Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 151: Not An Emergency

This is what it looked like on 7th Avenue today when our building was briefly evacuated and cordoned off for a suspicious package. I mean, you kind of can't tell at all. People don't really pay attention to police tape.

Demoted myself a lane at swim practice tonight in order to successfully complete the workout. I need like 5-6 more swims like today to break the funk. And then I hope having the water back helps break the general funk.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Day 148: Confinement

Do you detect the theme?

It's summer, which is almost everyone's favorite season. Not mine. Too much sweating and sticky misery. I'm more of an autumn person myself. I put my fans up today and need to get a small air conditioner for the bedroom so I can sleep this year.

I'm in a struggle right now to remember how to be alone and like it. I was getting awfully good at it around this time last year.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 147: The Wide Open

This is in the Harlem Art Park, on E 120th St and Lexington. Astonishingly big, quiet and empty.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 146: A New Leaf

I suppose at some point I should take a picture of how I feel. Not there yet.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 143: Cleaner

Light fixture in the room I spent most of the evening in, cleaning it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day 142: Heading Back

Sunset view from my train heading back east.

It amazes me how a trip to my hometown for six days, four of them in the woods, is so much more overwhelming and disorienting than any of my foreign travel.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 141: The Quest Family

Just before the final stretch of the hike, the march up Howard Street into Russell Joy Park.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Day 140: Canadaway

My favorite stretch of the hike comes on Friday at the end of the day's 11-mile walk. We bring the groups down a switchback into the creekbed and and walk downstream to the Policemen's Grounds. It's an absolutely majestic sight.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day 139: Fauna

We found two sleeping fawns in our Thursday campsite at Boutwell Hill. Only slightly more awesome than this was my close encounter with a river otter in the creek on Friday.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 138: Ruins

The first night of Quest is spent at Cockaigne, a ski slope in Cherry Creek. The lodge burned down earlier this year, and so we cooked and held our activities in the shadow of its charred remains.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 137: Omen

Signs of impending wet weather on the drive from Buffalo to Fredonia.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 136: Overdue

I wasn't really planning on this being today's photo when I shot it, but a couple of things struck me. One, that I said originally that I wanted to do monthly self-portraits, and have not done so. Second, I look really tired, and my eyes are clearly bugging out, so the coming four days away from glowing screens will do them some good.

Lastly though, I don't entirely recognize this as my own face. I'm not really sure how that makes me feel. I put it in the same area as my curious reaction to realizing I graduated from college 10 years ago: has it only been 10 years? It seems like longer.

No posts for a week now, I leave for Fredonia tomorrow and am on the Quest Wednesday through Saturday. Hope for decent weather for us, or, failing that, that my rain gear doesn't fail. Big update when I get back, hopefully with something like 1500 shots of really excited campers.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Day 135: Artifacts

My fourth visit to Sleep No More was by far the most incredible yet. Here are some of the tokens of what I got to do. No, I am not saying how I got them (other than the card which is obvious). But virtually everything I saw last night was new to me, and I feel like I've got a pretty thorough grasp on what's happening in there. There's still so much more to see and do.

We stayed late and got to talk with the amazing cast some more. To learn that my essay from earlier this week – now the most viewed page on this blog – is making the rounds and people working at the show are reading it is really exciting and humbling (I hope it makes sense / communicates my admiration for all the work). It's such an impressive array of talent and effort, one of those things that reminds you what incredible creatures human beings are.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Day 134: Washington Square

Following such advice has generally led me into good things in my life, ie. Oberlin.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Day 133: PhilADELEphia

Forgive all the iPhone photos lately - haven't been carrying the good camera around quite as much. September can't get here fast enough for the iPhone 4S or whatever it's going to be. This old phone is on its last legs and these optics are pretty terrible.

