Adolf Giesin's opera glass support
. . .

The Saddest Music in the World: Two Possibilities

  1. Combining the raw intensity of Vincent Price and the aristocratic flair of Rowan Atkinson, Ross McMillan provides the truest embodiment of an Edgar Allen Poe hero ever captured on film.

    Oh, the other stars "play it straight," but for them it remains play. Such distance is far from fatal to Guy Maddin's films, any more than it is to the work of John Waters or Jean-Luc Godard, or the non-series diversions of Eric Rohmer. But only with McMillan does acting become this film's life; only there do we see cinematography document the mechanics of the soul. The sincerity of his melancholy seems bottomless completely depthless, in fact, yet as inarguable as the black matte circle a Warner Brothers character slaps onto a mountainside.

    Oscars™ all round! All round Ross McMillan, that is, closing in while he shrinks, shuddering, transfixed in anticipation of their chill, hairless, gentle but unyielding press against his fleshy calf!

  2. One of the creators of Lady Port-Huntly has been acquainted with the creator of Lady Port-Huntlady.

. . .

My Lagan Trophy

Her husband, however, was neither so old nor so ugly as the romance-loving Sabina had been pleased to imagine; nor was there any reason whatever to suppose that they might not be as fond a couple as had ever been joined together in wedlock, had it not been that the gentleman looked so exceedingly like a showman coming into company to exhibit a puppet or a dancing-dog, and the lady so nearly approaching in awkward but obedient manoeuvrings to the chief pet and treasure of such an exhibitor, as to suggest the idea that she was his property. Yet, after all, this furnished no good grounds for doubting their mutual affection: fondness shews itself in a variety of ways; and there is no substantial reason for denying that exhibiting, and being exhibited, may be among them.
- Hargrave by Fanny Trollope, 1843

. . .

Department of Theology News

Bridge of the Gods - Overhead Clearance 14' 6''
Photo by Juliet Clark

For those who've been wondering at what point your arms would be long enough to box with God, my calcuations place the Holy Button at 12' 8½" (or under).


Are you sure that's the possessive genitive? Could be made of the dry bones of the divine fallen. -pf

Or it could be a dental prosthetic swapped from deity to deity, like Walter Brennan's in Red River. Time for another schism, I reckon!

Long enough with a reasonable expectation of holding your own to box etc...

More conditions, eh? What next? "Your weight class too light to box..."? "Your trunks the wrong color to box..."? Listen, you just set the date and the purse and my boy will be there.

What's that in metric?


So, what'd you think of the Jane Austen Book Club?

I thought I'd better buy and read a copy. And I still think so. The author's appearance at Cody's on 4th St. this Saturday at 7 PM seems like a good time to get the process started.

You gonna bring Big John Kerry with ya? Or is he too busy denouncing Abu Gharib? High noon right here. Unless I get a call from dispatch. Or my lumbago starts up again.

Let the record show that I received this challenge at 1:36 PM. Typical.

A final commentator ties everything up in pretty red ribbon:

Jane Austen Fight Club

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a bloody beating.

. . .

Our Shrinking Humor Reserves

Having exhausted Onion mines, our rulers are now drilling all the way down to the National Lampoon era:

"The sooner all the animals are extinct, the sooner we'll find their money."
- Ed Bluestone, 1973
"I applaud the people that are trying to save species that are endangered. But it might be good that we don't have dinosaurs now. We've gotten oil from the dinosaurs. If we had preserved the dinosaur, we wouldn't have that oil."
- Gretchen Borck, "a lobbyist with the Washington Association of Wheat Growers," 2004
(via Chris Mooney, who's recently made a startling discovery)

. . .

"Utopia Parkway" by Carter Scholz

The ambiguitities of genre and the literary class system are a bit of an obsession with me. They instigate many of my essays; they were the foundation of a monthly column and of a public debate; when other web writers stray into the topics, I leave comments of unneighborly length on their sites....

But my obsession is a reader's. For a working writer, those fascinating spurs are more like barbs on a wire fence, and nowhere more tenaciously lacerating than round the S-Bar-F-Bar-F Ranch or is it a Corral?— plateaued between the Universal Studios Plunge and the DeLillo Decline, divided and frequently flooded by the River Jordan. The communal aspects of independent science fiction are about the only thing sustaining it as a healthy independent genre these days, but human beings, no matter how slannish, seem unable to sustain community without insularity.

Knowing my readerly obsession, writer Carter Scholz was kind enough to send me a preface he'd drafted for his recent short story collection The Amount to Carry. As a corrective and an addendum, I'm pleased to post it here.


