Archive for the 'Art, Literature, Film' Category

I love you

20 November 2012

A poem/song of mine from 2007:

when your eyes glimmer from catching your reflection
and discovering, as if for the first time, your loneliness

i love you

when no other words will do
and yet your mind will not stop overflowing with words

i love you

and when no other has quite said it in the way you need
friend, these eyes of mine, i love you

i look forward to watching the lines crease on your face
i look forward to the graying of your beard
but most of all i look forward to seeing the sadness
melt away within these eyes
and be replaced by peace

i look forward to a time when i tell you
i love you
and you do not cry, but smile

Sometimes I speak about things such as “the basic human task,” which, to my slight credit, I emphasize I am only ever guessing at. I don’t know exactly what it would mean for there to be a basic human task, let alone what such a task would, exactly, be. But I know that something in me pushes me to try and orient myself around such a thing – even if only inconsistently, only at certain kinds of moments.

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My love song for William Shakespeare

1 June 2012

I love Shakespeare. I’ve read all his plays, some several times, though none near as closely and caringly as I hope someday to have. I’ve read a chunk of his sonnets and found fascinating the interplay between the lies and truths and puns spoken by his many characters and the playful reflections found in his individual poems – this despite the fact that I’ve hardly scratched the surface of such close reading. Nevertheless, I wonder if my love of Shakespeare is not strongly colored by my love of J. Alfred Prufrock’s pathetic love song. It’s not only Prufrock’s acceptance/assertion that he is not Prince Hamlet, but just an attendant lord. (There’s an amazing kind of making-to-be that goes along with self-recognition, and a correlative unmaking that goes along with self-abnegation.) Not that one should really wish to be Hamlet… But it’s also Prufrock’s whole style of self-investigation. It’s no surprise when, towards the end of his song, he asserts that he is not Hamlet. One doesn’t ask, “Why would you be thinking about such a thing anyway?” He is the star of his own little show, as we all are, but not the star of anyone else’s. Anyway, I don’t have the time or focus or knowledge to go on an in-depth reading of Shakespeare via Prufrock, or Prufrock in terms of his reading of Shakespeare, or any such thing. I only offer this quick reflection, that often when I write fictional characters who have profound anxieties, they evoke for me the language of Eliot’s clever mockery of the language of the characters of Shakespeare’s many universes. Yes, they recall, for me, lines and characters and feelings from the Shakespearean corpus. But always in the course of drowning to the sound of human girls’ voices. Some day in the future I’ll devote a little more care and thought to this, and perhaps will read Shakespeare and Eliot again, and more closely. One can only hope.

Poem :: Conveyor

13 April 2012

Check out this post over at the Conveyor Magazine blog, which features a piece by photographer Allen Chen and a poem, “Three Times,” that I wrote in response to it. In about a week there will be a second post featuring a photograph Allen composes in response to a different poem of mine. While you’re over at the Conveyor blog check out some of their other recent posts. There’s a lot of great stuff!

Crying and lying in the wake of Titanic

6 April 2012

Having spent my early teenaged years reveling in snobbishness, I now find the distaste of some of my fellow academics for all things popular to be childish and annoying. And yet, is it more or less annoying than the distaste many others have for things highbrow? And what’s with the feeling of annoyance, anyway?

Titanic came out when I was but a wee lad of ten, though I don’t recall seeing it until it played on cable, which must have been at least a year later. Let’s say I was eleven. My distinct memory is itself something of a recollection, so we’ll trace back to it.

For years when the movie would come up in conversation I would make a grunt of distaste along with a comment about some flaw or other. (I’m not sure where I got my info on the “flaws” of the film, though considering that the film does indeed have some flaws, I may well have been “right” in the specifics – but, oh, to miss the point…) But as of the last five or six years when the movie has come up I’ve tried to keep silent. This is part of a trend of the last several years of my life in which I try not to be a robotic snob – especially about things I ought to or could know better. (It’s taking a while, but there has been steady progress nonetheless.) Titanic is a good example. See, when I expressed my distaste all those years after the film came out, I was aware of a significant lie central to my criticism: when I saw Titanic, I cried. Sure, I hated myself for it at the time, thinking, as I did, that I shouldn’t like a stupid, super-popular, melodramatic girls’ movie. But I did anyway. The story is pretty damn good, after all. And yet, I held fast to my assurance that, tears be damned, it was a terrible movie. Through the years this memory (of, you know, caring about the characters) slowly strengthened and finally won out against my angst, so I began to keep quiet about the film. (That was step two, I guess.) Now, the best part in all of this is that I can’t quite say whether I like the movie or not, just that when I saw it when I was eleven or so, I was resistant but engaged, and I cried. That’s all I really know. Hence my silence is probably appropriate. But if I were to speak up, why not just say, “Well, when I saw it shortly after it first came out, I cried”? That seems fair enough… Maybe now that it’s back out in theaters again I’ll have my chance. Read the rest of this entry »

