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Selections from a Prison Journal

1/14 ... sitting in white-noise, humming of fluorescents, copy-machine, this machine and those inner building rumbles that are right at the lowest ear levels, the most noiseless space in prison, early morning library, and how strange it all seems. Pulled out of life over a decade ago, so long in fact the reality feels mythical, i now find self having similar longings for my cloistered routine, and at the same time find it's fast becoming a dream, as if the separations, --cut so cleanly--are a demarcation and all that was is no longer. Mostly am aware of the solitude of existence and how much it mirrors organic life which has a continuum outside the materials of reality.

I persist in my being and yet the past falls away, because with each move i'm allowed nothing of the past --not even a scrap of paper, no clothing, nothing--i come into each situation as if newly born. It would seem;that the objects themselves carry memory, and without them the sentiments are as fleeting as thoughts. And while it's disjointing at first, even fearful, the isolation and closedness of the system enhances the sensation of security, much as i imagine it feels to be in a spaceship, completely dependent on a huge, vast pool of support staff never seen, or working in the field, --some remote back-country-for a major corporation. I am aware of my keepers in the abstract and so used to them that their system is more valid than the personalities, yet it's the personalities that i think i should miss more than i actually do.

It's the drifting of the survivors alienation, crowded into the modern world, whos past only exists in their memories. Until this 'trip' i had not recognized it quite so clearly, it's strange to not feel for what i spent 10 years doing, and can see how easy it is to dispense with all connections. Until i experienced it, it seemed to me that those that left were callous, where it only means they too were drifters. No wonder the the concept of purgatory is closely connected to prison, it's not so much the deprivation of things as it is of time and how the circles of experience change without overlap and then disappear.

What remains as real is those more distant connections, The Real World, and even as it too is memory, it's validity hinges on its multiplicity, it's complexity, which carries validity in spite --and maybe because--it's ungraspable nature more closely mirrors organic life. My difficulty is that it's edges have faded, what's able to filter through the razor-wire is cheap/tawdry commercial images, messages designed to accentuate the already apparent differences inherent in incarceration.

Besides those slick/false ads, only voices and the written word has reality, small portions of the humanness and diversity that exists outside the fence. To be so removed from society while at the same time bombarded by a narrow segment, a rigid bureaucracy and it's partner, the commercial interests, is overwhelming. Since the isolation is real it's impossible not to doubt, seeing that self-perception is dependent on multiple viewpoints, and out of that flows the fears, then the resignation, then the experience that all is solipsistic.

Between letters and the phone there is just enough human information to subsist on, keeping me humane. If it, i think, the reason i can write this, see this; it is that i carry that part of me along when all else has fallen away, otherwise who am i writing this for, communication being the linkage to thought, --without one neither would exist. Even in this distracted solitude, the buzz of white-noise, even with over a decades distance, i am pulled back, disregarding prison, to a world that feels fresh.

1/18 ... Top' o the barely afternoon, during this week t'is all the late shift, next week the early... but i've just 'assigned' to kitchen duty, and don't know exactly what that means ... we shall see, we shall certainly see, this may be the last long letter for a short while.

... one thing i was thinking, during my last with Lynda she said her 'friends' (which means my sister/brothers) had asked if i were going back to my old ways when released. The problem is it's kind like the old adage, 'when did you stop beating your wife', as no matter how i answer the question i'm doomed to failure, just by the asking it implies what they think, and if i answer it's as if i was placating either them or being untruthful to myself. When i say "No" there's this silence at the other end and god forbid if i said "yes" (although that's the answer they believe) and there's no point in trying to convince, it only compounds. But i do think about it --not the returning to old ways but the question--and it seems to me so obvious why i'd not go down that path. Sure i think about it, what i think is that it's like double banana splits eaten at midnight, i'm not interested anymore... and i've had, still have the opportunity, i chose not. Now to be completely honest, there are times i regret it, but what i regret is that i hate knowing limits, knowing there's a whole section of possibilities i can't partake, and i can't because of my own propensities and that the laws are as they are... i detest this life more than i detest my inability to have total freedom, i suppose i chose the half rather than the none. Now this disturbs me, i don't like to admit it but it's the facts, and if i live in this world/time and have to make choices, they're clear-cut. The other side is nowadays, since the pharmaceuticals have usurped and controled the whole field, it's easy to go that route, i'd say (since part of the underlying was to feel more comfortable) when and if i come to that impass, i'll just see a doctor, living within the norm. Saying that, i'm appalled at the state. What it means is that there is a set narrow standard, and the larger the statistical sample the smaller the variance allowed within a population, in otherwords, no deviation, it's a damn shame, (not the drug question but the behavior standards) and i think society loses when they curtail differences, certainly they 'lose' tolerance (which i guess no one nowadays thinks much of anyway). We are living in a theocracy, bordering on the fundamentall like the Iatola Komani's.

