Seven Kinds of Denial Just to Get Out of Bed
"The Duncan-Blake Effect In The Blogosphere"
Venus de Milo With Drawers, Salvador Dalí, 1936
….Anyway, Venus de Milo. One of the sculptures in the exhibit was a Venus chest of drawers (complete with furry knobs). On Saturday night Clair, Special K, and I had a highbrow conversation about this piece, discussing items to put in the boob drawers. Clair decided that he would put his car keys in Venus’s chest, while Special K opted for the remote control.
Dali, father of WTF, is my new role model. From now on, Good Grief! will embrace Dali’s Paranoiac Critical method and attempt to “systematize confusion and to thus help discredit completely the world of reality.” Dali might have been a raving lunatic, but that last sentence is a damn good mission statement.
-- Becky S., March 9, 2005, in Good Grief! Does This Blog Make My Butt Look Big?
“La Femme en Flames”
La Femme en Flammes, Salvador Dalí.
“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” – Charles Kingsley, epigram on the home page of the blog enthusiasm: a novelty choking hazard.
The blogosphere is composed of two and unequal parts: The Facts, which resemble an objective reality, and Factufication, which is the conflation with, and distillation of, purported facts coupled to abundant speculation.
In this way, the shrillest bogs resemble early 20th century yellow journalism, wherein no story was too absurd to be printed, in the main because this sold newspapers. Bloggists, though, in most cases don’t sell anything, other than their points of view and aren’t journalists – except when they are. The bloggist just wants to be heard, in most cases to a group of friends and colleagues, though at other times, to a wider world—which is difficult when there are 50 millions of blogs, and counting.
In the case that concerns this essay, bloggists tried to understand why another bloggist killed herself and whether despondency compelled her companion to walk into the ocean. The susurration of rumor built into a rambunctious clamor as one seeker e-mailed or linked to the next. The romanticizing, demolition and deconstruction of Duncan and Blake was immediate, simultaneous and intertwined.
The Internet fulfilled its use as a public and virtual wailing wall. Testimonies of sorrow were poetic, clunky or rambling, as the writers struggled in plain view of readers to put into words what they felt as they were thinking and typing, with little editing during or following. For any future historian of whatever calamity—even the recent Minneapolis bridge collapse -- these kinds of displays will be invaluable if somehow they are archived, preserved, and accessible.
Their deaths were disseminated through a variety of small self-informing communities, from art and literary circles, to marketing and game design groups and into the realm where conspiracy is an acknowledged part of consensus reality. Reaction ranged from almost incoherent grief to gleeful hectoring.
For the chronicler of earlier generations, coming across letters and journals was the best way of seeing through the eyes of those who experienced events as they happened. The words on yellowed pages gave the historian a seat by the elbow of the record keeper. Today, e-mail and blogs, even archived answering machine messages, present unique and multiple perspectives. These are real-time event records that are as close as one can get to the frantic phone calls and the conversational hubbub at coffee shops and art gallery gatherings.
(What will happen if at some point the technology fails or the power goes out for good is another matter. Where will the scribes come from to protect knowledge should Wikipedia ever go dark?)
If the human species survives, and a People’s History of the Blogosphere is one day written, there may well be a slender chapter titled "The Duncan-Blake Effect." This may offer a case study of how a tragic incident that concerned a rarefied group of people—participants and chroniclers of culture and society comprising a sliver in the greater arts world of Los Angeles and New York City—promulgated wider interest among those who were neither artists nor lived in either of those cities. That clamoring for actual sourced, jot and tittle news was delivered first not by the dead tree fiber media (DTFM), but online sources. The DTFM scrambled, spluttered, and proved itself unable to supply what was demanded in a time that would satisfy an audience grown accustomed to immediacy. In this case, what went sub rosa on the Internet drove what appeared in print and in the other electronic media.
The most disheartening aspect of sifting through the expressionist manner in which comprehension and incomprehension of the Duncan and Blake deaths spread across the Internet is that this highest expression of human ingenuity is at times no better than graffiti scrawled on walls of bathroom stalls.
When all is said and done, this much is known: Theresa Duncan killed herself in her St. Mark’s Place apartment on July 10, 2007. Jeremy Blake, her companion of a dozen years, on July 17, walked off the Rockaway beach into the Atlantic Ocean and drowned.
Duncan and Blake are now part of the collective subconscious; an amalgam of history and myth, grist for endless blogging, glossy magazine features, “based on true events” films, “ripped from the headlines” television dramas, poetry, art, narrative nonfiction history and probably metafiction, too. The corpus of the event resembles one of Salvador Dalí’s undulant women as chest of drawers in paintings and sculptures. Duncan’s own rigorous organization of her blog reminds me of these odd pieces, too, each drawer stuffed with fascinating items, like the characters and situations from the video games she helped devise. Bureaus are for storage, organization and protection -- but they may also conceal.
As I recall, my first trip upon Duncan’s Staircase came when looking up the French phrase for which she took her blog's name, esprit d'escalier. I was a late-comer who first peeked at the site sometime early in 2007, and sad now that I didn’t happen upon it earlier because, to be honest, I would’ve enjoyed experiencing the little phenomenon.
I was entranced by the imagery and imagination, and Duncan’s wonderful turns of phrase. That incandescent photo of her, (taken behind the Chateau Marmont in her favorite garden), regarding me unsmiling, her head at a tilt, as though wondering just who this is who should come here to ramble about in her thoughts.
Brevity was the soul of Wit. A striking image of art or fashion photography with an accompanying provocative quote, and a link or two, often constituted a single entry. I hesitated visiting too often because The Wit of the Staircase resembled that long hall Alice finds when she falls into the rabbit hole. One could’ve spent hours there meandering between references to art, the occult, politics and Kate Moss. I didn’t take after her Tarantino obsession, or her fashion fascination, though I appreciated how she'd follow her whimsies wherever they led.
But there was a darkness forming at the head of the stairs.
I grew both more intrigued and concerned as Duncan’s political and cultural observations became more acute and aligned with some of my own. Her words caused raised my anxieties not because I didn’t like what she was saying. I instead worried that she was more right than wrong. The DailyKos she was not.
By time she interviewed activist Father Frank Morales, with Jeremy Blake offering occasional insights, I was interested by how Duncan herself was grappling with cataracts of unpleasant information that undermine the concept of a free society.
Next thing I know, the wicked Wit is dead.
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
And human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
--E.M. Forster, Howards End
Epigram for "Only Connect"--E. M. Forster In An Age Of Electronic Communication: Computer-Mediated Association And Community Networks by Mary E. Virnoche and Gary T. Marx. July 23, 10097, hyperlink reference via Blake Robin (Baron von Luxxury) on www.disccoworkout.com.
"A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens--second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our day's events to the vast incommunicable constructs of psychopaths." --Reynolds Price, quote used in Theresa Duncan’s final blog post, July 10, 2007
Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.—Claude Coburn
We do not mean to suggest that there is a little man behind the curtain, a great Wizard of Oz who controls all that is seen, thought, and done. There is no single locus of control that dictates the spectacle. The spectacle, however, generally functions as if there were such a point of central control…. Conspiracy theories of governmental and extragovernmental plots of global control, which have certainly proliferated in recent decades, should thus be recognized as both true and false. As Frederic Jameson explains wonderfully in the context of contemporary film, conspiracy theories are a crude but effective mechanism for approximating the functioning of the totality. The spectacle of politics functions as if the media, the military, the government, the transnational corporations, the global financial institutions, and so forth [the Scientologists] were all consciously and explicitly directed by a single power even though in reality they are not.
-- excerpt from Empire, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, as provided by SmoothJazzy on Gloss (blog), and referencing Theresa Duncan’s promotion of their later book Multitude.
A couple of suicide artists? – Lonesome in Massachusetts, July 23, on the Free Republic blog.
Inertia and entropy drag on the truly creative like Theresa and Jeremy like a lodestone.--- Charlie Finch, July 23, “Theremy,” artnet Magazine, artnet.com.
but she scared the hell out of some people with her sharp tongued rapier wit
i’ve seen so many people turn on her
i’ve seen so many people afraid of her
and i’ve seen how they harrassed her
literally to death
-- July 23, 2007, Baron von Luxxury, disccoworkout.
You fucking hopeless parasites. The world is a violent storm of greed, where the victor takes the spoils, and you are just waking up to it now, saying to your sorry selves, "oh no, they could kill me?"
omnimental, in Rigorous Intuition’s July 25, 2007, entry, “Imitation of Life.”
She is gone, and he is gone, a play set up in the privacy of love, a stage set in the intimacy of public longing for details.—Jonathan Perez, July 26, 2007, “Ode To Jeremy Blake” at The Palm At The End Of The Mind.
