The Blue Raccoon

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Writer’s note: Greetings, billion-eyed audience. For the constant readers, please note that these shorter posts pertaining to the Duncan-Blake Effect are designed with your comfort in mind; both for online reading and printing. In addition, the outside world trundles quite merry along, pressing its dire business and on occasion it requires my participation.

Thus, there will be pauses between brief entries.

If you have cast back into previous posts, or printed them out, note that I have in recent days returned to and buff and replenished. I'm still probably remiss about some of the early reaction posts.

And, now, the current installment.


Seven Kinds of Denial Just to Get Out of Bed: Part VI
July 26, 2007

The weirdness doubles. ["Staircase Encore," March 9, 2006]

I. “..the most selfish and cowardly act…”

A writer for The Economist attended a recent Daily Kos convention that a much-publicized panel of major Democratic candidates for president. The observer found the event far less incendiary than right-wing pundits predicted. He or she agreed (tough to ascertain because the Economist pieces aren’t bylined, hence, anonymous), yes, that at times those who post on the political forum can live up to the worst satire of online behvior as, “vicious, shrill and sanctimonious.” But, gathered in one place, they exhibited, for the most part, adherence to acceptable social etiquette.

This perhaps supports a contention that online anonymity doesn’t just promote but excuses and provides the opportunity for anti-social display. The mud-slinging comment lists are masculine, aggressive and vindictive. That one person can hold a principled view in opposition to another is not acceptable in vast quarters of online culture. Nuance and subtlety are regarded with as much suspicion as art.

The Duncan-Blake Effect provides ample evidence for the worst aspects of the “vicious, shrill and sanctimonious.” These characteristics weren’t presented by Jen Graves, writing her July 26 arts column for the SLOG, the group blog for Seattle, Wash.’s The Stranger news weekly. Graves started with, “I’m Too Sad To Tell You.”

The emotional piece and the noisy comments that followed describe the baroque qualities of the Duncan-Blake Effect at mid-passage. The remarks attached to Graves’s piece clunk and bang like the cans tied to the back of a just-marrieds car. Graves first provides a summary of the events, then reflects:

At first, the story of Duncan and Blake was blurry and sad. It looked like he had walked to a watery death out of mad grief over his lost love. It brought to mind Ophelia, without the floating body. The 35-year-old Blake was just missing, gone, disappeared. I thought of Bas Jan Ader, who, for his final work of art, sailed out to sea alone in 1975 after his friends sang him a romantic shanty, and never returned. He, too, was never found. (Jan Verwoert has a really terrific recent book about Jan Ader’s alternately heartbreaking and rationalistic, fake and real, art.)

Yesterday, the LA Times published a story titled “The Apparent Double Suicide of Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan.” Evidently, the lovers had been convinced that Scientologists were after them. Friends and family who expressed doubts about the pair’s claim were shut out. Blake and Duncan became something like a cult of two themselves.

And then comes today’s news, linked on Artsjournal, that a fisherman has found a body in the area. The story is all talk of physical details: a body marked by “brown eyes brown hair, but no scars, tattoos or any other distinguishing features except for several teeth with gold crowns,” the investigators’ search for “any dentists or doctors who might have worked on Blake’s teeth.

Blake’s best-known work outside the art world, where he has shown at big museums and even has a major exhibition scheduled to open in October at the Corcoran in DC, is the abstract color sequence he did for the film “Punch Drunk Love.” The sequence is set right into the middle of the movie, like a visual intermission from plot. The movie has been underappreciated, but it is a thing of strange, popping beauty, full of rage and uneasy love. I’m going to watch it again and think about the media image of Blake’s blank skin and gold teeth.

Ecce homo responded to the Graves piece first with anger, then explanation and some vulnerable qualities masked by the bluster.

The opening salvo: “So, someone artsy fartsy freaks kill themselves and I am supposed to be sad? I have other stuff to worry about.

People who aren't selfish and egotistical enough to kill themselves and hurt anyone who cares about them, are much more worthy of my care. Some selfish fish with a blog about how important [sic.] she is, kills herself and a flash in the pan with a debut in an adam sandler movie off's himself, I don't shed a tear.”