... but/and not only does that drive me to feel as if i should rebel, it also scares me... and i suppose i'll live with the self-understanding that i'm, in the end, a chickenshit, but i'll be alive with limited freedoms. The whole idea is one i don't like to consider, i don't'like that my system's such that i overdo it for the same reasons i don't like the state putting rules on me, i abhor limits and then they become challenges. All of it makes me aware of my age and station, my past and how i've chosen to deal, and i also can see that my shyness entered into the picture, shyness coupled with my desire to be looked up to and be cutting-edge... plus of course the money was impossible to not like. All in all it was okay but it wasn't, i actually didn't like the life or the people who were in it... and what's more important, under the influence (of both the social set and the drugs) i became normalized, greedy, shallow, self-absorbed, conservative and unartistic. I didn't like that, what i took on was the effects of the counterculture, the look rather than the deeds, i was not a happy addict.

... not to say i'll be any happier but i'd like to think production of works offers a satisfaction, both during and after ... which is much like drugs only legal and if i miss a day i won't jones ... in the same way. In the end it's a willed decision, not necessarily one i like but at this point i don't have options ... and since i've learned to live in a reduced world, i suppose i'll continue.

1/25 ...i seem out of wherewithal for these essays, even as i've the time I don't have the inclination, cerams seems so far away, like a distant past. I'd have liked to think of self as able to carry it for more than a month... and it gives me pause about not only my concentration but my motivation and it also's a window to how easy it is to slide away, environment has such power, and even as i'd like to think i had the strength to resist, to hold an idea, i can feel it fading. That old adage that they can't take it away is wrong, they can wear it down, exhaust the body/mind until there's no energy and all feels pointless, or they can jumble it so much that there's no pathway available... I thought i was stronger than that... but no, it's just another self delusion. It only makes me realize how much i'll need to control my environment if i can get out... when i get out.

... if it were allowed i'd write about the details... and as I just think of it, maybe the architectural details would suffice, --even as the parts never make the whole, they allow the viewer to self-construct it--and one thing i can say, the bureau is consistent, any detail mirrors all other, and in that way it follows the ideal, it's just that the function is antithetical to the underlying concept of architecture. From door knobs to window jams, from floor tile to security cameras, the only deviation is the shoddy workmanship and deterioration, it's so much a part of the modern process that even the off pastel colors look harrish in the fluorescent hum. One can see it was planned on easy straight lines but there's none that actually are... and it's more the feeling of rigidity than the reality, even the door jams are bent, the floors slooped and cracked, leaving fissures in the industrial tile, each one slightly askew, bumpy and cheap. For the amount of money the system spent on each of these places it's amazing, in any other country you'd think it's graft and corruption, but here it's really just another example of the rule of nobody... nobody knows, nobody can do anything to correct it, the process is too large to make adjustments, and too slow if they could; bodies, lives and buildings done by fiat. So maybe this is the new topic, a crit on our monumental social structures, the art of america in the 90's ... thank goodness they are so shoddy, they won't last, not even as long as the sentences imposed, in ten years they'll all be wrecks. How perfectly modern, disposable structures housing indisposed humans.

(Undated) after S-B-S's ballyhoo, --which is watched most of cause i'd heard the ads were gonna be spectac, Wrong, they weren't... just expensive. I think that in today's culture we're told it's moving faster than ever, but i'm not at all sure, everyone's culture rushes past and, if it think about it, it seems more that we've become a society that lives in clichés, that the commercial interests, using flashing symbols, never allow enough time to a considered decision. What's changed is no one has time, it's been traded off the ability to buy more items in a cliché world where more is always better. We are therefore more prone to react out of habit, and habit is always thoughtless. With each increase in new/better technology we reduce ourselves in the effort to somehow do more, easier... and of course that makes everything seem like more work... which is actually that more energy's being expended. In that scenario it's no wonder folks wanna do recreation, it's touted as the reward... where actually it's just more shadow-work,--that is if we use Marx's definition as work generating surplus profits, and since spending is mobile and shows how much you earn, all recreation becomes another source of corporate profits, no wonder we're bombarded to Do-The-Dew and have high performance pets, drive the latest and jones for more/more/more. I should hope we can slip outta some of that mode, of course we'll seem très old fashioned but it won't be so bad cause we will be.

