Thursday, June 24, 2010

Counter-Vulgarity


Yesterday I re-acquired a book from a friend that had been out on loan for a few years called The Chap Manifesto. It's a very funny and witty book, with excerpts hard to come by (especially now that it's out of print). However! Below you will find two samples that I have nobly typed up for your delectation.

A quick note: CAD stands for "Confederacy of Anarcho-Dandyists". For more on this, see the comments section where I have posted the opening page of the book. (I hope readers of this blog check the comments section of my new posts regularly as I often leave complimentary details there.)

* * *


* * *

"Counter-Vulgarity is a quick-fix cure for those offenses against the soul that you are likely to witness on a daily basis. Less aggressive than Random Acts of Common Courtesy, these tactics help chumrades develop their own sense of political integrity through simple demonstrations of the civilised way of doing things. Here are the most common offences committed by the vulgaroisie, and their appropriate ripostes.

Text Messaging

It seems to be a common practice nowadays for people to reach into their pocket or bag during a conversation and pull out their mobile phone. While half-listening to their interlocutor, this miscreant will read any text messages recently arrived on their network, sometimes even composing a reply. This is a piece of distinctly anti-Chappist rudeness, and we suggest the following riposte. In mid-conversation, reach into your jacket pocket and pull out a slim volume of poetry, carefully select a page, and proceed to read a verse or two in complete silence. Then gently place the book back into your pocket and turn to your companion with, "Excuse me. You were saying?" Further exasperate your companion by taking out a little notebook and composing a line or two of verse yourself, heightening the effect by gazing heavenwards and licking the end of your pencil."


* * *

Mobile Phone Amnesty

"As we draw towards the close of this manifesto, the CAD feels compelled to make some gesture of compassion and magnanimity towards those lost souls who find themselves trapped in lives weighed down by consumerism and vulgarity.

Our campaign to rid the streets and public places of that organ of disharmony, the mobile phone, is set to show great advances in the coming years, but now in a mood of conciliation and with a sincere desire to help mobophiles turn their backs on their sordid pasts, the CAD is pleased to announce a mobile phone amnesty. Members of the benighted hoi polloi are encouraged to surrender their ignoble instruments of shame, either by turning them in to the proper authorities or by posting them to the CAD HQ. All horns of misery received are melted down and cast into figurines of Barbey D'Aurevilly, proceeds from whose sales will be channeled back into Anarcho-Dandyist activism. But rest assured that out on the street the CAD will continue its campaign of random acts of common courtesy with renewed vigor, assuring that the powers of unseemliness and discord are crushed underfoot like so many gastropods beneath the mud-clogged boot of a particularly vindictive gardener."



Monday, June 21, 2010

the longest days and the shortest nights



Viva la muerte (1970)

"One day some soldiers captured some Arabs; poor Arabs who had committed no other crime than to try to escape the brutality of their conquerors. The Colonel commanded them to be put to death immediately, without an inquiry, without a trial. And this is what happened: There were thirty of them. They dug thirty holes in the sand, and they buried them up to their necks, naked, with their heads shaved, in the noonday sun. So they wouldn't die too fast they watered them from time to time, like cabbages." —Octave Mirbeau, The Torture Garden (the first page of which reads: "To Priests, Soldiers, Judges -- to men who rear, lead or govern men I dedicate these pages of murder and blood.")
"What they've done in the field now is, they tell the troops, you have to make a determination within a day or two or so whether or not the prisoners you have, the detainees, are Taliban. You must extract whatever tactical intelligence you can get, as opposed to strategic, long-range intelligence, immediately. And if you cannot conclude they're Taliban, you must turn them free. What it means is, and I've been told this anecdotally by five or six different people, battlefield executions are taking place. Well, if they can't prove they're Taliban, bam. If we don't do it ourselves, we turn them over to the nearby Afghan troops and by the time we walk three feet the bullets are flying. And that's going on now." —Seymour Hersh, journalist

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Painting Time: Tarkovsky's Polaroids

