|. . . Paris|
|. . . 1999-08-23|
Later the students moved to the colleges of "La montagne Saint-Genevieve". Afterwards, Place Maubert was given over to the gallows, and to torture by the wheel and at the stake, particularly under Francis I.
|. . . 1999-11-07|
Although the pacing's a bit stodgy, 1936's Mayerling wins on performances, especially from the youthful-but-still-middle-aged Charles Boyer as Prince Rudolf: dissipated, undisciplined, and 100% tragically noble. I would say that Boyer was over-the-top great, but one of the reasons Boyer was always middle-aged was that he was never over-the-top. Under pressure, he just got more impacted.
Besides instigating this woman's marriage, Mayerling's other great achievement was getting me interested in the history of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. 'Cause, I've read Robert Musil and listened to Arnold Schoenberg till the cows came home, but not even the cows ever had the decency to tell me about Only Heir to Empire Dead in Double Love Suicide!, and, brother, that's what I call news.
Well, allowing some elbow room for glamor and the use of French actors, it turns out the movie actually does present the semi-official version of the story pretty accurately. Alas! for romance, it also turns out that not that many people ever believed that version of the story -- what's more likely to hit a Hapsburg: romance or assassination? -- and now it's been thoroughly disproved.
Even after learning that love means nothing, the "what happened next?" factor was still strong, especially since the next thing I found that happened next was the assassination of Prince Rudolf's mother, the Empress, less than a decade after the murder of her son. And by then we're getting close to the Great War.... Would I have to, like, go buy a book or something to work all this out?
No fear of that, because the Atlantic's already bought a book (coincidentally also from 1936) and put it up on the Web: Rebecca West's big dummy's guide to the Balkans, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. I remember when its posting was announced as a public service during one of the more recent genocides, but of course it took an old movie to attract my attention....
|West works a well-established mainstream genre -- travel notes alternating with history lessons -- but you can't beat the combination of Balkans history and fascist-era travel for human (i.e., morbid) interest, and in its smoothly mainstream way the series builds to near hysteria by the time it reaches Sarajevo in Part 4:
'So when the poor mayor began to read his address of welcome the Archduke shouted out in a thin alto, "That's all a lot of rot. I come here to pay you a visit, and you throw bombs at me. It's an outrage." Then the Archduchess spoke to him softly, and he calmed down, and said, "Oh, well, you can go on." But at the end of the speech there was another scene, because the Archduke had not got his speech, and for a moment the secretary who had it could not be found. Then when it was brought to him he was like a madman because the manuscript was all spattered with the aide-de-camp's blood.'
|I'm a little worried about West's preoccupation with obesity, though. Would you agree with her that "Marie Vetsera was a very fat and plain little girl"? Ess, ess, Rebecca!|
|. . . 2000-02-15|
San Francisco présent (via Juliet Clark):
"The great goal so long sought had finally been achieved: that of making Paris an object of luxury and curiosity, rather than of use -- a ville d'exposition, a display city placed under glass... an object of admiration and envy to foreigners, unbearable for its inhabitants."
|. . . 2000-04-26|
In New York in the 1980s you could always tell it was safe to talk to someone about music if you saw FM antenna wire tacked up all over their apartment, 'cause that meant they were trying to drag in from Upsala College, East Orange, New Jersey, the reluctant signal of WFMU, the radio station so hip that its program guide was a zine -- a pretty good one, too, especially when it came to graphics, what with Kaz DJ-ing there and bringing his fellow RAW artists along for the ride.
In 2000, Upsala is upsadaisied, there are no oranges in Jersey, Your Old Pal Irwin is calling himself just plain Irwin with a last name of some sort attached, and I'm dragging the signal across a much longer wire. But at least the signal is better!
|. . . 2000-06-18|
|What proofs did Bloom adduce to prove that his tendency was towards applied, rather than towards pure, science?|
|Insofar as wise critics have looked at science fiction, critical wisdom has it that the genre's most distinctive form is the series, and particularly the "fix-up": the novel built up of mostly-previously-published more-or-less integrated more-or-less independent short stories and novellas.
"I do not like that other world"
"More-or-less" being the distinguishing factor here. The close relationship of the pulp magazine and pulp novel industries led to many hero-glued fix-ups in other genres of popular fiction (Dashiell Hammett's and Raymond Chandler's early novels, for example); the short attention spans of protosurrealists, pseudosurrealists, and other artistes-fines led to a number of single-hero multiple-narrative (Maldoror, Miss Lonelyhearts) and single-narrative multiple-hero (As I Lay Dying) assortments.
"After God, [insert name] has created most..."
But what defines sf is not a peculiar approach to character or narrative but a peculiar attention to the implied context of the fiction. This implied context is usually called the work's "world," as in the quintessential sf skill "world building" or the quintessential sf hackwork "shared world" writing. Because the constructed context is what defines a "work" of sf, a single sf "work" can cover a great deal of time-space ground (as in Robert Heinlein's "future history") and incorporate many different lead characters and closed narratives.
"He's dead nuts on that. And the retrospective arrangement."
