Saturday, September 15, 2007

Jeremy Blake extravaganza

Feel like you don't really know Jeremy Blake (a.k.a. "Mr. Wit)? Get acquainted by following these links.

The Corcoran's blurb on the upcoming Jeremy Blake exhibit.

Remembering Jeremy Blake.

Jeremy's gorgeous work done for Punch Drunk Love. (And the only redeeming part of this maudlin movie.)

Mr. Wit's C.V.

Some of Jeremy's conventional paintings. (Btw, the painting of the brunette reminds me of an old vaudeville joke whose punchline is "Nice tits, where do you want the blinds?")

More Theresa Duncan mysteries

Fall is in the air (yes, dear New York readers, we do have seasons in Los Angeles), but that beachy summer mystery known as Theresa Duncan continues to haunt our imagination.

  1. Is she alive and well and working as a prostitute?
  2. Why has Duncanologist seaword (who, following our lead, exposed Wit's literary peccadillos) vanished into the ether, shuttering the blog and neglecting to answer email from fans? (Btw, if you really want to read that page, you can here.)
  3. Has famed Duncanologist Kate Coe of FBLA, who hasn't posted her keen insights here or elsewhere lately, also lost interest and vanished?
  4. Will this blogger soon follow suit?
  5. Was Jeremy Blake really the rear-ending type? And if, so can we tell from this conversation?

I'll let Dream's End work on 1-4 and leave 5 for you to solve.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

And now a beak from Theresa Duncan for a different kind of guilty pleasure

Unselfconscious and refreshing, this blog from another ex-L.A. resident is the antithesis of The Wit of the Staircase.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New York magazine mentions this blog—and gets the name wrong.

We're glad the kids over at New York magazine read this blog, but would it kill them to hire a fact checker? From the "Comments" page in the September 3-10 issue:

David Amsden’s Conspiracy of Two (August 27), about the suicides of Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake, fed the army of bloggers who are obsessed with the subject. Most merely wanted it understood that they know more about the case than Amsden does, but he was also chided for depicting New York as a “hostile but ultimately rewarding environment for an artist,” while L.A. is “often the opposite: easy and glittering until you begin to suspect it is all maybe a cruel illusion.” The blog Theresa Duncan Control responded: “This is the kind of shit that makes me wish we could deport every single New Yorker. Let’s start by rounding them up in Santa Monica, where they clog up our sidewalk cafés and steal our rent-controlled apartments.”

  1. Yes, we did say that.
  2. But our name is Theresa Duncan CENTRAL. You know, like that little patch of grass you guys call CENTRAL Park?
  3. We don't know who the hell you hyperlinked to, but it's sure not our site.
  4. This really makes us question Amsden's collective vision/exploding grill story. For all we know some weasel top editor inserted that at the last minute to add color.
  5. Yes, we do know more about Theresa Duncan than you do.
  6. In the absence of a copy/research department listed on the New York masthead, we blame assistant managing editor Denise Penny. (Tell us who's really at fault Penny, and we'll take you off our shit list.)
  7. Seriously though, we love you guys. Just stay the hell off our beaches, okay? Rockaway, yes. Zuma, no.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Theresa Duncan Central is NOT a rumor site

An essay in dire need of an editor and some hyperlinks. (Our condolences to Seaword, who was not mentioned and to Kate Coe, who is referred to as "Cole" on second reference.)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Summer never ends in Los Angeles

Some bloggers have grown bored with Theresa Duncan. In a post titled "Summer is Over and So Is the Fling," the Seaword admits to having lost interest in the Wit and wonders if this little blog has "given up the ghost" also.

Not here, baby! Summer is eternal in Los Angeles and we've got more stamina than you'll find in a fistful of Viagra. So hang in there, there's more good stuff coming.

Punk diva: Was Theresa Duncan plagiarizing or posing?

A recent story about Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake in the Independent relies heavily on an interview with Malcolm McLaren, former manager of the Sex Pistols, who knew the couple. Theresa liked to tout her rock bona fides on her blog, but check out this Wit post (hat tip to Poussin) on the Chelsea Hotel:

If you doubt the Chelsea's status as the Haunted Indian Burial Ground of Baby Boomer hipster culture, consider that no significant counterculture has been produced by Western white middle class youth since Sid Vicious murdered his girlfriend on this very spot and died of a heroin overdose in Rikers prison in the middle of the East River shortly afterward.
Did you catch the error? Sid Vicious did not die in prison at all. He died in a Greenwich Village apartment after being sprung from Rikers. Did Duncan not know this? Was she just posing a a punk fan or did she carelessly copy this blurb from another source?

Theresa Duncan's boyfriend was gay

So says the U.K. Independent in this story. (Hat tip to Lou.) The piece rehashes what everyone else has written (golden couple, tragic end, blah, blah, blah) and relies mostly on an interview with punk impresario Malcolm McLaren, who knew the couple. However, there's this bombshell:
"I liked him [Jeremy] a lot," McLaren says, "but he always struck me as a troubled person. Everything that's been written about them since it happened has suggested that Theresa was the crazy one. But actually I don't think she was all that crazy. I think it was the other way around."
So Jeremy was the crazy one. And there's this:

The golden-couple image was flawed in other ways, too.' "If we're being honest," says McLaren, "Jeremy was gay. I don't think his relationship with Theresa was all that sexual. She was a mother to him. When I saw them in Hollywood, he was always terribly concerned that people would think he was a fag – he walked around with this hip flask of whisky in his pocket and he was constantly swigging from it, like some kind of cowboy."
Jeremy was gay and Theresa wasn't getting laid. Have to admit I hadn't thought of that. So far it seems Kate Coe is the only person who's written about them who actually knew them. Yet she seems to have missed this. Perhaps her gaydar is in need of tune-up.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Theresa Duncan didn't have readers, she had fans

I had never heard of The Wit of the Staircase until this post on L.A. Observed. Right after reading of her disappearance on L.A. Observed, I headed over to Duncan's site, hoping to find some new and fresh writing. What I found was disappointing.

I've wondered since how could Duncan's readers not see right through her literary b.s.? I noticed it immediately. How could supposedly smart readers (who also happen to be writers) like Ron Rosenbaum and Kevin Rodderick (who apparently couldn't tell if Duncan's L.A. Lunar society was real and called the Wit "a personal favorite of mine") be so easily bamboozled? Reader Poussin has some thoughts:

Duncan didn't have readers. She had fans. She had girl crushes, lesbian crushes, young male crushes, crusty old git crushes, etc. Read her comments, where she permitted them. Often you will see remarks about her looks. This is why there are so many defenders. It isn't about plagiarism to them. Beauty will always ease misdeed. There are as many excuses as the day is long. How many excuses have we seen already?
See, Duncan was perfect for people. She filled a need in their desperations, however she did that. There was a sexual subtext to much of her fandom. She was what these fans wanted to be, and they felt golden for having found her. She wrote into that myth, using her charmed Venice lifestyle in funky hippie cottage, darling boyfriend, expensive habits and tastes.

It's true, Duncan often posted photos of herself but did she really seduce her readers? Is this why it's so hard for them to admit they were duped? Why do so many tie their identity to this woman? Why do they personally feel insulted when her fake front is exposed? Why do they take their anger out on those who expose the truth?

Tuesday is for Tuesday Weld plagiarism

From an enterprising reader comes yet another example of Duncan stringing together sentences lifted from Wikipedia to form a post for The Wit of the Staircase. This time the topic is Tuesday Weld. Any high school English teacher in American will recognize this type of "writing." Lazy students engage in it every day. What makes Duncan special is that her writing has been singled out as praiseworthy by people who should know better. People like Rosenbaum. Perhaps it's wikipedia's pages that should be praised.

Duncan on Tuesday Weld:

In 1961, after starring opposite Elvis Presley in Wild in the Country, he and Tuesday Weld began an off-screen romance. In Hollywood, her reputation for a reckless lifestyle was fodder for the gossip columnists and Louella Parsons reportedly said, as politely as possible, that "Miss Weld is not a very good representative for the motion picture industry." The romance with Elvis did not last long after Colonel Tom Parker cautioned Presley against the relationship, fearful it would harm his image.

