Thursday, August 30, 2007

Some good words for Duncan Shepard

No one in San Diego seems to like the Reader’s film critic Duncan Shepard but me.Well screw it all, I’ll come out and say it; he is the has the best prose style of any chronic writer of compound sentences I’ve come across, and still manages to make it all come out snappy as a towel snarling at the behinds exposed in a high school shower.Shepard's prose style is hardly boring, and he's in perfect control of every coma and subordinate clause he produces. Again, his absolute lack of cant and his unwillingness to produce hyperbolic word spasms that can be excised from the reviews to contribute to the pollution of empty-headed praise for bad product makes Shepard a supreme relief in film commentary. Shepard is possessed of a terrific writing style that needs no editor, and it's to his publisher's credit that they allow him the length to write essays rather than requiring him to keep his remarks bite -sized. Any critic worth paying attention to is didactic: you either believe that film is a popular art that merits a knowledgeable and detailed discussion, something more substantial than snack-line wise cracks, or you don't. In that case, wise cracks and reviewers, rather than critics will suffice. Shepard is unique, a wit, a wonder of film knowledge, a first rate sensibility. He is a critic I differ with on most films, but he brings to the table a depth of argument that requires one to reinforce and rethink their position: responding to his pieces requires better thinking.

That is what a critic is supposed to do. Wise cracks and didactic-ism are fine in a critics style, provided they do more than crack themselves up with each droll remark that happens to them, or drone on about some matter entirely estranged from the film under review. Shepard weaves skillfully between the extremes, and handles his points with a rare deftness and precision. Over everything else, though, he has the skill to piss people off, not with just the knee jerk button pushing oh-so-common among bloggers who’ve only a glancing familiarity with their art, but with background, aesthetic distinction, a grasp of art history over all, and an unwillingness to to put up the mob rule that makes up the sorry state of “critical consensus”. He is not a critic you’re likely to see blurbed in Sunday movie ads; there is too much he dislikes, and he takes great pains to tell you what irks him in a movie, and why.

The usual complaint is that he’s in love with the sound of his voice, and that what he does is more nattering than analysis. Interesting that these charges usually arise from readers, so called, who can’t wait to say little more than that he ought to fuck off.The "wall of noise" charge is irrelevant on the face of it, if only because the sound of a critic's prose, or what one imagines the prose to sound like, is a chief reason to read a particular writer to begin with. It's not as if I insist on those who insist on composing long sentences that creak with dependent clauses.I just insist on the skill to handle the style and manage the sounds one makes. Ideas about the subject at hand, an actual argument, does much to make the "noise" musical. You hear a traffic jam? I hear Coltrane. And a first rate sensibility he is, whose contrariness is far less obvious. He's got the chops to back up his pronouncements, and, again, redundantly, he forces you to come with a better case than you might have started off with.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

John Ashbery Hooks Up

Eighty year old John Ashbery, our most awarded and praised and poet, has been named poet laureate for something called mtvuU, MTV's new 24 hour network geared toward college students. One understands the executives of MTV wanting to re-brand itself and regain it's edge in selling products to a mercurial youth market; what they are all about is making money and satisfying stockholders, and incidentally marketing some good music. It's understandable as well that they'd use the poetry angle as a means to rope in those liberal arts majors who are young and suffering and have a need to express their inner workings in various styles of experimental verse.

And yet , even here, the choice of Ashbery is an odd one, as he is one of the most difficult of America's few famous, not-quite-celebrity poets. Not a rebel, not a polemicist, hardly a rabble -rouser who makes speeches and writes incendiary essays against injustice, Ashbery is an aesthete, a contemplator, an intelligence of infinite patience exploring the spaces between what concioiusness sees, the language it develops to register and comprehend experience, and the restlessness of memory stirred and released into streaming associations. Ashbery's are hard to "get" in the sense that one understands a note to get milk at the store or a cop's command to keep one's hand above their head, in plain site. Ashbery's poems have everything the eye can put a shape to in plain site, clouded, however, by thoughts, the cloud bank of memory. He wrestles with the still-engaging problems of Aristotle's metaphysics, that the things in the world are only the expression of an Idea of that thing, which exists prior to manisfestation. It's a slippery metaphysics, an guarantor of headaches, but Ashbery wears the problem loosely; he pokes, prods, wonders, defers judgement, and is enthralled by the process of his wondering. Reaching a conclusion for him seems to mean that he is done writing, and no poet wants to think that they've used up their vocabulary.

