Wednesday, September 30, 2015

History will not be historicized

 FALLING MAN
 
 a novel by Don DeLillo
 
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There were great expectations for a Don DeLillo novel that confronted the epic tragedy of 9/11, but it seems reasonable that "Falling Man" is less ambitious than many of us wanted it to be. It is beautifully written and definitely furnishes the mood of severe dislocation when a symbol of our abstracted sense of self, the Word Trade Center towers, were attacked and destroyed. There is a poetically conveyed sense of distance between the characters and the unimaginable tragedy that unfolded. In keeping with DeLillo's themes of staring down institutions that influence behavior, policy, choices and assigns significance to products and habits that are meant to supplant our inner life, the novel his the ongoing concern with trying to understand people who vaguely adhered to images, propaganda, manufactured consensus and consumerism that at least told us, theoretically, what America and Americans stood for--a herd in many ethnic and cultural subsets acting "as if" their life had fixed certainty and purpose--who confront the terror not just of terrorism, mass murder and increased violations of their rights, but the terror of realizing that faith in The System and its statements of purpose are a fiction intended to keep our eyes off the prize and instead glued to the television tube and computer monitor. 
 
 The novel,though, reads at times like a parody of DeLillo's best work. Despite the customary excellence of the writing, the author strains for effect sometimes, drifts into digressions that are page fillers. There is a sense of obligation one detects in the otherwise superb craft; given tht he is the genius who wrote "White Noise" and "Underground", two of the best novels every written that found the empty chamber that passes as the American heart, we have a great writer competing with a recent history that is so incredible and ground shaking that it so fars defies literary imagination to successfully diagnosis and turn into superb irony. It is worth a read for DeLillo completest, but this is not the book to begin with if you've been thinking of reading one or more of his books. I would suggest "White Noise " or "Great Jones Street" for that.

Pope Francis and the culture of permanent disillusion

http://s1.gossipcop.com/up/2015/09/Pope-Kim-Davis-Stars-React-250x222.pngSo Pope Francis met in secret with Kim Davis, the controversial county clerk in Kentucky who has been denying gay couples marriage licenses , in defiance of  what is now settled law.Naturally, this meeting wasn't going to remain undercover, and once it was revealed that the two of them indeed had a face-to-face, the internet exploded with bitter disappointment. Tears were shed. Crocodile tears. 
  Anyone who expected Pope Francis to change theology and practices that have formed and ossified for decades and even centuries by edict, decree or fiat in favor of a progressive wish list is, I think, a little short of the reality principle. The fact that there is a Pope who supports efforts to halt climate change, condemns corporations for their inhumane (and unchristian) pursuit of profit over human welfare, favors and advocates major immigrant policy changes and has strongly reestablished the Church's anti-war stance is more than significant, historically. These are major turns for the Vatican

It's a no win situation, being the Pope who gets this kind of request for an audience. If he had turned it down, there would have been vocal outrage from the Right that the Pope and the Catholic Church were advancing a solidly leftist agenda , showing that he is turning his back on "God's Law" . It would be a shit storm either way, and anyone who has  consumed celebrity journalism overtime , should have anticipated some kind of screech, atonal feedback making headlines when the tour was over. It is the nature of the internet that it empowers and encourages leagues of writers and citizen pundits to opine and classify without benefit of more detail. 

This is reveals something sad in a culture that increasingly destroying the space need for thought, research and reflection and replacing it with a megaphone in the town square of the proverbial Global Village through which anyone is qualified to yell swear words and lazy invective; there is so much coming at the users of social media that it is impossible to digest ,inspect and make informed judgements on what one has read. It's a form of over  stimulation and there s a great depression that is overcoming a generation and the one after that they feel left behind, disconnected. 

The quick cure for that is to get angry and to stay angry, angry at everything and everyone that pops in one's news feed, in text messages, emails and alerts of all kinds. The only way to be centered is to be unhappy with everything with all things of this world; foul moods are one's default personality trait and an unearned cynicism is the style of expression. Sarcasm replaces wit, snark replaces smart commentary, shaming replaces considerations of ethical issues and the social contract that suggests we remain civil in our disagreements. 

