Gaze Capturing and Contractual Expectations

5 Aug

Last weekend, my friends Jena Osman and Amze Emmons were in town for the Printers’ Ball.

Please do not think that I  hyperlink their names for braggy, name-dropping purposes; I am simply hoping that you will take a look at the many cool things that they do.

Meanwhile, can you believe that I walked right past Matt Damon when I was in New York in June?  Seriously, I was so close, I could have touched him.

Jena and Amze’s visit, just after I had written about an equestrian statue in New Orleans, reminded me that it was she who really got me thinking about public monuments a few years ago. 

During one of our visits, Jena was working on a project exploring the points of view of statues:

She constructed a  “gaze-capturing apparatus”  (a camera gerry-rigged to a pole) that could be raised to catch a snapshot of what the figure in the monument saw from its vantage point.

I was into it.  And I asked a lot of questions because I wanted to catch a snapshot of what Jena was seeing from her vantage point. 

Now, forward to my gaze-capturing efforts this past weekend:

Over a bar of chocolate (Chocolove, a love poem enclosed with each bar), I may have said that I liked the Andrew Marvell poem that accompanied our Raspberries in Dark Chocolate.   I do like it.

Jena didn’t disagree (she is polite), but she didn’t exactly agree either (she is honest).  She just kind of shrugged.  She said (with apologies, Jena, for this distorted image of your three-dimensional thoughts, captured by my gerry-rigged camera of a mind):

The thing about this kind of writing is that you always know what you’re getting.  There is a kind of contractual agreement between the writer and the reader.  When you read a melodrama, for example, you expect the writer to tug at your heart strings.

Right.  So, I asked about the nature of the contractual arrangement between Jena and her readers.  No direct answer; just this:

The most interesting writing subverts the contractual expectations.

Literary breach of contract.  I agree.

Now, I’m thinking (this is my blog, y’know) about the sorts of expectations I have already set up in just a few essays of 500 or so words:

Yadda, yadda, yadda…literary reference (Russian, if possible)…blah, blah, blah…ambivalence…a few more words, and (tada!): sentimental conclusion about the world.

Oh, puh-lease.

My next post must be about how Zumba changed my life: all exclamation points and unequivocal enthusiasm.

23 Responses to “Gaze Capturing and Contractual Expectations”

  1. Margo August 6, 2010 at 8:12 am #

    Here comes the equestrian statueeee, prancing up and down the square!

    • Margo August 6, 2010 at 8:16 am #

      hmmm…I thought I was attaching the video to accompany the quote. But it hyperlinked to my name. Let’s try that again:

  2. M J Workman August 6, 2010 at 8:32 am #

    Marvelous, simply wonderful. I love the way you show how Jena, the poet, and you can talk intelligently while disagreeing (a little bit). Love the business about statues. Keep writin’ don’t stop!

  3. Paul Costopoulos August 6, 2010 at 8:53 am #

    Splendid and the Bonzos did tickle my funny bone.

  4. Cheri August 6, 2010 at 10:47 am #

    Interesting points of view. 🙂 I’ve always fantasized about what statues grouped close together gossip about when no one’s around.

    Where would opera be if expectations were subverted?

    • jenny August 10, 2010 at 7:35 am #


      Now I’m trying to think of operas that do not conform to a strict contract. Musically, some of the modern ones don’t, right? Until that became the new contract, at least.

      By the way, you like opera? You don’t like opera?

      • Cheri August 11, 2010 at 10:33 pm #

        My husband loves opera, so I go with him. When I look at his face enraptured by the music and the voices, I think,
        “My God, I should be loving this. What an intellectual dork I must be.”

        So, the answer? Not really, but I am trying.

      • jenny August 12, 2010 at 6:56 am #

        Nah, Cheri, not everybody has to like opera (though MOONSTRUCK makes a compelling argument in its favor). Doesn’t make you an intellectual dork.

        I’m the intellectual dork who moved to Berkeley, but not to go to Boalt. I couldn’t allow that misapprehension to go uncorrected. 🙂

  5. Andreas Kluth August 6, 2010 at 11:43 am #

    Well, I’ll be checking back in here regularly in anticipation of having my expectations subverted.

    I might add that I agree: It’s good to destabilize your readers, your audience. Not self-consciously or excessively or wantonly, but enough so that there is surprise and genuine disagreement, otherwise known as dialectic or tension.

  6. Phil August 6, 2010 at 1:23 pm #

    “……Please do not think that I hyperlink their names for braggy, name-dropping purposes………

    I don’t doubt that you didn’t. But what if you had? There’s nothing wrong with self-promotion.

    Think also that, by a person’s friends ye shall know her.

    • jenny August 10, 2010 at 7:30 am #

      You should hear me shamelessly dropping the names of all of my virtual acquaintances here in my real life. Pure self-promotion. By the way, it is very good of you to have several names that can be dropped.