But like the best bloggers, she created an illusion of intimacy with her readers. Most blogs are simply unedited confessions for the blogger or for close friends, posted where they might be found by strangers (as, I imagine, the diarist dreads but also desires). And still other bloggers hope for anonymity, only to deliberately push its bounds by revealing too much — when readers know all but one secret, they'll search for it, and find it.—Swati Pandey, August 1, 2007, Los Angeles Times Opinion Daily.
Photo booth images, Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake, introduced by Eric Weaver, at Brand Dialogue. The set first appeared in the Wit of the Staircase posting of Wednesday, September 14, 2005, titled "Gang of Four." Duncan wrote, "Los Angeles Lunar Society three, plus the invisible element we are sworn to protect and serve...it emanates as a blank space...or ectoplasmic smear."
I. “I found this out in a roundabout way”
One of the first places, if not the very first, where online readership learned the news was in one of those corners of the Internet you don’t think of until you see the thing: a blog devoted to scents, perfume of life.
Natural Juice writing on July 19, 4 p.m. Miami, Fla., time, “I found this out in a roundabout way. A friend, a perfumer, wrote me this morning that her old boyfriend, artist Jeremy Blake, was missing…He was despondent since his girlfriend committed suicide the week before…”
This was noted in swift fashion by Kevin Roderick on LAObserved, with a somber just-the-facts sense: “Writer, filmmaker and perfume aficionado Theresa Duncan has not posted at her Venice-based blog, The Wit of the Staircase, since July 10…From the same report, her partner of many years, artist Jeremy Blake, is missing off New York's Rockaway Beach, where a man was seen going into the ocean Tuesday night. The news comes from Anya McCoy, a Florida perfumer who says she spoke with an ex-girlfriend of Blake. I can find no recent news reports tonight on Duncan in New York or her hometown of Detroit, so I'll stress again that none of this is confirmed.”
Roderick and the online journos in LA owned the story from then on, yet the piece meal application of the known knowns and the unknown unknowns began flaring across web sites, like some one crossing a stream, leaping from rock to rock.
The next day, Friday, brought encomiums and elegies from blogs on both coasts. LA Brain Terrain said, “I guess her light was so bright that she couldn’t help but be consumed by its intensity;” Living With Legends: The Hotel Chelsea Blog reprinted Duncan’s ode to the grand old place where she'd once resided, and an anonymous commenter stated, “There is something really wrong with this ‘double suicide.’ I think Jeremy will show up. There’s more to this story.”
Daniel Hernandez at the L.A.-based Intersections said he met Duncan just once at a public reading in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. The series held at the The Mountain bar is called The Vermin at the Mount. Hernandez said, “I hope The Wit of the Staircase stays up as living archive of a vigorously curious mind.” Meanwhile, the Vermin on the Mount blog announced itself in mourning and ran an uncredited sketch of Duncan at the 2006 reading, a hand on her hip, looking quite stylish and aloof.
Laist writer and blogger Tony Pierce had just read the news over at LA Observed when he received an e-mail from “Mike in Seattle.” Pierce said, “Sometimes the emails that we got from our readers tell the stories way better than we could.”
Mike related that LA Observed reported the tip from the perfume blog the night before, and that there was a small obituary on the web site of the Michigan funeral home where the memorial service was held. Blake “is now also missing and may also be dead.”
“This is such a tragedy,” Mike in Seattle said, “and given your wide reach, I’m sure people who knew her in Venice Beach, where they lived, and around the world, would like to know.”
Pierce printed an excerpt from the 2006 Duncan interview. It would be oft repeated as an example of her exquisite taste in words.
"If you were to make a perfume that embodied the essence of Los Angeles, what would it smell like?
My cologne is called Santa Ana after the powerful winds that bring desert heat and faraway smell into the city.
It smells like: Celluloid and sand, coyote fur and car exhaust, contrail cloud and chlorine, bitter orange and stage blood and one bushel of ghostly, shivery night-blooming jasmine flowers like blown kisses from the phantoms of the ten thousand screen beauties who still haunt our hills every full moon because they think it's a stage light."
Brooklyn writer and podcaster Ed Champion titled the entry of his July 20 blog with factual directness: “Theresa Duncan Dead.” All he could otherwise muster was, “Horrible news,” that linked to Pierce’s mention of her decease. And that was it, for a while, until he collected this thoughts. [Bolded emphasis is mine throughout this excerpt; the entire discussion can be accesed by clicking above.]
“UPDATE: Pardon my laconic post. The news of these two deaths (Duncan and her boyfriend, Jeremy Blake) hit me as I was about to embark on a restful weekend. My immediate reaction was to beat myself up relentlessly on Friday night for not doing more or for not communicating enough to her that her zaniness was peachy keen.
Theresa and I had exchanged quite a few emails after the two of us duked it out last December in an Elegant Variation thread, where I encouraged her to maintain her hearty enthusiasm for reporting breakfast. She responded that she was planning to extend her ebullience to lunch and dinner. Whatever her problems, what I do know is this: I observed in Theresa another giddy and idiosyncratic soul — someone who was good for the artistic community by way of her cockeyed perspective. And I’m very sorry that I never got the chance to meet her. If this horrible conclusion says anything, it is this: We must embrace those who are different.]”
The December 8-12, 2006, disputation to which Champion referred is today bit painful to read, and it doesn’t show anybody off to their good advantage, though gives a demonstration of literate folk attempting to engage in civil discourse. Problem is, on the Internet, such an effort plummets like an elevator without brakes.
The tipping point, as it were, came at the very beginning – with a post headed by TEV as, “All Sanity Abandon Ye Who Enter Here,” with the mention of Slate cultural editor and poet Meghan O’Rourke’s singling out of “27-year-old” Marisha Pessi’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics in getting named as one of the New York Times’ 10 Best Books of the Year. O’Rourke thought Pessi’s debut much ado about not much. Duncan posted, expressing appreciation for the Elegant Variation blog, as a “great boon to the LA Books set.”
Then she said:
“I don't understand why her age is pointed out in Meghan's blurb. (Well, perhaps I actually do.)
If we were to begin pointing out every ugly old white guy who was mysteriously overpraised and overpaid we wouldn't get much sleep, would we?
I haven't read the book, as her emergence on the scene doesn't much trouble or interest me, so I can't argue for her merits as an artist.
But perhaps it's high time for young women to begin receiving a few cultural perks, just like old men do, n'est ce pas?
And the discussion deteriorated after that. Duncan was disagreeing about a blurb that she’d later admit to skimming pertaining to a book she didn’t care to read, because the reaction to the book interested her more than the book itself. This seems to make the argument that books aren’t important, but, this wasn’t the case: look at pictures of her apartment and the crammed shelves, and all the reading she assigned for herself, and took pride in describing.
James pointed out that the review was more about Pessi being a young new writer who doesn’t deserve to be on the New York Times year’s best list. TEV replied, “It suggests - to me - that the NY Times is unable to resist the lamentable obsession with the new, the young, the novel (forgive the pun) that seems to afflict most of the publishing world.”
She rejoined in a fashion that seems to encapsulate the Staircase philosophy in almost a nutshell:
“Frankly, as a critic for Artforum and Slate and other digital and paper rags I'm often more curious about a painting or book or film's reception by critics and the public than I am about the object itself.
There is a tone around this author that seems to me to have an obsessive neurotic tinge that to my mind has to do with current cultural reactions to pleasure, beauty and youth, things that are being suppressed in contemporary culture as the massive Baby Boomers demographic age.”
She finished off with a tart, “I'm going out for breakfast at the Chateau Marmnot for a while but I look forward to reading more replies to my post when I get back.”
Mark, the host, offers fighting words, emphasis mine, with, “I have nothing against the young author - I just didn't like her book. And I'm not alone. (And my well-known admiration for Everything is Illuminated and White Teeth should demonstrate no innate bias against youth.)
The whole response-to-the-response thing can get a bit meta for my taste. For me, finally, it's about the book.
Hope you had a nice breakfast.
When Duncan returned, her rejoinder was, “You say that response to the response is too meta, and yet from what I'm reading here the p.r. swirl that surrounds her is more interesting than the book, hence the real story.
With all the reading I am going to do this week I still don't want to read Pessl's [sic.] book, it hasn't piqued my curiosity enough. I love Meta and am reading a book about other very old books and the commentary on these other books by Michel de Certeau.
I do think culture remains in the liver spotted grip of the Baby Boomers nearly completely. Name one siginificant youth movement after punk rock (that isn't Hip Hop).
Please also name one young hip person who has really made a dent in culture at large after the mid-90s, or more specifically after Quentin Tarantino and Kurt Cobain. I love The Strokes but they haven't really broken that wide and they're nothing new. Pessl ain't doing it, though I wish her luck.
