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E (I've Got To Shorten This Shit)

Extra, Part One - Last year, I was hired to be an extra in a film. I've not got much interest in being in films, but I was walking down the street, and some guy stopped me, and asked me if I wanted to be an extra. A couple of days work, he said. Sure, I said back. I was hired to fill out the lower working class crowd scenes of St. Mary's, and was placed alongside the decaying, worn down, beaten, toothless, and general ugly of the world, as well as a midget.

It was, I have to say, one of the most manipulative, unpleasant experiences of my life. Also, they didn't pay me.

Employment - I don't know one person who loves their job. Most of my friends don't mind their jobs--a place to go to get cash, they say--and some even like them, but each of them would leave them if they weren't required to work to live. But yet, they can't. And so, for five days a week, they wake up, travel to a place, travel home. They spend more of their time at a place they would rather not be, if the choice was given, than somewhere else. Their lives--fuck it, our lives--are drained of time to perform a function none of us want to do. We could be surfing. We could be writing. We could be doing any one of the countless things that we want, but instead, we work. We waste, fucking waste, the majority of our days, the largest portion of our weeks and months and years, doing a meaningless function. And what do we get in return? Some money to buy books to escape our lives, to buy televisions to watch a narrative about people with jobs more interesting that ours, or wealth that allows them to do something we could never do... we work in our disinterest so we can buy the image of a life that does.

Ellison, Harlan - Born in 1934, American author Harlan Ellison is one of those authors who is for a certain age in your life. Late teens, early twenties. That's the prime age for Ellison's angry, energy driven prose, because after that, you will become aware that a lot of Ellison's fiction is, in fact, quite awful. Recently, I found myself reading the collection Deathbird Stories, and my, are there some bad things in there. I couldn't even make it through 'Along the Scenic Route', which is a story about death dueling in your car on a freeway, but I did manage my way through 'On the Downhill Slide', but only because it began with the line, "I knew she was a virgin because she was able to ruffle the silken mane of my unicorn."

Experience - I really enjoy making fun of people who think that you need life experience to write well, or that having life experience lets you write with more knowledge. Write what you know is often what they say. It always makes me wonder which of the fantasy authors out there have committed war crimes/genocide recently.

Entertainment (Without Art) - Here's something that I find interesting: Art is not entertaining. For many people, the mere presence of Art within any kind of text, painting, film, whatever, renders it inaccessible. Clare Dudman left this quote in the A section from an interview with BANKSY:

Is graffiti art or vandalism?

That word has a lot of negative connotations and it alienates people, so no, I don't like to use the word 'art' at all.

It is becoming a more common held belief. Just this week I heard a minister involved in education calling for 'normal language' to be taught, and all that art shit be banished from schools, because it has no relevance.

Entertainment (With Art) - What I don't understand, however, is why art can't be entertaining? And of course, before that, what makes Art? I've a personal definition for Art, but is there a universal one? I think for most people, if a piece is complex, and requires thought, or is put together in a complex way, then it becomes Art. Art suggests difficulty, which is not at all true. After all, there's a lot of complex and thoughtful work out there that is easy to read, watch, or view, or whatever, and there's a lot of work masquerading as thoughtful that, in truth, has all the insight of a dead animal.

Experience - Yet, for all the people will tell you that experience is good, and is something that you should get to write well, people frown on experience with prostitutes. Which is surprising, given how popular prostitutes are in fantasy novels.

Ellison, Harlan - I find myself in a curious position with Ellison now. Generally speaking, I have good memories of Ellison, and I speak well of stories such as 'The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore' and 'A Boy and His Dog' and a few others. Do I still think this, however? After the Deathbird Stories experience, I decided I would check out a newer story, and so I re-read 'Mefisto in Onyx', which I remember liking the first time. There are the Ellison ticks that made me sigh to see, such as the line "Now they was some dumb ass muthuhfugguhs" but the main problem I had with the story was that my politics were in the way. At the end of the story, the main character, a black man, jumps into the mind of a white man, and--well, I'll type it out for you:

...I hugged her with the intention that Henry Lake spanning would love Allison Roche more powerfully, more responsibly, than anyone had ever loved anyone in the history of the world. I was reading to stop failing at everything.

And it would be just a whole lot easier as a white boy with great big blue eyes.

Because--get this now--all my wasted years didn't have as much to do with blackness or racism or being overqualified or being unlucky or being high-verbal or even the curse of my "gift" of jaunting, as they did with t he single truth I learned waiting in there, inside my own landscape, waiting for Spanning to come and gloat:

I have always been one of those miserable guys who couldn't get out of his own way.

Which meant I could, at last, stop feeling sorry for that poor nigger, Rudy Pairis. Except, maybe, in a moment of human weakness.

Here, it is suddenly the portrayal of race that I have a problem with. With Ellison's whiteness as an author, and with the way that, for the character, becoming white equals success, and a change in his life. The story is not as badly written as some of those stories from Deathbird Stories, which, thank fuck, really, but I had the experience as if I was reading a story written in a different time, of which I should take in the final lines as if it were written in a time in which we did not know better. Does that mean, then, that to enjoy Ellison as I was did, I have to do so with the understanding that he is a historical oddity? Something by which I can see how things have changed?