Given a long enough lifetime, sf authors sometimes start to wonder if all their worlds might somehow be "shared" in the all-in-one person of the author: Isaac Asimov's attempt to combine his Foundation universe with his Robotics universe to make Asimov Universe TM; Samuel R. Delany's multi-decade cross-genre remarks toward the modular calculus....
"...if the city suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book."
Outside the sf genre, what this reminds me most of are Jack Spicer's notion of the "serial poem," Louis Zukofsky's notion that a poet's lifetime of work is best considered as one long work, and James Joyce.
(... further reflections generated by the essays in A Collideorscape of Joyce: Festschrift For Fritz Senn ...)
|As Jacques Aubert points out in "Of Heroes, Monsters and the Prudent Grammartist," child Joyce's writerly ambition, like that of many genre workers, was fired by reading heroic adventure stories: "Madam, I never eat muscatel grapes." And, also like many genre writers, Joyce continued (would "compulsively" be too strong a word?) to use the notion of the heroic (alongside the notion of author-as-trademark) as an organizing principle while undercutting it with a self-awareness that ranged from scathingly bitter to comically nostalgic.
In "Dubliners and the Accretion Principle" Zack Bowen very convincingly treats the collection of mostly-previously-published stories Dubliners "as a single unified work... the stories so interrelated as to form a type of single narrative" with a clear structural pattern and a loose but extensive web of inter-episode linkages. (A biographical tidbit unmentioned by Bowen backs this up: Joyce knew "After the Race" was a weak story but felt compelled to include it to save the overall shape of the book: a common architectural problem for the fix-up author.)
On the next hand, Christine van Boheemen's "'The cracked lookingglass' of Joyce's Portrait" makes a case for breaking apart A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, since all the chapters use the same semi-self-contained bump-down-and-bounce-up narrative structure rather than gliding smooth-and-steady towards maturity: "Instead of psychological and emotional growth, the fiction depicts repetition." Each episode imagines itself to be first, last, only and alone whereas it is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity.... Van Boheemen's approach would imply that the "final" flight to Paris on the wings of artistic vocation is merely another roundabout to the next repetition. And Stephen's bedraggled comedown in Ulysses, so embarrassing to those who pictured him ascending to glory at an angle of fortyfive degrees like a shot off a shovel, certainly seems to give her approach the edge.
There hasn't been much need to remind readers of the heterogeneity of Ulysses, starting from its serialization episode by episode, each episode a chronologically, thematically, and stylistically closed unit. (Are there any other novels for which we refer to "episodes" by title rather than to "chapters" by number?) Timothy Martin reminds us again anyway in "Ulysses as a Whole" that inasmuch as anything can be said to tie the book together it's a shared context -- implicitly an externally documented day in the world, explicitly the inter-episode allusions and reflections, "many of them added late in the book's composition."
As always, the limiting case is Finnegans Wake, whose compositional history also includes serial publication and last-minute blanket-tucking additions. But here the repetition and fragmentation go simultaneously down and up the scale to such an extent that almost no one ever reads the book except as scattered sentence-to-page-sized episodes semi-explained by references to other episodes: "holograms" and "fractals" became rhetorical commonplaces for Wake scholars as quickly as for sf writers.
Maybe that's why Exiles seems like such a flimsy anomaly: it's a self-contained traditionally structured single work where a revue or a burlesque show might have felt more appropriate....
|. . . 2000-06-20|
|date||france||still more france||other|
only a silly, dirty, lazy, stoned hippy would be silly enough to try to make toast out of hamburger.
bob hope was so right about hippies! and everything else.
or maybe this is some kind of horrible retort to "french toast".
french toast is delicious but you never know what will offend french people.
le chat perfect
cats are good.
we are all agreed that cats are good.
but parisians know that anyone can be better if they make an effort. even cats!
simply unstrand their pearls and you will see.
thus we stride proudly with verve toward the perfect cat.
[thanks Juliet again.]
i am sorry.
|. . . 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
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.
|. . . 2002-03-16|
Instructions to a Painter, first
Marcel Duchamp to Jean Crotti, 17 August 1952 (iffily translated from French):
You were asking my opinion on your work, my dear Jean. It's very hard to say in just a few words, especially for me as I have no faith -- religious sort -- in artistic activity as a social value.
Artists of all eras are like Monte Carlo gamblers and the blind lottery sends some on their way and ruins others. To my mind, neither winners nor losers are worth bothering over. It's business, good for the winner and bad for the loser.
I don't believe in painting in itself. Every painting is made not by the artist but by those who look at it and grant it their favors; in other words, no painter understands himself or knows what he does -- there's no outward sign to explain why a Fra Angelico and a Leonardo are equally "recognized."
It all happens through our little friend luck. Artists who, during their life, have managed to get people to value their junk are excellent traveling salesmen, but nothing guarantees immortality to their work. And even posterity is a pretty slut who retracts some, resuscitates others (El Greco), and remains free to change her mind in 50 years.
This long preamble to tell you not to judge your own work as you are the last person to see it (with true eyes). What you see there isn't what makes merit or shame. All words used to explain or praise it are false translations of what takes place past the sensations.
You are, like all of us, obsessed with the accumulation of principles or anti-principles which generally cloud your mind with their terminology and, without knowing it, you are a prisoner of what you think a liberated education.