I do remember reading T.E.V. when Pessl's book first came out and mention being made of her looks, but I think your explanation that it was about being a "hot young thing" in general is honest.
In terms of hot young thingness, I think that the publishing industry needs these high profile new faces, and that HYT's might be looked at as advertisements for literature in general.
If you can entice some 25 year old nonreaders into a store because one of their coevals wrote something that intrigues them, they might buy another couple books when they're in there. Or even develop a lifelong reading habit. Perhaps the Times, a commercial venture like book publishing, needs to keep this in mind too.
When I was having a hard time at a studio a couple years ago a friend mentioned two 23 year olds who had sold a spec script for $2 million on their first try. I respectfully asked her not to tell me news like that while I was still working on the studio hell job, so I understand the chagrin Pessl [sic.] causes some. (Though I would never have publicly expressed the opinion about the 23 year olds.)
I do feel though that the cultural license to fixate and criticize people like Pessl [sic.] has become overly lax (like the plagiarism fixation) and that our critical dialog is straying into the territory of nitpicking and ressentiment.
LMM: If I could change the question slightly, to one of youth SCENES, I think there have been tons since punk rock. DIY hardcore, hip-hop, skateboarding culture, ravers, goths, etc.
The trend in modern society has been one towards fracturization and specialization. THe fact that there haven't been many musicians in the 90s and 00s to influence culture in the way that Bod Dylan or the Rolling Stones did is not a question of the boomers culture influence, but one of state of affairs.
Enter, Ed Champion.
To Theresa Duncan: Your incessant idealism is as noble as Kim Bofo's, but I must agree with the other commenters. Do you even HAVE an argument here? Or are you merely strutting your peacock feathers? It is not "weird" at all that 27 is young for a writer. Do you even pay attention to the publishing industry? Most first-time authors are considerable older than 27; hence, the ridiculous attention to Pessl as "hot young thing," as opposed to the book in question. Perhaps if you were to apply the same scrutiny to your arguments that you do in reporting your meals, we might be able to have a conversation.
TD: ..27 is a grown woman. Comparing a woman this age's writing of a novel to a dog walking upright or a dancing bear is patronizing and bizarre.
William Vollmann has a line where a cabdriver ferrying him is slagging on women and when his wife finally asks to get out of the cab the driver's reaction is akin to "Oh, it talks." I see a bit of that here still in reaction to Pessl's "remarkable" feat. It's no so remarkable, and no, she's really not that young.
… I pay attention to books and authors, not the publishing world so much, though of course Pessl's book is more a story about the publishing world, one which was so prevalent that it did indeed catch my attention again and again.
The dialogue around her is angry and ad hominem. I don't see how anyone could deny it.
Ed: Theresa: Again, I urge you to do your homework before shooting off your mouth. Tanenhaus and I actually have quite a history.
Do I follow New York media? Does a Kodiak bear not mark his territory?
TD: Don't tell me to do my homework, Ed. I don't like it. You're not using your full name so I couldn't research you if I was willing to, which I'm not.
TEV: OK folks, it's getting a bit testy here.
My policy is to keep a flame-free comment zone at TEV, so please keep it civil all around. If you're compelled to fling abuse, your email addresses are both here, please do it off-list.
Theresa, I'll drop you an email about your review offer.
Ed: Theresa, let me understand this: you seem (were?) angry that O'Rourke and TEV don't like and have slammed Pessl's writing. I think you've implied that they're both being sexist and ageist. Yet when I click into your blog, at the very top in a post that's supposed to be about a haircut, I see a topless implanted-looking female, there are several fashion-style objectifying scantily-clad images of females on your blog’s main page, in one post you link to an insult to a thirty-something woman and you show an image of her dressed sexy, which looks like her "growing old disgracefully" is because she has her legs out--horror of all horrors! a thirty-something woman looking sexy! stop the presses! only over-thirty males are supposed to look sexy, never over-thirty females!--and you said above here, "I do think culture remains in the liver spotted grip of the Baby Boomers...."
Implanted boob shots, an insult against a woman beyond thirty, "liver-spotted grip"? So who’s being ageist and sexist? I think you need a reality check: assuming they live long enough, everyone ages eventually; you will too. And every ageist thing you say and do today will likely come back and bite you in the ass tomorrow because your words will have helped keep ageism alive in society. Maybe you should read Pessl's book. If your posts here and your blog are representative of "you," I think you'd probably enjoy Pessl's writing.
When a person implies "pleasure, beauty and youth" are being suppressed in society today--taking that person seriously is really difficult for me. Are you being for real there? I mean, I feel like asking, "What planet are you living on?" If you had said youth and beauty were being suppressed about MALES--that's true. I'm totally disgusted by what I think is a de-emphasis on male appearance today. But you're making that argument toward a female and toward Pessl [sic.]--huh?
Go stand on most supermarket checkout lines and peruse the magazine covers, go check out most magazine stands, go check out most movies and books, go check out TV, go check out most model photos--many are filled with young airbrushed females. If you're young and female and can be airbrushed into something pretty, you're likely to get more attention by the many sexist people in society, especially by the sexist males. In my opinion, that Pessl is young and female is more likely another reason why she's getting attention and NOT why she's being slammed a bit.
TD: Kate Moss looks awesome, giving the lie to the BBC boob's "ageing disgracefully" blurb.
The Helmut Newton model doesn't look implanted to me, just powerful.
TD: By the way Fran, what makes you think that the Helmut Newton model might not be an intellectual of some sort, or perhaps even a good writer, and how on earth could you tell just by looking at her?
What does being an attractive woman, or a young(ish) adult, or having bare breasts in a Helmut Newton photo (I love Newton's work, which for me is usually ironic and witty and about power of one kind of another) I ask for the umpteenth time here, have to do with one's writing?
If a ravishing 27 year old male beauty was writing the hot new novel it would remarked on but there is no fucking way it would be the same kind of issue.
TD: Again Fran, what makes you think I'm not taken seriously as a writer? Because there's a picture of boobies on my blog?
Why do I have to worry about an association with sex or sexiness descreasing my ability? I surely don't worry about it, becasue it surely doesn't.
Do you think men sit aroung hand wringing about what other men will think if they write about or reference sex? They surely don't.
Whether you are a male or female, or an eighteen year old pole dancer at The Lusty Lady, Fran, what you wrote is the opinion of a granny.
Ed: This is a hot thread. But can we at least all agree that gratuitous boobies have no bearing on a writer's ability? I know many talented writers. Some of them have gratuitous and even delectable boobies (including some men). But there is no correlation between this anatomical feature and their talent!
TD: Awesome post, Ed. Long live great literary boobies!
And may all your threads be hot.
TD: If Pessl [sic.] serves to help realign the standard of what a novelist is and looks like and what women are expected to naturally achieve without its being treated as extraordinary that she made it all by hewself with her own widdle hands to any degree, that's a big reason to give her a few points of extra credit in my view, as it makes the book a sort of cultural event, for better or for worse.
That said, it will be a great day when nobody gives a shit if an attractive woman wrote something and she is reviewed exactly like everybody else without it being an issue.
I'm old and ugly and therefore perhaps unfit to judge, yet I would still like to announce myself an advocate of young and pretty creators of both genders, as this seems the wise and cosmopolitan thing to do.
At the very end of this immense discussion, long after the main combatants had retired from the blasted cratered field, Odie emerged to ask, well, what was the thrust of Chaos Theory? The title of the book implies a science angle that would appeal to Odie's son. The last, somewhat forlorn statement is, "After reading this discussion, it is still not clear to me if there's any science in the book."
In cyberspace, some people actually do care about the book qua book.
“Complex and Cool”
Tom McElroy of the online alt-weekly Newspeak gave his tribute to Duncan and Blake on July 21. It was quite sad, he wrote of how both of them were among his favorite contributors to the culture.
Es responded, “Tom, that is a great blog - maybe, unfortunately, was a great blog. I suppose, in an odd way, this is a reminder that huge talent and considerable physical beauty are no protection against depression. Which is no consolation at all.”
Vitro Nasu’s administrator ran a now-poignant image of Duncan and Blake listening to each other’s hearts, and wrote of exchanging e-mails with her, and quoted a graph from a Staircase entry comparing “ongoing illegal harassment of Wit” by the government or its hirelings, to the F.B.I’s spying on actress Jean Seberg, due to her Black Panther affiliations. Art Fag City 's Paddy Johnson noted, “While Duncan showed outward signs of suffering from mental instability on her blog, it should be noted that she did believe that both her and Blake were being stalked.”
