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. . . 2001-07-08

Gascoigne's Lullaby

Sing lullaby as women do,
    Wherewith they bring their babes to rest,
And lullaby can I sing too
    As womanly as can the best.
With lullaby they still the child,
And if I be not much beguil'd,
    Full many wanton babes have I
    Which must be still'd with lullaby.

First lullaby my youthful years:
    It is now time to go to bed,
For crooked age and hoary hairs
    Have won the haven within my head.
With lullaby then youth be still,
With lullaby content thy will:
    Since courage quails and comes behind,
    Go sleep and so beguile thy mind.

Next lullaby my gazing eyes
    Which wonted were to glance apace,
For every glass may now suffice
    To show the furrows in my face.
With lullaby then wink awhile,
With lullaby your looks beguile:
    Let no fair face nor beauty bright
    Entice you eft with vain delight.

And lullaby my wanton will:
    Let reason's rule now reign thy thought,
Since all too late I find by skill
    How dear I have thy fancies bought.
With lullaby now take thine ease,
With lullaby thy doubts appease;
    For trust to this: if thou be still,
    My body shall obey thy will.

Eke lullaby my loving boy,
    My little Robin, take thy rest:
Since age is cold and nothing coy,
    Keep close thy coin, for so is best.
With lullaby be thou content,
With lullaby thy lusts relent;
    Let others pay which hath mo' pence:
    Thou art too poor for such expense.

Then lullaby my youth, mine eyes,
    My will, my ware, and all that was;
I can no mo' delays devise,
    But welcome pain, let pleasure pass.
With lullaby now take your leave,
With lullaby your dreams deceive,
    And when you rise with waking eye,
    Remember Gascoigne's Lullaby.


Note on the text

That closing line has always grabbed me in a "This Living Hand" way -- so proud of himself for his unpleasantly glistening little hook, he is! -- but it also says something about the state of English publishing in 1573. Court poets were supposed to be non-professionals, although their manuscripts would be circulated privately and then go on to be pirated and printed by enterprising booksellers, often anonymously.

So how could an ambitious young wannabe-court poet like George Gascoigne get famous in a hurry? By giving a purportedly hand-circulated and pirated collection of his work to a bookseller, and for extra security, in the great tradition of oral poets from Sappho to Roxanne Shanté, watermarking his name into the work itself.

Gascoigne quickly learned for himself just why anonymity was part of the court poet tradition, and two years later, he arranged a second edition of his works with many self-identifications erased. Among the revision's victims was "Gascoigne's Lullaby," with title changed to "The Lullaby of a Lover" and end changed to an unresounding thud.



. . . 2001-07-10

Strange, that in a work of amusement, this severe fidelity to real life should be exacted by any one, who, by taking up such a work, sufficiently shows that he is not unwilling to drop real life, and turn, for a time, to something different. Yes, it is, indeed, strange that any one should clamor for the thing he is weary of; that any one, who, for any cause, finds real life dull, should yet demand of him who is to divert his attention from it, that he should be true to that dullness.

There is another class, and with this class we side, who sit down to a work of amusement tolerantly as they sit at a play, and with much the same expectations and feelings. They look that fancy shall evoke scenes different from those of the same old crowd round the custom-house counter, and same old dishes on the boarding-house table, with characters unlike those of the same old acquaintances they meet in the same old way every day in the same old street. And as, in real life, the proprieties will not allow people to act out themselves with that unreserve permitted to the stage; so, in books of fiction, they look not only for more entertainment, but, at bottom, even for more reality, than real life itself can show. Thus, though they want novelty, they want nature, too; but nature unfettered, exhilarated, in effect transformed. In this way of thinking, the people in a fiction, like the people in a play, must dress as nobody exactly dresses, talk as nobody exactly talks, act as nobody exactly acts. It is with fiction as with religion: it should present another world, and yet one to which we feel the tie.

