Sunday, July 19, 2015

an image in 527 words

last year at marienbad, garden, robbe-grillet, shadows, resnais,

It doesn't even look like a photograph anymore, this image. It's too strange, too iconic. All the models have been captured by the camera and turned into a kind of landscape, locked in time like unweatherable statues. The hedges and rectangular space give the impression that the people have been shrunken down into a board game of sorts (Chance, Sorrow). Three couples, three singles. The lone woman standing off by herself, staring directly at us, gives the sense that she knows exactly how important this moment is. She stands like a model before an artist working on an already legendary painting. "No one will know me," she thinks. "Nevertheless, I am immortal."

It's Last Year at Marienbad, yes, but also something else, something separate. Like the Mona Lisa or Starry Night, by the time we finally see this image in the film we can't really see it because we feel like we have already seen it—somehow, somewhere.

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

Imagine them that day, lined up on their marks, some black paint representing their shapes stretched out before them. . . The woman in the foreground a little off, her shadow disconnected from her body. Did Resnais or Robbe-Grillet tell her to do that, or was it an overlooked mistake? Or perhaps an act of sabotage. . . Maybe she was fed up, hot and tired from standing still for so long. . . "I'll show them," she thought, taking a small step back. . . The man standing with her smiles, noticing her defiance and wishing he was as brave—but only after the camera starts rolling. . . "I would have done it with you had I noticed in time," he tells her after someone yells Cut! "But it was too late." They shoot another take. The man stays in place. The woman laughs. Cut!

What did it look like in color? The painted shadows were probably too dark and too defined, lacking the fuzzy outline found when the sun paints our silhouettes. Did they, looking at their black outlines, think it was all a bit too odd, not knowing the composition and how the black and white photography would transform everything? Did they feel silly standing there, motionless, arms to their sides, as still as their frozen shadows? Or were they in another state altogether?

One cannot imagine any sounds while this was being staged and shot, no coughs, no birds chirping. . . Did the birds also stay frozen, wings to their sides?

Looked at another way, eyes slightly out of focus, the white is a reflecting pool, the figures hovering on the water's surface, the triangle topiaries turn into buoys, and in the distance some magic castle. . . An island in the middle, a small bridge across it in the distance, irrigation canals on each side. . . Or ice, yes! A frozen lake. There is more mystery here than a few misplaced and missing shadows. . .

This image is the whole film. Or perhaps another film altogether.

Some of these questions have answers. 

Thankfully, I do not know them.

The poem above is excerpted from Rossetti's "Sudden Light," which Borges quotes in his prologue to Adolfo Bioy Casares' masterpiece The Invention of Morel, a novella that has been described as the "model" for Last Year at Marienbad, as well as—less assuredly—a "possible influence." In her introduction, Suzanne Jill Levine says Bioy Casares' book, translated into French in 1953, "inspired" Robbe-Grillet's script.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


Lost in Translation (Sophia Coppola, 2003); The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Monday, June 15, 2015

jurassic worlds

The terrible irony is that we may bring back dinosaurs after all. Not by the purposeful and adept application of our intelligence to some technological end, as we'd like to imagine it, but rather by complete, inept accident. Through our neglectful treatment of the environment via the emission of—yes, fossil fuels—the viscous matter of dinosaurs, as the common lore goes, might very well bring the reptiles back into existence, as if the powerful spirits of these extinct creatures are guiding us to warm the planet for their return. Sixty-five million years hence, some future species might contemplate the mysterious fate of Homo sapiens as they look at the reconstructed human skeletons displayed in their museums. Why did they go extinct?, they'll wonder. Was it a comet? Severe drought? A flood? It's safe to say that the name we proudly gave ourselves—"wise ape"—will not be among the choices considered by whatever future gravedigging taxonomist broods over our poor descendant's skull, alas!

This is something that came to mind while reading J.G. Ballard's 1962 novel, The Drowned World. In some future time, much of the Earth's landmass is covered in water, the top few stories of the tallest skyscrapers providing shelter for a group of surveyors making their way through London. The plants loom large in the carbon rich environment, the atmosphere is oppressively hot and humid, and iguanas, alligators and crocodiles likewise thrive in this new Triassic. (Dinosaurs of some sort have even been seen further north.) The main character, Kerans, begins to feel his mind slipping, as it has slipped in others close to him, into a world of dreams. Except that it isn't a dream, really, but images from a long suppressed tribal memory, a time when such an environment wasn't so foreign.