Tuesday Weld appeared with Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen in the 1963 comedy/drama, Soldier in the Rain, and although her performance was well received, the film was only a minor success. Although frequently typecast as the "blonde in the tight sweater," both the critics and working members of the film industry acknowledged her talent.

Weld never achieved the level of stardom many thought her looks and talent could bring. In part, her lack of great success was a result of her turning down roles in films that became great successes and that made mega-stars out of others, such as Lolita, Bonnie and Clyde,True Grit, and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Although Weld had the final say in such matters, many question the quality of advice her agent was providing. Actor Roddy McDowall, who co-starred with her in a 1966 film, said: "no actress was ever so good in so many bad films."

Wikipedia on Weld:

In 1961, after starring opposite Elvis Presley in Wild in the Country, the two had an off-screen romance. However, in Hollywood, her reputation for recklessness was fodder for pulp magazines and the more malignant gossip columnists of the day. Louella Parsons reportedly said, "Miss Weld is not a very good representative for the motion picture industry".[citation needed]
Weld appeared with Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen in the 1963 comedy/drama Soldier in the Rain, and although her performance was well received, the film was only a minor success. Although frequently typecast as the "blonde in the tight sweater," critics and others in the film industry have acknowledged her talent. However, Weld never achieved the level of stardom many thought her looks and abilities would bring, partly as a result of her turning down roles in films that became great successes and that made stars of others, such as Lolita, Bonnie and Clyde, Rosemary's Baby, True Grit, and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Roddy McDowall, who co-starred with her in a 1966 film, said: "no actress was ever so good in so many bad films".[citation needed]

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ron Rosenbaum: wake up and smell the plagiarism

Inspired by Ron "If She Plagiarized" Rosenbaum, a reader has sent more proof of Duncan's cribbing.

From Duncan's perfumey post Dzing! Perfume And My Carnival Night:

Mikhail Bakhtin is a favorite critic who elucidated a favorite author, Francois Rabelais. Bakhtin's writings on the comic violence, bad language, exaggeration, satire, and shape-shifting of Rabelais are a prime example of one genius of elucidation reaching back across an expanse of time to find his component genius of expression.
For the Russian Bakhtin, the Frenchman Rabelais is the greatest example of what he terms "carnivalesque" literature. Ever concerned with the liberation of the human spirit, Bakhtin claims that carnivalesque literature — like the carnivals themselves — broke apart oppressive and mouldy forms of thought and cleared the path for the imagination and component genius of expression

From Wikipedia on 9/2/07:
Bakhtin recognises that the tradition of carnival dwindled in Europe following the Renaissance and the eventual replacement of feudalism with capitalism. As a result, he says, the public spirit of the carnival metamorphosed into the 'carnivalesque': that is, the spirit of carnival rendered into literary form. The person who, existing on the cusp of this social upheaval, most fully represented this spirit was François Rabelais, and the book which holds the greatest purchase on Bakhtin's imagination is Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel. The comic violence, bad language, exaggeration, satire, and shape-shifting which fill this book are, for Bakhtin, the greatest example of carnivalesque literature. Ever concerned with the liberation of the human spirit, Bakhtin claimed that carnivalesque literature — like the carnivals themselves — broke apart oppressive and mouldy forms of thought and cleared the path for the imagination and the never-ending project of emancipation.

Bakhtin suggests that carnivalesque literature also became less common as the increasingly privatised world of modern, individualistic capitalism took hold. However, he points to some notable exceptions: most importantly Fyodor Dostoevsky, but also (in a brief note)Ernest Hemingway.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Ron Rosenbaum on Theresa Duncan

In a long, rambling post, Ron Rosenbaum finally pipes up about Theresa Duncan, a topic on which he fell silent for a few weeks now. He (rightly) rails against conspiracy theorists and admits his own part in fueling the insane theories (it's about time), but also there's this:

I always found some brilliant beautiful (and explicitly sourced) arcane literary references on Theresa’s blog which, along with its beauty and diversity kept me coming back. If she plagiarized some things, shame on her, it doesn’t take away the pleasure she brought by bringing to light those explicitly referenced writers, should it?

Her blog was a fascinating collage of text, images, genres; her voice, her persona, unique. Are writers supposed to write about the least interesting artists they know?

IF SHE PLAGIARIZED some things? IF? There seems to some doubt in Ron's mind as to whether she plagiarized. But IF she did, then so what? he seems to be saying. She brought to light "explicitly referenced writers." So that settles it. If she plagiarized, it's no big deal.

Interesting, he included no links to The Wit site. We'd love to know what Ron's favorite posts are.

I wish he'd also explained how it's possible that a writer could be a plagiarist and at the same time have a unique voice.

Newsweek covers Theresa Duncan

More than a month after after their passing, Newsweek covers Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake's tragic deaths under the "society" page. The gist of the story: the internet made them do it.

Duncan and Blake built their lives around computers and the Internet, using them to create innovative art, prize-winning video­games and visionary stories. But as time progressed, the very technologies that had infused their work and elevated their lives became tools to reinforce destructive delusions and weapons to lash out at a world they thought was closing in on them. By the end of their lives, this formerly outgoing and affable couple had turned cold toward outsiders. They addressed friends and colleagues from behind electronic walls of accusatory e-mails and confrontational blog posts, and their storybook devotion to each other slowly warped into a shared madness—what is known as a folie à deux. “This wasn’t who they wanted to be,” says Katie Brennan, a Los Angeles gallery owner and long­time friend. She compares the couple’s late-life delusions to “a kind of terminal cancer” that overtook the true Jeremy and Theresa.


“The condition of being super-social and super-isolated at the same time is an Internet-era kind of thing,” says Fred Turner, a media historian at Stanford University, who speculates that as Blake and Duncan withdrew from friends, “their only reality check left was the wisps of information on their computer screens. And unfortunately, that isn’t a very powerful check.”

We like the theory and appreciate the reality-based assessments of Duncan's career, and now we're getting the hell off this computer.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rock on, Theresa Duncan

According to sitemeter, the most popular point of entry into The Wit of the Staircase (besides the home page) is the music index. (Surprising, isn't it? You'd think it would be one of her more heavily-researched topics, like the history of electricity, or even the Lunar Society posts.)

Here's one of the Wit's playlists from May 11, 2007. Enterprising readers may want to check itunes to see if it matches any existing playlists.

1. Feel Your Love Tonight--Van Halen

2. Policy Of Truth--Depeche Mode

3. People Who Died--Jim Carroll

4. Lola (Live)--The Kinks

5. Chick Habit--April March (From Tarantino's Death Proof soundtrack)

6. Raspberry Beret--Prince (I always thought this was slang for the clitoris)

7. Soul Singer In A Session Band--Bright Eyes

8. Slow Night, So Long--Kings Of Leon

9. Free For All--Ted Nugent (From the D, like we, children)

10. Itchycoo Park--The Small Faces (It's all too beautiful)

11. Another Saturday Night--Cat Stevens

12. Love On A Farmboy's Wages--XTC

13. Tattoeed Love Boys--The Pretenders

14. Summer Wine--Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood

15. God Save The Queen--Motorhead

16. The Angel's Share--Ted Leo

17. Eulogy To Lenny Bruce--Nico

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Los Angeles Lunar Society meets tonight

I'm told the Los Angeles Lunar society meets tonight at 1:30 a.m. to watch the total lunar eclipse and vote on a new librarian. They'll meet at the Santa Monica pier. (Final location to be determined.) Calvados optional.

The mysterious dissappearance of posts on The Wit of the Staircase

The Trouble with Anna Gaskell post is missing from The Wit of the Staircase. What gives? Is somebody cleaning house? If so there will certainly be alot of sweeping to do. In fact, there may not be much of a blog left.