2/9 ...then i was thinking 'what is a sculpture'... and is it as difficult as a concept, like truth or justice? I know when i think about 'house' i don't have one idea, one picture, 'house' includes the many and really it's about space and comfort ... and so if that's the case then what of sculpture. Am thinking to make a list ... maybe by that process i'll know the options and then be able to place them in some-sort of order, or priority. Can one make generalities, and if so do they fit specifics? We can say a drape hangs, it's cloth, it covers a window or wall, it's function is to both close and open the space, it provides humanness to the chill of glass, it acts as a visual boundary demarking in from out, it softens the austerity of rooms and has the added benefit of keeping the damn light out when necessary.

... but what's to say about something that only appears to have value in an added-value/money sense, as we know art's for the rich to show they're different, somehow better and with more culture. Is that it and if so then of course the more obtuse/opaque the better, especially if it makes everyone nervous cause the rich don't have to be, they have enough to see nervous as a game, an edge they can move right up to ... hell they can even leap, they've got the net. And then there's the other-worldliness, most often used by religion, sculpture can function as symbol much like the flag does for the gov't, or the joined rings do for the Olympics ... Somehow this seems a higher order but not very, used as symbol there's no personal, no down in the guts eye-to-eye, not even as much emotional content as a good set of drapes ... which are very personal. No symbols are social realism, used by the ruling rich as clichés to placate the have-nots, it's how they do it, we're a democracy, you can eat all the Big Mac's you want, see the golden arches ... it means America ... And so that's out, we can't use sculpture in that way, although we can define most of what's produced in one or both of the above categories.

... so there's either metaphor, simile or synecdoche, none of which fit exact. What i'm looking for is a method of description that includes purpose, i've often used metaphor but it always calls for interpretation, the very thing i'm seeking to move away from. (of course the very nature of using language to describe is self-defeating, the mentalize of the eye is similar to that of the nose, it is pre-language, having evolved millions of years before the brain could work in symbols. Maybe this is a key, the whatness of sculpture can only be recognized as and through the Visual, it's why it carries such power and the very reason it's so easily usurped for secondary causes, we're working in different modes, it's impossible to bridge the gap without calling upon symbols/metaphors/synechoches.

3/2...'tis most distressing, the jail environment seems air-port like, and that leads me to think that the whole culture lives in this sort of un-place/non-time/ness, a world of regulations created by a faceless bureaucracy in a bid towards efficient control, the sterilized and automat virtual reality that's outside time/space/place. It seems to exist in Malls, now in schools, our public buildings, all commercial establishments and it seeps into our very most private via the media. All language is now corrupted into clichés, all history a tool to rectify the present, all labor used to escape the confines inherent in the supposition that freedom resides in purchase power and therefore recreation is a reward consistent with ostentatiousness. Living so close to the bone of it, it's surprising only in that prison is now the model we seem to strive towards, a security blanket of stability that empowers no one, the rule by nobody for the profits the few. 'Tis no wonder Virtual Reality is the catch word of the age, there's not any other, just shades between total electrical impulses and a Disney-Land ideal bombarding whatever actual experiences occur, it's virtual in that it's as close as one can get ... without ever getting anywhere. Air-Ports and Jails, timeless spaces, no wonder so many feel the need for protection, we are defenseless.

... where then the usage of sculpture, of art ... is it no more than Mores-Code for social criticism, as everyone is alienated is it the artist's role to encode it in all production, and if that's the case, has it always been so? It seems at such odds with how art history's taught, how the actual objects are viewed ... and yet it would appear to explain how it is that the objects have taken on their value ... that they delineate social history. Now the problem occurs to me that since all productions, in every mode, are social commentary, to actually make social realism, to project the alienation into the works, is to succumb to a historical view-point, one which removes both the maker and viewer from the possible awe that art strives to capture/project. Symbols, it seems the whole culture has assumed a symbolic logic that, much like quantum mechanics, describes a world through probability but leaves no metaphor, has no story, being purely descriptive in the details, there is no room for meaning. It's impossible to make statement in a spaceless time, impossible to place objects in placelessness, and as the virtualness pervades each individual there'll be no awareness explainable, even the solidity of real things will pale ... we will be illusions who dream, where nightmares are always the most memorable.'s depressing, it comes out of watching tv, seeing the newspaper, it comes from thinking about what's happening herein and out there, thinking is but a mirror of our times, it's political slogans and full-color ads, "Guns don't kill people, people kill..." and this now includes 6 yr olds who aren't people yet... so what killed them? And 'Education's Friendly' and the police are different, health is important but capitol punishment's just as important. Am i getting old and sounding stupid? Do i witness a trend, is it possible to counter it? Certainly it's not advisable or even healthy... but isn't it necessary? Somehow someone needs to make statements, the problem is that even they're subject to commercial use, even the most shocking item becomes commonplace so quickly, i figure within a month you'll be buying burgers at the sign of the blood pool/police marker. On the flip-side what's the options, one can hide, one can find a niche and move only inside a crowd. What one cannot do is avoid the issue, there's no place that doesn't desire to be part of the virtual reality world, it is as genetic as craving sugar.

