Ralph Bellamy and Alma Kruger in 'His Girl Friday'
pseudopodium
. . .

Resolving the conflicting investment trends

"Money talks; bullshit walks."

"He talks the talk but can he walk the walk?"

Maybe a peripatetic portfolio is safest.

Responses

a junkey I knew came up with that joke once
"I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?"

This post really needs a link to Nick Piombino's Contradicta.

. . .

Curses!

Everywhere the special must be reduced to the personal and the personal to the substantial. The transformation of the species into a principle of identity and classification is the original sin of our culture, its most implacable apparatus [dispositivo]. Something is personalized is referred to as an identity at the cost of sacrificing its specialness. A being a face, a gesture, an event is special when, without resembling any other, it resembles all the others. Special being is delightful, because it offers itself eminently to common use, but it cannot be an object of personal property. But neither use nor enjoyment is possible with the personal; there can only be appropriation and jealousy.

The jealous confuse the special with the personal; the brutal confuse the personal with the special. The jeune fille is jealous of herself. The model wife brutalizes herself.

- Giorgio Agamben, "Special Being", Profanations

I kept that bit of Profanations because it fit some recent concerns of my own, but it's a fair sample. Agamben thinks in generalities, a long choo-choo of astractions loosely coupled. The closest he gets to cases is his feminine taxonomy, which I find not immediately graspable. (Maybe I'm not cool enough to have met that jeune fille.)

Otherwise, so long as he stays depressing, I can stretch to deposit concrete sense into his language. I can't be certain that the sense matches his or stays consistent on its own terms, but at least my reading doesn't quite collapse into "Words entail words only to encounter words." As with The Coming Community, I'm not thrown off until the puffabilly turns towards hope.

Agamben writes that our culture has replaced use value and labor value by exhibition value, has degraded everything sacred-or-secular to the bargain-basement level of throwaway-for-next-season's toys, and has made even profanation an empty gesture of nostalgia. But then, just when I expect him to join our House of Representatives in its War against the War on Christmas, he meta-emptily meta-nostalgically suggests as a next step that we find some way to start profaning again. Isn't that building castles in the sulfur dioxide?

Responses

By the "special," Agamben quite possibly means the literary, and that only makes us miss its presence, confronted with his offensive Hegelian versions of feminine suffering.

I belong to the Special People Club!

The profane is freed of sulfuric taint in the refining process.

Josh Lukin explains:

The passage makes a lot of sense if you've studied the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, and even more if you haven't read anything since that year.

. . .

Utopia as Nowheresville

"Come the the revolution, you'll eat strawberries and cream and hate it!"

. . .

Post-1980 American Cinema

School of Spielberg
It put me on the edge of my seat. And beyond.
School of Cimino
You can see every dollar up there on the screen. Only Scrooge McDuck could enjoy watching three hours of dollar bills on a screen.

Responses

Is it relevant that I don't know who Cimino is? Peli

That's for you to tell me, isn't it? In fact I waffled on which names to use. Both schools have a number of forebears and founders; they even share some faculty members. But since my gag merely translates into reviewerese the most nightmarish moment of Steven Bach's Final Cut, I gave Cimino the honor.

. . .

GAG REFLEX

Joke on it.

Responses

William Cornwallis disapproves.

. . .

When life makes you a lemon, give lemonade

SPOILER WARNING, but I felt Barbellion finished the Journal properly. (And capped it with the best hiatus announcement in proto-blogging history.) Exclamations and expletives aside, odds are high that "Self-disgust" will be my last thought as well. Although of course one tries to avoid directly addressing a topic that forces polite bystanders to dredge up ineffective protests: it's dull and egocentric and even deadlier to conversation than say dreams or SAT scores or incomes.

