…is coming September 7, 2016, from Brooklyn Arts Press: A boulder-throwing mountain man from Siberia whose land is stolen by lawyers goes to Harvard Law School to learn how to throw words. Read the first chapter here: I, Muzhduk .
For other reading, try Fear for cultural criticism, Ashley Bickerton’s Sad Anthropologists for one of my better artist profiles or Damien Hirst: New Paintings for a good interview. Or click “Boldizar’s favourites” and pick one of those articles.
Otherwise, enjoy the chaos!
The Harvard Law Record recently did a profile piece on me, “From Law School to Novelist and Art Critic.”
Alexander Boldizar ’99 became recognized by Slovakia’s president as the “first Slovak citizen to graduate from Harvard Law School” when, as he puts it, “small country nepotism” got him back the citizenship he’d abandoned in 1989 (he thought it would be unsafe to keep it during a visit to the crumbling Berlin Wall). Since then, he has managed an art gallery in Bali, established a flourishing career in editing and freelance writing, and has continued to seek publication of his magnum opus, The Ugly, a satirical novel about a dispossessed Siberian tribe that sends one of its members, Muzhduk, to learn the ways of lawyers from HLS, a plotline which helps express Boldizar’s frustrations with law and legal reasoning. Below, Boldizar writes on his path from the law to novelist and art critic, followed by an excerpt from The Ugly.
Read more on their site.
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine, July 2010.
“The purpose of poetry is to remind us how difficult it is to remain just one person.” —Czeslaw Milosz
Ashley Bickerton’s paintings are a form of combat between attachment and its opposite, a fusion of subject matter with distance between the parts. His mastery of tone—tone as defined by writers, not painters; that elusive internal, fluid, ambient quality in art that is shaped by the attitude of the artist towards his subject, or towards his audience, or towards himself and his way of painting, that nearly impossible-to-define tug of war—through a dialectic, sometimes dialogic, angular use of tone he holds things together but also always apart, and that is refreshing. Total integration is a terrible thing. In any work of art, and probably in life as well.
Chekov once said that if a playwright hangs a gun on the wall in the first act, there had better be a murder by the third. And that is the reason I don’t watch plays, except when they’re written by a friend and I can’t find an excuse fast enough. They feel claustrophobic, an elevator, a closed box taking you in a simple line, opening up into the deracinated self-consciousness of the artist’s private aesthetic salon or, at the very least, onto a grotesque scene of the artist clutching his subject like a monkey.
It’s exhilarating to find an artist who can sip a slurpie while watching an atrocity without losing his capacity for care.
I stood in Bickerton’s Bali studio looking at Preparation with Green Sky, a vaguely Polynesian bacchanal taken to bounteous limits, and a part of my mind kept drifting towards the callipygian shape in the background. “I like something about the unselfconscious glee in which the fecund young women proffer their piglets and their buttocks to no one in particular while the blue man offers his bounty directly to the viewer,” Bickerton says.
And the critic answers, “I can’t stop looking at that butt.”
Continue reading Ashley Bickerton’s Sad Anthropologists
Since starting this blog, I’ve tried to keep it general interest, to bring in personal experience only insofar as I consider the subjective perspective more intellectually honest than any pretense of objectivity. I’ve avoided posts that are journal-like, etc. This is a departure from that. It’s, first and foremost, for myself, a page where I can chronicle my journey through Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (“BJJ”).
I started this sport seventeen months ago at an absurdly old age. Last week I won a gold medal at the 2011 Pan American Championships, the world’s biggest BJJ tournament, with more than 3000 fighters from all over the world. When I told a friend, she asked, “You’ll have to explain jiu-jitsu to me sometime. [I can practically hear your brain churning through all the possible propositions.] Seriously though, I am curious; does the blue belt only go with white pajamas or does it also dress up that pair of chinos you only wear on special occasions? Yes, mocking your (greatest?) achievements…”
Continue reading Pajama Wrestling — From Monster Mash to Pan Am Gold
Reprinted from Liberty Magazine (October 2009)
Over the years the people I’ve met who self-identify as “anarchists” tend to be among the dumbest and the smartest people I’ve had the pleasure or displeasure of knowing. Very few reasonable people attach that label to themselves. In an attempt to avoid being lumped with the dumbest, I thought I’d distill my reasons for doing so, from the least to the most important.