 Why they did the meeting in private, in secret, is beyond me, but no matter. Those who were disappointed in the Pope were looking to be disappointed; the good he has come out in favor of no longer matters as they find a dubious and self-serving solace in hand wringing and nurturing a wound that comes from nothing more than having irrationally unrealistic expectations.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Shut Up, Matt Damon: The Actor Argues Gay Actors Should Stay in the Closet - The Daily Beast

Shut Up, Matt Damon: The Actor Argues Gay Actors Should Stay in the Closet - The Daily Beast:

The article is essentially a cherry picked collection of quotes that are interpreted as a homophobic rant. Not at all. It just seems to be open season on Damon. What  actually said was this;"“I think it must be really hard for actors to be out publicly... But in terms of actors, I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play.” Those who were expecting a hate rant that the headline implied was there are sure to be disappointed. 

Damon does have a problem with bluntness, I suppose, something that comes with being very successful , critically acclaimed as an actor and being, as well, a successful producer. I understand those taking chagrin, but Damon's point, I think, is that the audience that pays money to see you in roles wants to see you inhabit the roles you take on. A certain amount of anonymity keeps the attention on where it should be, whether one is good at the craft. George Clooney, as straight male who does not need the limelight in which to thrive, does well in his career. Mel Gibson , a belligerent drunk , a radical and irrational  conservative Catholic homophobe and antisemite , destroyed his career by allow too much of his private life, demons and all, over shadow his film work. Tom Cruise's box office pull suffered a hit of its own whenever he becomes too much of the Public Face of his controversial religion and forever problematic religion/cult Scientology, although he has recovered somewhat.

There is no hard and fast rule , of course. Neil Patrick Harris , Ellen DeGeneres, Rosy O'Donnell and Ian McKellen all have thriving careers. My point , though, is that what Damon's remarks are hardly homophobic , that what he expressed seemed a more provisional position that can "evolve". Damon contributed to a conversation and conversations, if they are conversations at all, are for discussants to learn what the other has to say and perhaps progress further in the task of learning tolerence ,patience and acceptance of our fellow citizens.Kevin Fallon, a cut-rate moralist and cheap shot artist, has no interest in discussion of any kind; there is the tone of some one trying to incite a lynching. He desires not edification, but rather silence. What can you expect from someone who writes a column headlined "Shut Up Matt Damon..." ? That's the style of someone who was told too often to shut up when they were a kid asking questions about the what, why and how regarding a world that seemed less fair and equitable than the story books promised they would be. This is the tone of someone who's default setting is take offense and scold others for falling short of ideal standards of personality and conduct. This is the tone of someone who uses politic rhetoric as an armor to disguise their own lack of originality and who seeks to justify their discontent by indulging in a insubstantially provoked sensationism. This is the what the internet has done to the lot of us, turned us into bullies who've never picked up a stick, a rock, or clenched a fist. Pathetic.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

nice one from Captain Beefheart



Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)
- Captain Beefheart and the Mag ic Band (Warner Brothers) 



This is one of the rare times that all of Beefheart's  many organically oddball talents have been captured successfully on record, easily the first time since 1968's Trout mask Replica. The music is as cranky and idiosyncratic as it'ever been (jump-cut time signatures, a free mixing of "free-jazz" randomness and pop song structures,Delta blues and neoclassical shades blending into thick swaths of atonal grind and percolatingly  askew tempos) and Beefheart's vocals, one of the raspiest voices anywhere, deliver his Dada inclined  free associative lyrics with the same kind of off-balance verve , the music accompanying a man recovering from a stumble. The effect sounds like an unlikely super session between Howlin ' Wolf and Alfred Jarry (catering by designed by Max Ernst) . His new Magic Band, featuring ex-Zappa sidemen as Bruce Fowler (trombone) and Art Tripp (drums) , handle the demands of the music with disciplined ease, executing Beefheart ' s non sequitur arrangements  with a professionalism that tending toward  perfection and liveliness, usually an unlikely symbiosis in art-rock groups.Sterility, the cardinal sin of most “art rock” and so called progressive rock bands, is nowhere apparent here.  However cerebral Beefheart's music sounds, though, it should be pointed out that Shiny Beast  is a fun album, full of good humor and strong ongs. This  time out, The Captain is out to entertains and  beguiles.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Turn off the lights