Journalist and historian Ron Rosenbaum was taking his morning coffee in a Starbucks, reading the New York Times, when he happened upon the article about the Duncan suicide and Blake’s disappearance. He went almost straight away to his blog and titled the entry, “Astonishing, Troubling Blogger Suicide: A Web-based Mystery?” Readers who came to his blog were figuring out how to knit the story together from various swatches of information, just as he was, and offering Rosenbaum at-the-moment hints on direction. He wrote:
"I knew one of them. Well I didn’t know her, personally, but I felt I knew her from two years of reading her blog The Wit of the Staircase.
Her name was Theresa Duncan and she was the intellectual glamour girl of the web. Brilliant, erudite, beautiful (she looked like Kate Moss who was, unsurprisingly one of her obsessions). I loved her blog I knew when my brain was weary with the conventionalities of news and politics on the Web, tired of immersion in my own work I could always find new intellectual and sensual stimulation in The Wit of the Staircase. And by sensual I don’t mean the glamour shots of Theresa, which she understandably had a weakness for, but that she was devoted to articulating her passions for sensual pleasures—her posts on perfumes for instance were sublime renderings of the wordless in words.
She had directed an admired short film A History of Glamour, she had a boyfriend, a rising star artist named Jeremy Blake, whom she often collaborated with and promoted. She seemed to have everything. And now they’re both dead."
Rosenbaum, like a growing number of self-directed sleuths participating in an actual inter-active death-and-disappearance mystery, searched for auguries and portents in Duncan’s blog and other materials. His subsequent posts provided a comforting voice of querulous reason. Even Rosenbaum, though, by 4:24, July 21, was given to remark, “I should note more disturbing stuff has come up I’m trying to figure out how to evaluate.”
Rosenbaum’s Sunday, July 22 update added elements that would take hold in the mushrooming Ducan-Blake blog-flash mob community. He utilized suggestions made by those responding to his musings. These included drawing a line between Duncan and the poet and suicide Sylvia Plath, but with greater and recent resonance, the May 23 suicide of poet and teacher, 40-year-old Sarah Hannah. Duncan quoted Hannah in a Wit post a few days after the poet’s death and a few weeks before her own. The poem is titled, "The Colors Are Off This Season."
Hannah exhibited some characteristics associated with Duncan: intellectual adventurousness, an appreciation and even celebration of pop culture, a perceived fierceness of spirit. This association would receive greater attention as the hours and days unspooled.
Other bloggers put up images of Duncan, Hannah and artist Anna Gaskell together and pointed out how, at least in the few pictures that could be gathered online, their facial features appeared to resemble each other. This added another layer of the inexplicable and eerie to the mounting and confusing collection of information. Little of it brought anybody closer to the facts of the case.
Theresa Duncan (above left), Sarah Hannah (above
right), Anna Gaskell, (right)
Nancy Rommelman on her blog wrote of Duncan as a filmmaker “and writer and all-around brilliant person” and how Kevin Roderick introduced her to Wit of the Staircase. She found it easy to read, despite the multitude of ideas it presented, whether about books and physics, perfume and art. Duncan didn’t settle for easy answers.
“Duncan was also a babe; complex and cool,” Rommelman continued, “and someone that, one of these days, you’d inevitably run into.” Writer Kate Coe commented, “She invented Mimi Smartypants! Her blog was all sophisticated and some what [sic.] eccentric, but her games for girls were brilliant.”
Responding with their sadness on July 22 on Art Fag City were Spencer Mack and Blake Robin. Mack was heartbroken and hoped that the enormous missing pieces of the story would soon surface. Yet, he added, “These two beautiful people had the ability to threaten some to say the least. This case deserves an through [sic.] investigation to rule-out any foul play.”
Robin, known also as "Baron von Luxxury," a San Francisco musician and DJ, expressed his grief about the death and disappearance of his friends without mitigating circumspection.
"I am so very very fucking sad to lose two of my favorite people on the planet. And I am so angry with their many tormentors who subjected them to absurd amounts of mental anguish.
You people should be ashamed of yourselves for all the energy you wasted. Theresa and Jeremy will be remembered long after you are forgotten."
LAObserved’s Roderick stated it plain, “A medical examiner in New York told perfumer Anya McCoy that the autopsy results will be known in about six weeks. McCoy says that Jeremy Blake, Duncan's longtime boyfriend, found her dead the night of July 10. She left a lengthy note. Blake is still believed to be missing in the ocean off Rockaway Beach.
Duncan will be buried tomorrow at the Lynch and Sons Funeral Home in LaPeer, Michigan. Donations in her name to the Whitney Museum in New York "are greatly appreciated."
“Suicide would never be on their to-do list.”
As WitnessLA’s Celeste Fremon would decribe it, “the New York Times and other New York papers finally managed to slap themselves awake” a full 48 hours after the initial news wafted off perfume of life.
On or about Saturday, July 21, the New York papers gave somewhat disjointed accounts, and Ron Rosenbaum expressed his dismay about both Duncan’s weird death and Blake’s strange walk into the ocean, and the at variance newspaper accounts.
The DTFM didn’t get this until late, and didn’t do a very good job, and bloggers said so. First the New York Times item read rather stilted and odd, as though the writer hadn’t time to explore the matter too well, while the Daily News was closer to the situation and gave quotes, though it repeated an early UPI report that perhaps got whose ex-girlfriend was whose and when reversed. The paper made Duncan the “former girlfriend” whom Blake found inside the E. 11th St. apartment. The Sunday, July 22 New York Post introduced into the equation a note Blake put atop the pile of clothes he left when he strode into the water off the Rockaways.
Quoted in that piece, too, was a friend of the couple, Blake Robin. His remarks about the deaths careened around the blogosphere and received varying interpretations, not all of them favorable. Robin found it difficult to think of either Duncan or Blake killing themselves.
“Suicide would never be on their to-do list,” he said. “ The narrative of the wallet and the clothes under the boardwalk, it’s like somebody writing a cliché, it’s not them.
“It would be embarrassing to them. It seems too calculated for the most uncalculated people. I can see some teenager in Idaho who listens to Marilyn Manson doing this, but not them.”
“To research this is to not do it justice.”
At 12:21 a.m., July 22, on-line journal-keeper Jon Perez placed his reflections under the heading, “The demise of burning people.”
"I first saw the story in an article under the heading “art” in the NY times. At a time when I could not decide what was more important to me, the morbid prose of scholarly articles, or the pithy reviews I found in magazines and blogs, each catered to a distinct audience, the story of the double suicide of Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan stung my heart, deeply and eternally.
If you google the wonderful cultural critic Theresa Duncan, you will find her title The Wit of the Staircase, an impressive rattle on the world of art, post-war fiction and poetry, as well as cultural critique. What strikes me is that people of such magnitude and intelligence actually live in the stained corners of this falling world, and most often disappear from sight, leaving only suicide notes and the faint trace of genius. From an entry on Wallace Stevens to random notes on Kate Moss and a penchant for post-war feminist archives, to a review of Michael Hardt’s Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. Oh God, what am I to make of this—it is better than academic jargon and has a sustaining hipster-aesthete philosophy that follows the visual arts, photography and popular culture, speaking of Benjamin’s homogenous time and Julie Christie in the same breath. Is this the ultimate domain of genius today? It is said on one entry April 18, 2007, [Ed. note: the post was actually May 4, 2007] that she was living in an attic of an old church in the East Village, looking over the 1600s garden of Peter Stuyvesant all summer long. The tragic end to that summer took place July 10 that left off the Top Ten books about Poets, gleaned off the UK Guardians book review to include pale fire.
This represents that strange future of genius. To research this is to not do it justice."
The bloggist Pilgrim at enthusiasm: a novely choking hazard expressed the sensation of a virtual loss of and kindred spiritedness with someone he’d not ever seen or spoken to.
“I never met Theresa or Jeremy; we never communicated directly in any way whatsoever. But from the first time I read Theresa’s stuff, I felt an entanglement with her. Early this year, for a period of weeks, Wit managed somehow to refer to my current preoccupations before I’d written about them myself — over and over again. It was spooky, but it felt good, like some kind of affirmation. I would have liked to have known her, and now I never will.”
At Gazpachot,(nom-de-blog for Paul Gachot, founder and chief editor of Point Magazine, the photography journal) the post was titled “The essence of wit…” He expressed his admiration for Duncan and shock at learning of her death, and Blake’s apparent seeking to join in her in the cold waters off Rockaway Beach.
"It's an epically romantic end. Who can say if it's true. If some one you only know through the internet is said to be dead, then you morn the virtual loss.