So much in common: Alberto Gonzalez and Theresa Duncan

Theresa Duncan: Great head of hair
Alberto Gonzalez: Great head of hair

Theresa Duncan: Met with the Los Angeles Lunar Society
Alberto Gonzalez: Mooned Congress

Theresa Duncan: Blamed the CIA
Alberto Gonzalez: Blamed the CIA

Theresa Duncan: Plagiarized and lied
Alberto Gonzalez: "Misled" and "misspoke"

Theresa Duncan when confronted with her misdeeds: Was petulant and defiant
Alberto Gonzalez when confronted with his misdeeds: Was petulant and defiant

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Thoughts from someone who knew Theresa Duncan for 13 years

I'm working hard to offer you a fuller view of who the Wit was. One way of doing that is to feature comments from people who knew her or corresponded with her. Here's a heartbreaking post from a friend of Duncan's posted on his myspace page before Jeremy Blake's body was found. Also check out the pics of Duncan, Blake and this friend taken at Stag's Leap winery in the Napa Valley. A highlight from his post:

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 her
literally to death

It seems this friend did not believe at the time of this post that Duncan could be paranoid or delusional, but rather that someone "harassed her to death." He alludes to having lived near St. Marks at the time of Duncan's death.

  1. Was he at the St. Marks fundraiser and if so, can he add more details on the exploding gas grill incident?
  2. What can he tell us about Duncan-Blake's "collective vision"? How did that work? Were they psychic? Did they ever use their collective vision to help them score a parking spot in Manhattan? Any details on this subject would be appreciated. Those of who us haven't experienced collective vision with another human being are fascinated by the idea. And we're clearly missing out on a life-saving psychic phenomenom. (Note: I've not experienced collective vision with humans, but have experienced it with dogs. Somehow we're both drawn to the toilet bowl at the same instant. Weird how that happens.)
  3. With so many people in Duncan-Blake's circle being pushed out, how did this friend manage to stay in? (How did he avoid being accused of ties with Co$?)
  4. What evidence does this friend have of Duncan-Blake's harassment? (What did he see or observe with his own eyes.) Who does he think was behind the harassment?
  5. If Theresa was "harassed to death" by someone, then that would be a crime, wouldn't it? Are police investigating? Has this friend gone to the police with any evidence that could implicate someone in Theresa's death? Does this friend fear for his own safety, since he was a close associate of Duncan's? What is he doing to seek justice on behalf of Theresa?
  6. Why would people fear Duncan? What threat did she pose? If the threat was her wit and intelligence, should other smart, witty women be concerned? What advice would this friend give such women?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Art imitates art

Idyllopuspress has done a "digital painting" (art nerds, please fill me in--is this your fancy term for screwing around with photoshop?) of a Theresa and Jeremy photo. This is a prime example of appropriate "sampling." The photographer who took the original shot is credited, but more important, idyllopuspress has made the final work her very own. The "painting" has a Hockney-meets-paint-by-numbers quality that's hypnotizing. If I were a friend of the Duncan-Blake's I'd purchase it. The accompanying post is thoughtful too. So head on over there and check it. Don't worry, we'll still be here when you return.

Giving Kate Coe the weekend off

This blog has commented numerous times on Kate Coe of FBLA, author of this L.A. Weekly piece on Duncan. I still think this is the best story on Duncan that's been put out so far. Interesting. Well reported. And so far, it seems to have stood up to scrutiny. (The Wit's fans have accused Coe of doing a hatchet job, but if anything, Coe's story is circumspect.) I've dished out praise for Coe here, highlighted some of her most interesting comments on TDC and ribbed her about working on Duncan-Blake book.

Recently Coe asked why I choose to communicate with her via this blog rather than email. The reason is that this way everyone can read our discussion. However, since I detect a tone of mild annoyance in Coe's question, I've decided to give her the weekend off. I won't address her or discuss her again until Monday (at which point, I may even consider extending the Coe hiatus). No more teasing about a book. No more jokes about plying her with wine to get the full Duncan story out of her. She's been a good sport, but it's time to give the woman a break. Have a great weekend Kate!

[Note, this only applies to me. You are welcome to comment on Coe or address. And she's always welcome to comment here. This blog has been enriched by her presence.]

Insights from someone who corresponded with Duncan

Fulltilredhead has commented here in response to my post about why Duncan did not allow comments on her blog. Her insights merit being called out in a separate post. (Thanks Fulltiltredhead. Welcome to TDC--we hope you'll stick around.)

I sent TD an email saying I enjoyed her blog, maybe a year or so ago, and she responded. We had bits of conversation here and there after that, via email. I remember we talked about the print ad for Coomb's (sp?) fragrance, "Unforgiven." (We disagreed, but it was a good discussion that I think we both enjoyed.) Besides that, just random comments and observations, nothing personal.

I'm not sure it was that she didn't want fans posting, because she posted someone's comment that she was pretty. But I posted a few times to take issue with a point of view she'd expressed or represented, and my posts were censored out. She didn't like to be challenged in public. So rather than respond on her blog, I would email her, so the conversation would be private. She seemed to prefer that; she responded, anyway.

Except for the time that she and I were discussing her take on the boomers, and I busted her out. I had an intuition she was lying about her age, and, being born Dec. 1956, I was tired of her anti-boomer rants, which hurt my feelings. She responded to my email via reply email, and I wrote back again, arguing her response.

Next thing I know, she had published my private email to her on her blog, with a picture of someone flipping the bird, and her response email to me, slightly edited.

She never asked my permission to publish our private correspondence on her blog. She didn't give me an opportunity to edit what I'd written, while she took the opportunity to edit her reply email to me before she published it. She did not post my response to her reply, instead giving herself the last word. I emailed her I thought all of that was dirty pool. The next day, she sent me an invitation to some party in New York. I ignored it and deleted our correspondence.

Theory: Why Theresa didn't want her blog to be too interactive

On this long and sleepy Perfume of Life thread a poster named fulltiltredhead
who claims to have corresponded with Duncan writes:
I think many people corresponded with her [Duncan] via pm and she knew very well that she/her blog was popular, that she had a loyal following, and that many people thought she was marvelous. She was not a person to be much moved by what other people thought, though. She measured herself by her own yardstick. If she wasn't happy with herself, nobody else's approval would have made any difference. She wasn't that kind of person. IMO and from what I knew of her.


She [Duncan] didn't publish most of the comments she got, but she got a lot of comments. Her blog was more like a magazine. She didn't like it to get too interactive.

Here's my theory, based on a recent viewing of Annie Hall (this film has held up so incredibly well, btw, it's really amazing): Duncan suffered from the same affliction that drove Woody Allen's Alvy Singer to a lifetime of analysis: She did not want to belong to a club that would have her as its member.*

Duncan knew she was a fake. She couldn't have had anything but contempt for those who viewed her with awe. That's why she kept them at arm's length.

*This quote has often been attributed to Allen. In fact, in the film, he attributes it to Grouch Marx.

As long as we're giving credit, how about a hand for Marshall Brickman, who co-wrote the screenplay to Annie Hall? (Gesue to Allen's Duncan? You decide.) This film kicked some serious ass at the Oscars. Could a romantic comedy every win again?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Random thoughts on Theresa Duncan

The temperature has finally dropped, there's a cool little breeze blowing through TDC's awesomely cross-ventilated headquarters, Bryan Ferry is crooning "Sweet & Lovely" on the ipod and I'm sipping some intensely refreshing, slightly slushy homemade kumquat-cello (no, really, I am!) and naturally at times like these, thoughts turn to the empress of I-wish-I-would-have-said-that.

Here's what's going through my head, in no particular order. (Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts.)

