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Random neuron firing, lame philosophy, literary pontificating, movies, sex, clothes & other femme stuff

Monday, October 20, 2003

Hey, Jean, I love Babydoll too! Carroll Baker was totally a goddess. She was also (differently) fabulous in Bad, Andy Warhol's attempt to out-Waters Waters--a hilarious idea, since Waters was aiming to out-Warhol Warhol to begin with, which I guess means that in Bad Warhol out-out-Warholed himself. Btw, I LOVE Ennio Moricone. The first movie I ever made--we're talking five minutes long, super 8, in 9th grade, the pinnacle of my filmmaking career--had "Man With A Harmonica" for its soundtrack.

Basically, my favorite music is movie soundtracks. Well, and music that should be on movie soundtracks. . . .
Trying for "Ozymandias," I end up on Houseman

Skimming like Camilla along some old posts, I noticed the words "lone and level sands" and remembered that at the moment I wrote them I considered linking them to Shelley's "Ozymandias," their source, but concluded in the end I was already pedant enough by far (you see by the "Camilla" link there, however, I've since reconsidered that conclusion). Though I didn't make the link, I did find sites with the poem and reread it a few times, experiencing again that prickling of the hairs on the back of my neck that, if I remember aright, for Houseman was the test of great poetry. (This test is akin to the know-it-when-you-see-it test of pornography that Potter Stewart is remembered for. Stewart's test, of course, begs the question of by what mechanism he knows porn when he sees it, which Houseman (if it's he) at least specifies (erect hairs) for poetry. I suppose Stewart felt it would be unseemly to explain, like Houseman, his precise bodily response. Had he done so, though, he could have invoked Donne's "Elegie XIX" to distinguish poems from porn pix: "Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.")

OK, so as soon as I wrote that sentence about Houseman's test I decided, in further repudiation of my decision to curb pedantry, to link to his exact words, which I assumed would be out there somewhere. So I did a variety of searches involving words like poem, poetry, great, hairs, hair, neck, test, etc. I couldn't find the fucking quotation to save my life. Oh, sure, millions of web authors had the basic sense of it. Some even acknowledge Houseman as the source--here and here, for example. But some attribute the notion to another source, such as Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore (this one was from Fred Moramarco, Editor of Poetry International, in a letter responding to the notorious Houlihan piece), Yeats, and Robert Graves.

So now I'm wondering if Houseman ever said it at all. Finally I land in the middle of a passage from The White Goddess where Graves himself attributes it to Houseman--but the hairs standing up are on his chin not the back of his neck. So finally, with the addition of the word shaving I manage to find the most complete version of Houseman's quotation out there on the web (from The Name and Nature of Poetry:

Experience has taught me, when I am shaving of a morning, to keep watch over my thoughts because if a line of poetry strays into my memory, my skin bristles so that the razor ceases to act. This particular symptom is accompanied by a shiver down the spine; there is another which consists of a constriction in the throat; and a precipitation of water to the eyes; and there is a third which I can only describe by borrowing a phrase from one of Keat's last letters where he says, speaking of Fanny Brawne "everything that reminds me of her goes through me like a spear." The seat of this sensation is the pit of the stomach.


Well, so there. Hairs sticking up on the back of the neck doesn't even begin to cover it. Well, anyway, one of the poems that gets me that way is "Ozymandias," and I was going to talk about it here, but I guess I'll have to wait till tomorrow.

It turns out that Aaron Haspel has some unkind words to say about this Housemannish approach, which he terms the "visceral." He worries about its subjectivity and imprecision, how it gives us no tools to distinguish the greatness of Medea from the mass mediocrity of Top Gun. He can enjoy worrying about that stuff. What are the pleasures? is all I know on earth and all I need to know. Haspel seems quite smart, though pretty unpleasant. I'm not surprised to read that someone "deservedly" punched him out at work and that he used to drink vinegar straight from the bottle. It's still dribbling out.

From Haspel's supercilious vinagrette I was brought for the second time in so many days to George Wallace's blog A Fool in the Forest, which criticizes Haspel intelligently and has some really smart observations about poetry generally. This is all the more amazing because Wallace by trade is an insurance lawyer. Who'd a thunk someone working in insurance law would have a single poetic bone in his body? Wild.

Once again I've spent way too much time chasing marsh gas through the night. I did have real work to do today . . . . I should have taken Houseman's advice in another context:

Three minutes thought would suffice to find this out; but thought is irksome and three minutes is a long time.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

I know a haiku when I see one
When I said, below, that "Close Enough" was "the greatest haiku I've ever read," I meant "just-about haiku."
0
Raymond Smullyan's penis returns
I know, as Eddie Izzard would say, "fuck all," about the person who goes by the name of Chickee Chickston. (Mysteriously enough, instead of "more than you could possibly imagine," "fuck all" in this context means "not the slightest fucking thing, nothing.") I'm not saying anything mean by that. I'm just saying I don't have a personal bias when I say that absolutely the greatest haiku I've ever read (and like you I've read an excremental islandful) is this one from Chickee's cool Super Deluxe Good Poems:

Close Enough
I'm not a haiku.
I have too many syllables
In my second line.

