|. . . 2007-08-11|
Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942)
BLACKIE: ... And this is my associate, The Runt.
GLORIA: [PLEASANTLY] Hello... [CONTEMPTUOUSLY] runt.
THE RUNT: [MOLTO PRESTO] Gee, I wish I could think of a good comeback.
[A MAN AND A WOMAN IN BED LISTENING TO RADIO. BOSTON BLACKIE ENTERS THROUGH WINDOW.]
BLACKIE: I love this program, don't you? [EXITS LEFT]
WOMAN: Why... yes! Yes, I do!
MAN: Who was that?
WOMAN: I don't know, I never saw him before.
. . . several shots later . . .
[A MAN AND A WOMAN IN BED LISTENING TO RADIO. THE RUNT AND ARTHUR MANLEDER ENTER THROUGH WINDOW.]
THE RUNT: Oh! Pardon us! [EXITS LEFT]
MANLEDER: Excuse me! [EXITS LEFT]
MAN: And who was that?
WOMAN: Why, I never saw them before either.
MAN: ... I liked the first one better.
Received September 5, 2007:
I have visited your site 248 times
If they were all in the last three weeks, I'm truly sorry and I take full irresponsibility.
Barbellion's been posting pretty much every day — but then he's not working....
a dog came into town one day his christian name was runt
+ + +
One Mysterious Night (1944)
"What a pip."
"What a honey."
"What a doll."
But then, after a startling moment of violence, Dorothy "Maloney" vanishes from the movie! Just like Psycho — except no one tries to find her!
+ + +
Speaking of mysterious absences, this could've used a lot more Marie Wilson and Luis "Louie Louie" Alberni.
Ruby Keeler, typewriter made flesh, never conveyed much sensual drive, and Colleen's finale reaches a limit point of anti-eroticism: her mechanism seems not just worn but scourged, and it chooses as dance partner not the nominal love interest but a gay careerist acquaintance. Cold fish flailing on the deck.
+ + +
Whistling in the Dark (1933)
UNA MERKEL'S FATHER: What have you done to my daughter!?
UNA MERKEL: Practically everything. Now you have to let us get married!
+ + +
Johnny Cool (1963)
Warmhearted Sicilian becomes savage hitman in the New World, pre-Puzo. Appropriately pulpish (cheap, grimy, badly edited, high acid content), with a rarebit-dream cast and an ending worthy of both Antonioni and Sammy Davis Jr. I'll have to be in a vile mood to watch this again, but if it was French or Japanese it would be a cult item.
Johnny Cool sounds like Mafioso, which was good. And has some surprising singing.
+ + +
The Face of Another (1966)
|. . . 2007-10-21|
There's a lot of ink spilled over 'meaning' by literary theorists (you noticed that, too?) There isn't much discussion of 'function' (in the relevant sense). But, actually, there is a pretty obvious reason why 'function' would be the preferable point of focus. It's more neutral. It is hardly obvious that every bit of a poem that does something has to mean something. Meter doesn't mean anything. (Not obviously.) But it contributes to the workings of the work. (If you are inclined to insist it 'means', probably all you really mean is that it 'does'. It is important.) "A poem should not mean but be" is somewhat overwrought, in a well-wrought urnish way; but 'a poem should not mean, but do' would be much better.
Has any literary theorist really written about 'functions', in this sense?
Analytic philosophers often sound like a blind man describing an elephant by holding the wrong end of a stick several blocks away from the zoo. This is one of those oftens.
When talking about species-wide traits, we need to keep track of teleological scales. One can easily invent (and very rarely find evidence for) evolutionary justifications for play or sexual variability among mammals. But that's not quite the same as asking the function of this tennis ball to the dog who wants it thrown, or of this foot to the cat who's ready for a game of tag, or of this photo of Keanu Reeves to the man gazing so intently. Particulars call for another vocabulary, and art is all about the particulars.
In the broadest sense, art doesn't have a function for homo sapiens — it is a function of homo sapiens. Humans perceive-and-generate patterns in biologically and socially inseparable processes which generally precede application of those patterns. That's what makes the species so adaptable and dangerous. Even in the most rational or practical occupations, we're guided to new utilitarian results by aesthetics. Software engineers, for example, are offended by bad smells and seek a solution that's "Sweet!"