If, then, something is to be pardoned to well-meant endeavor, surely a little is to be allowed to that writer who, in all his scenes, does but seek to minister to what, as he understands it, is the implied wish of the more indulgent lovers of entertainment, before whom harlequin can never appear in a coat too parti-colored, or cut capers too fantastic.

-- Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man, His Masquerade

    Pierre, in POLA X

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Movie Comment: POLA X

Canons is the crrrrraziest people! I mean, I love Melville, but what could be nuttier than assigning a book like Moby Dick to a bunch of kids?

Beats me, but doing a big film adaptation of Pierre, or, The Ambiguities has got to come close.

And POLA X is a pretty close adaptation, given that the story's been bumped forward 150 years. Leos Carax even improved the original by explaining the dark sister as a refugee from the Balkans, which takes care of Melvillean mysteries like her lack of education, her fear of authority, and why in the world a false marriage would be more useful than a firmly stated fraternity. And should Herman Melville have developed a time machine, and travelled into the present day, he would almost certainly watch the Carax version, perhaps on a DVD, would he not? And then it seems clear that the incandescent metal coil of competition would drive deep into his heart, and heat and stir his blood, turning him into a lava lamp of nineteenth century American fiction -- is that not also true? And so it would follow that upon returning to his own time, Melville would modify his novel to make Isabel an escaped slave, which would match Carax's explanations point for point and up the ante by explaining the mysterious weightiness of the paternal sin and Pierre's resultingly mysterious compulsion to atone. And then Carax, in despair, would fold.

Which would be just as well, because the movie doesn't work.

As long as I'm rewriting history, would there have been any way to make it work? First, a true film adaptation of Pierre would have to be about a spoiled kid squandering all of his fortune and then some on making a film, a film upon which he would be desperately staking the fate of himself and all his loved ones, a film which would ultimately not be accepted by any festivals, which would, at best, go straight to video. Next, the film itself -- the film which told the story of this sad indie director -- would have to be equally utterly disastrous for the career of its maker, a contemptuous and self-loathing disaster much bigger than, for example, Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, a disaster on the level of The Lady from Shanghai or Marnie. But then also the look of the film must be fevered and murky rather than slick and glamorous.... Oh, perhaps if George Kuchar had married Geena Davis, we'd be approaching the necessary conditions -- but what are the odds? Slim; very slim.

. . . 2001-07-11


Regarding yesterday's entry, a reader writes:

I'd say that Les amants du Pont-Neuf Faux was more a disaster on the order of Supertrain!
We regret any inconvenience.

. . . 2001-07-13

"When I start out to make a fool of myself, there's very little can stop me. If I'd known where it would end, I'd've never let anything start. If I'd been in my right mind, that is."

Touchez pas au Grisbi
"Silly, isn't it?"
The 100 Super Movies au maximum: The Lady from Shanghai

Roger Gathman responds to our POLA X dreams:

The Lady from Shanghai a disaster? Yes, Columbia Pictures and that little Mussolini-loving weasel, Harry Cohn, couldn't find a picture in it - but we are not talking Marnie or Heaven's Gate here. This flick definitely has had more influence on the way we look at mirrors than any production since Versailles.
Ah, but who mentioned Heaven's Gate? Or The Towering Inferno, for that matter? Disastrous expressions of pure overindulged incompetence or disastrous depictions coldly manipulated to please the ravening mob -- what are those to us? Those are like a newspaper calling an airplane crash "tragic." No, when I belly up to the bar, I want my disaster served as good old-fashioned classical tragedy: a disaster simultaneously determined by insurmountable hostile forces (e.g., Hollywood) and strenuously self-willed.

Pierre is one of my favorite novels and The Lady from Shanghai is one of my favorite movies because they're so inherently, inescapably, and beautifully disastrous. Neither work can be treated in isolation any more than Metallic K.O. could be imagined outside the context of a live audience; even with no prior knowledge of their authors' careers, a reader of one or viewer of the other would divine that something terribly wrongheaded is going on -- "terribly" like in tragedy.

