Monday, August 31, 2009

PLAYGROUND TWIST. Oh. I hadn't realized that "Rockin' Robin" was covered by the Jackson 5. I guess that explains why we all knew it as a handclap rhyme, more than ten years after they sang it on "Top of the Pops."

It was an incendiary expression of pure joy.
AGAINST SAFEWORDS, PART II in a no-doubt-continuing series.

Part one.
REFUSIONISM: So at a wedding over the weekend, I ended up in the perennial right-wing debate: Is fusionism a tactic, a political philosophy, or a scam?

What I say in this post is my interpretation of my experience; other people may have had other experiences, or interpreted them differently, and I'd really like to hear about that. But from my perspective, "trads" aka conservatives seem to interact with libertarians and their arguments in a very different way from the way libertarians interact with trads and trad arguments.

From my perspective, I see trads accepting libertarians as allies on criminal-justice/Fourth Amendment/"Leave Us Alone Coalition"/big govt vs. the "little platoons" issues, whereas libertarians tend to view trads as dinosaurs who don't believe in dinosaurs. (Keep in mind that I'm only talking about people in both camps who think a lot about their positions and have some degree of philosophical depth. Because I persist in my evidence-free belief that these people's conversations matter.) Trads seem to me more open to libertarian arguments on police power as state expansion than libertarians are to trad arguments on family and charity as the foundations of a free society. Trads seem to me able to grok libertarian arguments which invoke justice much more than libertarians can grok trad arguments which invoke beauty.

From these perhaps-wrong observations I move to a more general observation, behind which I'll stand all the way: American political and cultural discourse is devastated by our inability to speak politically about beauty. We let anything trump beauty--even choice. Even equality, for pity's sake! Thus we're desperately stupid about sex, about urban policy, about technology, about hierarchy and tradition. (Yes, I promise to cash out some of that list soon, but don't let that stop you from emailing me!)

And now back to a much more tentative question: We hear a lot about psych studies which purport to show that self-identified conservatives have a much stronger sense of "disgust" than soi-disant liberals. I wonder to what extent that is really true (who is more disgusted by images of physical pain, the devastation of war, torture, or--for one example in which I side with the right-wingers--skinning a rabbit?), but certainly a huge amount of liberal rhetoric is directed toward exalting reason at the expense of disgust. I dislike both of these terms! "Reason" too often becomes a nickname for naivete (rational = what my culture and disposition allow me to understand), when it isn't a nickname for power-worship (let the clever rule the weak). And "disgust" has all the class-based problems of shame, in which we recoil from the weak because of their weakness, as well as all the problems of good-person talk.

But I still wonder... if liberalism diminishes disgust (which I'm not convinced it does--I suspect liberals simply call their disgust another name, like "compassion"), is that why it also diminishes our ability to stand up for beauty? And does that mean we can't speak politically about beauty without reviving disgust?

I hope not. But beauty has so often been deployed against weakness (see: Paglia, Camille) that people on my side of the argument need to reckon with the moral passions we seek to unleash.
...The New York Times reports on the ACLU's successful campaign to use the Freedom of Information Act to get the government to disclose documents about the government's detention and interrogation policies. The ACLU has received hundreds of pages of documents, which it has then released to the public on the Internet, becoming the basis of dozens of stories by journalists.

The torture story is one of the most important examples of American journalism in the last decade. But it was not revealed through traditional investigative reporting alone. Instead, a non-profit organization-- the ACLU--worked in coordination with journalistic efforts to mount a long-term litigation campaign to gain access to important government information. The ACLU then provided the information to the general public on the Internet, and journalists wrote stories based on the revelations, which led to further ACLU requests and more litigation, producing further revelations, and so on.

