as part of the 18 Site-Specific Dance Performances at Washington Square Park presented by the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies curated by Artistic Director Regina Miranda at  the occasion of the Laban/Bartenieff Institute’s 40th Anniversary.

  • June 8 8pm -1am, NYC ANARCHIST art Festival at Judson Memorial , infos of my performance participation will come soon.Stay tuned