An answer to Harry Percy

21 October 2011

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

So then, says Shakespeare in one of his many sonnets (number 116, as it were), life may be time’s fool, but love is not. Life is time’s fool, and love depends on life (or would Shakespeare’s – or, at least, the lover in this poem’s – metaphysics disagree?), so how, I’d wonder, should love be ever-fixed? Why, one wonders, may love be only love that must never have a stop? I beg to differ. And yet, is this what Shakespeare’s sonnet expresses? True love a la Hollywood? I’d wonder whether Shakespeare weren’t playing with his own plays. I’d wonder whether, were my knowledge of his corpus far more advanced, I might not suss out more hints and references than to Hotspur’s dying breath and Prospero’s magic of choice, and might not see our own impulse to read true love into Shakespearean auto-commentary presciently lampooned. I wonder, too, whether love that is not Time’s fool is not true love unwavering as we might at first be inclined to imagine. Love may not be Time’s fool, but, at least in sonnet 116, love loves Time. And I do, too. Even if it doesn’t exist.

The unyoked humor of your idleness: friendship always never

8 October 2011

Time must have a stop. Had it been said by Harry instead, or one of Shakespeare’s many other philosophers, perhaps the slave of life would not have been said to be thoughts. Nevertheless as with all singular phrases from Shakespeare’s corpus – and one of many rightly to have a(n excellent) book named after it – we will be well served by asking of it such questions as, Is it true? This is clearly far from sufficient inquiry. After all, one would also be well to ask, What? Is what true?

O, Harry, thou hast robb’d me of my youth!
I better brook the loss of brittle life
Than those proud titles thou hast won of me;
They wound my thoughts worse than sword my flesh:
But thought’s the slave of life, and life time’s fool;
And time, that takes survey of all the world,
Must have a stop. O, I could prophesy,
But that the earthy and cold hand of death
Lies on my tongue: no, Percy, thou art dust
And food for–

Hotspur makes the claim in his dying breath. Time must have a stop – therefore, an end to his thoughts, his humiliation, his concern with either. That time must have a stop is both a denial and an assertion: a denial of life’s possibility for meaning, and an assertion, a consolation, that suffering is ending. Let’s for the moment take Sean Carroll’s recent assertion that time exists for granted. Let’s also take for granted that Hotspur’s dying words are worth hearing and are, in some way, instructive. There seem to me two fruitful avenues for interpretation. Hotspur is making (i) a statement on the nature of time, and (ii) a plea for an end of suffering. These are related. In fact, it is in their relation that we will find what we are looking for.

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The pale fire and surprises

12 August 2011

Nabokov loves surprises, games, delights, and secrets that do not hide. Nabokov is the reader’s playmate, but only if the reader learns the rules of the game; if not the reader will mistake play for a tease. Reading through the index of Pale Fire just now – after having finished the commentary for the first time. (I write ‘commentary’ rather than ‘novel’ because the novel does not end with the imaginary more competent real imagined Gradus, but with Zembla (naturally), “a distant northern land,” a few pages thereafter.) The index is a rather grand, beautiful affair (mirroring and all that), and one is reminded very quickly in one’s journey from A to Zembla of the word botkin, which was indeed brought up in the commentary in a few contexts (namely, in the discussion of Kinbote’s name and, earlier, in his semi-apologetic (of suicide) re-writing of “To be or not to be…”, and apparently two others as noted in the index), and which couldn’t help but make one think (as Kinbote himself explicitly points out) of Hamlet’s bare bodkin (K tells the reader to note the “correct” spelling ‘botkin,’ which is not the correct spelling, unless referring to the American scholar of Russian descent noted only by the first initial V. (one things of our man Vlad) and the surname Botkin in the twelfth item in the index), and one wonders at the skill by which Kinbote himself, let alone Vlad, managed to hide the truth in what felt like an admission of the truth, the grand secret and surprise which is not something one discovers like a sudden trophy, never to be satisfyingly sniffed out again, but which one only suspects as a possibility, content in its mere possibleness and the knowledge that likely there is a supposed one correct answer to the riddle, but that it doesn’t remotely matter so much as that one just reads, reads, and even takes Kinbote on his word on so many things such as that he told his students (us!) to not only marvel at what we read but that it is readable! (Funny, too, that I’ve been talking specifically of Timon of Athens lately, but could only remember that the man ends up in a cave in the end, and possibly insane, but remembered nothing else, surely nothing of any fire or other.)