  1. Would Duncan have received as much press after her passing if she had been 100 lbs overweight and suffered from flatulence?
  2. Does anybody think it's weird that as a librarian for the Los Angeles Lunar Society Duncan drank Calvados, yet she chose bourbon as her final drink?
  3. Why are drugs not mentioned in any of the mainstream stories about Duncan? (Yes, gawker made the crystal meth comment and that last, sappy tribute in the L.A. Times mentioned Duncan being a stoner.) But why aren't drugs being seriously considered as having played a role in the couple's growing paranoia?
  4. I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on TV either, but I don't think either Duncan or Blake was schizophrenic. I prefer to leave the psychoanalysis to the pros, so you won't find me quoting the DSM (whatever the hell number it's up to these days) here.
  5. I think Duncan used wikipedia's random subject of the day as her idea generator for her blog. Go to wikipedia's home page every day and you'll get a new esoteric subject. (That's what I did to generate the faux Duncan quote posted yesterday.)
  6. No one's mentioned it (or if they have, I've missed it), but hasn't it occurred to somebody that The History of Glamour, clever as it may be (still haven't caught it), may have actually been mostly the work of JEREMY BLAKE? He was devoted to Duncan, so he wouldn't have pulled a Gesue. (I mean nothing derogatory toward Gesue by this. Gesue has taken ownership of her creation--as well she should!)
  7. Is it not self evident that Jeremy WAS indeed talented and original and she was NOT? How come nobody says it?
  8. How cruel that she's the one garnering all the attention.
  9. Do you think Jeremy, who had a master's degree, knew she only went to school for one semester?
  10. I'd love to see that transcript.
  11. Why won't anyone (well, hardly anyone) go on the record?
  12. When is the movie coming out?
  13. If she really wanted to put out a movie, why didn't she just raise some money herself and go indie? Take it to Sundance, dazzle the Weinstein's with her wit, presto, distribution deal. Robert Rodriguez financed El Mariachi for $7K, legend has it.
  14. Or wait, I'm sure Kate Moss could have put up a couple of mil.
  15. Why are there very few comments on her supposedly popular blog?
  16. Is there a way to find the Wit's blog ranking BEFORE her death?
  17. Is Kate Coe working on book?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Theresa Duncan featured fan of the day

From time to time here, we'd like to highlight some of the Wit's fans. Here is Ron Rosenbaum:

"...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."

In light of what's been reported on this blog and here, does Rosenbaum still feel the same about Duncan? I'm glad he could find intellectual stimulation through Duncan's sloppy cut-and-paste posts and links to Kate Moss stories*. But c'mon Ron, you were essentially reading Wikipedia! I'd rather believe that you weren't actually reading The Wit of the Staircase and just faked that you were in order to seem cool. You hastily posted a tribute, claimed to be a fan. Now you know better, right? Theresa Duncan Central is giving you a chance to back pedal. Take it Ron! Renounce your faith in the Wit of the Staircase. Announce that you're an apostate. We'll forgive you.

Is there any subject more boring, dull or mind numbing than Kate Moss?

A tribute blog to Theresa Duncan

Well, it was bound to happen. Theresa Duncan's "children" have started a tribute blog to their dearly-departed, demented plagiarist. The group blog Children of the Staircase is "a place where Theresa's admirers can post items, scents, musings, or images that they think are especially Theresa Duncan-esque or that inspire them."

Perhaps someone can explain how to post a scent over the internet. The first scent that comes to mind when thinking of Duncan is "fishy." I'd post something in the cod family. Yes, definitely something cod-liver-y. Preferably reheated.

Children of the Staircase write:

We are not trying to duplicate "Wit of the Staircase," which would be impossible. No one can ever replace Theresa's sparkling writing and wit. But she inspired us and continues to inspire us so we'd like to use this blog as a virtual bulletin board on which to capture scattered pearls.

Actually, you'd be surprised. It's pretty easy to duplicate Duncan's writing, Children of the Staircase. I'm going to give try. A-hem! [clearing throat] Here's my Duncanesque quote of the day. It goes something like this:

"Old Dan Tucker" is a popular American song. Its origins remain obscure; the tune may have come from the oral tradition, and the words may have been written by songwriter and performer Dan Emmett. The blackface troupe the Virginia Minstrels popularized "Old Dan Tucker" in 1843, and it quickly became a minstrel hit, behind only "Miss Lucy Long" and "Mary Blane" in popularity during the antebellum period. Mr. Wit and I often hum the tune to Old Dan Tucker when we're sitting in his studio waiting for his agent to call with news of another spectacular sale. Said agent's name is Dan of course and there's something about Dan's name, his sweet, mellifluous below the Mason-Dixon line drawl when he calls to say "sooooooled anahtha pahnting, Jerahmy!" that brings to mind this haunting folks pre-pre-punk melody. Perhaps Mr. Wit and I are artists who long for a time when agriculture was the major economic activity and the CIA and mind manipulators did not lurk in alleyways and canals. Back then sugar production, in particular, required large amounts of land, labor, and capital, and it was along the fertile river bottoms of the Mississippi delta that one could find the grand, extensive plantations commonly associated with the antebellum South.Yes, Mr. With and I love our canal cottage, but on some nights, when gardenias bloom and dogs howl, we long for the lush gardens and ornate mansions of our dual and complex vision's imaginary South. Sugarcane heavy air mixed with a slave lover's musky sweat, rumpled bed strawmattressy mess sunk down in the center, cramped shared quarters, books read by candlelight, a punk Scarlett O'Hara betrayed by desire, taffeta and manure on the heels of her boots.

Monday, August 20, 2007

New York magazine covers Theresa Duncan

Well you've probably read it by now, since Fishbowl L.A. mentioned this earlier in the day, but here's New York's take on Theresa and Jeremy.

If you've been following this blog, you won't learn much more. You do get some color and added details about the Duncan-Blake's last days. For example, Duncan and Blake refused to come down from their apartment at St. Marks to participate in the fundraiser they had organized. (In other words, they were AWOL at their own party.)

"Duncan and Blake had been found in the rectory, seated by the window, looking down at the party—their party—below. Without apology they explained that they could not come down, no, they were experiencing a “collective vision” that the grill was going to explode, somehow harming Duncan."

The mystery has changed. It is no longer about why the killed themselves, but rather why they didn't do it sooner. We're lucky they didn't choose to take innocent people with them, like the Virginia Tech killer did. (Some of Duncan's writing was about as unintelligible as Cho's.)

Another gem from this story:

"She wrote new scripts, pitched smaller projects, freelanced as a critic. More time passed. She created her blog, The Wit of the Staircase, taking on a variety of topics (Kate Moss, poetry, reality TV, philosophy) with her sharp-tongued brand of pop erudition. By 2005, Alice Underground was at Paramount, but here the same patterns repeated themselves. This was not an unusual story in Hollywood, where most projects languish for years before colliding with the voodoo necessary to transform a script into a film, but for Duncan it was a first: a case in which sheer force of will and personality were not enough to build the world she was striving to create."

No mention at all of her plagiarism at Slate. Or the plagiarism on her blog. As I and other bloggers have proved, Duncan's "erudition" consisted of cutting and pasting from other sources like wikipedia. Many of her posts were just links to without any further comment from her.

Those facts were sacrificed at the altar of "story." David Amsden's writerly piece concerns itself with the greater themes such as how Hollywood dashes the dreams of artists.

Then there's this kind of crap, guaranteed to raise the hackles of any self-respecting Angeleno:

"... If New York can be a hostile but ultimately rewarding environment for an artist, Los Angeles is often the opposite: easy and glittering until you begin to suspect that it is all maybe a cruel illusion. It was Nathanael West, himself a New Yorker who settled in Hollywood, who perhaps best understood the potentially grim effects this can have on the mind of an ambitious optimist. “Once there, they discover the sunshine isn’t enough,” he wrote in The Day of the Locust of those who seek a specific paradise in Los Angeles. “Nothing happens. They don’t know what to do with their time … The boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment.”

Oh, give me a fucking break! This is the kind of shit that makes me wish we could deport every single New Yorker. Let's start by rounding them up in Santa Monica, where they clog up our sidewalk cafes and steal our rent-controlled apartments.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

L.A. Times runs Theresa Duncan correction

The L.A. Times took its sweet time to run a correction on Duncan.