The need to not quite express oneself leads I guess to writing but that hardly settles how much is not quite enough. Witness the "careers" of Barbellion or Henry Adams or Jean Eustache or so many others.... Three days ago for example I finished Dickinson's Misery despite the title. (Its true name is Dickinson's Genre. Virginia Walker Jackson justifies "Misery" as a generic metonym, like "Stars" or "Trillion Year" on a book about science fiction , but "Arch Playfulness" marks the same genre just as well, so tush.) While its argumentation may be knotty, it's not the usual loopy; anyway, the real joy's in the archival contextualizations and complications which re-establish Dickinson as unknowable: an Open and therefore Shut Case.

Yesterday for another example I finished an iffy novel by B. S. Johnson, an experiment marred by sloppy procedure, a eulogy uninterested in its subject, instead that imitable B. S. Johnson self-loathing, very understandable too, or "surprisingly accessible" as the critics say, it's the Malcolm Lowry problem, ha, he follows on Joyce and Beckett, but without the grasping or the distancing, we're flipping pages in his head, a fine fat one, still no room to breathe, we know how that ends.

Back to me though, about eighteen years ago for example I emerged upon a new plateau of despair and not long after began to write and then to publish. The triggers are clear enough; the motives are questionable. Just a week ago for example while I was in a frenzy of fatuous blundering the question arose. I have two pat answers and this being a social occasion I deployed the social one: I write to meet people. Now clearly that's false: I wrote before I met people, I write without meeting people, if these are advertisements for myself then they're the sort of ads that never mention what the product does. No, the primary motive must be my other pat answer, to get verbal structures "out of my head." But as I commented to Mr. Waggish ten days ago "out" is a vague word, and what I mean by the pat answer I used I guess is that meeting people is the only reward I receive from writing, which in turn determines the particular type of "out" I'm in: commercial writing pays too little, an academic position would make me go Stanford, and the thrill of seeing my name in print lasts thirty seconds to be followed by years of sore regret over my inability to edit the bylined piece, the unnecessary expense for readers who won't like it, and the unlikelihood of it ever reaching readers who will. Not that I don't suffer sore regret after meeting people but, you know, it's by far the best of the lot.

In conclusion then, The Unfortunates is another, Dickinson's Misery is good, Barbellion is better, and give me a call.

Responses

Call?! I'll see you and raise you!
next time I'm in California, I will.

Holy crap, it works!

. . .

The Sacred Fount and Some Vladimir Nabokov Novels Are Similar Yet Different

For PK

(This would be more convincing if May Server's last name was "Serjhen".)

. . .

"Trying to Say Something True"

With the kind permission and assistance of Josh Lukin, his "Paradoxa Interview with Chandler Davis" is now available in the Repress.

. . .

Bumper Sticker

UPPER EAST SIDE LADIES ARE LITTLE PEOPLE IN FUR COATS

. . .

Of Jests, and Jesters.

by guest blogger William Cornwallis, 1600

I Thinke Jestes and scabbes are much alike both the aboundance of superfluous humours; and this breaking out, more wholesome then pleasant. It defends the wit & the body from sicknesse.

If the most naturall abilities bee thus deformed, what becomes of the affections of this vaine, who inforce it in themselves? Surely, if they determine not to beg with it, and so to moove commiseration put it on and nourish it as Beggers doe broken shins, I knowe not their use. It is onely tollerable in them whose natures must of force have that vent, which use it as some bodies do breaking of winde. But for them that will choose to loose a friend rather then a Jest and desire to be admired in laughter and are out of countenance if their Jestes take not, they be in my opinion strange creatures.

There is another sort worse then these, that never utter any thing of their owne but get Jests by heart and robb bookes and men of prettie tales and yet hope for this to haue a roome above the Salt. I am tyred with these fellowes; my eares suffer at this time more then at Parris Garden.

I would haue a Jest never served above once; when it is cold, the vigour and strength of it is gone. I refuse to weare buffe for the lasting, & shall I be content to apparrell my braine in durance? By no means. Of things of this kinde, I would not desire to be doubly furnished, for by that time one be worne, it is out of fashion.