In your particular case you are certainly the victim of the "School of Paris," that good joke which has lasted for 60 years (the students awarding themselves prizes, in cash).
To my mind there's no safety but in esotericism. But for 60 years we've attended the public exhibition of our balls and multiple hard-ons. The Lyons grocer speaks in enlightened terms and buys modern painting.
American museums want at any price to teach modern art to young students who believe in the "chemical formula."
All this breeds only vulgarization and complete dissipation of the original fragrance.
This doesn't cancel what I said above, because I believe in the original fragrance but like any fragrance it evaporates very quickly (a few weeks, a few years at most); what's left is a dried nut classified by the historians in the chapter "History of Art."
So if I tell you that your paintings have nothing in common with what we see generally classified and accepted, that you've always produced things entirely your own, as I truly believe, that's not to say that you have the right to be seated next to Michelangelo.
What's more, this originality is suicidal, in the sense that it distances you from a "clientele" used to the "copies of copyists" that are usually called "tradition."
Another thing, your technique is not the "expected" technique. It is your technique, you own borrowed from no one -- there again, the clientele isn't attracted.
Obviously if you'd applied your Monte Carlo system to your painting, all these difficulties would have changed to victories. You could even have started a new school of technique and originality.
I won't speak of your sincerity because that's the commonplace most widely spread and least valid. All liars, all bandits are sincere. Insincerity doesn't exist. The malign are sincere and succeed by their malice but their being is made of malicious sincerity.
In 2 words do less self-analysis and work with pleasure without worrying about opinions, yours and those of others.
|. . . 2002-03-20|
The English Restoration seems startlingly close, as if a veil was lifted for a few decades and then hurriedly pulled back into place for two hundred more years. Generations of state-church tussling, civil war, and dictatorship had left England a fragmented culture bound together by a tradition of insecurity, uncertainty, and paranoia. Installation of the most tolerant monarch in its history unloosed a flood of free expression: of sexual pleasures and horrors, atheism and fanaticism, financial panic and soured idealism, class distinctions crossed and fetishized, free love and cheating at cards....
All very twentieth century save for the lack of whining. Among Restoration writers, hypocrisy and self-pity were more unforgivable than failure or disgrace, since, after all, failure and disgrace lay so clearly outside an individual's control. Most valued was a slantwise directness of insight and impulse, coupled with a humorously stoic awareness of the probable consequences.
Although newspapers, novels, and television weren't yet in full swing, many other aspects of modernity snapped into focus: science blossomed free of alchemy and astrology; for the first time, women wrote professionally (including all-round woman-of-letters Aphra Behn); diaries and letters and memoirs suddenly became compulsively readable narratives rather than bare inventories of purchases or devotions; William Congreve's comedies (largely predicated on their young heroes' fears of bankruptcy) remain the best in the English language; John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, remains the most exfoliative of English poets.
For reasons we won't go into, the Victorian era offered little open support to its Restoration forebears, and into the mid-twentieth century much material was more or less supressed. Congreve stayed in print, though, and at present the writings of Pepys, Rochester, and the Female Wits are probably more accessible than ever before. But one of my favorite Restoration relics has never quite recovered its former visibility, and so I decided to produce an online edition.
Now Heav'ns preserve our faith's defender
From Paris plots and Roman cunt,
From Mazarine, that new Pretender,
And from that politique, Grammont.
-- John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester
The memoirs of the Count de Grammont were written in French, but I associate them with the English Restoration since they were ghostwritten by Anglo-Irish Anthony Hamilton, since (apart from some short introductory chapters) they're set entirely in the court of Charles II, and since, most germanely, I know them through a remarkable nineteenth-century English edition aimed at the Sophisticated Gentleman.
As I've mentioned before, it's one of my favorite books, largely due to its internal linkage. But I'm finding it a bit intractable to both online publishing and online reading: luxuriant sentence structure, multipage paragraphs, and gargantuan notes all work more efficiently in paper technology than in computer hypertext, and the tiny none-too-tidy print clogs OCR.
A bit at a time seems the best way to proceed. And so, contrary to my previous practice, I'll be issuing the Memoirs in serial fashion.
Of this initial installment, I actually slighly prefer the bizarre Victorian wrapping to the contents proper, although Hamilton's declaration of methodology, Grammont's Sgt.-Bilko-like account of seventeenth-century warfare, and his easy socializing with both king and rebel during an armed rebellion all hold their charms.
Next in the hopper, though, is his introduction to the English court, and then we'll be cooking with gas!
|. . . 2002-07-17|
Movie Comment: Eric Rohmer: With Supporting Evidence
"Every possible decision entails some sacrifice, paradox or irony. But irony doesn't subvert morality; morality is about choosing the lesser of two ironies."Godard was louder and funnier, but the best criticism in Cahiers du cinéma was written by Eric Rohmer, and it used to seem sad to me that he didn't, like Godard, keep it going as an occasional thing.