Double suicide: An article in the July 25 Calendar section about the suicides of artist Jeremy Blake and writer Theresa Duncan reported that Duncan graduated from the University of Michigan. A spokesperson for the university said Duncan was enrolled for a single semester in 1985 at the University of Michigan-Flint.
Hot damn! A single semester. That's balls. Did Duncanologist Kate Coe even know this?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

From the vault: Theresa Duncan on

A 1998 interview of Theresa Duncan in Salon takes us back to the future. She manages to simultaneously annoy and attract writer Matthew Debord as she discusses The History of Glamour, here first and last film. Some highlights:

"Duncan, at 29, is engaged in a sort of preemptive maturation driven at least partially by market forces.... Duncan is making it up as she goes along, counterbalancing her Liz Phairish tomkitten chic with fabulous press and a slightly ballsy manner that at times can be patronizing."

Actually Duncan was 31 at the time. Perhaps then her maturation wasn't that "preemptive."

"I cringe a little, for instance, when an e-mail response from her describes Manhattan's mopey gallery circuit as "the rarefied world of the New York art scene," from which was drawn a "Glamour" collaborator, artist Karen Kilimnik. Duncan says that if she used live actors in her work, rather than just voices, she'd want to follow the ensemble model of Woody Allen, Hal Hartley and ... Werner Herzog! She is not a woman who levels her cross hairs on the middlebrow, but the naked aspiration strikes me as more than a little overwrought.

Nothing to get all that ruffled over, of course, since her bootstrapping enthusiasm and indefatigable confidence in her ability to get noticed have resulted in a crucial whammy to the core assumptions of the interactive gaming cabal. "I've been thinking of us in terms of something like the Warhol factory," she says when asked about the composition of her creative team, which includes illustrator/boyfriend/partner Jeremy Blake and Washington, D.C., punk stalwart Brendan Canty of Fugazi, plus former Bikini Kill bassist Karhi Wilcox and a pair of Mac-jockey animators. It's a telling comparison: Like Warhol, Duncan's business is her art, and even if she hasn't completely abandoned her childish ways, she knows exactly what she wants."

And there's more good stuff:

"With the new project, I was interested in examining glamour as a semiotic system," she [Duncan] claims, revealing her slightly wonkish academic background (her senior thesis at the University of Michigan was on technology and narrative). "In the film, the main character is looking for an identity, and glamour becomes for her a potent form of self-expression. She finds it very liberating, because she's from a small town. But by the end of the story, glamour becomes limiting, then imprisoning, so she becomes a writer, chooses grammar over glamour."

Duncan could be summarizing her own biography with these comments. There's more than a vague resemblance between her and her antiheroine, Charles Valentine -- who hails from the fictional backwater of Antler, Ohio, and who storms Manhattan with no coherent ambition beyond plying scams to get noticed ..."

No such thing as an original idea?

"There's a book that influenced 'The History of Glamour' called 'Love, Loss, and What I Wore,'" she says. "It's a series of strange little watercolor paintings of the author, Ilene Beckerman's, outfits from childhood to the present. She describes all the things that happened to her in the outfits -- being dumped, feeling beautiful, going to the prom, her mother dying, her marriage and divorce, her pregnancies. It's a very spare but moving book. I, like Beckerman, remember incidents according to what I was wearing."

Final line of the piece (cue the Twilight Zone theme):

"A hard-working minor celebrity with an evidently carefree but actually quite deliberate business strategy, Duncan is exactly the sort of solo artist/entrepreneur one imagines surviving every market vicissitude -- confirming that there's no such thing as fleeting fame if it's got talent backing it up."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Two people who knew Theresa Duncan speak out

A former boyfriend of Theresa Duncan’s has posted an “open letter to Kate Coe on his blog, explaining how she “got it wrong” in her L.A. Weekly story. Duncanologists will appreciate reading his vigorous defense of Duncan.

In his letter, he addresses Monica Gesue’s (co-creator of Chop Suey) account (given in Coe’e L.A. Weekly story) of what went down at Magnet Interactive (where he, Duncan and Gesue worked) on the day that Duncan was fired:

Having been working at Magnet and dating Theresa at the time, the story you tell, which you refer to as Theresa’s “Shoo-fly Pie meltdown,” is very different from what I remember. What I do remember clearly is our shock when her partner, without Theresa's knowledge, requested a meeting with Magnet's owner and senior creative director where she made the wild accusation that the game Theresa had written was "racist." And I remember thinking how crazy that claim was, for I had read all the drafts of the game treatment. Indeed, Shoo-fly Pie was as sweet and whimsical as all of Theresa's other games would prove to be.

Why Monica did this is something for her to answer (I can only speculate), as she must have known that it would create an untenable work situation and precipitate a painful falling out between them. As for the other assertions made by her, I won't even dignify them with comment except to say they are so gossipy and malicious that they should have given you, as a reporter, pause about your source.

Gesue has responded in the comments section of his blog, writing:

I want to clarify what actually happened at Magnet. It may not be clear what I told Kate Coe because of the editing and limitations of space.

I had reservations about the "Shoo-Fly Pie" project. I didn't feel like I could talk to Theresa about it, because she was becoming increasingly hostile towards me, sometimes without provocation.
What follows is a riveting read--a detailed account of Gesue's recollection of that day and of their relationship since. Please go there and check it out for yourself.

Fishbowl L.A.'s Kate Coe shares insights on Duncan

Fishbowl L.A.'s Kate Coe, who's penned the most interesting piece on Duncan so far, has commented on this post of mine, taking issue with my suggestion that Duncan was a Hollywood wannabe.

Considering the extent of her knowledge on the subject, her response merits being called out in a separate post. Here is what she wrote (my response is in italics):

I don't agree--and I'm one of the journalists who wrote about her and her work. Duncan did create (working with others, credited or not) genuinely original and innovative work in CD-Roms and animated film (The History of Glamour is clever and smart and even a little touching).

I never meant to imply that Duncan was not genuinely talented at something. Note that I have not commented on either the CD-Roms (god that sounds so old school, doesn't it? so 20th century) or The History of Glamour. My main concern is with the blog, which was touted from the beginning as being this fabulous thing.

When she came to LA, Hollywood was busy scooping up ideas from a zillion different places, because the usual sources for movies weren't very good. But, CD-Roms were the perfect medium for small groups of creative and passionate people. Movies are the perfect medium for large groups of people who want to make money.

Good point . Which begs the question, though, why did she come to Hollywood? (If not to seek fame and fortune?) Perhaps I missed this somewhere. I'm starting to get dizzy from Duncan overload. (And I have only myself to blame.)

Duncan might seem like just a wanna-be, but compare her to Brett Ratner, and she's like Balenciaga to his Juicy Couture.

Point well taken. But, compare her to Ingmar Bergman (who died within weeks of her) and she is...Rachel Zoe to his Edith Head? I'm too lazy to check this out right now, but what's the word count on Bergman vs. Duncan in the L.A. times? The amount of glowing press Duncan has received in comparison to her body of work is just amazing.

She did try, with all her heart--she wrote the scripts and took the meetings and pitched great ideas. She wasn't just some poseur with a laptop at a Coffee Bean table.

I guess it depends on what you our definition of Hollywood wannabe is. Despite all the meetings she may have taken, Duncan was still on the outside looking in. In my book, that makes her a Hollywood wannabe.

She talked and wrote about people and ideas that most Hollywood types have never heard of and could care less about. Being too smart out here can shut you off from the main crowd very quickly.

Just because she was smarter than the average industry schmo doesn't necessarily make her brilliant.

I admit that I don't know what the Eureka! moment (if any existed) was when she and Blake decided that Beck's church was deliberately thwarting them. Her first agent told me, too late for my story, that he had many clients who blamed their lack of professional progress on various people or organizations (including but not limited to, the Church of L. Ron, the Republican party, the Democratic party, the NRA, the NFL, and parents whose kids went to Crossroads School).

I had not heard that before. This sheds some light on how incredibly tough and heartbreaking the industry can be, to the the point where desperation takes over. (Lana Clarkson—a blonde who also died needlessly at age 40—comes to mind.)

I was not part of her inner circle of friends, nor have I presented myself as such. But I did know her, and even when I thought she was embroidering a little or a lot, I liked her. She was funny as hell, very smart and more down to earth than her blog would present.