"All the way down the creek, perched in the windows of the office blocks and department stores, the iguanas watched them go past, their hard frozen heads jerking stiffly. They launched themselves into the wake of the cutter, snapping at the insects dislodged from the air-weed and rotting logs, then swam through the windows and clambered up the staircases to their former vantage-points, piled three deep across each other. Without the reptiles, the lagoons and the creeks of office blocks half-submerged in the immense heat would have had a strange dream-like beauty, but the iguanas and basilisks brought the fantasy down to earth. As their seats in the one-time boardrooms indicated, the reptiles had taken over the city. Once again they were the dominant form of life.

"Looking up at the ancient impassive faces, Kerans could understand the curious fear they roused, re-kindling archaic memories of the terrifying jungles of the Paleocene, when the reptiles had gone down before the emergent mammals, and sense the implacable hatred one zoological class feels towards another that usurps it."

Skeletons in an Office (Paul Delvaux, 1944)

Thursday, June 04, 2015


Some half sure & half-baked notes on the endings of Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Spoilers for both shows follow, naturally.

* * *

breaking bad, walter white, final shot
mad men, finale, don draper, final shot, smiling

In his article for the LA Review of Books, "Gilding the Small Screen," Javier Grillo-Marxuach argues that the trend of protagonists with dual-identities found in many of the better television shows of the past ten or fifteen years stems from a generation of latchkey kids-turned writers seeking a kind of (unconscious?) revenge on their delinquent parents by portraying them as "inscrutably trying to reinvent themselves at the expense of their dependents." An interesting observation, and possibly correct on the whole. Or the main source of this duality might simply be the most obvious one: superhero comics. Certainly in the case of Breaking Bad, at least. And perhaps even in Mad Men (who is Don Draper if not the Superman to Dick Whitman's Clark Kent?) Regardless of its origin, both of these shows indulge this cliché with varying degrees of success, and to differing purposes.

Breaking Bad ultimately fails in its promise to end in a way that gives the most substance to everything that preceded it, not because Walter White buys into the myth of his alter-ego Heisenberg (that's part of what makes the series so compelling), but because the show does. Rather than exposing Heisenberg as the pretense of an insecure egomaniac, the man in the pork pie hat is made flesh once again in the finale, appearing one last time to dole out justice in a moment of MacGyver like satisfaction. Though we may have come to dislike (or even despise) Walter White at some point during the series—a conflict the show created that was, for me, its guts and glory—we're meant to unambiguously root for him once more in the end. Our own personal badass and virtual superhero, Heisenberg, returns to deliver justice to the evil—yes—nazis(neo), as well as a kind of redemption (or at least catharsis, which we share) for Walter White. Everything that was most interesting about the show is flushed away, its lowest points quickly underscored and brought to the surface. The series was not, it turns out, as daring as its best moments made us believe. White, who began Breaking Bad as a man, ends the show as Heisenberg, a cartoon, the slow transformation finally complete.

Mad Men's exploration of dual-identity functions differently because Dick Whitman is never comfortable as Don Draper, he never quite buys into the myth of his alter-ego. Perhaps White and Draper's relationship to their other-selves stems from their source. Heisenberg is created by accident: a hat worn there, a poster put up there, a reputation exaggerated. And Walter White sees it, likes it, and takes it on, exploiting it both for his own use—to instill fear as a drug lord—and because he thinks it's cool, acting as a corrective to his view of himself as an unsuccessful, ineffectual man. Don Draper, on the other hand, is consciously created by Dick Whitman as a way of starting over, and it is of course much harder to believe your own (conscious) lies than the lies created for you by others (advertising counts on the latter being easy to swallow and hard to free yourself from).

Unlike Breaking Bad, Mad Men ends in a way that gives more, not less, substance to everything that preceded it.

In Season 2, episode 5, Don Draper references Antonioni's 1961 film La Notte in a moment that can be read as an illustration of Draper's truer, deeper self. See, he's actually a deep, misunderstood guy, not just some cynical, status-quo enforcing adman. In context though, it's not exactly that. Don, if you remember, is in the car with a "sophisticated" woman, Bobbie, who asks him about movies.

