is very likely that nearly every one has been very nearly certain that
something that is interesting is interesting them...
La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc |
Dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928 | 82min | DVD
screened in The Devil's Eye Film Series curated by Justin Andrews | IMDb
| Dir. Doug Pray, 2001 | 92min DVD | IMDb link
Morales in the Voice: "Scratch's
central narrative shows how a new generation of DJs were inspired by
GrandMixer DXT [as heard on Herbie Hancock's 1984 "Rockit"].
They became part of a growing scene dedicated to hip-hop's communal
'battling' aesthetic, progressing from mixing to beat-juggling, and
finally, body-spinning in annual competitions like Skratchathon and
the DMC U.S. finals, both documented in the film. One sequence, featuring
DJ Shadow 'digging' for beats among piles of vintage LPs in a record
store basement, demonstrates hip-hop's postmodern genius for making
gems out of pop detritus." Below, Qbert from Mr
Georges Perec | Je me souviens: les chose communes
I | Paris: Hachette, 1978 | 147pp
me souviens d'Ephraïm Zimbalist junior" (439). As do I, but
why? I mind the opaque entries
in Perec's inventory of memory no more than I do those in Joe Brainard's,
even if that opacity must be imagined several shades more impenetrable
in the French case than the American where I'm concerned. What I do
regret, however, is passing up an opportunity to buy the marvelous book
someone painstakingly compiled in order to show Perec's "common
things" to readers for whom they'd grown uncommon. I knew, there
in La Hune on whatever afternoon it was in 1998, that I'd want itand
now I do! Hélas slash dammit: Wo es war, soll ich werden.
Rebecca Saxe | "On Human Nature: Reading Your Mind" | Boston
Review 29.1 | February / March 2004 | 39-41
sometime between their third and fourth birthdays, young children seem
not to understand that the relationship between a person's goals and
her actions depends on the person's beliefs about the current state
of the world.... In the first stage, children think the mind has direct
access to the way the world is; they have no room in their conception
for the way a person just believes it to be" (39).
"We seem to be equipped with a special mental mechanisma
special faculty or module in our mindsdedicated to understanding
why people do the things they do" (39).
The problematic Saxe rehearses is made a bit quaint by the desire to
trace the intersubjective circuitry back to a pin-pointable region of
the brain (which would be to strike out the "reading" part
of the "reading minds" metaphor in her subtitle). Lacan's
reflection, back in 1955, is more interesting: "The Queen thought
the letter was safe because there it was, bang in front of everybody.
And the minister also leaves it out in the open, thinking that therefore
it can't be taken. It isn't because he is a strategician, but because
he is a poet, that he wins, until the intervention of the super-poet,
Dupin" (Seminar II, "Odd or Even," 23 March 1955).
Hilary Putnam | "The Chosen People" | Rev. of The
Jewish Political Tradition, Volume II: Membership, edited by Michael
Walzer et al | Boston Review 29.1 | February / March 2004 | 45-46
on what sounds like an excellent book, Putnam revisits the medieval
debate over how best to interpret the "chosenness" of the
Jewish people. Putnam identifies two powerful but irreconcilable models:
"the unique genetic endowment model of the twelfth-century philosopher
Judah Halevi (which the commentators correctly characterize as 'racialist')
and, strongly opposing it, the rationalist model of Maimonides, according
to whom Abraham was a philosopher (!), who discovered the truth of monotheism
through pure reason, as did Moses later (!), and who founded a community
based not on a common descent but on a true knowledge of God. The unique
genetic endowment model of Judah Halevi (the endowment in question is
a 'divine thing,' which prophets in particular must possess) was, interestingly,
most influential among the Jewish mystics and is found in an intensified
form in portions of the famous kabbalistic work the Zohar. The
Enlightenment, however, brought with it a powerful attack by Spinoza
on the notion of election, after which the many Jews who were not willing
to turn their backs on the Enlightenment and its ideals of reason and
universal human equality struggled to find an acceptable interpretationeven
if it was obviously a re-interpretationof that idea"
(45; exclamatory punctuation in original).
John Whale | "For a Second Opinion" | Rev. of A
History of Roget's Thesaurus by Werner Hüllen | TLS 5263
| 13 February 2004 | 7
(later Mrs. Piozzi) enlivens an otherwise not very edifying review:
"Even when a fresh word seems the right recourse, a thesaurus may
not be the place to look for it. You may light on a word you are not
sure how to use. Mrs. Piozzi, quoted by Hüllen, on synonyms for
the verb 'abandon': 'a man forsakes his mistress, abandons
all hope of regaining her lost esteem, relinquishes his pretensions
in favour of another, gives up a place of trust he held under
the government, deserts his party, leaves his parents
in affliction, and quits the kingdom forever.'"
