Perversion and the Arts, A Historical Overview

by
Daulton Dickey.

What is Perversion?

23658486_511437292557023_5569459546303324568_nWhen we hear the words “pervert” or “perversion,” we tend to think of them in terms of sexual deviancy. As with most words, “pervert” and “perversion” can convey a variety of senses. You can pervert meaning, for example. In this sense, you’re altering the meaning of a word or phrase to fit your agenda. Or you can pervert the system, changing it to achieve your goals.

Perversion as a concept isn’t limited to sex and sexuality. It can also mean actors or behavior outside cultural norms. We’ll focus on these two meanings of the word and how they’re sometimes, but not always, interconnected.

Institutional Control

You could argue that every art movement since the mid-to-late nineteenth century is either predicated on or incorporates some sense of perversion. If we use “perversion” is the sense of an unorthodox approach, then modern art is explicitly founded on it. Institutions dictated what constituted art—and they did so with an iron fist: you could only paint in a studio, not outdoors; you had to hide your brushstrokes; you could only depict historical or didactic scenes or imagery, and so on. Institutions dictated style and form and, to a degree, content. Continue reading

Andy Kaufman and the Physics of Human Response

by
Daulton Dickey.

1.

andykaufmanoncreatingrealityNear the end of his life, Andy Kaufman planned a college tour—but not as a performer. Instead, he envisioned a series of lectures entitled On Creating Reality: the Physics of Human Response. Although he died before delivering a single lecture, his agent had printed promotional material in the form of postcards. The material teased the lecture would discuss Andy’s career in relation to “the dynamics of human behavior.”

No known notes exist for this lecture and its contents remain as enigmatic as the man himself. His career in shambles, Kaufman had hoped to legitimize himself by touring the lecture circuit. Of all the titles and all the approaches to a tour, On Creating Reality seems most apt for a man who built a career on challenging peoples’ perceptions of reality.

To watch an Andy Kaufman performance is to experience the panoply of human emotions and experiences within the span of only a few minutes. Kaufman didn’t aspire to entertain—although he occasionally called himself an entertainer; instead, he manipulated and challenged reality itself. At his peak, those aware of him expressed strong opinions. Many people despised him, which he probably found more exciting than praise. But few people understood him—and it’s easy to assume he liked it that way.

Andy was playing a game, after all, and people took it seriously. Like most games we play in our day-to-day lives, his game wasn’t trivial or inconsequential. In fact, he did more to expose the illusion of objective reality while shedding a light on personality and persona than any artist, philosopher, or scientist of the twentieth century. Continue reading

Hans Bellmer and the Perversion of Form

by
Daulton Dickey.

img_3868Surrealism encompassed a variety of media and artists of all kinds, many of whom found a place in the Modern Art canon. Some artists, such as Dali and Magritte, produced imagery we still encounter. Melting clocks and apples obscuring faces represent the kind of imagery surrealists excelled at producing. It unsettled you, disoriented you, confused you.

Few surrealists managed to match Hans Bellmer in the ability to confound and disturb. His pieces simultaneously deconstruct and fetishize the human form, the sum of which stirs a sense of disquiet—and occasional eroticism—in the viewer. By perverting the human form, he managed to express his own tortured mind while allowing the viewers to glimpse something inside themselves—something perhaps not altogether pleasant. Continue reading

On Non-Traditional Narrative

A Dialectic in Defense of Experimental Narratives through the Study of Slaughterhouse-Five and Paris Peasant

by
Daulton Dickey.

Some writers adore narrative convention. They stick to the algorithm without deviation. Others deviate only slightly. Other writers still incorporate radical deviation into conventional narrative algorithms. Then there are writers who eschew convention altogether in order to deconstruct or to dismantle narrative entirely. Each of these groups attempt to add their stamp to fiction or literature in one way or the other. And all have strong opinions on narrative. But which group, which tactic, is right?

The answer shouldn’t startle you: none. Declaring narrative can or should or must only4815205632_632ee48a71_b follow one path is like demanding that all athletes stand during the national anthem. It’s a form of authoritarianism predicated on inculcating and reinforcing conformity. Narratives are fluid, organic, the products of human perception of time. Think of it as water: it can assume the shape of liquid, steam, or ice while still containing water at its core. Continue reading

Life is a Stage, So Why Not Screw with People?