No matter what images Tarkovsky captured or how he captured them, everything in front of his lens was instantly transformed into something uniquely his. The best showcase for this instant transformation is probably the series of Polaroids he took between 1979 and 1984. Combined with the specific motifs -- trees, dogs, glass bottles, enveloping mist, solitary figures -- it is the quality of the light that marks these as Tarkovsky's. Greens and blues, or yellowish browns, wash over everything. And like the stark sepia sequences that exist apart from the color in (most of) his films, the brownish-yellow tones in his photos rarely mingle with the blues and greens, and when they do, they usually make their way in via objects: plants, flowers, fruit, a rooftop. His love of nature also comes through in the photos, as does his ability to show what is beautiful in the seemingly mundane. All of this gives the pictures a timeless, painterly quality. (It's easy to be reminded of Monet's blurry hay bales, or even Vermeer's domestic scenes.) Outside of their stand-alone beauty, what's most amazing to me is that Tarkovsky was able to imbue the pictures with his own stamp as an artist to such a large extent that just a single glance gives anyone familiar with his films the impression that no one but Tarkovsky could have taken them.

Previously only a dozen or so of the Polaroids existed online but earlier this month a Russian website uploaded many more. Please enjoy this selection.

* * *

tarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidstarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidstarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroidstarkovsky polaroidtarkovsky polaroid

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

something to try

A fun idea: have a dinner party where everyone brings something someone else hasn't eaten. I did this over the weekend with my dad and two friends, and we all had a good time. The idea came to me after my dad and I were talking about the peas in his garden. He found out that I had only ever had them canned or frozen, never fresh. "I used to eat them raw when I was a kid -- straight from the pod. They were delicious," he said. A little while later, I asked him if he had ever had fresh artichokes; he hadn't. Thus, the dinner was born.

fresh artichokes
On Sunday the peas were picked and ready to be eaten, so, as planned, I went over to my dad's with two friends. We brought: homemade seitan (braised) with fresh basil pesto; Israeli couscous with sauteed asparagus, kalamata olives, and golden raisins; hearts of palm; boiled peanuts; artichokes (steamed, dipped in vegan butter, and eaten one leaf at a time); a kiwano; a casaba melon; and vegan ice cream. My dad provided the fresh peas and homemade french fries.

Excluding the fresh peas, I had never had boiled peanuts, Israeli couscous (though I've had couscous many times), casaba melon, and kiwano. I've also had setitan numerous times, but never with pesto. The boiled peanuts were pretty good, though a bit salty for my taste; I'll like them better the more I eat them. They bring out the bean flavor of the peanut (a legume) and don't taste much like nuts. The casaba melon tasted like cucumber combined with honeydew. One one of my friends rated it a "solid A"; I'd give it a B minus. The kiwano was hard to taste because of all the seeds that basically float around in a gooey, gelatinous casing. (We had no idea how to eat or prepare it, so we just sliced it and sampled the inside. Possibly a grave injustice was done.) The peas were very good, and the Israeli couscous was good but not great. My dad liked the seitan and the artichokes the most, and said he would definitely be buying artichokes for himself in the future. He was also curious how to make seitan. After eating we all went to get snowballs with the rule that everyone had to order a flavor they had never tried. A fitting idea, but much less successful than the dinner.

Earlier in the day, when we first sat down to eat, I said that the meal wouldn't be a success unless at least one person ended up in anaphylactic shock, and even though that didn't happen, I still had a great time.


pesto seitan
Israeli couscous, seitan and basil pesto

cut casaba melon
casaba melon

kiwano blowfish fruit
African horned cucumber or melon, jelly melon, hedged
gourd, English tomato, melano, blowfish fruit or kiwano

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

inspiration


I.

"I know all about telling age from the physiognomical lines of the forehead: he is sixteen years and four months old! He is fair as the retractility of the claws of birds of prey; or again, as the uncertainty of the muscular movements in wounds in the soft parts of the lower cervical region; or rather, as that perpetual rat-trap always reset by the trapped animal, which by itself can catch rodents indefinitely and work even when hidden under straw; and above all, as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella!" --Lautréamont (Isidore Ducasse)

In 1920, inspired by a now very famous line from Leatréamont's Les Chants de Maldoror, Man Ray took a blanket, tied it around a sewing machine, and took a photograph of it. He called the photo The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse:

man ray enigma ducasse 1920
may ray enigma
(a reconstruction made in 1971 under Man Ray's supervision)


