Mar 2, 2015

Coffee and Cigarettes | In search of missing pieces

I'm looking for the joke with a microscope. - Iggy Pop, Repo Man

Are we a coffee and cigarettes culture? Could the Albanian culture (misconstrued as tradition) be seen as a series of vignettes; skits of fragmented encounters (their awkwardness driven by boredom) with only coffee and cigarettes in common? Maybe with a recurring conversational stimulus (a reassuring or instigating line) : “That's not too healthy, is it now?”.
Same setting. Two subjects (maybe a third). Different people. Two objects. Same objects. Coffee and cigarettes. Held together (barely) minimalistically (to not be confused with an actual word: materialistically) by dialog. That necessary linguistic (mostly consumed and abused as the weakest) link.
Maybe an object is what serves as a link between subjects, allowing us to live in society, to be together. But since social relations are always ambiguous, since my thoughts divide as much as unite, and my words unite by what they express and isolate by what they omit since a wide gulf separates my subjective certainty of myself from the objective truth others have of me. (What is an object? 1967)
The chosen analogy (even though far-fetched to unbelieving souls), initially, made sense to me, literally and figuratively, on many levels. ☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻
Obviously you’re not well suited for three-dimensional chess, perhaps three dimensional candyland would be more your speed. [...] It must be humbling to suck on so many different levels. - The Big Bang Theory, The Pancake Batter Anomaly
3D Chess, Star Trek

Such, is the (discontinuous) film Coffee and Cigarettes, or better yet the fragmented series by Jim Jarmusch. My reading(s) of it anyways. There is contrast in setting, but not in titles. Objects are black and white. Subjects are related. Coffee is black. Cigarettes are white. Characters feel incompatible. There is tension in contrast. There is tension in the conversation. Misfits placed in the scene as props. No clear link in dialog. It is the other, the objects of coffee and cigarettes that make possible their exchange. Their interaction. Their seemingly awkward confrontation. Two (in)dividuals that come together. That come out of themselves, only in this instance, when surrounded by dialectical checker patterns, in form and content. Their leap seems short in distance and depth. A hop, perhaps. 

Doubles seem to be a big recurrence in subjects and objects (twins, cousins, tabletops, dices, tea cups, refills, colors, etc.), lines of dialog, even soundtrack.
build[ing] a whole that's much greater than the sum of its parts. (via)
To dialog, both have to be present (minimally, at least). To show up, on all levels. Not remotely. A remote setting marks that which is not at all, an absence (abyss) of distance and depth. A perceived tabula rasa
People who object to the in-jokes should consider that they might be just part of a dialectic with what could be termed the out-jokes—the more populist and obvious bits of humor. (via)
A setting, or culture construed around two addictions, coffee and cigarettes. Jittery and gasping for air, the subjects seem to be more at ease once caffeine and nicotine enters their system. The high that conforms their freedom. Willpower becomes a Machiavellian negotiator. That which they consume, ends up consuming them. They try to control the awkwardness of the conversation by controlling the proximity, access and quantity of these substances (or objects). Back and forth, they alternate. In doing so, their intake becomes a stimuli for dialog, confrontation, a sort of communication. An attempt, really. Or what it really becomes, a controlled mass communication of public energy. The only thing free remains the fall. A free fall. A social void. A substance abuse. A miscommunication.
This paranoid misunderstanding is played for comedy, but the fear of a gaping void remains. (via)
A gaping void. Such is public space in Albania. And yes, the public energy, mentality & complexes it generates are indeed ‘played for comedy.’ Just as the 11 fragments or comic shorts below, the most successful public space in the country, the cafe, is taken out of context. It is abstracted. Removed from the rest of its publics' lives. It has become a misconstrued mise-en-scene, staged, a still life. We see and hear its subjects come and go, but where from / to becomes the unseen other (third) space. A space that seemingly falls out of the margins, into the cracks of the frame. But, we know that space. We live in that space. Everyday. We just can't see it from the cage. The one we've locked ourselves up in and call public, the cafe. The most unproductive public space in Albania.