BOBBIE: You've seen the foreign ones? So sexy.
DON (softlywith trademark furrowed brow): La Notte.

It's as if Draper acquires culture merely in order to add it to his arsenal for seducing women, perhaps having recently come to the realization that, without it, certain women will forever be beyond his reach. (It's not a coincidence that the women he becomes obsessed with are the ones he can't have; specifically, the ones who rebuff him emotionally. The ones who can get enough. He wants their love, too. Needs it.) This is, after all, a man with no sense of identity, a black hole who sucks up everything around him, destroying or warping it to his own ends. He uses manipulative advertising tricks on everyone he encounters, especially women, constantly lying to, and playing games with, them. In retrospect it would be easy to say that he uses culture as a way of mining the zeitgeist for advertising material, as paths towards finding a way to get into the heads of various types of consumers—whether the product being sold is the next big thing from a client, or simply Don Draper™ himself. In fact, everything he partakes in can easily be seen as a form of research for his job rather than an end in itself; after all, he's always stumped when forced to consider the things in life he's truly passionate about (aside from sleeping with women, of course).

We see this later when he's reading Portnoy's Complaint, one of the most talked about books of 1969. If everyone is talking about it, Draper, the adman, thinks, I should probably know something about it. At the same time, yes, Roth's book also acts as a cultural signal flare, a reminder of the times, functioning in a way similar to the show's costumes and sets. This is also true of the scene in Season 5 where we see Pete Campbell reading The Crying of Lot 49 on the train, something that doesn't jibe with his character and rather seems like a misstep, the writers tipping their hat much too overtly to 1966 (or perhaps to Pynchon himself). Of course I understand that, for the sake of realism, such markers are to some extent unavoidable. The particular choices, however, are not. And now that the show is over and the arc is complete, we can go back and see the presence of Lot 49, not as the misstep described above, but as another adman mining the emerging counterculture. Not out of character after all.

mad men, philip roth, don draper reading, portnoy's complaint,
mad men, pynchon, the crying of lot 49, pete campbell, Notice the Coke can in Draper's office.

On one hand the show, like Draper, views art and culture as a pretense, part of a disguise. On another, as something that's adorned and used to communicate information, a mere accoutrement. Another book-on-film moment occurs in Season 6 when Don sits on the beach reading Dante's Inferno, though this time the book isn't there to signal the times or lend easy depth to the character as much as highlight a theme within the series and give it some "depth." In other words, it's not meant to adorn the character but the show. Draper, in voiceover, reads the oft-cited opening lines about the "dark wood." (Forget that it's Don Draper; who reads Dante on the beach anyway? I know, I know. It's a metaphor. He's directionless, in a kind of Hell. Or something. The beach. Hot. Inferno. Etc.)

It also comes across, especially in retrospect, that the episodes where Don hung around beatniks and hippy types were nothing more than his attempts at reaching into the minds of the upcoming demographic, a form of hands-on research. It would have been interesting if the show had gone further with this, showing the youth culture as being little more than a lifestyle (fashion) for the future Drapers to sell to corporations—which of course is how advertising works now, with the selling of consumers to companies rather than the other way around. (The ending allows us to now say that this reading is implicit.)

I suppose there is also much to be said about Kerouac's On the Road in all of this. . .

Anyway, with the above in mind, here is how I viewed the final minutes of Mad Men:

Draper's smile is real, sincere, a true moment of comfort and understanding. Though he mines and commodifies his experience later (as is his habit), he isn't thinking about the Coke ad at the time. As an adman at heart, someone who has spent years selling the world an image of himself but never fully believing it himself, the only way he can find value in the experience moving forward is to turn it into something tangible. Not just money—though that—but also prestige, status, even self-expression.

Gore Vidal once famously said that advertising is the only art form America ever invented.

In the end, having failed to find meaning in his personal life, Draper buys into his profession's own lie, finding meaning in his talent, his place, his status—not as some vacuous, rapacious adman, but as a creator, a voice in the culture, an artist. Peace comes because he's finally able to believe his own advertisement.

The slow transformation is complete.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

it's possible: deepities & rummies (part III)

The following 40 seconds aren't supposed to mean anything; I made it simply to compare voices. But it's possible that it will mean something to you.

It's also possible that it will amuse you as it does me.