There is a kinde of harmelesse witty mirth at sometimes not ill becomming but the excesse is abhominable, especially to set the wit on the tenter-hookes for so base a purpose. Hee that happens on this mediocritie hath no evill chaunce; but to take paines, and to earne a Jest with labour, hee is in worse case then a Ballad-singer.

. . .

Introducing guest blogger William Cornwallis

In the history of discursive prose, William Cornwallis won a minuscule place as the first English imitator of Montaigne. Montaigne clearly made an impact on the lad:

I am determined to speake of bookes next, to whome, if you would not say I were too bookish, I should give the first place of all things heere. [Some brisk praise of Plato and Tacitus follows.]

For profitable Recreation that Noble French Knight, the Lord de Montaigne, is most excellent, whom though I have not been so much beholding to the French as to se in his Originall; yet divers of his peeces I have seen translated they that understand both languages say very wel done & I am able to say (if you will take the word of Ignorance) translated into a stile admitting as few Idle words as our language will endure. It is well fitted in this new garment, and Montaigne speaks now good English. It is done by a fellow less beholding to nature for his fortune than witte, yet lesser for his face then fortune. The truth is, he lookes more like a good-fellowe then a wise-man, and yet hee is wise beyond either his fortune or education. But his Authour speakes nobly, honestly, and wisely, with little method but with much judgement. Learned he was and often showes it, but with such a happinesse as his owne following is not disgraced by his owne reading. Hee speaks freely and yet wisely, censures and determines many things Judically, and yet forceth you not to attention with a "hem" and a spitting Exordium. In a word hee hath made Morrall Philosophie speake couragiously, and in steede of her gowne, given her an Armour. He hath put Pedanticall Schollerisme out of countenance, and made manifest that learning mingled with Nobilitie shines most clearly.

I haave done with bookes, and now I will sit in judgement upon all those that my memory can readily produce, and it is no presumption. [...]

- From "Essay. 12. Of Censuring"

Considered as proto-blogger, however, Cornwallis holds a number of advantages over either Montaigne or Francis Bacon: he was twenty years old and not particularly talented, intelligent, or knowledgeable. The distinction wasn't lost on him:

I holde neither Plutarche's nor none of those auncient short manner of writings nor Montaigne's nor such of this latter time to bee rightly tearmed Essayes; for though they be short, yet they are strong and able to endure the sharpest tryall. But mine are Essayes, who am but newly bound Prentise to the inquisition of knowledge and use these papers as a Painter's boy a board, that is trying to bring his hand and his fancie acquainted. It is a maner of writing wel befitting undigested motions, or a head not knowing his strength like a circumspect runner trying for a starte, or providence that tastes before she buyes. For it is easier to thinke well then to do well, and no triall to have handsome dapper conceites runne invisibly in a braine but to put them out and then looke upon them. If they proove nothing but wordes, yet they breake not promise with the world, for they say, "But an Essay," like a Scrivenour trying his Pen before he ingrosseth his worke. Nor, to speake plainely, are they more to blame then many other that promise more; for the most that I have yet touched have millions of wordes to the bringing forth one reason; and when a reason is gotten, there is such borrowing it one of another that in a multitude of Bookes, still that conceit, or some issued out of that, appeares so belaboured and worne, as in the ende it is good for nothing but for a Proverbe. When I thinke of the abilities of man, I promise my selfe much out of my reading, but it prooves not so. Time goeth, and I turne leaves; yet still finde my selfe in the state of ignorance; wherefore, I have thought better of honesty then of knowledge. What I may know, I will conuert to that use; and what I write, I meane so, for I will chuse rather to be an honest man then a good Logitian. There was never Art yet that laid so fast hold on me that she might justly call me her servant. I never knew them but superficially, nor, indeed, wil not though I might, for they swallow their subject and make him as Quid saide of himselfe.