3/22 ... it seems to me, looking back, that i've grown up in an era which eschewed the philosophical conceptions of reality, certainly all the boundaries were stretched post WWII, the flavor of the times suggested exploration and a disregard of the middle ground/class, from Abstract Expressionism through Pop to Happenings and Rock & Roll, from the Civil Rights movement to Viet Nam, the underlying tone has been one of intensity at the expense of stability. it is no wonder that my generation (myself foremost) looks askance at attempts by regulations to enforce a reality based on moral principles. The whole experience of our youth was antithetical to these concepts ... and it's most peculiar to how, as i have, come to think of myself as a realist sculptor. In a Hegal/Marxian turn over, it would seem the subjectivity of the 50's/60's/70's has once again flipflopped, the need to objectify through transformation has, in effect, stimulated a figurative approach.

... it's damn difficult to know where to stand today, in this Age of Rage & Fear the traditional sanctity of past experience is moot, where all moral stances have been usurped for totalitarian means, where the future looks as bleak as the past, the ephemeral present must serve as a touch-stone. Yet the present is almost opaque with symbols, when statements are only the reflection of a sales gimmick all that's possible is questions, the complexity of consciousness has destabilized empiricism, it is only in the arts that the nature of reality is tested in a Popperian method of falseifibility.

3/23 ... the first question, of course, is does sculpture have validity? This of course implies any of the arts, as in a post-Veblen consciousness it's impossible not to recognize the social propaganda that relegates the arts to mere filigrees on the fabric of commercial interests. If that's subtracted is anything left? Obviously there's a psychological aspect for the progenitor/creator but in this argument it must be discounted as immaterial to the cultural purpose. If the question of validity is unanswered all others are moot. But putting aside that, on a more specific level, figurative arts, besides as symbolic representations, can they stand alone? Can they be valued without the use of metaphysics, as ends in themselves? It is much easier to make an argument against than for, our whole Cartesian culture reduces arguments to negations, leading to,--as Arendt points out--cynicism. To question the universe is also to question mankind's place and any representation of it, scientific exploration has lead to a scientific devaluation of aesthetics. So we put aside the figurative arts and question the intellectual ideas. When doing this we come to the Modern experience with it's re-definition of reality, which has nowadays been supplanted by Post-Modernism's Camp sensibilities, Wittgensteinian visual plays on language, Conceptual and Robotic insider jokes and the final Dadaist ideal of leveling the past by popularization, it's a democratic utopia. The question, so reduced, validity a reasonable expectation? Can a model be drawn that puts aside the actualizing process yet retains any semblance of factualness? Without that criteria the very concept of a reality based viewpoint falls by the wayside.

5/3 ...nor do i, contentment and happiness, masturbation or live sex with a highly desirable, sort of the same but not really. Must say, as we both know the pharmacodynamics of the physiological, i'd say the condition of life is extention and satiation, the conclusion of which is happiness ... while contentment arises from abundance. One is goal-less due to its very nature, therefore fleeting/ephemeral, while the other's theoretically attainable. And it's most-very interesting you should broach this, was just considering it myself, as it happens (and not that infrequently) i am flooded with a Joy, --even here, even now-- (of course 'tis not pharmacologically introduced and so is a more subtle version, one i recognize only now, now after years of self-induced hormonal levels) and i chalk my happiness up to depleting my reserves and for that brief moment when they've been re-charged i'm elated, without thought.

... i disagree with Mr. Aristotle and Sir Mill, while the old jew Spinoza was, to my mental, closer. The idea of balancing the 'harmonies' is fine in the abstract but does little to induce the rush of pure-joys we're defining. Mill & Aristotle were contentment-seekers and mostly that as advise for an orderly society, one can not imagine them being content with mere balance ... and never happy either (certainly not Mill who was a dire sort of fellow) The difficulty is that in the philosophical the 'whole' is considered, the Universal is more important than the Particular (damn Plato) and therefore a political application is touted down through history, one would have to look to Sartre and his ilk before the individual/particular becomes the subject ... and there is no happiness there.