Adele was lovely but the concert was pretty crummy, audience too large and random, and too insistent on singing along. Hey, you just paid all this money to hear the top recording artist in the world right now, and you want to drown her out with your own screeching? Way to go.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Day 130: Do These Things

Off Topic: A Sword Between Banquo and Me

This is not a review of Sleep No More, previously discussed on this blog on Day 66, Day 95 and Day 119. There are plenty of wonderful reviews here, here and here if you are interested in that kind of approach. What I am writing are notes on some of the fascinating ways the experience strikes me, as a former Germanist with a particular background in the literature of early 20th century Vienna, and a previous research project involving obscenity, pornography and textual reproduction. It will contain many spoilers, of course. This is not so much serious scholarship as an effort to show that Sleep No More, whether it intends to or not, participates in a rich literary tradition rather distant from its Shakespearean source material. My hope is that it might deepen the appreciation for the intelligence of Punchdrunk's production, perhaps awaken some further interest in texts and writers who are not terribly well-known in the English language, and lastly account for the curious sense of familiarity that has accompanied my visits to the McKittrick Hotel.


Read the many fond reviews now appearing of Sleep No More, the immersive theatrical mashup of Macbeth and Hitchcock staged in Chelsea by the British company Punchdrunk, and you will find a third player frequently mentioned alongside the Bard and the Master of Suspense. Stanley Kubrick's name is often also counted among the forebears of Sleep No More, and while some reviewers reference The Shining, most invoke his name on account of the masks worn by Sleep No More audiences, which seem to be a touchstone for Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut. It is not an inappropriate connection to make. After all, from behind Sleep No More's masks, one can witness, among other things, an orgy.

But from my perspective this is an altogether too simplistic account of the ties between a set of works with numerous shared themes, among them dreaming, obsession and voyeurism. Neither orgies nor Venetian masks were truly at the core of Eyes Wide Shut, though that was surely the most significant impression the challenging, critically beleaguered film left behind in the imagination at large. And while these elements of Sleep No More's production are surely a deliberate nod to Kubrick’s film, I am inclined to suspect a much more interesting, complicated and elucidating relationship, most likely unintentional, between Sleep No More and Eyes Wide Shut, or more specifically the text on which Eyes Wide Shut is based, Arthur Schnitzler's 1925 Traumnovelle.

Schnitzler's work seems fated to be known in the English-speaking world mostly in the form of adaptations. His most famous play, Der Reigen, is produced today under the name La Ronde, as it first became widely known through Max Ophüls' 1950 film. A more recent stage variant starring Nicole Kidman, The Blue Room, had less of an impact. Similarly, Traumnovelle broke out to British and American audiences by way of Kubrick's version. A contemporary of Freud and a physician, Schnitzler was both sexually adventurous and methodically taxonomical, and his work known for its psychological complexity and his sexual frankness.

Kubrick took some liberties with Schnitzler's text. Some help to restate the story from early twentieth century Vienna into contemporary New York. Other changes weaken the structural order of a novella that Schnitzler himself often called Doppelnovelle, as it was intended to contain two stories in delicate parallel; one mostly a vivid dream, the other real but so unbelievable, so uncanny and mysterious that it may just as well have been a dream itself. The conflict in Kubrick's film is set in motion by Alice's confession to Bill that she lusted after a sailor she had seen fleetingly while on vacation; this episode is in the original text, but Fridolin (adapted into Bill) also had a temptation, a young girl he met on the beach during this same trip to Denmark. "Denmark" of course ends up being the password to the masked ball, not "Fidelio" as in the film. Kubrick freely interprets what Fridolin sees at the 'orgy', though it is likely in line with visions that Schnitzler's language could merely hint at. Alice's dream however, though full of her endless sexual betrayals, is absent the capture and enslavement of her husband, prefigured in the novella's opening lines as their young daughter reads a passage from The Thousand and One Nights, as well as the crucifixion and torture of Fridolin, which make Albertine's version much more potent as a countersubject.