Quicquid conabar dicere versus erat.

I would earne none of these so dearly as to ty up the minde to thinke onely of one thing; her best power by this meanes is taken from her, for so her circuit is limited to a distance, which should walke universally. Moreover, there growes pride and a selfe opinion out of this, which devours wisdome.

- From "Essay. 45. Of Essaies and Bookes."

His contemporaries took note as well. Cornwallis's one twentieth-century editor Don Cameron Allen, understandably sour retrieved two particularly telling reactions. The first, occasioned by a Parliament speech made by Cornwallis in 1604, was written by a mutual acquaintance to John Donne:

Sir William Cornwally hath taken upon him to answer the Objections against the Union, but they are done so lamely; and, although it seem scarce possible, so much worse then his Book, as (if he were not a kind friend of yours) I would expresse that wonder which I have in my heart, how he keeps himself from the Coat with long sleevs. It is incredible to think, if it were not true, that such simplicity of conceit could not be joyned in him, with so impudent utterance.

The second, answering an inquiry from would-be patron Sir Henry Wotton, was written by Cornwallis's father:

My good Lo: I thanke yow much for soe good a testimony of your love to myne unthrifty and unfortunate sonne. Hee hath spent mee in yt Courte above 5000 £i. And now haveinge geven him 200 £i a yeare more wherewith to live, he turnes his backe to his fortunes. Of all sorts of people I most dispaire of those of his sorte, that are Philosophers in their wordes and fooles in their workes. To God Almightie his mercifull and gracious providence I must leave him.

With the aid of providence William Cornwallis died dirt poor in 1614, an inspiration to us all. But let us return to 1600, where we find him launching a familiar scene, albeit without benefit of cafes or wireless access points:

Essay. 22.
Of Alehouses.

I write this in an Alehouse, into which I am driven by night, which would not give me leave to finde out an honester harbour. I am without any company but Inke & Paper, & them I use in stead of talking to my selfe. My Hoste hath already given me his knowledge, but I am little bettered; I am now trying whether my selfe be his better in discretion. The first note here is to see how honestly every place speakes, & how ill euery man lives. Not a Poste nor a painted cloth in the house but cryes out, "Feare God," and yet the Parson of the Town scarce keeps this Instruction. It is a straunge thing how men bely themselves; every one speaks well & means naughtily. They cry out if man with man breake his word, & yet no Body keepes promise with vertue. But why should these Inferiours be blamed, since the noblest professions are become base? Their instructions rest in the Example of higher fortunes, and they are blinde and lead men into sensualitie. Me thinks a drunken Cobler and a meere hawking Gentleman ranke equally; both end their pursuites with pleasing their senses. This, the eye; the other, the Taste. What differs scraping misery from a false Cheatour? The directour of both is Covetousnesse and the end Gaine. Lastly, courting of a Mistresse & buying of a Whore are somewhat like; the end of both is Luxury. Perhaps the one speaks more finely, but they both meane plainly. I haue been thus seeking differences; and to distinguish of places, I am faine to fly to the signe of an Ale-house and to the stately comming in of greater houses. For Men, Titles and Clothes, not their lives and Actions, helpe me. So were they all naked and banished from the Herald's books, they are without any evidence of preheminence, and their soules cannot defend them from Community.

Responses

Where is this Cornwallis guy? Will he do a reading at Moe's? He's Boffo!

BIG MONEY IN INFORMAL ESSAYS!!!

A S K    M E    H O W !!

"He did not, however, completely adopt the Persian costume, which would have been utterly repugnant to Grecian ideas, and wore neither the trousers, the coat with long sleeves, nor the tiara, but his dress..."

. . .

"NOT TO RALPH BAKSHI"

What do you know? It turns out that purported plagiarist Ralph Bakshi and purported victim Vaughn Bodé were actually the best of friends.

