June 2013

Anamaria Dobinciuc

nonfiction

Love Dog by Masha Tupitsyn

Masha Tupitsyn's Love Dog is a call to the arms of love. Love as ethics. Love as a way of being in the world. As the only worthwhile way of being in the world. It is also about loss -- because you can't have love without loss (in one form or another) and the consequent state of mourning. Cohabiting with the two big themes (and creating, in the end, an intellectually stimulating synergy): critical thinking as a way of living, thinking through books, movies and music, travels to Europe, time-jumps, the on screen versus the off screen and more.

Following Laconia: 1,200 Tweets on Film, Love Dog is the second book in a trilogy of immaterial writing, the second to be written online. It is the book form of the blog by the same title kept on Tumblr since November 2011. While some writers' blogs serve as notebooks, as a place to throw ideas around and see what sticks, Love Dog (as a blog) has been a little more than a simple notebook. It has been the actual text, the one meant for publishing, gradually revealing itself. What the reader of the book gets is a little more structure, a more clearly defined and delineated world and an end. Although: this end is merely illusory. Firstly, this is because the author favors the fragment and the only order indicated is simply chronological. There is no beginning, middle or end, so the reader can jump anywhere in the text. Secondly, the text hasn't really stopped -- it continues online.

The beginning is an illusion as well. Love Dog is the continuation of what is starting to take the form of a lifelong text, reprising certain themes and concerns encountered in Tupitsyn's previous work. It's in direct conversation with not only previous (Beauty Talk & Monsters, Laconia) but also forthcoming books (Screen to Screen). This in addition to the already-existing dialogue between the books, movies, and songs she quotes. The connections, associations are often unexpected, thus all the more electric; dispersed and yet focused. There is also the absorbing dialogue between the author and fellow writer Elaine Castillo: letters, Tumblr posts and reblogs, videos that create stimulating musings on love and friendship, red and green in cinema and in the world, trains as jumping through time and train stations as waiting. When Elaine Castillo sends her pictures of empty train stations, this is what the pictures inspire:

Desire is sometimes an empty space. You in an empty space and an empty space in you. Growing full, growing empty. Trains pull in and out. Arrive and depart. Where and when do you get on? Where and when do you get off? I'm talking about timing. About knowing when and not-when, but also about going where you are supposed to go once you are going there. The ethics of timing is also the beginning of ethics.

But desire alone -- a commodity in capitalism, political in feminism -- can become a void. The type of void that becomes numbing, that cannot be filled. So, when the author talks about desire, we know a transgression is implied. That transgression is represented by love. That transgression is when a truly radical act takes place.

Love Dog steers clear of any fairy-tale-like clichés about love and the romantic. True to her feminist vision, Tupitsyn challenges the constructs of masculinity and femininity, the roles expected to be performed by each gender respectively. The perfect male lover finds its representative in Say Anything...'s Lloyd Dobler (famously played by John Cusack, about whose on-screen persona Tupitsyn has written extensively). Lloyd Dobler, for whom loving his girl is enough. Lloyd Dobler, whose presence is felt in Blue Valentine, in Ryan Gosling's character, for whom loving his wife and daughter is enough. It is enough because it is already more than what others are capable of doing and feeling. As for the female lover, she is not passive and subordinate here. On the contrary: she is often the one to take charge of things. Bresson's Lancelot du Lac is recurringly quoted or referenced throughout the book, and yet: in Love Dog, it is the woman who becomes the knight. Here, the spirit of Kathy Acker's Don Quixote -- women as knights -- is being conjured up. Representative quotes from Don Quixote, as re-imagined by Acker, can be found in Love Dog:

Finally Don Quixote understood her problem: she was both a woman therefore she couldn't feel love and a knight in search of Love. She had to become a knight, for she could solve this problem only be becoming partly male... This is the beginning of her desperation to find love in a world in which love isn't possible.

And also: "she conceived of the most insane idea that any woman can think of. Which is to love."

Throughout the book, there is both a severe critique and a lament of the loss of a time when something like love and holding on to love wasn't such an insane idea, when people were still willing to do the necessary work required by true love, by love as ethics. But as Tupitsyn notes: the twenty-first century "is all about not holding on and always letting go." The lament is extended to the differences between on screen and off screen, echoing this phrase from Beauty Talk & Monsters: "There's a big gap between what people will let themselves experience in a theater and what they're willing to feel in real life."

In Claire Denis's documentary about Rivette, Le Veilleur/Jacques Rivette -- The Night Watchman (also referenced in Love Dog), the French director is in conversation with the film critic Serge Daney. Talking about the silent films of Griffith and Stiller, from 1915-20, he says: "They showed such a strong view of reality, which seemed possible at that moment, but later -- as if there was a state of innocence that subsequently, irreparably disappeared." This seems to apply to the way Masha Tupitsyn writes about the American '70s, about the loss of a consciousness, the loss of a possibility that the '70s projected both on and off screen. Rivette continues: "The more time goes on, the less innocent we become. Here we should use the great phrase of Kleist's: 'The only way to innocence is the long road via knowledge.' That's our only chance."

As a multimedia text, Love Dog is not afraid of showing its shadows, its ghosts, its step-by-step construction. It's "a book that shows its skeleton" (from the introduction to Laconia). It's a multimedia text that shows its shortcomings as well: a few YouTube videos featured in the book have already disappeared. The links to these videos have become digital ghosts. But is this really a shortcoming? The spectral nature of this disappearance is actually in tune with other intertextual ghosts, with other disappearances that the book deals with.

Just as it has been the case with Tupitsyn's previous work, reading Love Dog has the power to alter the way one looks at different elements of media. Seemingly random phrases, images, and sounds will resonate and will send me back to the book to reread fragments of it. I will certainly not be able to look again at anything red or green and not think about this book.

Love Dog (re-) introduces a firm voice coming from someone whose values get stronger as they become weaker, as they fade out from our culture. Someone who is very much aware of this dissolve.

Love Dog, by Masha Tupitsyn
Penny-Ante Editions
ISBN: 978-0985508548
280 pages