Michael Witt | "In Praise of JLG" | Rev. of Godard:
A Portrait of the Artist at 70 by Colin MacCabe | Sight &
Sound 14.2 | February 2004 | 8-9
Godard's work primarily through reference to a history of ideas rather
than to a history of forms, MacCabe's account prioritises Godard as
a critic-philosopher over his practice as a poet-artist" (9).
MacCabe "cordons off much of Godard's private life and the book
is relatively low on biographical content. One nevertheless comes away
with a set of impressions of Godard as a human being: demanding, funny,
volatile, devoted to his art, and as Gilles Deleuze put it, 'someone
who works a lot'" (9). Witt
cites a sentence of MacCabe's that struck me in the reading as well:
"in a world in which we are entertained from cradle to grave whether
we like it or not, the ability to rework image and dialogue, light and
sound, may be the key to psychic and political health" (9).
Godard as "severe Protestant pastor" (8).
Tiphaine Samoyault | "Le désir d'écrire" | Rev.
of La préparation du roman I et II
by Roland Barthes | La Quinzaine Littéraire 868 | 1-15 January
2004 | 13
cycle of Barthes's seminar at the Collège de France, and the
last before his untimely death in 1980, was devoted to the desire for
language and the will-to-write. He figured the work as one of "preparing"
for a novel, consoling himself after his mother's death in 1978 with
the thought that Proust, too, had been unable to set to work on the
Recherche so long as his beloved "maman"
was still alive. "Ce volume
apparaît bien vite comme une sorte d'encyclopédie du vouloir-écrire,
de ses raisons et de ses déraisons."
Edith Hall | "Ancient Evasions" | Rev. of Slaves
and Other Objects by Page duBois | TLS 5262 | 6 February
2004 | 28
with some reservations, duBois's "timely and passionate book"
that "reinstates slaves at the centre of the ancient household
and psyche." "DuBois is...fascinating
on the consistent ancient evasion of the terrifying possibility that
slaves might feel somewhat angry. Slave-owners' rage was openly acknowledged,
and ancient slaves were represented as lamenting the whippings they
endured, but there is absolutely no ancient equivalent of the account
in Frederick Douglass's autobiography of his furious confrontation,
as a young slave, with Mr. Covey 'the nigger-breaker.'"
Much Ado About Nothing | Dir. Marcia Joy Douglas
| Hauck Auditorium, University of Maine
actors, Kat Johnson as Beatrice and Christopher G. Franklin as Benedick,
made delightful work of their proto-screwball dialog. Benedick,
lured to love: "Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets
of the brain awe a man from the career of his humour? Nothe world
must be peopled! When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think
I should live till I were married" (2.3). Radical Dogberry:
"Leonato: Neighbours, you are tedious. Dogberry:
It pleases your worship to say so, but we are the poor duke's officers.