This [other] space may be all the more menacingly threatening or tantalizingly luring for being unseen. (via) 
It is the impossibility of enclosing the everyday that makes it tantalizingly luring. It is the impossibility of our relationship with it. It is our lack of reach. Our stubbornness and resistance in seeing, understanding, living it. Our myopic vision and blurred capacity to focus the lens. We see the aesthetics (such as they are dangled near us), not the forensics. We see the spectacle in front of it, not the science behind it. We applaud it, not research it. We art (eh) it, not act it. The everyday mundane bores us. So much in fact, that we've constructed, staged the cafe, as our place for the only public that's worth our caliber, or just a second look. A place within a space. A cafe within a building. Doubling the distance, thus the effort to leave it. Doubling our stay, thus consuming our productive time and exponentially exhausting our brain activity - to find an excuse to stay. Dead labor. It's like we've shut the door on our relevance and turned our back to a potential significance. Dismiss it as mundane. The everyday and its labor - our critics, are not us. The cafe releases us. It has plenty of space, coffee and cigarettes - public stimuli- to rationalize the impossibility of enclosing the everyday, the relevance of those who criticize us, and the untapped potential of the mundane. Its publicness makes us someone. We can finally come out of ourselves, be our original self or an alternate(ive), anyone really. Freedom, at last.

We've passed the facade (which has already been painted for us). We are inside the building envelope, inside a 3-dimensional facade - a public threshold (that which we don't think of as public space, but it most certainly is) - seated, surrounded by the comfort of our coffee and cigarettes, incapacitated to stand up to our everyday. We can't hear or see its definition or resolution fully because we're gated in, however, we're still present, even though it has evaporated into a gaping void of a whispered mirage, from which we only can make out a few choice words and offensive gestures (a mistaken defense, perhaps). We don't need the in-between. We can fill in the rest . After all, we have our own public inside, with whom we can put our heads together and continue this distant outside conversation. Multiple (incapacitated) minds at work are better than a single stubborn one. Two imaginations here are better than any presence out there. (Or, it might just be the crowd inside is hearing voices, thinking they're coming from outside. And, yes there is a definition for it: schizophrenia.) A dialectic of in- vs. out-jokes.

Such is our public culture. ‘A paranoid misunderstanding that is played for comedy.’

A subject, an object and their shadow walk into a cafe... to talk about the future. Better yet, to alternate (alternativate - should definitely be a verb) futures. Bored by the everyday mundane, they choose a spot, still, very still (sturdy and secure), still life still; a sizable table for the objects (coffee and cigarettes); chairs and immediate space for the awkward tic (a la mode, perhaps) of the subject; and proceed to mark the threshold of their elusive composition - a frame big enough to cast the entire shadow when it misbehaves egoistically while in dialog about the future. (Sort of premeditating a crime scene, no?) Without the recurrence of this linguistic link, there would be no public, no culture. No information exchanged. It is this communication that holds it together, minimalistically. A critical juxtaposition alternating difference and repetition between publics. (Borrowing Deleuze's ‘the interior is only a selected exterior, and the exterior a projected interior’.)

What, then, are these / our publics?

Public space as a gaping void. Public energy as free fall. Public culture, checkered?

What is our public pattern? That is pattern as juxtaposition of social improvisation and political determination. Literally and figuratively. Forensically and aesthetically. Spatially and culturally. 

Yes, culture is public(s)

That's why a closer look in defining the concept of publics, its depth and distance in name and access, would help us see and extract patterns of (ab)use in expression, exception, exploitation, exit, and extinction. 

How could/should/would we exchange in it, then? 
[T]here's the suggestion that inside every apparent improvisation is an element of determination. (via)

If all we're looking for is an opening or an invitation (an enabling, some would say) to exchange through participation, we have to keep in mind that there's a thin line between improvisation and determination, in form and content, in role and position, in contrast and pattern, in coffee and cigarettes. Otherwise, it becomes an urban warfare with just a simple move (like adding color, see the end). An asymmetric one that distorts the seen and the perceived, the lived and the construed, the protagonists and the antagonists. A free fall of alternates(ives). 

We can also choose to participate through play(My favorite!) After all, the playground is the original public space. In this film, the table top (as pattern and content) fits that description. Those who do not believe the world is flat, may prefer to play 3-dimensionally, hence the composition within the frame, the mise-en-scene, becomes a playground.

The choice and nature of exchange (communication or action) - checkers or chess (as play / fight / bet) - is entirely yours.

Do we, then, play the subject (wo/man), the object (board), or the link (game)? 
The public, the space, or the culture? 
Is the culture check(ered/ed/mated) out?

Nine (of many) invitations to participate:
(ex. Opening, Game, Defense, Counter/Gambit, Variation, System, Counter/Attack, Reversed, Inverted, etc.)