In any case, you have to watch it now just to see why I used such tortured phrasing:

deepities & rummies: parts one & two

Friday, May 22, 2015

the ripe unripe

rene redzepi, noma, perfectly unripe, ripe unripe, chef
rene redzepi, noma, perfectly unripe, ripe unripe,
rene redzepi, noma, perfectly unripe, ripe unripe, known unknown, rumsfeld, green strawberry,
rene redzepi, noma, perfectly unripe, ripe unripe, known unknown, rumsfeld, strawberry, green strawberries,

In a way the above functions as a playful comment on my previous post, though I'd say chef René Redzepi's "perfectly unripe" (or "ripe unripe") is more interesting, if not more profound, than Rumsfeld's "known unknowns."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

deepities and rummies

deepities, daniel dennett, lecture
dan dennett, deepity

The above was taken from one of Daniel Dennett's lectures. (For the coinage of "deepity," Dennett gives credit to the teenage daughter of one of his friends. He also notes that the jokey retort at the end—"You can't find love in the dictionary"—is almost a deepity.) I was reminded of this while watching Errol Morris' film about Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known (2013).

Rumsfeld's famous speech is something other than a deepity:

"As we know there are known knowns—there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know."

Rumsfeld's explanation is "true"—the three categories being highlighted are indeed stages of knowing. But it becomes a rummy when it's used to answer the following question from a reporter:

"Is there any evidence to indicate that Iraq has attempted to or is willing to supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction?"

After Rumsfeld's dance of the known and unknown, the reporter continues:

"We just want to know, are you aware of any evidence, because that would increase our level of belief from faith to something that would be based on evidence."


rummy (plural rummies)

1. something theoretically true used in the wrong context for the purpose of obfuscation or evasion



1. of, related to, or characteristic of Donald Rumsfeld or his works
2. marked by unhinged nonsense disguised as common sense

Particularly indicative of a rummy, though not a requirement, is that it be delivered in a Henry Fonda-style voice and punctuated with a smile that represents warmth yet suggests befuddlement over the simplemindedness of one's interlocutor. Since people tend to take your remarks for granted when you pepper them with Midwestern phrases like "you bet," "folks," and "for cryin' out loud," it can be of great service to employ them when dropping rummies. But again, not a requirement.

* * *

Rumsfeld is fond of quoting a maxim credited to cosmologist Martin Rees': the evidence of absence is not absence of evidence.

Again, true. And perfectly applicable in its original context regarding the possibility of intelligent life in the universe. Applied to foreign policy as a justification for war, however, is absurd since it could be used to justify anything. Worse than shifting the burden of proof to one's opponents, taking the logic behind this expression seriously in the context of probable cause actually discards the very notion of proof itself! The statement's other, far more obvious implication—that "absence of evidence" is not in itself evidence of anything—is ignored. (Note to future readers: It once went without saying that one needs evidence to go to war.) Another rummy.

At one point in the Unknown Known, Rumsfeld asks, "What else might have the United States have done to reach out to them [Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz] to get them to act rationally?"

Never for a moment does he consider the possibility that the United States was the irrational agent in the Iraq War, as if using the reasoning "absence of evidence" to justify one's actions—or even as a kind of evidence in support of them—is perfectly rational and reasonable. (Having previously spoken to Tariq Aziz, Rumsfeld notes how he seemed like such a logical, reasonable, rational person, an impression that simply did not jibe with Aziz's "irrational" behavior. "What goes on in that head of his?" Rumsfeld wonders, looking outward.)

donald rumsfeld, the unknown known, rummy, rummies, errol morris, equivocation,
donald rumsfeld, the unknown known, rummy, rummies, errol morris, cool, measured

Morris also highlights Rumsfeld's obsession with language, particularly definitions.