Making of art in the narrower sense may be power display or sexual display, may be motivated by devotion or by boredom. Taking of art touches a wider range of motives, and covers a wider range of materials: more art is experienced than art is made. Clumped with all possible initiators or reactions, an artwork or performance doesn't have a function — it is a function: a social event. Whether a formal affair or strictly clothing-optional, the take-away's largely up to the participant.
As you can probably tell by my emphasized verb switches, I disagree with John Holbo's emendation of Archibald MacLeish. Yes, Ezra Pound and the Italian Futurists thought of their poems as machines which made fascists; yes, Woodie Guthrie thought of his guitar as a machine that killed them. But I've read the ones and heard the other and I didn't explode, and so the original formula's slightly more accurate, if only because it's slightly vaguer.
Still, when you get down to cases, "to be" and "to do" are both components of philosophical propositions. Whereas, as bog scripture teaches, the songness of song springs from their oscillation.
Like function, intentionality tends to be too big a brush wielded in too slapdash a fashion. CGI Wordsworth and miraculous slubmers in the sand sound closer to "performance art" than "poetry," but obviously such aberrations can't accurately be consigned to any existing genre. Nevertheless, I honestly and in natural language predict that insofar as my reaction to them wasn't a nervous breakdown or a religious conversion, it would have to be described as aesthetic: a profound not-obviously-utilitarian awareness of pattern.
Most art is intentionally produced, and, depending on the skill and cultural distance of the artists, many of its effects may be intended. And yes, many people intentionally seek entertainment, instruction, or stimulation. But as with any human endeavor, that doesn't cover the territory. (Did Larry Craig run his fingers under the toilet stall with political intent? Did that action have political consequences?) Acknowledging a possible typo doesn't make "Brightness falls from the air" any less memorable; the Kingsmen's drunken revelation of infinite indefinite desire made a far greater "Louie Louie" than the original cleanly enunciated Chuck Berry ripoff. Happy accident is key to the persistence of art across time, space, and community, and, recontextualized, any tool can become an object of delight or horror. A brick is useful in a wall, or as a doorstop, or as a marker of hostility or affection. But when the form of brick is contemplated with pleasure and awe and nostalgia, by what name may we call it?
a poet should not be
A poet should not be mean.
Jordan Davis writes:
Setting aside Holbo's unfortunate reversion to Macleish's formula, I find his distinction between function and meaning (use and mention) useful when discussing the 99 percent of poetry that does not get discussed. To play in prime time, every last function has to show up dressed as meaning.
Ben Friedlander on a tangent: 'it's the obscurity of the near-great and almost-good that gets to the heart of things. Which for me is not the bad conscience of tradition (the correction of perceived injustice, which is where tradition and avant-garde clasp hands and sing), but its good conscience, the belief that there are those who "deserve to be forgotten."'
You're right that I sound too dismissive of a valuable insight. It's that damned analytic-philosophy lack of noticing that gets me down. A poem or play does "function" when it works as a poem or play, but how and why it functions isn't shared by all poems or plays, or by all experiences of the poem or play. The Shepheardes Calender and "Biotherm" functioned differently for their contemporaries than for me; even further, the effect of the Calender likely varied between Gabriel Harvey and John Taylor, and "Biotherm" likely did different numbers on Bill Berkson and Robert Lowell. None of this is news to you, of course, but Holbo's formulation doesn't seem to allow room for it.
To take your point about Holbo -- I appear to have misread him as having spoken about apparent aporias -- I thought he meant that one accustomed to kaleidoscopes might not know how to hold a bicycle.
Beautifully put. And it's just as likely that I misread him, lured into hostile waters by the chance to make that graffiti joke.
But surely 'functions' is a plural enough noun to cover a plurality of cases, no? (How not?)
Way to bum my disputatious high, dude. I've been kneejerking against the vocabulary of John's examples, but, yes, another way to read him (and it's the way Joseph Kugelmass and Bill Benzon read him) puts us more in the same camp.
|. . . 2007-10-25|
It makes me sad when critics attend more to Tarkovsky's stage patter than to his magic tricks. What counts isn't the mumbo jumbo but the hocus pocus.
Why does the hocus pocus matter?