-- Raymond Durgnat on Eric Rohmer
One of the rewards of sitting through this two-part TV interview-with-dumbass-arty-touches is that instead of sad it now seems inevitable, and louder, and funnier. Unlike Godard's too-cool-for-school improvs, Rohmer's criticism was labored over; it was never "occasional" prose. Even if it had been, there's no room for any occasion outside movie-making in Rohmer's post-Cahiers life: every strand, scrap, and moment of his existence is replete with movie-making, and the tools and souvenirs of movie-making threaten to bury him as we watch, cassettes, notebooks, videos, photos, lights, filters (colored tracing paper), reflectors (made in 1959 from tin foil and a portfolio), projectors, photos, and props piling on the desk like from Harpo's inexhaustible trench coat....
|I've always been against destruction. I think that in order to build, we mustn't destroy.|
In still photos, Rohmer always looks dignified and aristocratic. In action, he's an enthusiastic (if still very polite) goofball, fondly mimicked by Jean-Louis Trintignant in My Night at Maud's and by Hugues Quester in Tale of Springtime, more like a monomaniacal Roland Young than like cold-blue-blooded Antonioni.
Maybe most like Joseph H. Lewis: happy as a pig in low-budget slops.
|I believe more and more what I wrote in my last article, that is, that cinema has more to fear from its own clichés than from those of the other arts. Right now, I despise, I hate, cinephile madness, cinephile culture. In "Le Celluloid et le marbre" I said that it was very good to be a pure cinephile, to have no culture, to be cultivated only by the cinema. Unfortunately, it has happened: There now are people whose culture is limited to the world of film, who think only through film, and when they make films, their films contain beings who exist only through film, whether the reminiscence of old films or the people in the profession. The number of short films by novices who in one way or another show only filmmakers is terrifying! I think that there are other things in the world besides film and, conversely, that film feeds on things that exist outside it. I would even say that film is the art that can feed on itself the least. It is certainly less dangerous for the other arts.|
If movies are your entire life, life can't enter your movies except through the knotholes and the rust-streaking leaks and the breezy gaps between the amateurish joins. Hollywood can pay to seal itself in; Rohmer can't, and that's exactly what he enjoys about the process.
So nice to think that this is what can happen to a fine analytical critic. Loving the pre-decadent days of cinema, Rohmer, almost uniquely, understands and follows its percepts, that is, its precepts -- that is, its restrictions, which is to say its freedoms. As the man says, it's better to have fifty films made by crews of ten than to have one film made by a crew of five hundred. You can't have a healthy art form without excess production.
Taking the responsibility of adaptation as seriously as any other responsibility, Rohmer didn't go through the same improvisational process with the three movies he's based on existing texts. Instead, as if to fill up any time gained by starting with a finished script, all three laboriously emphasized technical demands and formal experimentation -- and stumbled (sometimes with a triumphant lurching leap) over anti-realistic (or stiff, or inappropriate) acting, or even (in the latest, anyway) horrendous structural problems in the script.
Rohmer is a great moviemaker, and so his experiments are interesting. But one reason he's a great moviemaker is that his rote way of making movies works reliably.
His latest 100-super-movie-au-maximum, Tale of Springtime, I figured was planned from the start as a wiser and more gynocentric answer to My Night at Maud's. It turns out the philosophical discussions that connect the two films were only constructed after long negotiations with the actress who had been cast as the lead. She was a philosophy scholar, the sketchy teacher of Rohmer's original plan was, at her request, realized as a philo prof, and the bare branch blossomed from there.
That's the routine that works, like the seasons. Rohmer quietly worries for decades at vague ideas, suspending their resolution until they can opportunistically latch onto the particulars of setting and collaborator. He films in vacation spots because that's where his friends' empty houses are; he picks amateur actors because they're unyielding enough to propagate story and grateful enough to do it again and because he can afford them; his shots are dictated by his cheap bundle of equipment, and he loves it like a muse. New life is born of abundant wish and a lack of choice.
|. . . 2003-05-11|
Since our latest serial completed, Zukofskymania has been sweeping the nation. And wherever there's sweeping to be done, a Dovetonsils is sure to be found listlessly smearing the same bit of dirt back and forth before asking for spare change.
So it was no surprise to get this postcard from Anselm Dovetonsils during his recent two-week stand as laureate of Paris (Las Vegas):
ABOUT MY POETICS --
A Texas Hold'em table
Lower limit two hundred dollars
Upper limit four hundred dollars
Stand pat, Dovetonsils! Stand pat!
|. . . 2005-08-14|
A reader puts words or something like them in our mouth:
nobody likes me, everbody hates me just because i eat worms
I stumbled, in an old post, upon a peripheral declaration I found very interesting and provoking - "... as Wes Anderson decided to drop the pretense that less-than-wealthy characters held any interest for him." - and felt an urge to comment, as old as it was. I'm not quite sure if it was meant as an accusation or merely an observation, and consequently not sure if I'm attempting to practice apologetics or am just riffing, but as I see Anderson has no interest whatsoever in the wealthy - He is purely interested the extravagantly rich, and that's a fundamental distinction: It's no longer an issue of an aristocratic choice of social-economic milieu, obfuscated as natural and commonsensical, but of writing about the stuff of legend.
In his work there's a romantic, imaginary artifice of aristocracy that has more to do with Oberon's court or the minor Olympic Gods than with the modern upper class. (Though with Paris Hilton and everything I might not have a good grasp on how surreal the upper-class truly is, but still.)