During his career, Rumsfeld sent numerous memos requesting "good" definitions (an interesting criterion) for words such as "terrorism," "victory," the OED definition of "several," and the dictionary definition of "scapegoat." He also asked the same for the terms "guerrilla warfare", "unconventional warfare," and "insurgent." His reasoning behind this is that certain words and terms will benefit the United States when they're used, and some will benefit its enemies—which is true. But it's also more than that, certainly, and it's disingenuous for Rumsfeld to treat this tactic as some kind of benign act of logic. Taking Rumsfeld's rationale at face value—that the point of invading Iraq was to get rid of Saddam Hussein—Morris asks why we didn't simply assassinate him. Rumsfeld responds, "We don't assassinate leaders of other countries." Morris then points out that we bombed Dora Farms heavily, a place in Iraq where we believed Hussein was visiting his sons. Rumsfeld condones the action by calling it "an act of war." In other words —and this rewording isn't cheap or unfair, either; Rumsfeld himself likes to use "other words"—a targeted airstrike aimed at a specific person doesn't count as assassination as long as you call it an "act of war." Got it. (It's important to note that all of this semantic quibbling and wordplay is also in lockstep with the NSA's misleading use of language.)

donald rumsfeld, rummies, dictionary, definitions, unknown known,

To end with, an example of rummian "logic" at its finest:

RUMSFELD: There are two sides to every coin. 'Belief in the inevitability of a conflict can become one of its main causes.' That is a truth. The other side of the coin, which is also true, is, 'If you wish for peace, prepare for war.'

MORRIS: But if both were true, well, you can use that to justify anything.

RUMSFELD: There's a similar thing in Rumsfeld's Rules where I say, 'All generalizations are false, including this one."

rummies, henry fonda, donald rumsfeld, there it is, errol morris,

Monday, May 11, 2015

affinities XXIV

adam ant, toecutter, darby crash, the road warrior
darby crash, adam ant, mad max, toecutter
toecutter, the road warrior, adam ant, darby crash, mohawk, norma moriceau, Hugh Keays-Byrne
Adam Ant, Darby Crash, The Road Warrior (1981)

It's known that Darby Crash's look in the middle photo (he had various looks) was influenced by (or stolen from) Adam Ant (the picture was taken in 1980 shortly after Crash had seen Adam and the Ants perform in England). What's less clear is whether or not The Road Warrior's costume designer, Norma Moriceau, was aware of either band, or had seen images of their frontmen (Adam and the Ants were pretty well known by 1981). I hope she knew both, because I like to think of the three looks as a sequence, with Darby Crash adding the mohawk and Moriceau adding the S&M-style biker gear. It's also worth pointing out that Adam Ant, like the villain in The Road Warrior, sometimes used feathers as accessories.

But of course Ant's style didn't exactly come out of nowhere either...

Thursday, April 30, 2015


1899: Octave Mirbeau, The Torture Garden

1901: Peter Altenberg, "Tulips"

1987: Uncle Monty, Withnail & I (written by Bruce Robinson)

2006: Slavoj Žižek, The Pervert's Guide to Cinema

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Eduardo Galeano (1940 - 2015)

"Our guy, Eduardo Galeano, died last night," is what I emailed a friend a few days ago after finding out. We've both been reading Galeano's Children of the Days every morning since the beginning of the year, a "calendar of human history," as the subtitle notes, with a page devoted to every day of the year, each pertaining to something significant that happened on that day. Significant in the Galeano sense, I mean.

Eduardo Galeano was a man who knew that the world was upside down. With this in mind, he devoted his energy to undermining the myths and official narratives we've been told so many times, the malevolent stories whose presence distorts the way we understand and think about the world—a
 world built on, and out of, the wrong stories. To counter this—to offer us, through memory, another world—Galeano highlighted the interesting and notable and important things the "nobodies" have been doing throughout history. His intent, the purpose of his corpus, was not only to give credit where credit is due, but to celebrate that which is truly worth celebrating. That which—through its celebration—enables us to make a more conscious choice regarding the world we want to live in and build. A truer, more colorful world, as he would have it.

In order for his books to match this aim, Galeano had to create an original way of writing about history. His works are "people's histories" (in the Howard Zinn sense), yet written by a poet rather than an historian. His influence can be seen in Florian Illies' 1913: The Year Before the Storm (2013), which is organized by months (often down to the day) and comprised wholly of various short stories, anecdotes, and moments. What both authors aim to do
, each in their own way, is capture the ineffable and mysterious sweep of human history—not by assembling facts and building narrative straight lines, but by filling in as many dots as Mystery allows. What we're left with is not just a picture but a feeling—some grand, inexpressible understanding. All of which is to say that this style of writing embodies a wholly different view of life than that which is catalogued by the typical historian. A kind of changing, unknowable flow, to use an exhausted image, compared to something more knowable and concrete.
     One can also catch glimpses of Galeano's veins weaving through Mariusz Szczygiel's Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia (2014), another work of history focused largely on those who're not typically thought of as the major players in the official dramas, told in (sometimes) intersecting stories, the style of which, again, offers us a more seemingly complete picture and perspective than that of authors who try to create a sweeping narrative out of disparate facts. Wittingly or not, the style of Szczygiel's writing represents an acknowledgement of the random, chaotic, often meaningless course of events we like to make sense of and call "history." Galeano, Illies and Szczygial all resign themselves to this truth, but this resignation is not cause for their despondency but rather a kind of liberation that they run with and transform.