One might think that the mtvU audience might be more attracted to arch romantic and dedicidely urban poet Frank O'Hara, whose emphatic musings and extrapollations had equal parts rage and uncontestable joy which gave a smile or a snarl to his frequent spells of didatic erudition. He was in love with popular culture, with advertising, movies, the movies, he had an appreciation of modern art, he loved jazz and ballads, he loved being a City Poet.He was more the walker than Ashbery, I suppose, or at least he wrote more about the going to and coming from of his strolls. unlike Ashbery, O'Hara loved being an obvious tourist in his own environment, and didn't want for a minute for his poetry to leave the streets, cafes and galleries where he treaded. Ashbery is more the stroller who gets lost in his associations triggered by what he beheld. Ever more the aesthete than his fellow New York Poets, he was interested in things a little more metaphysical, that being that the reality that exists in the inter-relations being the act of perception and the thoughts that are linked to it, which branch off from the perception and link again with another set of ideas, themselves connected to material things observed and remembered. O'Hara was immediate, like the city he loved, while Ashbery allowed his senses the authority to enlarge his perception, to explore the simultaneity of sight and introspection.

In a strange way, Ashbery is the more sensual of the two, willing to examine that even the sacrifice of immediate coherence.I'm not a fan of difficulty for the sake of being difficult, but I do think it unreasonable to expect poets to be always unambiguous or easily grasped. Not every dense piece of writing is worthy by default, of course, and the burden falls on the individual talent. Ashbery's writing, for me, has sufficient allure, resonance and tangible bits of the recognizable world he sees to make the effort to maneuver through his diffuse stanzas worth the work.

Poetry is the written form where ambiguity of meaning and multiplicity of possible readings thrives more than others, and it's tradition is not a parsimonious use of language, but rather a deliberate expansion of what words pieced can do, what meanings they can evoke, and what sensations they can create. Prose is the form that is, by default, is required to have the discourse it carries be clear and has precise as possible. Poetry and poets are interesting because they are not addressing their experiences or their ideas as linear matters subject to the usual linguistic cause and effect; poetry is interesting because it's a form that gives the inclined writer to interrogate their perceptions in unexpected ways. The poetic styles and approaches and aesthetics one may use vary widely in relative degrees of clarity, difficulty, and tone, but the unifying element is that poetry isn't prose, and serves a purpose other than the mere message delivering that is, at heart, the basic function of competent prose composition.

In any event, no one can begrudge Ashbery his fame, or his accepting an appointment as MTV's poet of the moment. Who can dislike a man who earns a living doing what he likes to do, and who of us wouldn't want that for ourselves and everyone else in the world?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Veiled Truths

The point of personal experience is something we assign later, when memory arranges the particulars in some fine fashion that makes the data resonate like some kind of grand or sad music that needs it's expression in talk, a phone call, poem , novel, blues guitar.

Since experience is the hardest thing to convey --it is not an argument I'm making, it's a tightly knotted cluster of feelings and emotions linked to a sequence of events that I have need to relate to you, to bring you into (in a manner of seduction, dropping the suspenders of disbelief)-- I generally favor any writer to use any and all materials available and appropiate. At best, we see an outline of the truth, a blurred reconstruction, and it's here we , as readears, need to give our trust to the writer to take us through an implied but imaginatively plausible world. Mastery makes us forget the lines we're reading, the very words we're taking in. Good writing , whatever it's style, origins or intent, quite literally pulses , and is that shape, the "truth" we want to pull the veil from.