Or is it simply that Ellison is for a certain age and that, once you first encounter him, you cannot go back?

Employment - If anyone knows of a hippie commune that I can go and live on, leave a link in the comments.

Extra, Part Two - Being used--and make no mistake, it was being used--in a film as scene scum did not do me any good. Intimidating, bald, the friend of a midget: Ben Peek, for hire. I've been called intimidating for years. Once, when I walked into a lecture theatre, a friend of mine overheard to girls say, "I hope he isn't my tutor--scary." Years. Years and years I've heard it. It's given me a pleasant neurotic complex, for I am a neurotic kind of guy. But the two days as an extra bought in a new question: Do I think that I'm better than this? Do I resent being cast as scum because it places me at the bottom of the image food chain? Am I arrogant enough to consider that any one person is beneath me, or is it that I simply dislike the idea of people placing themselves above me? The answer was a mix of both. I didn't enjoy the insight.




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May. 12th, 2006 03:05 am (UTC)
I love my job. And I never got into Ellison -- I think you're right, he's one of those authors you have to read at a certain time. I don't re-read adolescent favorites, mostly fo rthe fear they won't hold up. Well, I know Hesse won't.
May. 12th, 2006 03:48 am (UTC)
you and your job :P

yeah, i try not to reread books i loved as a kid. i was surprised with the ellison, however. i had never read DEATHBIRD STORIES, before, but my...
May. 12th, 2006 03:16 am (UTC)
Is that guy in the photo the guy who sells poems on the street in Newtown?

Also: this morning on my way to work I saw a guy who was the spittin image of Harlan Ellison and it scared me because before your journal post the other day, I wouldn't have recognised a similarity.

Also: another E word!
May. 12th, 2006 03:51 am (UTC)
i believe he does sell a poorly photocopied zineint he streets of newtown, yes. he told me he was doing the extra work for food. a strange, desperate man, i thought.

odd about the ellison look alike.
May. 12th, 2006 03:20 am (UTC)
Yes, but work does form the useful tool of distracting me from just how much television sucks these days.

It's not much of a reason to work, mind you, but it's something.
May. 12th, 2006 03:52 am (UTC)
i think you need to get cable...
May. 12th, 2006 04:05 am (UTC)
I have a feeling that I'm going to love my new job. I'm actually going to be doing what I WANT to do for a living. I can't wait. :)
May. 12th, 2006 05:46 am (UTC)
well, i hope you love the new job, too. you're certainly deserving of it :)
(no subject) - switchknitter - May. 12th, 2006 07:32 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 12th, 2006 04:43 am (UTC)
Also, they didn't pay me.

Bastards. My first ever pay cheque, and it was a cheque, was from being an extra. I was 11, and they still paid me.

I find a lot of art entertaining. Is, to pull out a tired old cliche, Shakespeare suddenly not art? Because his plays have lots of the funny, and the dramatic, and etc.
May. 12th, 2006 05:47 am (UTC)
ah, but what,e xactly, makes art for you?
(no subject) - ironed_orchid - May. 12th, 2006 06:15 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 12th, 2006 04:48 am (UTC)
not exactly a commune...
However, a lot of ex-hippies and their wanna-be's have settled at the springs with a (not sure of the source) new age kind of religion thing that encourages heart touching and nudity (not sure about the sex) - Kerista is gone (of course) but there are still lots of freeloaders living all through this area - just sniff...

May. 12th, 2006 05:51 am (UTC)
Re: not exactly a commune...
...but i got to pay money to go there...
Re: not exactly a commune... - ashamel - May. 12th, 2006 06:56 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: not exactly a commune... - mallory_blog - May. 12th, 2006 07:10 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 12th, 2006 06:42 am (UTC)
I haven't read much of Harlan's fiction in two decades. But his nonfic pieces, particularly his phenominal introductions, is essential, yearly reading for me.
May. 13th, 2006 11:00 am (UTC)
i remember enjoying ellison's non-fiction in the day. i think that, more than his fiction, was influential on me.
May. 12th, 2006 07:20 am (UTC)
Hello. I love my jobs. I work in a nice office environment doing web stuff three days a week, do other freelance web stuff, and I'm a "full-time" musician.
There are times when it's boring, times when it's frustrating, but I'm very happy with all my various employment situations.
May. 13th, 2006 11:02 am (UTC)
...so, that's, 'kill peter monday morning.' right. thanks :)
(no subject) - frogworth - May. 13th, 2006 12:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 12th, 2006 07:33 am (UTC)
I used to love Ellison, and recently went back and re-read some, and, sure enough, I found his technique lacking. All that hyperbole. But there's still some that hold up: Repent Harlequin, I have not Mouth and I Must Scream, his scripts, his non-fiction. There's life in that stuff. Still, I agree, he is an early twenties phenomenon. I feel like maybe I've moved on,