I didn't know her, other than a few short emails, but like many, I was stuck on her ability to make you yearn for a world as vibrant and original as hers - A secret Lunar Society, a great home in Venice, a well turned phrase, a great picture choice, a coveted item, a sapphic celebrity crush, a flare for stylish elitism. Honestly, her sometimes haughty voice, like most haughty voices, seemed put on, and often made me wonder what (kind of pain) she was trying to cover up. Anyhow, I'll miss her passionate assertions and I hope she's found some peace."
Kissyface at Charm School was prescient in a June 1, 2007, posting, “The Ill-Posse Comitatus” that reported the interview with Father Morales. The occurrences of intervening days would turn infamous the conversation between the minister, the artist and the writer.
Kissyface wrote at the time, erring on the marital relationship of Duncan and Blake, "I can just hear the reactions now and I await them with bated breath (or should I say, 'baited'), but please, Gentle Reader, take in the entire piece. Whether you agree or not, I doubt you can deny that the level of discourse is elevated and offers some very interesting insights. Also note, as background reference, that Theresa Duncan and her husband, the illustrious artist, Jeremy Blake, have been monitored by the FBI and allegedly harrassed [sic.] by the Church of Xenu. You can read up on that in her 5/13 post, The Trouble with Anna Gaskell.”
A dense thicket of to-ing and fro-ing about Duncan’s views, and even her sanity, followed that June 1 posting. They trailed up to the dark days of mid-July when Kissyface, sounding exasperated, wrote that she might classify Duncan as “highly contentious.” She gave am emphatic reiteration, however, that admired Duncan, whom she considered as “aggressive, complex, bright, creative, lovely.”
"there is a lot of evidence that she was quite aggressive with people in her real, non-cyber life. it has been stated in the other thread by people who claim to have known her. i know someone in the art world who had that experience with her as well.
one more time, if i haven't said it enough: i don't know if she was ill, i don't know if she killed herself, i don't know if someone or thing or group was after her, any of these things or even a combination is possible. she very well might have been ill. if she killed herself, she most likely was. and/or maybe she was 'pushed.'"
On June 21, Kissyface stopped by Gazpachot and read how the woman she respected had taken her own life, and that Blake was missing. Her reacting entry, "The Wit is Dead: Requiem for a Blogger" was written under a “Caveat and Disclaimer” that admitted her thoughts were calm but “ muddy, inchoate, incomplete. But, I am sober as a judge.”
She’d been wondering about the sudden and surprising end of entries at Wit of the Staircase because “the authoress generally apprises her readers of trips and other absences.” She referenced the ominous poems and passages on recent Wit entries and wondered aloud about whether if people go naked into the water because it is a form of returning to a natal in utero state.
“Whatever you felt about the opinions of Theresa Duncan, posted here on June 1st, 2007, her seeming paranoia and "conspiracy theory" bent (interestingly, the papers are whitewashed of any mention of the harassment Wit claims she and her longtime lover suffered.*), I found her an extremely intelligent, artful, bold and beautiful woman. I did not always agree with her manner, and was often uncertain of her point of view (which is in no way meant to denigrate it, rather as an expression of my own ignorance and anlage opinions), I held her in very high esteem.”
Some 74 comments came after Kissyface’s June 21 posting. An anonymous writer placed one of the densest whose remarks are presentiments of what emerged in later journalistic accounts.
“This is very sad, but the thing that everyone (who actually knew them) seems to be glossing over, forgetting, etc is their behavior leading up to this. they were increasingly paranoid and lashing out at old friends - accusing people of being scientologists, etc. people who had been friends of theirs as they steadily alienated more and more friends. to call them darlings of the art world is somewhat outdated. they were fascinating, but they were also not well.
anyone surprised by this should really take the time to find out what was going on in the last months of their lives. Theresa was a very charismatic, but very mentally ill person who dragged jeremy into her increasingly paranoid delusions. I don't think either of them was a bad person, but i think that because he was so accustomed and convinced by her, he never took a step back and realized that maybe she needed help, rather than more fuel for her rages.
They hurt alot of people and i know those people now just feel very sad for them - wishing they'd known that this was borne of mental illness not just random visciousness. I know that writing this will make everyone who wants to romanticize them angry, but i think it's important to take it into account. and no, I'm not working for the government or the church of scientology. thanks.”
A little later, Darryl Mason reacted to Anonymous, saying that this kind of smear was exactly the kind that Duncan claimed was being run against her. Mason wrote,
"Having read the Frank Morales interview from late May in full, Theresa sounds neither mentally ill or suicidal. She is alert, thoughtful, passionate, well-informed, displaying her knowledge of art history and philosophy and showing a deep sense of caring about what is now happening to the United States. She's hardly alone in believing that the United States under President Bush is becoming somewhat of a passive dictatorship. Even the Washington Post regularly writes on the executive orders that will allow him to seize control of the country and all its military and National Guard forces in the event of a major terrorist attack, or even a pandemic flu outbreak.
None of the stuff she discusses, with Frank and with Blake, is exactly a secret. It's everywhere in the media today.
If 'Anonymous' is unwilling to use his/her real name, then why should anyone believe those claims leveled against Theresa?"
Charm School’s June 21 comments section deteriorated into a war of Anonymouses that caused Vemiron to wade in with responses marked for assorted posters:
I agree, the Circle of Anon posters is creating an echo chamber of "mental illness! Mental illness!" which is, I suppose, the intent of the posts.
A Different Anonymous (... cute):
no, saying someone has a mental illness without proof is most definitely a character smear. The fact that you're doing it after they're dead and unable to defend themselves is downright slimy. If you're gonna accuse dead people of mental illness you damn well better have the courage to sign your name, chickenshit.
you're full of accusations, but short on proof. How did you manage to get harassed by a couple that you didn't even know? Where are these phone messages? If your life was hell for a year, why didn't you call the cops? Will we be able to find a police report to back up your claims, or is this just more anonymous internet smearing? How convenient that your enemies ended up dead. Quit sucking Xenu's cock and get a real job.
Kissyface emerged as a referee and with wry humor tried to coax the debate to a civil level.
"First of all, I don't see what's so wrong with cocksucking, and why it is usually men, the obvious beneficiaries of such sensuous activities, who use that term in such a denigrating fashion.
I am sure the Late Great Theresa Duncan, sensualist that she was, would support me in my assertion that head is a fine, useful and natural pasttime, end of story. Would that we had more of that and less hostility to our bretheren (and sisters).
As the saying goes, Women need to fuck the war out of men. Or something like that. (of course, I fully understand that y'all use it in a homophobic way, another 'ism' I really have little time for. The homos ain't goin' away, and you might as well leave peaceably amongst them. They are even viable and contributing members of this society. Why do you care so much where they stick it? My father would probably still be alive today if y'all weren't so vested in smearing the gays. So, thanks for that. GET OVER IT.)"
But it wasn’t that simple or easy. Another—or the same—Anonymous made a lengthy response, which in part read:
“For good or for bad, the social circles that she traveled in take a certain acceptance of mental instability as a sign of an artistic personality, rather than as an example of psychological unwellness.I have witnessed her pathological inability to deal even so much as what others might perceive as, at worst, mild criticism by her paranoid behavior.
And serious critcism brought on a whole other aspect to her personality that was much more agoraphobic and viscious. She behaved in a way that exhibited itself as if fueled by a narcissitc [sic.] persecution complex rather than demonstrating a rational healthy response that others may disagree violently without losing one's own face... she recoiled as if others' opinions occurred as if at the expense of loss of her self rather than as a sincere but individual disagreement.”
“Why is this sad?”
The lack of understanding about how the couple could’ve come to this dire end, and the number of unnamed sources in news accounts, compounded mystery with frustration. People formed their own opinions, and weren’t hesitant about loosening them into the world like dark carrier pigeons. “I’m not sure there is an end to a story like this,” wrote jane on the site of gamegirladvance.
Counter reactions to accusations of paranoia and isolation brought counter reactions to the counter reactions, and they were vindictive and gloating, as though the Duncan and Blake had somehow given a personal affront. This was exhibited during July 22-23 on the Free Republic website where LdSentinal could spare no sympathy for the pair, calling The Wit of the Staircase, “Her anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Bush, anti-Cheney, etc. blog.”
Yehuda followed with the snide observation, “No doubt overheard in some wannabe-chi-chi art bar tonight:
“So sad, they had so much promise...
“Yes, I wonder when their gallery will start looking for replacements for the fall season...maybe I should call their curator Tuesday?
Hey waiter, I have been waiting 3 minutes for my Grey Goose Negroni!”
Joining the chorus of one-upmanship in vehement style was dennisw with his remark, “Wages of sin are death.... dittos for stupidity.” Then dennisw added, “Mixed up confusion childless artistes. The other white meat. Muslims are laughing.” Trailerpark Badass confused Duncan with Blake, saying, “Perhaps now her art will be worth something.”
