April 2007 Archives
Via Continental Philosophy -- and for a limited time only, probably -- access to the Slavoj Zizek documentary The Pervert's Guide to Cinema. Haven't seen it yet but look forward to doing so.
I've occasionally watched a film and wondered, "What would Zizek say about this?" Someone should create the Zizek Movie Data Base (ZMDB).
Last week I wrote a column, a piece for Bookforum, and a review for Newsday. Yet I am still behind -- with a very bad cold having kicked in almost immediately after meeting the last deadline. (In short: If you are reading this and I owe you some work, please realize that I'm doing the best I can.)
Lifting my spirits somewhat was our viewing of Flushed Away, from Aardman, the studio responsible for Wallace & Gromit. Evidently the movie did not do well when released here last year. I don't even remember it coming out, and we're longtime fans of Aardman. In any case, Rita ordered the film on Netflix, and now I am convinced that the singing slugs deserve their own musical. Their choreography is also brilliant:
Good news: The Aardman short film Creature Comforts will soon be reborn as a series. There is a lot to say for the curative power of comedy when you are ill, and Aardman's mode of anthropomorphizing really does it for me.
(On consideration, it seems to me that Creature Comforts is actually whatever the opposite of anthropomorphizing would be. It doesn't humanize animal so much as animalize humans. If there is a word for that, I can't think of it.)
The paperback edition of Freakonomics contains a postscript that mentions my review of the hardback edition. That piece ran two years ago this weekend. In the course of listing various comments that were not entirely enthusiastic, the authors refer to
a Newsday review, by Scott McLemee, which chided the book's "style of evasive lucidity"; [and] a review in Time magazine, which said that the "unfortunately titled Freakonomics" has "no unifying theory ... which is a shame." (In fairness to ourselves, we should note that both the Time and Newsday reviews were largely positive.)
Now, it's true that I seldom reread my work after it is published, and tend to forget what I've written pretty quickly once the last revision is done. (Forward ever, backward never.) But this reference to the review as "largely positive" certainly came as a surprise, for I do have some recollection of the book, and it is not a fond one.
I almost never look at the comics section of the newspaper, large portions of which just leave me very confused.
You would need to do advanced research in narratology even to begin to explain strips like Mary Worth or Apartment 3-G in which -- and I do not think this is much of an exaggeration at all -- nothing ever happens. If a character decides to make a sandwich, it takes three months to complete the task.
And I do mean make it. Eating the sandwich would take longer. Mary Worth is very thorough about chewing. She may well be a follower of the late, great Horace Fletcher.
Two radio spots that aired when I was a freshman in high school (that would be Wills Point High School, aka "Home of the 1965 State AA Football Champs," which can now also proudly boast that it is "ranked as 'academically acceptable' under the Texas Education Agency") have stuck in my head for the past -- oh good lord, this can't be true -- thirty years almost. And to think Kieran feels old.
Mark Fischer, national organizer of (what's left of) the Communist Party of Great Britain, gives an interview to the BBC on the meaning of terms like "Stalinist," "Leninist," "Menshevik," and so forth. He does it all with admirable precision, but also good humor.
Definitely worth a listen -- particularly for when the interviewer asks him about Titoism and he just breaks down laughing.
My column today is part of a new campaign by the National Book Critics Circle. It has a slightly different contributor's note this time:
Scott McLemee writes Intellectual Affairs each week. He has reviewed books for The New York Times, Newsday, The Boston Globe and The Nation, and he takes George Orwell's description of the book critic as "a man pouring his soul down the drain a pint at a time" rather personally.
Very true. Be that as it may, I'm doing my little bit for the cause, and hope it gets some circulation among librarians and university-press folk.
UPDATE: This is a good sign. Librarians are the organic intellectuals whose role is least appreciated. They give a lot of thought to media of all kinds, and they play an important part in organizing and distributing knowledge. I wrote that column with a very strong sense that getting them on our side is, to use the old expression, an urgent task.
(Would I be saying this if my wife were not a librarian? Let's just say that it is a complexly overdetermined matter, and that with the benefit of hindsight marrying one does seem like destiny. Also, as I've said many times, the single smartest thing I've ever done in my life.)