But truly for mine own part if I were as tedious as a king I could find
in my heart to bestow it all on your worship. Leonato: All thy
tediousness on me, ah? Dogberry: Yea, an 'twere a thousand pound
more than 'tis, for I hear as good exclamation on your worship as of
any man in the city, and though I be but a poor man, I am glad to hear
At work the so-called "Spring" of 2004
strikes me as curious that I so seldom talk directly about the work
I do at the metaphoric factory after which this site is named: the University
of Maine. (Hard not to mention all the non-metaphoric factories that
have closed in the five years I've lived in the state: as I write, the
decision as to whether Eastern Fine should be allowed to "go cold"
is being worked out in court and board rooms, while Georgia Pacific
threatens to close its doors if Old Town residents don't agree to pay
$25 million for the privilege of taking a toxic sludge dump off the
company's hands....) Briefly, then:
I'm six weeks into a semester that finds me teaching a graduate-level
introduction to Poetics
and the gateway course into our undergraduate English major called Foundations
of Literary Analysis. I'm also helping to plan for the NPF
Conference on the 1940s this summer (note extended deadline for
proposals: 15 March) and coordinating the New
Writing Series, which kicked off with Bill
Luoma and John Wilkinson last week and moves to a weekly rhythm
after our spring break. Though poetry
can, and perhaps should, break withor at least momentarily suspendstrategic
communication, my job sometimes requires me to propagandize on its behalf:
the two-minute video feature accessible here
as a 3mb Quicktime file originally aired on local television during
a break in an closely-watched hockey game. It's as hokily one-dimensional
as any ad for a local car dealer, but seeing the faces of (in order
of appearance) Rosmarie Waldrop, Nate Mackey, Erin Mouré, Jerry
Rothenberg, Lorenzo Thomas, Katie Daley, Nicole Brossard, Kathleen Ellis,
Bob Grenier, Burt Hatlen, Carroll Terrell and Lee Ann Brown brings a
non-ironic smile to my face. Addendum
on writerly proprioception: Jane Dark nominates pronouns as "the
root of all ennui in writing" and while I can't entirely agree
(there are so many such "roots": the Well-Nourished
Moon feels crowded by pushy articles,
and I once got very agitated about adjectives and proposed, absurdly,
that criticism should learn to live without themno surprise I
wrote no criticism that year), I can say that the organization of this
entry (mine, not JD's) around the first person pronoun is what spoils
it for me. Konvolut
m gets the "how you sound" dilemma dead on: "It's
very hard to write about this without either constructing a position
from which I'm a wonderful person and a brilliant thinker, or offering
an abject mea culpa; I wish to do neither."
Intolerable Cruelty | Dir. Joel and Ethan
Coen, 2003 | 100min DVD | IMDb link
lawyer (hers): "Objection!" Judge: "On what
grounds?" Lawyer (out on a limb): "Poetry recitation?"
Wheezy Joe's demise aside, the gentlest
Coen Brothers film I'm aware of.
Ebert: "I was reminded of Lubitsch's great Trouble
in Paradise, which is about a con man, a con woman who loves
him but can't afford him, and a rich widow who thinks she can buy him
but would be happy enough to rent him for the season. By the end of
that movie, everyone knows all about each other, and they accept the
situation; if we cannot have what we want, they agree, let us at least
be able to admire the way we behaved. ¶ Miles and Marylin acknowledge
their mutual chicanery. Neither one is very nice. But, aw, come on,
when she walks across the room and his heart leaps up, or when she looks
at him in a closeup that undresses itself, what makes the Coens pull
back from this emotion?" (link).
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes | Dir. Howard Hawks,
1953 | 97min DVD | IMDb link
rythme, lui, sobre et calme est celui de la plupart des films de Hawks.
Le ton hawksien est aussi éloigné dans sa sécheresse,
du mépris que de la compassion ou de la connivence envers les
personnages. Cette sécheresse qui est pour Hawks la recherche
de la distance à partir de laquelle on peut stigmatiser une manie
(la nymphomanie tranquille de Dorothy, la cupidité raisonnée
de Lorelei, la précosité de Henry Spofford III), une obsession,
un vice sans s'indigner ni salir celui qui en est la proie" (link).
Immanuel Wallerstein | "'Soft Multilateralism': You Can't Go Home
Again" | The Nation | 2 February 2004 | 14-19
multilateralism" practiced by U.S. administrations from Nixon to
Clinton has been displaced by Bush's hawkish unilateralism: according
to Wallerstein, the latter is doomed to failure and the conditions that
encouraged acceptance of the former have evaporated. Wallerstein's unlikely-to-be-heeded
advice that the U.S. grow up, accept some limitations to its power,
and move along as "a strong country in a multipolar world"
(20) is based on three claims: (1) that serious counterpowers (the EU,
East Asia, the WSF, the "Group of 21," the South in general)
have emerged and begun to use their variously-assembled strengths lucidly
and strategically; (2) that nuclear proliferation is inevitableand
not necessarily bad; and (3) that neoliberal globalization is dead (18,
20). Persuasive? Perhaps not. But as one expects of Wallerstein after
all these years: good to think with.