His interest seem to be in characters utterly removed from life's usual concerns not in a manner mimetic or reflective of any social phenomenon, but in a glorified, accented and fantastical way, either because they went so far up the social ladder they are utterly unaware of its struggles (the Tennenbaum kids), and thus even when broke and working as elevator-boys they do not feel any hardship (Royal Tennenbaum), or because they have no intention to struggle up the social ladder, but have a pretty easy time getting by with nearly no money (Dignen from Bottle Rocket), or because they're still kids and have no obligations or constraints (Rushmore), or because they live on a submarine and go hunting sharks (Life Aquatic). But the key feature here is that all those life-styles a presented in an equally magnified, unrealistic manner, not as defaults but as extravagant imaginations- a kind of an idealized projection of fundamental emotional and existential (god I wish there was a better word for this) concerns into a plane without necessities or concrete outside limitations where only choice and emotional constraints are factors (thought it's only about 70% true about Bottle Rocket).
Anderson isn't producing a biased, snobbish vision of social reality- he isn't producing a vision of social reality at all. I like to think of Wes Anderson as kind of the ultimate Fuck You to Jameson (not the whisky).
Paul Kerschen writes:
I was talking yesterday to our mutual friend J.F., and she was explaining how in the stories she used to write at age eleven the main characters were generally princesses, because they were the only ones who had the right resources -- if you want to write a scene at the ocean involving whales or something, the princess can just up and go to the ocean. Given how Anderson's films are either about childhood or weird overgrown children, I always figured that was his idea also. I quite like the later films, but don't find anything in them as affecting as the scenes in Rushmore where Max, who can't always rely on Bill Murray's millions, actually has to work to protect his fantasy and ends up lying about his poor barber dad, etc. There's a binocular vision there, while later on, in order to preserve the integrity of the fantastic, Anderson elects to close one eye.
The original context of my remark probably made clear that it sprang from an idiosyncratic case of class resentment — or maybe class petulance. I enjoyed the fantasy of a non-wealthy character being painfully but harmlessly ridiculous; it was nice to get that break. Clearly, though, a large American audience doesn't require such eccentricity. And The Life Aquatic's dud tragedy clearly indicates that Anderson should continue to stay far away from consequences.
I like your way of putting it. It's fun to picture Royal Tenenbaum or Steve Zissou pulling out a spy glass, making like Popeye, and scanning the backdropped horizon....
|. . . 2006-02-13|
Since the capitulation of Paris the soldier has tended to sink more and more into a paid official, receiving his orders from financiers with his salary, without being allowed a voice even in questions involving peace and war. The same fate has overtaken the producing classes; they have failed to maintain themselves, and have become subjects of the possessors of hoarded wealth. Although the conventions of popular government are still preserved, capital is at least as absolute as under the Caesars, and, among capitalists, the money-lenders form an aristocracy. Debtors are in reality powerless, because of the extension of that very system of credit which they invented to satisfy their needs. Although the volume of credit is gigantic, the basis on which it rests is so narrow that it may be manipulated by a handful of men. [...] The aristocracy which wields this autocratic power is beyond attack, for it is defended by a wage-earning police, by the side of which the legions were a toy; a police so formidable that, for the first time in history, revolt is hopeless and is not attempted. The only question which preoccupies the ruling class is whether it is cheaper to coerce or to bribe.- The Law of Civilization and Decay: An Essay on History
by Brooks Adams (1895-6)
Brooks Adams never set "The Law" in a single line of Greek and arithmetic; his wife's suggested title was The Path to Hell: A Story Book. He thumps out a simple enough pattern, though.
History describes the inverse relationship of two emotions: Fear and Greed. ("That's not where I want to be.") As a population centralizes, Fear becomes less important, Greed more. The power (or status or survival — he makes no distinction) of an individual (or "organism", "type", "breed", "race" — he makes no distinction) in any community (or "culture", "civilization", "nation", "race" — he makes no distinction) is determined by whether Fear or Greed has the ascendancy. Military heroes and priests rule the Fearful; capitalists rule the Greedy. As Greed accelerates, the increasingly capitalistic community becomes dependent on cheaper external goods and labor. Eventually this leads to collapse, dispersion, and Fear.
The leading indicators (or the sole engines — he's vague) of cultural change are control of financial exchange and access to the units of exchange.
Follow the money: Rome plundered Europe and the Near East. The merchants plundered Rome. The Church plundered Europe. Italy plundered Constantinople. Portugal stole the Indies trade from Italy. Spain plundered the New World. The Dutch stole the ocean trade from Spain. Improved technology re-centered trade in England. England plundered India. Germany plundered France. Bankers plundered everyone.
So it seems to be a habit with us. What makes Adams's account most impressively legalistic is his tone, the attorney's habit of argument by inevitability. "She had no choice but to pull the trigger." "You have no choice but to find her guilty." "The Knights Templar might as well have argued with gravitation." "That ostentatious, sordid, and cowardly race, being better adapted, rose to dominance."