1. Anarchism as the conscience of law. Given democratic notions of legitimacy, the fewer people who believe in “the rule of law” (i.e., the more who believe it is just a veiled imposition of power), the more transparent the veil, and the more the law has to obey its own rules in order to maintain legitimacy. When rule-of-law marketing and propaganda are insufficient to create legitimacy, the powerful have to limit the arbitrary use of their power and shrink the number of cases they can treat as extraordinary. Anarchists weaken the faith element within law, and by doing so force it to obey its own rules.
Continue reading The Happy Anarchist
The River Lena
Reprinted from Transition Magazine, issue #96, where it was published as The River Lena. Official representative of Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference to Best New American Voices Anthology.
Muzhduk stepped left to put himself in the path of the flying boulder. It was the size and shape of a small woman curled up in a ball, but much heavier, and it came at him like a cannon shot. Muzhduk leaned forward to meet the boulder, knees bent, hoping to absorb the impact with his legs. He staggered backward with the force of the blow, but did not drop the big rock.
The audience erupted with clapping, cheering, and mumbling, and a cloud of yellow butterflies scattered from the noise. His opponent was Hulagu, arguably the strongest Slovak in the tribe, and all six villages were present for the Dull-Boulder Throw. All the Slovaks who lived in the mountains of northeastern Siberia were there, lined up along the edges of the saddle-shaped mountain ridge. Even those so old or sick they knew the trip would kill them. Two had died on the way.
The audience looked at Muzhduk intently. He knew that some of them were wondering whether he would disqualify himself. He hadn’t ducked or moved out of the way, of course, but no one had ever tried to absorb the shock with his legs before. Arms and chest were normal, and he could see Hulagu bite his fat lips wanting to make a charge of dishonor, which would itself be dishonorable.
Continue reading I, Muzhduk (prologue of The Ugly)
Reprinted from the Chicago Quarterly Review (summer 2008)
Do you know where we are?”
“There are no lights. I’ve never seen a city like this.”
“I know where we are.”
Eve pulled on her fingers, one by one, to crack them. Frank drove and she watched the road. When she finished with both hands, she said, “I wish there were people around.”
Continue reading Metropolitan Avenue
Reprinted from Fiction International, issue #38. Winner of PEN/Nob Hill prize for best novel excerpt.
“Keep your legs closed!” the midwife yelled at Ibu. “Don’t you let that baby out!”
But Ibu couldn’t hear the midwife cursing her, threatening to keep the gate closed if Ibu didn’t listen. She was beside herself with pain. The women had not given her any painkillers so that her will would be strong, so she would keep the presence of mind to hold the baby in one more day.
The battle was hopeless. They had tried everything to prevent Ibu from giving birth that day: all morning they’d fed her very young pineapple, bitter pineapple the size of a fist, pineapple after pineapple until she was ready to burst, until it became an almost abortive dose despite the ripeness of the baby. Then they went past that threshold, letting the wind choose the lesser evil. All in vain.
Continue reading Pulling Shadows
Before the Law: a Rebuttal
Reprinted from the Chicago Quarterly Review, winter 2007. It’s a modified excerpt from The Ugly.
Muzhduk walked to the centre of the Quad. Everything was stately, romanesque, the buildings buttressed, cloistered, but varied: three hundred years of red brick architecture around one long rectangle of green grass criss-crossed with narrow, straight asphalt paths, spotted with American Elms someone had sat and calculated the optimal location of each tree, though many were now suffering the yellow wilt of Dutch Elm fungus — and the whole Yard felt carefully spaced and defined, even the sky above marked and divided by branches.