One need not wonder why Nabokov so enjoys making himself into madmen. Perhaps they are the only interesting ones, at a certain point. Madmen and mystics – what’s the difference? That Kinbote/botkin is not a murderer is lovely (especially after, as a reader, finding myself helpless but to compare K with the protagonist of the book named after that particular Hurricane…), and that he was real, no doubt, except for everything he cared most about. Is it true that he tucked away the poem in a secret place? Why debate? That he may, even so, have invented a couple of things here and there in the so-called drafts, so much the better, to more fully have related to us his delusion. If you have not read Pale Fire and are distressed by the possibility that I am ruining something, have ruined something, worry not, you have everything to discover, only everything there is to be discovered. I will remark on only one thing, one last thing, which is the note to the phrase “two tongues” in line 615, which I here quote verbatim, if only to show the full force by which Nabokov has Kinbote hammer the point home. (Indeed, was the secret really hidden after this remarkably forceful and lucid comment (i.e., of insanity and identity), did Kinbote not bare all right here, long before he permitted himself the first-person?):

English and Zemblan, English and Russian, English and Lettish, English and Estonian, English and Lithuanian, English and Russian, English and Ukranian, English and Polish, English and Czech, English and Russian, English and Hungarian, English and Rumanian, English and Albanian, English and Bulgarian, English and Serbo-Croation, English and Russian, American and European.

My one trouble is that Nabokov makes me wants never to bother writing again.

“God damn it,” he said, “there are nice things in the world…”

9 August 2011

Zooey Glass, that is. The full quote is: “God damn it, there are nice things in the world – and I mean nice things. We’re all such morons to get so sidetracked. Always, always, always referring every goddam thing that happens right back to our lousy little egos” (this is F&Z 151). He is, at least to my New York sensibility, a most charming fellow, though not only that, and sometimes not remotely that at all.

But I meant not necessarily to follow Paradise Lost with a post about Jesus, but there I was, reading Franny and Zooey and thinking all about Jesus all over again. But not before reading Huxley’s response – or so it seemed to me, thanks no doubt to proximity – to Milton, his dystopian vision, Ape and Essence I mean, in the form of a sort-of screenplay written by a fictional ghost. Frame stories, frame stories. If we’re thinking Bible we must be thinking frame stories, after all, which is all the Bible, so far as I know it, is made up of. This is me the scholar speaking more so than the seeker. At least I don’t have to refer to Jesus merely as the Son this week. Thank God for that. Sorry, I may run amok with italics today. The Glass’s and their goddam (I love that spelling, you can hear the Upper West Side in it, can’t you just?) stresses (etc). Huxley’s first narrator thinks mostly of Gandhi and ego. I mean, damnit, right there on the top of page 1,

It was the day of Gandhi’s assassination; but on Calvary the sightseers were more interested in the contents of their picnic baskets than in the possible significance of the, after all, rather commonplace event they had turned out to witness. In spire of all the astronomers can say, Ptolemy was perfectly right: the center of the universe is here, not there. Gandhi might be dead; but across the desk in his office, across the lunch table in the Studio Commisary, Bob Briggs was concerned to talk only about himself. (A&E 1)