May. 13th, 2006 11:11 am (UTC)
maybe it's the nature of the reader, to move on. i hope that some of the stuff like repent harlequin, the non fiction, a boy and his dog, the deathbird, and others hold up. i really do. but i'm afraid to go back and check it out now. maybe better with the memories.
May. 12th, 2006 09:20 am (UTC)
http://www.artsfactory.com.au ! Even better than a commune...
May. 13th, 2006 11:09 am (UTC)
though expensive and tourist trappish ;)
(no subject) - ex_chrisbil - May. 13th, 2006 11:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - benpeek - May. 13th, 2006 11:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ex_chrisbil - May. 13th, 2006 11:30 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - benpeek - May. 13th, 2006 11:37 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ex_chrisbil - May. 13th, 2006 11:41 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - benpeek - May. 13th, 2006 11:44 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ex_chrisbil - May. 13th, 2006 11:51 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - benpeek - May. 13th, 2006 11:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
May. 13th, 2006 11:07 am (UTC)
and probably there's a case to be made that, regardless of what Ellison meant, he just botched it terminally in the rendering.

to be honest, i think that is what happened. i don't think ellison is racist in any way or fashion--certainly not from my understanding of him, anyhow. i just think it's how he phrased it there, and how it came across, a sort of ham fisted mash of ideas that come across badly. that can be read in the light that being white makes rudy able to succeed. i know, in fact, that this isn't what ellison intends--rather, in the story, rudy is throwing off his old self, starting anew, letting go of the past... but even when you think of all those things, it just opens up all these doors of ill concieved theories on ellison's part, you know?

part of me even thinks i shouldn't hassle ellison for it, because he did take the topic on, and he did run with it. but while i didn't have a problem when i first read it, now, all i see are the problems. which is a shame, really.
(Deleted comment)
May. 13th, 2006 11:45 am (UTC)
let me know about it. i might join up.
May. 15th, 2006 04:40 am (UTC)
I don't think of Ellison as white because I'm still not used to thinking of Jewish as white, exactly; perhaps because I was born and grew up in the anglophone Caribbean, where race is configured slightly differently. Perhaps because I am part Jewish and also not white (iow, maybe I've conflated the two). I dunno, I may be talking through my hat on this one; I'll have to ask my mother how Jewish is configured racially in the English-speaking Caribbean. As for Ellison, he seems to me to wear his Jewishness pretty overtly, so I perceive that before I perceive whiteness.

I had a look at the excerpt. Yeah, it does seem dated and the language slightly ham-fisted, but not too much. I can imagine a black man speaking it. I wonder if some of Samuel Delany's urban black American dialogue from the same period would come off any better? It was even more transgressive to write it then than it is now, and there weren't a lot of conventions to draw on for writing it in a way that felt authentic, so I'm not surprised it would feel stiff.

You said, "being white makes rudy able to succeed." Living in black skin, I don't find that far-fetched or offensive in the least. At the very least, it'd be nice to be able to browse in a department store without being shadowed by security guards. In that section of the excerpt, the character doesn't seem to be saying that blackness is the problem, but that systemic racism is. But I'm in agreement with you in this wise: the race analysis in the bit right after makes me uneasy, too. It might simply be an artifact of reading it without the context of the whole story, but it seems to contradict the bit that came before. In that next section, the character says that racism wasn't what got in his way; his personality was. That may even be true for that character, in which case the passage wouldn't make me uneasy. If I've read that particular Ellison story, it was a long time ago. I neither recognize nor remember it, so I don't know what the context is. What I'm left with is an *apparently* contradictory message. So I kept trying to see if there was a way to fill out the argument. Was the character saying that he developed the traits that made his life difficult for him because of systemic racism? And so now that he's at the more privileged end of racism, he figures he'll be able to let those traits drop? Or is the ending in fact a deliberately negative one, meant to show how wrong-headed the character's thinking is? Or is Ellison's argument in this snippet just muddled? I guess I'll have to (re)read the story to find out. In terms of commentary on American black/white race relations, it might turn out that I prefer to remember his story "The Paladin of the Lost Hour." I wonder if that one will hold up to my positive memories of it? Damn, do I even want to find out?
May. 15th, 2006 04:57 am (UTC)
I don't think of Ellison as white because I'm still not used to thinking of Jewish as white, exactly

that's interesting. for me, being jewish is neither part of whiteness, nor not, which is perhaps the result of growing up where i have, in sydney. it never occured to me to think of ellison as a jewish writer. i think i primarily connect being jewish to the practice of judaism, and if i remember rightly, ellison is an athiest... hrm. now there's a blind spot in race relations popping up for me.

i think, in terms of the story, that ellison wants you to see that in the context of his story, it is the character that got in his way. but i'm not sure it quite works. i'd certainly never accuse ellison of being racist, but i think the end, here, ends up falling on the uncomfortable side for me, either because it didn't come out right from ellison, or simply because its dated, or because i'm a lot more aware of race representation and issues now.

i remember liking paladin of the lost hour. do i reread it to see if it still holds?
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