In 1967, perhaps inspired by a now very famous photograph by Man Ray, Luis Buñuel had the patron of a brothel hand a mysterious buzzing box to a prostitute named Séverine; he took thousands of photographs of the encounter and called them Belle de Jour. The box, the contents of which are left up to the viewer's imagination, acts as the blanket that's wrapped around the enigma, and the buzzing sound heard when the box is opened acts as the suggestive shape that's hidden beneath:

belle de jour box

At an unknown time, perhaps inspired by Man Ray, Buñuel, or merely the overcast sky above, an unknown person took a black cover and tied it around their motorcycle, and they -- or someone -- took a photograph of it. And an homage was unwittingly(?) created:


man ray ducasse enigma
The Enigma of T. E. Lawrence?


II.

"From the desk at which he wrote Moby Dick, Herman Melville could gaze upon the forested hills and sloping fields of western Massachusetts' Berkshire Mountains. In the summer of 1850, at age 31, the writer had moved from New York City, 150 miles south, to the outskirts of Pittsfield, then still a village, where he settled into a modest, mustard-yellow farmhouse called Arrowhead — for the Native American artifacts once unearthed on the property. After years of sailing the world aboard New England whaling vessels, Melville was trying his hand at farming; his plan was to harvest corn and potatoes, cabbages and hay. But in winter, the landscape turned his thoughts back toward the mariner's life.

melville arrowhead
"I have a sort of sea-feeling here in the country now that the ground is covered in snow," Melville wrote a friend in 1850, shortly after beginning his 13-year Arrowhead stay. "I look out my window in the morning when I rise as I would out of a port-hole of a ship in the Atlantic. My room seems a ship's cabin; and at nights when I wake up and hear the wind shrieking, I almost fancy there is too much sail on the house, and I had better go on the roof and rig in the chimney."

From Melville's cramped, book-lined study, he could look out at Mount Greylock, the highest elevation in Massachusetts (3,491 feet). For Melville, the brooding mass of wintry Greylock called to mind a great leviathan, emerging from a roiling, white-capped ocean. His neighbor and fellow novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne, once wrote that Melville spent his days "shaping out the gigantic conception of his white whale" while staring at the snow-covered mountain."

mount greylock melville moby dick
Greylock as seen from Arrowhead

In his novel, Melville would describe Moby Dick as a "grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air."

Another view of Greylock from Arrowhead:

mt. greylock melville whale
Melville dedicated his novel Pierre to "Greylock's Most Excellent Majesty", calling the mountain "my own... sovereign lord and king".


III.

patti smith young
"Patti Smith recounts her first meeting with poet Allen Ginsberg, who immediately expressed great interest, taking her out for a sandwich but then suddenly asking in alarm: Are you a girl?"


ginsberg orlovsky
Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky

Monday, June 07, 2010

"Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man."



Yesterday I watched 49 Up (2005), currently the final installment in Michael Apted's Up documentary series. I've wanted to see the films for a long time, but it wasn't until they became available to watch instantly on Netflix that I felt I could devote the time to them that they require. I watched the first three films -- Seven Up, 7 Plus Seven, and 21 Up -- in one day (just over three hours total) so that I could better get to know all of the participants, planting them firmly in my memory, and I spaced the remaining four films out over the course of five weeks. The films follow the lives of various people of various backgrounds, visiting them once every seven years (starting in 1964 at age seven), and it was originally conceived to compare and contrast children of different classes in order to examine social mobility. Taken by themselves, the films are merely interesting, but taken together as a whole body of work (especially in sequence), they take on great significance -- even importance.

The series was meant to be seen every seven years, so there is older, repeated footage contained at the beginning of each segment to remind the viewer what has happened previously, but it's also used throughout the various interviews to draw comparisons between how the people are now and how they were throughout previous stages of their life. There is certainly something to be said for the repetition. At their best, the juxtapositions are utilized to convey or ask questions about aspects of human nature. But I still couldn't help thinking that Michael Apted should have shot more film (or used it if he did) so that he could cut to previously unseen footage of people when they were younger, echoing or shedding new light on things they were saying in later installments. Of course, it's also possible that this approach could have broken the tone of the film, the unique drum beat the repetition creates for each person, and the film could have ended up muddled and messy as a result.