DANTEBLOGGING! The Cranky Professor is blogging his way through the Divine Comedy. He's on Canto X of the Inferno now (and his other posts have been making reference to his Danteblogging as well, so you might want to check out the whole site if you like snarkery).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

LAST WEEK'S NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE focused on "Saving the World's Women." You can get the introduction here--alternately heartbreaking and inspiring--and some cautions here. From the latter article, which is less personal but still necessary:
...Yet these strategies — though invaluable — underestimate the complexity of the situation in certain countries. To be sure, China and India are poor. But in both nations, girls are actually more likely to be missing in richer areas than in poorer ones, and in cities than in rural areas. Having more money, a better education and (in India) belonging to a higher caste all raise the probability that a family will discriminate against its daughters. The bias against girls applies in some of the wealthiest and best-educated nations in the world, including, in recent years, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. It also holds among Indian immigrants in Britain and among Chinese, Indian and South Korean immigrants in the United States. In the last few years, the percentage of missing girls has been among the highest in the middle-income, high-education nations of the Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Nor does a rise in a woman’s autonomy or power in the family necessarily counteract prejudice against girls. Researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute have found that while increasing women’s decision-making power would reduce discrimination against girls in some parts of South Asia, it would make things worse in the north and west of India. “When women’s power is increased,” wrote Lisa C. Smith and Elizabeth M. Byron, “they use it to favor boys.” ...

What Das Gupta discovered is that wealthier and more educated women face this same imperative to have boys as uneducated poor women — but they have smaller families, thus increasing the felt urgency of each birth. In a family that expects to have seven children, the birth of a girl is a disappointment; in a family that anticipates only two or three children, it is a tragedy.

Thus development can worsen, not improve, traditional discrimination.


You'd know all this already if you read MarriageDebate--or signed up for IMAPP's weekly newsletter.
LOL DAYEST OF JOBS: My posting at MarriageDebate is somewhat less random than my posting here! And I really do try to find stuff which will interest anyone who wants to know where we are these days on attitudes toward sex, gender, parenting, and marriage--the most frequent tag I use is "culture." Other posters include Elizabeth Marquardt, IMAPP as an entity (that's me in terms of who hits "publish," but I don't choose those posts), and sometimes others. Here's my guide to recent offerings which might fascinate readers of this here blog:

this week: lying children, guilty children, gay marriage and heteronormativity on "Top Chef," Utah going soft on polygamy, and mandatory testing for genetic diseases in children up for adoption. And more!

last week: Why doesn't cohabitation work as a "test drive" for marriage?; why do tightwads fall in love with wastrels like me?; how stark is the generation gap when it comes to gay marriage?; do single women poach taken men?; plus gallows humor, Cat'lick humor, a really startling moment from the Obama administration's DOMA "defense" brief, multiple legal parents in Delaware, and yet more.

the week before that: the low rate of gay marriage in Vermont; the decreasing rate of marriage among black women with higher education; a startling statistic about wives; and a deeply moving column by Jonathan Rauch. And, as always, more.

Seriously, if nothing in those descriptions interests you, are you from Mars?!

As always, please do send me interesting links you find! This is a labor of love for me--I did it even when I wasn't being paid.
LILAC SEASONS IN THE LAND OF DREAMS: I have a column in the new American Conservative. This one is about Shepherd Park, the DC neighborhood where I grew up: the language of masks and the silence of skin.

I don't think it's online yet, so check your newsstands!

Was it relevant to her music? Well,
Until the 19th century, Romanian Gypsies were slaves, and they've gotten a mixed response ever since: While discrimination is widespread, many East Europeans are enthusiastic about Gypsy music and dance, which they embrace as part of the region's cultural heritage.

That explains why the Roma musicians and a dancer who had briefly joined Madonna onstage got enthusiastic applause. And it also may explain why some in the crowd turned on Madonna when she paused during the two-hour show — a stop on her worldwide "Sticky and Sweet" tour — to touch on their plight.

sound familiar?
EIGHT MILLION STORIES IN THE NAKED CITY: EveryBlock offers a newsfeed for your city block!

Via Noli Irritare Leones.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

THE HEIRESS: William Wyler directs Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift in a tale based on Henry James's Washington Square. Vaguely spoilerous but nothing specific, below.

I'm not sure I'd ever seen de Havilland in anything before. [eta: Oh hilarious--apparently I've forgotten Gone With the Wind and--perhaps even less forgivable--Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte!] She was fantastic. A performing kitten with a cobra inside.

The tragedy was easily discerned from the beginning, but I was still left guessing as to exactly how it would break forth. The father/daughter parallels and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? notes (sans rat--this is the genteel version!) were much appreciated. Clift was perfectly serviceable, but everyone was outshone by de Havilland, who played at least three different personae and made them all believable faces of the same person.

It's odd to call a movie "suspenseful" when you accurately call all its plot points; and yet that's how this felt. I liked this b&w, old-school confection much more than I would've expected based on the first half-hour.