Are artists creating wonderful veils, or 'pulling' at some pre-existing veils? Important distinction, wouldn't you say? The idea of the metaphor is metaphorical, and since the 'truth' it's protecting is metaphorial , or at least figurative in some way, it seems like a dead issue. There are the same thing, though we can say are seperate units of the same perceptual operation. What's useful is to consider the process 'through' the veils, or, in conventional literary lit speak, the arrangement, tone, and orchestration of the narrative events that lead a reader finally to the last chapter, the last page and he last sentence, where one arrives at the author's sense of an ending, and their implications of whether the tale really does "end" there, done with, having served its purpose of illustrating a 'given' moral lesson based on a nominally 'realistic' event, or whether the lives of the characters go on, after the last page, changed after an arduous narrative, braced for an unknown future.

Nicholson Baker's Mezzanine is a (fairly strange and light) novel that recounts a trip up an escalator in a department store.
Strange, but thats' the general reeling I get from the Baker work I've read, U and I, Mezzanine, Vox : aimless wandering around a subject, speculation for its own sake, a kind of dithering response to extrinsically urgent circumstances,something very much like going up and down an elevator. This is the writing of distraction, and its a body of work that is compellingly shallow in its aim, a window display. Baker's goal seems to be the making of a narrative continuum from the slimmest of materials, intense and close inspections on as few particulars as possible in order to produce clausterphobic, breathless results; this might the fiction to contemplate if one wants to imagine being bound, gagged and locked in a closet. The world is too small, too close,too in-your face , not friendly, not useful, not anything you want to interact with. I think of a maximal rendering of minimal components.Very post-modern, I'd say, but it's disturbing to think that men and women who are nominally good writers can fill up pages and bandwidth with a tweaked yammering that exists only to avoid the ideas they begin with in the subject line. This is very much like Becketts' novels, Malloy, Malone, The Lost Ones, More Pricks than Kicks, and here we have the link with the Late Modernism that had the creator (author) and subject (novel) rising , in their unperishable need to produce, from the noisy clash and clutter of an aesthetic philosophy that demanded new ways of putting the world together, of making the world non-liner and multi-valent, sufficiently prepared to be remade with technology and criteria.

The Beckett/Baker writer seems to face the endless variations they may take for a narrative, and instead defer the decision about which one to take and what sort of fictional ethos to manufacture.The deferral is the subject itself, the eye-averting technique that wills itself to be endlessly about the undecidability of how the reality should be written into being. This is a sub-stratum in the thinking of writers, the avoidance of death through the refusal of becoming engagement of any process of decision making that would definition to a sphere of activity that must then be engaged, acted within.

The renewal of Irony

Are postmodern writers choking on a kind of shoulder shrugging "irony" that excuses them from the toil of creating a committed art while operating under the claim that they are refusing to impose a white man's meaning on the world?No more, it would seem , than any other writer scribing under the modernist tenet of "making it new", or to another extreme, 'defamiliarizing" (from Bahktin) recognizable settings , characters and schemes in a language that's meant to provoke readers to see their world in new ways. This is a modernist habit that the new, cubist, cut-up, stream-of-conscious takes on the world will sweep away past aesthetic interpretative models and lead one to a the correct formation of the world-- there remains a faith that language and other senses can apprehend and describe a tangible , material world and capture its complex composition, a "metaphysics of presence" that art can unearth.

Irony, in this sense, is usually contained within the story, a result of several kinds of narrative operations coming to a crucial moment of ironic intensity that then drives the story into directions one , with hope, didn't anticipate. Post modern writers start off with the intent of being post modern from the start, and rather than have their inventions gear us for a challenge to see the world in a truer light (contrasted against previous schools of lovely language but false conclusions), the project is to debunk the idea of narrative style all together.
Irony is intended to demonstrate some flaws in character's assumptions about the world, a description of the world that emerges contrarily after we've been introduced to the zeitgeist of the fictionalized terrain. Post modern writers are ironists of a different sort, decidedly more acidic and cynical about whether narrative in any form can hone our instincts.

Monday, August 27, 2007

"John From Cincinnati" caught a wave back to Hooterville

Alas, but the HBO surf drama John From Cincinnati has had it's season finale, and the network quickly announced after the broadcast that the eccentric program would not be renewed. This isn't a surprise, since this David Milch series (NYPD Blue, Deadwood)could find the credible (and endurable) balance between spiritual weirdness and the gritty, noir elements the writers and producers sought to beguile us with. There was a time in many a young man's life when strangeness and ambiguity by themselves were enough to satisfy a naive hankering for
subjects of greater depth and complexity, but one requires more as they get older. John, very much in a hurry to introduce it's skewed admixture, never seemed to get beyond the fevered brain storming stages wherein subplots are offered rapidly, and Twilight Zone/Twin Peaks components are offered to baffle you with their quixotic oddness.