Raymond Smullyan's penis, once touted as a rising character in this blog, but never heard from since, is, it turns out--as we rejoin it already in progress--blasting jism all over because of that poem (admittedly not a very pleasant image, but nonetheless something of an indicator of Raymond's esteem). It adheres to critical principles vastly different from mine, but sometimes, as in this case, we agree 100%.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

My goodness. My name is on the celebrated crush list! I guess Guffman really was in the audience. As Divine's Dawn Davenport, having been sentenced to die in the electric chair, effervesces in Female Trouble, "That's the highest honor a person can get in my field!"

Not only am I on Jim's crush list, but somehow I find myself added (twice!) into the pantheon of "Blogger of the Year" nominees! [swoon] As I wrote to my sweet Michael Wells (whom I haven't yet met, but who now will definitely rake in a sizable end-of-the-year bonus) it's sort of like a Macarthur. Without the money. And without the prestige. And with a little residue of horniness. Like Monica's dress.

Questions: 1) Do I have to keep writing about masturbating to stay on the list (maybe I should adopt carpe pudendum as my motto, or si quaeris pudendum amoenam circumspice)? 2) Do I get a prize? 3) Has Jim ever actually read my blog? 4) Why isn't my name in his blogroll, then? 5) Does Jim ever hang out at the bead store in Harvard Square? 6)Is Jim's last name pronounced as you would expect--burl (Ives, Uncle Miltie)? Or is it like Wm. Cecil, Lord Burleigh* (Karl "Turd Blossom"Rove to Elizabeth Tudor's George Bush)?

I've mentioned before that Female Trouble is one of my favorite movies of all time. In cobbling together the links above, I found a site that has mov. files of some of the most lyrical moments in the film (a fortiori, in all of cinema). So for those who haven't ever experienced the subtle meditation on the nature of beauty that is FT, as well as for those who have but can never get enough of the snappy dialogue, I've captured some links. Here's Dawn on the difficulty of raising a young girl nowadays. Here's Dawn's mother-in-law, Aunt Ida (Edie Massey) on the heterosexual lifestyle. Here's Dawn's daughter, Taffy (Mink stole), wittily deflecting the strange suggestion by her stepfather, Gator, that she come join "Daddy" in bed and perform an inappropriately intimate service.


*A fabulous passage about Burleigh from Cobbett's Hist. of the Prot. Reformation: "[I]f success in unprincipled artifice, if fertility in cunning devices, if the obtaining of one's ends without any regard to the means, if in this pursuit sincerity be set at nought, and truth, law, justice, and mercy be trampled underfoot, if, so that you succeed in your end, apostasy, forgery, perjury, and the shedding of innocent blood be thought nothing of, this Cecil was certainly the greatest statesman that ever lived."

Unmentionable leakage problem

Bush orders officials to stop the leaks
By Joseph L. Galloway and James Kuhnhenn
Philadelphia Inquirer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Concerned about the appearance of disarray and feuding within his administration as well as growing resistance to his policies in Iraq, President Bush - living up to his recent declaration that he is in charge - told his top officials to "stop the leaks" to the media, or else.

News of Bush's order leaked almost immediately.

Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he "didn't want to see any stories" quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used.
more

Friday, October 17, 2003

Onward Christian Soldiers

Has anyone heard about Deputy Secretary of Defense (Intelligence Matters) Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin, an evangelical Christian who has been speaking in uniform to church audiences over the past two years? According to a Washington Times article yesterday:
He spoke of Islamic extremists hating the United States because "we're a Christian nation" and added that our "spiritual enemy will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus." He said [apparently acknowledging freely Bush's electoral defeat] that President Bush "is in the White House because God put him there," and that "we in the army of God . . . have been raised for such a time as this."
.
I searched around for a picture of him and found one that looks right out of central casting on this page accompanying these gems:
"Anyone who puts on the armor of God becomes a target for Satan," Boykin said. "Be ready. He will be coming. He'll try to stop you from doing what God wants you to do. But you knew that already."

He said, "When you stepped into the FAITH arena, you said, 'Here am I. Send me.' Not every Christian is a soul winner, but you said, 'Here am I. Send me.' You volunteered to be a part of this battle."

Speaking about a journey of faith, Boykin said it's easy to recognize God's plan in hindsight. "When you took that step into the FAITH ministry and made that commitment, God had a plan for you. He has the plan and your job is to stay faithful and to get up everyday and put on that armor. Endure and wait to see what God has for you in this life. Endure!"

. . . in peace and freedom from fear, and in true health, through the purity and essence of our natural fluids.

Talk about being a warrior for God always reminds me of a remark of Richard Dawkins's from i can't for the life of me remember where (he expresses a similar sentiment at length here) to the effect that the chief utility of religion historically has been to motivate people to sacrifice their lives irrationally to advance their rulers' political goals. The idea that Boykins is in charge of intelligence operations for the DoD is pretty fucking scary.