He walked north, past dormitories, libraries, halls, and chapels, past a statue of a man sitting in a large chair (the statue said, “John Harvard, Founder, 1638”), past an old wooden water-pump shaped like the hunched Russian babushkas he’d seen in Anadyr, Yakutsk, and Omyaykon.
Continue reading Before the Law: a Rebuttal
Reprinted from Literary Imagination: The Review of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, Vol.7, No.3, Oxford Journals. It is an excerpt of The Ugly.
I stood in the back of a pickup truck. It was a 32, distinguished from a 13 or a 17, although some large mini-vans are also 32s. Thirty-two people arranged with precision into the back of a Toyota pickup, we were on our way from one sandy part of the Sahara to another. The Sahara desert has things other than sand, but the part where we started, the part we traversed, and the part where we hoped to arrive were all sand, a beige, nondescript sort of sand which did not always stay on the ground.
A mother sat on my feet, nursing her daughter, while we bounced over soft little dunes and exposed rock. With her weight as ballast, and with the sharp metal bar corralling the edge of the pickup, I could sleep while standing. In those parts where the acacia was sparse, where I didn’t have to duck.
Continue reading Bureaucracy
I’ve always found it puzzling that my Christian friends find it puzzling that I celebrate Christmas even though I’m not a Christian. Or that my Jewish and Muslim friends correct me when I bid them a “Merry Christmas!” Sometimes it seems that the only non-Christian demographic that doesn’t mind being wished good Yuletide wishes is the atheists among us. But, then, if a recent University of British Columbia study is accurate, atheists are already as distrusted as rapists, so we’ll take whatever warm wishes we can get.
Yes, we. I’m an atheist who loves Christmas. And growing up, our Christmas was the sort of pantheist hodge-podge (or “synthesis,” as I’ll explain) that only a family of atheists would come up with, including Jewish gefilte fish during Christmas dinner right after a half-pagan half-Catholic garlic-wafer-honey ritual to ward of demons, a Buddha and a Shiva on the mantle next to the Nativity scene, and so on.
Continue reading Santa, Odin and the Castrated Chicken
Three cheers to Wikileaks! That is what journalism was supposed to be before it became News Incorporated.
According to the New York Times, “The French government joined others in condemning the disclosure of diplomatic documents. Paris would stand with the United States and against the publication, which threaten “democratic sovereignty and authority.”
So giving information to the people undermines democracy? Authority, I get, clearly it does. But democracy? “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both.” ~ James Madison
Continue reading Wikileeks soup, and the governments who assessed and ate it
An old post that I’m bumping back up to the top because of the interest it has generated…
In finishing up my new science fiction novel I went through a lot of research on Laplace’s Demon. In the process, I stumbled onto the computational limit of the universe. Based on the minimum amount of time you need to move data across the Planck length, at the speed of light, there’s a limit to the computational power of the universe that’s about 10-to-the-power-of-120 bits (actually 10^120 operations on 10^90 bits of data). Anything needing more data can’t be computed in the fifteen billion years or so that the universe has existed so far. Calculating the location of every atom in the universe would require more than 10^120. Ergo, omniscience is impossible even for a computing organism the size and age of the universe.
Continue reading Accidental Proof that God Does Not Exist
I had a great idea for today’s piece, but I forgot it. That annoyed me, because over the course of the last twenty years I’ve read a dozen memory books, from one of the earliest by the Yoda of memory training, Harry Lorayne — I forget its name, but it was from 1986 — to a bunch of recent ones for which I don’t even remember the authors’ names. I do remember where the books are…in a thousand-pound stack of other books in storage in my ex-wife’s family law firm in Tennessee. Which doesn’t help. Online would help, since I could look it up anywhere, anytime. Then I remembered I have a website. Much better storage than the basement of a southern law firm that I’ll never see again. So here goes, my collected reservoir of forgotten memory aids.
Continue reading My Forgotten Memory Training
Prison wardens realized long ago that if you allow the prisoners to rearrange their own furniture, there are far fewer riots. That’s pretty much all voting is in a country of 300 million. The only reason it makes any sense at all today is that the Republican party has decided that all the furniture should be thrown out and everyone except the top-dog prisoners is going to sleep on beds made of shivs. Is that a “real” difference? I’m not sure. Maybe if the redecorating is drastic enough, it becomes real.