L'Atalante | Dir. Jean Vigo,
1934 | 89min DVD
| IMDb link
|Screened in the Devil's Eye Film Series, curated by Justin Andrews at
the University of Maine
Dita Parlo is ravishing in just the off-hand way the person one falls
in love with always is. Watching her one sees those "subtle, evanescent
trivialities which swiftly pass over the other's body" that Barthes
speaks of in A Lover's Discourse:
"Something accommodates itself exactly to my desire (about which
I know nothing)." Shot: A frenetic crowd is
pummeling the creep who snatched Juliette's purse: the camera tracks
with the movement, the black bars of an iron fence flickering between
our gaze and the action. "What's
intoxicating about Vigo's style is the way in which the prosaic reality
of the life on the barge is charged with luminous undercurrents. Though
the love story is at the center of the film, the narrative, such as
it is, keeps being commandeered by Simon's Pere Jules or, during the
couple's trip to a Paris cafe, the peddler who attempts to entice Juliette
into spending a night in the city with him. In one blissful sidetrack,
Jules gives Juliette a tour of his cabin, which he maintains as a storehouse
of memorabilia from his travels around the world, and as each new bit
of exotica is unveiled we're transported far away from the barge's cramped
quarters.... As a believer in transcendence and passionate disruption,
Vigo was always taking the plunge, following his heart into the ragged
margins of life. He had a genius for disorderly, haphazard eloquence,
and his dedication to anarchy made it impossible for him to follow the
conventional steps. Even in this newly restored versionwhich contains
some nine minutes of additional footagethe picture remains magnificently
unresolved, an obscure, submerged treasure, gloriously outside our grasp"
Hinson writing in the Washington Post about the version of
the film restored and re-released in 1990).
Howard Singerman | "In Theory & Practice: A History of the Whitney
Independent Study Program" | Artforum XLII.6 | February 2004
history of an institution that has now marked several generations of
artists, curators, and art historians. Started in 1968, with a "discursive
basis" in Artforum (the summer 1967 issue, Greenberg and
Fried) and Ron Clark's "reading list"which included
Merleau-Ponty and Sartre, Marcuse and the Frankfurt School more generally,
French structuralism, and texts by Brecht, Godard, and Robbe-Grilletthe
ISP's theoretical "leanings" a decade later had shifted toward
"semiotics and poststructuralism as they are informed by feminism
and Marxism" (116). By 1988, according to Simon Leung, "AIDS
and the politics of difference [had] completely impacted every aspect
of the artworld" and the ISP registered the transformation: "what
was happening in the world made the ISP polemics and education resonate
exponentially for me" (170).
The formative faculty, in addition to Clark: Yvonne Ranier, Mary Kelley,
Hal Foster, and Benjamin Buchloh.
Singerman closes with a contrast between Art-Rite,
a journal founded by ISP alums in 1973, and Documents,
founded by alums in 1991: the former's infatuated embrace of the art
scene gives way to skeptical remove, the artist yields to the critic-curator,
the vocation to the profession (170-71).
Robin Buss | "Saved by Film" | Rev. of
Louis Malle by Pierre Billard, Godard
by Colin MacCabe, and La Cinéphilie: Invention d'un regard,
histoire d'une culture, 1944-1968 by Antoine de Baecque
| TLS 5260 | 23 January 2004 | 23
is annoyed by MacCabe's biography of Godard and never concedes it more
than faint praise on the following model: "This biography will prove
a helpful starting point for exploring the man and his films, despite
its sometimes shaky generalizations, exaggerated judgements, sloppy proofreading
and inability to decide whether titles should be given in French or English,
which leads to one early piece being curiously renamed 'Charlotte and
son Jules.'" The parting shot:
"Truffaut and Godard were disturbed adolescents for whom cinema became
a salvation and a faith: Serge Daney spoke of 'entrer en cinéma'
as one talks about 'entrer en religion.' Malle, by contrast, conventionally
trained at IDHEC, before his apprenticeship to the oceanographer and filmmaker
Jacques-Yves Cousteau, committed the sacrilege of seeing it as a profession.
There was no place for that in the doctrines of cinephilia."
More on MacCabe's bio of Godard here and here.
L'univers de Jacques Demy | Dir. Agnes Varda,
1995 | 90min DVD | IMDb link
Rob Hoerburger | "The Anti-Diva" (Profile of Norah Jones) |
New York Times Magazine | 25 January 2004 | 24-29 | Link
settled in on the sofa, in front of a copy of 'Come Away With Me' sitting
on the coffee table. 'It has plenty of flaws,' she said, pointing to
the CD. 'I mean, I'm really proud of it, but maybe it's a little too
mellow'" (28). Perfectly preserved
specimen of pop mythology: "There's a geek-chic aura to the group,
who seem to understand the difference between being hip, a transitory,
exclusive state, and cool, permanent and inclusive and unconcerned with
others' perceptions" (27). Trying
to put my finger on the subtle malice that stirs through the piece:
a kind of plausibly-deniable condescension toward the subject that undercuts
the press-kit flattery. Suppressed sentence: she's an overrated fluke?
