Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Push It

This was absolutely the most depressing book I've ever read.

I read this before the class even started, and being so removed from this type of situation (extreme poverty/welfare/incest) I reacted unusually to it.  With most fiction in general, I am able to get into the character's head and really relate - even when the book is fantastical or strange.  However, with Push, I literally had to "push" myself to even read on to the next page.  I hate to admit that I was actually revolted a little by Precious, not least because her name was f*&%ing Precious.  She was so undereducated.  It was not her fault, certainly, but she comes across as very unappealing to me.

"Precious'"  writing style bothered me particularly.  In the case of many Irvine Welsh stories, he writes dialog (and sometimes narrates) in a Scottish brogue.  This can make it tough to read, but enhances the reality of the stories and characters introduced.  This brand of Ebonic-type language that Sapphire uses does help to lend legitimacy to the story, but does not endear me to her characters.  I don't like this about myself.  It makes me uncomfortable that I would allow myself to stay so disconnected to this story while reading it.  Especially once I learned about her HIV positive status - I wanted nothing to do with her emotionally.  This is not typical of my attitude about AIDS (in fact - I will be going to see the UHA performance of Angels in America this weekend!) but it was like the last Jenga brick that just finalizes everything.  Precious means nothing to me, excepting as a potential example of why I care about education and racial/gender equality.

Even more disturbing than my blatant dislike of most (if not all) of the characters (even Rain!) is the fact that the only time I "really" tuned in to the story was during the sex scenes between Precious and her father.  This is not because I have any kind of experience with incest (thank goodness), but because the scenes were described so vividly.  I tend to be a bit of a sexual person, and I will most often key in to the sexual aspects of a work of fiction.  It is just upsetting to me that the "sexy" aspects of this novel were entirely unsexy.  Even then - she describes orgasms (and sexual pleasure in general) in such a cool way, but I cannot even enjoy these images, because I am inexorably brought back to the thought that this is happening with her biological father, and that it's also rape.  That's far too much kink for me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

songs to slit a wrist to

I was so pleased that our assignment this week involved music.  Music is a medium through which artists have been expressing pain for centuries.  Films are cool to dissect, but there could never be as many films as there are songs.  Plus - a song is a mini-art form.  Large, orchestral compositions aside, a pop song contains a simple message - usually conveyed in under five minutes.

Starting with Nirvana was awesome.  Kurt Cobain has been echoing my loneliness and inadequacy since I was in the seventh grade.  "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is a freaking classic.  The driving guitar and Kurt's strained voice express a deep apathy and sadness - both of which are emotions to which I have no problem relating.  All three of the Nirvana songs are made even more poignant by Kurt's eventual suicide.  I realize as I write this that I am referring to him by his first name - and I think this is because his music has made me intimately familiar with him.  Well - that's not quite right.  I never knew the man, but because he describes pain in a way that is familiar to me, it makes me feel inherently comfortable.  There have been many times in my life when I depressed and miserable - and at those times I like to put in Nirvana's Unplugged, and just wallow for a while in our shared misery.  It helps.  I don't know why, but it helps.

As I made my way through the rest of the songs, I realized that my connection with these songs depends on two things.  One, I have to understand the type of pain felt, at least to some degree.  Two, I have to like the genre of music that the song represents.  The country song?  Eh.  Tears on my guitar is a pretty goofy line, if you ask me, but I am not a good judge, being pretty vehemently anti-twang.  The Travis song, the Clarkson song (gag me gag me gag me) and those two explicit "Fuck it" songs were uninteresting to me, either because I couldn't relate (as I couldn't to Travis's brand of melancholy) or I dislike the sound of the song.

One theme that I recognized that ran through a lot of these songs regardless of genre was that the vocals in many of them alternate from soft and sweet to yelling or strained.  All the Nirvana songs are like that, "You Oughta Know" was, etc.  I obviously have a good grasp on why I don't like some of the songs, but I think the only reason behind me really FEELING the song lies in the basic message.  For instance - I love the new Beyonce track - "All the Single Ladies" or some nonsense like that.  It's a hot beat, and it's produced well.  However - I don't really FEEL what Beyonce is saying, because I don't believe in her basic message.  With the Bleeding Love song - I could cry every time I hear it, because I believe it, and I know it, and I FEEL it.

I think this collection of songs makes it obvious that people write music about many different kinds of pain.  I am way more into subtlety usually in art, but I like my pain songs to be sung by the likes of Alanis and Kurt.  Anger, rage, deep and impenetrable sadness - these are things that deserve lines like "every time I scratch my nails down someone else's back I hope you feel it" and "I'm so ugly - that's ok, cause so are you."