(I came across a trove of newspapers, the UCSD Guardian, saved in pdf. format online and discovered this, one of my first attempts to be a film critic.I thought I'd put here for all to view, if only to remind myself that I  sounded quite a bit more precious than I  do know. There are creaks and groans and other odd sounds of aging that give my proclamations a soundtrack of authority.The films were special media screenings for the 1980 San Diego International Film Festival which held forth for a few fondly remembered years at Sherwood Hall of the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. Yes, I sound a little more pompous than I do know. My voice hadn't cracked yet.-tb)

As one of the few "critics" in town to see the preview screening for the San Diego International Film Festival, scheduled from now until Nov. 3 at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, I'm inspired to think that the movies reflect Frank Zappa's description of his music: no commercial potential. This isn't to say that the films are so irredeemably bad that no one, intellectual and lowbrow alike, would sit through them -far from it - but the festival board has gone out of its way to have an international collection of film· makers whose works fall well outside the norm for the movie going public, films that one isn't likely to see at the Guild or Fine Arts, let alone UTC. In any case, this year's movie crop isn't bound to please everyone. For my part, basing my judgment on evidence of the six screenings I attended, [have to give an appreciative grin.

First off I may as well deal with the film that did the least for me, Radio On, a British and German coproduction directed by Christopher Petit. Petit is the former film critic for the British weekly Time Out and  a film theoretician in good stead who, following the precedent t set by New Wave  icon Godard, Rivette and Traffaut, has decided to put theory into practice and become a film· maker himself. The problem is shameless emulation and a lack of insight into the subject matter. Radio On concern itself with a young London disc jockey on the way to Bristol to uncover the mysterious circumstances behind his brother's death. His subsequent encounters leave him with a feeling of alienated finality, ennui and despair. Filmed rather well in black and white over a terrain of freeways, bleak country road and grey cityscapes, the film fairly reeks of the movies by German director Wim Wenders. It features Wenders· like long takes, ponderously slow exposition shot and muted emotions of characters, who are unable to communicate much at all. Petit, though, seems to have misread Wenders, who in films like Alice in the Cities, Kings of the Road and The American Friend. is usually able to investigate such things as cultural dislocation, the ramifications of the cargo-cult on postwar Europe, how pop culture mythologizes reality and how those verities come to play in the psyches of his characters. Petit's people merely strike a stance of thin·skinned alienation and sulk as the camera soaks in the impressively miserable environs, like a working·class bar, a rural gas station, and all night bakery. 
What does Petit intend to tell us? I suspect his intentions are nothing more than to show us that civilization is unable to give us the things we need. American director Bob Rafelson intended much the same with his Hue Easy Pieces, but succeeded. Rafelson on at least gave us the benefit of character development, an archaic notion to many vanguardists but a ploy that still gave Pieces unity. In essence, Radio 0n is empty and  exists more as a fashion pose than an edition to an art form

Woman Between Dog and Wolf, directed by French director Andre Delvaul is a well wrought film about with the dodgy subject of stoicism at the conceptual center of what it unfolds in narrative. As Belgium is pushed into World War II, a man joins the pro·Nazi nationalist movement and leave to join the conqueror of the Eastern Front. In the interim, his wife (Marie Christine Barrault) is treated with hatred by her neighbors, retreat into the actuary of her house, and tries her best to maintain a home of order and normalcy. A resistance fighter takes refuge in her cellar, culminating in their having an affair, and the resistance fighter's vouching for her against revenge· minded neighbors : Through the resistance fighter's interaction, her husband I pared the death penalty and returns home , and from there he develops an obsession for his former cause, unable to adjust to present-day realities. He continually y tries to justify his past by writing his memoirs. Dclvaux handles this story with a neat, precise hand, especially in his editing. Instead of going the fashionably "arty" route of long takes, the scenes are brief and succinct, establishing their plot particulars and schematic cues rapidly, then fading away gracefully as the screen darkens and then awakes on another local and incident.