More on Jones here
(see "In the air").
Peter Brooks | "The Shape of Time" | Rev. of Swann's
Way by Marcel Proust, translated by Lydia Davis, and In
the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, translated by James Grieve
| New York Times Book Review | 25 January 2004 | 11 | Link
admires Davis's work, finds Grieve less able"he stumbles
in some of the long sentences, which come out making no sense (this
is never the case in Proust)"and breaks the news that the
final three volumes of the Viking retranslation will be forbidden to
U.S. readers until at least 2019 because Random House renewed its copyright
on the Scott Moncrieff-Kilmartin-Enright edition.
"It's not at present Proust the aesthete that engages us so much
as Proust the anguished exponent of the drives and frustrations of love."
More on the Davis translation here.
J. Hoberman | "Vive la Resistance!" | Rev. of Godard:
A Portrait of the Artist at 70 by Colin MacCabe | Film Comment
| January/February 2004 | 76
the fruit of many interviews, and as a pithy digression detailing
Sartre's interest in cinema or an offhanded observation that Truffaut
was converted to cultural Marxism by Barthes's Mythologies
demonstrates MacCabe is amply conversant with French intellectual
fashion. "By the summer of 1965, Godard was a central topic of
cultural conversation," he writes. But what exactly did that mean?
And didn't that conversation go two ways? Godard asked Barthes to be
in Alphaville and wanted to cast writer
Philippe Sollers in La Chinoise; he flashed
his copy of On Grammatology in Le
Gai Savoir and based Lotte in Italia
on Althusser's essay "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus."
Is it unfair to complain that Godard could have been twice as long?"
More on MacCabe's bio of Godard here.
Ken Auletta | "Fortress Bush" | The New Yorker | 19 January
2004 | 53-65
of the Bush administration, according to Auletta's loping and overly-long
profile, is that the public don't like or trust the press: by holding
reporters and the news media in contempt, the administration is thus
merely enacting its solidarity with the good folks at home. Bush derides
the "slicks" (the mass-circulation weeklies) and distrusts
"the filter" (the news media tout court) and his people
spend their time dodging reporters' phone calls and sticking to their
daily message. So long as the pretender can be constructed as "tough-minded,
decisive, and fair" (64), so long as he appears as "a person
of conviction, character, and compassion" (65), the details can
sort themselves out, since no one's really watching anyway.
Katha Pollitt | "Webstalker" | The New Yorker | 19 January
2004 | 38-42
gives a surprisingly raw and often embarrassing account of her inability
to break off relations with the "databody" of her philandering
ex-lover. Her tracking of the unnamed (but eminently identifiablegiven
the many details she furnishes) lover and his prolific art-journalist
new girlfriend is recounted in humorously self-deprecating terms, or
at least that's the tone attempted. But the surface is continually broken
by wrathful revenge fantasies, seething and self-lacerating jealousy,
and still unquenched desire for the betrayer. There's a sick eloquence
to the whole thing that more than once made me wonder how it made it
through the New Yorker's editorial process.
A stray line: "But of course what my friend meant was that I ignored
inconvenient subtexts, the meaning behind the meaning: that someone
might say he loved you, but what really mattered was the way he let
your hand go after he said it" (41).
Mary Ann Doane | "The Close-Up: Scale and Detail in Cinema"
| differences 14.3 | Fall 2003 | 89-111
characteristically sharp-witted and historically-informed investigation
of the contradictions surrounding the theory and practice of the cinematic
"close up" is anchored on the recognition of two fundamental
binaries: proximity versus distance (as denoted in the English term
for the shot), and largeness versus smallness (as denoted in the French
term gros plan). Setting out from a startlingly great text by
Jean Epstein on "Magnification," Doane argues that "the
close-up performs the inextricability of...two seemingly opposed formulations,
simultaneously posing as both microcosm and macrocosm, detail, and whole"
(93). Along the way, Doane addresses
various claimsthose of Balázs and Aumont and Deleuze especiallythat
the close-up obeys an inherently anthropomorphic tendency, even when
the manifest content of a shot is an inanimate object (shades of Lacan).
These claims rest on the seeming inseparability of the close-up and
the "the face" upon which it is so often trained: the close-up,
conceived this way, "facializes" or "facefies" whatever
it rests upon, rendering it simultaneously (and somewhat intoxicatingly)
sensible and legible. Doane
is concerned to show that however much the close-up would seem to constitute
a point of diegetic arrest, an escape "from the spatiotemporal
coordinates of the narrative" (107), its meaning is in fact carried
over from the play of camera shots and internal gazes that precede and
follow it: even Garbo's face, at the close of Queen
Christina, is not the "veritable degree zero of expression"
that Roland Barthes saw in it, for "its blankness," according
to Doane, "is forced into legibility by the pressure of the narrative
culminating in that moment" (101).
The crux of the problem is stated concisely here: "The space of
the narrative, the diegesis, is constructed by a multiplicity of shots
that vary in terms of both size and anglehence this space ["the
whole"] exists nowhere; there is no totality of which the close-up
could be a part. And certainly if one accepts the theories of the close-up's
despatialization, it cannot be defined as a detail, since it occupies
the only space there is, constituting itself as its own whole or totality,
abolishing off-screen space. Is the close-up the bearer, the image of
the small, the minute; or the producer of the monumental, the gigantic,
the spectacular? This confusion, or the apparent collapse of the opposition
between detail and totality, microcosm and macrocosm, the miniature
and the gigantic, is crucial the ideological operation of the close-up,
that which makes it one of our most potent memories of cinema"
(107-108). The article makes for
a fitting homage to the late Naomi Schor's work in the 1987 volume Reading
in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine, a book which all six
of the contributions to this special issue of differences honor
by once again taking up, and extending, the problematic and practice
named in its title.
Mary Beard | "Four-Day Caesar" | Rev. of Tacitus:
Histories I, edited by Cynthia Damon | London Review of Books
26.2 | 22 January 2004 | 16-18
her dislike for the edition under review long enough to advocate for
a relatively neglected aspect of Tacitus's corpus, the four ("and
a bit") surviving chapters of the Histories.
"The violently radical use of
Latinparticularly, but not only, in the Annalsdefeats
almost all translators" (18).
Tacitus, summarizing the fate of Galba, one of the four emperors to
reign in the year following Nero's suicide in 68 CE: "omnium
consensu capax imperii, nisi imperasset ('by universal consent capable
of being emperor, had he not been one')" (17).
Peter Brooks | "A Place without Argument" | Rev. of Clueless
in Academe by Gerald Graff | TLS 5259 | 16 January 2004
cites an 1892 Harvard report on the teaching of English composition
(inaugurated at Harvard in 1885): "in quantity the work is calculated
to excite dismay; while the performance of it involves not only unremitted
industry, but mental drudgery of the most exhaustive nature." Brooks
picks up from there: "So it is that the cornerstone work of the
American university has fallen on the most poorly paid and least celebrated
of its members, freeing the higher ranks to pursue Wissenschaft."
J.C. | "NB: More Poetry Babble (an ongoing series)" | TLS
5259 | 16 January 2004 | 14
Lisa Jarnot's poetry (specifically her handling of short heavily-alliterated
lines in Ring of Fire), and Patrick Pritchett
and Alison Cobb's bookjacket advocacy of it, are presented as self-evidently
John Gray | "Ethically Engineered" | Rev. of The
Future of Human Nature by Jürgen Habermas and Enough
by Bill McKibben | TLS 5259 | 16 January 2004 | 9
achievement in this short, dense, suggestive volume is to reconnect
contemporary thought in bioethics to the central traditions of Western
philosophy and religion." Specifically, the secular humanist Habermas
traces "the root of the liberal ideal of autonomy" to "a
religious conception of the person," as in Kierkegaard's "explicitly
theocentric account of authentically human existence" as "achievable
only in the presence of God." Gray faults Habermas for retaining
too stark a distinction between human and animal: "He is right
that profound ethical issues are raised by the power to shape new human
beings, but why should that be more problematic than similar technological
interventions into the lives of other animals?"
Writing of McKibben's book, Gray mentions in passing the "extropians,"
that is, "persons for whom having a body at all is an intolerable
constraint on freedom."
John Sutherland | Diary | London Review of Books 26.2 | 22 January
2004 | 31
surveys the world of academic publishing, where the books are unaffordable
and unreadable, where price-gouged libraries purge their acquisitions
and opt for ILL, where the learned journals are "inherently unsexy,"
and the few remaining publishers find "that the stuff coming out
of graduate programmes nowadays is too damned dull" to publish.