A cynical Jim C214 chortled, without knowing where or how Duncan and Blake had lived, “Another East Village I’m too cool for the world snob is gone. You can hear the scramble for the rent controlled apt. that is vacant now.” The commentators further observed that these would be two less votes for Hillary Clinton, while another argued because they were dead, “their registrations can be ‘voted’ as many times as necessary to win!”
Even here, though, respondents professed that the New York Times article was confusing, “I’m not sure if 2 are dead and one missing then had to read it a few times,” as Gobal2010 said. Incredulous Joe admitted to reading the article twice, “but do they mention how she killed herself? I thought it odd that they didn’t.” Joe also said, “May God have mercy on their souls. The article, the blog,...it all just seems like a vacuous waste. How sad for them and for the state of art in the world today. It probably would have been better for these folks if they had gotten jobs like everybody else.”
Horse_doc explained that he’d known some of these self-tortured artist types and usually had no patience with them and he, at least, showed an iota of unintended compassion, “I was going to make a cutting remark, but after scanning her blog, I just feel sorry for her family.” This was extended by mad_as_heck:
"I know a lot of people just like these too. They never know a moment of joy or peace in life. That is the price of the left’s century long attack on the foundations of western civilization.
The world in which the modern leftists live is so empty, so cynical, so devoid of meaning. I thank God every day that I was never sucked into the vortex of nihilism in which these pathetic people are trapped.
These two poor lost souls are in my prayers."
Notjustanotherprettyface summed it up, “This sounds like a Law and Order episode!”
But the negativity wasn’t restricted to where it most would be expected to arise. On July 21, at 5:16 on the gothamist site, an anonymous guest quipped, “Damn, Better buy up their art quick. I’m sure the prices will skyrocket. And the romantic notion that he died after she died will probably appreciate their works a thousandfold. I’m gonna save up and buy some of his work.” That afternoon, other similar remarks cropped up. “does that mean there is an apartment opening in the east village?” at 5:24 p.m.; “kooky hipsters what a way to go. It’s a long way from the east village to the far rockaway,” 6:06 p.m; “Why is this sad? An innocent person murdered or raped is sad. Not 2 people at the pinnacle of their lives who committed suicide,” 9:15 p.m.
On the MetaFilter community blog, beginning on July 21 at 9:37 a.m., passersby put in their thoughts, inaugurated by Scram in a rather ebullient post that explained, “The cops are not releasing the notes left by the late, pretty people, but a clue might be found in the paranoiac screed Duncan posted on her blog in May, which Blake’s ex-girlfriend, the CIA, FBI, Church of Scientology, Jeff Gannon, bloated plutocrats and many other bugbears of the psy-ops crowd were put on Duncan’s mental merry-go-round and given a real strong spin.”
Geoff, at 9:46 a.m., “Bohemian love is best.”
Delmoi, 10:01 a.m, “It seems like something out of a bad web-based alternative reality game.”
FrmBrooklyn, 11:01 a.m., “I know it seems like a spectator sport, as they might have had lives that were not conventional and thus (somehow) oipen to objectified discussion, but the bulk of their joys and sorrows were not that far different from yours or mine. Some people are pretty fucked up by this whole thing. Just let them lie quiet for a little first, huh?”
During the course of the day other commentators took Scram to task for perceived inappropriate sarcasm. He returned in the evening to defend his position and apologize for offending anyone. He called himself a survivor of the curatorial world. Scram explained that he’d tried reading Wit of the Staircase after the blog was praised by writers Adrienne Crew and Kevin Roderick, whom he respected. But he found Duncan “pretentious and vapid.”
He went on to say, “I find the confluence of art world politics with Mae Brussell-style paranoia fascinating and sad. I can see these two poor people working each other up to a state of constant high pitched terror, until they finally snapped. And I’m not snarking about that at all.”
On July 22, Chris at escapegrace composed a small epitaph for Duncan. She often looked to the Wit as someone who had all the things Chris wished for. “She seemed to live this charmed, glamorous, sensual life, but now she’s dead by her own hand and her partner of 12 years, artist Jeremy Blake, is missing and presumed dead. There is so very little that makes life less difficult.”
Writer John Stodder on his From The Desert To The Sea…didn’t know Duncan, either, b enjoyed her use of language and pointed observations. A week earlier, he’d received a request from a Duncan admirer asking if he might be able to confirm the rumor of her death. The connection was through Kevin Roderick, who’d given positive mention both to Duncnan and Stodder’s blogs. “This thread led me on a search through the Internet to find out what had happened,” Stodder said. “The facts are unbelievably sad and frankly bewildering.” He quotes newspaper accounts and other bits, and concluded that he needed to know their story. “I can’t stand the silence,” he said.
The rings of disbelief broke across even into the Sheila Cameron design forum where a topic, “Suicide Deaths of Two Artists CO$ Related?” started at 11:23 a.m., July 22. There, Moira of DreamDogsArt wrote, “There are also those who believe that anyone who was blogging as frequently and enthusiastically as she did would not take her own life.
"They think there must have been foul play. No one would abandon such a blog. I, of course, am obsessing about her little Yorkie seen in recent photos. How could you abandon a dog and a blog and a handsome talented boyfriend? She must have been in a very dark place.”
[Moira's concern for the Yorkie wasn't displaced, as events showed]
Back at Gothamist, on July 22, one Lance, describing himself as “your humble working boy” didn’t see what all the blogospherian sturm und drang was about, nor that the couple deserved any sorrow.
"WOW, that blog of hers really shows what a paranoid nut-job she was. Perhaps if she and her little man had been more liberal in their application of tin-foil to their hats and windows they would be alive to blog more fairy tales about imagined conservative conspiracies. Crazy New Yorkers kill themselves, this is news? Or is this just an attempt to drive up the price their works command by sensationalizing their broken-brain actions?”
“good riddance,” was all Poster #16 would say, at 10:56 a.m.
Poster #19 perhaps as a joke, or not, it’s difficult to discern, speculated on a theory that seems right out of a fractured conspiracy tale of Robert Anton Wilson, that perhaps neither Duncan or Blake were dead. They’d staged an enormous ruse, in collusion with numerous members of their identity group. “Is it a major piece of performance art? Are they on the lam, one step ahead of the CIA Scientologist biker mafia?”
Blake Robin, or one identifying as he, responded.
"Yesterday morning I learned about losing 2 of my best friends in the world. I walked across town to Feigen hoping that it was, as comment #19 suggests, all a ruse.
I hoped that upon presenting the gallerists there with a wink and a secret password I would find T+J (and T) tucked away in the corner, safe from further damage (from which tormentors I'm not quite sure, though I'd been hearing an earful about a handful for some time).
But they weren't.
I really really can't believe they are gone. Theresa did not deserve the harrassment that drove her to the edge and over. Jeremy did not deserve to lose his best friend. I wish he hadn't walked into the water as a result but I can't imagine the anguish he must have felt. I still believe he will be back soon.
In the meantime a dearly felt RIP to my darling sister-manquée Theresa L. Duncan.
And I'm still hoping i just had the wrong password."
II. “Mystery Loves Company”
What forms of deviance and social control are constituted in electronic forums? Furthermore, what is the relationship between on-line deviance and the behavior or the general climate in the "real world." To what degree is the media simply a reflection of culture and to what degree does is enter into a potentially transformative or dangerous dynamic with social action? As electronic interactions become more and more "real" with the spread of "virtual reality," is this dynamic affected? Do the "safe spaces" of electronic mediums generate transformative on-line interactions that transfer to the physical world? --"Only Connect"--E. M. Forster In An Age Of Electronic Communication: Computer-Mediated Association And Community Networks by Mary E. Virnoche and Gary T. Marx.
“I imagine this will go down as one of the famous mysteries of the art and literature world. Twenty years from now there will be folks claiming to have spotted Blake in a cafe in Budapest. Or maybe Blake himself will come forward in three or four years with a story about his greatest and most avant-garde work of art to date.” -- Novelist Michelle Richmond, July 25, 2007, on her San Serif blog.
“Well, I knew [Theresa Duncan] and I’ve got an assignment from the Weekly to write about her. Much of what’s been reported isn’t true, and nearly everything on line isn’t true. I’m moderately horrified at the number of people who write about her and Jeremy who never met them.” – Kate Coe, July 27, 2007, 7:50 p.m., on Witness LA.Com
“…Whatever interests they may have had, the suicides are not really all that astonishing. I talk to people who have tried it every single working day and the explanations are usually very mundane and sad.