This blog does not mean to imply by its content or very existence that Duncan wasn't funny or smart, or that she wasn't a devoted friend or daughter, that she wasn't terrific company, etc. I've pretty much stuck to analyzing The Wit of the Staircase because so much praise was heaped on it from the moment she went missing.

But I love a mystery as much as the next person, and I was fascinated as the layers of the story peeled away, and I know that admission seems ghoulish, even for a journalist. I wish with all my heart that she and Jeremy had had a happier ending in NYC.

This story wouldn't be fascinating if it weren't for the fact that there are universal themes at its very core (about identity, creativity and career success, to name a few). I think it's safe to say that Duncanologists also wish this story didn't have a tragic ending. Thanks for uncovering some of the layers.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Theresa Duncan's blog to stay up "forever"

Per L.A. Times:

According to Raymond Doherty, a friend of Duncan's who is now maintaining the site, "the plan is to keep it up forever."

Theresa Duncan's blog eulogized in L.A. Times

The L.A. Times eulogizes The Wit of the Staircase in the Calendar section:

Lavishly illustrated with fine art, fashion photography, film stills, news and paparazzi photos, book and album covers, and recurring images of Kate Moss, her preferred celebrity obsession, Wit, as she called it and herself interchangeably, was a cultural free-for-all. In this forum, which she could credibly assert was engendering a new type of writing, Duncan shared the things that caught her fancy, sometimes crafting lengthy, heavily researched ruminations on subjects mundane and arcane, sometimes excerpting articles or posting poems or even listing a particularly good run on her iPod. Always, her poetic sensibility, arch glamour and fiery spirit came through. Hers was a unique female voice, and this is why her death is such an acute loss to her readers, myself included. [emphasis mine]
Ah to read Duncan's heavily researched ruminations. Yes, of course--like the history of electricity.

Thank you L.A. Times, for another terrific "well-researched" piece of your own! What happened? Judith Miller wasn't available to take this assignment?

Friday, August 10, 2007

A most delish Theresa Duncan read

Fellow Duncanologists, I've hit the mother lode. I've found an archived thread from December 2006 at lit blog Elegant Variation featuring none other than the Wit. The discussion centers around Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl which made it to the New York Times Top 10 Books of the Year list. Elegant Variation's stance and that of most posters on the thread is that the book didn't merit being on the list.

Posting under her own name, Duncan quickly enters the discussion troll-like, guns blazing and off topic.What ensues is a lively and entertaining debate (if you've ever posted drunk you'll recognize the Wit's voice here) in which the she gets her ass kicked roundly by some pretty sharp lit geeks.

In the thread she name drops the Chateau Marmont (where she says she's off to have breakfast that day) and "the studios," mentions that she's a "critic for Artforum and Slate and other digital and paper rags," brags about "all the reading I'm going to do this week," and eventually makes a thinly veiled threat at one of the other posters. More interesting, she brings up plagiarism:

I do feel though that the cultural license to fixate and criticize people like Pessl has become overly lax (like the plagiarism fixation) and that our critical dialog is straying into the territory of nitpicking and ressentiment.
This is the Wit at her feline "best," claws extended, flying by the seat of her pants and genuine in the belief that she's talking rings around people and landing squarely on her feet. This is what I imagine the people who knew her personally mean when they speak of her dazzling personality. A must read.

Extra credit reading: One of the posters who participated in that thread recently posted his own thoughts on Duncan's passing.

Correction: Theresa Duncan Address

A post here in the comments section from "Kate" (who I'm guessing is the eminent Duncanologist Kate Coe) corrects me on the Wit's latest Venice address. She writes:

They lived there for 2 years, moved to 1208 CABRILLO AVE APARTMENT B, and then to someone's guest house Chris Lee's piece in the LAT has them living in Venice, near Brooks Ave.

Did Theresa Duncan borrow or did she steal?

I've just found Ghost of a Flea's blog. He apparently knew Duncan and sparred with her. (I believe this was limited to verbal jousting, but I could be wrong. In one of her posts Duncan claimed to be taking fencing classes.). Now, post mortem, he's a bit of an apologist for the Wit.

Flea writes:

There are some people who would read irresponsible fantasy, even duplicity, into creating a second life like this. Oscar Wilde had a different name for the practice, viz Art. William Blake, the Imagination.

I believe he is referring to Duncan's Lunar Society posts. And, if I'm reading this correctly, I agree with Flea here. At least with the first part of what he says. Anybody who took Theresa Duncan's fantastic Lunar Society posts literally is an idiot and deserves to be "deceived." Clearly these were meant to be amusing vignettes into an imaginary world. This is perfectly okay--totally permissible. Unfortunately Duncan's Lunar Society posts were hackneyed and derivative, the literary equivalent of Penthouse Forum. You can almost hear her getting off as you read them.

On the topic of Duncan's literary "borrowing," in response to Seaword, Flea writes:

Though I should add Americans - and Canadians - tend to take the view that every reference must be made explicit in order to be legitimate. This is not the case in French scholarship. In a country where it is still possible to assume a readership with a classical education there is no need to telegraph an allusion to Plato. Sadly, the English-speaking world has a created a culture where sensible people can quote Scripture or Shakespeare and have not a clue they are so doing.

We are not talking about that in this blog. We're talking about Duncan's blatant plagiarism from ordinary sources like Wikipedia, not Plato. She lifted whole paragraphs from other sources, made a few minor tweaks and posted them as her own. (Some of her lifts are embedded, so they appear to be quite deliberate.) Now, this may be essentially a victimless crime. But for the love of God and of all the bullshit that's written in the holy books, let's not call her writing brilliant!

What I've dug up so far proves how very ordinary and common Duncan was. The quintessential Hollywood wannabe. This story is fascinating because those of us who live in this town recognize the universality of the themes. The struggle against the grind, the need to create a persona with an aura and a mystique, to "brand" oneself creatively and yet be considered commercial enough. To use crude industryspeak: to be fuckable.

The fact that Duncan was a plagiarist, a woman who pretended to be something she was not (for one thing she pretended to be younger than she was and she clearly pretended to be a blonde), does not make her any less interesting. In fact she is fascinating, but perhaps not for the reasons she would want to be.

Theresa Duncan hated Bush

A new piece by reveals that Theresa Duncan hated Bush. (No big surprise.) The piece (nicely done) relies heavily on quotes from Father Frank Morales, St. Mark's associate pastor who they befriended. (Duncan and Blake lived at the church--it was their last address.)

Duncan OD’d on sleeping pills in the late afternoon after lunching earlier with Blake. Morales said neither showed signs of depression or substance abuse.

“There was absolutely no drugs involved, in terms of their being drug addicted,” he said. “I know that quite well.”
With all due respect Pastor did you really know them? Or are you making a distinction between drug use and abuse? There were references to drugs in Duncan's posts. Usually squares don't just casually drop that they were sparking up a doobie.

Money quote:

Blake liked to say Duncan was too intelligent for Hollywood, where she was “surrounded by morons,” Morales recalled.
More on Duncan and Hollywood in my next post.

Checking out Theresa Duncan's Venice digs

Ever wonder where the Wit of the Staircase was written? My guess is at a Starbucks in Brentwood. Duncanologists who want to see where the Wit lived (and presumably lit up a doobie or two), should trot on over to this address:

232 Linnie Canal
Venice, CA

This is should be the cottage teased by Kate Coe of Fishbowl LA in her L.A. Weekly story on Duncan. (And yes, I'm too lazy to look it up on google earth.)

While you're there, see if you can't scare up some evidence of CIA activity, black cats, weird license plates and Tom Cruise in the neighborhood.

All this sleuthing is bound to make you hungry, so pop into nearby Abbot's Pizza (on Abbot Kinney's main drag) for a slice of pie made with a bagel crust.

UPDATE: According to "Kate," who comments on this post, this wasn't their latest domicile. (Though they DID live here.)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Looking for clues: Did cannibis kill Theresa Duncan

A study in the journal Lancet (coincidentally published right around the time of Wit's death) found... Well, read it for yourself here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Theresa Duncan's tiresome prose: Slogging through The Wit of the Stoner

Good old-fashioned reporting isn't sexy--it's tedious and time consuming. And these days, it's rarely done by MSM reporters. But as a dedicated Duncanologist, I'm not afraid of a little hard work. So here's what I've dug up for you today.

