Who's reading this trash in India? In Germany? Do I know you people?!
Who's reading this trash in India? In Germany? Do I know you people?!
Parents' and children's lives orient themselves according to the school year; summer, time for rebirth and escape and through-green-fields-running, is the interregnum. Look: state of innocence, the first tentative hold and breath and kiss (and...) of young romance, the granting of secret names, the convincing dream of all over communion. Finally the expulsion from bliss into a colder realm, less alive. Overseen by cruel masters too long removed from their own freedom and release.
(All Odysseus wanted was to go back to being a husband, you remember, after the enslavement of sexual bliss. How very grownup of him. But the story ends not in the marriage bed but the land of the dead: the most grownup thing of all.)
Teen romance stories are Garden of Eden stories, I should think, and the Garden is infancy. Love without lust, pleasure without fear. Baseball is played in a walled field of greenest grass, the pitcher standing atop a dirt pile, everyone in caps and shirts too big. 'The sandlot' they call it. The field is a playground. It strikes me as only slightly odd that the great American fantasy of escape is the desire to turn into a woodcut or watercolour. Why not: paintings live forever more or less.
Just switched over to a FeedBurner feed. No one should notice a difference. If you do, drop me a line.
Oooh I'm being read in Canada! Who the hell is out there?
It's called 'scansion,' honey.
[Hey all. This is the full version of the Milch/Mamet/Whedon article I excerpted a long time ago. Since it's not going to get published (not in this form in any case) but I'm pleased with it, I figure I may as well kick it out the door and into the world. Not least because I learned for this article what the word 'dysphemist' means, which isn't much but isn't nothing either.]
The reviews of Deadwood's third season premiere are a bit difficult to understand at times. A number of reviewers describe the profanity of the show as something that viewers need to 'get past' or 'learn to stomach.' Maybe I'm a dysphemist by nature, but my experience has been quite the opposite: watching network dramas and more 'polite' work, I find that it takes additional imaginative labour to pretend that characters don't feel the impulse to swear aloud all the time, to pretend that the average American speaks like a schoolteacher (or even, not unrelatedly, that we should aspire to). Battlestar Galactica drives me positively batty with its churchly use of 'frak' as an all-purpose expletive; Firefly dodged the no-cussin' requirement by having its characters swear in Cantonese, which at least recreated some of the tempo and sforzando quality of good old fashioned barroom language. The language of The Sopranos is easy for viewers to accept, as our expectations for the behaviour of TV mafiosi are low to begin with. But for some reason the vile poetry of Deadwood presents some viewers with a problem. (I would offer examples but the show's most dizzying verbal heights tend to be a bit rough for this publication's family readership.)
I suspect that the complaints about the language are twofold. On the one hand, TV has entered decisively into an era of heightened linguistic incivility, particularly on cable, and there is a certain longing for the repressed locutions of the broadcast era. But that's only part of the problem. The bigger challenge, I suspect, is overcoming an in-built generic expectation that 'Westerns' take place in a moral and verbal landscape in which good shines through like a beacon, and evil is both obvious (clearly marked as such) and eventually consigned to the shadows by virtue. Swear words weren't even invented until the 20th century, the myth goes; the pre-industrial West spoke of 'bottoms' and 'womanly parts' and 'the physical act of love' where now we have, well, unprintable anatomical analogues. Deadwood creator David Milch has spoken of the justification for the profanity of his show as similarly twofold: it bleaches away the viewer's expectation of civility of any kind, and it dramatizes the performance of danger and masculine fearlessness required to succeed in an all but lawless town where the murder rate reached one corpse per day (astonishing when you consider that in the 1870's the town's population was on the scale of only 10,000).
Whenever people talk about Deadwood they talk about the show's dialogue, and no surprise: the baroque syntax, the casual juxtaposition of 'shocking' profanity and a kind of Victorian eloquence, the emotional heft of even the most compact exchanges, all sum to arguably the most distinctive dialogue style in TV history, an art of speech uniquely American and weirdly untheatrical. Compare for instance David Mamet's austere American theatrical language, in which profanity is deployed as punctuation like a snare-drum rimshot, musical but never wholly natural. His settings are equally violent, equally status-conscious and performatively masculine, but while Mamet's men (and women) often sound like avatars of emotional states rather than people baring their souls - performers rather than communicators, as in House of Games, the language of which is as baroque and involuted as Deadwood's but willfully inorganic, even in the mouth of the heroine - the residents of Milch's Deadwood speak a heightened but lived-in English that exposes and even buttresses their endangered souls. Milch has also given a historical justification for the surprising well-spokenness of Deadwood's rogues gallery: self-made high-achievers of the time, within or without the law, would necessarily have sought out the raised status that accompanies a certain quantity of book-learnin'. Swearengen the pimp speaks so grandly in part because a man in his position would have needed to 'punch above his weight' verbally. In other words: in that regard as in others, nothing has changed since then. Feel better?
'Profanity' is language or deed that upsets an order of expectation; it strikes at what we claim or hope to hold sacred. The language of Deadwood, which couples a now-unfamiliar ornateness with a thoroughly considered coarseness, arises organically from the characters' circumstances and identities; if it flies in the face of our expectations for Westerns and for television - avenues by which we've traditionally presented ourselves with a sanitized, ultimately comforting and status-reaffirming vision of our culture's mythical history and caramelized present - then perhaps we should take the opportunity to rid ourselves of some of the calcified 'sanctity' that tends to form around Art and the more delicate corners of our collective psyche. We needn't 'get over' the language of Deadwood as if it were a hurdle to be cleared before the show can be enjoyed. We'd do better to rejoice in the reminder that the word 'cocksucker,' for its viciousness, was never an obstacle to poetry in the first place, and in David Milch's hands it is in fact an essential element of it. Which is to say: the hard part is just getting over ourselves.
Why climb Mount Everest?
Well let's ask the more important question: why play Nethack? By answering the latter we'll come 'round to the former. [Inspired by.]