When ecce homo got his predictable upbraiding, the response proves that, just is in offline life, one never knows the imprints left by experience upon another person:

Actually, I have known 4 people who have committed suicide in the last 8 years, and never once have I deprived my family to attend a "memorial service" for them.

The most selfish and cowardly act a person can do is kill themselves. Period.

The not unusual ecce homo attitude is scattered throughout the Duncan-Blake Effect; that is, little compassion for suicides. At times, it seems those respond with vehement objection to suicide fault the couple for their artistic character. This is expressed as that artists are destined kill themselves unless they wake up from grandiose delusions, cut their hair and get a real job like the rest of us. This gets to a root core of the general U.S. attitude toward art as a life’s pursuit: that art is a waste of time and money; and, anyway, artists just insult the nation, government and working people. Artists, this line of thinking goes, are at best malcontents and at worst, subversives.

Ecce homo’s view, however, is perhaps the most direct statement rooted in (presumed) personal experience to appear in this material.

Ecce homo is lashed for his inconsiderate words, though by the standards of some comment rosters, the fracas is almost restrained. In the end, ecce homo at last gets around to saying something more about his views.

Suicide is a personal decision, but one that effects so many people. In my mind, there is no excuse for it. After living through the aftermath of it, I have strong feelings on the subject. One of the people I knew that killed themselves was a young gay man who couldn't figure his way in life, despite a supportive family, church and extended support system. He destroyed his father and mother, and hurt so many others. Incredibly selfish and shortsighted. In fact, in every case, it wasn't the least bit admirable or romantic.

I suspect you are far too young and have lived so little in life to understand how destructive it is.

Here is the sound of bitterness, anger, and unresolved connections to four people whom ecce homo perhaps knew well, dead by their own hand. Ecce homo is tired of suicides.

Graves’ article also draws some criticism about what is perceived as a false comparison between Blake’s suicide and the process of Bas Jan Ader. Come again wrote:

“That's the second time I heard the comparison to Bas Jan Ader and I don't really get it, other than the fact that they're both artists and died in the water. Blake committed a deliberate suicide. Van Ader was "making art". If any reference to another suicide needs to be made, I'd say that Ray Johnson's would be more apt. Coincidentally, a gallery mate of Blake's. He, also, walked (or dove) into the water deliberately to die.”

Star Turn For Estrada jeered, and alluded to how tragic demises that approach some level of wider awareness provides pulp for the mills of popular culture:


Wait, back the truckup.

Scientologists were trying to kill them?

So they killed themselves?

I can't fucking wait for the Lifetime movie.”



“ you can imagine, the blogosphere has many comments..”

Karina on July 26 updated the community of, a film and culture forum, with links to assorted news articles. She praised Ron Rosenbaum’s reports and shows the Internet using itself as a self-referring tool. She added, “I do think there is reason to speculate that at the time of her death, Duncan was not working on an of the film projects that she’s been previously linked to…Duncan has no IMDb profile, which is odd for someone who was in business with a major studio’s indie arm.”

Karina also wondered about the lack of progress on films she’d mentioned in passing and the meaning of her announced July 8 trip “visiting the Eastern Seaboard on Important Film Business.”

Dr. Hex, Scholar of the Strange and Mysterious, reported on his blog the news of Duncan and Blake. He noted that, “Theresa was a great friend of this blog and her insight and friendship will be missed. My condolences to her friends and family. I have no idea how long her blog, Wit of the Staircase, will remain up but, for now, her charm and erudition are there for everyone to see.”

He referred the curious on to Rigorous Intuition, Ron Rosenbaum and SmellyBlog. “As you can imagine,” Dr. Hex said with understatement, “ the blogosphere has many comments on Theresa and Jeremy's untimely deaths, as well as some questions…This news has depressed me tremendously. Goodbye, Theresa. Thanks for everything.”

On Thursday, Dr. Hex, “Gathering my wits about me,” told of his processing the deaths of Duncan and Blake. He with the typical online suspicion of mainstream narrative pointed out how Blake’s Wikipedia page underwent an editing from a New York provider address. Mention of his decomposed body getting found received a link to an article “that includes no such information and as of this writing” no confirmation of the body getting pulled from the ocean on Sunday was Blake’s.

