May 25th, 2009


Being boiled

To reduce and essentialize, we could say that all language tends to reduce and essentialize. For instance, we just reduced and essentialized language right there, but there's a silver lining: though we threw away a ton of truth, we summed up language quite neatly.

It's actually great fun -- and very telling -- to reduce and essentialize things and people; to try to catch their nature with the bare minimum of strokes, as a caricaturist or a Japanese calligrapher does. Aki and I were sitting in the bamboo backyard of Supercore yesterday playing a game in which you have to sum people up in five adjectives. Aki summed me up with: transparent, forward, light, cautious, chewy. I boiled Aki down to: charismatic, energetic, callous, talented, asexual.

I just discovered a rather wonderful thing, a satirical Twitter feed of Click Opera called Twit Opera. Since April, someone has taken it upon him- or herself to make a daily parody summary of my blog entries, tweaking them to make me look pervy and self-serving, narcissistic and sweeping. Naturally, according to Humperson's Third Law of Meta, this means that the Twitter feed is, itself, even more pervy, me-serving and sweeping. Satire usually ends up not just embodying all the things it seeks to pillory, but making them harder, better, faster, stronger.

Twit Opera is even more me than me, just like Dram Queen Adonis Du Licht when she's dressed up as "pretty Momus". Like Adonis Du Licht, Twit Opera is the platonic essence of Momus (and, to sum up Plato in two essential adjectives, the man was wrong but amusing). The first entry reads: "As a childless hipster working on the fringes of the art and music worlds, I am a model for all humanity." The second says: "I do like Jap vag. I also like 1972. Everything was better when I was 12, even sex."

Other pithy entries: "Slums are cool." "In Brooklyn, I'm scared. In Manhattan, I'm famous." "Roberta Smith loves me. I love Roberta Smith. I am the most interesting thing in New York right NOW." "Every lie creates a parallel world; a world in which 80s pomo schtick is true." "Once I slagged off Vampire Weekend. Now I hang out with them." "Pregnant Japanese chicks are hot."

Now, these are pretty fair summaries of the Click Opera entries in question. Sure, they leave out the really interesting things in the entries, the things that make them worth writing and reading in the first place: the diversions, the passing insights, the pithy asides, the felicities of style. But as unfair reductions of things that are themselves unfair reductions of the world, they're quite apt, deft and neat. Hey, there's the line whoever writes Twit Opera can sum up today's entry with: "Someone's doing an unfair parody of my blog as a Twitter feed. Since I'm an attention whore, I've decided it's apt, deft and neat." (And with that suggestion we pull off what Humperson would call a "meta snooker".)

As perhaps the last person likely to agree with our best British lyricist's line "Jesus save me from pity, sympathy and people discussing me", I'm also pleased to find a slightly more measured summation of my essence going on over at bulletin board I Love Everything, where a chance encounter with rock writer Scott Seward on a Massachusetts street the other day triggered fond and unfond summaries of "the essence of Momus" based on the days (2001 to 2006) when I used to contribute to the board (in 2006 I started feeling lost in the wilderness of opinion and stopped).

Here a more nuanced caricature emerges, with an interesting nebulousness. Rather than being a set of clear attributes and attitudes, Momus here is seen as a kind of mirror or litmus, a statement about you. "He had his troll-like tendencies," muses poster Masonic Boom, "but in the best possible way. He's one of those people who says outrageous things in order to force one to confront one's own prejudices and one's own thought patterns and beliefs... One's reaction to him said as much about the reactor as it ever did about him."

Tracer Hand adds: "I disagree with a lot of things Momus says but I like that he says them. Even when he's wrong wrong wrong it's like Oliver Wendell Holmes said about friends with strong opinions, they're like rough tree bark you can scratch yourself against."

Over on Twit Opera, that might become: "Scratch my back, I'll rub you up the wrong way." In the bamboo backyard of Supercore it might get boiled down to five nouns: outrage, provocation, mirror, litmus, bark.

(Momus tries to sum himself up with a three-hour retrospective at Johnny Brendas in Philly tonight.)