I'm sorry, but anyone who (after the American League championship series) still thinks he or she has a solid argument for the existence of a personal god should read this story:
Sleeping Fla. Boy Has 4 Fingers Gnawed Off By Family Dog: Fingers Found In Dog's Stomach

The reason the six-year-old didn't wake up while the dog was chewing his fingers off is that his left side had been paralyzed a few months earlier by a hit-and-run driver, never identified. The dog, a puppy his aunt had presented him and his brothers a few weeks ago, was immediately, as they say, "destroyed" (as though when describing animals that's somehow more polite than "executed"? The state of Texas today set a hard record to beat when it destroyed its 4000th death-row inmate this month . . . .) The conclusion of the story:
"I'll be OK. I can still play video games with one hand," he said.

Why am I posting this? I can't get it out of my mind.

A longtime fan of Gould, I used to mock Dawkins (and Dennett's defenses of him, like the famous NYR "Confusion Over Evolution" exchange). Then, just to make sure I understood the arguments I was deriding, I started reading him. Now I'm fairly convinced that Dawkins's arguments are stronger than Gould's. Next in the works: I'm going to read Ann Coulter and become a Republican.

Well, for wasting a lot of time trying to excavate the original Dawkins quote I had in mind and the Dennett-Gould exchange, at least I found a nice line of Dawkins's I hadn't read before: "We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."

(Pubic) Hair Club for Women
Check out Margaret Cho's 10/16 post on pubic hair, waxing (I, of course, prefer high voltage probes), South Korean women getting pubic-hair transplants, and her cousin's heartbreakingly tragic life. I laughed, I cried. Seriously. And I got completely pissed off. Her blog is such an admirably discomfiting mix of rapturous hilarity and virulent rage--more of the latter, surprisingly, than of the former.
South Carolina Democrats, don't forget to cast your vote in the R. J. Reynolds, Inc. Democratic primary!

As I mentoned then, I thought Catherine's idea about corporation-sponsorship of hurricanes was great. Evidentally, so did The New Yorker, whose back page a couple of weeks ago (of course, at this moment I can't find the issue, else I would scan and post it) was titled something like (if memory serves), "What if corporations sponsored hurricanes?"

I mention this belatedly because the idea appears less wacky in light of recent developments in South Carolina. Apparently, state law requires that each political party bear the entire financial burden for funding its presidential primary. So the state Democratic Party, needing to locate upwards of $500,000, has been giving serious consideration to corporate sponsorship--John Kerry brought to you by Coca Cola, etc. Hey, why not? Check out this article in The Washington Post noticed over at TomPaine.com.
Dewey Defeats Truman
According to a rueful editorial in early editions of today's New York Post, the Red Sox won the pennant last night. The editorial laments that "In the end the hitting fell short and the bullpen simply didn't deliver. It's a crying shame that Roger Clemen's career had to end on a losing note." The paper managed to remove the piece from its online edition. But, of course, somebody sent a scan of the editorial page to The Smoking Gun.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Miki's Ol' Factory Blues

Smelly cunt, smelly cunt,
What are they feeding you?

Smelly cunt, smelly cunt,
It's not your fault.

(thanks, Phebes)
A very big moment for me

I'm wearing
a great dress
by Jean-Paul
Gaultier, and
may I take
this opportunity
to apologize
to Jean-Paul
for my hair.
A complete
stranger did
my hair
and makeup.

I shouldn't
have covered
that Ungaro
dress with
that fluffy
thing, and
I'm a bit
too skinny
as well.

I saw it on TV
the other night.
I was little
Jet Girl, and my
bosom is
hanging
out of my bra.
Look at me
back then
. . . dork!

That's my school
uniform and
I think
I'm in the sixth
form by then.
The series takes
place over six
years. I played
a very outspoken
student who challenged
the views
of the church.

I think I bought
that dress somewhere
on Montana Avenue
in Santa Monica.
I was trying
to keep
with the tone
of the movie.
I did
my own hair
and makeup.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

When I'm rushin' on my run & I fee-ull jus'like Jesus' son . . . .

Just got back a while ago from guest lecturing, if that's the right phrase, in Anneliese's 7th-grade English class and felt like masturbating. No, silly, not 'cuz of all those glinting kids oozing puberty like mashed potatoes from every pore; it's the amphetamine surge an hour of teaching flashfloods through my bloodstream (especially since I've been off it for a few years--the teaching, not the amphetamines [how could I perform basic bodily functions without those?]). I come home all mind-racing and excited and don't know what to do with myself. I'm sorta tired 'cuz I got up early to get my act together, but I'm sorta zooming from all that thinking and talking. Should I take a nap? Should I blog? Oh, I've got an idea . . . .

Well, you weren't home and I couldn't wait. . . . Carpe pudendum . . . .