eduardo galeano, children of the days, eyes

I suspect that everyone who loves books has had the experience of reading something and, within minutes, feeling a kinship with the author. "This writer is mine. They understand me. They are me." (Probably where the love of reading originates.) 
Referring to Galeano, I wrote "our guy..." to my friend reflexively, without thought. He was (and is) "our writer" in many senses, not just in the sense of "me" and "my friend" who met with him every morning. If you're reading this, he's probably your writer too, even if you may not know it yet (I recommend starting with Mirrors: An Almost Universal History / Stories of Almost Everyone). He's also "our" guy in the sense that "They" are not "Us" (in the tricky, oversimple, and highly problematic—yet tangible—"Us" vs. "Them.") "Their" stories do not contain "Our" stories. And he's also ours in the sense of the "offering us another world" above—those of us who want one, anyway.

* * *

Galeano would never want himself written into Children of the Days, of course. Though he had a great and warm sense of humor, he lacked the arrogance and self-importance to see the irony in something like that. And he'd certainly never have the heart to exclude another story so much in need of being told.

children of the days, april 13, eduardo galeano, galeano death, children of the days entry,

But it wold be very fitting, and a wonderfully bizarre thing for future readers of the book to encounter.

One of the fun things to notice about Children of the Days is its quasi-practical application. Due to its structure and formatting, the book doubles as a kind of hourglass that measures the year rather than the hours and minutes, with flowing pages in place of falling sand. The days, in their thinness, become more like the ticking seconds of a clock rather than their usual 24-hour blocks of time. Here we are now, down to the day (the white mark near the bottom is where the year ends; an index follows):

children of the days, calendar, clock, galeano, bookmark, book, histories, hourglass

note: As far as I know, Galeano's books have no obvious antecedent, at least not as far as history books are concerned. Rebecca West, in her nonfiction work 1900 (1982)—which I have not read in full but rather jumped around and sampled in chunks—wrote a history of the title year, with a compassionate eye toward the dispossessed and a large focus on artists (one senses all four of the writers mentioned are in agreement with Shelley's famous remark about who the unacknowledged legislators of the world truly are). But it's still largely a traditional history, however unique the premise might have been at the time, however well the photographs have been integrated, and however personal it is (West lived through 1900 as a girl, knowing and meeting many of the players). Galeano was already writing before West's book was published, but it's possible that Illies' 1913 was birthed more from West than Galeano... though all of this is speculation. Anyway, while we have an excuse, let's make a quick stop in at 1900 to get a quick sample of West's tone and point of view, which I love. In reference to the Queensberry debacle: "Oscar Wilde was not so lucky. He should have been put by the fates on a list of endangered species, not to be hunted like the rest of us human game, for in The Importance of Being Earnest he had written the only great comedy which had graced the English stage since Congreve's day."

Galeano photo via

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Saturday, March 21, 2015

OLD JOKE: A tourist passed violinist Mischa Elman on Fifty-seventh Street, Manhattan.

"Excuse me," said the tourist, noticing his violin case, "Could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?"

"Yes," Elman said, continuing on his way. "Practice!"

OLDER JOKE: Bacchus wanted to retrieve the recently deceased poet Euripides from the underworld but wasn't quite sure how to go about it. Without a better plan, he decided to adorn himself with a lion's skin and club in a feeble attempt to appear like Hercules, who had successfully travelled to the underworld to wrestle Cerberus. Then he sought the strongman's advice.

He arrived at his half-brother's door, where the heroic Hercules mocked the effeminate Bacchus for his ill-suited disguise until the god of wine and theater revealed his serious intent.

"How may I soonest arrive at Hades below?" Bacchus asked.

Hercules, put out by his annoying sibling, replied, "A rope and a bench."