The Last of the Blue Devils, directed by American Bruce, Ricker, is a documentary about the Kansas City jazz scene. It's also a case of taking the good along with the bad. The bad in this case is the editing, which is aimless and leaps from one thing to another with little cohesion, most specifically in the way Ricker intercuts vintage footage of Count Basie and Ivory Joe Hunter with more recent film. The good are the performance, inducing superb concert footage of Basie and his band, a jam session between saxophonists Paul Quinchette, Charles McPhearson, a trombone and the blues vocals of Hunter, whose capacity to belt a lyric hadn't diminished a bit as he aged. Generally, a messy but fun movie.

Those familiar with the way Alfred Jarry presented dictators in his King Ubu plays will have fun with Adolph and Marlene, a  film directed by German director Ulli Lommel. The festival program notes say the movie is a bit of "historical speculation" about an alleged liason between Hitler and Marlene Dietrich. The film’s intention is less than the far-fetched speculation one would suspect. It is an exercise in turning the Hitler persona into an excuse for buffoonery, casting him as an ideological Imbecile whose various diatribes, much of it taken from Mein Kempf, collapse under the weight of their illogic. The Hitler character, performed unctuously by Karl Raab, is a man of penultimate pettiness, unable to distinguish between the drive for power and affection, between sentiment and mawkishness, clear thinking and lunatic espousals. The effect is comic, but also underlines the tragedy of power becoming a thing in and of itself, without purpose or goal. In all, Aldoph and Marlene is comic enough to elicit some  self-satisfied snickers, though I could have done without the ending. As Hitler's and Eva Braun's bodies burn during the fall of Berlin, Marlene and her manager Luminski drive by and stop while, unfathomably, a group of Black American GI's stand in the foreground on some steps. Marlene hands Luminiski a small globe small as an egg shell, and he perches it daintily on his fingertips. "Don't you have a bigger globe?" he asks her, eyes heavy. Marlene smiles icily and drives off. . Weird, no? Symbolic, no? The conclusion seemed a trifle arty to me, an intrusion that muddled what until then had been a well·played absurdist comedy, Lommel would have served his purposes better had he eschewed all these metaphors and had played it straight. # Of the six films I viewed, the most problematic was

Elisa, Vida Mia (Elisa My Love) by Spain's Carlos Saura. It is an arid , fragmented. maddeningly slow meditation on love and hate, life and death, reality versus illusion, and maybe a couple of other themetic  duplications I missed along the way. A woman (Geraldine Chaplin) goes to visit a retired man (Fernando Rey) who lives in an isolated house in the far reaches of Spain. From there she encounters various hallucinations about the lives, deaths. and loves of herself and other people, and a general confusion of what is real or imagined. No doubt, as the program notes say, that Saura's intention is not to provide any clean answer to the dilemma. but to “... evince the linking of imagination and memory ," but for me the film is a labored affair, top-heavy with its own importance. Though only 110 minutes long it became an endurance contest.   

On the other hand, L 'lmportant C'est D'aimer (The Important Thing is to Love) a French, Italian and German release directed by Andrzej Zulawski, is great, a love story that goes beyond the tawdry wrappings of the genre and deals with love in connection with guilt. indebtedness. and commitment. Romy Schneider, an actress lately reduced to making porno films, meets up with Fabio Tassi. a cynical photographer. who at first is interested only in exploiting her. But he falls for her and tries to help her by financing a revival of Richard Ill. To do so Tassi goes into debt to a lecherous uncle, thuggish pornographer for whom Tassi unwillingly works. The potential affair between Tassi and Schneider doesn't occur because she is married to an impotent husband (J acques Dutronc). w ho pulled her. from dru g addiction and prostitution, and to whom she eels an incalculable, unpayable  debt. What is set up is a complex arrangement of relationships in which characters are bound to one another through debts and commitments to intangible virtues. Tassi is indebted to his gangster uncle who feels he's owed the loyalty of a son to a father. Schneider is attached to her husband, who feels guilty about not being able to perform sexually. More than that, the film is about set of values, a search to have love and sex mean something in a culture that uses it as a commodity, as barter at the lowest level of human exchange. The film is taut as a guide wire as the emotional tension, with the violence being the explosions of frustrated, emotionally· constrained characters who can't seem to break out of their respective cells.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Can there be a "greatest poet"?