The seventh grade has spent the whole year so far on The Hound of the Baskervilles. Hence the references to it in Mikarrhea way, way back. I figured I was fated to volunteer: I was a Sherlock nerd for many years, from middle school through college, belonging simultaneously to four different "scion societies" of the Baker Street Irregulars, the über fan group started in the thirties by Christopher Morley and a couple of other round Algonquin Table sachems; I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Holmes; I've taught Holmes in undergraduate seminars; and I own (albeit in boxes in my mom's house in Michigan) the complete run of The Strand Magazine in its original bound volumes from 1892 to 1904 (including Hound, whose volumes I got my mom to send out).

I really wanted to use the phrase "positivism infused by Romanticism," but I thought it would be too much to explain. The kids liked looking at the old books, though.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Much sincere gratitudinization to sweethearts Kasey, Nick, Stephanie, Jean, and of course Catherine for kind words and thoughtful feedback about film montages. Catherine and I are still thrilled to hear more montage ideas, so please keep 'em coming.

I mentioned I'm working on a screenplay that incorporates montages, as is Catherine (we also share an intimate personal connection with the very safe Newton, MA, home of the lustrous Barney Frank). As far as I can tell, however, she and I incorporate montages differently. Certainly, I'm conscious of wanting to strike a blow against the hegemony of the Hollywood 2-liter plottle as the sole vessel from which a cinematic experience may be served (in my spare time, btw, I'm also gonna give Microsoft a coupla big whacks). But mainly I just want film consumers to pay more attention to the pleasures and rhythms of individual sequences generally (like individual songs on an album) and naturally my favorite sequences specifically. I wanna make a kind of cinematic dance mix.

I'll definitely be talking more here about the screenplay as the fall wears on. The really great thing is that I'm actually taking a screenwriting course through a nearby University's extension program. I haven't taken a real course-course (faculty seminars and colloquia aside) in nearly twenty years. I just wanted to provide a sort of exoskeleton for my otherwise limp and shapeless efforts. A minor awkward moment: on the first day of class we twenty or so went around the room introducing ourselves and describing our cinematic interests. Having come in late (don't get my daughter started on this), I was sitting in the back corner and went last. "Hi, I'm Mika Cooper. Though I don't really have any experience writing screenplays, I've seen a lot of movies, and I have taught a couple of film courses before. In fact, unless I'm wrong, both Maya and Wendy here are former students of mine." At which point the two women in question wheeled around. "Omigod! That's my British Film professor!" "Omigod! That's my former advisor!" The professor looked at me a bit uncomfortably for a while after that. But now I think she realizes I'm less of a threat than a resource when she forgets shit (speaking of which, thanks Kasey! I just completely love the way Hitch just lets that bus explode with the poor cute innocent little kid on it!) and can't get the video system working.
The Grand Prize goes to Chris Lott
For emailing me the correct textual sources for my purchasing decisions. I had to buy Picnic, Lightning, because those two words compose, as Chris notes, "one of the best two word prose poems ever." He goes on to advise, "Anyone who DOESN'T know its source should be beaten with a big stick." Fortunately, everyone who replied (all five) did know it was from Lolita and 'scaped whipping. That one was probably too easy for this overeducated crowd.

The other allusion, "Jungle Red," was apparently more recondite. Chris came the closest, but even he identified not the precise text I had in mind but rather a recasting of it. Chris proposed the June Allyson-Joan Collins vehicle The Opposite Sex, a remake of George Cukor's fabulous The Women, with Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford, adapted by Anita Loos (with, apparently, the uncredited assistance of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Donald Ogden Stewart) from Clare Booth Luce's play. Undoubtedly, the application of the nail-polish color "Jungle Red" plays the same role in the remake as in the original--signaling a character's willingness to use all feminine weapons at her disposal to win the man she wants and best her rival, sexually and socially. So it seems fair to say that Chris honestly got my allusion to painting my nails Jungle Red, even though he owed his understanding to a different text.

Maybe there needs to be some proselytizing here. The Women is one of my absolute favorite films of all time. It's perhaps most notable for its gimmick--no man ever appears on screen. Though many scenes are set in populous environments--a gargantuan spa (the opening tracking shot through which is widely imitated), a department store, a fashion show, a dude ranch, a restaurant--either the environments are culturally marked female (I first wrote "feminine" but then remembered the Nevada dude (divorce) ranch [which setting, by the way, inspired the book that became the film Desert Hearts], though populated solely by women, isn't exactly feminine) or the camera shoots selectively so as to capture only moments when areas in heterosexual spaces happen to become female. One of the highlights of this 1939 black and white camp classic is the central fashion show scene (all clothes designed by the movie-fabulous Adrian), which for ten minutes is all in gorgeous technicolor. (It's not exactly what you would call a montage, or else you can bet I would have put it on my list below.)

feeling sleepy. nap. much more to say when awake.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Remarks on Colour

Now I'm going to paint my nails. I'm using a color by Nars called "Jungle Red," which I had to buy (even though it's much more of a saturated red than I typically wear) as soon as I saw the name, for much the same reason I had to buy Collins's Picnic, Lightning as soon as I saw the title. Taking a leaf from Kasey's book (really just some photons from the screen his blog produces on my computer)--to the first person to identify both things that motivated these purchases I'll award . . . I dunno . . . hmmm . . . how about an instance of one of the two things (winner's choice)?