But there’s so much I wish to discuss from Ape and Essence. Frame stories. The “author” finds a script, a very strange script (called Ape and Essence; that I’m currently reading Pale Fire is, again, something that feels so far from a coincidence – and who would ever otherwise have thought to group these three books, four! if we count PL, together? Proximity, accidental proximity), and he and his friend (“friend”) Bob go, a month later, to try and find Tallis, the strange author of this strange work, only to find that he had died two weeks before they had found his rejected script. The author, after telling this story, then offers up to the reader the script in full with no further commentary. Tallis and Huxley seem impossibly close together in some ways, though I’m not sure Huxley would’ve wanted to be buried underneath a Joshua tree. What we have, in the script, beyond a dystopian narrative not entirely unlike the scenario (as SJJ has reported it) of Them! (a film produced six years after the publication of A&E), is a bunch of pontification on ignorance, fear, totalitarianism, religion, and all the jazz. The world, in Ape and Essence, has literally gone to Hell, which is to say that after WWIII, the entire planet save for New Zealand (geographically and politically irrelevant to the war, apparently the only such place) is near-destroyed and covered with radiation from various atomic explosions, and the only people left, save for New Zealanders, are mutants who have adopted Belial as their God. Or at least this is true for the people remaining in Southern California. After one hundred years (of isolation – let’s not get carried away with references and comparisons here) a group of non-mutated humans sets out for the rest of the planet (LA, i.e.) and a botanist from the crew gets abducted by the mutants, enters their society, falls in love, etc, etc. It’s like if 1984 were situated post-nuclear holocaust and ended with Winston, who in this case had been a foreigner abducted into Oceanian society, and Julia, native Oceanian, enjoying a sandwich underneath a Joshua tree in neutral territory. And everyone worshipped the Devil. Okay, it’s pretty different, but you see what I’m saying.

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Paradise lost, and good riddance

4 August 2011

What good is perfect reason if it can be tricked? Or is perfect reason imperfect without knowledge of good and evil? Or is perfect reason imperfect without death? Adam, shortly before the fall, tells Eve, “Firm we subsist, yet possible to swerve, / Since reason not impossibly may meet / Some specious object by the foe suborned, / And fall into deception unaware, / Not keeping strictest watch, as she [reason] was warned” (9.359-63, Modern Library Classics edition) Though perfectly reasonable, we may still be tempted, but why? Is perfect reason lost when tempted? Then what was the good of being given it to begin with? I just cannot help wonder what good being free is, whether it is worth celebrating at all, if this is what it means. But our reason, i.e. the reason of we fallen, is naturally imperfect, anyway. And Adam and Eve can only be but projections out from ourselves into that past from which we do not know ourselves to come, but know from which we must have come. Adam does not know whence he arises – he posits God as a solution to the conundrum, but we are born as infants, and the human race, the human community, is born more as a child is than Adam. We posit not only God but Man, as well. This is why Nietzsche had someone pronounce the death of God, and why Foucault presaged the death of Man. What I want to do is read Paradise Lost without arguing with Milton over theological matters, but how can one avoid it? I’d like to just deal with his poetry, or re-read his poetry through the lens of my continually evolving perspective, but though Milton was a great poet, he was not necessarily a great philosopher of the soul, and this his poetry is bound up with everything he seems to get wrong in ways that I cannot just float past.