The Wiki entry also described Duncan’s descent into “hard times.” Dr. Hex retorted, “I'm unaware of any information that Theresa had fallen on hard times. For most people, a loving relationship, the respect of your peers, and a desirable New York City address do not constitute hard times. If so, please, send some hard times my way. Is this inside information or someone trying to shape the narrative?”

Lord Balto responded that to him it seemed someone connected the dots and he didn’t see that is skull-duggery, and the reference to “hard times” a supposition. Balto didn’t say that this proves the strength and weakness of the massive interactive online reference, that its entries can be altered and that its credibility is, at times, suspect.

“Or the Scientologists are trying to preempt consideration of any involvement,” Balto goes on, “though this has to be a very low probability theory. What does need to be looked at is whether someone else was stalking them and trying to make it look like the Scientologists. They are a handy cover.”

Then Professor Hex presents the visual quirk in the story, pointing to the apparent physical resemblances of Duncan, poet and suicide Sarah Hannah and Duncan. “Could two people resemble each other any more closely without being twins?” Dr. Hex asks. “Is this some kind of cosmic joke or is there a deeper message?”

A commenter drew a link to “Anna Daskell” meaning, Gaskell, and said, “Three sisters.”

Raul responded, more even-headed that one might expect, “ I'm guessing if you find some other pictures of the two, there will be some obvious differences, but who knows? That is a remarkable resemblance. And, Anon, as far as Anna Gaskell looking like them, no, she doesn't.

Eric Swan, writing with a chuckle, “Okay..I'll bite. The girls are twins separated at birth. But ..where will that take you?

Professor Hex replied, with a trace of a facetiousness, that he didn’t have any idea and that “...the only thing my fevered brain can come up with currently is some sort of Boys from Brazil (Girls from Guatemala?) project to create a legion of brainy art chicks from the DNA of Jean Seberg (who also died at 40).

Raul, actually the more pictures you see of the two women the stronger the resemblance gets. It's extremely weird.”



“…the trouble with over-identifying with the canker and the rot…”

The July 21 posting at Charm School had in the meantime generated some 82 comments, and, as part of this discussion, worthy of some attention.

A cluster of anonymous commenters presented views of Duncan and Blake as talented though too unhinged to seek help for what became an increasing habit of wild paranoid fancies and the kind of aggressive harassment of others that they themselves conducted on others.

Duncan is portrayed as a Mad Woman of Venice Beach, a strange and wicked siren who dragged Blake down with her. Then, Blake is defended as one who loved her, and as a consequence, became blind to her defects and unable to either help her get out of her dive, or to pull him away from her.

Then another group insisted on pushing the Church of Scientololgy-mind control angle, and would not be persuaded.

Parsing one anonymous poster on this blog, from another on a blog elsewhere, is nigh on impossible without some kind of statistical analysis of word choices. Suffice to say, a veritable anonymous chorus began here, among other blogs.

Besides detractors, there were those who wrote to underscore the talents of the couple and implying that perhaps sinister forces led them to their ends.

One of the more intriguing comments came from citizen h who apologized at the top for his long and rambling contribution. The commenter recalled who two colleagues of his, from “Navigator traning” killed themselves for unknown reasons.

Then, he told of his father given four months to live by his oncologist although he continued to suffer for six long years. He didn’t surrender despite great pain. He continued tasks around his house, maintained is independence and focused presence until his last year. The final illness took firm hold as his abilities diminished and depression mounted.

“He may have attempted suicide once! I came home on leave to discover a bullet hole in the dresser in his bedroom, explained as a misfire while he was cleaning the pistol he kept in his nightstand. I have handled firearms long enough to know that nobody with two brain cells to rub together tries to clean a loaded weapon.

I said nothing of it, but noticed that whatever had happened one lonely night in my absence, his optimism had increased, as with one who looks over a tall cliff only to be relieved by stepping back from the brink. He had weathered his personal storm and decided to fight with what he had left to him. Later on, he would see stories on the news of assisted suicide debates and one case where a band in Florida tried to generate press coverage by announcing that a terminally ill cancer patient would commit suicide live at their concert. His reaction would be a snort of contempt and a few words he learned from me: "Suck it up!"

That said, I saw what he faced and how he decided to keep going. I can't help but wonder what would push people not facing such dire prognoses over the edge. Theresa and Jeremy took their thoughts, their creativity, their wit that we were privileged to share, and where they have gone we cannot go.”