The thing about painting my nails is that I can't do it for shit. I can't, at any rate, make them look anywhere near like professionally manicured ones. I find this really frustrating. I don't pretend to be skilled in every area of life. But I've always figured that I could pretty much do a reasonable job at most ordinary trades and crafts, if I really invested myself in learning and practicing them. For example, I've replaced various plumbing fixtures, done minor repairs under the hood of my car, made jewelry (e.g., the beads), designed stuff, painted stuff. You'd've thought I'd've gotten fingernails down by now. Those of you who don't, for whatever personal reasons, paint your nails probably can't conceive how frustrating it is to make them look really good. And then, of course, they chip right away . . . . Those who do, for whatever personal reasons, paint them--uh, why do yours always look so much better than mine?

A splendid job for a poetry blogger (for me, anyway) would be coming up with color-names for make-up. Are you listening, Revlon?
Epiphany

Always so much i want to blog about, so little time. i was just rereading (which reminds me of the Kerouac point i keep saying i'm going to make, but never do; maybe tomorrow) my list of movie sequences (catherine, please, please don't regret that you opened this spigot and now it doesn't seem to close . . . . it will, i promise, as soon as the pressure drops some in the pipes) and i had one of those experiences of suddenly seeing an obvious and powerful connection between seemingly disjoint pieces that, to my embarrassment, have been sitting in front of me, waving and making faces for years. I mentioned parenthetically below that the dance club sequence in Danny Boyle's Trainspotting is an homage to Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, specifically to the Korovo Milk Bar ("Milk plus-- vellocet, drencrom . . . to sharpen you up . . .) sequences. Not only does Boyle lay out and paint the club's back room to match the Korovo (same words on wall), but he also opens the scene with the same slow 10mm-lens knee-high reverse dolly shot. It's a brilliant (um, i mean, extremely pleasurable) scene for many, many reasons--as those who've seen it can attest (those who haven't, please just do). But my favorite part has always been the music, especially, as I say, the thermonuclear eighties dance songs "Temptation" and "Atomic," the one seque-ing seamlessly--as if dj'd--into the other to marvelous effect. "Temptation" has an obvious (if not heavyhanded) topical appropriateness to the scene: in voice-over Renton remarks that his heroin addiction had long kept him from feeling much sexual desire, but now, having kicked the habit (at least for while), he is strongly feeling it again. When I would teach the film, I would point out how careful Boyle was to pick a song whose lyrics respond so directly to Renton's thoughts. OK. So, reviewing my list just now, I started wondering who in god's name performed it. Eventually, it popped into my head (from i wish i fucking knew where, 'cause there are a lot of other things there i really need): it was an OHW band called "Heaven Seventeen." Some corner of my eye was still near my parenthetical note on Boyle's debt to Kubrick. Click. Bang. Omigod. For christ's fucking sake, "Heaven Seventeen" was a band mentioned briefly in one scene in . . . A Clockwork Orange! When Alex picks up the teeny-boppers at the music store, one asks him, pointing to an illuminated list where the names are clearly displayed (not far from a prominent copy of the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey), "Who you gettin', bratty? Goggly Gogol? Johnny Zhivago? The Heaven Seventeen?"

OK, so i love Danny Boyle even more.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

ugly thugs' mugs montage
omigod! I forgot about all the Sergio Leone westerns! My favorite Leone montage is definitely the early scene in Once Upon a Time in the West (it's either the first scene or, I think, the second), where the three thugs lie in wait for the train bringing Charles Bronson into their ambush. Leone intercuts beautifully among the three (he loves intercutting among threes--viz. the stylized, ritualistic shootout at the end of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). The viewer has no idea what the fuck's going on. One glabrous thug, sitting placidly, almost sleepily, under the station awning, feels a drop of water fall on his scalp, then another; so, smiling broadly, he puts on his hat and the drip starts resounding more loudly, at about one-second intervals, on his hat-brim. Why in god's name is he smiling and not just moving out of the way of the irritating drip? Because he's just so tough? The noise pokes the audience's ear egregiously (exactly like the annoyingly persistent faucet-drip in the otherwise dead-silent kitchen where Sarah Miles seduces Edward Fox in Losey's The Servant). Another thug, sitting at the other end of the station platform, harrassed by a brazen fly relentlessly alighting on his face and then buzzing around his ear, fails repeatedly to catch it in his fist. A third thug, notable for his twisted, wrinkled, scarred, grizzled mug--the kind Leone's camera goes out of its way to capture lovingly for his audience (as Shakespeare's quill does the marsh gas of puns, according to Johnson)--does nothing but sit and stare into the distance irascibly, a rusty windmill screeching plaintively behind him. This montage is as much of sound as of image. Indeed, though absolutely nothing happens of any significance on the screen for an everlasting three-or-so minutes, the characters barely moving or changing expression, the audience has been screwed to a pitch of utter distraction by the interminable cyclic amplification of one excruciating sound after another--drip, buzz, screech--along with its corresonding enigmatically expressive countenance.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Don't forget the biggest crack house in America! (wouldn't that be a marvelous alternative for those who hate The Mall of America?)
Oops. Forgot the crack house sequence from Jungle Fever, shot over Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City."
Basic Theory of Bibliography 101
Um, I hope if you read my list of movie sequences below, you'll realize that those not clearly associated with a specific movie are (i hope) part of the most closely mentioned movie title above.
Do we have time for a movie montage?
catherine meng asks for favorite movie montages. i have a few. i wrote her the following email, but i figured i'd post it here too, 'cause--for the reason i mention at the end--i really want to hear others' suggestions too. please forgive the lack of capitalization. i just started the list that way and was too lazy to fix it up. i'll put the film titles in italics later