"a habit with us" - Seeing as how they've truncated your sense of us-ness down to somewhat minus the last 3 millenia, with an unspoken codicil that any pre-our-history human lives were larval and inconsequent, like indigenes generally, even the useful ones, it might get more toward the actual analysis of motivation to say "this here us".
Fear and Greed are the driving wheels of this particular clot of this particular primate spooge, what we are as a race, or specie, is rather larger than what passes for history now.
I see where you're coming from and I'm getting there, although I can't blame you if you're tired of waiting. I meant this first part as summary, not as endorsement. (I wonder how many "Little Nell must die" letters were sent to Dickens.)
|. . . 2006-11-10|
We eat, we drink, we eat and drink prodigiously, with gusto, it would do your heart good to see us, you'd get bored, you'd be appalled, you'd resent me, no, this will not become a food column, albeit I am a column of food.
I will meet two obligations, that's all.
1. La Zucca, Venezia
Admirers of strong flavors and grace under pressure will have no trouble finding a good time in Venice. La Zucca stood out by its lack of frenzy. Frenzy's fine, some of my best friends are frenzied, but modulation is nice, too.
Especially the kitchen wasn't frenzied, nor slow, but lent focused attention to each dish qua dish, which tells with that stuff that's not boiled dough or fried squigglies — you know, vegetables.
The overall effect was very California cuisine, except with Italian produce, and except for the cost. Those familiar with the Bay Area, imagine if Alice Waters priced the way Berkeley Bowl does. As if observation and accuracy were necessities of life instead of luxuries accessible only by the wealthiest.
After we paid, our extremely efficient server (who might've owned the place) came back and gave us each a stack of business cards, I guess to hand out to our fellow movers and shakers, so here you are.
2. All'Allegria, Udine
Udine is a good town to get out of. That's why we went there, and why we slept for three nights in a comfortably sterile and soundproof hotel on the same block as the train station and the bus station.
But on our last night, after many rebuffs, we were determined to extract some pleasure from Udine's hard nut. A kind Venetian gentleman had recommended some restaurants. With his list, we ventured forth. Then returned to the hotel rebuffed. Then ventured again.
Cranky, tired, and in my case bruised and bleeding, we made unpromising material all'Allegria. We fell into the hands of a master.
I tell you, Myrtle, it was just like meeting Charles Boyer. Solicitous without smarminess, engaged without familiarity, quick to suggest, quick to catch demurral, he seated us, he soothed us, we fascinated him, later he conveyed the chef's fascination as well. When we asked for a wine suggestion, he apologetically wondered if we'd be willing to take a fresh selection with each course; he opened, poured, discoursed, succinctly, sufficiently.
In all this, not a hint of the obsequious, only noblesse oblige. He represents the kitchen: he controls our food; we are at his mercy; he is a warm-hearted man.
I took notes, it seemed the thing to do. Prosecco to soften the edge of evening. First course: Thin slices of peppery salami, of crudo di San Daniele, of cooked prosciutto, startlingly fresh, almost milky. Second courses: Pasta e fagioli. Cjarsòns, large ravioli with a sweet-and-sour filling, covered with grated smoked ricotta, a line of ground spices on the side. Stanig Sauvignon Blanc, from Colli, full, perfumed. Third courses: Frittura mista, squid, sardines, zucchini, something crayfish-like. Frico, a sizzling slowly roasted loaf of cheese and potato, served with polenta and perfectly intense arugula. Tenuta Beltrame, a Cabernet Sauvignon from coastal Aquileia, tasting of surf, bridged the dishes; our host expressed special satisfaction in our approval, the wine was made by his best friend. Finishing with an air of vanilla and stone fruit, Malvasia di Nonino ÙE grappa.
We were by no means alone. The dining area filled with the locals who had filled the bar; next to us was a table of physicists, from Germany, from Poland, from Russia, from the UK, attempting ethnic jokes, possibly part of the conference for whose sake Udine's galleries had been closed; their voices were muffled by the womb.
King of Hosts! We were hungry, and you fed us; we were weary, and you gave us shelter; I left a tip.
wot no risi e bisi?
In northeast Italy, October's not big on fresh peas. On the other hand: mushrooms!
|. . . 2014-11-18|
A year later and I keep re-reading this. Well, it's a pretty little thing innit? Gorgeous cover. Glossy paper. Fourteen pages of mouth-tested prose. Title chimes with an Alan Halsey. Proofreading! (You can't fully credit the omnipresence of typos till silence strikes.)
Maybe because I finished The Wine-Dark Sea right before the chapbook arrived, it reminds me more of Robert Aickman than any other Harrison story has reminded me of Robert Aickman. The soppingly grounded Englishness of it. Its protagonist of a certain age and dislocation and curiously libido-free urge to couple. Most of all its pacing: a determined no-nonsense but no-particular-tourist-destination-in-mind tramp into what critics call "dread" (the unaccountable corporate flight of nesting colonies of terns and gulls), not minding the gaps at all, or at least making only token efforts to fill them. This particular gap's as good as a nod to an Aickman influence:
‘That yellow lichen on the roofs down there,’ Hampson said, ‘I wonder what it is?’
‘I thought you were a local,’ she said.
Like all the best influences, Aickman's-on-Harrison was retroactive: verification rather than emulation. They'd independently developed an architecture of negative space.
