|. . . 2000-10-09 . . .||
Juliet Clark forwards a familiar analysis from "The Problem of Living In New York," by Junius Henri Browne, Harper's New Monthly Magazine, November, 1882:
Why is it, may naturally be asked, that people should continually pour into New York when there is not room enough for half of those already here? Why should they persistently seek to live in a city where, with hosts on hosts of houses, there are no homes save for the prosperous? There is abundant space in most of the towns a hundred miles distant. Why do not people swell the census there instead of crowding into an overcrowded capital where the chances of success, of competence even, are ten thousand to one against them? They come in such numbers because so many have come before them, because New York is the commercial center of the republic, because it is immensely rich and strong, because, in short, it does not need or want them....Oh, what a difference 22 years make! Henry Adams, from a 1904 letter:
Thousands and thousands of men who have no regular employment, and no special prospects, who are materially and mentally out at elbows, whose whole life has been a spiritual tragedy, could not be persuaded to-day to leave the city where they have been so constantly baffled and tormented, where they have suffered so intensely, were they assured of a regular and respectable livelihood in some quiet town of the interior. Myriads of inmates of the squalid, distressing tenement-houses, in which morality is as impossible as happiness, would not give them up, despite their horrors, for clean, orderly, wholesome habitations in the suburbs, could they be transported there and back free of charge. They are in some unaccountable way terribly in love with their own wretchedness.
The American, like the Russian, has undertaken too much. He does more than anyone else ever did, but he does not keep up with the machine. New York promises to become a first-class tragedy. Life there is a tour-de-force. Rents are fantastic, prices are absurd, conditions are chaotic, but the trouble has hardly begun.
"And Salmon begat Booz...."
The homily of the week comes from poet Anselm Dovetonsils, who seems to have been put into an unusually devotional mood by yesterday's entry:
|. . . 2000-10-10|
Tom Glynn brings our earlier erratum to an even higher gloss:
"Whoa guys! Thomas Bernhard is at one and the same time our most comic and our most depressing writer. I should say was, since as you know he is dead. Who cares about his political involvement? Look at his writing. Is there anything funnier than Old Masters or more depressing than Yes? And has anyone pointed out the connection between Kierkegaard and Bernhard?"
+ + +
Speaking of hot literary disputes, I ain't George Steiner and I ain't George Steiner's son, but I can be George Steiner till George Steiner comes: James Wood's attack is vicious and exhaustive enough that most of us can probably wrest at least a couple nicks out of it....
"Steiner is like someone who, seeing a blind man in the street, says: 'I would rather be deaf than blind.'"
|. . . 2000-10-12|
Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet is a charming zine in the proto-Web tradition, but I didn't expect to find the two best short stories I've read this year tucked up its slender cuff. What a "coup," as they say in the editor's native Scotland!
With frighteningly typical aplomb, Karen Joy Fowler's "Heartland" demonstrates the equation:
Brightly colored plastic and happy little people, as maintained and portrayed by grim Oompa-Loompas -- pay no attention to the sentimentalizing whip-wielders behind the curtain.... Oh, it's barely possible that you or I might, given sufficient prompting, work out that premise, but neither of us would be able to incarnate it in so convincingly organic a form. This is politics drawn from life and returned to living flesh.
And Kelly Link's "The Glass Slipper" is the most interesting modern take I've seen on Cinderella. Of course I would be interested, being as it directs the spotlight off the girl and onto the Prince, whose motivations have always been rather shadowy. What would drive a nice guy (because, after all, we'd really prefer him to be nice) to go around fitting shoes? Is fitting shoes really a good way to meet Ms. Right? (I can't tell you myself, 'cause I got fired from my shoe store clerk job after just two weeks, thus condemning me to life in the software industry.) If it is, mightn't you meet Ms. Right through the process itself, even without an official win on the foot? I mean, you can probably get to know someone as well by fitting their shoes as by dancing with them, right? And so we find ourselves pratfalling over the tangled, by no means strictly causal, relations of fetish and love, attraction and consummation.... It's what fairy tales were made for: to warn us about real life.
|. . . 2000-10-13|
These are unsettled times, and there's nothing more unsettling than the question of Hotsy Totsy's new brand identity.
|So far, our visitors' suggestions for a new logo include:
And among the suggestions for a new title:
Long-time Berkeleyist Juliet Clark issues these gentle errata:
Did you notice that the address for the "Towne Dandies" is in Saint Helena? That's not even in the East Bay! These guys are tourists. They have no right to be hanging out on our street.
|. . . 2000-10-15|
Movie Comment: American Beauty
Credit where credit's due. Over the past couple years, most critically acclaimed crappy movies have just been vinyl-veneer knock-offs of Frank Perry, or Martin Scorsese, or Robert Altman, or David Lynch, or John Cassavetes. But only the makers of American Beauty have had sufficient vision to produce a vinyl-veneer knock-off of Norman Lear.
|. . . 2000-10-17|
Everything Is True; Nothing Is Permitted
I first encountered the attempt to pit the dim light of quantum mechanics against the deepest fogs of cognitive neuroscience in a paper sponsored by the Vatican and authored by soul-searcher Sir John C. Eccles. What mostly struck me was the incongruous disproportion between the two-thousand-years-tall edifice of Catholic theology and the subparticular results on which Sir John had wasted such strenuous ingenuity. It all seemed as fascinating, hilarious, and sad as a Buster Keaton routine.