As for the “paranoia”, please consider some alternative explanation. There are plenty and maybe they’ll show up in the toxicology report – CB, July 31, 2007, 6:15 a.m., DreamsEnd (blog)
I think we all want this to be more than it is for a myriad reasons. I think we’re all creative and smart and that means we read into things and enjoy it and our brains work on overdrive. We quickly pass over the obvious or the banal because we assume it has just GOT to be more than what it appears to be; this simply CAN’T be all there is. We want to believe that, so whether we know it or not, we fuel and perpetuate that. I posted once before that I’m sure if I died suddenly or mysteriously, lots of things would come to light about me that people would be surprised of and never knew. We all have skeletons in the closet and things that happen to us on a daily basis that we keep to ourselves. Mystery loves company. Without us, there’d be no wonder, no romance, no crypticism. Right? -- GothamInsider, August 1, 2007, 2:23 p.m., on DreamsEnd, (blog)
Spurred on by a multitude of interested bloggers, two new articles from LA have effectively disassembled Theresa Duncan’s public image. She never received the degrees she claimed she had; she took full credit for collaborative work; her done deals were more like the half-sincere moviemaker promises that even most of us get from time to time. The crumbling resume at the bottom of this deep, moving tale is full-on pulled-rug zeitgeist; we can each count on a similar deflated ending. _-Smoothjazzy, Aug. 2, 2007, Gloss, "General Synaesthesia: Orphism and Jeremy Blake," (blog)
"To Bizarre For Words"
“Another Creative Genius Gone,” is how the off-topic personal posting was headlined at the marketing blog, Brand Dialogue. Editor Eric Weaver paired his sorrow with the loss of New York-based FCB Interactive Creative Director Mach Arom who died in August 2006 while engaging in humanitarian efforts in Rwanda. Weaver had known Duncan from her time at Magnet Interactive. A writer contacted Weaver seeking further information about Duncan, and that was the first he heard of her death.
Arom like Duncan, was “ talented, opinionated, and extremely creative,” wrote Weaver, at 1:20 a.m, July 23.
Another person from Duncan’s game-design career was heard from when Harold Goldberg placed his remarks VH1’s Gamebreak page, under “Theresa Duncan’s Suicide.” Golderg had met her “way back in the day” when she was devising the acclaimed Chop Suey. This wasn’t just another kid’s game, Goldberg recalled, but new, different, magical and hip.” In this interactive storybook, you become part of the world of Lily and June Bugg and even the ancillary characters blossom with Duncan’s unique creativity.”
Goldberg could describe the loss as “staggering,” first Duncan, then Blake, in a way that Goldberg compared the tragedy to a “modern day Romeo and Juliet.”
He remembered her as smart, thoughtful and deep. Goldberg couldn’t fathom what went through Duncan’s mind as she contemplated ending her life. He groped for a literary comparison, “David Foster Wallace talked brilliantly about what leads up to the deed, the awfully complex thoughts, in ‘Oblivion.’”
Perhaps lost in the heaving seas of referencing sites and notations throughout the blogosphere was one of the most emotional recognitions of Duncan’s death to appear during this period. Jenn Frank'a blog, on the on the gaming community's 1up.com of July 23, was “Remembering Theresa Duncan.”
She intended to post at a later time, but, “It fell out of my hands. I have been punched in the heart and the brain.”
Just a day earlier Frank and her friend MJ were hanging out and talking about the early days of interactive gaming. The most important representation of this that she’d ever owned was Chop Suey. In reference to this, Frank showed to MJ a back issue of Shift titled "Theresa Duncan: Silicon Alley's 'It Girl'."
Frank enthuses with unabashed adulation that is youthful, endearing and with great fortune for Frank, unspoiled by revelations of intervening days.
“And I was like, isn't she beautiful? Can you believe she made this game? Because it was a little like holding up War and Peace and then revealing that it was written by, I don't know, just someone really unexpectedly pretty, instead of Tolstoy.”
With the dedicated intensity of those who are passionate about semi-obscure subjects, she wonders aloud why more people didn’t know about Theresa Duncan. And, with that same lack of foreknowledge, would that events had played different, and we would’ve all known a good deal less about her -- at least in the manner we do today.
But this is Monday, July 23, and Jenn Frank can write without a trace of attitude:
“I'd looked everywhere for that game. I'd been trying to locate a copy, if you can believe this, since I was 15, when I first read in a then-new magazine that it was the greatest videogame you could ever give a girl. And I found a copy ten years later, and I downgraded my QuickTime and ultimately discovered that Chop Suey--a storybook game with painted scenes, hilarious characters, and a narrative driven by the warm, twee crack of David Sedaris' voice--was maybe one of the most enthralling and meaningful game experiences of my adult life.”
The game had no goal except to explore art, at the player's preferred pace, without the need to rack up points or defeat hordes of slobbering ghoulies. Chop Suey was designed for little girls in a far-off time, the mid-1990s, when, said Frank, people “used to remember that making something for the consumption of children is noble and formative and important!”
“And I had this idea pent up inside me when I was 15 that I wouldn't be Roberta Williams,” wrote Frank. “ I wouldn't be Jane Jensen, someday I could fashion myself into a Theresa Duncan, and make unbelievably edgy punkass art games, every one a love letter to my own younger self and to the things I had loved and to the things that, in my own childhood, I'd missed out on.”
But that day, she is at work, and she’s reading the VH1 game blog, and the New York Times, and Frank is writing, “How is it that, somewhere between the eye and the mind, things stick in the throat?”
Frank explains that as the appreciations and eulogies tumble across the Internet, gibberish phrases like Chop Suey and Mimi Smartypants will surface because “they mean mysterious, important things, which are things that Ms Duncan threw herself into, and things that meant so, so much to people and to children and to me and to some of my loved ones.”
She apologizes for a “tacked on” reference to Jeremy Blake, and concludes, “I am so, so affected by this because we are living in a world where people can just slip through like that.”
The post was trailed by 22 comments, including this one, the next day, by trickynishidake, who said, “Sometimes I wonder if the brightest people in our world get so tired of the rest of us self-absorbed idiots that sometimes they just check out. A touching eulogy and no place more fitting.Nice, Jenn.
Los Angeles screenwriter and journalist Clark Perry wrote with shock and sadness in his posting of July 23 about Duncan and Blake. He’d discovered The Wit of the Staircase just before moving to L.A. in 2005. Perry knew Duncan only through her beautiful words.
He remembered, “Clarkblog linked to it from Day One. It was well-written, challenging, and sometimes dizzying in its stew of subject matter. It was her writing that reassured me the City of Angels was not a vapid cultural wasteland, but a rich and vibrant landscape full of sexy secrets, mighty magic, and multitudes of interesting, creative people. Theresa wrote eloquently and often movingly about perfume, poetry and politics. And because Theresa obviously found her to personify something funny and freaky and feminine, Kate Moss was a recurring figure.”
San Francisco writer Kim Askew on her kimsaid told of how she corresponded with Duncan and met her once, at a reading. “I always felt so privileged that she read my blog,” Askew wrote, “ and a thrill of excitement when I opened an email from her. I admired her so much.” She went on to say,
"[Duncan] was intriguing, incredibly imaginative, and dark and I was forever awed by the fearlessness of her more personal posts. I'm always tentative about revealing too much, fearing rejection or criticism I suppose, and I marveled at her ability to share a part of herself with her readers, with me. Her life seemed to be very glamorous, otherworldly, and brave, something to watch and revere from afar. It's strange to read someone's thoughts, fantasies, and whimsies every day. Of course you begin to feel as if you know them, even if you really don't. I had been checking her Wit of the Staircase blog daily waiting for her next post."
San Francisco DJ Blake Robin, also known as Baron von Luxxury, posted a wrenching personal testimonial about his association with the couple. His images show Duncan and Blake in a larkish mood, on a tour of a vineyard, and it is one of a very few of the Internet images associated with the suicide event that shows Theresa Duncan smiling.
i have known theresa for 13 years
she was like an older sister to me
i was there the night she met jeremy
who became like an older brother to me
if you’ve read theresa’s blog ‘the wit of the staircase’
you’ll know how erudite, witty and gorgeous her writing and thinking were
well, so too was she as a person
hyper-intelligent, hyper-beautiful, hyper-ambitious
not to mention generous and loyal: fiercely loyal
but she scared the hell out of some people with her sharp tongued rapier wit
i’ve seen so many people turn on her
i’ve seen so many people afraid of her
and i’ve seen how they harrassed [sic.] her
literally to death
you people should be ashamed of yourselves
theresa had no power
she just wanted her art to be in the world
New York-based artist and illustrator Kim DeMarco at her one place used a still from the short animated film made by Duncan and Blake, The History of Glamour, a mockumentary about an arts scene based on Andy Warhol’s Factory.