Harrison, at least, consciously recognized and worked it. Here he explains how he wrote the story which first drew the comparison:
The way I started out, I asked myself a question: How would you write a horror story and take all the horror out of it? How would you write a ghost story and remove almost everything? — a couple of sentences, a pair of sentences that would do the trick... "The Ice Monkey" was my first attempt at that. I wrote it as a normal horror story in which it's quite evident what had happened. And then I spent two or three weeks just removing sentence after sentence that directed the reader towards the normal ending, until finally you're left only two sentences in four thousand words which give you the clue as to what might or might not have happened. [...] Yeah, scraped it out. To see what would happen. I wanted to see where it would fall over. [...] After you've been doing it for twenty years, you put fewer of them in. When I started I had to throw out whereas now I know what not to put in.
But they differ in the thoroughness of their erasures. Aickman rarely sealed his unsettling build-ups without a deflationary appearance by crap F/X. Harrison's more likely to scrape away even that much comfort. His multi-volume fantasy series isn't threaded by hero's quest or cod-Gondal dynastic charts but by ways of not-knowing a city. Although some of us have always been creeped by roses, his dark occult novel horrifies mostly through absence. His macho sporting-life naturalism lacks self-pity, rivalry, the thrill of victory, or even the thrill of disillusionment.
Here are the dreadfully recurring associations of "Getting Out of There":
That last develops into the most blatantly anti-realistic aspect of the story, and it's hardly a Famous Monster of Filmland.
I took it — because we have to take things somehow — as a temporally-displaced dream-version of social media. I don't how you would take it; I'm pretty sure the bait wouldn't attract huge buzz from the buzzers of record. Very important novelists like Eggers and Amis (and Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair) are newsworthy because they're journalists; they're terrified of burying the lede. Whereas Harrison knows the lede's there to enrich the soil. Insofar as "Getting Out of There"'s bit of fantasy was ripped from today's headlines, it was then collaged into plaster-of-paris, and then painted over.
And then discarded for a vacuum-welded clampdown of the unutterably mundane. The twirly-shiny bit played misdirection in a sleight-of-hand maneuver which models our sleight-of-hand transfer from post-youth to pre-senescence. After which, as the poet sang, "You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?" It wasn't where we were watching.
There's nothing jokey or puzzly about the gaps that bind this free indirect discourse. They're mimetic: deliberate sacrifices of discursive freedom for the respite of further indirection. A temporary but renewable respite. Renewable to a point.
tl;dr It's a horror story whose ultimate brain-melting horror is a happy ending.
Speaking of Harrison, "The Killing Bottle" is a fine fannish-vocational-scholarly analysis of his style.
|. . . 2015-06-16|
SUPERSTITION. 1. ... religion without morality. ... 4. Over-nicety; exactness too scrupulous.- A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson
A view held in late antiquity is that the use of the words superstitiō ‘superstition’ and superstitiōsus ‘superstitious’ with reference to religion derives from the idea that such practices were superfluous or redundant.- Oxford English Dictionary
January 31, 1930: At last J.J. has recommenced work on Work in Progress. The de luxe edition by ? soon to come out — about the old lady A.L.P. I think. Another about the city (H.C.E. building Dublin). Five volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica on his sofa. He has made a list of 30 towns, New York, Vienna, Budapest, and Mrs. Fleischman has read out the articles on some of these. I ‘finish’ Vienna and read Christiania and Bucharest. Whenever I come to a name (of a street, suburb, park, etc.) I pause. Joyce thinks. If he can Anglicize the word, i.e. make a pun on it, Mrs. F. records the name or its deformation in the notebook. Thus ‘Slotspark’ (I think) at Christiana becomes Sluts’ park. He collects all queer names in this way and will soon have a notebook full of them. The system seems bad for (1) there is little hope of the reader knowing all these names — most seem new even to Joyce himself, and certainly are to me. And supposing the reader, knowing the fragment dealt with towns, took the trouble to look up the Encyclopedia, would he hit on the Joyce has selected? (2) The insertion of these puns is bound to lead the reader away from the basic text, to create divagations and the work is hard enough anyhow! The good method would be to write out a page of plain English and then rejuvenate dull words by injection of new (and appropriate) meanings. What he is doing is too easy to do and too hard to understand.
April 28, 1930: His method is more mechanical than ever. For the ‘town references,’ he scoured all the capital towns in the Encyclopedia and recorded in his black notebook all the ‘punnable’ names of streets, buildings, city-founders. Copenhagen, Budapest, Oslo, Rio I read to him. Unfortunately he made the entries in his black notebook himself and when he wanted to use them, the reader found them illegible.- Reflections on James Joyce: Stuart Gilbert’s Paris Journal,
ed. Thomas F. Staley & Randolph Lewis
Joyce lost his faith but kept his superstition. And proselytized. By constructing reality effects which transform from red herring to vital clew on research and re-reading, Joyce fed the generic allures of puzzle-mystery and conspiracy theory into formalist realism, and thereby trained a generation of Joyceans into an everything-connects superstition of their own.