The work Welles originally had in mind -- cheap pulp made "queer" and "strange," as if taking place in a horrible dream -- he would achieve much later (so late as to be in fact posthumous) in the resorted Touch of Evil. But the addition of Rita Hayworth made his first attempt at the dish into very expensive strange flavor chicken, and the ensuing struggle of cook and kitchen could not be redeemed or masked by the studio's corny music and funhouse cuts: every meddle only added a newly suggestive disruption to the surface. (The shipboard song, with its cigarette passing, for example -- that disturbing miracle of camera move and composition -- wouldn't have existed without executive whim: Rita Hayworth must sing, and therefore Orson Welles must undercut the number.)

Only if we quit   Plenty of viewers have noticed the suicidal tinge to Welles's narcissism, the way in which, from Citizen Kane to The Immortal Story, he repeatedly asserted control over his own chaotic existence by maneuvering and surviving his on-screen avatars' ends.

The Lady from Shanghai is the only Welles vehicle which doesn't include his character's death. Instead, the self-destructive impulse becomes so sincere as to be pushed off-screen entirely. At the film's finish, what "Michael O'Hara" casually strolls away from is his creator's fatally wounded career.

"It's true. I made a lot of mistakes."

. . . 2001-07-14

And the Daytime Emmy for Most Intriguing Chapter Opening from an Eighteenth Century Novel Not by Laurence Sterne goes to...

Chapter II of Elizabeth Inchbald's Nature and Art!!!

If you'll direct your attention to the monitor, I believe we have a clip -- starting with the last paragraph of Chapter I? Yes.

... in conversations such as this, they pursued their journey till they arrived at that metropolis which has received for centuries past from the provincial towns the bold adventurer of every denomination; has stampt his character with experience and example; and, while it has bestowed on some coronets and mitres -- on some the lasting fame of genius -- to others has dealt beggary, infamy, and untimely death.


After three weeks passed in London, a year followed....

Mrs. Inchbald

. . . 2001-07-18

Added today to our Bellona Times Repress line: a reading edition of The Adventures of Master F. J. by George Gascoigne, with introductory remarks and notes on the 1575 revision.

"In 1573, George Gascoigne published the first autobiographical novel in English...."

. . . 2001-07-19

Our San Francisco readers, along with any friends they can fetch, would do well to make all conceivable effort to reach A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books (Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness) by 7:30 tonight to listen to Karen Joy Fowler, who, besides being one of the greatest writers of our time, puts on a very entertaining show.

Believe me, your English major grandchildren will look at you pretty funny if they ever find out that you saw Neal Pollack but skipped Karen Joy Fowler. Don't let that happen!

. . . 2001-07-20

A mess Little Deaths

Beth Rust must have, at some pre-Web point, told me about the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, the deduction workouts constructed by her fellow New Hampshirt Frances Glessner Lee, but Juliet Clark sent me a reminder yesterday. What a lost killer app for QuickTime VR....

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Whenever I see "Live Free or Die" on a license plate, I think of a gluetrapped rat gnawing off its own foot.

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There but for the grace of a slush pile reader go I

I was saved from this guy's fate by having sent my query letter while they still had decent writers at the National Lampoon and didn't need skinny teenage morons to do anything except buy the magazine and masturbate to the ads once in a while (the 1970s version of "click through").

Speaking of the old Lampoon, I see that its most famous advertising slogan has been stolen by Tom Tomorrow for the punchline to his Salon advertisement, but fuck if I'm gonna link to it.

. . . 2001-07-22


The Joyce industry's balls-to-the-wall shift from amateur fannishness to academic respectability has dropped a moldy feather avalanche of fluff into journals and books, but that's only a minor annoyance. Now, if I was like Fritz Senn and had to go to lots of Joyce conferences, I'd probably be like Fritz Senn and be really annoyed about it -- I just attended my first Joyce conference this month, kind of hoping for something like Readercon's excellent panels, where some knowledgeable opinionated people knock ideas around with the audience, but instead finding a set up where one academic at a time reads a decidedly non-oral paper aloud, or almost aloud, for fifteen minutes -- what is the flipping point? -- when the heavily-accented guy mumbled a convoluted paper on Finnegans Wake and Lacan, doggedly including every single page reference, it was so over-the-top enervating that I almost had a giggle fit -- but, for good or for ill, I'm not at all like Fritz Senn, and so for me it's just a matter of gentle melancholy.