Duncan had hired DeMarco in 1999 to create illustrations for the Oxygen network’s animated series Closet Cases. “I worked with Theresa for several months -- at her office in the Puck Building. I really admired her tenacity and irreverence [sic.]. She was Jeremy's greatest advocate -- and he, (from what I witnessed) was most certainly hers.”
Australian writer and psychologist Alison Tuck learned of Duncan’s decease on July 23. Tuck felt as though she’d lost an important and significant ally. The image Tuck chose was of Duncan regarding the viewer with an expression of sophistication and weariness, and of one who must be reckoned with, an index finger placed on the thumb, as if considering riposte. (The image was made when Duncan and Blake were deep into a round of November 2006 New York parties)
On her Woman and Child First, Tuck told of how The Wit of the Staircase was the first blog she’d ever encountered, and it became a guide star for her own efforts. She exchanged the occasional e-mail with Duncan. After July 10, Wit regulars like Tuck noticed that Duncan had neither posted of her absence or let readers know of her whereabouts, as was her custom.
“I have no idea of where to place my grief for the loss of her. I never met this woman but I knew her and respected her greatly.
Selfishly, I don't know what I'll do without her. My brain needs that stimulation and I know many others would feel this as well. Her comments on women, art, culture and politics were always supremely interesting and intelligent. A laugh out loud response was common for me.
How do you reconcile the loss of someone you admired so much - in cyberspace?
My first response was a predictable human one, shock. After a while, I stopped myself from thinking it was unacceptable to mourn for a cyber person, a virtual companion. Then I was able to shed some tears.
The world has lost one of it's greatest female thinkers. At the age of 40. And damn it, I've lost a friend.
So what will I do? I will keep blogging, that's what.
My sympathy and condolences go out to all her loved ones, her real life companions. But also to those like me: her "children and sisters" of the Staircase.”
Jonathan Perez with a fresh-struck The Palm At The End Of The Mind tied up various strands, let out via Ron Rosenbaum’s blog, titling it “Theresa Duncan, Sylvia Path and Sarah Hannah.” The images of the couple with a stethoscope and another of them at an arts function are by this point in the telling, iconic. Perez’s entry is as though he were messenger who’d run up several flights of stairs to burst into a New York apartment where were gathered those who expected from him the news of the day. He delivered in a breathless, jumbled manner.
"This is really too bizarre beyond words, a friend of the recent double suicide of Duncan and Jeremy Blake, a talented young art couple who recently both died in New York, is unfolding a story like a bizarre best seller with an all-too literary plot. He claims that Sarah [H]annah, an earlier suicide and who was a poetry prof from Emerson was the ex- of Jeremy Blake, and another ex-mentioned in the article, (skewed, and smoothed out beyond belief) was interviewed upon the moments after their death, according to which she claims she was with Jeremy until recently. Now, much is unconfirmed, and this author for one just feels heartbroken over the story, and my heart and mind goes out to the depth of this moment—words cannot capture when two flames burn out so brightly.”
[The name of Perez's blog was taken from a volume by poet Wallace Stevens with the same title and given an eloquent review by Duncan, July 5, 2007 -- five days prior to her death. The Palm at the End of the Mind was one of a group termed by Duncan as, " Top Ten Books by Outsiders." The Stevens portion reads in part: "Stevens was a unique and independent pedestrian amidst the world's flux (or perhaps it's more accurate to say the "flux of being" disclosed as the permanent world), and the enterprise was to fix it poetically in the intensest language. Stevens is the creative outsider operating alone."]
Ian and Star, L.A. multimedia makers and gallery operators, were “sorry to hear about Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan.” While brief, the entry is interesting because Star knew Blake better than Duncan, through the film Punch Drunk Love and the Winchester trilogy.
The image used was of the couple dressed for a Halloween party as the near-incestuous brother and (adopted) sister, Richie and Margot from the 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums. Much could be read into the picture at this moment in the tale, if one sought to engage in parlor game analysis.
For a party image there’s not much evidence of revelry. The pose is contrived and rather glum. The attitude is similar to many such images of the pair taken at various social functions, except in this case, they are in costume – and among Duncan’s personal passions was fashion, the nature of identity and masks, physical and psychological.
The character of Margot, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, was a playwriting prodigy who matured into a morose, secretive adult with a smoking habit she seeks to keep hidden.
Richie, played by Luke Wilson, was a tennis champion who suffered an on-court mental collapse the day after Margot married the eminent and strange neurologist Raliegh St. Clair (Bill Murray). Richie’s wife died in a plane accident and that warped his ability to move forward and he runs his two sons through manic safety drills. He also drinks Blood Marys throughout the movie. Despite no longer playing tennis, Richie keeps wearing his tennis togs.
Much or little can be made of their Halloween costume choice, but the two bright and troubled Tenenbaums could find true happiness only with each other.
"Don't Try To Understand."
The personal revelations blossomed throughout the blogosphere, while the day’s biggest news was delivered by Tyler Green at his Modern Art Notes (MAN). He’d first noted that he didn’t intend on linking to any of the Duncan-Blake newspaper articles. “Too many conflicting ‘facts’,” he said.
Then that afternoon, Green reported that the Washington D.C. Corcoran Gallery of Art announced it would go forward with Jeremy Blake’s planned October exhibit, Wild Choir: Cinematic Portraits by Jeremy Blake. Blake grew up in D.C. and attended his first art classes at the Corcoran. He was to have an artist-in-residency berth during the show.
Not clear at the time of Green’s posting was how the exhibition would differ from its original concept because at least one of the planned works was not completed, a 'portrait' of Malcolm McLaren titled Glitterbest.
Two other 'portraits, Reading Ossie Clark, sequence above, and Sodium Fox were finished. Green explained, “People involved with the show stressed to me that it is too early to know what happens next in regards to their expected future communications with the Blake family and so on.
For some reason, the Washington Post had thus far written nothing about native son Blake, or Duncan.
At Artnet.com writer Charlie Finch presented one of the most thoughtful and personal appreciations to emerge from the blossoming Duncan-Blake Effect, titled "Theremy."
He asked to be forgiven his self-indulgence as he was still trying to comprehend the suicides.
He described the couple acknowledging him as their friend by waving in the distance from across a meadow.
"Such were to me Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake, longtime lovers and creative collaborators who committed suicide one after the other this month.
I hardly knew them personally at all, but their praise of my writings, in Theresa’s blog and Jeremy’s oft-encouraging words, has been the purest stream and the whitest gold to me, much as other fans who read me from afar, such as Ashley Bickerton, David Bowie, Eva Lake, Barney Conrad and John Waters have kept me going. Forgive my self-indulgence. I am trying to parse these suicides."
He related how the personal impact had brought to his memory past deaths and dangers of his life, and ended with:"A few weeks ago I screened Punch Drunk Love for some of my family. They didn’t like it, they didn’t get it. Like the best of Luis Buñuel, the message of Punch Drunk Love is "this is the way life is: LOOK." That’s Theresa and Jeremy waving across the meadow. They seem to be saying, with half-bent smiles, "Don’t try to understand."
[Image of the Hotel Chelsea, The Wit of the Staircase, June 17, 2007]
"The glow of the moon looks different tonight...sorrow."
On July 24 an emotional appreciation of Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake was appended to the comments section in the Hotel Chelsea’s blog article about former resident Duncan's death:
The glow of the moon looks different tonight... sorrow... What a truly sad loss... for Life for Love for Art and for Art History. Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake were both exemplary artists.
I am struck also by the post by Miss, as well as the comments of her friend, which Miss shares with us. I know nothing of the causation of the acts, only the affectation.
So true, so deep, somehow, this loss, as deep or deeper now than many and most other I have ever felt. As deeply as if I have never felt... though I have...
And I have felt deeply...
In any place or time, suicide is such an incongruent event compared to the living of the lives of such a pair of souls as these. So bright, so now sadly fleeting, so intensely intent about their intentions and their work that one would count themselves remiss if they did not feel a brother and a sister lessened; one is somehow cheated, not by their final choice(s) even, but more so by the grind of this world upon those creatives made in the image of The Creator, whatever one's beliefs... they were creators, happily, sung, though sadly not nearly sung enough and sung so until now after, and I feel this same way for all those amongst us who go unsung.
As a former east village artist of many years and an admirer of both of their artistic paths, I can only say as so many others can only say that I, too, am inconsolable. There is no more for myself, still in the land of the living that they have now departed, to say... their work will speak for them and for us and for all forever.
God Bless You Both, Always,
Hallah John Paul Boltik
To come: The Los Angeles Times awakens and causes controversy, a body is found, the plotting about the purported plots gets thicker, deeper and crazy byzantine.