This was a mixture that never came together as a palatable whole, and it was frankly incoherent in ways that telegraph the probability that MiLch and his writing staff hadn't the slightest idea what any of their ideas would add to: the connection between the titular character and Jesus were rather obvious, and the failure here is that one was not made to care with the Yost family "got back in the game" or not. This was a static show where no one really worked at any jobs that demanded attention who instead spent the whole of their time hanging out in surf shops, beach houses, public beaches or dingy motels in inexplicable states of rage, anger, swearing in impossible combinations in the club-footed cadences Milch has been famous for since NYPD Blue broadcast on ABC in the early nineties. None of it had that much to with surfing; the sport seemed an exotic backdrop for all this grousing and grumbling, which is a shame. The sport and the culture and the region where it exists is largely unexplored dramatically, and there are some quality scripts to be written and produced.David Milch had his chance and wiped out.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Problem with Women is Men 2: Love letters as last call

Drunk men and angry women seem to be a theme in some of the prose sketches I've written in the last five years or so. No, I don't drink, not for twenty years, and no, the women I know aren't angry, but this writing was, all the same, a way to picture what it was like in terms I couldn't deny or minimize through convenient amnesia. This is what I was like, and this blog is what I'm like now. A grouch, sure, but sober as a hammer, and with a better sense of humor about myself. Please indulge me, and tell me if you think I'm full of shit. --tb

Shouts and screams from rolled up windows tells me it's the end of august in a parking lot behind a beach bar that's about to get robbed, and then shut down by the cops for serving minors, ahem,

everyone is in a hurry to get ripped and ripped off, jerked off and jacked around. ravaged and raped and taped to the side of a car on the way home along the side streets down alleys in residential neighborhoods that shadow the free way on the thought that police are at the beach listening for shouts and screams from inside rolled up windows, burglars trying doorknobs,

This is what I heard, “give it to me, godddd dammnit all, give me allllllllllllllllllllll your love, babykins, I know you want it”
“you're a slob and a drunk and you're disgusting, get off my foot , get your hand back where I can see it, GET OUT OF MY CAR!!, JESUS, what the fuck are you about??” “ohhhhhhhhhhh, baby, don't be so cold like a cone with no cream to lick from the rim, just love my seething sweet thing and let's be a noise only god hears on a good night..” “ watch the hand, grub boy, GET OUT OF MY CAR!! I'm gonna crown your buddy Frank for setting this up, FUCK OFF! GET YOUR DRUNK FACE OUT OF HERE…”

It's a night of extremes because the car bounces in it's spot, next to a dumpster, as the bars empty and bartenders check their keys, dishwashers hose down dishes and waitresses do another line of speed to make the night come home faster as patrons roll over each other, going from hugs to handshakes and all manner of gestures that melt into wars that are declared and over with out a shot being fired, the moon sweeps the street that fills with loud jokes that wakes the neighbors with swear words and car alarms that make the punch lines a home invasion, there's nothing else to do after the little and big hands fall where the do each night about right now,

Cops have their smokes, their batons, riot guns, their back up bottles,

The cars all rock with ignition, roaming hands in the middle of what is now becoming morning, some fingers trace the line of a thigh , other fingers fold together, it's the end of the summer, and there is no more spending money.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

God does not wear a seat belt

A Guide for Spiritual Tourists" by Hannah Faith Notess is a mere scribble of a poem, a set of lines unmarred by an phrase of distinction or music worth singing out loud. It is as poetic as a pounded flat iron. But it has other merits, which is sociological. Not so much the overworked clash of culture theme as it is an accute gaze at the sheer shallowness and folly of those who think they can find wisdom if they hurry just a little bit faster.This poem is an anti-epiphany, or one that works in a strange twist of perspective; this is a piece of journalism breathlessly enumerating the spiritual blitz going on as tourists seek to have an epiphany, a clear vision of things unobstructed by the ego, as if they can be ordered up like pizza.