Eve proclaims herself free to despise God were it not for Adam, who she loves, and for whose sake alone she sought God (9.877-8). It is clearly wrong to call Milton a misogynist, but nor does he prefigure feminism. Nevertheless, Eve has her moments. This one, of course, comes after her fall, after she has eaten the most delicious apple man will ever have eaten, and yet it seems like stunning honesty, not guile, nor self-delusion. This seems to fit Eve’s character and feelings from her very birth. In the metaphysics of the poem, she is not actually “free” to despise God, for she would be punished for such an infraction. I submit that freedom is not absolute, that our actions and decision are themselves caused and conditions and will in turn create the causes and conditions for further contexts and contents of mind. Nevertheless, that we are called “free” within the metaphysics of Paradise Lost seems pretty clearly a joke to me, and it’s hard for me to take it seriously, or to take it unseriously enough not to be annoyed by it. E.g., God takes responsibility for everything, sort of. And it’s both the move to take this responsibility, and the move to shirk it, that bug me. “He [i.e. Adam, fallen] sorrows now, repents, and prays contrite, / My motions in him” (11.90-1). I may be misreading this kind of statement, but, for example, when the Son proposes man be saved, God quickly explains, “All thy request for man, accepted Son, / Obtain, all thy request was my decree” (11.45-6). If it really is all his decree, then what’s the use of this so-called freedom? I wish I didn’t feel like belaboring this point, but it seems so fraught throughout this poem, and yet the irony I thought I saw throughout the first few books seemed but a trick played upon me, the unsuspecting reader. I, however, have not come around and mended my ways and done away with the arguments Satan inspired in me, rather I have done away with Satan’s pettiness and taken his logic as my own, much as Eve did, and with it I question the ways of God, or rather, the ways of man through the description of the ways of God. I am curious about the worldview that presents this particular vision of freedom earnestly, as if it makes any kind of sense. My beef, that is to say, is not with the Almighty, who can do as he pleases ;), but with Milton, and with anyone who might read Milton’s metaphysics sympathetically. On the one hand, God punishes man; on the other, he seems to argue that he cannot do otherwise. “I make the rules as I go along, that doesn’t mean I can break them.” I’m maybe being unfair by focusing in on this poem in this particular way whatsoever, and I guess it belies my larger interests and betrays my lower ambivalences. Perhaps I can gain some perspective on that by paying attention to what catches my attention…? Damn, it’s hard to write about this poem. I am beginning to regret not logging my readings of each book as I went along. Waiting for the end has resulted in a storehouse of concerns and quotations of interest, which are possibly spilling out into a not-so-interesting analysis. Let’s focus for a moment on a specific matter:

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“For inferior who is free?”

28 July 2011

When I saw “Tree of Life” a few weeks ago, I also saw a trailer for the upcoming film “Another Earth,” which, frankly, looked like it would be lovely and disappointing. I understand why the producers of that film would want to tell viewers of ToL about it, though. I’ll leave it to you to read about it if you so wish, but here’s a quote from Ebert’s review that strikes a chord with my current meditations: “In one sense, nothing in our lives was necessary. In another sense, everything was inevitable.” In my recent trip to the periodical room, I scanned through a few articles in Philosophy and Literature. It was a nice quick trip through current thoughts on Nietzsche and fiction, etc. One piece, by Evan Horowitz, is titled “Narrative Accidents and Literary Miracles,” and opens with a juxtaposition – a horrific train accident killing dozens of people and injuring even more, against a single Dickensian villain, in an act of random justice, being torn to pieces by a passing train. I won’t go into the article itself, but will just offer a quick question concerning both Horowitz’s juxtaposition and Ebert’s description of life as inspired by “Another Earth” (which reminds one of Merleau-Ponty’s formulation in Cézanne’s Doubt of the two things we can say about freedom: that we are never determined, and that we never change): In a horrific accident or event, such as a plane crash or the recent terrorist mass murder in Norway – which rightly inspires, in those who did not lose anyone, sympathy for the dead and injured and those who did lose loved ones, as well as a feeling of dread and sadness and of being implicated in the possibility either (a) for accidents to befall any of us or any of our loved ones at any time, or (b) for people to commit atrocities – is it not also worth reflecting on the extent to which the life or lives of one or several people directly affected by the tragedy may have been positively influenced by it? Is it not possible for someone’s life to have been saved by a terrible accident or attack, that someone’s abuser was removed from their life, or that someone’s own life filled with suffering and depression, was mercifully (even if mercy was not intended) taken for them?

This seems like an interesting thought experiment. It’s often hard to get outside of whatever powerful feeling is first triggered by an event like the Norway attacks, but it’s also often helpful to, in order to better understand what’s going on within that feeling, what’s being responded to, the value of it, etc. Getting outside of it without attempting to get outside of feeling itself. I.e., I’m not suggesting taking on an analytic pose to pretend a distance between ourselves and our feelings in order to reflect on them. I’m just suggesting exploring different felt responses, or their possibility, to take a trip through feeling like we often do through thought, to better reflect from within our felt space. We can read the philosophical arguments of positions we disagree with, or think ourselves to disagree with, and be convinced by them, or at least challenged sufficiently for the ground beneath our worldview to shift or become more mutable. This seems to me deeply tied to feeling already, but we can focus our attention on the mental aspect (as often we do). Why not shift our focus to feeling?

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