Groundhog Day | Dir. Harold Ramis, 1993 |
101min VHS | IMDb link
"fiche pedagogique" on the film (released in France as Un
jour sans fin) found at the Film
et Culture website: "Un jour sans fin
met en place un dispositif simple: Phil Connors est condamné
à revivre indéfiniment la même journée dans
une petite ville coupée du monde par le blizzard. Il lui appartiendra
d'explorer les avantages et les désagréments de cette
situation, de surmonter les embûches de la répétition.
Le caractère véritablement original du film repose sur
la manière dont la mise en scène parvient à maintenir
l'intérêt du spectateur à l'intérieur de
ce cadre rigide, grâce à une subtile rhétorique."
Mona Lisa Smile | Dir. Mike Newell, 2003 |
117min | IMDb link
Roberts not only seems to be visiting 1953, she seems to be visiting
it as Julia Roberts: the perky faux-startled smile of the star
warding off an autograph convulses her face over and again.
I never was able to place the "source" of Julia Stiles's conspicuously
proper diction, but every time she spoke I was sent scrambling for the
allusion: Jane Fonda? Kate Hepburn? Grace Kelly? Forced to choose, I'd
have to go with Grace. An early scene
where Maggie Gyllenhall is made to perform a round of exhuberant girl-among-girls
physicality and nearly pulls it off.
Kirsten Dunst's face attaining to serpentine hideousness in more than
one scene of ego-destructive gossip delivery.
Sinking feeling when Juliet Stevenson's school-nurse character is dismissed,
early on, for supplying a diaphragm to a student: "the only actually
interesting person in this movie is leaving already?!"
Marcia Gay Harden as the bad outcome: sort of like Mary being a librarian
in the "George never lived" passage of It's
a Wonderful Life. No mention
that Soutine's carcass cites that of Rembrandt.
A mist, a loading dock, befuddled students meander about awkward and
overdressed: the man uncrating the large Pollock says to Julia: "You're
just in time!" In the same genre,
see All I Wanna Do (original title: Strike),
noted here on 4 August 2003.
Scattered impressions & screen memories
AIR "The Sublimity of Indifference," a delightful
twenty-two track cd compiled by Adam White in exchange for a spare copy
of the ILS's poetry-world remix of Flaubert's Dictionary
of Received Ideas. There's something new to hear in the handful
of already familiar cuts (Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang," Yaz's
"Nobody's Diary," Patsy Cline's "Westward Wind,"
even Blue Oyster Cult's "Dust in the Wind") and lots to like
in the new (to my chronically inattentive ears) stuff by Basement Jaxx,
the Cansecos, France Gall, ESG, Delta 5, and Sufjan Stevens. Thanks,
Adam! Other gifts
in the mail included Big Bill Broonzy Sings
Folk Songs from Folkways (the voice brighter than I remembered,
the guitar livelier) and Norah Jones's Come Away
With Me, which after several listens I'm starting to regard as
more than the sum of its anodyne parts.
I've now also got a double of Outkast's new cd, still shrinkwrapped,
which I'll gladly mail to the first person who asks for it (firstname.lastname@example.org).
| ON SCREEN Lagging back at the second installment (DVD)
of The Lord of the Rings, which I found
every bit as negligible as the first. I'm not normally immune to compulsory
culture, but for some reason this serieslike the Matrix
(including the first) before (and during) itjust passes over my
interests and desires, my subjectivity I guess one might say, without
making the slightest ripple (nonsublime indifference?). | READING
Read, ever so slowly, the first half or so of Gerald Frank Else's
1957 translation and detailed commentary on Aristotle's Poetics.
I'd forgotten, so many years after my brief encounters with Greek under
the excellent tutelage of Page DuBois at UCSD, the pleasures of a good
scholarly footnote attacking a fellow classicist's construction of a
passage. Also read, if
somewhat haphazardly, through the French and English texts of Lacan's
second seminar (Fall 1954 - Spring 1955) on "le moi dans la theorie
de Freud et dans la technique de la psychanalyse: the kind of reading
one does when trying to decide whether to "really" settle
in with a text (I'm still undecided). | WEATHER And of
course, nothing herein noted represents more than the briefest interruption
to a primary text consisting entirely of phrases like: "Fuck it's
cold." (Kevin Bennett's photo below shows an 1871 Bangor building
destroyed over the course of several days by fire and ice.)