This poem captures what I suppose one would belatedly call the post modern moment, that situation where one finds themselves rushing through alien environs , trying to match captions from tour books to crumbling facades and blistered artifacts, coming away with dizzy sensations that one mistakes for spiritual uplift but which is, physiologically and psychologically, no different than having weathered an especially abusive ride at one of many elephantine theme parks.

It told us whether to cover our heads,

where to remove our sandals.

It told us not to wear shorts if male

and if female to be careful.
It said Speak slowly please. That's too expensive.

Drive slowly. Stop here. Please call a doctor.

It said to tip the man guarding the shoes.

Pastiche, bricolage, and congenital looting of historical and cultural archives are the hallmarks of the post modern dilemma, a situation where one may breeze through the past and appropriate what the what and decorate their cosmology with the exotica that’s stricken their fancy the way clueless decorators would festoon a house with any odd thing they like, with no relation or reason. There is here that uninflected monotone that comes across in the newsreaders who intone news headlines. Everything bleeds together and becomes a dizzying swirl, which seems to be this poems bragging point. The guidebook, with its broken phrases and the distanced descriptions of the temple and its artworks and caretakers, has a skimming quality that is all tour bus. One feels herded, poked to move along.

Inside, rows of sandstone saints

with extra eyes. Or a black-tongued woman.

Or a rosy square with pigeons and a bath.

Or a cupboard of scrolls. Or a gilded man,

cross-legged or on a cross. Or tree limbs

coiled with flags. But always incense,

worn pavement, smoke-stained walls.
This is a poem about witnessing life and not having any result nearing what one may rightly call an “experience”. What’s been seen is mere gloss and glance at best, there is nothing from the stop that indicates that anything has resounded. And the poem stays there, unworried about the likelihood that the metaphysics of this whole thing are based on nothing more than whim and giddiness.

As recently as twenty five years ago one could have described, straight faced, this situation, the touristy rush through another culture’s spiritual domiciles, as an existential moment, with the similar depth-less abyss of non-being looming just the same not far in the dark. The difference, of course, is that the existential poet brooded and pondered the severity of the spread of the lack of the innate significance of things, and worried deeply about how their actions either bring them closer or drives them further from achieving an Authentic Existence. Not that the issue was ever resolved, but it was a fertile premise for a good amount of novels, plays and poetry, especially poetry, some of it good, most of it dreadful, but all of it, I think, painfully sincere. The postmodern moment, the postmodern poem hardly seems to care what anything means, is fairly undisturbed by the incessant pilfering that is it’s chief aesthetic method, and in turn wallows in the absence of Big Ideas under whose broad umbrellas we find security and reassurance. It is the mentality of consumerism , of identifying impulse acquisition as a sort free-play of unchained semiotics.

The mashing together of concepts and images from disparate sources, the universal conflating of what were formally exclusive concepts is entirely the point. Institutions and their symbols are emptied of significance in this kind of marketplace. Comprehension is frowned upon, the equivalent of a buzz kill, while the glancing giddiness of crash-and –snap tourism is preferred. It’s not that what was seen in the temple remains a mystery, or inscrutable , as it were. The poem , like the attitude it bears witness to, does not have extra layers of dread and loathing formed around it because of the emptiness at the heart of what it talks about. The poet is perfectly happy to let the poem be something of an uncaptioned snapshot of a mindset that is too looped on it’s own giggling and ogling to be bothered with anything as presumptive as learning.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Another Bite from Jenning's Apple

Part of my problem with Edison Jenning's poem might just be the form, which is prose with it's long lines; one expects a linear discussion where associative leaps are amply contextualized for sense making. Jenning's lines, though, leap all the same sans the framework, and there is compression rather than the breezy moment I think was being hinted at here. Here is the poem with line breaks, just to see how it reads and realigns its signifiers. Does it sing or does it still drone? Does it result in the epiphany the author sought to isolate?

Though livid
and salacious,

supermarket Red Delicious
don't deserve the name.