I was reminded of Sir John when I read Henry Adams's 1882 response to William James on receipt of some early essays on religious psychology and societal evolution:
As I understand your Faith, your x, your reaction of the individual on the cosmos, it is the old question of Free Will over again. You choose to assume that the will is free. Good! Reason proves that the Will cannot be free. Equally good! Free or not, the mere fact that a doubt can exist, proves that x must be a very microscopic quantity. If the orthodox are grateful to you for such gifts, the world has indeed changed, and we have much to thank God for, if there is a God, that he should have left us unable to decide whether our thoughts, if we have thoughts, are our own or his'n.
Although your gift to the church seems to me a pretty darned mean one, I admire very much your manner of giving it, which magnifies the crumb into at least forty loaves and fishes. My wife is quite converted by it. She enjoyed the paper extremely. Since she read it she has talked of giving five dollars to Russell Sturgis's church for napkins. As the impression fades, she says less of the napkins.
With hero worship, I have little patience. In history heroes have neutralized each other, and the result is no more than would have been reached without them. Indeed in military heroes I suspect that the ultimate result has been retardation. Nevertheless you could doubtless at any time stop the entire progress of human thought by killing a few score of men. So far I am with you. A few hundred men represent the entire intellectual activity of the whole thirteen hundred million. What then? They drag us up the cork-screw stair of thought, but they can no more get their brains to run out of their especial convolutions than a railway train (with a free will of half an inch on three thousand miles) can run free up Mount Shasta. Not one of them has ever got so far as to tell us a single vital fact worth knowing. We can't even prove that we are.
Alas, James seems to have chosen not to pursue the correspondence at that time, although thirty years later he wrote, "I ask you whether an old man soon about to meet his Maker can hope to save himself from the consequences of his life by pointing to the wit and learning he has shown in treating a tragic subject."
|. . . 2000-10-20|
The ultimate performance is the one that achieves survival.
|. . . 2000-10-21|
A nightmare is a stupid wish your heart makes
Movie books ogleJayne Mansfield's maternal qualifications, rock histories clip the spasms of Little Richard and perfectly cast Gene Vincent, but The Girl Can't Help It truly peaks with Julie London's rendition of "Cry Me a River," wherein our nasty little hero is whipped reeling from room to room by the sheer glamour of her apparition.
Sonow sit yourself down in front of a Cinemascope print, pour yourself a tumbler of gin, and do what comes natural: she cried a river over you.
(singalong link thanks to Dumbmonkey)
|. . . 2000-10-23|
David Auerbach forwards an introduction to George Steiner that's "funnier than James Wood" -- and before this goes any further I should warn the research-inclined reader that, like presidential primaries, the Wood-Steiner fight is useful as a source of invective rather than of truth. Wood's pontifications may be more polished than Steiner's but they're no more alive; few inquiries can afford the handicap of blinders like:
"Since fiction is itself a kind of magic, the novel should not be magical."Which is like my Grandma Davis's refusal to watch sad stories because "the world's got enough sadness already," except that Grandma Davis had logic and personal commitment on her side: "more sadness" seems on the face of it undesirable in a way that "more magic" does not, and Grandma Davis did much more to increase the amount of sadness in the world than James Wood's done to increase the amount of magic in the novel.
|. . . 2000-10-24|
When George Jones sings
For the first timehis articulation leaves carefully ambiguous whether this particular night was the first time ever he saw he saw his face, or whether he goes through this every night and he's just talking about the evening's first encounter.
|. . . 2000-10-25|
[sic], [sic], [sic]
Plucky gal reporter "Torchy" Clark forwards a choice example (lead paragraph of a front-page feature story!) of the San Francisco ChronEx's ineffable wordcraft ("No Sentence Left Unbruised"). Watch out for those dangerously small parents.
|Baby Louie was born four months too early. Dangerously small, his parents, Hortensia and Dayo Sowunmi, felt Louie's will to survive strong, and so prayed while Dr. Gregory Organ operated on the 'micro-preemie.' Filled with hope and anxiety, the Sowunmi's waited for miracle.|
|. . . 2000-10-26|
The 100 Super Movies au maximum: The Big Combo
We have lots of reasons to be grateful for low-budget specialist Joseph H. Lewis's work, but Peter Bogdonovich's book of interviews is what made me grateful for Joseph H. Lewis's existence. In a field full of insecure egotists, Lewis comes across as happy, gracious, and busting with healthy pride in everything he ever did (except for the Custer movie: "I became terribly confused because I found out what a horrible man Colonel Custer was. Jiminy Cricket!"). It's just nice to know that it's even possible to be someone like that, you know? 'Cause sometimes you look around, and.... Anyway, here's Lewis on The Big Combo:
Which makes the scene sound like fun. It isn't. It begins with a nasty quarrel and ends with whispered dialogue:
|... an' anotha thing ...||... then again ...|