Book No. 11, Greek Ledger, August 16, 1992 – Sept 1, 1994
© Rainer Judd 2014
Photography © Henry Leutwyler
When we heard the name, “Rainer,” coupled with the word, “journal,” our minds turned to the sole novel written by the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. He’s one of our all-time faves, and his only novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge — an epistolary work consisting of journal entries — is a dark and deep gem. Page by page, it unveils the complex and dynamic mind of a melancholic young writer living in Paris in the early 1900s. Precisely the sort of character we love to death.
Anyway, we hushed and ushered away those somber thoughts as nothing more than the product of a nominal coincidence as we made our way down to Rainer Judd’s journal project on Houston Street. Yet those pesky name-driven associations refused to let up. They came rushing right back when we witnessed what the artist is doing. She is posting her journal from 1992, one page per week, on the outside wall of the Rag & Bone store on Houston Street.
The first post was deceptively mundane: the front cover of a notebook signed with no name, stamped: VOID. The hashtag for the project is #ThisIsNotAComputer, and we felt a clear sense of crestfallen techNOlogical negation, with no perceivable alternative to what was always already in our hands, a distinctly postmodern predicament. It nevertheless intrigued us in that, “when you stare at an abyss it stares back at you” sort of way. So we gazed at it for a bit while Googling the artist’s statement, which we read aloud: “For me, journals are a place to dialogue with myself, a testing ground for ideas, a pal, a repository for the stuff of the highway of my heart.”
That sparked a conversation on the frozen street….
Mark: Could that “highway of the heart” be like an alternative to the information superhighway? Remember when people used to say that…I think there was even a commercial with the girl from The Piano, Anna Paquin, for one of those old telephone companies, like MCI. I wonder what sort of highway is this highway of the heart? Is it an I-95 type artery with rest stops and all sorts of Bob’s Big Boys?
Felicity: Right, or is it replete with tolls, congestions and funky smells — like a veiny New Jersey Turnpike?
A week later, the heavy-hearted dialogic framework we had established was pumped along by another page.
Felicity: Is it a red blotch of blood with something that looks like a shut eye?
Mark: Yeah, you know, it looks a bit like the cover of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. Have you heard that album?
Felicity: I’ve heard of it, but I don’t think I’ve heard it all the way through — isn’t that the band that did some songs on the Lost in Translation soundtrack?
Mark: Yeah, but just Kevin Shields. Loveless is different. Darker, deeper. It’s an album I can only listen to sometimes. That’s almost one of those shoegazer jokes that’s meant to be acknowledged but not laughed at…
Felicity: Joke? Well, consider it acknowledged, with no risk of laughter.
Mark: It’s a joke because “Sometimes” is the only song on Loveless that I listen to sometimes. So it’s kind of an inside joke for an audience of one, myself.
Felicity: Sometimes I get your ‘90s references. Sometimes I don’t.
Mark: You don’t want to get that part of the ‘90s. The early ‘90s — this journal is from 1992, right? I feel like that was one of the most superficially dark times in the history of western civilization. In New York, especially.
Mark Googles “My Bloody Valentine Sometimes Lyrics.”
Mark: Ok, this is the last verse.
“Close my eyes
Feel me now
I don’t know, maybe you could not hurt me now
Here alone, when I feel down too
Over there, when I await true love for you
You can hide, oh now, the way I do
You can see, oh now, oh the way I do”
Felicity: Well it’s certainly not “Ode to Joy.”
Mark: No, but it’s also not weltschmerz-y. It’s almost frivolously nihilistic. It’s nihilism that hates itself because the very conditions of its rage, anger, depression, hopelessness, are so personal and feel so globally trivial and irrelevant, so out of sync with the world, which the consensus felt had achieved “progress.”
Felicity: You mean because there was no terrorism, no real wars, and everyone had grown bored and cynical of anything resembling a social movement, and the industrialized world was on postmodern autopilot?
Mark: Right. So those were the sorts of lyrics kids were writing in notebooks in 1992, the year this journal was written. I don’t even want to think about it. All that stuff in the world, sure, and the end of the Cold War, and AIDS. The end of history and all that. What interests me now is what a uniquely bleak time it was in the history of personal communication — total connectedness had been promised, yet it was being stubbornly withheld. You had seen car phones and cellphones, and some people had pagers, but you still spent hours waiting for someone to call, fighting with your parents about your phone line, getting busy signals when you tried to log on to services like Prodigy, Compuserve, and AOL, endlessly wandering around the mall because you thought you were supposed to meet your friends at one spot but they thought you were supposed to meet at another. And the perpetually broken promise of connectedness made you feel so deeply alone.
Thursday December 18, 2014
On Houston Street another page has turned.
This one says:
We were tempted to ask our phones what it means.
But we couldn’t. And we weren’t sure why. Had our will to digital knowledge been drowned in irony? Were we too cold? Or had we moved from Googling the writing on the wall to gargling with the freezing mouthwash of the Lethe?
Against this wall, outside of Rag & Bone, it felt nominally better to turn back to Rilke:
“Is it possible that despite inventions and advances, despite culture, religion and worldly wisdom one has remained on the surface of life? Is it possible that even this surface, which at any rate might, after all, have been something, has been covered over with unbelievably boring material so that it has the look of drawing-room furniture in the summer holidays?
Yes, it’s possible.”