Because if nothing mattered, it would be an Antonioni movie.
|. . . 2007-10-28|
Oh, I suppose I must realize — having been told often enough — that the music of late Beethoven and Schoenberg and Webern, like vermouth and Campari and orange bitters, were in some sense concocted to seem medicinal. But so help me Panurge I swear I consume them all with pure hedonistic intent, solely to wallow in flavors otherwise unattainable, and you can call my taste "academic" when you pry it from my cold dead tongue.
And so, alongside the usual populist reactions against Adorno, I have this: he mistakes erections for mortification of the flesh. (Literally so when he writes of Garbo.)
The task, I suppose, would be to learn to appreciate our mutual disdain as an otherwise unattainable flavor of its own. Is that how Benjamin coped?
Josh Lukin kindly answers my question:
Yeh, probably. When I or my roommate (in my second and third year of college) came home groaning, "Jesus. Jesusjesusjesus. Lord. Jesus," the other one of us would join the first in his frustration, saying much the same thing. For either to articulate the *source* of the frustration and despair would have risked turning commiseration into disagreement.
Sherlock Jr. corrected my spelling, but not before it led one reader on a fruitful web search:
All late Beethoven is, is music for grownups. But the music industry specifically, and people generally, don't want to grow up.
Really? In the world as I know it, between job(s) and commute and dealing with the kids, few grown-ups can spare enough time or focus to listen to late Beethoven.
All the grown-ups that surround me love Beethoven. They worship him and celebrate his birthday with huge festivities.
Plus the Great Pumpkin arrives night after next!
That well-read well-spoken gentleman atem cites:
"Had Mr. Hardy discovered the pernicious truth that whereas children can only take their powders in jam, the strenuous British public cannot be induced to devour their jam unless convinced that it contains some strange and nauseous powder?"
Havelock Ellis reviewing Jude the Obscure, 1896
|. . . 2007-11-07|
Interviewer: I'm reminded of Casanova's famous expression that "the best moment of love is when one is climbing the stairs." One can hardly imagine a homosexual today making such a remark.
MF: Exactly. Rather, he would say something like, "the best moment of love is when the lover leaves in the taxi." [....] It is when the act is over and the boy is gone that one begins to dream about the warmth of his body, the quality of his smile, the tone of his voice. This is why the great homosexual writers of our culture (Cocteau, Genet, Burroughs) can write so elegantly about the sexual act itself, because the homosexual imagination is for the most part concerned with reminiscing about the act rather than anticipating it. And, as I said earlier, this is all due to very concrete and practical considerations and says nothing about the intrinsic nature of homosexuality.
- Michel Foucault, "Sexual Choice, Sexual Act."
Sex is a perfidious intellectual digression into physical reminiscences.
- Laura Riding, "The Damned Thing"
Plenty of homosexual men are goal-driven, and there's also the boy in the taxi to consider. And some women and heterosexual men are nostalgic sensualists; even so stereotypically straight a guy as Fellini detested Casanova.
Well, it's an interview; Foucault speaks loosely, drops a crumb from his pastry, it's easily brushed away, it's all due to very concrete and practical considerations. This is, in short, an uninteresting disagreement.
The main point, that some such contrast of sexual imagination can be found, I agree with. It's a thought I've often had, in words no more exact than Foucault's, thought and rethought till the shoddy material's gray and gummy with handling. Foucault gives no relief: his formulation lacks the secure snap that would let me stow the thought away and the crafted surface that would make it pleasant to take down again. Our mere coincidence of mind might be taken as reassuring, but really, even I'm not that emotionally needy.
Riding's formulation is nothing but snap. I can't say whether I agree or not — acknowledgment seems the most liberty she'd permit — but this I can predict: every time I morosely chew the reheated canned spinach of my and Foucault's thought, Riding's grain of grit will be there.
Damn right Foucault speaks loosely, and it's disturbing how his highly experimental ideas and his most casual remarks have been solidified into dogmas.
Case in point: what the often-admirable Halperin and the pedagogically gifted Zizek have made of an offhand speculation or perhaps wisecrack of Foucault's on the subject of fisting. MF would offer some choice words on amateur philosophers.