Notes on an Essay Concerning Writing, Performing, and the Nature of Reality
by
Daulton Dickey.

[Author’s Note: This is an unfinished essay I vaguely remember writing, the result, I suspect, of having taken too many meds, which I do by accident from time to time.]

I.

My mind reels. Sometimes I lock myself in my head, in my world, and everything around me—my wife, my kids, my friends and job—vanish. Not literally. Figuratively. Everything slips into the background, sometimes into the deep background. Sometimes the universe transforms into background noise, a sort of visuospatial white noise. Other times, it disappears altogether.

I get so locked into my world, the world mutating and transmutating and exploding in my head, that the world and everything in it almost vanishes.

zoar2A strange sensation: living in my head inside, then going outdoors and feeling as if the world itself is indoors, as if the world is a set constructed inside a planet-sized soundstage. Sometimes, when these sensations inundate me, I glance around—at the ground and the sky, cars and buildings and passersby—and marvel at the corporeality of it all. Of everything.

On occasions, when I’m experiencing these sensations, I ask myself two questions, sometimes in conjunction, sometimes in disjunction:

What is imagination?

What is “reality”?

II.

So I’m sitting in a wheelchair on the corner of an intersection, wearing a plaid shirt, overalls, and sunglasses. I’m hunched over in the chair, not moving. Concentrating on steadying my breath, minimizing the expansion and contraction of my rib cage, trying to render it imperceptible.

Try it. It’s a fascinating study, something akin to sociology. People ignore you when you play dead. They amble or scurry past you. Some glance while others act as though they don’t see you. Some joke while others furrow their eyebrows.

I’d probably sell the death routine if “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees wasn’t blasting from a speaker attached to my phone in my right pocket. Continue reading

Still Life with Chattering Teeth and People-Shaped Things (excerpt)

by
Daulton Dickey.

[This is an excerpt from the titular story in the new short story collection, Still Life with Chattering Teeth and People-Shaped Things & Other Stories, which is out now.]

1.

Humming fills the air, but it’s the humming of a brain filling gaps exposed by silence. The lights are out. Colors flicker in space–sometimes near the ceiling, sometimes near the floor.

The brain does the math, and this is another case of the brain creating something where something should be.

But listen: the silence. It’s unnerving somehow. Unnatural.

The ceiling throbs. Cracks spiderweb the walls. From these, insects emerge. They’re miniature heads, human heads, crawling on six scrotums. Sperm oozes in their wake. Sadie throws a shoe at the wall and the insects scream and scatter.

She climbs out of bed and peeks outside: a planet-sized eyeball drifts toward a planet-sized eyelid. Twilight. She throws on her robe and taps her skin. It’s still skin. Thank Cruelty. She hasn’t transformed, not like the others.

She opens her front door.

The hallway is empty.

She tiptoes across the hall and puts her ear below “3F” on Martin’s door. Silence. But that doesn’t mean anything. Those creatures are probably in there. Right now. Fucking each other with those tentacles–or whatever the hell you call them.

More humming.

Is it a lightbulb, or is it her brain doing the math, plugging holes?stilllifedaultondickey

She ties her robe and rubs her stomach and tiptoes down the hall, listening in on apartments 3D, 3C, 3B.

She puts her teeth together and hisses, just to make sure she hasn’t gone deaf.

Hiss.

She hasn’t gone deaf.

Door 3B flings open. A human-sized caterpillar pops its head into the hallway. Snot and cum drips from its mouth.

–Everything okay? it says.

–Fine.

–Why you in your robe? Locked out?

–Stop talking to me. Monster. Continue reading

A Brief Manifesto for the Practicing and Emerging Artist

by
D. Cay.

  1. Uproot cultural norms. If something is considered “common sense,” then you daultondickeyshould ridicule or satirize it.

 

  1. Target modesty and decency.

 

  1. Celebrate obscenity, vulgarity, and cruelty.

 

  1. Embrace chaos.

 

  1. Shun “traditional” or “standard” forms or structures. If you don’t want to challenge them too radically, at least tweak them with the aim of upsetting the reader’s, or spectator’s, equilibrium.