But after bagging

two or three,
I think of old-stock Staymans

that grew behind our house
in weather-beaten,

bee-infested rows no one ever pruned,
and all we had to do was reach.

I must have eaten bushels' worth
while balanced in the highest limbs.

With one hand full of apples,
the other swatting bees,

I watched swallows tip
and skim the tree-rimmed

skies already hinting cold,
the windfall left ungathered,

the fallow years that followed,
and now this bag of garish fruit

my memory grafts to vintage
among the rows of grocery aisles

that green to fields of praise.

An epiphany that works is supposed to come out of the blue, preferably with no foreshadowing. In the literary sense, divorced from the Christian festivals from which the term is borrowed, the word connotates a sudden rush of insight, a breakthrough of some kind, springing from the mundane and the banal. It leads into the notion that "God is in the details", a safe haven for the agnostic writer who feels significance in things beyond appearances yet who doesn't want to credit a divinity for the unexpected wisdom.

Winding up with something not-quite Jenning's original poem might well be the point of all this; I wouldn't exactly call it a waste. There is something to be said in the cliche that how you say something is as important as what you say. Packaging does alter content. What we've managed to do here is to make something that reads drab and insulated into something that goofy and air-headed.

I think longer lines sink this poem's hope of being an effective epiphany. Since an epiphany is said to come in a flash, suddenly, without warning, something akin to William Carlos Williams' lean lines and business like images, are better apt to convey the sense that one has broken through the fourth wall and is actually getting what's beyond the limits of language to convey.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ghost Rider Blows

Nicholas Cage continues his uncontested position as Hollywood's worst actor by continuing to involve himself in wretched movies. The most recent atrocity, Ghost Rider, came my way via NetFlix, and it's the most abysmal comic book adaptation I've had the misery of sitting through. In brief, Cage plays a stunt motorcyclist who ,having signed a pact with the devil as a youth, finds himself transformed into the Ghost Rider, who might be considered Satan's bounty hunter and all purpose enforcer and bone faced goon here on earth. That's as much a summary I care to punish myself with by remembering the particulars. Cage's ever-ready Elvisisms are present, but they like the jittery, jerky spaz- attack elan that at least made his past evocations of Presley (as in Face Off and Gone in Sixty Seconds)memorable enough to be made fun of. In Ghost Rider, we seem to watch him as if he were posing for an oil painting; the camera lingers on that face, wide eyed and bug eyed and locked in an inward driven stare that's locked on studying his likeness on a psychic driver's license. The additional flourish of having him, as Ghost Rider, applying the Kirby Hand , ie, the dramatic reaching out toward someone being addressed, fingers splayed dramatically, and holding the arm in position while he monologues the usual virtues of what happens when good versus evil is, doubtless, based on the study of various frames of comic book illustration. This might have been an artful resource,a stylistic tic put to marvelous use by Warren Beatty in his film Dick Tracy, which managed to honor the drawing style of Tracy creator Chester Gould while having the images move fluidly along, briskly, cleanly. Someone here forgot the movies have to move. Even the makers of the other wise horrible Incredible Hulk understood that much.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Ah, the Seventies, where every grace and freedom gained from the previous decade turned to poison and cant, a dance of bad habits we couldn't seem to break. Let me say right here that this little nightmare is based on actual facts of my life, back in the day , in my late teens , early twenties when sex was the greatest thing in the world , and it was my right to have it with any woman I desired . I thought what I considered my good looks would make zippers drop all over the beaches and alleys of La Jolla and Pacific Beach in the city of San Diego. I was an asshole trying to do everything catechism taught me was a sin. It wasn't pretty.

Liquor store lights enlarge the facts of the night.

Gimmee a pack of goddamn Camels she says,gimmee a fuckin'pack of camels or you can dry hump against this telephone pole.He tries to kiss her but she turns away, looking into the liquor store at the rack of smokes next to a cash register decorated with permits and checks from dead bank accounts. The lighting made the inside of the store radiate through the windows and the swinging doors, pourin over into the parking lot where the payphones and news stand appeared to be devoured by an encroaching sea of wicked india ink.
Bunny heart,he says, how about some MD 20/20 or a coupla quarts of Schlitz, maybe? After we get some, we can go to the high school and hang out at the dance, the band is Gnarly Beast,
they play lotsa Deep Purple like it's right offa the record.