In terms of worldview, it complicated what I initially considered a really silly premise in which the men know more than the women (is that ever true of power imbalances, that the privileged know more than the less-so?), and its assessment of the interaction of money and love is nuanced rather than calculating. (Money is only one of the several factors in the diagnosis.)
THE NEXT THREE POSTS are more on vowed friendship. If you dun' care, feel free to skip to here for Orson Welles's adaptation of The Trial; Iron Man being the failbot we all know and/or love; a review of a fantasy magazine which had the poor judgment to publish one of my stories; and a few poems by Paul Celan.
HOW NOW, SWORN VOW?: (sorry....) Round four of the grand discussion of reviving vowed friendship! For round one you can check out my Inside Catholic column, "Romoeroticism" (and my review of Alan Bray's groundbreaking, beautiful book, The Friend); for round two, my comments here and here (the latter post is not specifically about friendship, but about other aspects of reactions to my IC piece); for round three, a series of posts and reader emails starting here; and now you get three more reader emails, posted without comment but all very much worth your time.

Thanks so much to everyone who has written, and I very much still welcome your comments on all of this! I have a couple of critical links I need to truffle up, and a bit more to post about godparents and godsisters, but not tonight.

These are posted in reverse chronological order, earliest last.

reader #1:
I do not know what to think of your idea, but it is quite intriguing. I do agree that our modern idea of kinship is overly narrow - - if we can create legal fictions to account for adoption of children by parents, then surely we can create all sorts of legal fictions to accomodate realities that do not exactly correspond to the biological or natural family. Could [same-sex marriage] or domestic partnerhip laws be characterized as legal fictions? Perhaps that is one way to look at them, though I am sure that both Andrew Sullivan and the Family Research Council would scream bloody murder at the idea for very different reasons.

As for your commenter, Mr 8 or 9, I was struck by how his view that [same-sex attraction] is so radically disordered that it taints everything that it touches is very similar to Martin Luther's view of human nature being incurvatus in se - - even if one does good things, such acts not only corrupt and not only of no value, but such acts only increase one's blameworthiness the more good acts one does! Compound that with an Augustinian slant on eternal salvation, one can see how a person with SSA - - especially a young man with SSA with an overactive libido and an overwhelming emotional desire to be love and to love - - could be driven to despair if confronted by a Mr. 8 or 9 in a position of moral authority. Surely, then, such a person would conclude that he was damned, given the way that sexual orientation colors a significant amount of human interaction with the world. If he's effective in for penny as much as for a pound, he might as well go for the whole pound while he is at it. . . . Southern Decadence here he comes! This is an example of the damage that zealous "defenders of the magisterium" and "defenders of the family" can wreak on people who find themselves with SSA and little or no OSA of no fault of their own. Thinking of C.S. Lewis's famous comparison of the prig and the prostitute, surely that irritiating mediocrity Bishop Gene Robinson is a better role model for SSAs than a counselor who thinks like Mr. 8 or 9.
reader #2:
My initial response to the suggestion that we revive vowed friendship is, "Yes, obviously." It's madness that marriage is the only meaningful public mode of intimacy that our society allows. It just leaves so much of the psychological landscape... nameless.

As the very last person to be actually interested in undertaking a vowed friendship (I'm a married white male who considers his wife his best friend and who has no significant male friendships to speak of), I nonetheless had much the same reaction to the idea of vowed friendship that you did. The world of vowed friendships is the one that really resonates with me. And this for many reasons, including, but not limited to...

1. The world of vowed friendship almost automatically has a saner view of marriage. After all, in practice, there's a lot of overlap between eros and philia. The marital relationship has a lot to do with being friends and co-workers, but with those aspects of the relationship consumed in public discourse on the one hand by silence and on the other by the equation of worthwhile work with money-making, marriage is left only with its distinctives -- sex and childbearing. Oh... except not those either since the Birth Control Revolution. A robust theology of friendship accompanied by a meaningful liturgical corollary would go a long way towards giving us a way to think sanely about marriage.