Yet in both the novella and the film, the episodes of dreaming, whether while sleeping or in the waking state, are bracketed by interludes of confession. These dialogues are instances of compulsory narration: Fridolin/Bill and Albertine/Alice each must in turn recount the experiences of their various adventures: at the ball (the Ziegfeld's Christmas party); in their bedroom remembering their vacation (in the novella, their Denmark trip, and their engagement years before); Albertine/Alice's dream, and ultimately, Fridolin/Bill also retells the entirety of what he witnessed at the masked ball, what led him to it, and what he did while trying to force that experience to make sense: "Ich will dir alles erzählen," "I'll tell you everything."

It is on account of this structure that the usefulness of Traumnovelle / Eyes Wide Shut as intertextual relatives to Sleep No More becomes clear. Like the âventiure of medieval epic, the dream sequences are departures from the bourgeois family's equivalent of the court: security, stability, childrearing, profession. Schnitzler, for his part, accentuates this with particular attention to the contact of Fridolin's and Albertine's hands. Their hands touch and intertwine in all of their scenes together, until their jealousies and admissions finally become, as Fridolin states, "ein Schwert zwischen uns," a sword between them, and something else to grasp at. They then go their own ways in 'dreams' of infidelity. For Fridolin in particular the contact points of his hands are representative of his attempt to gain traction and knowledge within his waking dream.

As a point of comparison, Sleep No More is often described as being like witnessing someone else's dream. It is, like Traumnovelle, the experience of inhabiting a sequence of coinciding dreams. The audience member is initiated into the dream-realm of the McKittrick through a maze of dark corridors that lead into the bar. Here however one is already in the performance per se. Characters, albeit less alien ones, circulate and interact with the audience, who, ordering drinks and waiting for their cards to be called, enjoy one final act of speaking before plunging into the ensuing hours of muteness and voyeurism.

Once inside, key points of traction come largely through the hands. One pores through documents and artifacts, one tries doorhandles and knobs, and, occasionally, one of the dream-figures takes you by the hand and leads you deeper into the dream. When this concludes, the audience is led back to the bar, where one simply must talk about what has just been seen. It is a compulsory confession, as reunited parties of visitors compare what each witnessed, nervously and often questioningly recalling strange, confusing scenes, knowing full well that if they are not confessed and mutually confirmed, they will slip into unknowledge and oblivion. Every visitor's account is fragmentary and incomplete. Even the collective recollection the production's structure encourages is not enough to account for the enormity and mystery of the space one has only just begun to explore. It is hard to not be reminded of the conclusion reached by Fridolin and Albertine about what they have undergone:

"... Ich ahne, dass die Wirklichkeit einer Nacht, ja dass nicht einmal die eines ganzen Menschenlebens zugleich auch seine innerste Wahrheit bedeutet."

"Und kein Traum [...] ist völlig Traum."

(in Eyes Wide Shut: The reality of one night, let alone that of a whole lifetime can never be the whole truth. [...] And no dream is ever just a dream.)

Sleep No More is driven by a comparable degree of pervasive ambiguity. It is telling, perhaps, that the production has relied so heavily, and so successfully, on word-of-mouth in lieu of conventional marketing. As something that defies traditional description and explanation, it seems to want its fans to be stammering and incoherent, and altogether glad to bring new visitors in with high, but curiously inarticulate expectations of what they are about to experience.

If Sleep No More, like Eyes Wide Shut and Traumnovelle before it, is a dreamscape with indeterminate boundaries with waking, then its name is perfectly appropriate. This title derives from Act II, Scene 2 of Macbeth, after Duncan has been murdered:


Methought I heard a voice cry, "Sleep no more!

Macbeth does murder sleep" – the innocent sleep,

Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,

The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,

Chief nourisher in life's feast


What do you mean?


Still it cried, "Sleep no more!" to all the house.

"Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor

Shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more."