Her eyes burn through him the way the store sign burns through the night.There was no light in her pupils, just round puddles of unforgiving black under an angry, dark set of eyebrows. He could a pain in his jaw.

I told you,she says, I wanna pack of Camels and then
I wanna go to the beach where there's a party I heard about.
What's with your beer and wine?

Ok, Camels, he says, but how 'bout maybe Camels ”and• some MD20/20? Go sit on the sand, smoke some, get a buzz, later, well...
Oh fuck it, she says, alright, get both, then we'll go.
I love you, sweet meat, he says.

Don't call me that,she says,how much money do you have?
Five bucks, hey says, oughta cover it. Sure about the beach?
Beast kicks out the jams on that Deep Purple.

He tries to kiss again and cram his hand down the front ofher jeans, but she turns again, pushes him back with one arm andswats in the groin with the other.

You dense fucker, she says, all I want is pack of Camels andyou're off doin' something else. I'm going to the beach by myself.
She turns and walks up the street, walking near the storefronts to avoid the street lights.He thinks,go ahead and walk away, bitch, Deep Purple rules and you don't even know, you're just a chain smokin' Deb wannabe anyway, fuckin' bitch.
He limps away, cutting up a service alley toward the highschool,where he knew he'd find some of his bros in the lower student parking lot leaning against car hoods , feigning thehoodlum poses of guitar heros under the yellow corona of a streetlight.A pain shoots through his crotch and stops him in staggering.
Goddamn bitch, he mumbles and comes to a complete stop
in front of two door garage at the end of the alley. He squints his eyes on a sign nailed to the wooden garage door, letters dancing through a vibrating haze of pain and real mist, shit,my goddamn nuts ache, he thinks, leaning closer to the sign for
no reason other than conquer one obstacle, what's this shit say? "NO PARKING," he reads, and then blacks out, collasping between two trash cans formed from the toughest rubber.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Bergman and Antonioni

Two prominent film makers pass away in the same week, and I care not a wit for either. The work of either Bergman and Antonioni are what I'd imagine would be the in flight movie on jetliner to Hell.That scenario would be proof enough of a cruel and punishing God,since I know I'd wonder what set of deeds I'd committed that were so heinous as to warrant this severe a treatment. Humorless, witless, static, depressed, didactic and incorrigibly arty rather than artful, the films of both these sticks in the mud were popular at a time when a generation of art majors and movie critics eager to up their intellectual credibility all managed to convince themselves that movies were the last great medium for self expression. It became Art with a capital "a", "Culture" with a capital "cul".

And most certainly, the medium ceased to be movies, a medium where image , angle, editing and rhythm worked with craftsman synchronization to move a narrative forward and instead became film or, more pretentiously, Cinema. The implications were obvious; movies no longer about movement, but rather about time and the micro-cosmically morphing moods and perceptions within the elongated takes of self-annihilating characters trapped in dank terrains. The movies dragged, in other words; cameras stopped dancing with the actors through the sets, but rather became stationary recorders of some one's view of a empty alleyway.

After a time the long takes, the dead pan visages, the exotic marginalia at the edge of whatever plot line there is became mannered and conventional; it seemed more to do with reputations having to be lived up to than a fresh take on a storyline being crafted. Typical of contemporary criticism's attempt to explain problematic artists and the tedium of their work is the adage that such projects force audiences, viewers, readers, et al, to confront the elements an artist is working with and to re-examine their own assumptions. The presumption here is that the audience's attitudes prior to witnessing a Richard Serra monolith, Christo's grotesque wrap-jobs of public buildings, or in the matter of film, the films of Bergman and Antonioni, were wrong, pre-existing, inauthentic. Maybe even dangerous to one's health. The artist in this regard becomes something akin to The Perception Police, enforcing codes of seeing, ways of reading, psychologies of listening, and it's not all that far from mirroring a totalitarian spirit, at least in miniature. Once the audience member was on the artist's turf--the movie theatre, the gallery, the concert hall, what have you--he or she had given permission and implicitly demanded they be bullied, harassed, made uncomfortable, lectured to rather than spoken with, berated for a failure of wit rather than invited to investigate new ways of thinking.