Yeah — for example, I'm pretty confident he could tear me a new one without much effort....
|. . . 2007-11-10|
Since first entering the social world of meat, I've thought of male vanilla heterosexuality as a perversion. The least oppressed of perversions, certainly — female vanilla heterosexuality carries dreadful consequences — but in its insistent literal-mindedness still distinguishable from the vagaries of the straight world.
Not distinguishable by any particular externally verifiable action. Just, you know, special inside.
Legitimate researchers of sexual behavior rarely respect self-perception. But when has love banished the disreputable or delusional? And what else could one think when one's supposed peers fixed on ephemera like perfume and shaved armpits, and confused symbolic and functional anatomies in antiutilitarian anxiety over boob heft or dick length?
Later, I was struck (nothing else there really being near enough to strike) by the distance of most straight pornography, as if its writer'd been distracted by thoughts of the World Series, or something mean someone said to them once, or the harvest festival. In histories and literature, the distinction seemed confirmed by the cross-culturally mocked figure of a gynocentric fopling too heterosexual to be considered straight. Into my own lifetime, new confirmations dribbled: the chicks-with-dicks fad, the fellatio diet, the starved and sliced trophy waifs, Botox, ....
And then, as if seeking a definitive break from vanilla perversity, the straight imagination erected as its non plus ultra the dullest (sensationally speaking) of all possible heterosexual conjunctions: male-on-female sodomy. I don't know what those young guys think they're delving for. Women ain't got no prostate.
Looking through my correspondence just now reminds me that a while ago, before I started the weblog, I was invited to contribute to a project to Theorize Masculinity. So I thought, drank, talked, wrote notes, pared back, revised, trimmed more, and finally produced this paragraph:
Straight men are funny, but then they get boring.
"Straight men are funny, but then they get boring." -- You mean, "we"?
Sure, but that would sound less Theoretical.
|. . . 2007-11-12|
I find it surprising that you are so sweepingly dismissive of philosophy, as a discipline, frankly. Wittgenstein, Austin, Searle, Dennett, Putnam, Kripke, Davidson, lord knows I can rattle on if you get me started [...] it's all crap, or arid twiddling, you assume? You are, of course, entitled to your opinion. I'm not offended, or anything, but I'm a bit surprised. It's a fairly unusual attitude for someone to take, unless they are either 1) John Emerson; 2) strongly committed to continental philosophy, from which perspective all the analytic stuff looks crap; 3) opposed to interdisciplinarity, per se.- John Holbo, in a comment thread
I have sometimes characterized the opposition between German-French philosophizing and English-American philosophizing by speaking of opposite myths of reading, remarking that the former thinks of itself as beginning by having read everything essential (Heidegger seems a clear case here) while the latter thinks of itself as beginning by having essentially read nothing (Wittgenstein seems a case here). [...] our ability to speak to one another as human beings should neither be faked nor be postponed by uncontested metaphysics, and [...] since the overcoming of the split within philosophy, and that between philosophy and what Hegel calls unphilosophy, is not to be anticipated, what we have to say to one another must be said in the meantime.- Stanley Cavell, "In the Meantime"
I should acknowledge that John's question wasn't addressed to me. Also, that I'm no philosopher. I begin by having read a little, which makes me an essayist — or, professionally speaking, an office worker who essays. I'm going to appropriate John's question, though, because some of the little I've read is philosophy and because essaying an answer may comb out some tangles.
Restricting myself to your menu of choices, John, I pick column 2, with a side of clarification: Although that menu may indicate a snob avoiding an unfashionable ingredient, it's as likely the chef developed an allergy and was forced to seek new dishes. I wasn't drawn to the colorful chokeberry shrubs of "continental tradition" (and then the interdisciplinary slap-and-tickle of the cognitive sciences) until after turning away from "philosophy, as a discipline." Before that turn, I was perfectly content to take Bertrand Russell's word on such quaint but perfidious nonsense.
In fact I came close to being an analytic philosopher — or rather, given that I'd end up working in an office no matter what, being someone with a degree from an analytic philosophy department. On matriculation I wanted coursework which would prod my interest in abstract analysis, having made the (warranted) assumption that my literary interests needed no such prodding. The most obviously abstractly-analytical majors available to me were mathematics-from-anywhere or anglophilic Bryn Mawr's logic-heavy philosophy degree. As one might expect from a teenage hick, my eventual choice of math was based on surface impressions. The shabby mournfulness of Bryn Mawr's department head discouraged me, and, given access for the first time to disciplinary journals, I found an "ordinary language" denatured of everything that made language worth the study. In contrast, the Merz-like opacity of math journals seemed to promise an indefinitely extending vista of potentially humiliating peaks.