  7. dafna August 6, 2010 at 8:18 pm #

    matt damon?!?!?!?!? oooooooh.

    i sat next to joan cusack on a coach flight to NY, while she was on SNL. (who new she and john would become so big?) my sister and mother got on the elevator with gabriel byrne in madrid of all places. he is soooo cool.

    i told my little guy to look for celebs on his first trip to NY – he didn’t see any. of course he’s a kid and would have plotzed over will ferrel.

    i clicked the links. i like. poet and artist, we have much in common.

    such serious responses to your topic. i like margo’s reply! (mom?)

    so try, just for one blog entry to “write like someone else”…echo. where have i heard that before?

    • jenny August 10, 2010 at 7:25 am #

      Dafna: Thank you for using the word “plotz”. 🙂

  8. Thomas Stazyk August 7, 2010 at 3:37 am #

    Brilliant subversion of contractual expectations. On many levels. For example, this is the last place in the world I ever expected to see a reference to the Bonzos! I have to confess to actually having a few of their songs on my iPod.

    But even when trying to be contrary, you’ve opened up an interesting line of thought. Doesn’t most commercially successful material (music, literature, film) have to conform fairly faithfully to some sort of contractual expectation, hench Toystory III and Shrek whatever and Garfield II?

    • jenny August 10, 2010 at 7:24 am #

      The key to commercial success IS conformity with contractual expectations. In fact, even on THIS AMERICAN LIFE, a show I like very much, there is a set contract along these lines: story that slyly subverts reader expectations at the end. Yet now I sit and wait and expect the subversion. Yuck.

      • Leo August 23, 2010 at 11:51 am #

        TAL is very explicit about their brand of story telling. They even published a (terrific) comic book about it. While I love subversion, I observe that without the contract (true in literature, music, etc.) there is no way to process the input. Re: Opera (and all music genres: typically if one is outside it, the pieces all sound the same, inside the genre there is beauty and interesting variation.

      • jenny August 24, 2010 at 6:36 am #


        You are right. The comic book is very fun.

        I think, though, that TAL could mix it up a bit more in tone from time to time. For my tastes, anyway.

        You’re also right that inside each genre (when the work is good) there is beauty and variation. It ain’t so easy making it good though, seems to me.

  9. jenny August 7, 2010 at 7:56 am #

    The spectacular subversion of (my) expectations is this:

    You generous people have taken the time to read and thoughtfully comment on what I have written.

    Thank you.

  10. Mr. Crotchety August 9, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

    While you’re name dropping, I know Timothy Moley. Well, just as an acquaintance. Timothy makes Chocolove. I know a lot more about him than he does about me. I know he likes golf, but not enough to pay very much. He likes French furniture – French like Louis the XIV. He’s generous and he says he makes chocolate for the love, not the money. Does that make me a stalker? It was always about the chocolate for me; not the poetry, not the love. I’ve recovered. I don’t eat so much any more; just m&ms mostly.

    • jenny August 10, 2010 at 7:19 am #

      Limerick-writing, piano-leaning Mr. Crotchety!

      Your Mr. Moley makes a very fine bar of chocolate, though I am a little disappointed to learn that he likes golf. You really must share these details with me selectively. (C’mon, I adhere very nicely to a well-defined $5-tomato-growing stereotype. You had to know that I do not countenance golf.)

      So, you’ve recovered? You should try Chuao’s FIRECRACKER–dark chocolate, chipotle and…popping rocks!!

      • Mr. Crotchety August 10, 2010 at 7:32 am #

        I do not golf. Let’s be clear. I don’t go for the fancy stuff, either (chocolate-wise). Only strong and dark. But enough about me. I’m looking forward to some subversion from a nice, safe distance.

  11. lyndabirde August 14, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

    Somehow I overlooked this charming blog last week, but how delightful to read your stuff. After verifying with a Russian student and a Ukrainian acquaintance that your line above does say “and all the usual stuff,” I responded that there is usually something unusual included in not-so-average Jenny’s remarks. As well, your commentators amuse me; even their names make me laugh. You could just mention their names, and I’d be giggling. Your subject matter always pricks my memory and makes me want to write, (e.g. my daughter’s 7-year-old perspective as she eyed upwards the testicles on a replica of David at the Smithsonian), so thanks, Jenny. Plus Marvell in a chocolate bar. Scrumptious.

  12. jenny August 15, 2010 at 7:55 am #

    Everyone should have a Russian student and a Ukrainian acquaintance or two, stashed away for just such moments.

    That phrase is actually a little twist on the title of a minor Goncharov novel. One of the chief pleasures of this blog is that I can do that, even if it is self-indulgent and meaningless to everyone else.

    The comments. I’m an addicted to them–here and elsewhere. It’s banter. Very nearly my favorite literary genre, right after the roman a clef.

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