... the deal seems to be that one can not strive for happiness, it comes out of a different source, it would be like striving for personal peace, the very act's negation. Oh, and while i'm there, also it must have something to do with telology, as means to means is means to frustration. I would say that's the reason art-work, --while demanding--allows a later measure of the elixir to percolate. You mentioned, in the same paragraph, regrets, and that's judgment, --looking/using the past--while willing is future foreseeing, and neither of these dwell in the Flowing Now, and that Now is where Happiness happens, so yes, regrets are of a different order. The best i can figure is that there best use is to engender the extension of energy, especially seeing that actions, once done, are unrecoverable ... the only 'Darwinian Good' possible is to add stress which then finds release. Am i too mechanical, does it seem i've joined the Vienna Circle, well let me assure you, i have not ... only it seems to me that happiness is like freedom, an outgrowth rather than obtainable ... but what do i know... yet.

5/17...sure i'm scared, it's like almost here, all i can do is pace and fret and try to distract myself, this page is just one way. Plus i'm back deep into Hannah, with each fresh page there's something worthy of thought, --i'd forgotten how much cause i got side-tracked by this neurobiology eye/brain/vision, (which was a good read, no question, but it's only hard, not deep). With some real effort i just might finish The Life Of The Mind if i'm stuck here another week or two (which is what i expect), i'd then take it with me for a second & third read. Even tonight, reading one passage about John Dunn Scotus and Aquinas, on the Universal against the Particular, i had an insight about sculpture and form. As it turns out the Universal is a third level removed from real, it's an abstraction inside the mind, which itself is an abstraction from the real object. Each particular is more real than any idea of it, Aristotle was incorrect, the whole is not greater than the parts, each part is more true than any whole, that's why god dwells in details, right down to the DNA, that's why it's a Darwinian world and not a Christian, and that's why sculpture transcends painting, painting is an illusion to the third degree while sculpture is on to the second ... and no one can know the first, the first is reality... all we ever get is our mental perceptions of it. Of course a third level abstraction's easier to sell cokes and cars with, it's appeal is to mixed realities, one can own it and want it and never have an original ... but sculpture is something you can bump your head against.

6/13... this morning it occurred to me, the rules of a society should propagate and reinforce the laws of humanity, but this doesn't seem historically correct, in fact just the reverse seems the case, that societal rules are generally used to circumvent decency, especially at the lowest levels where power is without manners. I'm not sure if it's a democratic condition or commercial, --and maybe it has nothing to do with either--but i don't believe it's the Natural Condition of Mankind, as it doesn't occur to this degree in non-literate societies. Nowadays it seems we live in the evils of banality, the rule of no-one, and therefore no one's responsible. Certainly convicts, the unwashed, the unemployed, homeless and elderly are 'cared for' by rules which are constructed in wanton disregard of even minimal individuality, therefore there is no mercy, no humanity. I do not think this is by 'accident', it is the general tone of the times to punish the statistically marginal (and the larger the average population density, the narrower the behavior model).

... in this homogenized society the cliché rules, it allows any member to pursue actions without thought, as if the human-ness of an individual presupposed their acceptance to disregard others humanity, --the idea that the world would be more perfect if everyone was formed to the same pattern. Well, as everyone knows (but doesn't include themselves) people are either a herd or a mob, and that mentality, while comfortable, gives no quarters to differences, once banished from the flock the pecking order permits (and encourages) totally despicable behavior. This is especially true when all members see themselves as victims, and revenge, (being a gleeful sentiment) takes on respectability. In a world of victims scapegoats are mandatory, having compassion is a sign of weakness, and it's a contradiction in ideas for a victim, --the identified injured party--to have mercy for anyone.

... the volatility of fear has lead to the victimization of differences through the banality of dehumanization, from the isolation of alienation inherent in the modern world, the underlying principles have eroded, even as we tout equality, what we mean is conformity. Suspicion and dread are rampant to the point where to even entertain a modification is paramount to treason. Thinking the unthinkable now means mercy where at one time it implied nuclear war, the war on crime is war on the marginal by the will of the majority, manipulated by the powerful who have the most to loose if common decency was considered. We have become Machiavelli's step-children by default, using a procrustean bed we have transformed society into savagery.

6/16... ..."Fear? What should a man fear? It's all chance, chance rules our lives. Not a man on earth can see a day ahead, groping through the dark. Better to live at random, best we can." How amazingly succinct and familiar, t'is no wonder it',s been saved for 2,466 years, it's Sophocles: Oedipus the King, and just re-reading and re-impressed, no wonder Heidegger and Kierkegaard were drawn to the pre-Socratic Heraclitus, rather than a Platonic view... contingency isn't just a way of viewing the word, it's the driving force, " at random best we can." Hear/Hear.


Selections from a Prison Journal

Stephen Dubov  82661-011
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 1010
Bastrop, Texas  78602