Having veered from Bryn Mawr's mainstream major, my detour into Haverford's eclectic, political, and theologically-engaged philosophy department was purely a matter of convenience — one which, as conveniences sometimes do, forever corrupted. I left off the high path of truth: Abstract logic fit abstractions best: natural language brought all of (human) nature with it. As I wrote in email a few years ago, it seemed to me the tradition took a wrong turn by concentrating on certainty to the exclusion of that other philosophical problem: community.
* * *
I'd guess, though, that besides expressing curiosity your query's meant to tweak the answerer's conscience.
At any rate, it successfully tweaked mine. To paraphrase Hopsy Pike, a boy of eighteen is practically an idiot anyway; continuing to restrict one's options to what attracted him would be absurd.
I don't mean I'll finally obtain that Ph. B., any more than I ever became a continental completist. No, I just think my inner jiminy might be assuaged if I gathered some personal canon from the twentieth-century Anglo-American academic tradition.
Cavell, instantly simpatico, will likely be included, but one's not much of a canon. By hearsay Donald Davidson seemed a good risk, and recently a very kind and myriadminded friend lent me his immaculate copy of Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective.
Davidson's voice was likable, and I was glad to see him acknowledge that language is social. But I was sorry he needed to labor so to get to that point. And then as the same point was wheeled about and brought to the joust again and again, it began to dull and the old melancholy came upon me once more. Could these wannabe phantoms ever face the horrible truth that we're made of meat?
With perseverance I might have broken through that shallow reaction, but I didn't want to risk breaking the spine of my friend's book to do it. I put it aside.
And then, John, you tweaked my conscience again:
If you just want a reference to post-Wittgensteinian analytic philosophers who think language is a collective phenomenon and who are generally not solipsists, that's easy: post-Wittgensteinian analytic philosophy as a whole.
Because, of course, my shallow reaction to the Davidson sample might well be expressed as "My god, they're all still such solipsists."
* * *
I remember one other "Farewell to all that" in my intellectual life. At age eight, I gave up superhero comic books.
The rejection was well-timed. I'd experienced Ditko and Kirby at their best; I'd seen the Silver Surfer swoop through "how did he draw that?" backgrounds I didn't realize were collaged. After '67, it would've been downhill.
But eventually, in adulthood, I guilt-tripped back again.
With iffy results, I'm afraid. I greatly admire Alan Moore's ingenuity, but that's the extent of his impact. Jay Stephen's and Mike Allred's nostalgic takes are fun, but I preferred Sin and Grafik Muzik. Honestly, the DC / Marvel / Likewise product I look at most often is Elektra: Assassin, and I look at it exactly as I look at Will Elder.
No matter how justly administered, repeated conscience tweaking is likely to call forth a defensive reaction. And so, John, my bruised ignorance mutters that Moore showed far less callousness than Davidson regarding the existential status of swamp-duplicates — Davidson talks as if the poor creature's not even in the room with us! — and wonders if AAA philosophers' attention to collective pheonomena might not parallel attempts to bring "maturity" to superhero comics:
"We've got gay superheroes being beaten to death! We've got female superheroes getting raped! We've got Thor visiting post-Katrina New Orleans! How can you say we're not mature?"
Because immaturity is built into the genre's structure.
Similarly, whatever it is I'm interpreting as microcultural folly might be the communally-built structure of academic philosophy, and leaving that behind would mean leaving the discipline — as, I understand, Cavell's sometimes thought to have left?
Well, Davidson I'll return to. In the meantime, I bought an immaculate Mind and World of my own to try out. After all, any generic boundaries feel arbitrary at first, and, fanboy or not, I still own some superhero comic books....