Then came an anonymous commenter who tried to stave off theories of Church of Scientology hit squads and such. Duncan and Blake, better known now dead than when alive, exhibited irrational behavior for a long while, and their mental state was more the cause of their deaths than outside sources.

“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 long reply to various comments from kissyface concluded with, “Even if Theresa Duncan really was ill, and I don't doubt the possibility of that, she was pushed partly by what is festering with the world. The trouble with over-identifying with the canker and the rot is that it tends to eat away at you, too.

Still, I'd hate for all her ideas to be dismissed for that reason. She was way too relevant for that.”

Darryl Mason jumped into the burgeoning fray with a sharp rebuke of anonymous posters and also corrected some assumptions.

“It's far too easy to smear the deceased with Anonymous comments. Unless the person is willing to use their name, such smears should be ignored as fictions. Close friends and family members may confirm these claims, but until they do, it would be best to write them off as the character smears that they are.

KissyFace - as Frank Morales points out in the interview, most of what he discusses has been declassified and is available online to peruse. You just need to use some critical Googling skills.”

The anonymouses held sway, and he absurdity was pointed out by Steven Augustine, “It's getting rather comical/weird when we have an anonymous poster addressing another anonymous poster as "Anonymous"...

And an Anonymous replied with a convincing and civilized tone, in part, :

“…And about the idea of a "smear": if you knew Theresa you would realize she wouldn't give a crap if you said she was mentally ill.

We're trying to show some balance. People have heard the details of what happened and if you just read her blog, you would think this doesn't make any sense. Theresa's tragic flaw may have been that she could write cogently, even brilliantly, and still be leading a very troubled life, one headed for disaster. She wouldn't be the first cultural critic or intellectual to have had this flaw.”

Kissyface waded in – part of her commends was quoted in an earlier section where – saying that she’d witnessed Duncan lashing out on this very blog, and that she knew of someone who knew them from social circles, who told Kissyface that Duncan was “an aggressive personality, among other positive and complex traits. He actually called her a nam [Ed. Note: unfamiliar with this term], but I won’t repeat it. My own brief correspondence with her was nothing but positive and I don't think that death suddenly relieves the deceased of any criticism. It's easy to glorify and gloss over the character and life of someone who is gone, but it isn't reality. Nor does it help the people who grieve. Nor is it love. We have to accept and even embrace all the shadowy aspects of the people we encounter, admire, love, or we are not living truthfully or lovingly.”

Kissyface went on to explain that Duncan was “hitting the bottle a bit hard,” and that this was apparent, to Kissyface, in photographs of Duncan. Her apparent craziness could be explained by the drinking. In addition, Kissyface wasn’t convinced that Duncan “hadn’t external impetus for ‘paraonia.’”

A “New Anon” responded some time later:

“I'm saddened and confused by all of this. You can't diagnose TD as having a drinking problem off the cuff, just as you say others can't say the same for her being mentally ill. Just face it - no one really knows. If she was either, only her closest circle knew (if she allowed a close circle, it could've just been JB), and you probably won't hear from them any time soon.

I can only conclude that all here are working through their confusion, and if long time bloggers, are giving Theresa a proper Blog send off, by writing your hearts out.”

Steve Augustine objected to the free bandying about describing the couple as suffering from mental illness, and that it smacked of a smear job.

"Mental illness" is a very broad term more anecdotal than clinical in common usage and any commenter who actually knew Duncan and Blake should be careful how they characterize friends (artists whose stock will rise or fall in the afterlife according to public perception) who aren't here to defend themselves.

Duncan obviously put quite a lot into "The Wit of the Staircase" and doesn't it do her ghost a bit of a disservice to imply that the thing was the work of a lunatic?”

The Anonymous Chorus, which brought up good points to the discussion, was nonetheless blurring. One theme that comes through all the dialogue is that mental illness doesn’t make a person less intelligent or valuable. It isn’t a slur or criticism.

Such as this excerpt, emphasis and paragraph format mine:

“Upon reading the seizure as actual fact, as opposed to theory, of Theresa's paranoia by fellow internet conspiracy theorists (rather than appreciating as an example of her own idiosyncratic emotional response) some of us are less than eager to attribute our experiences with her to our own identities. Why?