John Gardner, who of course had an opinion on everything, did his part to champion SF in the hallowed halls; in On Becoming a Novelist, e.g., he lauds "...the fiction of Samuel R. Delaney [sic], some of Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Isaac Asimov, and, when he holds in the fascism, Robert Heinlein." Etc. But writing teachers who will Xerox half of The Art of Fiction for their students never seem to mention this. Maybe they consider it an anachronism of the times. Like Nehru jackets, or Robert Coover.

. . .

The Keepers

Before discarding Harper's Magazine, April 2004, I noted two items with extended shelf life extended for six months, anyway:
From "Harper's Index":

Average amount a Bush Cabinet member will save this year due to cuts in capital gains and dividend taxes: $42,000
Median U.S. household income in 2002: $42,409

From "Lie Down for America" by Thomas Frank:

"Their grandstanding leaders never produce, their fury mounts and mounts, and nevertheless they turn out every two years to return their right-wing heroes to office for a second, a third, a twentieth try. The trick never ages, the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital-gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorism; receive Social Security privatization efforts. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining."

But I wish Thomas Frank wrote as well as Turbulent Velvet.


Lawrence White writes:
I second the praise for TV. I admit my weakness for the Rilke kitsch (You must change your life!), but often after reading UFO Breakfast I feel I am being called to be a better person. (Wealth Bondage produces a similar reaction.) The comments section of UFO Breakfast leaves as strong impression as well. The commenters work as hard as he does. & that's what makes for a good seminar!

. . .

"Night They Missed the Horror Show" by Joe R. Lansdale

I hadn't felt much need to comment on the videos and photos from Iraq. We all understood what must be happening, and the youngsters do love their souvenirs. Even the most cursory acquaintance with the last century of global history teaches how easily humanity can be repositioned on the bonobo-chimp-baboon continuum. And if you haven't studied history, you can always study the local frat or court house.

Combine the right circumstances and you're near guaranteed a community feast of sadistic crime. That's why stable democracies attempt to block such combinations. Whereas Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft swear to arbitrary exercise of power, eternal lack of accountability, and self-righteousness as absolute principles, and, undisciplined as any stoner, acknowledge no constraint but personal straight-from-Jesus impulse. The results were predictable from the get-go.

And yet the faces and voices of my friends express not just anger and disgust but surprise, even shock. Where must they have been raised? A Henry James novel? 'Cause I've been at colleges with preppies and at offices with yuppies, so I know for a fact this ain't about class. It's about deniability.

Which is why Joe Lansdale's "story that doesn't flinch" should be added to the curriculum of every American school system. (Maybe while we're putting Intelligent Design in the textbooks.) Some reviewers call it splatterpunk, but it feels like home to me.


Not responses but independent anticipations that I've only now caught up to: Pedantry and (even earlier) inanis et vacua. I should stick to aesthetics.

A reader of my own writes:

Moral codes as sewer grates. Not as platinum standards of behavior, where anything not covered is oky-doke. A moral climate where anything not explicitly verboten in the book goes, is where this is went. Whereas nobility says the law is the nether point. One looks up, the other down, for guidance. That big cast-iron pot, some see as cauldron for witches' brews, some as missionary ragout. We've been filtered out, the best curtailed, the worst made comfy.

"The law"? Laws are just another tool of blackmail, resorted to when nothing more reliable is available. The Bush administration is always willing to either throw the book away or throw the book at. What they're not inclined to do is study the book.

Slow Math found the Lansdale online. If it'd been a snake, it've bit me. Here's a reader who bit back:

Redneck ebonics written by a pussy. Richard Farina did that "mind of the enemy thing" in scary spades long ago. So deep in the bacon-fat it seemed channelled and probably was. Lansdale is a coward and his dialog and exposition sound like shit.

We regret any inconvenience.

. . .

Vendler contra Aristotle

Aristotle, being a philosopher, naturally thought the purpose of art was to convey philosophy.

Helen Vendler, being a pompous blowhard, naturally thinks the purpose of art is to generate feelings of gratitude toward pompous blowhards.

Of course, I'm just a simple kindly old country software engineer, but it 'pears to me like in suggesting that art classes replace history, Vendler conveniently forgets that most artwork is at least as dull as most history, and that most arts teachers are at least as incompetent as most history teachers, and that, dealing in such vast categories, any example she cites will be easily defeated by a counterexample. If you want to find a purpose for all art, including the stuff you don't like, you'd better start by looking at the boundaries you've set. (Not that art is usually made for art's sake, or that art is very often noticed for art's sake. But any coherent generalization about art-as-art perforce restricts itself to the art's-sake part.)

