Monday, October 05, 2009

Kate Bernheimer and more hipsterisms

Read Kate Bernheimer's book The Complete Tales of Merry Gold. It's really excellent.

Kate's fascinated by fairytales and I love the way she uses a kind of tale idiom in a very alive way. Ie it's not Angela Carter. It's in large part working within the idiom of the tales - the use of color, the startling images, the austere syntax - to create something that at the same time never feels like pastiche or archaic. Or maybe it feels archaic in a way that I really appreciate.

Merry Gold is a mean girl who grows up to work as a clothes designer, and then in a sewing factory. She's fascinated by patterns and textures. In this way it locates the story as a commentary on art and gender roles; it's a style that foregrounds the surface patterns.

This ties back in with my previous discussion about "realism vs the hipster." The hipster being that unreal person of dubious lack of masculinity who traffics in clothing and "fashion" rather than the "real stuff of life" - the grief of a father dying, fishing etc.

Also, I am thinking about the relationship of the "hipster" discussion to the conventional split between metaphor and symbol, or metaphor and allegory. The threat is that the symbol/allegory is short-circuited, the tenor is put in doubt and the language multiplies out from that moment like patterns of a fabric.

That fabric has many names, but certainly one would be the Gothic tale, another genre (if fashion could be considered a genre) traditionally viewed as feminine, prostitutive.

(I love the patterns and textiles in Poe. Even when it's part of the human body.)

The contradictory impulses there are of course that in one instance the hipster opposes Realism, in the other instance it opposes a religious vision. Perhaps the connection is the word "epiphany," which has frequently made claims to 'realism' incomprehensible to me.

Large parts of the book reads as beautifully precise, clothing-like poetry that also happens to be part of a story about a girl. Here's a piece from the story "Ice Girl" about the girl who studies with Merry's piano teacher before her (and who is one of Merry's doubles):

Although I was supposed to be learning piano, often Danilo would play piano himself, and have me dance around the room. After a while I never did play. I suppose I played very badly and he got tired of me. Also, when I would try to play I would get so nervous I'd hold my breath and pass out and fall off the bench to the floor.

"Dance like a butterfly," he would say. "Dance like a bird." Because the songs were so creepy, the dances I did were creepy too.

When I was done, Danilo would have me sit on the bench and lean my head on his shoulder until our time together was over.

I remember being exhausted. I remember seeing my face stare back at me from the black window. I remember the shiver of cold on my spine. Sometimes snow would blow into the room and cover our bodies.

6 Comments:

Blogger Molly Gaudry said...

This is a book that changed everything for me as a writer--my notions of what I could do on the page, what was acceptable subject matter, what (length) constituted a book. First Merry Gold, then Lydia Millet's MY HAPPY LIFE, and then on to Ketzia Gold. I have not been the same since. This novel is a gem. Everyone should read it.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Good to hear it.

J

5:58 PM  
Blogger françois said...

I dislike hipsters because they are too American.

9:32 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

you just refuse to get my usage of that term!

1:46 PM  
Blogger françois said...

No, I just see it as hipsterdom as another form of American imperialism. Japanese fashion inspired by American fashion of the 80s then recycled back to the US. French and British hipsters reading Vice Magazine. It's all too eerily familiar.

Then again, you might call me a old grumpy commie.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, you refuse to get what I'm saying about hipsters. I'm not actually talking about some kind of hipster with funny beard etc. I'm talking about the stereotype used to dismiss certain aesthetics.

It has nothing to do with Vice Magazine. Though it's funny to think of Kate Bernheimer as a Vice magazine kind of hipster. You know that special Vice Magazine had about fairytales. yeah, that was a really trend-setter.

Johannes

5:16 PM  

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