Gently heartening comes the news that our amateur ranks have just been incremented by the defection of James Joyce Quarterly editor Robert Spoo, who's left the University of Tulsa's English department to become a professional lawyer specializing in defenses of public domain. If it's true that intellectual property trials will be to this century what obscenity trials were to the last, it seems right to put a Joycean in the frontlines.

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In other intellectual property news, the coming Dark Ages are getting nudged along in a big way by big Bill Gates. By buying up major photo archives and burying them deep in the earth, he's ensured that they're only (and barely, if ever, even so) available via electronic transfer. By then claiming copyright on those electronic reproductions, he basically removes the original works from public domain. A very clever scheme which will do for the history of photography (and America, for that matter) as Hollywood studios have been doing for the history of cinema: erasing it. BookNotes has done a great job of collecting information on the story.

Gates's plan depends on the seemingly absurd notion that digitizing counts as "a substantial creative act" and that his reproductions are therefore new, original, and copyrighted works. Instant Rationality: Just Add Money! Still, it's hard to picture a clearer example of what "public domain" was meant to protect than Matthew Brady's Civil War photographs, so maybe our cowardly crops of leased legislators will eventually be shamed into unprofitable action.

(I've never been big on the Bill Gates as Dark Lord propaganda, on account of every CEO I've ever encountered has been completely evil in the exact same way. But between this and XP licensing, Gates's recent innovations in evil must awe even weasels like Jobs and Ellison....)

. . . 2001-07-24

Movie Comment: Crime of Passion

Butch cabbies
Typical Ferguson readers
One of the problems with neo-noir is that its creators are all self-involved boys, and so (Safe gratefully excepted) have restricted themselves to the basically reassuring narrative clichés of men's noir -- e.g., average Joe drops out of domestic bliss into a nightmare with no escape -- and ignore women's noir, which tended to hit much closer to home.

Precisely at home, in fact. In women's noir, domestic bliss is the nightmare with no escape. And no hard nut ever cracked more exquisitely under the loving pressure of domesticity than Barbara Stanwyck.

In Crime of Passion, Stanwyck plays Kathy Ferguson, a newspaper writer who works hard, loves her job, and is fabulously popular with the very, oh, diverse population of San Francisco. Unluckily, she also lives in 1957, reports to a dismissively sexist boss, and has to deal with uncooperative macho cops and demeaning assignments like the Miss Lonelyhearts column (in which she advises one reader to ditch her two-timing boyfriend and run away with the other woman).

To a fish out of water, a bicycle can start to seem pretty appealing. So when Ferguson meets an undismissive unmacho nice guy cop who adores her (Sterling Hayden, never more puppylike), she understandably decides to do what the movies tell us and take the easy way out into eternal happiness.

And the honeymoon goes well: it's true that mutual love is all you need when love is all you have to deal with. It's normal life that stinks -- 'cause what's the point of mutual support if one partner's content as a cow and the other one's not doing a goddamned thing? Hayden works long hours, and Stanwyck's only social outlet comes in a crushing party scene that none of the film's ensuing shenanigans come close to matching for sheer horror: all the wives interested only in girl talk and all the husbands interested only in pension gossip, and even clamming up about that when Stanwyck invades their turf. At least as a reporter, she was allowed to prod 'em!

Husband   So then she finds herself a hobby.

And I admit that the end results aren't good, but hey, she's engaged -- anything's better than slow suffocation....

Note to historians of film sexuality: This caustic assessment of the high cost of closets was written by Jo Eisinger between Gilda and Oscar Wilde, and directed by Gerd Oswald between A Kiss Before Dying and Screaming Mimi.

Husband Wife

... an' anotha thing ...... then again ...

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2001 Ray Davis.