"Forcing" an audience to deal with issues or ideas they would rather avoid--the eternal emptiness of the soul one discovers once the surety of a loving God is undermined being the issue here--is one of the cardinal conceits critics have used to justify the problematized stylistics of the difficult directors they champion, and for me the phrasing is a tacit admission that there's some amount of failure by the director to convey a set of narrative concepts through image and sound. It's an elitist claim, I think, and is handy way to side step a considered defense of the style and jump right into the next nest of literary conventional thinking one can claim is the result of the director's visual approach.

"Existential" questions have been a bedrock part of character and plot development in literature for centuries--go no further than Hamlet or King Lear or Faust (either Marlowe or Goethe), and as such that whole issue of being and becoming, of achieving genuine authenticity , has fairly much been absorbed by film makers since the medium was first used to portray fictional narratives. Audiences are well used to having to confront existential situations and spaces in the films they attend, and consider the whole issue pretty much a given. It is not a daring or cutting edge theme for either Bergman or Antonioni to have used in their work. The real issue is about style, and whether one prefers puffed up artiness over a subtler , crafted artfulness when one picks a director with whom to confront their despair.

"On the Road" turns fifty

I was fifteen when I read “On the Road”, and sure enough, eager to appear hip and ahead of my times, I embraced Kerouac’s slack sentences and cartoonish evocations of hip style. Somewhere in that fifteen year old brain,though, I suspected that the adventures of Dean Moriarty et al were stupid, very stupid, and all the talk of things God, zen and pulse-racing were the products of someone who was trying to write their away of some deeply rooted dissatisfactions with their life. The fifteen year old was right, and the lesson to be learned from the herded worship of Kerouac’s deceased essence was to not to say I liked something merely because it was a fashion. Kerouac’s books sell, of course, but it’s marketing, not quality that keeps bringing in new readers. The dreadfully wooden prose of Ayn Rand sells famously as well, and in both cases we have examples of adults pushing adolescent agendas to readers who need an image to attach their forming cosmologies to. It’s youthful spontaneity for Kerouac’s cause, hooliganism disguised as spiritual practice, and it’s a bullying appeal to the genius of the misunderstood little man for Rand. With any luck, those enamored of these two dreadful writers grow up and refine their reading tastes, but many do not, and consequently perpetuate the flimsy , sub cult contrivances that constitute both their reputations.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Ezra gets a Pounding

Ezra Pound disturbs me more because I find too much of dense, as in brick, and abstruse, as in elusive for the sake of being hard to follow .This is distinct from abstract, a quality where there is an actual idea being deployed and which, in turn, can be parsed by a reader with due diligence. There is no argument with how important Pound is to the reformation of literature and advancing the Modernist aesthetic, but some one who was so obsessed, in theory, with reconfiguring language arts so that a new generation of readers can have fresh perceptions of reality and discover means with which to change it, Pound seemed seduced by the legend he was making for himself and delved headlong into his admixture of projects without a sense of how his materials and sources would come to make a generalized sense of themselves.It seems obvious to me that he reveled in the difficulty of his work. His innovations as poet, for me, are worth studying in line with his critical pieces, but beyond their importance in establishing a time line, the language , the style, the attitude has not traveled well through the decades. He seemed like the brilliant critic and tireless promoter of new talent who put himself in competition with his fellows, ie Joyce, Yeats, Eliot, Stevens, Williams, et al. Pound believed that art was the chief process through which a particular priesthood of painters and poets can perceive the world, and it was the artist who could correctly provide the inspiration and spiritual means to change the way reality was constructed and lived in. He was attracted to strong leaders with pronounced visions of a Better Future, was attracted to the notion of violently blowing up the artifacts of the past in order to forge a new order from the ground up, and it was apparent to everyone that he aligned himself with such leaders. He wanted to be considered one of those who would show everyone the way to the new dawn, whether they wanted to or not.

Frost , although over estimated, is an acceptable minor poet and a canny careerist, neither of which are offensive to anyone who understands the need to make a living.