Based on numerous reference to the herb in her posts, the Wit appears to have been a stoner (which would make JB a stoner too, of course). Hey whatever you do in the privacy of your own home is fine with me, but it would certainly explain the couple's chronic paranoia and the dreamy, convoluted, self-important prose. Suddenly everything begins to make sense.

Here is an example
Fresh from LAX, I instead hid in my Lunar Library office and listened to early Kinks albums, smoked a couple bowls of California chronic, cataloged a crate of first edition Walter Cranes in fine gilt bindings, caught up on my copious handwritten correspondence (stationery Mrs. John L. Strong) and polished off half a bottle of XO cognac. Or so. [emphasis mine]

And here another
We tighten the suede laces on the Wit teepee flaps and brace ourselves for the months of everglow sunshine ahead. We wonder at all that June, July, August, water under the bridge, put on the nineteen fifties child's feathered headress we bought at the yard sale on Horizon and spark up a doob. [emphasis mine]

And here another.

While summer 2006 begins on this Solstice day elsewhere, we know that summer never ends at The Wit Of The Staircase. Doped to the gills as the Staircase is on the chronic creations of the solar orb nearest our 90291 neighborhood (and some stars even farther out), Wit is now so sun drunk that she is often forced to wonder where summer ends and she begins.

California is a psychoactive agent capable of providing a synaesthesia of not just the senses, you see, but a synaesthesia of whole states of the Union and individual existences. The first thing Wit did on relocating its offices from the East Coast was buy an Alfa Romeo convertible. The second thing she did is put the top down. And the third was to acquire a big square bottle of one-of-a kind Oyédo by Diptyque that takes up the car's entire tiny glove box.

[Sharp inhale...then "holding-pot-in-lungs" patois] Late fall's desert winds from Santa Ana are already poised to drag in their hippie-kiln heat and a choking red dust that seems wafted in from Mars. Things standing for over a century are going to burn, and even Christmas looks like the original one, with sand and sun and a star already rising in the East.

[Slow North Wind with puffed-cheeks on an antique map exhale] Princess Summerfall--stupid, gorgeous, arrogant--trips over her gossamer green train and her eldritch evil sister Novemberwill takes up her cracked sceptre.

Are you bored yet? Here is another.

And then I learned the same rule again at the detective academy last year, which surprised me, because I had worked so hard to forget the first lesson through pot smoking, catalog shopping and sunbathing while slicked with a measly millimeter of level 2 SPF only. Daredevil, some say.

Theresa Duncan in New York Observer

The Observer weighs in.
Is it me, or does it look like the Wit was wearing flesh tone hose with gold slides in that photo? The legs seem very opaque and a different color than the arms.

NY Post covers Theresa Duncan

The New York Post covers Theresa Duncan with a piece shamelessly cribbed from stories written by the L.A. Weekly, Washington Post and L.A. Times. How fitting for The Wit. No doubt she would have appreciated the blatant plagiarism.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Theresa Duncan and the history of electricity

In David Segal's Washington Post article referenced below, he describes Duncan's blog as "bouncing from lowbrow to high, from Kate Moss to Franz Kafka, from film to the history of electricity."

Ah the history of electricity. Nothing does more to solidify ones intellectual bona fides than to write about an esoteric subject. (Say like “Electric Fairy Tales: CD-ROMs and Literature"—but nevermind; we'll come back to that one another day.)

Let's examine the posts that The Wit filed under "the history of electricity" label. There are six posts total on this subject. Two of them are throwaways: one is really just a photo, the other is a supposed letter from a fan. That leaves just four posts on electricity. (Shocking, isn't it?) Only four posts, yet they merited mention in Segal's story. I wonder if he had the chance to read them. Have you? Oh, you must! I insist on it.

Here's Duncan, eloquently writing on lightning, mushrooms and omens.

Ancient Romans saw Jove's thunderbolts as a sign of condemnation and denied burial rites to those killed by lightning. Andeans hold similar beliefs and may ostracize the victim. In some cultures, medicines are made from stones that are believed to be a result of lightning strike. Roman, Hindu, and Mayan cultures all have myths that mushrooms arise from spots where lightning has hit the ground

Now here, curiously, is a meteorological website on the same topic:

Ancient Romans saw Jove's thunderbolts as a sign of condemnation and denied burial rites to those killed by lightning. Some cultures have made medicines from stones struck by lightning., Roman, Hindu and Mayan cultures all held the belief that mushrooms arise from spots where lightning has hit the ground.

On Benjamin Franklin, Duncan writes:

In 1750 Benjamin Franklin published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a storm that appeared capable of becoming a lightning storm. On May 10, 1752, Thomas Francois d'Alibard of France conducted Franklin's experiment (using a 40-foot-tall iron rod instead of a kite) and extracted electrical sparks from a cloud. On June 15, Franklin conducted his famous kite experiment and also successfully extracted sparks from a cloud, unaware that d'Alibard had already done so, 36 days earlier. Others, such as Prof. Georg Wilhelm Richmann of St. Petersburg, Russia, were spectacularly electrocuted during the months following Franklin's experiment.
Franklin, in his writings, displays that he was aware of the dangers and offered alternative ways to demonstrate that lightning was electrical, as shown by his invention of the lightning rod, an application of the use of electrical ground. If Franklin did perform this experiment, he did not do it in the way that is often described, as it would have been dramatic but fatal. Instead he used the kite to collect some electric charge from a storm cloud, which implied that lightning was electrical.

On Benjamin Franklin, wikipedia noted (on August 5, 2007):

In 1750, he published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a storm that appeared capable of becoming a lightning storm. On May 10, 1752, Thomas-François Dalibard of France conducted Franklin's experiment (using a 40-foot-tall iron rod instead of a kite) and extracted electrical sparks from a cloud. On June 15, Franklin may have possibly conducted his famous kite experiment in Philadelphia and also successfully extracted sparks from a cloud, although there are theories that suggest he never performed the experiment . Franklin's experiment was not written up until Joseph Priestley's 1767 History and Present Status of Electricity; the evidence shows that Franklin was insulated (not in a conducting path, since he would have been in danger of electrocution in the event of a lightning strike). (Others, such as Prof. Georg Wilhelm Richmann of St. Petersburg, Russia, were electrocuted during the months following Franklin's experiment.) In his writings, Franklin indicates that he was aware of the dangers and offered alternative ways to demonstrate that lightning was electrical, as shown by his use of the concept of electrical ground. If Franklin did perform this experiment, he did not do it in the way that is often described, flying the kite and waiting to be struck by lightning, (as it would have been dramatic but fatal[17]). Instead he used the kite to collect some electric charge from a storm cloud, which implied that lightning was electrical.

Now, Duncanologists are smart enough to realize that wikipedia entries can be easily changed and updated. A prankster could very well have copied The Wit's brilliant post entry onto ole Benji's wikipedia page or that Duncan herself could have written it. (And btw, when is that next Lunar Society meeting? For some reason, I didn't get the evite this month.)

On Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen (the guy credited with inventing the X-ray), Duncan writes:

On 8 November 1895, German physics professor Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen (1845-1923) worked in his darkened Wurzburg laboratory. His experiments focused on light phenomena and other emissions generated by discharging electrical current in highly-evacuated glass tubes. These tubes, known generically as "Crookes tubes," after the British investigator William Crookes (1832-1919), were widely available. Roentgen was interested in cathode rays and in assessing their range outside of charged tubes.
To Roentgen's surprise, he noted that when his cardboard-shrouded tube was charged, an object across the room began to glow. This proved to be a barium platinocyanide-coated screen too far away to be reacting to the cathode rays as he understood them. We know little about the sequence of his work over the next few days, except that while holding materials between the tube and screen to test the new rays, he saw the bones of his hand clearly displayed in an outline of flesh.