some favorite montages of mine below. i'm using the notion of montage in the strict sense of "communicating to the audience, through the editing-together of disjunctive cinematic images, a meaning which the images themselves don't directly represent." a common special use of montage, which maybe you have in mind instead (& if so, sorry about all the irrelevant examples!), is the representation of change (usually involving a sequence of lap dissolves) over a period of time much greater than the duration of the montage itself (a character's increasing success over years conveyed in large part by dissolving shots of a succession of newpaper headlines; one or more characters really buckling down and training hard for the big event; characters taking a long journey to a new important setting, etc.). it's worth noting, though, that the paradigm montage, eisenstein's odessa steps sequence, actually stretches what must have been (i think) about three minutes of massacring to more like fifteen minutes of film


i have a bunch more 'cause i'm working on a screenplay that's partly about favorite sequences and i've been thinking about mine a lot in the past couple of weeks

Zeitgeist
I feel like I've been experiencing incidents of Jungian synchronicity lately. I don't know if it's a calling card from hypomania (which my therapist thinks my demeanor sometimes manifests but which I argue is just the brain popping and crackling along and finally generating the importunate blaze I'd give my soul or at least both baby toes to warm myself by more than once in a blue moon) or if it's just that the longed-for ping pong balls happened to settle in the drum where the spokesmodel's redlacquered nails could pluck them most easily.

OK, well maybe it's the hypomania.

Anyway, the latest occurrence that makes me feel as though the universe and I are sauntering in the same direction is that my last post, below, about Chris Lott's thoughts, was intended as a response to his smart, heartfelt post from last week, not the posts and comments from the past couple of days engendering fascinating and self-revelatory conversation between Chris & Eileen. I hadn't read them yet. I was worried that I would appear to be arriving on the scene way late (don't get me started on arriving way late, a propensity for which my daughter wants to disinherit me), and, hey, it looks for all the world as if I were just putting my two cents in more or less on time.
Mika: Pleasure equals Value. Are they commutative? Discuss.
Hiatus due to weekend of son's birthday festivities. Much interpersonal confusion and complication. My daughter is mad at me.

I started writing this a couple of days ago. I might as well post it now. But my (Leigh's) battery is dying, so I'll have to hook up the links tomorrow.

Since I got back I've been thinking off and on about Chris Lott's discussion of literary values, about readers who strongly affiliate along literary-value lines, about not knowing what to do with your delight in (and even admiration for) writing judged poor or uncool by respected peers or with your disdain towards those who enthuse over patently awful writers; but I haven't found time to blog my thoughts. Now that I have a moment, I can't get through to Chris's site for some reason, to review his points. I hope he didn't kill it out of despair [yay! it turns out he didn't!]. His is definitely one of my favorites out there--no, make that one of the best.

I've always adored the name of Stanley Cavell's old chair at Harvard: The Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value. Wouldn't it be completely fab to be a professor of "the General Theory of Value"?
You're a professor? What do you teach? I'm a professor of Value, the Theory of Value. Values--like William Bennett? Evildoers and stuff? No, just Value, generally; the General Theory, you know, not the Special one.

Well, here's my general theory. I should probably state up front that my critical views were very significantly influenced by an ad campaign during the seventies and early eighties for Newport cigarettes: "Alive with pleasure! [insert photo of one or more toothy heterosexual couples having hilarious sexually charged vaguely female-masochistic "fun" at the beach, camping, or with a hose (sometimes all three)] If smoking isn't a pleasure, why bother?"

And so with reading, I say. And so with writing. I painfully drill into my students (I didn't say, "And so with taking a course from me") that the main question to ask when approaching a work of literature (or, well, anything . . . life) is not "What does it mean?" or "How good is it?" but rather "What sorts of pleasures can be found here?"

I counter the inevitable wag's "None" with "What sorts of pleasures do you think the poet hoped a reader would find here? What sorts of pleasures can you imagine the poet taking in writing the poem? What sorts of pleasures does the poem imply are worthy ones? What sort of pleasures do you think readers who do like this poem experience? Can you unearth pleasures in the poem that the poet might not have been consciously aware of putting there?"

