2001 Notebook: Weak VIII
20 February 2001
The Count’s Game is Over
The artist Count Balthazar Klossowski de Rola died before his twenty-fourth birthday. These things happen.

It’s hard to talk about the count’s work without mentioning his age, as well as the age of his subjects. Balthus, as he was colloquially known, made his reputation—and his fortune—with paintings of young women. Some reviewers considered the images to be erotic; many of those same reviewers also considered the women Balthus painted to be too young to be the subjects of sexual desire.

Balthus played that uncomfortable contradiction for all it was worth. He annoyed his detractors, who couldn’t quite chastise him for making inappropriately erotic work without implicitly admitting that they themselves considered depictions of barely pubescent young women to be somewhat arousing.

Balthus spent most of his ninety-two years on this planet as a wealthy person. And that’s not bad for an artist. (The apparent discrepancy between the number of years lived and the number of birthdays arises from the fact that the count was born on 29 February 1908.)

21 February 2001
The Case for Work
Some friends of mine are going through difficult romantic times. Some of them are dealing with their crises using traditional medicine, e.g., alcohol. Understandably, some of them are drinking more than is prudent.

I didn’t say anything for a while, but finally decided to give them some unsolicited advice. I told my anonymous friends that I understood their desire for a painkiller, but suggested that red wine probably wasn’t their best option. I suggested they try large amounts of one of the most powerful and most dangerous drugs available; I suggested that they take large doses of work.

Work doesn’t make your eyes red, doesn’t show up on your breath—let alone urinalysis, and its debilitating long-term effects are so gradual that they’re rarely noticed. And even if someone suspects you’re turning yourself into a numb zombie by doing too much work, you’ll probably be congratulated, if not rewarded.

Work is dangerous stuff, but it should get my friends through their romantic difficulties.

22 February 2001
Umbrellas Really Work!
I discovered the umbrella tonight. Of course, I didn’t really discover the umbrella; they’ve been around much longer than I have. I suppose I should have said, “Tonight, I discovered the umbrella someone left by the laboratory door,” but it’s too late to fix that now.

Where was I?

It’s all coming back to me. A Pacific storm was pelting San Francisco with buckets of rain. (“Buckets of rain” is, of course, just a figure of speech. If rain literally came down in buckets, there’d be even more dead people and people with bumpy heads walking around than there already are.)

Anyway, back to umbrellas. I’ve only had one umbrella in my life. It was a white umbrella; I used it to make bad photographs that looked like the bad photographs I admired at the time. (I was younger then.)

I’m not sure I ever used an umbrella to keep the rain from falling on me. Since I have a fairly waterproof coat and several large hats, an umbrella seemed redundant.

Until tonight, that is. A Pacific storm was pelting San Francisco with buckets of rain, but almost none of them landed on me. That’s because I was walking under the umbrella someone left by the laboratory door.

Umbrellas really work! I guess you learn something new every day. If you keep your eyes open, that is.

23 February 2001
Discontent Provider
I met a silly person at a party tonight. (The silly person is probably reporting that he met a stupid person at the party, but that’s another story: his.)

Anyway, the silly person and I were having an informal contest to see who could gobble the most shrimp before the hostess noticed. When there were too few shrimp left to make the contest practical, the silly person acknowledged my victory by speaking first.

“So, what do you do?” asked the silly person before he wiped his face with his tie. (Nice!)

“I make bad art and put it on the Internet to annoy people,” I explained truthfully.

“Oh,” replied the silly person, “so you’re a content provider.”

“No, quite the opposite,” I corrected. “I am, in fact, a discontent provider.”

I smiled an artificially large smile to expose the remains of several shrimp wedged between my fake fangs.

The silly person smiled an anemically weak smile, mumbled something through a mouthful of chips, then scurried away like a cockroach at dawn.

I can’t understand why anyone would crash a party without wearing artificial fangs.

24 February 2001
The Monroe Credo
I never heard about Sputnik Monroe until now. I guess that’s because I never paid much attention to either professional wrestling or its popular permutation, big-time rasslin’.

Sputnik Monroe was a wrestler and a rassler, but that’s of little interest to me since I’m not a fan of the ringside arts. (Even so, I couldn’t help but be impressed when I heard the story about the time Monroe bit off the hooded mask of his opponent then chewed a hole in the forehead of said opponent. Crude but effective.)

I was also impressed that a Caucasian like Monroe had the courage to speak out in favor of civil rights and integration in a place and time—Memphis in the 1950s—when that could have easily resulted in his being beaten, murdered, or both. I get the impression that Monroe wasn’t easily intimidated.

And finally, there’s the Monroe credo: “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat.”

25 February 2001
A Life Well Lived
I heard that Claude Shannon died yesterday. Although Shannon was one of the great thinkers of the last century, most people have never heard of him. I wouldn’t have heard about him either, had it not been for Jeremy Campbell’s brilliant book, Grammatical Man. I copied a passage that I frequently consider when making obscure works.

    In his 1948 papers, Shannon proved that, contrary to what we might expect, ‘something,’ a message, can persist in the midst of ‘nothing,’ a haphazard disorder, or noise.

All the obituaries agree that Shannon’s 1948 paper, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, redefined our world. Imagine, writing something like that at the age of thirty-two! The following year, Shannon published Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems, which provided the framework for the cryptography that annoys snoops and censors to this very day. Thanks, Claude!

I still don’t really understand what Shannon knew, but it’s been enough to inspire me to make some bad art. Shannon’s work provided others with the foundation to create today’s ubiquitous digital technologies.

Shannon died at eighty-four, not a bad age to go unless, like Shannon, your brain is being ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease.

The news reports on Shannon also mentioned one other accomplishment in addition to his pioneering work with information theory: Shannon could juggle while riding on unicycle.

That’s what I call a life well lived.

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©2001 David Glenn Rinehart