It is impossible for observers accustomed to modern imaging to gauge the mixture of wonder and disbelief Roentgen must have felt that day. When he immobilised for some moments the hand of his wife in the path of the rays over a photographic plate, he observed after development of the plate an image of his wife's hand which showed the shadows thrown by the bones of her hand and that of a ring she was wearing, surrounded by the penumbra of the flesh, which was more permeable to the rays and therefore threw a fainter shadow.
On 28 December 1895 Roentgen gave his preliminary report "Uber eine neue Art von Strahlen" to the president of the Wurzburg Physical-Medical Society, accompanied by experimental radiographs and by the image of his wife's hand. By New Year's Day he had sent the printed report to physicist friends across Europe. January saw the world gripped by "X-ray mania," and Roentgen acclaimed as the discoverer of a medical miracle. Roentgen won the first Nobel prize in physics in 1901.
From the website of soysee, makers of X-ray products

In 8 November 1895, German physics professor Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen (1845-1923) worked in his darkened Wurzburg laboratory. His experiments focused on light phenomena and other emissions generated by discharging electrical current in highly-evacuated glass tubes. These tubes, known generically as “Crookes tubes,” after the British investigator William Crookes (1832-1919), were widely available. Roentgen was interested in cathode rays and in assessing their range outside of charged tubes.

To Roentgen’s surprise, he noted that when his cardboard-shrouded tube was charged, an object across the room began to glow. This proved to be a barium platinocyanide-coated screen too far away to be reacting to the cathode rays as he understood them. We know little about the sequence of his work over the next few days, except that while holding materials between the tube and screen to test the new rays, he saw the bones of his hand clearly displayed in an outline of flesh. It is impossible for observers accustomed to modern imaging to gauge the mixture of wonder and disbelief Roentgen must have felt that day. He plunged into seven weeks of meticulously planned and executed experiments to determine the nature of the rays. He worked in isolation, telling a friend simply, “I have discovered something interesting, but I do not know whether or not my observations are correct.” In fact, one wonders if Roentgen’s experiments were as much to convince himself of the reality of his observations as to enhance the scientific data supporting the phenomenon.

On 28 December 1895 Roentgen gave his preliminary report “Uber eine neue Art von Strahlen” to the president of the Wurzburg Physical-Medical Society, accompanied by experimental radiographs and by the image of his wife’s hand. By New Year’s Day he had sent the printed report to physicist friends across Europe. January saw the world gripped by “X-ray mania,” and Roentgen acclaimed as the discoverer of a medical miracle. Roentgen, who won the first Nobel prize in physics in 1901, declined to seek patents or proprietary claims on the X-rays, even eschewing eponymous descriptions of his discovery and its applications.

Note that while there is a striking resemblance between Duncan's writing and the work of others, these are not exact replicas! It is quite possible for two writers to come up with very similar 100-word paragraphs at the same time. And, of course, it's possible that Duncan lent her considerable talents to other websites, perhaps moonlighting as a copy writer for an Xray equipment company and such.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Major coverage of Theresa Duncan's story

Let's face it, blogs rarely practice original reporting, preferring instead to deal in gossip and speculation. (Which, of course, we all love.) Wacky conspiracy theories aside, so far the most interesting stuff written about Theresa Duncan, a.k.a. "The Wit" (don't you just luvit when people nickname themselves?) has come from the MSM. In case you missed them, here are some of those must-reads:

LA Weekly

Kate Coe (who also writes Mediabistro's FishbowlLA), writing in the L.A. Weekly, has penned the most interesting piece so far. It's been eclipsed only by Vanity Fair's profile of Judi Guiliani as my favorite dishy page turner of the summer. Coe does a terrific job of pulling back the curtain to reveal the darkness that was lurking in the Staircase. (No doubt The Wit would have approved, all shadowy and lunar as she was.) Early on in the piece, Coe delivers a stunning prosecutorial opener:

"I knew her, and I knew that much of what she wrote about her world was an elaborate tale, taken as fact by the uninitiated. Duncan blogged daily on her elegant Web site, The Wit of the Staircase, about her bohemian-chic cottage on a Venice canal, meetings of the slightly sinister and probably nonexistent Lunar Society of Los Angeles, and the turbulent love life of Kate Moss." [emphasis mine]

Unfortunately, Coe doesn't quite deliver, and instead gives us a pretty prim account of Duncan's career. Tell us about the cottage, Kate! What else was an elaborate tale? My guess is Coe would like to reveal more, but her editors won't let her. (Or maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part.)

LA Times

In the L.A. Times Chris Lee gives a riveting account of Jeremy Blake's final days (after finding The Wit witty no more in their uber-hipster digs in le Village). Eyebrow-raising quote:

"Possessed of movie star good looks, remembered as "alarmingly brilliant" and at times jealously protective of each other, the couple has been posthumously dubbed "Theremy" by"

Alarmingly brilliant? I wonder where that leaves Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonini. Theremy? Somehow I thought art world people had a little more elan. Apparently they're as clever as a Bonnie Fuller coverline. Still, Lee does give insight into the couple's paranoia. And, of course, it's reassuring to read that Scientologists queried by Lee deny any foul play relating to The Wits. That really put my mind at ease.

The New York Times

The Gray Lady beat the L.A. Times to the punch. (Which makes sense, since
The Wit was no longer living in Venice and she bid this life adieu in Manhattan.) I'm not bothering to include the link, because the Times has put the story on TimesSelect. Brilliant guys! Simply brilliant! They should call you The Wits, part deux in fact.

The Washington Post

David Segal writes: "They were one of those New York couples: good-looking and ridiculously gifted." Whoa! Actually, they were one of those L.A. couples, David. Trust me on this one. (Jeremey's penchant for wearing trucker hats should be your first clue.) Ridiculously gifted? Okay, I'll grant that by L.A.'s generous intellectual standards perhaps they were, but by New York standards? I think more than a handful of people on the upper West Side, Brooklyn and the Village might disagree with that assesment.

Anyway, Jeremy was from Washington, didn't you know? So that's what we learn in this piece. (That and the fact that Mr. Wit was indeed accomplished and talented.)

Eyebrow-raising quote:

"Physically, Duncan was a knockout, but it was her mind that left the most lasting impact. She wrote a blog called the Wit of the Staircase, and it is a roiling tour of a capacious mind, bouncing from lowbrow to high, from Kate Moss to Franz Kafka, from film to the history of electricity."
Is it me or does this guy sound like he's kinda sweet on The Wit? Watch out dude! She's dangerous. Stay away from any body of water containing salt!

Hot on the trail of a summer obsession

Every summer brings on a macabre news obsession. Remember Andrew Cunanan? Well, maybe you don't. Anyway, if you're like me, the story of Theresa Duncan has gripped your imagination. (That's why you're here, isn't it?)

I had never heard of Duncan or her blog until LA Observed reported her missing. LO's Kevin Roderick described the blog as "a personal favorite of mine." So naturally, I hightailed it over to The Wit of the Staircase to see what the fuss was about. I then followed Roderick's link to perfume blogger Anya McCoy, who seemed to have inside info Duncan's dissapearance. (McCoy turned out to be correct. By the time Roderick reported her missing, Duncan was already climbing that big escalier in the sky.)

I was instantly hooked on this story for several reasons:

  1. Duncan was originally missing—and who doesn't like a good mystery? Perhaps I could solve it.
  2. Duncan's blog was named after a French phrase I actually had heard of before. (Mardy Grothe explains it in a great little book I own called Viva la repartee: clever combacks & witty retorts from history's great wits and wordsmiths.)
  3. Duncan and I have something in common: In the early 90s, I co-published a 'zine with a pretentious-sounding French phrase as its title.
  4. Perfume blogs? Who knew?!

You may have your own reasons for following Duncan's story—and as a result, her companion Jeremy Blake's long swim goodbye too (hey, at least the Atlantic is warm)—but the fact is we're both tormentented by this tale. We want to know more.

I've started this blog as a way to catalogue what's been written about Duncan and Blake. This way, instead of scouring the web for fresh insights, Duncanologists can just stop here.

I would say "Enjoy!" But somehow that has a happy ring to it that doesn't quite sound appropriate here. So... argh-hem! read on.