This way of looking at criticism may not be exactly what Susan Sontag had in mind when calling for "an erotics of reading," but it think it nevertheless fits the bill ["fits"? "fills"?]. I do think it pretty much amounts to Barthes' plaisir du texte.

The point of reading everything through pleasure-spectacles rather than through literary-quality- or meaning-spectacles is that people seem to have an easier time accepting others' differences regarding tastes (chaqu'un a son de gustibus and so forth) than others' differences regarding facts-- into which gravity inevitably pulls disputes about quality and meaning. The important thing is that appreciators try sincerely to identify the pleasures each work offers for consumption. If I really understand the pleasures you see in, say, New Brutalist poetry, but still can't get excited about it, then we must agree to disagree. You probably'll never understand the ecstasies into which I'm transported by Sephora [OK, fine. An out-of-fashion poet, then. Swinburne.]. And anyone with the sensibility to title a book "Picnic, Lightning" is my perfect soulmate and a genius. Those words detonate my favorite sentence in all of English literature. From my vantage, it's therefore the best sentence in all of English literature (the second-best, "Exit, pursued by a bear," being a stage direction, might be disputed). But if you don't see it that way, I don't think I'll ever convince you.

Of course, it's hard if peers you respect are openly jeering at your intellectual pleasures. I don't readily admit (except to you in the Desert of the Real, Outer Blogolia, who would never inform those I deal with daily in the Matrix [doesn't the epigraph to "Prufrock" say pretty much that in Italian?]) that I still love Jethro Tull. When I was in high school, they were for me the apex of lyrical and musical invention and intelligence. On the other hand, I've never replaced my Jethro Tull LPs with CDs. I think of Ian Anderson as an adolescent taste and give myself no opportunity to indulge it.

I really adore the film The Ploughman's Lunch, but for twenty years I've sought in vain for someone who after having a couple of drinks can sit through the whole thing without snoring once. My Ex, with whom I tried to watch it a couple of times, bursts into howls of hilarity whenever I mention the film at all.

I forget if I've said this before, but for some years I regularly taught a course in contemporary (post 1960) British cinema. I really like the Brit way of serious aesthetic and narratorial envelope-pushing (e.g. Richardson, Roeg, Greenaway).

Nevertheless, if you asked me what my favorite film is, I would probably say either Desperate Living or Beyond the Valley of the Dolls or Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill. Well, maybe Dr. Strangelove or Spinal Tap. Or Dawn of the Dead. Maybe Liquid Sky. Performance and Rocky Horror would be up there. Fargo. Trainspotting. Alright, yes, I do absolutely worship some films not frothing with pomo irony. Cries & Whispers, for instance. I wanted to say Vertigo and Strangers on a Train but then I considered I owe so much of my appreciation for them (and for Psycho) to John Waters. I have to say I've rarely enjoyed a film as much as The Lonely Lady or Tough Guys Don't Dance, but it would probably be wrong to say I admire them.

What would I say are the best films? Do I have to care?


Thursday, October 02, 2003

Blake v. Schopenhauer

I thought I could blog from LA. Ha. . . . ! I'm only now just getting some brain cells back.

Notice that Alli is reading Schopenhauer and Kasey is reading Blake (and reading Alli, too, and bestowing on her a deserved honor [yay, Alli!]). Neurons randomly firing, I turn again to my trusty commonplace book to show that I am like so totally there and to offer the Schopenhauer passage that resonates most profoundly with my Weltanshauung (it too used to be on my plan) along with what I take to be Blake's proleptic, characteristically dismissive retort.

[Sexual love] is the ultimate goal of almost all human effort; it has an unfavorable influence on the most important affairs, interrupts every hour the most serious occupations, and sometimes perplexes for a while even the greatest minds. It does not hesitate to intrude with its trash, and to interfere with the negotiations of statesmen and the investigations of the learned. It knows how to slip its love-notes and ringlets even into ministerial portfolios and philosophical manuscripts. Every day it brews and hatches the worst and most perplexing quarrels and disputes, destroys the most valuable relationships, and breaks the strongest bonds. It demands the sacrifice sometimes of life or health, sometimes of wealth, position, and happiness. Indeed, it robs of all conscience those who were previously honorable and upright, and makes traitors of those who have hitherto been loyal and faithful. Accordingly, it appears on the whole as a malevolent demon, striving to pervert, to confuse, and to overthrow everything.