January 2004 Tuesday
Nathaniel Dorsky | Devotional Cinema | Berkeley:
Tuumba, 2003 | 52pp
film rests in the present and respects the delicate details of its own
unfolding. How is this small miracle achieved? How do we manifest nowness
in the ongoing context of the relative? It is not unlike having a heartfelt
discussion with a friend. You hear what your friend says, and you respond
from a place you may never have responded from before. You hear your
friend again, you wait a second, and there's an actual moment of connection,
a moment of genuine exploration that touches upon things never quite
touched upon before. That's when heart, intelligence, instinct, and
awareness all come together. Reality opens and responds to itself. ¶
We are certainly all familiar with the moments that are not like
this. Conversation can be an exhausting exchange of self-confirming,
predigested concepts with no real exploration: everything is already
'known' and is motivated by a need to maintain the status quo of oneself
in relation to the other person. Nowness is tainted by the need to accomplish
something, to stay in control. [...] When the absolute and temporal
are unified, film becomes a narrative of nowness and reveals things
for what they are rather than as surrogates from some predetermined
concept. It is the fear of direct contact with the uncontrollable present
that motivates the flight into concept. The filmmaker seeks the safety
net of an idea, or something to accomplish that is already known. ¶
If we do relinquish control, we suddenly see a hidden world, one that
has existed all along right in front of us. In a flash, the uncanny
presence of this poetic and vibrant world, ripe with mystery, stands
before us. Everything is expressing itself as what it is. Everything
is alive and talking to us." (32, 35).
"Invisible Jukebox: Damon & Naomi" | The Wire | January
2004 | online link
Before Stonewall | Dir. Robert Rosenberg and
John Scagliotti, 1984 | VHS 87min | IMDb link
After Stonewall | Dir. John Scagliotti, 1999
| VHS 88min | IMDb link
Colin MacCabe | "The Arrière-Boutique Anne-Marie Miéville
and Rolle" and "Envoi" | Chapters 5 and 6 of Godard:
A Portrait of the Artist at 70 | New York: FSG, 2004 | 239-335
smart, appropriately ambivalent account of Godard's work in the period
roughly from Ici et ailleurs forward, including the television
projects, Sauve qui peut, the Histoire(s) du Cinema, and
Eloge de l'amour. (Not to mention the unmade projects, including
an adaptation of the Dora case study, with Paul Newman slated to play
Freud.) "The original Bazinian
premises had been that cinema was the art of the real, that the technology
of the camera provided a new set of aesthetic possibilities, and that
the filmic image offered a new aesthetic dispensation for the West.
Godard had always stressed the crucial role of subjectivity in this
new objective art the positioning of the camera was crucial.
But as the image became more and more stereotyped, as it became the
crucial cement of an ever more rapacious and unjust world, Godard abandoned
hope in it, opting for an imaginary politics which would link him to
suffering humanity, and for an elaborated soundtrack which would provide
the correct way of reading the image" (243)
The book's closing words: "Godard himself said in a press conference
for the Histoire(s) in Cannes that he and Miéville's audience
can most accurately be described as 100,000 friends around the world.
¶ Attempts in the twentieth century to link avant-garde art to
a progressive politics have all been dismal failures. Godard's description
of his relationship to his audience in terms of friendship alters the
terms of those political discourses. From the Romantics on, when Shelley
promised to legislate for humanity, art has been promising to deliver
the world. If we reject the humanist claim on eternity and the political
promise of aesthetic salvation, then perhaps all that is left is individual
witness. I do know that in writing this book I committed myself to looking
again and again at Godard's work. The life often became tiresome; we
are all, like the dog returning to its vomit, condemned to repeat within
a sadly limited repertory. But the work never failed to intrigue, to
illuminate and to inform. Much of it is extremely difficult to obtain.
Some of it is very uneven. But the worst is never less than intelligent,
and the best is the best there is" (335).
Leo Marx | "Believing in America: An Intellectual Project and a National
Ideal" | Boston Review 28.6 | December 2003 / January 2004
Nicholas Spice | "I Must Be Mad" | Rev. of Wild
Analysis by Sigmund Freud, translated by Alan Bance and introduced
by Adam Phillips (Penguin, 2002) | London Review of Books 26.1
| 8 January 2004 | 11-15
Mark Ford | "Now for All the Rest" | Rev. of Pieces
of My Mind: Writings, 1958-2002 by Frank Kermode | TLS 5255/5256
| 19 & 26 December 2003 | 28
Sex in the City | Season 5 | DVD
1-15, 2003 June
1-15, 2003 July 16-31, 2003
2003 September 2003
- December 2003
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