** There are quite a few layers, scales, and readings to the questions and thoughts I've laid out here that I hope most make sense without being too cryptic, thus unclear. (The joke would be on me then, for failing on this many levels.) ☺☻
I have borrowed cinematic work, mainly Jarmusch's series of encounters in Coffee and Cigarettes (along with the in- and mostly out-jokes of each fragment), as an analogy, to illustrate what I've been rambling on so far. The coffee and cigarettes culture of/in Albania. Since, cinema is but a representation, consider this post one as well. A critical speculation of publics: spatial, social, cultural. A proposition of sorts, not a realization.

I perceive culture as a conductor of public resonance. 
(stolen from the film dialogue and adapted as this post's scope)

Strange to meet you.

What did you dream about? 
I can't. I don't have time to tell you this.

Who's the evil twin? That's the way it works, right?

Somewhere in California.
The beauty of quitting is that now that I've quit, I can have one, you know, 'cause... I've quit.

The willpower!

Those things'll kill ya.
- I can't help it. I'm fucking addicted. OK?
- So, coffee and cigarettes? That's your lunch? That ain't healthy, is it?
- So, I'm on a diet. OK? I ain't no fucking quitter.

I wish you woudn't have done that.

No Problem.
- So, are you sure everything is OK with you?
- Yes. Everything is OK. And you?
- Me? Things are OK, not perfect, you know, but pretty much OK, yeah.
- Good. I'm very happy to see you.
- I'm happy to see you, man.
- I guess I'm going to go.
- Really? So soon?
- Yeah. But, listen. If you don't want to talk now, call me anytime. Maybe now it's not the right time for you. That's all.
So I was very happy to see you.
- Yes, me too. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but there's nothing wrong, really.
- That's OK. I understand. Call me.

- It's just... funny, don't yah think, that when you can't afford something, it's like *really expensive* but then when you can afford it, it's like, free? It's kinda backwards, don't yah think?
- Yeah, well... the world is a bit like that, I guess, in a lot of ways.

Jack shows Meg his Tesla coil.
It's an air transformer, with primary and secondary coils that are timed to resonate. It's basically a step up transformer, which converts relatively low voltage high current, to high voltage low current, at high frequencies.

- Without him, we wouldn't have alternating current, radio, television, X-ray technology, induction motors, particle beams, lasers, none of that would even exist if it weren't for him.
- Or, the rock band Tesla.

If we would've paid more attention to his ideas, the world would be a much better place. We'd have free mass communication, free transportation, free energy for everyone. That's why they discredited him in the end...for free energy.

- He perceived the earth as a conductor of acoustical resonance.
- Hmm. What a beautiful idea.

- Damn it. Something went wrong. It wasn't supposed to stop. It was supposed to keep working. I don't know what happened.
- You think, maybe you blew a capacitor?
- No, I didn't blow a capacitor.
- I think, maybe the spark gaps are too far apart on you spark coil vibrator.
- That's it. I didn't check that earlier.

- Likewise. I'm certainly very aware of you.

- And the reviews, ahh..
- They were pretty fucking great.
- I was amazed because, you know, it was... I didn't think many people would kind of get all, the sort of the cultural references..
- You'd be surprised. Yeah!
- But, a lot of people didn't have any kind of reference to mate to it... Let me try and put it in context. I've always had a big passion for history, you know, and peoples' lives, all the little events that you know, how you get from A to B, and all the small details in peoples' lives, and kind of, really, full of, sort of epic qualities, you know... and so, I've been doing all this research, and, um, anyway, I've come up with this.
- What stage is..this green lit? Or, is it just... What stage is it on?
- It's not some.. it's got nothing to do with work. It's not a ‘project.’ What I've discovered was..

[gets interrupted]

- Wow. I've been recognized.

- You a doctor now, or something?
- I've been studying alternative medicine for two years now. I mean, ancient healer techniques, and all that. I happen to know a certain procedure I can perform using a drill gun, an electric drill. But, you know, my hand's nice from being a DJ. 

Caffeine can cause serious delirium.

- You're a real caffeine junkie, aren't you?
- Just keep it down. Just between us.
- You know, before I gave it up, it used to make me dream faster. That's how my dreams were, just whizzin' by.
He specializes in alternative medicine. That is, alternative, to this planet.


- I've lost touch with the world. Where are we?
The Armory. It sounds so heavy and ponderous.
Let's pretend this coffee is champagne.
- Why would we do that?
- Well, to celebrate life. You know, like the rich, elegant people do, the classy people.
- I prefer coffee, simple working man's coffee.
- Oh, you're so provincial. You know what your problem is?
- What?
- You have no joie de vivre.
- I don't?
- No! Besides, this coffee is awful. I propose a toast.
- So what should we toast?

*And now the news..*

(what color is the news?)

Twin Peaks, Beyond Life and Death, Episode 29.


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