Month: July 2014

Deer in a liquor store

Last week a town on the South shore of Massachusetts made news for a day when a deer came crashing through the plate glass window of a liquor store, running through the aisles and to the back of the store for an exit. Witnesses speculate that the deer — panicked and in search of an escape, or, as many joked after the fact, a cold one — was made frantic by traffic on Route 3A outside.

 

Quick 6 Weymouth security cameras deer 2

This bizarre event, reported on extensively in The Boston Globe and in regional outlets such as Quincy’s The Patriot Ledger, took place on 8 July in nearby Weymouth, Massachusetts, a town of about 50000 people located 16 miles southeast of Boston. After crashing through the window, the deer — a doe from all appearances, bloodied from the broken glass — ran around the store for an exit. A few minutes later, and with the help of the store’s owner and some patrons who happened to be in or near the store, the deer made it outside (passing through the door this time), and ran away.

“It looked like Bambi.” 

The surveillance cameras on scene capture from several different angles a silent real-time documentary of this event. One sees how the sudden crossing of a physical threshold and (with it) a boundary between two worlds causes a brief skirmish; we see both the panic and the quick thinking of all parties involved in the incident.

The security footage is particularly striking where it captures the creature in its brief and frantic moments through this alien, air-conditioned, hardly salutary space. In freeze-frame, some of these images can look as fantastic and otherworldly as the pictures in Brittanie Bond’s The Wilderness Project, a series of photographs superimposing images of wild animals with modern cityscapes. The deer in the Quick 6 could be the subject of one of Amy Stein’s photographs in her series Domesticated, which shows animals living in intimate, uneasy proximity to humans and the built environment. And as moving footage, the Quick 6 tapes are at times visually suggestive of Werner Herzog’s documentary investigations into the bleak, remorseless, and indifferent heart of the natural world (and frequently into the hearts of the men and women, differently composed, who seek to make a home in these unwelcoming spaces). Maybe I think of Herzog because the deer in a liquor store presents a mythic inversion of the situation narrated in Grizzly Man (2005), about Timothy Treadwell’s life and death as a man alone among creatures of the wild.

Let me proceed to paint the scene in Weymouth with tints borrowed from the German master’s palette — to out-Herzog Herzog, as if such a thing were possible.

Some of the images recorded by the surveillance cameras present the deer with a simplicity or economy of line and color that suggests similar representations of these creatures in the cave paintings of Lascaux, Altamira, or the Chauvet caves where Herzog shot his documentary film Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010).

Altamira cave deer

Altamira cave, Spain (source)

 

 

Lascaux cave painting deer detail

Lascaux cave, France

 

 

deer in the liquor store camera 4 quick 6 weymouth

Quick 6 Liquors, Weymouth MA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The magnificent images of Lascaux, Altamira, Chauvet, etc. were created long before the imagined birth of Art. The Quick 6 surveillance cameras at once show and themselves epitomize a world that lives on well after the “end” of it (see: Hegel; Danto). One might read the passage from prehistoric painting to security camera footage as a transition from the first stirrings of humanism to the full arrival of the posthuman. Still, the Quick 6 images have undeniable beauty and mystery, though none of these effects were produced intentionally. Nor is it the case that the impersonal objective gaze supplied in the present instance by security cameras originally required advanced technical means for its realization. Whatever impulse first led men and women to imprint their marks on the stones and make these earliest surviving images of human and animal life, cave paintings are themselves a kind of documentary (re)presentation. The first artists made the stone walls show an image, as objective as you like, of the world when they walked outside the cave.

The deer in the Weymouth liquor store made news as one of those curious phenomena you’d typically see at the end of a local news broadcast (squirrels on waterskies and so on). But though it’s not terribly common for deer to come plowing through plate glass windows on the South shore, it’s not so uncommon an occurrence either, at least not anymore. From the crowding of species into Boston’s suburbs and exurbs, residential density and scarcity of space creates competition for shrinking land resources that affects human as well as deer and other animal populations. A web search turns up several similar news stories, all describing more or less the same event: a single deer crashes through a store window and around aisles of merchandise, causing havoc. In November of last year a similar incident occurred in Western Massachusetts, in South Hadley; in 2010, a deer crashed through another store window in Lawrence. And in the South shore neighborhood of the Quick 6, only a few months ago a deer crashed through the window of a private home. Some in Massachusetts regard the white-tailed deer population as unsustainably high, and the deer themselves as pests whose numbers should be thinned more aggressively.