2. The Catholic Church says that homosexuality is wrong only insofar as sodomy is wrong. That means that the Church ought to decry the condemnation of homosexuality as a culture/genre/predisposition (and especially the condemnation of chaste same-sex love) as error. The Church has not done this in an open way (though, I would argue, it has done so in an implicit way), and I would really like to see that happen. It would appeal to my sense of justice, and it would seem to me that the Church was striking a really startling blow against modern heresies -- both pro- and anti-homosexual.


3. I'm down with pretty much anything folks did in the Middle Ages so long as it doesn't involve gruesome death.

However... but... and also... I still see merit in some of the arguments you speak against.

You are correct to say that the potential for misuse is no reason to avoid doing something that is inherently good to do. However, the potential for misuse may mean that we have to do that inherently good thing in an extremely cautious manner. Thus, the Tridentine mass is good, and Benedict XVI has always spoken out in favor of it, but he nonetheless has been cautious in his efforts to bring it back into common usage because of its mistreatment by the St. Pius X Society and others (as well as the unfavorable reputation it has with a certain generation of bishops).

Just so, I think that much groundwork must be laid both theologically and politically before the vowed-friendship rite may be meaningfully restored. Were it simply released to the many winds within the Church, it would be tossed about and treated ill. It would be taken by the press and the public at large as a concession by the Church to the gay marriage movement rather than as a ressourcement coming out of Catholic tradition. And many Catholic faithful (though men and women of great faith) would be unsophisticated and uninformed enough to suffer great scandal. More to the point, though, I think the vowed-friendship in its true form (and not as a surrogate for gay marriage) would be short-lived and little used.

I would suggest that what the Church needs is a point man in the form of a (conservative) bishop who truly and deeply understands the need for a theological understanding of friendship to let his own flock be a liturgical laboratory. After a few years of sermons and letters (maybe a nationally-distributed book) on the subject, perhaps he could hand-pick a few well-respected pairs of friends to help resurrect the rite on a very small scale. And so on and so on... little by little.

Basically, as with all rites, the community comes first. The soil must be ready for the seed.

But again, I agree with your basic point. The vowed friendship and a theology of friendship underlying it is something the Church (and the society in general) need... I would go so far as to say "desperately need." My only concern is cultural and political logistics.

Thanks for getting people talking about this issue. Here's hoping the conversation is... preparing the soil (?)
reader #3:
I'm one of those who has a problem with the formalized vow. I remember some time ago a discussion about this on the Courage email list, prompted by David Morrison. At that time and still today, I had no worries about the temptation and scandal issues. It was the idea of exclusivity that bothered me. For me, the Christian ideal is that one loves (agape) everyone equally. Not equally badly, of course, but perfectly, which would mean equally. Now, we do have special loves -- parent/child, spousal, friendships. These, in my view, are concessions to an imperfect nature -- 'we can't love everyone the same'. Of these, only spousal love is formalized in Christianity, and I would say it's the eros that is formalized. And I think that's a good thing -- I don't think we need to formalize any more of these concessions.

David's point, if I recall, was that the special loves are not concessions, but opportunities (for us lowly humans to practically -- my addition) practice God's love. We then learn from these opportunities to be more loving to others. The way I see it, yes, the fact that, say, I have aging parents to care for helps me to empathize more with others and love other aged parents better. But should it be that way? Isn't that so evolutionary biology. Shouldn't I love these other people anyway. After all, even the Gentiles do the same...

So I don't like the exclusivity.

Then there's the cultural issue. How much of the need for formalized avowed friendship arises from the lack of such relationships in the West? Would this be using a religious institution to address a cultural deficit?

Now, promoting unformalized (they may be avowed or not) friendships I of course applaud wholeheartedly. If people want to live together, or apart, in groups of any number, or anything it between, I think that's fine. Have a deeper and wider set of friends, like (simplistically) we have in another cultures. Strain not to send your parents to a nursing home. Enjoy living with an extended family. Etc.

But, I tell you, it's a tough go here in North America because the entire lifestyle is not attuned to it. I see everyday fellow immigrants astonishingly quickly absorbed by Western ways. In fact, I see it even when I go back home to Ethiopia among the (slowly) 'rising middle classes'. They work more, spend more, save more, and with much less time, retreat into their nuclear families in Western style.
THE TRIAL: Orson Welles-directed Kafka adaptation. This is amazing. Wildly-angled noir atheology--one of the most consistent, and consistently persuasive, atheist movies I've ever seen. (In case you're thinking of a film festival, off the top of my head I'd put Cube and maybe Nobody Knows on that list, for very different reasons.) Anthony Perkins is a shivery, wrong-jointed Joseph K, as uncomfortable as a snake trying to shed its skin. I honestly don't know what to tell you except that it's Welles without self-indulgence, and Kafka noir. If that doesn't make you want to see it, I don't know what will!
LADY CHURCHILL'S ROSEBUD WRISTLET #24 aka The One I'm In. Here's a review of the whole zine, in case the fact that I'm In This One! isn't enough for you. You can download each issue as an e-book for just $4 each.

First of all, there is kind of a LCRW "house style," ably demonstrated by this issue. It's hard to describe fully, but some elements include lush prose, a mysterious and troubling atmosphere, and direct references to and subversions of various well-known fantasy genres. A strong premise with unusual, surrealist imagery. Since my story has all these elements (I mean, I hope the premise is strong!), rest assured I have nothing against this stuff; but devouring the whole magazine at once may not be the best way to bring out the stories' unique characteristics.

Alexander Lamb, "Eleven Orchid Street": Very creepy parable of (it seemed to me) class and origin, the trap of fatalism and the trap of an embittered imagination. Expanding one's experiences can lead to the feeling that the old experiences have been drained of substance and meaning, rather than giving them renewed meaning. The kill-your-television stuff at first felt cliched, but was done so spookily that I ended up on board. The futuristic atmosphere worked too--a very lightly sketched Clockwork-Orangey place. Definitely my favorite story.

Liz Williams, "Dusking": Seems like it will be bog-standard Victorian revisionism (modesty and the Bible are evil! Fairies bite!) but has a really fun ending. The ending made me very fond of this one, and it's short enough that you get there before you really get irritated at the protagonist.

Jasmine Hammer, "Tornado Juice": Super-intriguing double premise (every strand of a girl's hair contains a world + people living inside a tornado), but ultimately this felt like a slight story which was trying to be dark but (for me) didn't quite pull it off. Still, the images are fun and very fresh.

Alissa Nutting, "Leave the Dead to the Living": A mortician who smokes his clients' hair to imbibe their memories. Very Tim Powers in Expiration Date. Once again, though, the story felt slighter than the premise.

"A Story Like Mine": Hey, I'm In This One! Various origin stories of a scar.

Dennis Danvers, "The Broken Dream Factory": You know, I'm not sure what to make of this one. For a while it was quite smug (and even if that's intentional, I don't find it any more illuminating or pleasant!) about its protagonist's commitment to producing broken dreams in an America which prefers banal happiness. Then it twisted into a really odd reworking of the Orpheus myth. I still think colliding two over-easy stories doesn't make one complex story... but I could be wrong about that. If any of you all read this issue, let me know what you thought! (And of course about the other stories, too.)

Anya Groner, "The Magician's Keeper": Stockholm Syndrome parable. I didn't get much out of this, I have to admit.

Overall, I'd say three stories I didn't write were good, one really good; and even the ones I didn't care for had intriguing premises and imagery. Given how easy it is for fantasy to feel played-out, a twelfth-generation xerox, that seems like an accomplishment to me. I didn't grok the poetry or comic well enough to comment on them, but I will note that part of the fun of a zine like this is the ads: Did you know there's a Joan Aiken collection coming out?! Plus lots more neat fantasy collections, weird novels, and magazines.

Get it here! Get more here! Remember, just $4/issue for an ebook version!
You are throwing gold after me
I am drowning:
perhaps a fish can be


Friday, August 14, 2009

Evening after evening, embassies
drift over, distilled
from thoughts,
hard as kings, hard as night,
into the hands of the grief-

--Celan (excerpt)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

AGAINST SINCERITY. Jendi Reiter has my back! With bonus poetry, "How to Fail a Personality Test."

me vs. sincerity here (and sexily here)
IVY-COVERED PROFESSORS, WITH IVY-COVERED...: Tell me your favorite novels set on college campuses?
Cleared for this
departure too.

Song of the front wheel with

The rudder of dusk engages you,
your slit-
awake vein

what's left of you, sets itself aslant,
you gain


Thursday, August 06, 2009

OH HEY! Victor Morton, the Right-Wing Film Geek, was on a blog hiatus for quite a while. He's back now!--or at least, he was in July, and I hope he'll post more (instead of just Twittering!). But there are reviews of Up and a wide range of documentaries.
UNLEASH THE POWER OF THE BLOG!: Hi y'all. I'm working on an article about how young adults are increasingly likely to call themselves pro-life, and increasingly likely to support gay marriage. There are a lot of narratives you could tell about how someone comes to hold either or both of these beliefs; I want to get some sense of which narratives people tell themselves. [ETA: Whoa, that phrasing is awful! "Which narratives people tell themselves" = how people explain, in their own words, how they came to hold their beliefs.]

So! If you are pro-life, pro-gay-marriage, and under 25, please email me at . If you know other people who fit the bill, please give them my information! And if you're on any mailing lists which might truffle up some responses, I would be thrilled if you'd repost this request.

unattached, artless,
what alters the universe came up slowly
behind me.

--Paul Celan, "Heap of Seashells," tr. Katharine Washburn and Margret Guillemin

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

FAT LACES ON MY FEET WHEN CRACK FIRST HIT THE STREETS: Things I learned while surfing YouTube for the tv shows of my childhood, per this post about avant-garde cinema.

Thing the first: The opening credits of Mysterious Cities of Gold actually made me want to Netflix the whole thing rather than run in fear. Second, through the wonders of YouTube, I next found Count Freaking Duckula!!!! ...and thence to this selection of '80s cartoon themesongs. I remember exactly one of these shows (Jem of course, not a show I ever really liked--although apparently it's become something of a lesbian icon because there are multiple female human characters, LOL LOWEST OF STANDARDS) but overall, I grinned through this montage of the decadence of the space-age. So beautiful... so dumb!

You know how Jaime Hernandez is now revisiting his old superhero Bubble Yum commercial Chicana storylines? I love it. I always adored the ridiculous Penny Century storylines, and even the Maggie the Mechanic early stuff where she, I dunno, fought dinosaurs or something?... but I guess I relate even more now to the way Jaime has stayed '80s in the best way, cheesy and outdated and completely dedicated to being awesome. After the '80s it really felt like we all got so sincerist--nobody could say crazy crap like "No Guts, No Glory!" anymore on children's television!--whereas I grew up with the belief that any vastly stupid $#@! you wanted to pull was okay as long as it turned out hardcore. Bringing back the superheroine shtik is almost a refusal to move on; Jaime's sitting on the porch of his comics, drinking mint juleps and polishing his gun.

My favorite description of my cultural childhood is from Cracked:
If you don't remember the 80s, just imagine listening to Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf" playing on a boom box that at any moment could explode, killing you and everyone you know.

everyone's a Captain Kirk!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN?: The second disc of "Avant-Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and '30s" was bizarrely water-themed. It was also vastly less awesome than the first disc! Was this just me and my obsessions, or did the jesses really slacken on this disc?

Anyway, there was one short movie so amazing that it was absolutely, three hundred percent, worth sitting through everything else on the disc. Skip to H2O if you want to know about the only awesome flick herein reviewed.

Review of the first disc, part one; two.

Second disc:
: Police report of an assault; plotty, doesn’t strike me as wildly experimental--? There’s a funny parallelism bit where a man paints a face on an egg and then breaks it in an egg-cup. …OK, it gets experimental (distorted faces, dice and other bits from earlier in the film looming up eerily) after he actually gets assaulted, to show the effects of the blow to his head.

La Glace a Trois Faces: French-accented English voiceover, lol. Three men in love with the same woman; their stories presented one by one. Bright Young French Things running around being champagne-y. Experimentalism limited to montage fade in/fade out techniques so far. …Oh ok, now there’s some neat stream-of-consciousness stuff with lampposts. …Wow, people in the 1920s really did not like lips! There are some aggressively-framed shots with geometric backgrounds—kinda obvious, but I like that stuff. In the same scene, there are some lovely bits of choreography e.g. a woman being pulled into the camera shot by her hand, or two men almost waltzing into frame as they light one another’s cigarettes. A great, creepy, low-slung shot of an elevator rising, making it look as if it’s traversing some kind of post-apocalyptic blasted warehouse landscape. Second segment: a monkey! There’s some great (original?) music, like a reverberating jew’s-harp; then, in the third segment, a more traditional skirling, longing sound, which apparently is a Vivaldi piccolo concerto. Great horror-movie music while the “intruder” (?) speeds past a danger marker… and then the Vivaldi again. And then possibly at the end all three men were really one man??? Do not understand that part.

Le Tempestaire: Seasick shakycam credits. Painterly shot-by-shot, like a Viewfinder, of a seaside village and its inhabitants. Low-key, slow-moving “she fears for her man at sea, so she goes to persuade the old witch doctor to work his weather magic once again” tale; some really cool shots of the sea reversing and calming. Several missing subtitles (including the last line!).

Romance sentimentale: Sergei Eisenstein. Intense, dramatic shots of the sea and falling trees, with the crash of branches paralleled to the crash of waves. Really great use of reflections and water-distortions. The music is original and mostly traditional with interruptions. Then we cut unexpectedly between a drawing-room with sculptures and a woman and a clock, and the leafless autumn forest. Then cheesy fireworks and more intense intercutting! …And then it’s spring for some reason. This is why I wish they’d translated the Russian song the lady sings. (Despite the Yalien colleague who always laughed, "Just learn the f***ing language!")

Autumn Fire: Ehhhh, (nearly-) wordless love poem.

Manhatta: Sentimental-modernist ode to NYC. Tall buildings and little anonymous ant-people. Some nicely-industrial piano music, but otherwise, no.

La coquille et le clergyman: Slow movie is sloooooooooooooooow. Koyaanisqatsi is the freaking Micro Machines Man compared to this. It does seem to have a plot, but I truly can’t be arsed to figure out what that plot is—and bear in mind that I’m already the kind of person who will watch six and a half hours of “experimental cinema of the 1920s and ‘30s.” This is what you feared silent movies would be like.

There’s a bit where the clergyman is crawling around all scrunched up like something out of Freaks or Uzumaki. I really liked that part.

Regen: Rain in a small city, with pretty (new) music. At its best, the music sounds like if the Raincoats circa “Honey Mad Woman” seriously mellowed out and had no instruments but a guitar and bass, but there are noodly bits which don’t really go much of anywhere. Deeply nonessential, but painless.

H2O: Again with the rain! And then other forms of water, actually photographed in a striking, dynamic way, where each shot looks very different from the previous even though it’s all just… you know… water. People as obsessed as I am with sea metaphors might really get a kick out of this. Also people who want a lovely alphabet of textures and shapes, different forms of motion. …Wow, I love the series of cuts showing different kinds of rippling. It’s a primer on “how to film,” sure, but it’s a beautiful and compelling one. Ooohh solarization now! …Oh my gosh, I literally caught my breath just now. The solarized-Japanimation-silken-Rorschach-realist-staticky-molecular intertwining sequence of shots is just too much.

The (new) music is country-fried and demi-menacing.

This is by far my favorite from this disc. Again, if you’re less obsessed with this particular kind of image than I am, it may be your equivalent of “Manhatta,” but man, this was sublime. It’s the only film on both discs where I knew I had to watch it again because I’d missed things. (Update: I totally had. I was mesmerized the second time through; it was even better than the first.) And y’all: THERE IS NOTHING IN THIS MOVIE EXCEPT WATER. That’s talent.

It’s by Ralph Steiner, a name I do not know.

Even—As You and I: Holy cats, is that the Harry Hay? YES YES IT IS. The “Boy Meets Girl” stuff at the beginning becomes more satirical when you know this, though I have no idea whether that is the filmmaker’s satire or God’s.

Unfortunately this struck me as an otherwise-unremarkable “Surrealism comes to America” piece. He’s reading the paper upside-down! And when he turns the page there’s a bra! And he has a swastika and a hammer-and-sickle over his eyes! Yeah, no. I did like the bit where the high-heeled shoe gets stuck on the cactus.
Rob me, strip me,
Virgin ruthless,
Cleanse me of every love,
Spare none.

--"Little Seal-Skin," Eliza Keary

I dreamt about this poem last night (/this morning, as I'm mostly nocturnal). I would like to say that this was a classier dream than the one in which Blair and Serena switched bodies... but I fear it really wasn't!

Monday, August 03, 2009

AGAINST SAFEWORDS: I note that "safe, sane, and consensual" is an extraordinarily sincerist credo; its assumptions about our ability to know ourselves, and its assumption that self-knowledge and self-ownership form the core of morality, are basically my exact problems with the sincerist ideal.