1) Wilfrid Sellars 2) Grant Morrison [the set is "practitioners who turns the fault of their framing genre into merits by seriously thinking about why they embrace them allowing this understanding to shape their practice"]
John Holbo sends a helpful response:
Quick read before I get on the bus. That comment you quote is a bit unfortunate because, in context, I wasn't actually complaining about Bill not studying philosophy as a discipline. I was objecting to his claim that there was nothing interesting about post-Wittgensteinian Anglo-American philosophy. It has nothing to say about language or mind or any of the other topics that interest Bill. It isn't even worth giving an eclectic look in, to borrow from, in an interdisciplinary spirit. Bill is an interdisciplinarian who makes a point of steering around the philosophy department - not even giving a look-in - when it comes to language, intentionality and mind. I find that combination of attitudes perverse. So rather than saying 'opposed to the discipline' - hell, I'M opposed to analytic philosophy as a discipline (how not?) - I should have typed: 'convinced that it is a giant lump of crap that does not even contain a few 14k bits of goldishness'. Bill and I were arguing about whether there might not be bright spots in post war Anglo-American philosophy. I said yes. He said he assumed not. (He assumes it must all just be solipsism, ergo not helpful.)
Another point. "Could these wannabe phantoms ever face the horrible truth that we're made of meat?" I think it's a wrong reading of various fussy, repetitive approaches to materialism and mind to assume that people are shuffling their feet because they are FEARFUL of letting go of, maybe, the ghost in the machine. Rather, they are caught up in various scholastic debates and are hunched down, porcupine-wise. They are anticipating numerous attacks, serious and foolish, pettifogging and precise. In Davidson's case it's always this dance with Quine and empiricism. (I could write you a song.) But shying away from the very idea that we're made of meat isn't it, spiritually speaking. This lot are fearless enough, at least where positions in philosophy of mind are concerned. They're just fussy. (Not that waddling along like a porcupine is any great shakes, probably. But it isn't exactly a fear reaction. It's the embodiment of an intellectual strategy.)
Is that a porcupine or a hedgehog, then.
Reckon it depends on whether you're American or Anglo.
I wish this was the conclusion of a review of The Gay Science, but it's just the conclusion of a review of In Kant's Wake: Philosophy in the Twentieth Century:
In the 100-year struggle for a philosophical place in the sun, analytic philosophy simply won out — by the end of the twentieth century it was the dominant and normal style of philosophy pursued in the most prestigious departments of philosophy at the richest and most celebrated universities in the most economically and politically powerful countries in the world. [However] In Kant's Wake shows that there are some serious unresolved issues about the history of twentieth-century philosophy that every serious contemporary philosopher should be seriously interested in.
Always a pleasure to hear from Josh Lukin, here responding to Peli's comment:
Yeh, that's what's interesting about Morrison, for those of us who believe he succeeds at what he sets out to do: his self-reflexive attitude toward trotting out the Nietzsche and the Shelley and the Shakespeare to justify some old costumed claptrap. My clumsy undergraduate piece about that, "Childish Things: Guilt and Nostalgia in the Work of Grant Morrison," showed up in Comics Journal #176 and is cited here with more respect than it deserves.
Looking at comics with a maturity/immaturity axis in mind is great at explaining why Miller's Eighties work is more successful than Watchmen; but it has its limits, not least of which being that we've been down this road before in the superhero stories of Sturgeon, in PKD's (and H. Bruce Franklin's) critique of Heinlein, in Superduperman [find your own damn explanatory link, Ray [anyone who needs an explanatory link to Superduperman probably stopped reading me a long time ago. - RD]], etc. Like David Fiore, I find the Carlyle/Emerson axis (which, come to think of it, has its parallels in Heinlein vs. Sturgeon) to be more fruitful: are we talking fascist superhero stories or Enlightenment superhero stories and, if the former, does the aesthetic appeal of the fascist sublime outweigh the ethical horror?
|. . . 2007-11-14|
MLA's in the air, it's CV-plumping season, and our much-fetid acquaintance Anselm Dovetonsils sends this
Many people have wondered about my poetics. They don't want to say anything but, you know, I can see them wondering.
The wellsprings of creativity are unfathomable and can be summarized in the following points:
* A poem with rhyme and meter is like a suit with belt and suspenders.
P.S. Art arriving under separate cover.
P.P.S. Matching Tie and Handkerchief?
|. . . before . . .||. . . after . . .|
Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2007 Ray Davis.