Art consists of artifacts. An artifact isn't delineated by its profundity but by:

  1. Its status as a particular object.

    This has nothing to do with the artifact's narrative or argumentative aspects. Aristotle's favorite artwork portrayed one type of idealized individual; Vendler's favorite artwork portrays another type. Doesn't matter: in noticing a Euripides show or a Carver story, they've drawn their lines.

    Sure, as soon as we see those particulars, we'll grab 'em and start abstracting again. But the initial move must be toward particularization. You can't write your Comparative History of the Misericord in Medieval Southern England until you've distinguished misericords from how it feels to go to church.

    Despite their privileged auctorial position, artisans tend to be the first to enforce this separation of object and context. It's hard to learn a craft while thinking of it as a gift from heaven or an emotional outburst.

  2. Our inability to reduce it to some non-tautological purpose.

    So long as an artifact is wholly subsumed in message, we don't perceive it as art. We only perceive it as message.

    What purpose is served by serving something other than purpose? The British Navy eventually found limes necessary despite their obvious lack of nutritional value. Similarly, in an ascetic culture, the artifactual excess may hide sensual pleasure; in a consumer culture, it may supply the illusion of community, or spritual afflatus, or empathy (Vendler's sop of choice, scored to "It's a Small World, After All").

    In any case, what makes it art isn't the exact utility of the dietary supplement, but in its being supplemental.

Excess and particularization lead to the artifact's mysterious ability to maintain a social life apart from the artifact's creators. According to everything I was told as a child, the Mona Lisa was a great painting because its eyes seem to follow you around the room; Leonardo had other goals in mind; the Mona Lisa remained the Mona Lisa regardless. As John Clute has several times pointed out, art still (or best) fulfills its artistic role when misinterpreted. Or, to paraphrase Plato, the creepy thing about poetry is that it can't be tortured to ascertain its point.

This mystery, or threat, is typically explained as an infusion of life-force from, for example, divine or demonic inspiration, the collective unconscious, the folk, or, in my time and place, the sincerity of the individual or the irreducible physicality of the medium (poetry as self-conscious language, music as self-conscious sound). Again, though, the category of art doesn't depend on whatever justification is currently fashionable, but instead on the ability of a constructed object to call for such justification.

So when I go neuraesthetics hunting in science journals, I look not for the sublime or for the cathartic, but for the particularizing non-utilitarian urge a balance to those abstracting and tool-making tendencies generally celebrated as our highest achievement.


I quite like the early cyborg you've unearthed for your current header.

Yes, if it weren't for the genius of Adolf Giesin, my view of the racetrack would be interrupted every time I removed my pipe from my mouth. Bless you, Herr Giesin!

Lawrence White points out (very graciously) that I was kinda carrying some baggage of my own up there:

Hey, synchronicity, man! Just last night my wife & I were wondering how someone could read history but not novels, and vice versa. The results of our dishwashing seminar were such: literature develops the imagination, and history provides the best object for such an imagination, actual people's lives. Are there holes in our theory? You betcha. & Professor Vendler's got hers, too. (Don't you have to admit for a pompous blowhard she's awful decorous? Not at all rude.) But Jonathan Dresner, in the comments on Burstein's site, says it all. A) it's a stupid choice in targets. We're surrounded, kids. Let's not start shooting at each other. & B) since when has a literary critic known about anything beyond their own field? Now, this last question does have some good answers. (I'd start w/Benjamin.) But as Tim Yu's response to Stefans points out, Vendler will be a bad answer, in large part because she doesn't know her own field that well. You don't have to like Language Poetry, but you should understand it better, if you want to understand poetry. You see, I'm a conservative. I take Modernism as a given, as an undeniable precedent. & I'm perfectly happy w/calling Postmodernism the child that denies he looks & acts just like his dad. Vendler reads Stevens by converting him into a trippy Keats, w/the trippy part left out. (By the way, Allen Grossman, though more than a touch thaumaturgical, is much better on all this.)

P.S. One of my life-assignments is to make a defense of the MFA program. Because as Yu pointed out, everyone despises them. Doesn't that make them an underdog of some sort?

Well, as we've learned from the outraged screeching of slightly slighted conservatives, underdoggedness makes slippery moral high ground. But you're right: Vendler and MFA programs have never directly insulted me personally, and so I should have tempered my language. The irony of an unqualified weblogger calling anyone a pompous blowhard is manifest but hardly transformative.

I'm sorry to disagree with dishwashers, having just come from a long stint myself, but literature is used to close down the imagination as often as to open it, and history has stimulated the imagination of many a good writer. I agree it's hard to see how an enthusiastic reader of one wouldn't as a matter of course be a reader of the other. But what do I know? I still haven't even figured out why the right and left brain hemispheres are supposed to be competing. Does our left foot battle our right foot for supremecy when we walk?