Quora is an  internet hub where the didactic among us can answer a variety of questions about a wide swath of issues and top. The queries are meant to be responded to by self-declared experts in the field , the best of which are occasionally extracted and published in Slate, an online journal of some reputation.The questions are not always ground breaking or pertinent to hot button topics that might be driving the news cycle at the moment. Someone recently asked if we are in a position now to know who the "best poet of the 21st Century" is yet. Yes, eye rolling ensued after I read it, and yes, my thought was likely like your own, something to the effect this century isn't even two decades in age. How could we know yet who the best among the thousands, millions we haven't encountered, on line or in print. But it advances another question, which would be how are to determine the best from a field that has as many poets in as many places with as many different approaches as there seem to be stars in the night sky?  We can make the case for a "best poet" of the 20th century, in a way, because that period is concluded and we have the advantage of perspective.

 We  are able to read and consider the broadest range of poets and styles and innovations from the writers of that period , we're able to establish a general sense of what the philosophical, spiritual and aesthetic properties of the time were, and we're able to make judgements based on the reasonable and, most importantly, not inflexible criteria we  establish from which to judge what is, truthfully, an overwhelming swath of writers who are relevant to 20th literature. And then we get into further complications, as the question of who is the best poet, best writer, best playwright contains the tacit assumption that the poets we are to pick from share a mostly similar background, with elements of ethnicity, cultural upbringing, education, gender (yes, gender), race , sexual orientation and , most importantly, style and technique being more or less the same (with variations) to make decisions regarding who composed the best work achievable. Poetry, though, is the oldest of writing forms , it is said, it is a way of writing that comes not merely from the European models that Americans inherited as a colonized outpost of England, but in matters world wide. Hundreds, thousands of different styles, traditions, cultural origins, politics, cosmologies, theological conceits, techniques, different languages that have expressive properties that are unique and inseparable from the written and uttered expression.

 And it's gotten even more fractured, particular, as more groups within  our populations approach the mainstream culture from the margins where they were formerly consigned and forgotten about; the discussion as to what constitutes a good poem and what makes for a great poet is language that is has many pages, many chapters, many specific and relevant insights that. Even asking the question as to who the best poet of a given time excludes a majority of poets and poetry schools that are vital, interesting and important to the expression of experience that would other wise remain anonymous. In a nut shell, the better approach is to admit your subjective stance and declare who you're favorite poet is and to make the case for him or her or they who most matter to you; an intelligent , personalized insight into a writer's work is a form of what is termed "heroic criticism", where one might admit that they only have a glancing familiarity with the critical conversation concerning poetics and still find an articulate argument, predicated from a personal encounter with the text, and achieve a nuanced reasoning that returns the poet to the reader's life . As much as I've enjoyed the apparatus of serious criticism and have found benefit in the distinctions and particularization of different bards and the energies that have informed their work, there has come, in my aging view of things, a desire to discuss a poem in a manner one engages the topic of good sex, which is personally, thoughtfully, with a discussant sensitive to the subject and who needn't a specialized vocabulary to appreciate the moves , the nods, the feints, the culmination of well rendered stanzas.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Why does mean, not what does it mean



Poetry without strict meter or rhyme is hardly formless if it is done well, since I think the aesthetic of the early modernists, from Whitman through Eliot, Pound WC Williams and up through the present day was to model cadences on the inflections of real speech. Idealized speech, of course, but speech all the same as the inspiration for jettisoning the mathematical formulations that dominated serious poetry.