You could listen to talk radio for a week, or you could just read this sentence:
Decades ago, little George Soros decided to take over the world so he got rich through the capitalist system which he wished to destroy by paying John Kerry to fake his wounds and forge his service records in Vietnam so Kerry could run for president one day while leaving lots of people POW-MIA in Vietnam so that we'd all stop being afraid of Marxism so that literary critics from France could infect the minds of the young with Cultural Marxism and pornography via tenured radicals in English Departments and organizations like MoveOn.org and Media Matters and the Em Ess Em so that the Great International Communist Islamofascist Conspiracy to Dominate the World could move ahead by means of feminists evolutionary biologists atheists and liberal Christians who want to ban Christmas so that everyone will be gay and that way they'll all be feminized and passive and won't be able to do anything but stand around when the Islamic Bomb is built which it will be any moment because Saddam really did have WMDs in fact the only supply of WMDs in the entire world that the terrorists could possibly get their hands on and the Islamic Bomb is being built right now by Syria Russia North Korea and China most of which are not Islamic countries but it's all the same thing anyway and everyone in the government from the Bush Administration to the Congress and all the way down the bureaucracy and the Em Ess Em knows this but isn't saying anything because they're too embarrassed and when the Islamic Bomb is developed it will be dropped on American cities and soon all those atheist liberal Christians will see oh yeah they'll see all right when they all have to wear hijabs and then George Soros will have won.
Sounds like a plan.
from The Vanity Press
"Why, if I see anyone looking threatening, Asian, wearing black -- I'm going to shoot that sucker first and ask questions later," English professor Joel Wingard wrote in an e-mail exchange Tuesday that was circulated on the college computer network. "I'm going to drop into my shooter's stance, one knee on the ground, gun hand supported by the other hand braced by the other knee, and do what has to be done."
Such a fine line, sometimes, between clever and stupid....
Or between pedagogy and assholery, for that matter. See Margaret Soltan's account.
Thanks to Maud Newton for informing her readers about my recent strange visitor. It seems that he has a fan base, albeit of the tongue-in-cheek variety. I'm told that he tends to loiter around Arts Journal, commenting at blogs. His recent appearance will have been his first here at Quick Study. Also his last.
Very odd: Iggy on French TV in 1977....
Anthony Paul Smith says it's Iggy's sixtieth birthday. Try wrapping your mind around that one for a bit.
Here he is, from 1987, performing "I Wanna Be Your Dog" with Sonic Youth. A much better song than "Happy Birthday to You" in any case. More festive, for one:
Over the years, my interest in the work of Cornelius Castoriadis has more than once led to a moment of conversational awkwardness, when it turned out that the other party had been quietly distracted by the effort to figure out what the anti-totalitarian left had to do with taking peyote.
With time I have learned to detect the signs of struggle early, and so make haste to point out that I don't mean Carlos Castaneda, whose tales of cosmic shenanigans with Yaqui shaman Don Juan once played a big part in the counterculture.
"The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's recent decision to eliminate its book editor position--and, possibly, its book review section--is demoralizing beyond words. The AJC's book section is one of the best-edited literary pages in the country. It provides Atlanta, which ranks #15 on the University of Wisconsin's list of most literate cities in the U.S., with a powerful and necessary cultural dialogue. Under the astute guidance of the section's editor Teresa Weaver, the books page has demonstrated an admirable commitment to both literature and nonfiction works which have grappled with some of America's most complicated issues and themes...."
read the rest of the petition here, and please consider signing it.
UPDATE: The first comment below is by a literary figure with a fascinating history.
Among the top-ranking videos at YouTube this morning, nearly half (nine out of twenty) consist of Cho Seung-Hui's monologues as broadcast by NBC.
In August, I wrote a profile of George Scialabba on the occasion of the appearance of the first collection of his essays, a volume called Divided Mind. Unfortunately it was not so easy for many readers actually to find a copy of the book, which came out in a small edition. But a couple of days ago it was listed by Mark Oppenheimer as one of the great titles of 2006 overlooked by the Pulitzer Prize committee.
Now the book is available in PDF at George's website, which is good news. I must issue a warning however. Brace yourself before clicking the link I am about to give -- for while the artwork on the cover is certainly very striking, it is likely to induce nightmares, or at least the heebejeebees. Okay, then, you have been warned: here it is.
It seems as if the expression "taping bacon to the cat" might be drawn from the idiolect of some strange subculture you'd rather not know anything about.
To the best of my knowledge, however, it is not. It refers to an actual, literal activity -- something I do not condone, merely report:
Backstory here. I believe this comes under the heading of "activities nobody would think to do if the possibility of putting photographs of it on the web did not exist."
While working on my column about Kurt Vonnegut this week, I had a dream in which I filed a draft and was surprised to notice that it ran to just two paragraphs.