Because our interactions with her specific paranoid and narcissistic personality has soured us on giving names where others who didn't happen to personally experience her self-aggrandizing tantrums may be eager to follow.

Those experiences have caused some of us to become less than eager to encourage more of the same scattered attacks directed at us personally. 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…”


It disturbs me to read some of the criticisms of Theresa, as if Jeremy's suicide was all her fault. Anon. 8:39am wrote: "dragged jeremy into her increasingly paranoid delusions." Jeremy was very, very perceptive and well-read about mental illness. I don't think he would have let Theresa "drag" him into anything. I believe he was very much in love with her and probably had his own unresolved mental health issues.

And this – distinguished by a paragraph format.

The reason I and maybe others have said "mental illness" is not to discount anything Theresa wrote, it's because her personality and her behavior undermined her own cause. She drove people away, broke off from people who might have tried to help her.

If you were one of those who was at the wrong end of one of her tantrums, you could only have one conclusion--this is a horrible, nasty, egotistical person.

And if you were lucky enough to have avoided those attacks, you might think she was a brilliant, beautiful wit.

She was both, I guess, but if she had been able to deal with the demon that caused the former, she could have done a lot more. And I wouldn't be writing this today.

And, later, bold emphasis mine:

When I first met her I thought that half the time she was being colorful and ironic with her stories about the Scientologists out to get her or the academic cabal of incestuous professors who were somehow maligning her. Now I understand that she may have believed these things. Part of the reason I couldn't really believe her at the time is because I couldn't understand the logic of her stories and why certain people would want to expend the huge amount of energy required to target her. Ask all of yourselves: can any of you really figure out the chain of logic in the Anna Gaskell story? Specifically, why Theresa herself would become such a dangerouus target?

Or, to use another example -- I'm sure some of you read the May 10th posting about Francis Ford Coppola and his vendetta against her after she wrote a mixed review of "Lost in Translation." You can read it ironically and thing she's having some fun... but I think she meant it seriously. Does anyone think that Francis Ford Coppola would really send Italian goons to hunt down Theresa for a years old bad review? And this example is one among many I could cite.”

Kissyface engaged Anonymous 454/513 and Anonymous 544, so-called for their initial time signatures, the resorting to names over numbers, she said, seemed more like dystopic literature.

But, she agreed in a long and involved post, that if Duncan was afflicted by personality disorders she would’ve been very difficult to help, emphasis and breaks mine.

Part of what is galling about alleged conspiracy theories is that they remove the control of our lives from our own hands, heads, hearts. The discomfort of that dynamic (the tension, the anxiety) makes them neither true nor untrue.

But what is true is that in any given situation we have control over our lives, maybe not the total outcome or material circumstance, but we can choose to stay in the moment and as close to the truth as possible. We can also dream better dreams and act accordingly, to change what exists 'out there.' We can choose sobriety, honesty, goodness, health, art, charity, love. To me that is sanity. I think The Wit might even agree.”

The Anonyouses expressed their appreciation for Kissyface’s open-minded discussion of the situation, though several posters were also eager to push the mind control and psychological operations theme.

Russell Cutts, wrote:

“Here's a thought for everyone reading this blog including those Anons who are so transparently trying debunk any notion that T&J might not have taken their own lives.

Investigative Journalism is a form of art and the beautiful Ms. Wit of the Staircase was takin on the shape of something akin to Mae Brussell. Mae Brussell exposed "conspiracy" locally, nationally and internationally. Was she a "paranoid nut"? I bet Rose Kennedy didn't think Mae was a nut when her husband was shot and killed one week after Mae personally handed her a note in the airport telling her it was going to happen.

She clearly knew what she was talking about when she referred to Jeff Gannon as a mind controlled psychological operative and even more clearly understood that there was nothing accidental about the "accidental" deaths of Gaskell children's parents.

More than likely the same can be said about the death of Wit.”

To which an Anonymous stated:

“One thing I would like to point out is that callng [sic.] Theresa an investigative journalist seems like a mischaracterization. Comparatively little of her blog had to do with conspiracies, the federal government, scientology, etc.

Her written work has been more aptly described as cultural criticism. I haven't statistically analyzed her blog but my feeling is that there was a lot more on Kate Moss, perfume, historical miscellany and Jeremy's art than there was on conspiracies.”


More to come, soon.

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