But while in the midst of serializing those carefully cross-wired diagrams of sub-sub-trivia across Ulysses, he began to immerse them in pointedly redundant anti-reality effects. "Cyclops" may be scrupulous about something, but whatever it is ain't "meanness." And after his increasingly bouncing babes were carted to the printshop and carted back again, he would improvise riffs across the proofsheets, snatching any chance to strengthen the scribbly cross-hatched fabric of the book or merely to, like the god of creation, wake up bleary-eyed and say Fuck me what was I doing last night?
On reading a letter from his daughter Milly, who had just turned 15 on 15 June, Bloom says ‘Fifteen yesterday. Curious, fifteenth of the month too.’ More to the point, Joyce’s revision in proof gives the letter 15 sentences. But every editorial attempt to ‘correct’ Milly’s adolescent syntax and punctuation, by reverting to earlier versions, has of course changed the count and obscured the point. So too, the passage in which Bloom reflects on the rate at which an object falls to earth (‘thirty-two feet per second’) is heavily revised in print to make it the 32nd sentence in the paragraph, where reversion to earlier readings, as in the 1984 edition, obscures that convergence of sign and sense. On page 88, Joyce added in proof a sentence of eight words to expand a newspaper death notice. It reads: ‘Aged 88, after a long and tedious illness.’ To page 77 he added in proof the phrase ‘seventh heaven’; and on page 360, Bloom meditates on cycles.- Bibliography & the Sociology of Texts by D. F. McKenzie
What this showed McKenzie and John Kidd was that James Joyce thought his books too brittle to survive a page break. What it shows me is an unquenchable thirst for suspicious coincidence. Such details might have struck some unknown peculiar reader of the first edition, as they happened to strike the first edition's known peculiar writer; peculiar readers of later editions will presumably be struck by plenty of details of their own. Throw enough and someone will be struck. And who knows but that many of the belated recognitions of 1950s and 1960s Joyceans were just as casually opportunistic? If Joyce considered each precious intersection vital, wouldn't he have included them in his first drafts and poured them into the ears of his authorized explicators?
The contingent and ephemeral hold all we can reach of the necessary and eternal; we mold meaning from the pleasantly stinking loam of chance — such Good News can't be carried in rice-paperish porcelain; its vehicle should be built to survive chipping; should, ideally, become self-healing....
Or so I gather from the cheerfully incorporated bloopers and wide-world-of-kitchen-sinks ("Frightful stench, isn't it? Just too awful for words") method of Finnegans Wake, and from Joyce's remarks when questioned by a friendlier sort than Gilbert: his hope that a random reader in some far-off location would trip across a regional reference (my own muddy MO! my own K.C. jowls, they sure are wise!) and feel peculiarly addressed. In this work, at least, the readerly goal writerly assumed doesn't seem to have been full mastery — mulching libraries and and acquaintances so rapidly, odds are slim that Joyce himself would recall much source material after a month — but frequent recognition.
(Why a lad or lassie from Baton Rouge or Bucharest should bother to position themselves so as to encounter these happy accidents would be an unfriendly question to ask any author, I think, and at any rate went unanswered.)
Absolute control remaining unreachable, the artist might endeavor to maximize happy accidents. During my first reading of Finnegans Wake in 1980, I found a history of the Beatles, and, if we choose to take auctorial intention into account, this would be as the author intended. Most attempts to adapt Joyce's works to other media have been miserable things. The relative success of John Cage's slick and cheesy Roaratorio depends on chance, but isn't happenstance.
Flaubert's invention of detached formalist realism had the (possibly unanticipated) effect of rallying readerly sentiments against the all-powerful know-it-all artificer and toward his deluded, destructive protagonists. Eventually, in Trois Contes, he worked out of this particular bind by letting his protagonist retain her delusions (with Joyce following suit in "Clay"). But his less detached-realistic works avoided the question altogether. We can easily picture the endearingly idiotic tenacity of Bouvard and Pécuchet as a one-joke comic strip like "Little Sammy Sneeze" or "The Family Upstairs" or "That's My Pop!" Lines on paper don't sense pain as we know it.
Joyce found a way to join forces with himself. Even on my first, unaided reading, I felt rightness in the increasingly grotesque gigantism of Ulysses, and when I return to the book, that (possibly unanticipated) affective response is what I want to relive: an alliance with breathing ugly-as-life almost-humans repeatedly smacked down under floods of mocking inflation and bouncing up again ignorant as corks and damaged as new. Yes, the two male leads are having one of the worst days of their lives, presumably at the behest of some author. But because The Author in Our Face has directed our attention to his louder, noisier, and impotent assaults, the result is less like a vivisection than like a mixed-animation heroic epic of "Duck Amuck" starring Laurel and Hardy.
I've never managed a similarly direct response to Finnegans Wake, although I keep hoping. It looks like giants all the way down. Faced with a foundational secular religious document, I want Krazy Kat and I get Jack Kirby's New Gods.
James Joyce and Louis Zukofsky share an odd career pattern: a hermetic retreat into and outrageous expansion of the nuclear family, attempting to fit all space-time into an already crowded apartment.
The "cocooning" idiom bugged me from the start. A cocoon isn't a cozy retreat or celebration of stasis. By definition, cocooning occurs with intent to split. Maybe it's appropriate for them, though?
Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.