At BookTruck.org (a group blog for librarians), Mimi notes that with the nightmare at Virginia Tech, mass-media coverage has been almost entirely conditioned by the new-media "surround":
I was sick of the whole Don Imus thing about two minutes into it, and did not expect willingly to read a long discussion of the subject. But Phil Nugent's commentary is on target. The rhythms of his rant are always so beautifully well-modulated:
We spent the past weekend immersed in the world of Titus Andronicus -- also known as "Shakespeare's batshit crazy play," at least around here. Most dramatic performances fade into the background within a short time, but my wife and I have been discussing Titus for several days. Popular in its own time, it is seldom performed now, though there is an excellent version from 1999 available on film, with Anthony Hopkins in the title role. The production currently being staged at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington is spellbinding and horrific -- though I'm not at all sure that I agree with the effort of Gale Edwards, the director, to lend the play some hint of morally redeeming value. Arguably, it has none.
(from last week's column)
Every once in a while, I will read something that seems uniquely precise in describing aspects of my own condition. A piece from early last fall by Jerome Weeks -- at that point book critic for the Dallas Morning News -- was very much a case of that happening:
What synchronicity....One day after that emo item, and totally by chance, I come across the great short film of teenage alienation The Snob (1958).
As if the good people of Grand Forks, North Dakota don't have enough to worry about, a local news station has alerted them to the menace of a mutant subculture:
This is tone-deaf even by TV news standards. Even someone who will never see 40 again (yours truly for example) can tell that at least some of the material presented here as typical of "emo culture" has obvious satirical intent.
Following the death of Jim Henson, the career of Kermit the Frog took a long detour into "a life of sex, drugs, and alcohol," reports Cosmopoetica. So am I the last person to have heard about this?
On the other hand, it led to his best work in decades. Check out Kermit's cover of the Radiohead song "Creep" in particular.
Thanks to a cursory nod from Andrew Sullivan last night, there will probably be a spike of traffic here today. "Now that it's gotten to him," says a web-savvy friend, "I predict we'll see someone writing a snarky essay for Slate or Salon on the topic in the next week or two. You may get your 320kbps*900 of fame after all." Gosh, it's all I ever wanted, and more!
Like the man says says in Ecclesiastes: "I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."
Yeah verily, dude. Yeah verily.
Nick Reville: "If libraries didn't already exist, there'd be no way they could ever come into existence now. Can you imagine telling the publishing industry that the government was going to pay to set up buildings where they gave away their product for free?"
Harry Brighouse may have stirred up a hornet's nest at Crooked Timber by saying that Freaks and Geeks was the single best show on American television in the past twenty years.
But surely he is right about the bizarre misreading of one episode by Jake Kasdan, one of the former directors of the show. In the show in question, one of the early-adolescent "geeks" manages to start dating the girl he has adored from afar, only to discover that she is actually a vacuous Reaganite yuppie larva.
According to Kasdan, the audience is supposed to feel frustrated by this -- as if the kid has suffered some kind of defeat:
Not long ago, Revolution, the newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, announced that it would soon be running a special issue about its leader, Chairman Bob Avakian.
Some of you cynics out there might be thinking, "Isn't that like publishing a special edition of the Bible about God?" That is totally inappropriate. The Bible is a book, while a newspaper is a newspaper, and that distinction will exist even after the end of class society.
Anyway, the special issue is out and it's...well, special.
Very grateful to Ellen Heltzel (of the Book Babes) for the item at the National Book Critics Circle blog Critical Mass about my column today, which discusses Robert Cawdrey's pioneering but long-forgotten dictionary from 1604.
Not too surprised that she notices some of the sexual lingo that I cited. When you say "Puritan," the notion of repression comes automatically to mind.
In which my metavlogging is metavlogged....
Gevalt! What an ugly word. Makes "blog" sound euphonious.
Can't say much about the video here....But chances are at least a few of you will enjoy hearing "Kill Yr Idols" again -- a reminder of the era when Sonic Youth didn't seem like an ironic name for the band.
The recording is from an EP that came out circa 1985. Or so the geezer seemed to recall....
The lighting is somehow worse in the YouTube broadcast than it was in the original recording. It also cut off the last couple of seconds. (After Althouse cackles, I said something like, "See, she agrees.")
Having over the past two months or so carefully excluded from public view sundry offers involving penile enlargement and/or teenage Russian babes-in-thongs, this humble blog has just posted its 100th comment.