“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” — Emma Goldman
I’ve always been a firm believer in Goldman’s quote, but since it seems that the Republicans are trying to do just that, perhaps that’s a sign that this time voting is actually worth doing.
Still undecided? Here’s a hint:
“Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power.” — Benito Mussolini
“Corporations are people.” — Mitt Romney
The New York Times just had an article about search engine optimization. Apparently my headlines are all wrong. I need Taylor Momsen, though I have no idea who she is. I need “Jon Stewart Slams Glenn Beck.” At least I know who John Stewart is. I’ve never used Google Trends or Omniture or what have you. I know it’s old fashioned, I know “news” is just code for advertising and propaganda, but, still, I’d like to at least maintain the pretense. When you have Sears partnering with AOL to create a news site that only runs good news, called Good News Now or GNN, that’s a Disney dream — not just because it’s sickly sweet, but because that sweetness is always a wrapper for advertising. As TechCrunch writes, get ready to barf.
A commenter says perhaps that’s a welcome relief from the current “you’re surrounded by terrorists and child rapists panic Panic PANIC NOW!!” news system, but media like Fox News seem to have blended them into an algorithm, ten minutes of panic panic, ten of the world’s getting worse, and ten of “elderly couple tie the knot.” Who’s left to confront power?
Continue reading “Headless Body in Topless Bar” vs “Lady Gaga”
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (April 2010).
A long long time ago, in a land far far away, I ran a gallery that had a philosophy of integrating art and life. Gaya (in Bali) includes a restaurant and, after I left, added a gelateria. I love gelato, mostly because it comes in hazelnut. “Ice cream” doesn’t come in hazelnut. It comes in double-caramel-fudge marshmallow rocky road, chunky monkey, or whatever flavor can stuff the most chocolate, nuts, and other goodies into an ice cream bucket. The more explosions, the better the ice cream. Like a Hollywood movie.
On most days I’ll take Taxi Driver over Tarkovksy’s two-hour landscape pans, and, similarly, I’ll usually take a Brooklyn pizza over its poor Italian beta version (do I dare wax poetic about the lasagna pizza at Broadway and North 7th, run by Mexicans, a full lasagna on top of a pizza, or would that kill what little is left of my credibility?) But ice cream’s not pizza. There’s something about the purity of a hazelnut gelato that trumps the multidimensional density-whorls of New York Super Fudge Chunk.
Continue reading Edible Language
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine, January 2010.
“Homo vult decipi; decipiatur.”
.Through years of traveling the world and writing articles in magazines, I’ve developed psychic powers. I can influence your actions by controlling the cadence of the text on the page as you read it. Unlike some charlatan astrologers, psychics and witch doctors, my skill is based in science, a lifetime of studying how the rhythm of language influences brainwaves, particularly certain passages buried deep within the English language, passages that were dictated to me by an old woman, a hermeneutic. The study of those passages demanded supreme scholarship to interpret, years of intense application, and it has still not been wholly worked out. In order to help me, the old woman gave birth to my grandmother, who bore my mother. When my mother gave birth to me, there I was, deciphering the dictations of the old woman.
Continue reading Magic
First a rant — forgive me, I’m flying and can’t help myself but marvel at the magnificently low IQ of the people in charge of airport security. Because the latest attempt to bring down an airplane involved starting a fire in the last hour of the flight, now we can’t get out of our seats during the last hour. When the attempt included a shoe, everyone’s shoes got checked. After the liquid plot, liquids. Always fighting the last “war,” no matter how ridiculous a category.
If anything, after 911 airport security should have been DECREASED, except for bomb sniffing dogs, as now passengers will mob and kill any hijacker on sight instead of obeying like sheep and waiting for the authorities to handle it, as they were taught to before.
Continue reading Terrorists and bladders
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (December 2009).