(Taken from Aristophanes' The Frogs, 405 BC)

Sunday, March 01, 2015

american sniping

Chomsky reviews the reviewers of American Sniper:

* * * 

For reasons that aren't particularly interesting, I won't be seeing American Sniper. I have never been convinced that Clint Eastwood is a very good filmmaker (or actor, for that matter) and, fairly or not, the fact that his films are generally praised very highly makes me feel differently towards them than I would, say, the films of another competent or better than average filmmaker whose work was consistently treated with the lack of reverence and respect I thought it deserved. I also have no patience for any of the recent movies about war and terrorism that couch themselves in vague notions of neutrality, whether that be through a director's insistence that the work is "not political" (and critics largely treat it as such), an actor says that a given film is not about war but rather a "character study" (meaning that the war itself is mere backdrop—an inherently political decision in its implications), or any of the other myriad ways this stance might be expressed. The Hurt Locker, with Kathryn Bigelow's insistence that the film was somehow "neutral" or apolitical, was for me the first and final straw in breaking any interest I had in watching these dishonest (at worst) or woefully naive (giving benefit of doubt) films. At the same time I do sometimes wonder how much this kind of framing is genuine sentiment and how much of it is merely a cynical marketing strategy designed to make the films appeal to the largest number of viewers possible, both pro- and anti-war1. (When it turns out that a given movie is "serious" enough to contend for awards, this strategy would also help ensure that it doesn't ruffle too many feathers in the Academy2, a body thought to be much more in opposition to the Iraq war than in support of it.)3

1: An easy shorthand. But yeah, I just did that unfair thing with language that anti-abortion types do when they frame themselves as "pro-life." (By definition, no sane person is ever "pro-war," however much they might support a particular action.)

2: Not a Birdman reference.

3: I already told you in the beginning that my reasons weren't particularly interesting; you have no one to blame but yourself.

* * *

A comment found below Matt Taibbi's online review of American Sniper :

Normally I wouldn't respond to this at all, or I'd respond to it directly on the page. But since the comments are closed, I'm snowed in, the comment itself is frozen directly below the article for all to see, and I have nothing better to post at the moment...

helloiamyo: You seem to be under the impression that it is somehow possible to go into a movie completely objectively, with no preconceived expectations or prejudice
—how quaint! The irony is that you did the exact same thing you criticize Taibbi for, albeit at the opposite end of the spectrum: you expected to like the film. How do I know? Because you paid to see it. (Though you've already demonstrated that logic isn't your strong suit, I'm assuming that the reasoning behind this particular deduction is intuitive enough for you to infer without my having to explain it.) It follows, then, that you had the mindset of finding what is "right" and "good" in the film and therefore enjoyed it like "the rest of us" (who likewise paid for it). Add to this the possibility of having to face the disappointing prospect of having plopped down ten bucks for something you didn't even enjoy and, well, it's no wonder you found something to like, right? Or should I give you more credit than you're giving Taibbi?

The following comment can be seen shortly thereafter, wherein a marooned citizen proudly fires his cannons from the shores of Philistia:

Nothing to say to that; one can only marvel. (I would ask, however, that if "entertain" is truly "ENOUGH!" for movies to do, then why does Mr. Lously bother to spend time reading about them, let alone take the time to write a response? I sense some inner conflict...)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

snowballs in hell: a repost

CBS NEWS February 26, 2015, 8:09 PM

 -- While the rest of Washington spent Thursday trying to avert a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe brought a snowball to the Senate floor during a speech questioning the science behind climate change.
"Do you know what this is? It's a snowball," Inhofe said, holding the snowball aloft. "It's just from outside here, so it's very, very cold out ... very unseasonable."
"Mr. President, catch this," he said, tossing the snowball away. An Inhofe aide told National Journal the projectile was caught by a congressional page.
Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has long argued that climate change is a "hoax," and he's opposed the Obama administration's efforts to reduce carbon emissions. He brandished his snowball prop on Wednesday during a broader speech questioning global warming.
"We hear the perpetual headline that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, but now the script has flipped," Inhofe said.
NASA has determined that 2014 was, in fact, the warmest year since modern recording began in 1880.
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 photo logicalfallacycomic-1.jpg
Originally posted 04/2011

"A comic but not comedic. To ridicule -- by way of three small exposures -- a certain pervasive mentality."