Far be it from me to suggest that you search for corroboration when someone frequently accused of dishonesty provides self-exculpatory statements that never approach the real point of controversy. But should anyone out there be searching, here's some evidence as yet missed by Google and Wikipedia.

Late in his career, Bodé habitually penned a tiny dedication on the bottom of each strip. For example, in the batch of National Lampoon comics published posthumously in 1975 which, spookily enough, concern Cheech Wizard's resurrection from the grave we find "TO CHEECH FREAKS", "TO HOSTESS SNOWBALLS", "TO SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY", "TO THE HOLY QUADRUPILITY", "TO BARRY MELTON", and "TO MIKE GROSS".

A couple of months before his creator's death, Cheech woke to his premature burial. Here's the episode's final panel:

What a two-bit flop house... I hardly got nough room to jerk off. / NOT to Ralph Bakshi

. . .

Last Exit to the Road to Son of Paleface

The last time I tried writing about Son of Paleface was on September 10, 2001. Despite lingering associations, this seems a good time to pick the topic up again.

First, because PFA is giving locals a rare chance to see Frank Tashlin's self-consciously not-on-television movies on a non-television screen:

7:00 p.m., Friday, April 11, 2008 - The Girl Can't Help It
4:00 p.m., Saturday, April 12, 2008 - Son of Paleface
5:00 p.m., Sunday, April 13, 2008 - Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
6:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 16, 2008 - Artists and Models
8:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 16, 2008 - It'$ Only Money
7:00 p.m., Friday, April 18, 2008 - Bachelor Flat

Second, because I'm now as old as Junior Potter was when he graduated Harvard.

Third, because, well, maybe I'll get to that later.

... to be continued ...

. . .
Tashlin directs 'It'$ Only Money'

The Road to Son of Paleface, 1

Cartoons are a very stimulating medium.... But it's also a world of enslavement.... You've got to get out of it. We live in fear. How many of my colleagues cling on to their jobs, just like bureaucrats, so that nothing ever changes. They get so caught up in their routine that they lose all desire to break out. You have to live with this fear, because insecurity is part of the life of anyone who devotes himself to comedy.
- Frank Tashlin, interview with Robert Benayoun, 1964
I'm always where I'm not.
- Frank Tashlin, interview with Mike Barrier, 1971

Frank Tashlin directed cartoons before directing live-action movies.

The same could be said of David Lynch or Tim Burton. And Federico Fellini drew caricatures, and Mitchell Leisen designed costumes, and Frank Borzage was a cowboy....

But Tashlin's switch was less like an art school kid landing a lucrative day job than like Nabokov losing Russian. Over a fifteen year career at Van Buren, Warner Brothers, Disney (he left after being denied credit for "Mickey & the Beanstalk"), Screen Gems (where he perfected the formula later used by Road Runner cartoons), Morey and Sutherland, and Warner Brothers again at the division's energetic peak (or, as Tashlin called it, the "poor man's Ufa"), he pursued new levels of artifactual self-awareness and new techniques of "speed," of "cutting," of "camerawork," of "POV" the quotes to remind us that all this aggressive anti-convention had to be hand-crafted rather than happily accidental while almost always staying funnier than Pudovkin.

If Warner's animation department hadn't been controlled by budget-crazed maroons, would Tashlin had felt compelled to move? If it'd set up extravagant feature-film units and given full credit to creators...?

I can't guess. During his transition from cartoon shorts to live features, Tashlin worked in a thoroughly independent medium picture books and that career matched the pattern of his others: a couple of masterpieces trailing off into dissatisfaction and unfinished never-quite-abandoned projects. It doesn't take much to make a shy 6' 4" 250-pound man feel trapped.

... to be continued ...

. . .

The Road to Son of Paleface, 2

This writer, not knowing Hope, can only conjecture what goes on inside the man. He has seen horrible things and has survived them with good humor and made them more bearable, but that doesn't happen without putting a wound on a man. He is cut off from rest, and even from admitting weariness. Having become a symbol, he must lead a symbol life.
- John Steinbeck

Bob Hope starred on radio before starring in movies.