A brand used to be a symbol burned onto a cow’s butt. [When] a ranch had a long-standing reputation of raising healthy cows, the brand was its symbol of quality. But once the “-ing” was added to the word “brand,” and agencies started to ply the black art of “branding,” a brand was no longer the symbol of quality and reputation earned over time. Instead it was something that was just made up by ad agency creatives applying ingenuity to the disingenuous.”
— Augustine Fou
When people who are paid to opine wake up to a new industry dynamic, they often overreact. As pundits on the periphery of the branding industry belatedly noticed consumers exchanging information directly via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, the field began to echo with shouts of “Branding is dead!”
I don’t buy that argument. Would you, if I could name an $80 billion market that gets customers to pay between one and ten thousand times the price of an identical competing product, with nothing to differentiate the two except for 100% pure clean branding?
Continue reading The Brand is Dead! Long Live the Brand!
After Boing Boing blogged, yes, Boing Boing blogged, about Ralph Lauren’s most recent photoshop disaster, they (obviously) included the photo. The one over there, on the left, with the model whose head is larger than her entire pelvis.
Continue reading Doing my bit for mockery
After tearing a tendon in my wrist I found myself running up the 2,830-step natural stairmaster behind my house called the Grouse Grind. Though I’ve always disliked cardio, there’s something surprisingly pleasant in the hour-long vertical hike — what, between the trees and view and the beer at the end of it. Okay, well, to be honest the hike isn’t pleasant at all, but the beer at the end, that’s worth it. Those post-hike endorphins become a magical ingredient when mixed with the beer, a slow-earned brew that can only be enjoyed the hard way. (I tried taking the gondola once, and the beer was definitely mediocre without the endorphins — but with them, I’d rank their brew higher than the finest hop-houses in Prague, better than the best beerswills in Brussels.)
Continue reading Grouse Grinch — Or Asshole Customer?
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (Issue #10), September 2009. The interview took place in February of 2009.
One of the very best things that can happen to a thinking person is to have his assumptions flipped. When I met Damien Hirst on Bali’s Brawa Beach, where he was finishing an intense three-month painting session, I expected him to have a bumper sticker on his lap t op that said, “Suck my cock vomit.” Which he did. But I didn’t expect him to be extraordinarily down-to-earth, generous, and aware of his own position in a way that is caring rather than cynical.
This interview is the first he’s given since deciding here in Bali to stop all his production pieces in order to focus on making his own paintings. In the process, it touches on everything from the suicide of his close friend to the essence of painting to five-foot wooden gi raffes—with a detour on the nature of visual language using Vaseline and a cucumber.
Alexander Boldizar: So you’ve stopped your production?
Damien Hirst: Yeah, I’ve stopped it all.
Continue reading Damien Hirst: New Paintings (Interview)
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine, September 2009.
The desire for security stands against every great and noble enterprise. —Tacitus
In New York City you can ge
t a ticket for sitting on a milk crate or taking up two seats on a subway or putting on a puppet show visible from the street or climbing a tree or driving a taxi while wearing shorts. NYPD officers walk through the stairwells of housing projects where crack gangs
once ruled, not with drug dogs but
with decibel-meters to hand out tickets to teenagers playing their music too loud. Central Park was once both dangerous and beautiful, but now someone has installed a fence every ten meters and it feels less natural than even the densest maze of Brooklyn concrete.
During my four years in New York, I walked alone at night into five or six of the worst projects in Brownsville, East Ne w York, Harlem and the Bronx (to interview people), and I never experienced a moment of fear—something that only an escapee from a mental institution could have said fifteen years earlier.
Continue reading Fear
My new novel, The Man Who Saw Seconds, is finished. And my agent turned it down because it’s science fiction, and she doesn’t do science fiction. I feel very grateful to have the agent I have–The Ugly is a difficult book, and finding an agent who cares about literature more than money is rare, unusual, extraordinarily lucky.