 

  1. Have a point. Art for art’s sake, or strange for strange’s sake, or offensive for offensive’s sake should be treated like television: it’s all right in moderation, but too much will rot your brain.

Continue reading

Interview with Artist Graeme Jukes

by
Daulton Dickey.

Slope 01`08`17 a (1)I came across Graeme Jukes’s mixed media on Ello. The images immediately arrested me. Steeped in early 20th century avant-garde movements, especially the Dadaists, his art expressed a nightmarish yet strangely familiar quality—the kind of familiarity you intuit, unable to articulate.

Captivated by his imagery, I decided to ask him about his work, his inspirations, and his need to create.

Your work seems paradoxical in that it rejects aesthetics while establishing one—or, the very least, coherence; the illusion of one. Is this conscious on your part?

Rejecting aesthetics? Possibly rejecting conventional aesthetics but I think it is part of a well-established Dadaist aesthetic. I don`t really think about it that much, I do what feels natural and as such it is not a conscious decision on my part. Paradoxical is good, however—I like that.

How did you settle on collage and mixed media? 

Look To The Sky 30`01`15 aThat was largely accidental. I discovered collage back in the 1980s and decided to try my hand. I did thirteen collages and then abandoned the idea, turning to oil painting instead. These early collages are not on Ello.co but can be seen on my DeviantArt site

I gave up on art altogether in the 1990s, destroying most of my work. In 2012 I became seriously ill with cancer. That brush with mortality made me determined that if I survived I would start making art again. I was given the all clear early in 2014. Around the same time I discovered the collages I had done thirty years earlier, which had somehow survived the 90s immolation. Simultaneously there was a major exhibition of the work of Hannah Hoch at the Whitechapel Gallery. I was absolutely bowled over by the beauty and the absurdity of her collages so I decided to have another go myself. Initially the work had a retro-scifi-popart feel before turning darker and more dada. Continue reading

Andy Kaufman: Architect of Reality

by
Daulton Dickey.

During his truncated career, Andy Kaufman inspired a variety of emotions. People loved him, despised him, hated him. Others called him a genius, a surrealist, or a Dadaist. His detractors denounced him as unfunny. ‘He’s not a comedian at all,’ they might say. ‘He’s a whackjob.’ Questions about his mental health surfaced. Amateur psychologists diagnosed him with split personalities or schizophrenia. No one knew what to make of him yet everyone tried. A unique, singular performer, Kaufman destroyed every preconception about comedy and the performing arts. He didn’t blur fantasy and reality—he created reality wherever he went, and few people, it seemed, could grapple with it.

No one attending one of his shows knew what to expect. No one interacting with him—either on or off the stage—knew to whom they were speaking. Is this a character? A put on? Is there a real Andy? His last girlfriend, Lynne Margulies, considered the latter question absurd. There was no real Andy, she’d say. She expressed this sentiment to Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the screenwriters of Man on the Moon, the Kaufman biopic starring Jim Carrey.

Until that moment, they couldn’t get a handle on the “real” Andy Kaufman. Without determining who Kaufman was, Alexander and Karazewski couldn’t envision a movie at all. Margulies’s insight changed everything. Continue reading

Is Literature Dying?

by
Daulton Dickey.

The Failing Health of Fiction

Here’s a thought experiment: close your eyes and create a mental image of a novel, any novel, and by that, we mean a physical book. Then create a mental image of the novel transmogrifying into a person. Now imagine this person’s health. Imagine he or she’s lying on a bed in a hospital, attached to machinery seemingly plucked from a Terry Gilliam film. One glitch, one unplugged cord, one kink in a tube or a wire and the person dies.

images (1)Now imagine transforming that person back into a book, and imagine the book is a work of fiction, specifically genre or literary fiction. The health of fiction depends on innovation and new ideas. Argue to the contrary, and you’ll make an argument based solely on commerce.

“Books x, y, and z are successful; therefore fiction isn’t dead,” which is true: fiction isn’t dead. But it’s dying. Like the imagine patient above, fiction is on life support. We can attribute many causes to this state of affair, such as the rise of home entertainment and video games, the internet and smartphones and augmented reality, which certainly plays a part. However, to argue on those terms alone is, at least to a degree, to argue beside the point. Continue reading