Wednesday, July 29, 2015

some words about Jill Moon's art

The artist Jill Moon , who passed away two weeks ago, was a painter of distinct style and approach  who hadn't  been given a great deal of critical notice during her too-short life. This would due in large part, though, to the fact that she retired from public life soon after  she left  her teaching position in set design and art history at Cornell. She did some design work for the theater, but she had no showings that I can remember . She willingly pursued an anonymity that was her right. Jill didn't stop making art, however and indeed her productivity as prodigious and prolific. Jill Moon's imagination for figuration was a marvel. She was a dear friend of mine for the better part of thirty years and change, and it was my good fortune to "see her in action" as she tok to the canvas with her paints, brushes and assorted implements. Jill had a sense of how to bring the incongruous together and make it make work as if the disparate details--a fairy in a pope's Miter, leotards and a polka dot skirt, a red/green/orange trout standing upward blowing blue bubbles, a rainbow-crested dandelion waiting patiently for the fairy and the fish to notice its glorious impersonation of an umbrella--belonged in the same space. 

A recent painting by Jill for her grandson Jasper.
Wallace Stevens' notion of the Supreme Fiction, that space between imagination and the real world that it's about to work upon , where the notions , ideas, imagery is worked out, arranged, finessed as though being fussed upon before going out the door for the business day, but always without explanation to justify their visualization or placement before the eyes of the observer. This was the sphere where there were no secrets, only matters you hadn't discerned yet, or explanatory narratives to connect her figures with the a cogent suggestion of what makes sense in the reality they were brought into. There was a painting Jill had done for a show of hers at UCSD that featured small, mischievous devils scattered about the color saturated straits of a particular portrait. Someone asked her what they were and she explained, laughing so slightly, that "...they were devils playing with the other things in the painting. I painted them because because I like them. What they mean is private. Actually, I'm not even sure if I know what they mean..." 

I wouldn't doubt that at the time Jill would have to create something that would contextualize the leitmotifs and tropes and her use of a flat style in order for a critical appreciation to be applied and calm those minds that demand how the contents of painting operates as a critique of how we live, but in the moment of creation and long afterward, she was taken with the joy of creating this space where instinct,, dreams, mystery and ominous ritual , combined in the odd and angular ways that fit Jill's idea of allowing forms migrate, mutate, associate as they may.  


Jill was as taken with the idea that art had no commitment to reaffirm or even threaten an audiences' shared cosmologies; the artist wasn't required to speak to how the world does or does not work, or dwell in the joys or depressions that art lovers might project on the campus. I remember Jill , in one of those graduate student bull sessions at the Pub following an art show she had been featured in, reflecting on the ideas of Derrida and deconstruction and the insight that because meaning is not fixed in a text, whether be it book, painting, movie, play, saying that she gave her art over to the idea of play. "I don't think art needs to be about anything" she said firmly . I don't recall what she followed that declaration with, but I do recall many a conversation that artists can only be responsible for making the art and making sure that the pieces they introduce to the world have their own integrity , on  their terms.  "What the painting means isn't my job" she said at one point, "that would kill the happiness someone else could have creating their own meaning and sharing it with others." 

The poetic analogs are obvious , I think, the first being Ars Poetica by Arichald McLeish


Ars Poetica

By Archibald MacLeish
A poem should be palpable and mute   

As a globed fruit,


Dumb

As old medallions to the thumb,


Silent as the sleeve-worn stone

Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—


A poem should be wordless   

As the flight of birds.


                         *               


A poem should be motionless in time   

As the moon climbs,


Leaving, as the moon releases

Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,


Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,   

Memory by memory the mind—


A poem should be motionless in time   

As the moon climbs.


                         *               


A poem should be equal to:

Not true.


For all the history of grief

An empty doorway and a maple leaf.