And yet I can’t help feeling a bit of frustration at the way we all put ourselves in boxes. Why can’t the same author write both heavy stuff and thrillers? Comments I’ve received from other published writers who’ve been kind enough to give me their time as readers included, “I was irritated whenever I had to put it down,” “It would/will make an amazing film,” and “I’m stunned your agent wasn’t completely hooked. I certainly am.”
Again, I have a great agent. She just doesn’t do sci-fi. She suggested I work with her for my literary fiction, and find another agent for my commercial fiction. So…I’m looking for a sci-fi agent. And perhaps a pseudonym.
Manny Lampnut? Bald Lazier Ox? Roland Lulfromulber? Radix Loblaze? Continue reading Looking for a Sci-Fi Agent…
[Please note that I have taken the core of this post and turned it into a full article, “Taylor Momsen’s Secret Sex with a Green Fat Toxic Cancer Tumor,” published in C-Arts Magazine and reproduced here.]
I’m afraid of technology. Not of the Terminator, smart machines, genetic engineering or even the self-replicating gray nano goo that Bill Joy, founder of Sun Microsystems, famously worried about in a 2000 Wired article, “Why the future doesn’t need us.”
I’m afraid of something much simpler: the personal computer. Specifically, way it interacts with the human brain. There has always been a tendency among children, elementary-school teachers and policemen to think in simple terms of right and wrong, in checklists and keywords and similar boxes. It’s a way of avoiding thinking.
At the end of law school, all of us who came from national schools took a ten-week Bar Bri course to learn the state law that students at state schools had been studying for three years. The one thing the Bar Bri instructors explicitly drilled into our heads was “Don’t think. Memorize and repeat keywords. Whatever you do, do NOT try to think on the test. You will only be punished for it.”
Continue reading The real danger of technology
Or…How I Beat Candida and Incidentally Lost 60 Pounds
As a manly man, it’s a bit shameful to admit you count anything, let alone something as vain as carbs or calories. In reality, a manly man has many layers. On the surface, it’s important to pretend you can’t count anything. You face what comes, whether it’s the next beer or the next opponent, without worrying about long-term issues like being outnumbered or running out of beer. Under that surface, a manly man is highly intelligent, of course, and understands exactly what’s going on — it’s only for honour’s sake that he doesn’t allow himself to access that information.
Still, even a manly man eats. And that eating includes choices. As the author of The Ugly, I tried for a long time to keep my body as close to that of Muzhduk’s as I could. I was unable to reach 300 lbs, but so long as I was over 260, with enough muscle to perform parlour tricks like lifting Honda Civics, I was happy.
Then something happened that dropped me down to 205. I lost most of my body fat while retaining all my lean muscle mass. To my chagrin, I can now count eight individual muscles in my abdomen. The good news is I haven’t lost strength. The bad news is that now I look, well, thin.
Continue reading The manly man’s mushroom diet
After decades of research, physicists have finally captured a photo of Emptiness.
Reprinted with minor modifications from C-Arts Magazine, May 2009.
The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.
Leave it to Made Wianta to name a show Love. And then do the theme justice.
Wianta’s latest, at the newest addition to Bali’s small but vibrant repertoire of contemporary galleries, Kendra Gallery in Seminyak, takes time to unfold. The exhibition has so many strands, layers and styles that at first it feels like a hodgepodge, a gallimaufry tied together by little other than color. Almost like a retrospective that manages to be simultaneously jarring and at peace.
The importance of Wianta to art in Bali can hardly be overstated — he is, in a sense, Bali’s Picasso — and Love’s curatorial text by Jean Couteau implicitly acknowledges the quasi-retrospective feel of the show. It provides the clearest overview of Made’s history as an artist that I’ve yet read. “Bali found in Made Wianta its true abstract language, a very successful one at that,” Couteau writes, then goes on to describe how Wianta went beyond this language that he’d created. Because if there is one consistent theme through all of Made’s work it is this sense of constant going beyond. And in Love, he transcended even this patter of hyper-energized movement forward: Love looks backwards as well as forwards, requiring the full context of memory.
Continue reading Made Wianta: Love