Since when does a cosmologist know about anything outside her field?

PF gently takes me to task for mischaracterizing (or at least drastically oversimplifying):

Aristotle (but maybe I'm generous because I always have Plato in mind) seems very interested in what art is as it is, not what use it can have for philosophy. Catharsis, as you recall, is central (and forbiddingly obscure) in the Poetics, and it's not a philosophical state, neither of thumos nor psyche.

Not much is clear about catharsis, but given Aristotle's sensible insistence on centering his aesthetic studies in pleasure, you're also right: it's likely that he was no more reductionist than I strive to be. I have a hard time following Aristotle in general, what with my heels being dug in, which is all the more reason for me not to talk trash about him; he wouldn't have entered my mind if The Little Professor hadn't reminded me of his prioritization of "universals," which does seem a philosopher's preference. In hindsight, I should have dropped those first two sentences. And changed the title, I guess.

. . .

Intermediate Hedonics

“For my own part, indeed, I never permit the slight appearances of a pending shower to interfere with my engagements; being convinced, that, not only in the serious, but even in the more trifling pursuits of life, one ought not to be lightly driven from one’s purpose by casual circumstances or frivolous inconveniencies.”

Now this was a sentiment so entirely correspondent with my own, that had it been uttered by a bearded Jew, an Æthiop, or a wild Arabian, I could have hugged him to my bosom, and have hailed him instantaniously as my friend.—“For an Englishman,” continued I, “has too many caprices of his own, turning him continually out of the path of resolution, to suffer those of his climate, also, to thwart his intentions, and prevent his pleasures. And wisdom, permit me to observe, does not so much consist, as some surly old philosophers would persuade us, in despising Pleasure, as in being, as far as Human-Nature will permit, independent of contingencies and accidents in her pursuit.

“Your Peripatetic, therefore,” continued I— examining my dress, which was by no means calculated for the circle of St. James’s, “should accommodate himself accordingly.—They who would allure this universal mistress by the spruceness of their exterior, may dread lest the threatening shower should damp their ardour; but he, who depending only on the vivacity of his own fancy, and the sprightly effervescence of his passion, dares boldly approach her in a threadbare coat of rusty sable, has nothing to dread less formidable than an absolute storm in the centre of a houseless heath….”

- The Peripatetic by John Thelwall

. . .
Lover Doll

Tony Randall, 1920-2004

"Oh, he's great. Like a comic machine. You feel like Heifetz when you work with him."
- Frank Tashlin, 1962

1960s Hollywood was no place for Heifetz. Tony Randall's first featured role (that's Rockwell P. Hunter, sweetie) remained the permanent high point of both his career and Tashlin's.

Like other virtuosi, Tashlin composed to his instrument. Although anyone could've sold the movie's big quotable gags even Tom Ewell my favorite moments in the film register solely through Randall's precise, agile delivery:

"Wait, that's 'Yankee Doodle.'"
"No. Stop that!"
"Yes, I think so."

Every nuance its own gem.

Definitively widescreen, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is a broken-winged bird when pan-and-scanned; if laserdisks, TCM broadcasts, or theatrical showings aren't at hand, I recommend waiting for a DVD.

Those who'd like to pay Randall the fitting tribute of close attention can meanwhile console themselves with the last great performance of his seven-year reign as funniest actor on film, Send Me No Flowers. Imperturbable even in self-pity, Rock Hudson seems to transfer the burden of his fatal secret to Randall, who balances Hudson's noble-showdog obtuseness by a sentimental trajectory through denial, despair, degradation, and rage: the suburban neighbor of Dorian Gray.


Renfrew here. I had the feeling this would be a place with a fitting Tony Randall tribute. I do believe the late-great deserves as much kudos for his turns on "Late Night" at the end of his career, as, without the worries of script and plot movement to worry about, he could just do his schtick, whether it was making sperm donor jokes or having himself slopped in mud. Doing anything for a laugh put him as much in the Catskills tradition (though I think he never trod the boards there, once) as Hollywood.

I'd love to see some of those appearances. I had no idea, though I'm not surprised by his dedication to the job at hand. Not after hearing his rendition of "Poop poop poop-poop, poop poop poop."

Dude. What's My Line rerun. Dorothy Kilgallen like a recently decanted sauterne, Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams with Edie being the linear subject. I didn't catch the whole thing but in addition to B. Cerf and Audrey Meadows, and the aforementioned darling Miss Kilgallen, the fourth panel member was...Tony Randall. And he won too.

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .