Moments III

Again, I apologize for my absence in the past two weeks. My new apartment does not have access to the internet, which is good in that I’ve averaged four to five hours a day in my reading, kept better hours (my usual bedtime is 4:00 A.M. at the earliest), seen a lot of live music, and had more.. how do you call it?.. ah yes: human contact. (‘I have heard of this.’) The downside is that I haven’t been following the elections, keeping in touch with my Western hemisphere mates, or blogging. I hope to find a healthy balance.

Let’s look at what’s been happening in journalism in the past few weeks. The Times editorial board endorsed Clinton (despite Frank Rich’s weekly columns decrying her tactics) and McCain (featuring swift take-downs the other Republican candidates). American politics are important to me (even though: I live and work abroad, my personal role in the process is dormant until November, and I increasingly understand that the success of all the social movements I support is contingent on the death of our autumnal Baby Boomers) but the most pressing matter for the aesthete right now is Dmitri’s Choice: what will be the fate of of Vladimir Nabokov’s not insignificant final manuscript? (That particular Slate article has been widely circulated in the European press.) I appreciate filial duty and I dread the looming literati eager to devour and distort your father, but, Dmitri, don’t do it! (Alternatively, art thieves: next time your in Zurich, swing around to that safety deposit box. I used to be an intern at a publishing house, so, I can introduce you. . .)

Journalist of the moment is the brilliant British theatre critic, sex addict, and all-around horrorshow chap, Kenneth Tynan, the inspiration for a lengthy, upcoming post: “Western man, especially the Western critic, still finds it very hard to go into print and say: ‘I recommend you to go and see this because it gave me an erection.'” Happy reading!

“Gloomy poets are rarely very good, and good poets rarely very gloomy. There was Edgar Allan Poe, of course, and Thomas Lovell Beddoes, denizens of that funereal, willow-shadowed decade of the 1840s, a decade half in love with Keats and half in love with easeful death. Thomas Hardy had his black moods, but also his moments of sour levity. For more than 50 years, however, Geoffrey Hill has written a pinch-mouthed, grave-digger’s poetry so rich and allusive his books are normally greeted by gouts of praise from critics and the bewilderment of readers who might have been happier with a tract on the mating rituals of the earwig.”

-William Logan, “Living With Ghosts” [Well-written article on Geoffrey Hill.]

“Some worry that cold air will injure their lungs or elicit asthma symptoms. Or they are convinced that they are more susceptible to injury when it is cold and that they have to move more slowly — forget about sprinting or running at a fast clip. But lungs are not damaged by cold, said Kenneth W. Rundell, the director of respiratory research and the human physiology laboratory at Marywood University in Scranton, Pa. No matter how cold the air is, by the time it reaches your lungs, it is body temperature, he explained.”

-Gina Kolata, “Too Cold to Exercise? Try Another Excuse” [Oh. Cool.]

“Sam Brownback (R-KS) also called a point of order to declare that Neutral Milk Hotel’s Aeroplane Over the Sea was probably one of his top five albums of all time, though he did concede that it would impossible to definitively name the other four, since the list changes over time.”

-The Onion, “Senate Meets at Coffee Shop to Brainstorm Legislation” [Zing. Haha.]

“Looking at the 19 presidents since 1900, three of the greatest were among those with the fewest years in electoral politics. Teddy Roosevelt had been a governor for two years and vice president for six months; Woodrow Wilson, a governor for just two years; and Franklin Roosevelt, a governor for four years. None ever served in Congress.”

-Nicholas Kristof, “Hilary, Barack, Experience” [Barack, do this, baby. Do this.]

“If we make what is right and not right, we will make a very big list,” he said.

-Aneesh Raman, “Bin Laden’s Son to Father: Change Your Ways” [Bizarre article about Omar Bin Laden, Osama’s son.]

“The civil war, which killed an estimated 250,000 people in this nation of 3 million, was characterized by the eating of human hearts and soccer matches played with human skulls. Drugged fighters waltzed into battle wearing women’s wigs, flowing gowns and carrying dainty purses stolen from civilians.”

-AP, “Ex-warlord confesses to 20,000 deaths” [Whoa, Liberian genocide. I’m sure there have been just wars, but a General Butt Naked is a giveaway you’re not fighting one.]

“Malick studied philosophy under Stanley Cavell at Harvard University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1965, and went on to Magdalen College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He had a disagreement with his advisor, Gilbert Ryle, over his thesis on the concept of the world in Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein, and ultimately left Oxford without taking a doctorate. In 1969, Northwestern University Press published Malick’s translation of Heidegger’s Vom Wesen des Grundes as The Essence of Reasons. Moving back to the United States, he taught philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology while freelancing as a journalist, writing articles for Newsweek, The New Yorker, and Life.”

-Wikipedia, “Terence Malick” [He translated Heidegger? Gilbert fucking Ryle was his advisor? What a bad-ass!]

“And while Mr. Ledger was handsome enough, and famous enough, to be called a movie star, he was serious enough, and smart enough, to be suspicious of deploying his charisma too easily or cheaply. . . Mr. Ledger’s work will outlast the frenzy. But there should have been more. Instead of being preserved as a young star eclipsed in his prime, he should have had time to outgrow his early promise and become the strange, surprising, era-defining actor he always had the potential to be.”

-A.O. Scott, “An Actor Whose Work Will Outlast the Frenzy” [Sniffle.]

“What we have observed is nothing short of astounding,” Dr. Philip Shaw, a human sciences professor at Cornell and the study’s lead researcher, said Monday. “By having cream-topped pies forcibly applied to their faces—or kissers—men and women of high regard were seen to immediately fall in both status and esteem. Whether the subjects were wealthy shopkeepers, pompous barons of British descent, or matronly women sporting tiny opera glasses—our results were always the same,” Shaw added.

-The Onion, “Study Finds Link Between Being Struck by Cream Pie, Diminished Social Standing” [Hilarious.]

“You may already have heard something about “4 Months,” which was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year, only to be shut out from Academy Award consideration a few weeks ago by the philistines who select the foreign-language nominees. The Oscars are absurd, yet they can help a microscopically budgeted foreign-language film find a supportive audience. And “4 Months” deserves to be seen by the largest audience possible, partly because it offers a welcome alternative to the coy, trivializing attitude toward abortion now in vogue in American fiction films, but largely because it marks the emergence of an important new talent in the Romanian writer and director Cristian Mungiu.”

-Manohla Dargis, “Friend Indeed Who Doesn’t Judge or Flinch” [Philistines? Holy shit!]

“Mr. Stewart described an experience he had recently, as he walked alone before dusk near his rural village in Oxfordshire. “Suddenly I had this urge to speak the role, and there’s nobody about,” he said. “So I started at the top of the play, with ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen,’ and I said the whole role through aloud, just to refresh my memory. It was a long walk. “But it hit me before I said the lines ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to the rooky wood’ — That’s exactly how it was,” he continued. “And I thought: This is wonderful. Every night in New York when I come to that part, I’ll remember where I was, on this lonely road with bare fields on either side, and there’s a mist hanging over the field, and indeed there are crows.”

-Sarah Lyall, “To Boldly Go Where Shakespeare Calls” [Patrick Stewart, you are the man.]

“Lanny Berman, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology, said in an interview that research suggests that about a quarter of suicides are impulsive: the idea strikes and the person acts quickly. Studies of hospitalized patients have found that many who go on to take their own lives deny to doctors any thoughts of it, he said. “We just don’t know enough about the relationship” between the thoughts and the behavior, Dr. Berman said.”

-Benedict Carey, “Making Sense of the Great Suicide Debate” [Discussion of the potential impossibility of proving the increased suicide risk with certain medications.]

“Sinatra created—as several of the pieces in this collection illuminate—the most important model of masculinity for a generation of Americans. He had transformed his persona from that of a skinny, boyish, even androgynous heartthrob with Brylcreemed curls, too-big jackets, sailor suits (!), and floppy bow ties into that of a suave man of authority and sensitivity in crisp, slim-line suits. He appealed not to teenage girls but to their mothers and fathers. . . To be sure, Sinatra, an exquisitely complicated man, was doggedly committed to racial equality long before it was a fashionable cause. He was also a consistently generous artist and capable of astonishing grace and thoughtfulness. But—aside from consorting with killers; procuring for the doped-up, mobbed-up, and coarsely exploitative JFK (if anything, Camelot sullied Sinatra, not the other way around); and regularly displaying a potentially murderous temper—he perversely made sure that his ardent listeners grasped that his juvenile, vulgar, and increasingly pathetic Rat Pack antics couldn’t be reconciled with his carefully wrought musical reinvention.”

-Benjamin Schwarz, “His Second Act

“For truly the N word (as it has been known for several decades now) is the privileged American racial epithet. It sits at the heart of the American consciousness like the evil twin of “liberty” or “justice.” Its familiarity has outlived that of other racial epithets once commonplace. It so sums up the essence of the racial stereotype that it can be used as a slur against any group being portrayed as lazy, shiftless, and stupid—including, by the way, white Americans. “For much of the history of our fair republic, the N word has been at the center of our most volatile exchanges [to the degree that] no discussion of American race relations can be complete without it,” writes Asim.

-Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, “History, Amnesia, and the N Word

“The history of poetry in the twentieth century, I believe, could be written in Heideggerian terms, as a turn from the poetry of world to the poetry of earth. The Modernists—and Heidegger belonged to the generation of Eliot and Pound—looked to poetry to re-establish a world, in the Heideggerian sense, at a time when the world they inherited had been shattered. Modernist poetry wants to serve the same function as that Greek temple, projecting new coordinates of meaning and order. In Yeats’s ghosts and gyres, in Pound’s sages and tyrants, in Eliot’s “idea of a Christian society,” we find various attempts to create a world. Yet none of these worlds is authoritative enough to do what the temple did, to inaugurate a new cult and a new history. Instead, they remain—like Heidegger’s own work, perhaps—expressions of longing for a lost world, and nostalgia for a time when poets had the power to make a new one.”

-Adam Kirsch, “The Taste of Silence” [An ambitious article on one of the landmarks of 20th century aesthetics, Heidegger’s Origin of the Work of Art, and its influence on modern poetry. Both Husserl and Heidegger kept Hölderlin volumes on their nightstands, and interpreting their philosophy in terms of poetry is a rewarding (if not novel) approach. Charles Simic and Billy Collins get shout-outs!]

“In closed societies of the kind Rousseau admired — small republics with strong censorship and active, virtuous citizens who know one another — every member of the community enforces the habits of every other member with spying eyes. My students see communities with spying eyes in terms either of wicked foreign theocracies or small, rural American towns. To them, lives lived in such communities seem boxed in, if not outright oppressed. But Rousseau teaches the opposite — that these are good lives. Artists, with their vanity and longing for fame, have no business intruding in them. Their meddling — for example, putting on plays — can result only in destabilization and destruction. Most of my students struggle hard over this idea. They arrive in college assuming education and the distribution of knowledge are, prima facie, good things. The idea that the opposite might be true — that art and science destroy the joy in many people by making their way of life seem stupid and unsophisticated — rattles everyone in the room.”

-Laurie Fendrich, “Creative Class, Dismissed” [A professor’s experience teaching one of Rousseau’s most irreverent pieces.]

“Today, Schoenberg’s genius (if not his saleability) is questionable only to insincere people, though Schoenberg himself had doubts. He said that God was telling him to say something new, but that his mortal ears couldn’t absorb God’s message. So instead of being pleased with having a few bona fide masterpieces under his belt, Schoenberg was often depressed, complaining that his music was derivative of the human condition, rather than accurately recording what God was telling him to say. This artistic quandary, both aesthetic and moral, didn’t exist before Schoenberg. He wasn’t a showman or an opportunist like Beethoven, who used his influence to sway court judges, or to charge fans money to watch him eat in restaurants. Schoenberg was the sort of guy who publicly affirmed his Judaism the day Hitler assumed the Chancellorship. The composer even traveled to Berlin just to do that. His absolute courage and sincerity extended to all things.”

-John Keillor, “The Atonal Century” [Somewhat pointless article, but the details about Schoenberg’s personal life are fascinating.]

“Right now, if the statistics are correct, about 15 percent of Americans are not happy. Soon, perhaps, with the help of psychopharmaceuticals, melancholics will become unknown. That would be an unparalleled tragedy, equivalent in scope to the annihilation of the sperm whale or the golden eagle. With no more melancholics, we would live in a world in which everyone simply accepted the status quo, in which everyone would simply be content with the given. This would constitute a nightmare worthy of Philip K. Dick, a police state of Pollyannas, a flatland that offers nothing new under the sun. Why are we pushing toward such a hellish condition? The answer is simple: fear. Most hide behind a smile because they are afraid of facing the world’s complexity, its vagueness, its terrible beauties. If we stay safely ensconced behind our painted grins, then we won’t have to encounter the insecurities attendant upon dwelling in possibility, those anxious moments when one doesn’t know this from that, when one could suddenly become almost anything at all. Even though this anxiety, usually over death, is in the end exhilarating, a call to be creative, it is in the beginning rather horrifying, a feeling of hovering in an unpredictable abyss. Most of us habitually flee from that state of mind, try to lose ourselves in distraction and good cheer. We don inauthenticity as a mask, a disguise to protect us from the abyss.”

-Eric G. Wilson, “In Praise of Melancholy

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~ by ohkrapp on February 12, 2008.

One Response to “Moments III”

  1. thanks Krapp, these are great links. I am working my way through them. Perhaps you are the man?

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