Sleep, so commonly metaphor or metonym for death, is made to be the locus of peace, calm and life. Macbeth betrays the uses of sleep, and so the Macbeths are repaid with the ultimate corruption of their sleep with ghostly visitations, madness and death. Schnitzler, alternatively, approaches sleep as the avatar of sexuality, but it is still the gateway to a realm of betrayal. The treacheries in his text occur in dreams, where they are only barely confined and threatening to burst out.

But there, confession brings the couple back together. After their adventures, they again clasp hands and are grateful for being awakened: "Nun sind wir wohl erwacht - für lange," says Albertine ("now we're awake," in Kubrick's film, "and hopefully for a long time to come." At the novella's conclusion, Schnitzler identifies dreams as an agent of isolation only temporarily overcome, and as certain to reemerge as each coming night: "So lagen sie beide schweigend, beide wohl auch ein wenig schlummernd und einander traumlos nah" - "and so they lay silent, both surely slumbering and dreamlessly near the other." The admonition to not look too far into the future is both fitting and haunting. The command to ‘sleep no more’ is the damnation of Macbeth and an impossible prescription for the temptations of Fridolin and Albertine, and Bill and Alice. For the Sleep No More audience, it is intended as an omen.

I felt an acute terror during my second visit to Sleep No More, when in a private moment with Banquo, he pulled a huge sword from beneath his mattress and thrust it into my hands. My terror was less the fear that he would strike me with it, or ask me to use it, but instead arose from a sudden sadness. The sword was not real, neither heavy nor sharp. This whole experience was not real, and nothing I could imagine coming of the encounter with the performer would happen other than what was scripted. Rather, I knew for certain in that moment that I was having "merely" the brilliantly executed approximation of a dream. "Ein Schwert zwischen uns," I immediately thought, and felt yanked back into drab, sober reality. Unlike Fridolin, my grasp on this theatrical, not psychical, sword reminded me that this is, in fact, just delightful artifice. But it is also not paradoxical that this moment, perhaps the most powerful so far in my exploration of the McKittrick Hotel, accounts for why I think so highly of this production. Ordinarily, the fourth wall is the front of the stage and the edge of your seat. Here, I find myself reaching the boundary of reality and performance only fleetingly, and in the most surprising and captivating of ways.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Day 129: Data

Yeah, that's the front of my storage array. That's the kind of day I'm having.

I'm sure part of it is leftover annoyance from yesterday's Amtrak and MTA meltdown; part of it is the difficult day I had today, and still another part is a string of personal and social frustrations that sort of have me foaming at the mouth right now.

Better after swimming tomorrow, of course.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Day 128: The Small Cat

This is Molly, "small cat." There's also Patrick, "large cat."

These trips back and forth for Quest can be a little disorienting - very glad I didn't have Germany on top of it.

Philadelphia coming up on Friday, though... then back to Fredonia again next Tuesday for the main event.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Day 127: Fully Functional

In the preceding year, my dad has had surgery on both of his knees. We took this picture to send to his surgeon to thank him for a job well done - my dad can backpack again.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Day 126: Calm Outdoors

Dinner on Friday was briefly interrupted by rain, but it moved on quickly and we enjoyed the rest of the time bathed in golden sunlight.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day 125: Homecoming

In the garden at my parents' house. Spent the day on a train home for Quest.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Day 124: Low Light

Back to dark pictures, I think, since many will be from my evening walks for the next little while.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Day 123: On Set

Something substantial is being filmed on W 133. God only knows why.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Day 122: Underneath Life

I was thirsting for something green, probably a sign of my head getting ready for Quest this weekend (even though that looks to be cold and rainy). Also probably because since about 10:45 last night all I've read is people being excited about death, which, all historical context aside, is something that unnerves me.

Also today is the 1/3 point of the year, wow.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Day 121: Godzilla

Attached to the roof of some really insane mobile advertising mess of a car parked next to Tompkins Square Park. Would love to see it lit up.

Brief digression to comment on how things are. I've come a lot further than I think. I do things now I couldn't see myself doing before. Nearly everything I set out to change, I have. Just a few more steps now. It really is a revolution. Hold on tight.