Radio popularity is based on voice. It's an authorial role, and enjoys some of the same freedom. On the blank face of it, Edgar Bergen's radio stardom made no sense. The comic lead of the team, however, was Charlie McCarthy: a little wooden boy who'd somehow acquired the clothing, impulses, and experiences of an Edwardian roué, and was somehow always accepted in all particulars by those around him. Radio was the creature's home; filmed, he became only a ventriloquist's dummy.

Writers are drawn to radio as a medium, and purportedly Bob Hope was the first stand-up comic to openly acknowledge his stable of gag-writers. When he wanted a more spontaneous feel, he'd phone them to rush the gags. Hope's "live" performances were as anti-improvistatory as Mel Blanc's: reliably identifiable no matter how extreme the setting or guise.

Which, in turn, gave them both liberty to step away from setting and guise entirely. Tex Avery's one-shot "Screwy Squirrel" short gets special attention from theorists because the unestablished and unappealing lead doesn't ground the experiment. His self-awareness attracts the eye, whereas audience asides like Bugs Bunny's "He don't know me very well, do he?" are close to invisible.

For radio stars, there's no question about breaking the fourth wall. You've already invited 'em right into your living room. (That's what made radio horror so spooky. When I was seven years old, the prefatory whistle of "The Whistler" and the basso profondo molto legato announcement of "Suspense" provended sufficient nightmare fodder in themselves. No need to wait for the plotline.) Advertisers made the turn to the audience a routine running gag.

Hollywood's openness varied. Relieved from the need to position Hope as a romantic lead, able to give his bloat and stubble free rein, the best "Road" pictures were especially relaxed in their anti-realism, incorporating such absurdities as talking camels and Robert Benchley without strain. You couldn't manage that with Crosby alone, but Hope loosened the reins. Even in his stiffer vehicles, moments of nonsense sometimes tear through the conventional surface. The Princess and the Pirate's highlight comes before the action even begins (which is why I don't feel terribly guilty about spoiling it):

Many, many years ago there sailed the Seven Seas the most bloodthirsty buccaneer in history. Ruthless and daring he was, and, though his soul was black with foul deeds, he feared no creature, living or dead.
Ingratiating Bob Hope inset
"That's not me, folks, I come on later, I play a coward."

Buster Keaton and W. C. Fields drift mildly upwards into their personal unreal, tethered by rude tugs of slapstick and abuse. The Marx and Ritz Brothers drive reality squealing like a moneylender from the temple. Approaching sometimes the misanthropic babble of Groucho and sometimes the nightmarish openness of Fields, Hope is the first movie comedian to attain enlightenment by the road of skepticism: an absolute distrust that undercuts narrative drive, filmic convention, and his own part. On the other hand, he's not a delicate instrument; like a cartoon star, you know that if a bomb dropped on Hope, he'd be nervously wise-cracking in Hell next scene.

Only two things keep Hope's character among the earthly. First, a sensuality which distinguishes him from his colder and more self-conscious (if more consistent) disciples. I can't imagine Bill Murray or Woody Allen matching the delirious canine abandon of Hope as he applied Dorothy Lamour's hand against his face in Road to Morocco. (Allen needed a multiple-orgasm stimulator to come close.) Older burleykyoo types like Chico, Harpo, and Jimmy Durante were too goal-oriented to even notice the species of their objects of desire, much less such particulars as touch, scent, and taste.

And foremost, lack of motivating force. As blatantly untrustworthy as his surroundings and roles are, he sees no alternative.

Lacking other convictions, Hope staked his soul on glibness. If he wasn't "on", he'd vanish completely. No wonder he looks anxious.

... to be continued ...

Responses

Is that signpost at the end pointing to a detour into writing about blogging again?

I'd say you just covered that angle.

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