What was rare about the incident in Weymouth, in other words, was not so much that a deer crashed through a window and into human space; it was that it happened this time in a liquor store, where security camera systems are for obvious reasons extensive and footage is recorded. The effect of the extraordinary in this case depends to a high degree on the particular but otherwise very ordinary environment in which it takes place.

​In a coda to his film on the Chauvet caves, Herzog introduces the albino crocodile as an uncanny link between the present world (he inventively but falsely links their albinism to exposure to water run-off from a nearby nuclear power plant) and as a bizarre vestigial reminder of the ancient world from which the Chauvet cave paintings came. But a deer in a liquor store, like the white-tailed deer population in Massachusetts more generally, is not an albino crocodile. More familiar but still not like, it is a creature with which we share (without perceiving that we share) much of a common world today. This beautiful elegant creature and many others like it occupy a world adjacent to but typically separate from ours — in the midst of and yet out of place in an environment that other beautiful elegant creatures have made.

 

Poem made up of hotels.com reviews (uncreative writing)

36788_b1

Ramada Saco/Old Orchard Beach Area, Maine

Over at his blog Sad Iron, Chuck Rybak (@chuckrybak) recently transcribed all the marginal annotations from his copy of a book of noir fiction, Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place (1947), and made a poem of it. Describing his creation as keeping with principles of “uncreative writing” set forth in Kenneth Goldsmith’s book of that title (2011) and other recent works. Chuck observes that his own poetry adopted “uncreative” procedures long before Goldsmith’s coinage. Indeed, despite its being a concept with a genealogy typically defined against Romanticism, uncreativity and associated literary techniques – newsiness, banality, or the “matter-of-factness” that Coleridge regarded as one of the pronounced defects “in certain poems” of Wordsworth’s (BL II 126) – have been available to art theory and practice for some time.

 

Beyond presenting an instance of uncreative literary practice, Chuck’s exercise helpfully indicates how textual annotations, beyond serving a transparently exegetical function or operating as markers of immediate readerly experience, might constitute objects of literary interest in their own right. Marginal annotation is a topic of interest for many Romantic studies scholars, for good reason: Coleridge, an inveterate scribbler in the margins of his and others’ books, actually invented the term “marginalia” to describe his own practice. In my teaching, I’ve been interested for some time in how today’s tools and methods of digital textual annotation can serve as pedagogical and scholarly resources. The online product review is one specialized kind of digital annotation. This widespread consumer practice extends annotation well beyond the marking of textual objects (song lyrics, poems, novels, and so on) to make a whole range of objects and services available for commentary, evaluation, and review: refrigerators, restaurants, gutter cleaners, pens for women. To produce my “poem,” I extracted the subject lines of all available consumer reviews of a single hotel from hotels.com. (OK, I was also looking for a place to stay with my family for the long weekend.) I broke these one-line evaluations into stanzas, and that was it.

 

The lyric form is conventionally associated with effusions of individual subjective experience; John Stuart Mill described poetry as a kind of highly emotive private speech that is “overheard” by readers rather than communicated directly to them. The poem produced by extracting online product or service reviews preserves the subjectivism of lyric but substitutes the singular (implied or posited) lyric subject with an anonymous, sometimes cacophonous array.

 

So here’s the poem:

 

Hotels.com reviews (subject lines only, low to high rating), Ramada Saco/Old Orchard Beach Area, Maine

 

“Disappointing”

“Very Bad never stay again.. .”

“We’ll be back!!!”

 

“bad hotel”

“Great and no traffic”

“Bad hotel”

 

“Musty and Unpleasant”

“Unkept”

“not near any sights”

 

“Fine in a Pinch”

“Disappointment”

“Strange and Mouldy”

 

“little sleep”

“close to Kennebunkport”

“Bring Ear Plugs”

 

“It was fine…….”

“Underwhelmed”

“Close to my relatives”

 

“further from the beach then it says”

“Great Location”

“Good spot, but way behind the times on breakfast.”

 

“In the middle of no where”

“convenient”

“Nope”

 

“And baby made 30 bucks extra”

“close to expressway and the city”

“Maine getaway”

 

“Decent hotel for a one-night stay”

“HAIR HAIR HAIR”

“Good for a night”

 

“room has funny smells”

“Nice hotel for the price.”

“No atmosphere”

 

“Clean and Worth The Price – From MA Resident”

“Very nice, clean hotel”

“Great Stay”

 

“Great AAU Weekend”

“Ramada Inn”

“B+ value, service, location”

 

“Great bed”

 

“really hard to find”

36788_b1

               July 16 2014