Not to mention that s/s/c = three things vocation isn't.
ANTI-IRONY CHARMS: Some rambling thoughts on "sincerism" and why it's no fun. So a couple times here I've growled at sincerism, without ever telling you what it is! Which... is certainly not the sincerist way, so props for consistency, but I do think at some point I might explain myself. Here are some partial notes.

Sincerism means--probably among other things--requiring a sincere, authentic, honest accounting of one's thoughts and emotions. It opposes irony, misdirection, self-protection (which, to be fair, I also oppose in most cases!), exaggeration, agent-provocateur behavior, unspoken understandings, WASPish complicity in one another's secrets, and your mouth writing checks your ass can't cash.

Think of it as American newspapers' claim to "objectivity," by which we mean mainstream conformity, vs. European newspapers' tabloid partisanship. Think of it as realism vs. "genre."

Sincerity, as a mode, has its good points. If anything, I think I tend to be much more sincere than I should be! The world does not care about the sparklyhearts authenticity of my feelings; nor does it really need every idea chewed into obviousness and pablum. But there are times when withholding sincerity from another person is prideful and/or cruel. If they need you to say, blatantly and without regard for your own self-image, "I love you," or, "I think you're amazing," you should do that. You don't always have to disclaim it or quote it ("I've known you longer than anybody, Eddie, and anything you do is all right by me--can I borrow the car?") or make them work for it.

But here are just a few of the many problems with sincerism.

* It's a genre which thinks it's the whole of art; it's a perspective which won't acknowledge its contingency. If I speak in aphorisms or jokes or provocations, I am actually conveying something about both myself and my view of the truth, just as much as if I *~*bared my heart*~*.

* It's the privilege of those whose beliefs are basically mainstream to think that "realism" and sincerity are good ways of conveying the truth. Only those whose experiences and interpretations line up with mainstream culture can be guaranteed that their sincere heart-baring tales will be believed; and they're the ones for whom this language of sincerity was made. To take the boringly obvious example, if I want to talk about Gay Catholic Whatnot, I need to somehow entice or bully straight people (and non-Catholics, for that matter) into learning my language; I can't convey what I need to say in theirs. And I strongly suspect this is also true of other kinds of privilege, which is why Invisible Man is one of the greatest American artworks ever created.

It's never joking all the way down.

* Sincerism is the opposite of camp. Camp, as far as I can tell, only works if the thing parodied has some real emotional and personal resonance. Camp is never loveless or rationalist. Sincerism divides the world into "serious" and "oh but you don't really mean that"... when our actual hearts and lives are much more conflicted, complex, and complicit than that.

If I can think of more to say, I'll say it; and I do apologize for the deeply sincerist nature of this post! It's a Mobius strip of ridiculous.
INTERNATIONAL BLOG AGAINST RACISM WEEK: At LiveJournal, and very much a mixed bag, but I really like the variety of posts here--everything from fan pix of nerd icons to personal stories of racism to a quickie exploration of how certain feminist tropes reinforce privilege.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (MOVIE) IN 15 MINUTES: (uh, warnings for Samuel L. Jackson-esque language and suchlike)
The Unbreakable Vow

[Narcissa has come to beg an unusually feathered Snape for her son's life, and indeed, she is so distraught that her hair has gone two-toned. Her sister Bellatrix, however, is somewhat doubtful of Snape's stick-to-it-iveness.]

SNAPE: Begone, Wormtail! Fetch us a meat pie or something.

BELLATRIX: You realize that, in promising to cover Draco's ass, this is a vow that you cannot break, coward?


BELLATRIX: Hence the unbreakability, scum?

SNAPE: Obviously.

BELLATRIX: And the vowness, Fluffy?


Weasley & Weasley's Plot Point Emporium

FRED (OR GEORGE): Wouldn't it be awful if someone used our Instant Darkness Powder to infiltrate Hogwarts, thus leading to the death of Professor Dumbledore instead of just a harmless prank?

GEORGE (OR FRED): Well, that's why I put an anti-irony charm on it!

FRED (OR GEORGE): Excellent.

My mother is a fish
We asemble at the door where a beautiful AIRGURL is standing she is absolutely fizzing more lovely even than prudence entwhistle the under matron.
--Molesworth Back in the Jug Agane