Schopenhauer, "The Metaphysics of Sexual Love"


Abstinence sows sand all over
The ruddy limbs & flaming hair
But Desire Gratified
Plants fruit of life & beauty there

Blake

Thursday, September 25, 2003

College Is Just Around the Corner
At one point, when I taught at a college, I used to have this quote from Kerouac's Visions of Cody posted on my "plan." If you don't know what a plan is, in UNIX it's sort of like a rudimentary personal page you would get to see if you "fingered" someone's user name (i.e., FINGER MCOOPER). Having always enjoyed being fingered, I thought I'd post things to reward students and encourage frequent fingering.
In America, the idea of going to college is just like the idea of prosperity is just around the corner, it was supposed to solve something or everything or something because all you had to do was learn what they taught and then everything else was going to be handled; instead of that, and just like prosperity that was never around the corner but a couple miles at least (and false prosperity--) going to college by acquainting me with all the mad elements of life, such as the sensibilities, books arts, histories of madness, and fashions, has not only made it impossible for me to learn simple tricks of how to earn a living but has deprived me of my one-time innocent belief in my own thoughts that used to make me handle my own destiny. So now I sit and stew in a sophistication which has taken hold of me just exactly like a disease and makes me lie around like a bum all day long and stay up all night goofing with myself.


Tell me about it.
Giving a profound sentiment some consideration
"Getting dressed and looking great is like going on vacation," says Norma Kamali. "It's an uplift."

Well, we're going on vacation tomorrow (LA), and I sure hope (commutatively) it's very much like getting dressed and looking great, because we're staying at the Standard, and I, for one, need all the help I can get. Unlike my desert island, the Standard at least has T1 lines in the rooms, so I assume I can blog (on Leigh's laptop, of course), as long as I have occasional windows of lucidity, or at least consciousness, if lucidity is too much to ask.
Did you notice I slimmed down quite a bit? You know what they say, "The web page always adds ten pounds to your figure." Well I showed that web page who was boss!

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Just when I learned how to pronounce "Gier" correctly, she goes and changes it to "Vengua"! Are you on the lam, Jean? Or were you just fed up with constantly being mistaken for the other Jean Giers? You know, come to think of it, "Curvalicious Vengua" has a nice seductive bounce to it. Maybe you should consider changing your first name too! :-) Just kidding. Jean G. Vengua sounds beautiful.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

A Banner Day!

No banner ads at this moment! I keep refreshing just to check. How great is that?

And here I had this whole post in mind about the word panties and how fascinating it is (linguistically). I thought that a post mentioning panties a lot and linked to various panty sites (like this test: what sort of panties are you?) might change the tone of the banner ads (no more body bag sites). And get some fresh blood circulating in here through google.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Bakhtin: Words as A.B.C. Gum
Just so we don't lose sight of literature on this blog (and so as to save myself from thinking up something original to write), I thought I'd reach into my commonplace book for a couple of passages I completely adore. Those below come from Bakhtin's "Discouse in the Novel," reprinted in The Dialogic Imagination. I love his notion of language as this thing that lies "on the borderline between oneself and the other" and as something we don't take fresh from the dictionary but rather from others' usage, inevitably perfused with their expressive intentions (the image in my head is of some seriously A.B.C. gum). All uses of language, he argues, take place at least to some degree within quotation marks. I love his imbuing words themselves with intentionality--they "stubbornly resist" the author's attempt to seize them and transform them "into private property." It "is as if they put themselves in quotation marks against the will of the speaker."
As a living, socio-ideological concrete thing, as heteroglot opinion, language, for the individual consciousness, lies on the borderline between oneself and the other. The word in language is half someone else's. It becomes "one's own" only when the speaker populates it with his own intention, his own accent, when he appropriates the word, adapting it to his own semantic and expressive intention. Prior to this moment of appropriation the word does not exist in a neutral and impersonal language (it is not, after all, out of a dictionary that the speaker gets his words!), but rather it exists in other people's mouths, in other people's contexts, serving other people's intentions: it is from there that one must take the word, and make it one's own. And not all words for just anyone submit equally easily to this appropriation, to this seizure and transformation into private property: many words stubbornly resist, others remain alien, sound foreign in the mouth of the one who appropriated them and who now speaks them; they cannot be assimilated into his context and fall out of it; it is as if they put themselves in quotation marks against the will of the speaker.

*************

Thus a prose writer can distance himself from the language of his own work, while at the same time distancing himself, in varying degrees, from the different layers and aspects of the work. He can make use of language without wholly giving himself up to it; he may treat it as semi-alien or completely alien to himself, while compelling language ultimately to serve all his own intentions. The author does not speak in a given language (from which he distances himself to a greater or lesser degree), but he speaks, as it were, through language, a language that has somehow more or less materialized, become objectivized, that he merely ventriloquates.

Bakhtin, "Discourse on the Novel"




The part of his argument that I find outdated and inutile is his insistence that this dialogism and heteroglossia (terms sometimes interchangeable for him, sometimes not quite) are defining characteristics of prose literature, not poetry. Certainly today, and very arguably back then, poetry is nothing if not heteroglossic!
For those who were asking for the URL of the official Barry Manilow web site, it's here.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Another sign that Leigh & I should get engaged.
World's Oldest Genitals Found in Scotland
The Holy Grail of Blogs

How could I have lived so long in abject ignorance? The greatest living American writer has had a blog for years & I knew nothing of it. I suddenly feel abysmally supererogatory.

From a post on his blog, I found a link to a site asking a question whose pertinence increases every day as we approach the home stretch of the election course: which presidential candidate looks the most like Skeletor?

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