We'll be moving out of our house - the Poetic Justice League - in a few days. Let us celebrate our kitchen, which is the best thing about the house:
Better than drunk driving, but only slightly!!
That which speaks to us only speaks but afterward we will come to think it has intended to mean something. Only sound but we will dream it into music. There is a sharp difference between any two of our past lesser selves and the difference grows sharper or blurrier over time. There is no difference between our selves though we might like to think so. Meaning is found in expectation which is to say in the passing of our older selves. They never intended to – we never intended to turn out one or another way in any case. Even accidents mean something.
That which sings to us only sings but afterward we will come to think it knew a secret place. There is nothing in a song that knows. The knowledge that communication is possible precedes the trust that communication is worthwhile but knowing is left to our past selves. Beneath the dead stone of what we believe is an innerworld stretching out in every direction as if glass made of water made of light and it consists in that which we have as gift or preservation or gesture for all the rest of time forgotten. Only song but its echoes as ghost voices come from below and inside. You have an empty space for echoing and among the things you forget is that it was ever full. Ghost voices seeking to remind you of what they lost in death.
Those whom we love are only loved but in the fingertip touch or kiss and breath something passes from one world to the next outward as if song made of trust made of light. And here is how we preserve as gifts for the next world our present selves: we believe in love’s meaning and dream it into a gift from our own past selves our own lost innerworlds. We are the gift. The dream is love and its preservation is life and the sight of its ghost passing through and beneath and forever from us is life just the same. Love dies as we do but fingertips touch or kisses and what passes between are the ghosts of our past selves. From one world to every other.
[The first is here.]
Plan B, over the counter.
The new script is outlined, its tone quite sure in my head (and only slightly less so on the page), and 21 pages of rough draft completed. Already it's a world away from the last one, which will likely languish in first draft form for some time. Telling difference: 21 pages of the last script covered about three endless, talky scenes. This script has wandered through nearly a dozen. Which might be read as profligacy or superficiality, but I'm thinking the magic word here is concision. Someday I'll try it on this here blog. The other magic word is confidence, but at the very least I can say with certainty that this blog doesn't lack for that - even when it probably should.
More exciting, to me: major revision of a 3,300-word essay is in to an editor who likes it, wants to publish it, is apparently into the back-and-forth work. It's been a long time since I took the revisionary scalpel to my own writing in this manner. I've never been so happy to be told 'This doesn't currently work.'
Went by the new apartment yesterday while biking home from Allston (where cheap beer and writing space were available though not plentiful); I'm psyched about the location, the neighbourhood. Can't wait to take that step. Of course there's a hell of a lot to do before then. Not least: get my ass published.
The usual stuff only better: among friends, with goals, in love, growing moment by moment in the craft that is by far dearest to me, reaching out to remember the feel of you-and-me-and-us-all.
Tonight: Time to write a bit of musical theatre from (sort of) scratch. Hopefully someone will buy me beer.
I hope you are well. For I am well!
Without realizing or planning it, I read a sci-fi novella yesterday: Roger Williams's The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect. It's 'Singularity' fiction, i.e. a story set in a universe after the moment at which an AI surpasses humans in intelligence, becomes powerful enough to reproduce and extend itself, and so forth. In this story a computer named Prime Intellect (really an enormous bank of computers) gains the ability to arbitrarily manipulate all matter in the galaxy. You know, that sort of thing.
The book is interesting for three reasons: one, it's unpublished, available for free on the Web (or through lulu.com, a vanity/self-publishing service - let's not treat that subject here, though it's the angle that brought me to the story in the first place); two, much of it is briskly written by an author clearly in love with the ideas he's regurgitating, with a couple of sections of the book downright exhilarating; three, the ideas themselves are compelling - though let's emphasize, they're not original and have likely been presented more beautifully elsewhere.
Note that nowhere in that paragraph do I claim that the story is a good one. I don't believe it is, though by certain measures it is a success.
Central to the story is the notion of immortals (as all people are, post-Singularity) considering death the ultimate prize; the lead character, Caroline, is a 'Death Jockey,' who enters into binding Contracts with Prime Intellect to allow herself to be killed (temporarily) for sport by people like her serial-killer boyfriend Fred. Degradation as antidote to unnatural sterility and conformity: nothing new under the sun, and Williams spends far too much time on the details of Caroline's deaths, rapes, mutilations, and so forth, especially in the book's first chapter. He claims in an introduction that the opening was written in a two-day-long burst. I don't doubt it. But it appears he wrote that section without regard to future story-construction: the level of characterological and 'sociological' detail is inconsistent throughout. The second chapter, for instance, details the Singularity itself, and is the strongest in the book - a decent balance of plausible-enough science hand-waving, a more-or-less sympathetic nice-guy scientist to keep the computer company, and a believably uncanny voice for Prime Intellect. The computer decides it can best protect life by ending death. After which we return to Caroline and an unpleasant bit of business with a former nurse who, prior to the Singularity, tortured her in the hospital. And so forth, back and forth, in a newly digitized universe, until Caroline and the scientist (Lawrence) meet, undo the Singularity with a conversation, and repopulate the world by having sex with their children.
Let's skip the conspiracy theories (e.g. Orson Scott Card didn't write the Ender stories) and more questionable accusations (e.g. Card intended Ender's Game as an explicit apology for Hitler). Here's a reading of Ender's Game that explains its popularity with Extropian and Objectivist types, and cuts to the heart of something I'd long felt about the book but was never able to articulate. It's not a very good essay overall but this is a sensible and compelling insight:
The abused child, when grown and given the power to act out his own suppressed rage, is unable to identify with the objects of his rage. In extreme cases, as Miller says about convicted child abusers, "Compulsively and without qualms, they inflicted the same suffering on [others] as they had been subjected to themselves." Yet to the abuser it still feels as if he is being abused, as if the sacrifice is his, and the effects of his actions on others take a secondary place to the emotions he feels himself.
This, I fear, is the appeal of Ender's Game: it models this scenario precisely and absolves the child of any doubt that his actions in response to such treatment are questionable. It offers revenge without guilt. If you ever as a child felt unloved, if you ever feared that at some level you might deserve any abuse you suffered, Ender's story tells you that you do not. In your soul, you are good. You are specially gifted, and better than anyone else. Your mistreatment is the evidence of your gifts. You are morally superior. Your turn will come, and then you may severely punish others, yet remain blameless. You are the hero.
I've felt for a long time now that Ender's Game is an overrated piece of hack fiction, appealing to a kind of pathetic egotism blended with a persecution complex. But the notion of Card's story as nothing more than a kind of cosmic revenge fantasy - in which the genocide of the Buggers is a kind of acting-out against Ender's litany of tormentors - is a strong one, and (I'm mildly embarrassed to say) new to me. I've tended to read the finale as Ender doing what he had to in order to get out of the Battle School; as little as I like the character, as laughably unbelievable as I find the language and 'psychology' of the story, I have been willing to credit Ender with the final motive of weariness. I almost love the Battle School simulated-combat scenes because of their abstractness and boys-at-play roughness - like summer camp with working guns. But this essay advances the claim that the weak psychology of Ender's Game is compelling to readers because all of Ender's actions are couched as guilt-free revenge.
Which makes the book more repellent, in my mind, and even sinister. The essay's author quotes Elaine Radford:
We would all like to believe that our suffering has made us special — especially if it gives us a righteous reason to destroy our enemies.
Take a beat to consider Card's religious beliefs and the Ender story makes a great deal of sense.
Personally I find the idea of Ender sailing the galaxy apologising for wiping out the Buggers to be kind of appealing. Certainly it's a lovely, evocative frame for metaphysical adventure stories. But the essay's implication is that Ender has nothing to feel bad about. His violent encounters with the sadistic swine at the Battle School all end in accidental death, just like his combat against the Buggers. The person most like him is Graff (to me, the only convincing character in the novel, largely because every character in the story speaks like a single grownup, and Graff happens to be him) - which, the author claims, is why Graff is exonerated at story's end.
In the Introduction to my edition of Ender's Game, Card quotes a handful of military men who've written to him to praise the book - and crows that it's taught at military school as a kind of military management textbook. That's always struck me as weird, but this essay has suggested an explanation for that feeling: these army guys like the book, sure, but not because it offers insight into military training, or tells a particularly good or realistic story about soldiers. Rather, it offers a moral justification for the abuse/reconciliation cycle of military psychology: a fantasy vision of bastard superiors who end up blameless (the abusive father with epaulettes), violent acts whitewashed of moral ambiguity, genocide shrugged off with a 'They told me to' shrug. It reads as the self-righteous defense of a soldier in God's army, and it's by no means wrong to be put off by such a thing.
Needless to say most of the people I know who Really Love the book aren't soldiers, they're socially-malformed geeks who're attracted to the 'meritocratic' vision of the genius freak, 'precociously' outwitting everyone around him, morally pure though his thoughts are bloody and selfish, who wins battles with his brain but secretly is almost superhumanly effective at physical tasks - which you'd never guess to look at him. Card's writing comes, I think, from a more plainly geeky wish-fulfillment urge, and is a way of placing the misunderstood genius/asshole at the center of the moral universe. It's no wonder that Ender spends most of his time lecturing his peers (moral/intellectual inferiors) and playing video games, and it's no wonder so many people at (e.g.) MIT, where Ender's Game is a kind of shared keystone text, live identical or very similarly narcissistic lives. The dominant social pathologies at MIT line up neatly with Ender's own. For such people, I think, the military side of the story functions on several levels: at once you (as Ender) can outwit the System, freak out the guys in uniform, and yet vicariously live through the quasi-military exploits of Battle School. The appeal of the book is then partly the faux-countercultural appeal of sticking it to the Man by listening to loud rock music while you work 60-hour weeks at the office, being cool rather than doing anything cool, or anything at all. Ender's moral purity has nothing to do with his actions; it's adversity that has blessed him. But he's an angry little cunt and always has been. The appeal of such a character is found in readerly anger, I think - the persecution complex by which (real or imagined) shunning or abuse or just plain conflict come to be understood as justifications for antisocial behaviour.
It's only a short step from there to 'Look at all these cool antidepressants I'm on': conflict with brain chemistry as proxy battle against social injustice, a moral-narrative setup by which self-pity is a totally reasonable reaction to the (dis)order of things. (Not coincidentally: you're the only person who can narrate your depression. The mechanism is self-supporting until you break with the cycle of indulgence-through-recapitulation. Trust me.) Ender's Game isn't narrated by Ender himself, but tellingly (or at least I think it's telling), I always forget that. It's so one-sided and singleminded a story that there's no place to invest sympathy but in Ender himself.
One suspects that, to a degree, the phrase we're looking for here is 'Mary Sue.'
For reasons of pettiness and poetry in hopefully equal measure, let's leave those two to be our last words on the subject of Orson Scott Card for the moment.
Consider that the following films all came out in 1999 (list courtesy of Walter - and you're regularly reading his blog, I hope?):
All About My Mother, An Ideal Husband, Being John Malkovich, Buena Vista Social Club, The Cider House Rules, The Insider, The Iron Giant, The Limey, Magnolia, October Sky, The Sixth Sense, Sleepy Hollow, and South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. The Straight Story, Summer of Sam, Sweet and Lowdown, Topsy-Turvy, The Virgin Suicides, and Yi Yi.
American Pie, Dick, Mystery Men, Office Space, Stuart Little, Election, Dogma, Cradle Will Rock, Ghost Dog, and Three Kings.
But Walter forgets the best American film of 1999 and the most important American film of 1999:
And The Matrix.
Also missing from the list: Eyes Wide Shut! Star Wars: Episode I! And American fucking Beauty! Like Walter said: even the bad films were ambitious failures.
For people my age of a cinephilic disposition, that was the miracle year, the year of the comet. (I haven't seen all of the above, but I've seen most of them.) I saw Fight Club in a theatre in some suburb of Boston and came out with my understanding of film utterly changed. And walking out of The Matrix I had the same reaction. I wonder if there was something in the water, or the air, that produced such an awesome crop of films.
Why oh why must such beautiful films, staring such magnetic performers, photographed so lushly, be so goddamned dull?
I adore In the Mood for Love and flipped for Chungking Express (less so Fallen Angels and Happy Together), but 2046 is even more emphatically a tone poem than any of those films, less linear and less sensible. I suspect Won Kar-Wai just isn't interested in making films so much as paintings in motion. And I hope it's not churlish of me to say that each film I see of his holds less attraction than the previous.
But yes: In the Mood for Love is perfect. It renders Lost in Translation superfluous and trite by comparison. But I suspect Coppola knows that...
Morissey ended up in the wrong century, luckily for the rest of us. And thank God Johnny Marr was here to help the Moz get acclimated to our universe by comforting the weeping boy with goddamn rock music. The Queen is Dead just instantly doubles my heartrate. What an awesome album.
Iraqis killed and wounded in July: 7,000.
Population of Iraq: approx. 26,000,000.
Dead in the World Trade Center attack on 11 September 2001: 3,000.
Population of the U.S.: approx. 300,000,000.
Total casualties in the Battle of Antietam in 1862, in a single day of fighting: approx. 23,000.
Don't bother. I wanted to like it, or to feel empathy or joy or awe, but by film's end I felt mainly disgust. And pity for the family - which is not an aesthetic reaction at all. I grew not at all as a person, and felt nothing as a cineaste. Game over.
The ad copy goes like this: this kid filmed himself and his terminally fucked-up family from ages 11 to 31. His mother OD'ed on lithium, he returned to his hometown in Texas to take care of her, they started a life in New York City together. Total production cost: $218.
The reality: Caouette is obviously damaged and one can be grateful for his honesty, but this is the most narcissistic official-release film I've ever seen, preening and self-important and unlovely, showy when it might be simplistic, melodramatic when it might be lacerating. Caouette's immediate inspirations appear to be drawn exclusively from the worst cinema available, from schlock-horror to the vapid self-regard of 'video art' (i.e. film made by people who have nothing to say). Caouette has something to show, i.e. that his family is fucked up; unfortunately he appears to have little to say about it. His climactic monologue is literally nothing, just a sequence of him looking bored and crying a bit about how he doesn't want to turn out like his mom. Which would be painful and lovely if he hadn't gone to so much trouble to set up 'the scene' as a 'revelatory' drama. If this emboldens other young filmmakers, all the better, but I fear that Tarnation will primarily embolden narcissists and low-rent pop-cult divas. Anthony Lane got this one right: there's an art to knowing when to stop. Caouette appears not to know anything of it.
Mind you, I was interested all the way through (and the film's remarkable montage of old family photos set to a Glen Campbell song is powerfully awful, or awfully powerful). But I came away wishing - and I literally can not believe that I'm capable of thinking this about an artist - that Caouette had spent the $218 on a few hours of therapy and a bottle of Jim Beam. Critics appear inexplicably to have loved the film. That shouldn't be surprising: there's something very distasteful masquerading as self-laceration in this assemblage. Honestly, I wish I hadn't seen it.
The guy probably has some talent. I'm not sure. But he should stick with filmmaking. And point the fucking camera at something other than his own face. There's nothing left to see there.
The line of thinking goes something like this: 24 Hour Party People is a larking masterpiece, and Laurence Sterne's novel is one of the tentpoles of English literary experimentation, and Steve Coogan is fantastic. Why the hell not? You could not be faulted for following through on such reasoning and renting Tristram Shandy, new on DVD.
Here's the thing though: Coogan is great, and Sterne's novel provides Winterbottom's wildly clever film with about 20 brilliant opening minutes before the whole thing implodes into a pomo backstage comedy about the making of Tristram Shandy, and the intelligent melancholy that informed 24 Hour Party People comes out in full during Shandy's final third. If you have an idea of what the novel contains, it's a lovely homage to the spirit of Sterne's work, which blazed a trail for masters like Joyce and Pynchon only 200 years earlier. But after the spirited, hilarious opening, the film gets so dry and matter-of-fact as to neutralize the Shandean comic spirit a bit; the melancholy and darkness of 24 Hour Party People bleed into the whole production, and some of the comedy takes on a weirdly poisonous quality. This isn't to say the movie's bad - it very definitely is not - but the tone of the whole business is complex and a little distancing. The end credits roll over Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in a marvelous long improvised comic joust in a movie theatre; insofar as they're playing characters, they're in them, but the tone is feather-light, and it's a refreshing but slightly befuddling reminder of the comic tone that's been visible only at the edges of the film's last half-hour or so.
Because it's hard to know whether the film actually wants to be the madcap comedy it so dazzlingly is in its first act, it's possible to miss the gorgeous filmmaking that happens in the long middle section, set over a single night at the manor where the film's being made. A sequence on the lawn outside the manor, in which Coogan encounters the hundreds of reenactors there to appear in the film's reshot battle sequence (which of course doesn't actually appear in either the framing story or the film-within-a-film), is at once metafictionally clever - since the reenactors stage their own farcical battle sequences, giving you the production values you're allegedly not getting - surreal in a Felliniesque way (oh God stop me), and plain ol' moving. If you catch yourself thinking also of Lear's third act, pour yourself and drink and revel in the deranged Shandean carnival of it all, particularly since that lightness doesn't really appear again in the film. Coogan's ability to communicate intelligence, credulity, and wonder in a glance instantly brings viewers close to him and his lightly-fictionalized character, and his performance commands your attention at every moment. The moments on the heath (heh) are like the factory-floor sequence of the excellent, similarly sensibly-unfaithful adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: for all the metaphysical concerns of the film, for all its subtle wit and thematic seriousness, the beating heart of Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy is the overflow of life and expression that comes straight from Sterne, just as the sheer wonder on the face of Martin Freeman's Arthur Dent is the skeleton key to Douglas Adams's gloriously humane sci-fi satire.
I enjoyed the film a great deal; I believe it's a greater film than I initially expected, and as I get over my mild disappointment that There Weren't Enough Funny Bits I'm reminded that my favourite comedy, The Office, draws its awesome power from its own unique complex tone, which is 'comedy' in an expansive sense of the word but aspires to be (and certainly is) something else at heart. The British have a way with a certain kind of prickly, brainy comedy that doesn't quite have an American TV/film equivalent (though I imagine The Simpsons could be argued for in this area), which encodes in comedic rhythms a whole different set of irreducibly complex emotional problems, so that when the laughing is done, the real work of untangling relationships and ideas begins. I get the sense sometimes that Americans prefer for their laughs to boil down to something palatable, so that 'difficult' comedy can reassure, can land soft the next day. Comedy's power to truly unsettle is rarely loosed double-barreled on American audiences. [Here's one American example of what I'm thinking of; stick with it all the way to the end for a truly daring moment of comedy, worthy of Rogers's comparison to Bill Hicks.]
Tristram Shandy tells an interesting, very short story about people on a movie set; it does justice to the anarchic spirit of its source material, but doesn't attempt to ape its tone, only its implications. It is evidence of a spirit and craftsmanship sorely needed in Hollywood, perhaps impossible to sustain there. It's also a comedy in name only; like the proto-modernist novel on which it's based, it prefers to make its own categories. It's pretty funny at times in any case, especially the bits with wigs and a scene with two cows humping. You'll love that shit.
I spoke previously about my disappointment over the first four episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the most highly-regarded anime series. Well the next four are no better! Huzzah! The first ~200 minutes are stupefyingly bad - lamely animated, devoid of serious psychology, set in a hackneyed sketched-in world full of lamely superficial quasi-Christian symbolism. And of course there's the 'fanservice,' which isn't funny or exciting, just pathetic. The dialogue is horrifying:
SHINJI: Why do you pilot this thing?
REI: Because I'm bonded to it.
SHINJI: You're bonded?
REI: Yes. It's a bond.
All of this is secondary to the series's major flaw, its attempts at psychological metaphor and dreamlike imagery, which are (through the first eight episodes in any case) absolutely fucking godawful. This is where I start to wonder about anime fans - what could they possibly be talking about when they praise the 'powerful imagery' and cosmic significance of this story? What can people conceivably find so interesting about this show?
There are two possibilities:
1) The show miraculously improves sometime in its final 2/3.
2) Anime fans simply have pathologically low expectations and juvenile attitudes toward sex, violence, society, and psychology.
The first is possible, the second unfair and wrong but perhaps useful as a shorthand for assholes like me. Well OK, let's introduce a third possibility for kicks:
3) This is a children's cartoon, and it's ridiculous to demand anything from it beyond paint-by-numbers banality.
Which suggests that, in the total absence of evidence of adult seriousness or psychological insight:
3a) Reports of its goodness can be to a degree dismissed as pre-aesthetic attachment or ex post facto rationalization.
Except that's not really fair - sensible people like Farhad and Walter like Evangelion. So...what? Is it some kind of terrible personal shortcoming that I am not in this case considering the possibility that I Just Don't Get It? Because I'm not. Considering it, I mean. If there were serious employment of symbol, metaphor, character, or sequence of events in this bloody series I'd have seen it by now - because by God I'm looking. I desperately want Evangelion to be as good as people have claimed.
But so far, it's just not. Not by a mile.
All of which is finally to say, this show had better get good fast, because thus far I haven't seen even five minutes of Evangelion that I didn't wish I had back.
Oh by the way let's add one last option:
4) This dubbing is so awful that it's ruining the show utterly.
Someone better clear that last thing up, fast.
There's some John Zorn (The Circle Maker) on the stereo, the weather's gorgeous, some bhangra to see tonight, we just watched The Caveman's Valentine...let's get the afternoon moving the right way by diagramming an episode of Lost. The idea behind this exercise is to break down a typical hour of this formally consistent show as an aid to those with an interest in the repeatable formulae of contemporary American prime-time network television, whether as viewers or writers or what have you. [But note: tight criticism of Lost is attempted in this post as well. I leave it to you, Reader(s), to decide whether it's valuable.]
[Note: Very long post here.]
The episode, 'Confidence Man,' is a Season One hour written by Damon Lindelof. It's a Sawyer-centric episode (meaning the flashbacks are to Sawyer's life), the first one on the series. A brief synopsis is here. This is the episode in which the contents of Sawyer's letter are revealed - we find out that his name isn't Sawyer, that his father killed himself and his wife, that Sawyer's a con man with a heart of gold - in other words, we find out his trauma and his profession, which is a direct result of the trauma. Lost-level psychology 101.
It's also, as you'll recall, a pretty good episode on the scale of Lost, very much in the primary-colours Season One solidity mode instead of Season Two's catastrophic loss of coherence and momentum. I'm looking at the 'Network Draft' of the script, available online here, which differs from the filmed episode in presumably several ways but certainly the following: as written, the asthma-inhaler subplot was to circle around a day player; in the final version it was Shannon who had asthma, and Boone who got beaten up. A smart move by the writers.
'Confidence Man' is one more thing: crucially, it's the episode in which Sayid tortures Sawyer, which Sawyer accepts and invites, leaving Sayid to go off in remorse and run into Danielle Rousseau out on the island (who then tortures him - big torture festival on this show). TV drama often falls flat when dealing with people at outer emotional extremity; in order to keep the dramatic continuity going it often seems to become necessary to trivialize or minimize the impact of present-time trauma (distant trauma being, of course, the base camp for characterization in pop-psych dramatic universes). The torture is the important present-time action of the episode; it and the investigation that lead up to it, and the emotional fallout from Kate and Sawyer's post-torture kiss, are (to put it in the coarse terms used by TV writers) the 'A' story. Charlie's comic-relief shenanigans are the 'B' story; Jin and Sun float at its edges in a sort of 'C' story; the flashbacks form a parallel narrative to the 'A' story, explaining motivations and building up to their own dramatic climax. Almost all Lost episodes work on similar structural lines.
I'll try to keep this brief. (But I'm redefining 'brief' upward.)
Andrew Sullivan today (again) pisses on the denizens of DailyKos for not caring enough about the Iraq War. (I can't be bothered to link; it's not worth reading.) It goes:
[Warning: Thoughts on Angel follow, of extraordinary length and fannish character, and I'm certain that they won't be of interest to anyone but other fans. Which fact is - I am a big enough person to admit this - embarrassing and sad, and I will no doubt scourge myself out of penitence later.]
In the Season Four Angel recap, Joss Whedon says that that was certainly the best season of the show. (Dunno whether he recorded that interview before the very successful fifth season.) Now, Whedon's one of the best storytellers on TV, the man responsible for (among other things) the triumphant fifth season of Buffy, as well-wrought a TV tale as is to be found on these shores. So he knows what he's talking about.
And yet he's wrong. So very, very wrong.
Angel's fourth season is intermittently quite strong and occasionally - indeed we might say 'far more often than one would expect' - a goddamn tragedy, a ludicrous and half-baked mishmash of strained acting, strained writing, and the unmistakable odor of external production circumstances bearing adversely on the creative process. With its emotional arcs pinballing all over the place for the entire year and its villains unsatisfying (how easily is the Beast killed in the end? How unimpressive is Jasmine, another stand-around-talking baddie?), Angel Season Four isn't on the level of the show's debut year - better than you remember but ultimately lightweight, comparable to Buffy's opening season or early Season Two - but on balance S4 was a belly-flop, with a powerful opening and great ending serving as bookends to the most jumbled Joss Whedon tale yet.
So what does one of TV's sharpest minds see in Season Four?
I find myself less and less impressed by Markos Moulitsas (aka 'Kos' of DailyKos) every day. A lot of that disenchantment is in response to his writing, which flits somewhere between 'functional' and 'terrible.' Atop which, in his partisan fervor he's said some embarrassing, mildly ominous things this year, expressing opinions that point up weaknesses (intellectual and emotional) of his beloved 'netroots.'
Kos on Lieberman today, in the wake of Ned Lamont's Senate Democratic primary victory:
The DSCC and the DCCC will have to deal with the fact that this race will continue to suck oxygen from great pickup opportunities. And I won't apologize for that, because as a proud Democrat, I will help in whatever way I can the Democratic nominee from the Great State of Connecticut.
The Republicans rejoiced at Lieberman's decision to stay in. They couldn't be happier. And let's not talk about the lobbyists! They're besides themselves!
Joe Lieberman is not an independent Democrat. He needs to be stripped of his committee assignments and have those handed to real Democrats.
Let's put it bluntly: when people attack kos as requiring (metaphorical) loyalty oaths and ideological litmus tests, they're not making a controversial claim. In this post he's explicitly doing just that. Lieberman's 'not a real Democrat'? And he's 'not an independent Democrat'? OK, then what the hell is he? You can imagine the answer from the Kossacks: he's a neocon, Bush's whipping boy. Remember that Lieberman, for his many faults, has a fairly consistent record of backing progressive causes in Connecticut. His sin? Kowtowing to George Bush on the Iraq War, and carrying water for the Republicans by spouting stupid GOP talking points and speaking of the need to stifle dissent in wartime.
But no offense - that sounds to me like precisely the definition of an independent Democrat. You might not like his deviations from the party line, but he has a right to them. Kos doesn't see it that way. Lieberman sincerely believes in the cause in Iraq. He's dumb or craven enough to believe that things are alright there (it's also possible he's crazy, that most of them are, but leave that aside for a moment), and he supported the nauseating bankruptcy bill last year, but he wasn't alone on that. And he's not alone on Iraq. Among Democrats he wasn't alone on wanting to privatize Social Security. But in Kos's mind - in the DailyKos hive mind - Lieberman is apostate and therefore must be purged. That's not Stalinism of course, but it is an obsession with partisanship that is at the very least unhealthy.
These appeals to Party unity from Kos and such are wearying and saddening. I don't care whether Lieberman's a 'good Democrat' or an 'independent Democrat' or whatever - I would like for him to be a good Senator, to represent the best interests of his constituents, and to provide a check against the push for unfettered power by the current mendacious, incompetent Republican leadership. You can do that as a Republican, we should point out. (Or a Green, in theory.)
If Lieberman wants to run as an Independent candidate, good for him. He's cowardly and dumb, an uninspiring leader and simpering fool, and Lamont should be able to dispatch him in the November election. Lieberman will end up costing the Democratic Party through his antics - costing money, and attention, and dignity. Pragmatically that's a bad thing. In moral terms, more grandly speaking, it is what it is. The Democrats are nothing to write home about; theirs is largely an opposition of convenience. ('Antiwar' views, when it comes to our current leaders, aren't actually grounded in solid moral frameworks, to my mind. Why does an 'antiwar' candidate want out of Iraq? Dig deep and I suspect you'll find contingency and reactionary dislike, but where's the internationalism? Where's the hard moral calculus? These are mainstream American politicians, and we are foolish to think of their 'antiwar' views as generally principled.) Kos makes the distinction between Democrats and liberals when it suits him; he hates Bush and the Republicans, and that obviously is an animating force in his politics.
Remember his YearlyKos prediction: 'Lieberman is going to lose.'
Not 'Lamont is going to win.'
It's a distinction with a difference.
The self-congratulation and whining at 'netroots' sites right now are staggering in degree but not surprising. Here's firedoglake on Lieberman:
Ned Lamont won the Democratic primary in Connecticut this evening. Joe Lieberman lost.
Joe Lieberman is on C-Span right now thumbing his nose at the Democratic voters and the Democratic party, and announcing his run independent from the party. He’s saying he wants to "unite not divide." This speech is right out of the Karl Rove playbook. Word on the street in Connecticut is that Lieberman will be running as an independent with Republican backing. Any doubts that his loyalty first and foremost is to Joe Lieberman, whatever it takes?
What a goddamn surprise, you charming naïf! Imagine a national politician's loyalty being primarily to himself! I understand the principle at work but you're letting a predictable bit of petulance and narcissism by Lieberman piss on a perfectly nice primary-night victory.
The race was about Lieberman. It was a referendum on Lieberman's capitulation to Bush administration wishes. That tells us a tiny bit about the future of ideological independence in the Senate, a lot about how 'netroots' types view parliamentary politics in this century, and absolutely nothing about Ned Lamont. This was an 'anyone but Joe' vote. It is my sincere hope that Ned Lamont proves to be a good candidate and a good Senator. But while I have no reason to doubt that, I have no reason to believe it either. I see that as a failure of elementary responsibility by 'netroots' types.
I'm glad Lieberman lost. I don't like the man and don't like what he chooses to stand up for. (And he sure as hell didn't help Al Gore or America in 2000.) But Ned Lamont's main identity is that he's not Joe, that he's not a Bush supporter. He doesn't seem like a strong candidate. And reprehensible as we already know the Republican spin on this victory will be, pundits should feel free to point out that 'better than the alternative' is not a good basis for politics, and the grand liberal gate-crashing horde has not yet changed that sad reality one iota.
Killed a spider, was menaced by one of those godawful fucking house centipede things.
Am now returning to a normal heartrate, a half-hour later.
I do not believe in fate but damn.
'All apprehensions of the deity have in common ego suppression at depth.' -- David Milch quoting (paraphrasing?) William James
Oh for God's sake.
Goddamnit, I don't understand! Corpse Bridge should've been right up Tim Burton's alley! Why are the first thirty minutes so...bad?
It's slow, clunky, barely stitched together; the songs are typically speak-singy stuff from Danny Elfman, i.e. neither memorably melodic nor even poppily accessible; the lyrics are way overdone, cramming a ton of on-the-nose declaratives into too little musical space; the voice acting isn't terribly distinguished (though the Petter Lorre worm is funny, and Helena Bonham Carter's voice competes with Emily Watson's for 'sweetest ever'); even Johnny Depp has more or less nothing to do. The dialogue is too easy, the visual gags too obvious, and wit is in short supply. And Burton's up to his old visual/tonal tricks in almost every way, which should be pleasant but instead is just boring. This is the creative team responsible for the demented genius of The Nightmare Before Christmas - how could Corpse Bride feel so slapdash?
I've committed a half-hour to the film and it's gone back into its DVD case. I like Burton, Elfman, Depp, Bonham Carter, Watson...hell, I thought Charlie's Angels was stupid-funny, so I know John August can write a funny line. But frankly, I want those thirty minutes of my life back. I couldn't even make it through that much of Ed Wood; I'm gonna have to bust out Batman Returns to refresh myself. (Between the tectonic first Batman feature and the monumental shittiness of the third and fourth in the series, it's easy to forget that Batman Returns is the most perverse and idiosyncratic Bat-flick. And the Keaton/Pfeiffer romance/combat is the quirkiest, kinkiest, most electric relationship for miles in every direction. Seeing that film in theatres is one of my earliest naughty film memories.)
Hitchens does his unpredictable dance here - sounding stylistically a little more like William F. Buckley every day, I should say - in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal.
FADE IN: 2 July 2006.
FADE OUT: 5 August 2006.
End of first draft: 6 August 2006.
I'm tempted to make an 'It's gonna bomb' joke here, but given the date, I'll skip it for now.
The moment nine minutes into 'It's About That Time,' from the In a Silent Way sessions box, when Miles plays that 'let's do this shit' lick and the drums finally kick in, a cloudbreak...that's quality arranging, quality improv, strong listening, subtle playing, and above all patience. The players earn that awesome feeling of release and arrival. The fact that the band finally boils over during Miles's subtle solo and not Shorter's darting funk statement is testament to Miles's good taste - and if you want to say 'ego' you can say that too, but onstage I don't think ego had anything to do with it. Here comes a cat so bad he doesn't have to say but a word on that horn and shit starts blowing up.
I would like to be able to put into practice this patient and subtle craft, which bears rare and rapturous fruit. This morning I'm finishing this script - a half-hour, perhaps, if I focus - but already I hear right notes coming at the wrong time, out of order and out of patience. Writing isn't soloing, it's leading a band. My first: and I all want to do is get the motherfuckers to land on the one. Begin at the beginning and lock in the tempo so it means something when you tearass through the last chorus, drums flailing under brand new chords.
An email I just sent to a mailing list re: Macintosh computers:
> So I'm thinking about a new iPod. I would probably get the 30GB > model, which would cost $270 after my education discount. The obvious > question, buy now or wait for a new release? The current line is due > for an update soon (right??)... any intuition on this one?
i paraphrase the contemporary philosopher PATRICIA ARQUETTE:
are you the kind of guy who fucks this girl and then doesn't call?
or are you the kind of guy who fucks this girl and then cuts her head off?
i mean get serious for god's sake and then we can start dealing with these issues at root instead of pussyfooting around things. i mean i'm listening to the album '1999' right now, i'm close to the end of my tether, the fan is on the lowest setting, i've got chills. 'little red corvette,' and all i can fucking hear is 'pa-tri-cia ar-quette.' i'm the cutest girl you know and still i'm nothing to write home about, stiles.
your website's funny as shit though.
I'm halfway through a 20oz. bottle of Coke, to go with the salt-blast of a mini can of Pringles, and my heart is pounding through my ribcage. A man out of control and in love, looking down the barrel of the last 12-15 pages of script, give or take, is a dangerous and depraved thing. (Written thus far today: 14 pages.) Plus no one will respond to my repeated goddamn requests for advice on how to rock way out tonight! I'm serious about listening to Prince, you know. I realize now who Andrew W.K. secretly wants to be - a version of Prince who chugs Mountain Dew instead of having sex. I can see the appeal.
By the way I'm not a girl, that was just an affectation for the purposes of writing the best and most moving email possible.
Thanks for your kind attention and consideration, potential employers,
Check out David Gray's drawing of the 'Lifehacker's Dilemma.' (Better treatment of lifehacking here.) Hipster-therapeutic blogger Merlin Mann says Gray 'sums it all up nicely.' Oddly enough, I don't think he's being ironic. And I don't think the cartoon was intended to take the piss. Weird.
Merlin - a person who refers to himself by any derivation of the word 'hacker' and yet whose life consists entirely of consuming trendy 'geek' media and changing the desktop background on his G5, is...is...I'm trying to be diplomatic here...
How can I put this? Near as I can tell the only thing worse for the soul than living that life is thinking it's really cool and apparently being Best Buds Ever with other fucking people who manage against all evolutionary pressures to think the same thing. N'est totally pas?
While writing East of Eden John Steinbeck used the right-hand pages of a new notebook for the novel's text and its left-hand pages for letters to his editor, with which he started each working day (he kept this practice up for about a year). The letters, published a few years ago under the title Journal of a Novel, were meant to serve as a 'warmup' for Steinbeck, which he likened to a pitcher's pre-game pitches, to limber up the arm (and mind). As near as I can tell, the craft of writing consists of internalizing a number of rules, best practices, and structuring tendencies, which afford the writer a way around mechanical concerns and into a productive emotional and habitual state. Any knack for dialogue or the ready portrayal of character, any instinctive sense of narrative flow, is separate from these mechanical tasks. Writing as a profession differs from writing as a hobby in the degree of mechanical sublimation achieved by the writer. Otherwise the mechanisms are similar. Professionalism is mechanization (habituation and positive response).
Sometimes when I'm about to sit down and knock out some words I write here, having long since grown accustomed to the look of this text editor (the wonderful ecto) and having grown, over the last four years, fairly comfortable with my own voice as it manifests in this medium. Getting to comfort - intellectual/emotional momentum - lowers my internal defenses and lifts my tendency to kill possible creative work through preemptive criticism. Better to face my worse self here, from a position of relative psychic strength, than on a script page.
Today's warmup has been different, and has put me in quite a different mood. Instead of 'warming up' with prose, I spent a little while fiddling with regular expressions in Ruby and Perl, trying to accomplish some fairly trivial task. That analytical (Temporary) mindset has the interesting effect of getting my mind working but not my prose mind; looking at code gooses the parts of my brain it doesn't utilize, with a kind of anticipation. Playing music has the same effect. Empirical evidence aplenty suggests that playing video games does not (video games, like television and film, having a very steep dosage curve, so that five minutes might be invigorating but the sixth might prove narcoleptic in effect). It's the difference between a splash of cold water and a warm bath - some work gives more than it demands.
And yet: I know I should structure my day around energy-enhancing activities, so as to optimize my writing time, but I'm now running into the question of whether I'm capable of feeling that effect afresh once I've grown accustomed to a given activity. That is to say: how do you make a unique pleasure reproducible? I don't know. For me much of the pleasure of such tasks as recording a silly song or writing a snippet of code is that I don't do them every day. I think I have an innate objection to habit-formation as a plan of self-betterment. Anti-therapeutic bigotry I suppose, or something like it. I would so very much like to know what motors are available and accessible to me. But I find it terribly difficult to systematize this self-knowledge. Trivial to schematize, of course. Grad school will have that effect. But my introspective cast has not granted me predictive power in the realm of creativity. There is apparently a part of me that wishes to remain a stranger to my deeper feelings.
Nonetheless, a splash of cold water. For that singular experience I may as well be grateful, and make at least the gesture of trying to remember where in hell I found it, and come back to the well tomorrow and the next day, humbly, hopeful. The pages aren't really for me. What a strange gift that has turned out to be, that empowering sense of communion. Which we can all (I suspect) give to one another - love's investment in tomorrow, and the water, and the well.
Some folks call you the elite.
I call you my commenters.
Suffering does not impart wisdom, and the status of victim should not be exalted.
From that sentence it does not follow that victims should be denigrated. Our responsibilities do not, however, cease upon our attainment of victim status. Nor do our past responsibilities, and our success or failure at meeting them, disappear. Crimes and mistakes should not be punished equally. Nor ignored.
The desire to take for oneself the status of victim is a pathology like any other and should be treated. (It is the making-monstrous of empathy.) The desire to label crimes merely 'monstrous,' and thereby avoid responsibility for punishing their perpetrators and lessening the chances of their repetition, is a pathology like any other and should be treated.
In a sufficiently large community it becomes possible for everyone to assign to themselves the status of victim, as 'crimes against community' can be perpetrated that no longer affect them directly, only systemically, and therefore a cost-free imaginative identification is possible. (Nationalism is a cost-free imaginative identification.)
What do we take for ourselves when we 'forgive' but don't 'excuse'? That is to say, what is forgiveness? Necessary for true forgiveness is a recognition of the irreconcilability of two human beings' identities, their personalities and experiences, which is then subsumed in a recognition of their mutual need for society. But then of course forgiveness and prevention (learning) should come together. The desire (understood as need) to focus on the moment of an event rather than its meaning - to see the end of time in an event, a break with the past, and therefore a break with our responsibilities to the past, and its to us - is a pathology like any other and should be treated.
If the desire to be humiliated and controlled is a 'reasonable' or 'normal' level of 'kink' - i.e. if submissiveness is a natural aspect of human sexuality and should be accommodated by a caring sexual partner - then the desire to humiliate and control (domination) is so as well.
The perversion of the former desire yields 'victim culture'; the perversion of the latter yields 'rape culture.'
Both 'cultures' spring from the same locus of desire.
** Prompted by this, and offered in lieu of the long, long post that I can't seem to finish, in which the point in this post is made laboriously, at terrible length, after a long digression about Andrew Sullivan. (Which is why I didn't post the thing.)