For love

The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—


A poem should not mean   

But be.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

a poem for Jill Moon, 1952-2015

From the top of your head

Jill Moon, 1952-2015
  (Jill Moon, the woman I loved more than nearly anyone or anything else, has passed away. This is a love poem I wrote for her back in  1996. It says it all and has nothing close to how deep our friendship was and how deep the loss is and will remain. She was 63 years old, a painter, a set designer, a college professor, a loving mother,  a glass artist, a wit, a smart person who loved beautiful things and interesting people..
Jill Moon was a beautiful, brilliant, funny and passionate person who brought energy, humor,
and wit where ever she went in whatever she undertook. Her art in painting, set design, sculpture shared the qualities of innocence and play, mystery and just a hint of the ominous. Her canvases bristled with activity and color, small items and large that seemed to move about their terrain in some grand dance to keep this world balanced and ultimately serene. Jill was a loving person, gregarious, outgoing, a loving mother and a champion of the talent and virtues of her friends, a believer in social justice, and kindness toward others, someone who believed that harnessing the creativity in all of us makes the world a better place to live in. She was inspired to create and continued her art up to the end, adding glass art and doll making to her splendid body of work in painting, set design, and public sculpture. Being with Jill was one of the richest experiences of my life and her loss leaves a gap that cannot be easily filled, if at all. Jill was a beautifully singular human being. - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/guestbooks/sandiegouniontribune/jill-moon-deroos-condolences/175366955?cid=full&page=4#sthash.dSfay1v5.dpuf
Jill Moon was a beautiful, brilliant, funny and passionate person who brought energy, humor,
and wit where ever she went in whatever she undertook. Her art in painting, set design, sculpture shared the qualities of innocence and play, mystery and just a hint of the ominous. Her canvases bristled with activity and color, small items and large that seemed to move about their terrain in some grand dance to keep this world balanced and ultimately serene. Jill was a loving person, gregarious, outgoing, a loving mother and a champion of the talent and virtues of her friends, a believer in social justice, and kindness toward others, someone who believed that harnessing the creativity in all of us makes the world a better place to live in. She was inspired to create and continued her art up to the end, adding glass art and doll making to her splendid body of work in painting, set design, and public sculpture. Being with Jill was one of the richest experiences of my life and her loss leaves a gap that cannot be easily filled, if at all. Jill was a beautifully singular human being. - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/guestbooks/sandiegouniontribune/jill-moon-deroos-condolences/175366955?cid=full&page=4#sthash.dSfay1v5.dpuf
Jill Moon was a beautiful, brilliant, funny and passionate person who brought energy, humor,
and wit where ever she went in whatever she undertook. Her art in painting, set design, sculpture shared the qualities of innocence and play, mystery and just a hint of the ominous. Her canvases bristled with activity and color, small items and large that seemed to move about their terrain in some grand dance to keep this world balanced and ultimately serene. Jill was a loving person, gregarious, outgoing, a loving mother and a champion of the talent and virtues of her friends, a believer in social justice, and kindness toward others, someone who believed that harnessing the creativity in all of us makes the world a better place to live in. She was inspired to create and continued her art up to the end, adding glass art and doll making to her splendid body of work in painting, set design, and public sculpture. Being with Jill was one of the richest experiences of my life and her loss leaves a gap that cannot be easily filled, if at all. Jill was a beautifully singular human being. I will miss her terribly and will be forever grateful that she was part of my life. - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/guestbooks/sandiegouniontribune/jill-moon-deroos-condolences/175366955?cid=full&page=4#sthash.dSfay1v5.dpuf
I love you, dear Jill. --tb)


From the top of your head
flowers grow that I’ve never seen
in the nature of my asking
the meaning of this thing, so beautiful, the wind.

The wind in all uses highlights
the shift of your hips
leaning against rocks, the meaning of this,
the earth, the mother of the deals
that have us eating out
of  the hands that pick the roots of your hair
that goes on growing like flowers on hills
with all the houses we ‘ve  never lived in.

A clap of thunder is applause enough for pausing
to smell the turpentine that revives the hem and haw
of  the wood under our shoes,
rainy nights are ovations and the trance
of  still looking into your eyes
where I’ve always seen them,
on pyramids, in circles,
thirsty yearning.

From my hands comes ruined meaning
about hammers and nails and the holes that made them,
I’ve stared at your face on the ceiling all night,
water flows where there is no resistance,
insistence makes me forget and remember your names,
every center has a heart
and every heart is broken.
Into your face    t
    all roads split down the middle,
    the wind is a whisper
and a rustle of notes
    coyotes cry
    in the wake
    of our progress,
    so beautiful, the wind,
    and water rolling
in circles, in circles, in peace.

Friday, July 24, 2015

This is just my opinion,

 Came across a great rant, of sorts in the Houston Press about the habit of many of the hair-trigger opinion mongers in the world to dash behind the phrase "this is just my opinion" as way of giving themselves permission to suck the air the air from whatever proximity they happen to be in and replace it with misrepresentations, unsubstantiated blather, corrosive gossip, dubious science , historical inaccuracy and the like. More than a rant , to be sure, as author Jef Rouner measures his obvious distate with  examples of the evasive practice is made, and demonstrates the fallacies in the reasoning ,  or exposes the lack there of. 

"This is just my opinion" is a cop out in truth, an addendum to a comment that is meant to inoculate both remark and remarker against a closer inspection of their views. It is a lazy swerve into a convenient and know-nothing relativism that maintains that opinions that put forth dubious criteria as immutable fact are , it seems to them, all the same. I get especially irritated by conversations where I have knowledge of and strong views about the subject--literature, poetry, politics, films, --where the person I'm disagreeing with responds with "that's just your opinion". 

It's a go-to strategy that works as an attempt to both diminish my view point to the babbling chorus that have already opined on whatever the subject might be, and to get the opponent off the hook and relinquish from offering a cogent response. I don't know why this is, but the person who opts out of conversation with "just your./just my opinion" segues are, in my experience, the ones who raised the subject and pressed me for an opinion. In essence, it's a irrational swerve for someone who first approaches a topic with a head full of factoids (Norman Mailer's original definition of factoid, those things that are false that are not sufficiently vetted and which get repeated so often that everyone, including responsible news media, take them as true , at face value) with it mind to set you set you straight and then retreat into the marsh of uncertainty when presented with a srong counter proposal. 

Not all opinions are equal. Some are more interesting than others, some are better stated, some are better supported. Mailer himself was wrong and offensive on a host of issues, and he was spot on and righteous on others. He was, though, never dull in his what he said, and even in pursing a line of thought that was contrary to conventional wisdom, he provoked a conversation, a debate among the readership that , I think, made people smarter for remaining intrigued by the details both sides presented, wanting more than snarky summaries or pathetic sarcasm . That seems to be a quality we are being robbed of; the internet, of course, has made it possible for millions to have heard of a great many things, from authors, obsure wars, theories of economics and the like, and to know exactly nothing about them in any socially or creatively useful way. That is a shame.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ant Man: yes, a small fete, but nicely done all the same


I always regarded Ant Man as the least intriguing super hero from the 'Silver Age" offerings form Marvel Comics.The problem was that AM's power, the ability to shrink to the size of an ant yet maintain the strength of a fully sized male and the ability to command ants to do his bidding, had limited applications in stressful situations. There were, and remain, super heroes who have skills and gimmicks that are of curious necessity at face value;part of the joy of seeing what could be done with Batman, Green Arrow, and others was how the writers could come up with a convincing dilemma in which the odd skills would be precisely the element needed to rescue the day. Ant Man didn't give that anticipation.One sensed that  writer Stan Lee and whoever else helped him with the scripts was reaching issue-to-issue for a predicament where Ant Man's limited skill set was what the contrived situation needed. I had low expectations for the movie and found myself pleasantly surprised.Director Peyton Reed's stewardship of this film reconfiguration of a one-dimensional comic book hero dredged up from Marvel's farm leagues is sure, swift, efficient. If not spectacular on a level with the first Captain America movie , Man of Steel or the Nolan Batman trilogy, it does the work a good comic book is meant to do on the psyche, pleasantly distract you from worry and wanting.

The plot was nothing to brag about, a standard mad scientist with daddy issues going rogue with a plot to rule the world (or at least ruin it altogether for a vengeance-motivated profit), but it was well paced, superbly edited, and the effects were smartly held in check and well used when they were deployed. What was impressive especially is how Ant Man's skill at shrinking can be handy in a fight, as in disappearing rapidly and just as quickly reappearing from another angle to sucker punch a hapless villain (or an expectedly sucker-punch prone henchman). Very cool stuff. And Paul Rudd was likeable as the well intentioned ex-con who is recruited by scientist Hank Pym (Kirk Douglas) to take on the mantel of being the  Ant Man. The fact that he seems a bit embarrassed telling people his silly super hero name is a winning touch. 

It was the best that Marvel has done, but it was superior to the over-rated and needlessly busy Guardians of the Universe. Reed and credited screenwriters  Rudd, Edgar Wright, Adam McKay and Joe Cornish did the work of going to school on what is now recognizable as the Marvel Studios style of film, familiarized themselves with the formula and produced something that was created in the same mold as the Marvel films that have popped up in the last decade. I hesitate to say they "created" something here. A good way to think of this is that Ant Man might have been a decent car built by Ford, GM or Chrysler, a nice ride in most respects, but nothing truly distinct from anything else on the competing showroom floors. Just a nice ride, a professional bit of more-of-the-same. Ant Man is a film that accomplished it's mission, to entertain and distract for a brief period and then recede from recent memory. That these folks managed to do that without the usual dinner theater mellow drama and scene chewing that usually goes in Marvel's big ticket films is something else that recommends the film.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Serious like a good crying jag

Inveterate television watchers have been extolling the worth of cable drama for some time now, honoring the programming as solid evidence that television has entered a new Golden Age. It's a view I share in large part. There has been and continues to be so much interesting and artfully convened fiction and comedy spread  out along the cable channels that participating in a TV show carries the sort of prestige that had been the exclusive claim of movie work. Small wonder for the tremendous ground swell in quality, as movie producers, directors and writers, finding it more difficult to get serious dramatic films produced for theatrical release, approached premium cable stations like HBO and Showtime, along with FX and AMC on the non--premium side, to see if they could get their projects done. The rest, of course, is a changed industry, with new technologies, more viewing options , and more demand for original content. Not everything that has emerged in the vein of serious cable drama has been compelling, which was to be expected by anyone who knows the basic dialectical precept that "quantity changes quality". (Consult your Hegel, Marx and Engels for more elaboration, or browse this handy cheat sheet on the issue). The upshot of that abstract dictum is that familiarity breeds contempt on the audience's part, who eventually become so saturated in the fundemental mechanisms of serialized drama that what was once fresh and refreshingly unexpected becomes cliched  and , further, lends itself to parody. Worse, the dramas parody themselves. That would be a sad state to find ourselves in, a sad state to return to, not much different than when the broadcast networks ruled the airwaves and ruined us with decades of shtick.

This is to put forward that the sort of drama introduced to cable television introduced with the 1997 HBO prison series OZ  has been around long enough to develop, inspire further plot innovations and variations to the extent that the quality fiction programs we've come to know have developed their own generic structural particulars and developed , as well, their own cliches. Part of that seems to be the draining of humor, even gallows humor, from a good amount of the newer dramas and the drastic draining of any ironic sense that might give the relentless pursuit of gloom a breathe space or at least a chance to laugh hysterically at some sudden funny quirk that would release tension before building it up again. 

The Atlantic Magazine has an article titled "Why Prestige TV is So Depressing" .This article is a pretty good overview of the current crop of prestige dramas that have filled the cable channels. I pretty much share the opinion that television has matured to the point that it can have splendidly plotted, directed and acted serial dramas that provide the grittier and compelling twists of the human heart at war with itself (a paraphrase of Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech quote), an audience desire that theatrical motion pictures have not been able to do in large part for at least the last 20 years. 

 Humor in these most recent series,, though, seems to be on vacation and matters are several shades too dire and too serious . Game of Thrones should have been conceived as a limited series with an end game in sight, different from Martin's unfinished novel series. This last season was a humorless trudge for the most part , and killing off the characters you're sympathetic with is no longer effective means of keeping interest.The end of this many -layered saga is open ended and the story arcs , given the shuffling pace of the last two seasons, appear that they'll require several more seasons before anything resembling a conclusion arrives at our doorstep.

Focus is the key for series that want to dwell in the baser aspects of our nature. We would benefit from producers, writers and directors having very good outlines of where their proposed serial dramas begin and end, that the adventures in the middle area are interesting but don't wind up in a dead end or mired in the metaphorical swamp of distracted character chatter. We need more dramas with that have the element of irony , surprise and humor, dark humor of course, to make the complicating action of flawed characters seem more vivid--those moments of relief make the dramatic momentum have more power. Think Sopranos, think Six Feet Under, think Breaking Bad. All isn't lost, though, as we have Fargo, Better Call Saul at our disposal, shows that realize that dramatic power isn't limited to a cast of frowny faced psychopaths, rapists and killers who are working out their issues sans a punchline of any sort.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

"True Detective", Season 2: a beautifully rendered muddle

The second season of True Detective has taken some hard knocks from viewers who are steamed that creator and writer Nick Pzzolatto hasn't created a new series of the show that would better compliment the masterful first season. I nod, of course, acknowledging the lack of polish in some of the more ambitious bits of dialogue and agree, as well, that this investigation is far more ambiguous than the supernatural aspects of the serial murders that were the focus of the first set of episodes. Acknowledging that, I think Season 2 has its own style and embedded genius. This is classic noir material, worthy of Hammet, Chandler, Cornell Woolrich , Jim Thompson; it is a world of scummy characters and their soulless undertakings ,  darkly lit and dark-hearted. If the investigation is unclear at times, but not incoherent, and this is the tone and spirit of this kind of story telling, which involves very screwed up people trying to redeem themselves by trying to discover a hidden truth behind a fatal incident. 

Whether the characters find redemption of any kind--a second chance in a job or relationship, a healed relationship, self-acceptance--is up in the air at this point, and that gives this show a Calvinist aspect that is simply irresistible: none of the nominal heroes have an idea whether the investigation they're conducting will benefit them in this life (or the next, for that matter), but their hard work in applying their professionalism toward an inevitable discovery of ugly facts can be construed as hints, clues, indications of their chances of achieving some relief from their existential dilemmas. And for all the awkward philosophizing? Fine with me: these are cops and creeps with an appreciation of nuance and distinctions that abound in the life, but when they try to articulate it, it comes out awkward, confused, lacking an over all clarity. For all the plans, explanations, justifications and action , these are cops and creeps who are stumbling over themselves looking their lost selves in the middle of a crime scene. It is a perfect, beautifully rendered muddle.

Untangling a good yarn



Commentary Magazine has a  provocative think piece on line that seeks to answer the question about Why College Kids are Avoiding the Study  of Literature.  My unfairly brief and brutal precis of the piece, which should be read for a a wealth of subtle discovers about the reason in the decline of interest in studying the canon of their  own and other cultures, is that there is a fantastic lack of will to do so. So much many novels , plays, poets over so many centuries, so many critical studies, abstracts, so many genres, so many opinions and torturous analysis to kill the joy of a good yarn. Are things really that different than when I was a literature major in the seventies and eighties?  I liked to drink a lot and I liked to think a lot at that time. I still think recreation-ally these days, and the joy was in finding out what I could make of something that might other wise have been merely a passing distraction.The abilities to both read for enjoyment and analyze the components of a story that make it art are not mutually exclusive. I majored in Literature both as undergrad and graduate student and found pleasure in discussing the finer points in narrative art. 

It is a fine method to learning to think critically as a matter of habit, and the habit of thinking about literature analytically most certainly helps a great many people make better decisions after an informed study of the cases made in front of them. Theory is fine, over all, if it provides a frame work for which to place a poem, novel, play within and to help a reader reap subtler, richer veins of intent operating under the surface of an attractive prose; theories are only useful if they are flexible to account for ideas or notions the theorist might not have counted on. Otherwise, literary theory becomes a marsh of deferred discovery: strong interpretation, the pleasurable part of writing criticism and reading it as well, ceases and the conversation becomes about the undecidability of a text, that the center of a story is not fixed, that literature is a foul process for indoctrination into ever-invisible powers that be that pull the string. 

The deconstructive, post- structuralist relativism that has prevailed for the last few decades--lately on the wane, I have read--is, in fact, a gutless, shallow, uncommitted liberalism that rolls over and plays dead when statements about the Human Condition need to be made; really, it just backs away from debate, ducks behind an opaque jargon, and frankly encourages you, the reader, to just accept that questioning authority is a waste of time. That won't do, of course. greed, and the point of any kind of criticism that is useful is in establishing why literature is distinct from other kinds of text. Reducing everything to "text" and subjecting them to a clever system of rationalized buck-passing in terms of developing an arguable point of view regarding the meaning and quality of a book is a cowardly . On the face of it, a proponent of this kind of hermetically sealed blather would insist that what's at stake is the coming to grips that narrative structure of any kind is a power play in which absolute and fixed cosmologies are positioned favorable , with storylines coming to inevitable conclusions and moral lessons, all done so under the guise of but with the more sinister purpose of basically maintaining a coercive influence over the reader, over the population. 

This, of course, is a rather tepid reiteration of Marcuse's idea of "repressive tolerance" and Guy deBord's notion of the carnivalization of our fears in popular media in his book "Society of the Spectacle"; although the intent that is claimed is the final and permanent liberation of populations from the Capitalist master narrative and , as if awakening from some kind of mass bi-cameral slumber, are able to see the world on terms unsullied by a concentrated and well money center of power. This, I remember , was the goal of Modernists in and around the turn of the century and through the first and second World Wars, a good amount of that energy , both intellectually powerful and seductive, came from right wing extremes, Nazis and Italian fascists both , who wanted to preserve the pure and actual as they defined it, to rid the world of the false gods in art, religion and commerce, and restore an Eden that existed only in their fever dreams. 

Millions paid for such reductionist folly with their lives. The task of criticism is to inspect, take apart, under stand moving parts in a work of art and the relationship and influence it has on the world around it. Even Marcuse would have argued that criticism and the use of theory was to discern what was worth noting under the surface of things like poems,novels, paintings, movies that gave us pleasure and how they made our existence better, fuller, more thoughtful. It was a means of allowing the reader to talk back to the writer who might have been making an arguement that would other wise be contrary to a reader's sphere of reference or taste. Criticism was about assessing quality and establishing conditions for praise and damnation, but it was also a means of keeping the conversation from settling into tired exchanges of manifesto ultimatums

Trump

Donald Trump, a rich man by any means but  one who cannot (and will not) give a factual accounting of how much money he actually has, has been the sort of news gift that comedians like Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, David Letterman love. That is, he is  the embodiment of lumbering, bullying  Bluto who's every interview, tweet, quip and crack is the stuff of satire gold. Again, this cartoon figure wants to be President of the United States, a situation that makes for hilarious responses from the better-read electorate . What chance might this buffoon have? We are in denial , perhaps, thinking to ourselves that such a conspicuous example of  unchained, publicity-prone Id would talk himself into a early demise, but I do have a sinking feeling that many of those who choose to excerise their right to vote really as gullible as he'd like them to be. Trump likely has fantastically less money than he claims, but this man has , all the same, made a decent living being the gauche, gross and grimy goon the news media and public cannot ignore. 

He has the talent of keeping his name in the papers, so to speak, and there little doubt he has made a tidy profit in doing so. Millions rather billions, let us guess. but still, that's not chump change. He has the capacity to say anything , no matter how moronic, sophomoric or shameless, and lately he claims that John McCain, decorated war hero and U.S. Senator from Arizona, is not a real war hero because he was shot down captured by the North Vietnamese. That McCain was a prisoner of war and subjected to torture between 1967 to 1973 doesn't count in the blurting Trump's estimation. Trump is running as Republican and one wonders how good a President he might be if he makes political enemies with important players in his own party. And it's awful to think that this blustering oaf would, more or less, be the one ultimately responsible for the economy, given that he has filed for bankruptcy several times and cannot give a straight answer as regards his own wealth. He was a rich kid , born into money, who is little more than a glorified carnival huckster, a one man freak show.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"Kiss Me Deadly": Crisp and Cruelly Stylish

I had the good fortune to stumble across "Kiss Me Deadly" while channel surfing last night, director Robert Aldrich's crisp and cruelly stylish film black and white 1955 film adaptation of novelist Micky Spillane's brutish detective novel .Spillane's antagonist (as opposed to hero) is a lug named Mike Hammer, a thuggish sociopath with a private investigator's license. As has been remarked upon in decades of commentary before, Hammer was a decisive and deliberate break from the fictional private eyes that preceded him in American pulp culture; unlike the creations of Dashiel Hammet and Raymond Chandler who created characters who , if nothing else, had wit, instinct and actual methodology to make their way around the convoluted world of deception, murder and schemes in search of a slim set of facts, Hammer was fairly much an early version of the Hulk, someone who would smash first and then try to figure out what it was he destroyed. The glory of the Mike Hammer novels, though, was Spillane's style which was, despite what misgivings and protests one has against the lack of a moral articulate center , swift and stinging and paced at a tempo that made it easy to forget how venal and ludicrous the plots might happen to me. The prose was blunt and to the point , but it made you abandon your reservations and give yourself over to the sequence of rage and revenge that was to follow.

In the film,  Hammer is a duncey baboon, portrayed with a detached, tightly wrapped asshole elan by Ralph Meeker.That's the appeal . He knows a gun in the gut and a good back of the hand get results faster than reasoned discussion. Notable, too, is that the fact that Hammer's character seems to particularly relish the opportunity decidedly non-masculine men, like the piggy, squealing fellow who gets his hand slammed hard in a drawer, or the priggish, likely closeted clerk at the athletic club who gets slapped around by Hammer in a humiliating fashion. In any case, this bullying gets a few things straight: he is in command. I laughed when Hammer, who is not a cop and who didn't identify himself as a private eye, barks orders at the clerk , who sheepishly acquiesces. This film is beautiful not just stylistically, but because Aldrich plays it straight with how he presents the whole thing. The paranoia here , cutting to the bone and radiating like so many of the garish lights from the angular, heavily contrasted black and white frames, acts like an x-ray . Everyone's business is exposed, everyone's agenda, or lack of one, is revealed, no matter how much they assert their innocence or intentions.

Friday, July 10, 2015



"Harmless Poem"
By Stuart Dischell




Forgive the web without its spider

The houseplant with few or many flowers

And the stars for hiding in the daytime,

Forgive astronauts for distance

And surgeons for proximity,

Forgive the heart for the way it looks

Like something a dog eats from a pan,

Forgive goat-gods and wine-gods

And the goddess bathing in her pond,

Forgive the sea for being moody,

The air for its turbulence, the stomach

For its vomit, forgive the insistence

Of sperm, the greeting of the ovum,

Forgive orgasms for their intensity

And the faces they make in people's faces,

Forgive the music of liars, forgive autumn

And winter and the departure of lovers.

And the young dead and the persistence

Of the old, forgive the last tooth and hair.


There are days that start that with a bad mood, a sour disposition, a curse on the breath as you leave the house to make your living, and most of us are lucky, most of the time, that these bad starts abate and a lighter view comes over us as we interact and engage our encounters on their own terms, not how we wished they were.

There are those days that start bad and stay bad, when each and every small thing that hits a sour note on what we demand be a perfectly tuned keyboard just  grates at us, sends a falling current down the spine. The day becomes a down escalator down a bottomless shaft for the rest of the day and into the night , and the litany of those who have sinned against us, the material things that impeded our path, slowed our advance toward a short sighted goal-- the stop lights , the traffic signs, the intruding phone calls of people who need help, the cigarette smoke and the barking dogs-- all become a conspiracy to lower our spirit, to distract us from grasping whatever it is that is just beyond our reach.

It's a bad situation and I am glad they don't haunt me as long as they did when my certainty about how the planet ought really to spin caused me nothing but arrogant exasperation.  In my experience, the especially dispiriting part of these bad-mood binges, these black holes of being, was that there was nothing tangible I could name , no incident nor reciept of bad news, that would have triggered a unified field of gloomy perception; the senses that a mysterious God had given me to learn about and get by and be creative in the world were now the source of an unlimited number of soul-killing annoyances. How things, looked,sounded, felt, smelled were my sources of torment.

My mood was such that each person and thing by simply and dutifully existing as they were, unmindful of my presence (and certainly unaware of my unease). You guessed it, I was full of my own presumptions, nothing seemed worth doing, there was no point in going on. This was nothing to laugh at because I had no sense of humor. To those in the know, these were the symptoms of forgetting Rule 62.

What appeals to me about Stuart Dischell's poems is that it contains the sort of rolling,  incantational serve of a powerful prayer that beseeches something greater than the speaker's wits can muster on their own for a relief the bondage of self to have a sense of  humility and the attending sense of humor restored.

WHAT I'VE BEEN READING

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Ted's bookshelf: read

The Tortilla CurtainU.S.!: A NovelSlaves to Do These ThingsCrackpots: A NovelThe Incentive of the MaggotFrantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir

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