I found watching the films to be an incredible experience due mostly to their concept and subject matter -- they seem to succeed in spite of their director. From time to time one gets the impression that Michael Apted has relied too much on specific motifs or personality traits that he himself found in the participants, and you can't help but wonder how much of what you're seeing is the people themselves and how much of it is Apted's version of them. Reading briefly about the series this morning bore this out even further: I came to learn that, in one instance, Apted had the impression that one of the participants in the film was going to end up in jail, so he shot footage of this person in "dangerous areas" to use in subsequent films. Indeed, in 21 Up I was worried about this person's future, thinking it was 50/50 whether or not they were going to end up in big trouble. Now, did I think this because Apted was showing me the version of this person that he had in mind -- the future criminal? Or was I simply picking up on whatever Apted saw in this person that made him think this in the first place? Later on in the series, Apted had the impression that one of the married couples was headed for divorce, and he showed this in the film with his choices, perhaps even going as far as deliberately portraying the wife of this particular participant unfairly in order to give the viewer the same impression. And apparently it worked. Not only did I think they were doomed when I watched it, but, as I found out in the next installment, apparently most of the viewing public thought so as well. These are unfortunate choices on Apted's part, and, for better or worse, we can never know the full extent to which the film's subjects have been wittingly (or unwittingly) misrepresented. But this is the same question one faces with any documentary, of course. It is important to realize that, no matter how much the Up films make us think and feel like we've gotten to know these people, we still know them very little. One of them (Paul) frequently mentions his hot temper, but we never see it once in the film. People are very good at showing only what they want to show, keeping parts of their life to themselves, even presenting a wholly different picture of who they are simply by guarding themselves or changing in the slightest ways for the camera. We do not truly know, and can never truly know, these people the way we feel we know them -- something that's equally true for most everyone we know in our real, everyday lives. And just like in real life, what's said in the film is often less important than how it's said: the tone, the body language, the reactions of others to what's being said, etc.

The films also give younger viewers some sense of what it's like to grow up over a long stretch of time as it documents how the world changes (fashions, technology etc.) and how people (and their lives) change. In this regard, the series can be seen as a documentary on time itself, with each face playing the role of its subjects most expressive canvas. For me, seeing 28 Up at nearly the same age as its subjects was fascinating simply for the reason that I could reflect on my own life situation, my thoughts, and my feelings towards the world, and compare them to the people in the film. For this reason -- and also because I imagine that the earlier films take on new meaning once you know things about the future lives of the subjects (and better know their personalities) -- I think that re-watching the entire series again in 20 - 25 years would be equally rewarding.

In some sense all of these participants feel like our children in that we watch them grow up over the years and wish only the best for them. This is automatic, I think (and hope), regardless of whether or not we personally like them (though I ended up liking everyone by the end). By getting a glimpse into their lives over the years we are able to see many of the reasons why they are where they are, and why they are who they are. As a result, we feel as though we understand them. We're all trying to live, and we all struggle, so no matter what the people in the film do or where they end up, we see them as being like us (or see them more as we see ourselves). All of this led me to wonder: why is it so hard to extend this identification beyond the frame? To love other people automatically simply because they are human is a very hard state for most of us to attain, but I think it's probably the ideal mode of being, especially if we are interested in long term survival as a species. And although it might sound ridiculous or wildly exaggerated to say, I think that the Up Series has the ability to bring us further along in this way, helping us become less judgmental and more loving towards others.

It's a rewarding and enriching series of films, the kind that everyone should take the time to watch at some point in their lives. It asks many, many interesting questions about human nature and life. About our goals and dreams. About stasis. About happiness and success. About self-delusion. About why we do the things we do. About what we live for and how we find meaning. About what makes us feel accomplished (or perhaps how we make ourselves feel accomplished). About what modern life is all about, and whether or not the standard goals of life seem fulfilling. And as viewers we reflect on our own lives, our personality, our behavior, how we perceive ourselves and how we are likely perceived. The series forces such questions on us as it progresses and accumulates, and asks them in ways that are different from how we might otherwise have asked ourselves without the insights afforded to us by the films. A remarkable document and achievement.