 There is something in the best of lines of non-rhyming, unmetered poems that gets at a number of verbal nuances that might otherwise not be available to a poet concerned with adhering to a conventional approach. As with metered verse, we have concern ourselves over which poets have an ear, a musical sensibility that can select the right words for a difficult perception to get across, and who know when to pause, to construct a high, frantic rhetoric, when to calm down, when to stop talking. Robert Creeley, John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara , Thomas Lux, masters of free verse, geniuses even, are every bit important to the history and extension of poetry and poetic gesture as were the usual suspects lurking in the ranks of the older dead white males.

We do have blather, of course we do, we have pompous and amorphous spewing of pretentious , slender lined tripe that is hideously dreadful, but this, I think, is the case for poetry in general, regardless of era, style, aesthetic, politics; most poets are awful and what they write deserves a can of gasoline and a match. The point of it all, among other points to consider and define, is discussing what makes for a good unrhymed poem. I would present Creeley and Thomas Lux as examples, and I would go as far to maintain that John Ashbery, Ron Silliman and Ishmael Reed are no less perfect examples, though of a more expansive, abstract leaning. It's a big subject within a bigger tent.

Entertainment has virtues and cannot be discounted altogether; we seek to have our senses engaged in some worthwhile way. Art, among many others near intangible things it gives human beings, brings us pleasure and is often times sensual in- itself, plain and simple. I do have a love of clear, vivid poems with sharp, precise imagery, but there is quite a lot of pleasure I get from reading poets who are less conspicuous in what they're doing. I like Eliot, Stevens, Dickinson, Silliman, Perelman, Armantrout, Oppen, Bishop. Not everything that is difficult is diffuse, though much of what attempts a more abstract language is merely diffuse and deadening pretentiousness. Like everything, there are those excel in particular styles, and there are the majorities who are merely rattling their keyboards against their belated desires of anthologized glory.
There is no reason why entertainment cannot be the height of art, truthfully. Some of this depends on what entertains you; criticism, in a sense, is the attempt to determine the art within entertaining items and to define or defame those terms as best as we possibly can. It is very subjective and can lead us into blind alleys where vague absolutes irresolutely bark at one another from their respective tethers. Critics and philosophers have debated the utility of art since The Republic and before, and aside from some inspired manifestos about how the surest art will revolutionize and utterly transform the human experience with the material and spiritual realms, the general consensus, so far as my academic and independent readings, is that art's basic function is to create joy, i.e., pleasure, entertainment by any other term. In those terms, art is hedonistic by default, created and sought out because it pleases the creator and the observer. What moral/philosophical/sociological/political insight or "lessons" the art conveys or that one discerns is merely incidental. Aesthetics, of course, is not a philosophy, but merely a kind of inquiry--it is a practice that can be attached to virtually any moral or philosophical undertaking. Hedonism, though, is not a philosophy at all, and I don't recall reading any serious defense or affirmative presentation of the "do your own thing' approach in over four decades.


I like ugly, imperfect, ambiguous art, especially poems, but I also love form, elegance, an ordered pairing of opposing things that once, brought together, gives us a sublime thing indeed. he problem with insisting that a poem should be "beautiful" according to a standard imposes limits on what the poet can do with a work and, in effect, implicitly dictates that a work adhere to requirements that are ill-suited for an emotion, an idea, an event, an experience that would motivate a writer to compose some lines. What gets to me is a poetry that gets across what the poet attempts with a mastery of techniques that are true to themselves, not an ideology. The elements that seem to break away from the phrase making one expects and combine with a writer's honed instincts for developing a rhetoric that allows a poem to stop you for a moment, ponder the phrase, parse the image, appreciate the shifts in tone and sound as layers are added, and appreciate the unexpected places where the stanzas stop, where they jump to, where they land. Beauty, for me, is a vague and useless term when applied on such a broad scale--as I mentioned before it's more compelling to discuss how successful don't think the artist delivers a set of redecorated clich├ęs about affirming life that experience proves to be patently false. Yes, the artist ought to challenge expectation, and the audience would need to argue how well the crafts person succeeded in the attempt.