A while back, Gene Tanta set up a facebook page called “James Pate Should Be Famous.” The page makes a very startling point: I think Gene and I are the only members of the group.
The only reason Gene and I know James’s work is that we somehow ended up in MFA school together in the late 90s (three strange people – the Swede, the Romanian and the guy who grew up in a crack neighborhood in Memphis). This facebook page sets up an alternative world in which James Pate is famous.
In that it’s a bit like the ASCO “No Movies” I’ve talked about quite a bit on this blog. ASCO, a group of Chicano artists from East LA, made “promotional stills” from movies that did not exist, imagining an alternative world in which they would have the movie and power to actually make movies, rather than just stills. ASCO should be famous.
(As Joyelle just put it this morning , “Montevidayo is our “no movie”.” IE, it imagines a fake academic/poetic world which is the way we want it to be. )
I love how Asco’s “no movies” stills create rather than a definite (prize winning, famous) film, an indistinct atmosphere, a glamorous and violent ambience that has no limits. I often recount how when I watched Twin Peaks over a couple of weeks – several episodes a day – one summer in the late 90s, all the flaws in the plot made it all seem like “fan fiction,” and I when I started to dream about Laura Palmer, the dreams seemed as legitimate as the actual episodes – that’s the space I feel Asco dwells in.
They even made “no movie” still from a fake award ceremony….
In the book accompanying the recent exhibition, “Elite of the Obscure” (I guess they finally became famous!), one writer quotes Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea to define “asco” (which mean nausea):
“The Nausea is not inside me: I feel it out here in the wall, in the suspenders, everywhere around me. It makes itself one with the café, I am the one who is within it.”
What I love about this quote is how it suggests “asco” as an atmosphere, and also in the surface of things – the wall, the suspenders, the café – in the interior decorating and the fashion. The “asco” of art moves largely through looks, atmospheres, fashions. It is most certainly not an art of critical distance, but of immersion. To be nauseous you have to swallow the sick stuff, you eat your way into this space (in Nirvana’s famous song, you eat the cancer, you infect yourself, that’s the price of admission).
This quote also suggests something of the political dimension of “no movies” or “fan fictions” (I’m making a connection to what I’ve written earlier as “fan fiction”) is that they move around, connecting the art to wider political and ecological situations.
It becomes incredibly interesting with artworks like “Decoy,” in which ASCO staged photographs of corpses in the aftermath of invented Chicano protests, which they would then send to the newspapers and news shows, which would publish them as factual photographs. The photograph is like a still from the great White Movie, “Fantasies about Violent Chicanos.”
In this artwork, we can see the connection between the “no films” and varioius political fantasies. In this case it’s of white America’s fear of Chicano riots. It’s like the story of Susan Smith back in the 90s who invented a black man to blame for supposedly stealing her children when she had in fact killed them. Her description was vague – big black man with knitt cap (again it’s clothing, like Trayvon’s hoodie, like Sartre’s “suspenders”) – but people saw him everywhere!
(This is of course the source material for Cornelius Eady’s fan fiction Brutal Imagination, spoken by this invented black man, a fan fiction I have fan fictioned in my last two books, Entrance… and the upcoming Haute Surveillance).
Other relatives: Hans Bellmer’s murder sites, David Wojnarowicz’s Rimbaud photographs around New York, Laura Mullen’s “The Veil,” Genet’s “The Maids,” Don Delillo’s early books Great Jones Street and Running Dog (one is about a Bastement-tapes type of recording the other about a home movie taken of Hitler).
I would lke to return now to James, because James has in his work always been drawn to this space of the apocryphal artwork. For example, his brilliant prose piece “12 Resolutions Toward a New Year” (which has 17 sections, suggesting it is not only a hypothetical story – resolutions to what will probably not get done – but one that hides other apocryphal stories within it, like Lynch’s Inland Empire), is on some level about the apocryphal career of Fatty Arbuckle, the famous 1920s movie star whose career was ruined when he was falsely accused of raping and killing a young woman. The piece ends with the following chapter:
There are twelve stories about Fatty Arbuckle, and this might be the final one. We know how he spent (wasted, drank through, destroyed loved ones, burnt beds, to be seen in nickelodeons nodding off on junk and gorging pig-like on duck and busting heads and breaking hearts) his final decades. Because of the underground nature of his later years (basements and brothels and dank laboratories and warehouses and seashells) we can only hope certain makeshift records (napkin poems, restroom wall sketches, carvings in trunks, nails through voodoo dolls, digits sent to ex-lovers, whispers floating back off ocean breeze, legends from El Salvador, French myths, personally performed porno in blurred film stock, corpses in floor boards, postcards to cousins, a jam session on tape with Fatty on tenor) appear from the rivers of far drums. We wish ourselves luck.
He sits, old, bloated, on a park bench. Charlie Chan is old also: his hair silver, cheeks pallid sans cream. The world, old too, petals cold drops into the mangrove shade. My last reel, murmurs Arbuckle, wondering why movies are made if nothing more substantial than celluloid…
We are of the shadows, Charlie Chan muses, and yet we are frightened of the dark. Why is this so? Arbuckle nods no wistfully. All my risks and I’ll never live, he says, to be in color. And he dies into a closing credit, fading from elements of image, sound. (Never a music man, murmurs Chan.) A reel clicks. Clicks. Clicks. Clicks.
We don’t actually “know” how Fatty spent the rest of his life it seems. Rather we have relics – like some perverse Joseph Beuys installation – that suggest how he spent those years, and how he spent them seems to have been making fake films – “personally performed porno in blurred film stock” etc.
This is a story-as-no-film, a life as no film, whose protagonist is an actor who diseappeared into his own myth, whose myths rendered him both obscure and infamous.
The rest of the story – what might be seen as excerpts from Fatty’s apocryphal oeuvre – are quite beautiful, often baroquely catholic in its imagery, like ASCO’s work.
Here is for example is “October”:
You were gorgeous that morning: the wolf chasing you through the dew-brilliant garden, around the lake with the cranes, and you laughing even after your silk pajamas were torn from vines and claws. It was a lucid, floating day. I waved from the French doors, where I was eating melon, and you and the wolf would nod, and sometimes laugh – at my childish serenity, I guess.
After lunch, you and the wolf bathed in the patio pool, turning water crimson from your gouges. In our later years, when the world broadens with humidity and branches hide the clouds, we will remember that crimson as an emblem of honor and pray to our children buried with muzzles and silk.
James’s first book,“The Fassbinder Diaries,” begins like this:
The first scenes are silent. The footage is grainy, as if the world being shown has gone through a storm of broken glass shards. As if the air has been delicately mangled. There are figures on the ground, squirming, and it is impossible to tell if they are outside or inside. They could be in an abandoned factory or in a very spacious bedroom or in the middle of a meadow in the middle of the night. We are watching them in the dark. I mean we’re in the dark ourselves. Dust floats in the light from the projector. It is a warm dark. Outside, there is a cold dark.
(TO BE CONTINUED)