Saturday, February 25, 2006

Why Was Edvard Munch so Morbid?


One looks at a reprint of Munch's most famous painting The Scream and then regards the subtler, more somber depressions of this painter's angst soaked paintings, such Girls On the Jetty, and wonder why he was such a glum Gus. The reason is more practical and less mysterious than some of our more mystical critics would insist.He was good at it. With all the impressionist swellings, swirling clouds, jaggedly mad crows, blurred lines and obscured faces moving about his canvases under the darkest, deepest shades and tones he could manage, what Munch saw in the world wasn't nice formations in pleasing shapes and arrangements, but rather as a thin film of appearance under which each and everyone of his dark moods and skewed perception pulsed, ached and persistently throbbed. Munch and his allies did a rather nice job of freeing the artist from having to make pretty pictures for dentist offices. Not that it was a bad mood alone that motivated his brush strokes. The desire to depict reality in a different way, to find a truth that hadn't yet been brought forward, is a permanent impulse among artists who are the least bit figurative, and Munch's penchant for gloom and depressed spaces were a perfect inspiration, it that's the word, to take the image of the world apart, tweak the essential elements, and reassemble it, askew, fuzzy, angular. Munch's genius was also his pathology, and the crazed energy in his head which drove him to relentless distraction was additionally his ugly gift to the world. It still commands our attention generations later.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Jay McInerney, Dozing Fat Boy

Jay McInerney, Brat Pack novelist, Manhattanite extraordinaire and famed party goer, got the urge to step up to the plate and write a Great American Novel, a work that would raise him finally from the middle rungs of the literary ladder and allow him to reach the top shelf where only the best scribes--Hemingway! Fitzgerald! Thomas Wolfe!-- sit and cast their long collective shadow over the fields of aspiring geniuses, furious scribblers all. McInerney has selected a large subject with which to make his reputation, the catastrope that was and remains 9/11. Acutely aware that the minor league satires and soft coming of age stories that made his name were less commanding than they had been because "9/11 changed everything" (a phrase destined to be the characterizing cliche of this age) he offers us The Good Life, a mixed bag of satiric thrusts, acute social observation, two dimensional characterizations
and wooden generalizations about the sagging state of society, of culture, of our ability to understand one another, locally and globally.

I agree that Jay McInerney is a better writer than he's been credit, but history will judge his novels as minor efforts at best. Witty and observant, yes he is, but the manner in which he conveys his best lines, his choicest bon mots have the thumbed-through feeling of a style borrowed. Fitzgerald, Capote and John Cheever are his heroes, true, but there's nothing in McInerney's writing that honors his influences with the achievement of a tone and personality that is entirely his own, an original knack of phrase making that makes a reader wonder aloud how such wonderful combinations of words are possible. His influences, alas, are visible and seem to be peering over his shoulder. Even what one would praise as sharp and elegant observations from his keyboard creaks not a little. The style sounds borrowed, and our author sounds much, much too dainty to make it really cling to the memory:

"The hairstylist was aiming a huge blow-dryer at his wife's skull, which was somewhat disconcertingly exposed and pink--memento mori--in the jet of hot air ... "

"He developed an interest in the arts as well as a taste for luxury and was never hence quite able to make the distinction between the two, so that his ambitions oscillated between the poles of creation and connoisseurship."

McInerney is compared to Fitzgerald relentlessly since his career as a professional writer began, in so much he, like F.Scott, was bearing witness to a generation of conspicuous consumption and waste, but one notices that any random paragraph from The Great Gatsby
contains more melody by far. The writing genius of Fitzgerald, when he was writing at his absolute best,was his ability to make you forget the fact that you're reading elegant prose and have you become entranced by it. It was a means to put you in a different world altogether. It's this simple, really; you didn't see him writing, you didn't see him sweat. Able craftsman as well as peerless stylist when he was performing best, Fitzgerald's prose seemed natural, buoyant, unstrained. McInerney's writing reveals that strain, that slaving over phrase and clever remark,and often times the effect seems calculated.In his best moments, he rarely sheds the sophomore flash; after all these years our Manhattan golden boy still writes like the most gifted student in a Kansas City composition class. After all these years he is still trying to outrace the long shadows of those who brought him reading pleasure.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Three Irksome Phrases

What irks me without fail are people who ought to know better saying "uncomfortability" when they mean "discomfort". It seems that some folks think that an excess of syllables, even to the extent of using words that don't exist in nature, makes an expression of commonplace ideas and feelings sound more subtle, nuanced, educated.These are words for people who don't know what they want to say, let alone how to talk about it.

Likewise, the use of the world "potentiality" needs to be banned by law, punishable by cruel mocking in the public square. There is no advantage of using that ungainly pile-up that the shorter, unambiguous and more efficient "potential" can't get across clearer and faster.
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A couple of co workers are found of announcing that they're going "on lunch", a phrase that sounds as phony baloney as it gets. I realize it may be a regionalism , but here in San Diego the term grates the ear. Dude.
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Sorry to say, but there are still fields of self-help/recovery/New Age grope speak here in San Diego, and it's not unusual in the course of a day to hear someone describe a bad mood or other psychic malaise they have as being "being in a bad space." For me, a "bad space" is standing in front of moving traffic as it rushes towards you.

Related to this are folks who say that they need to take care of their own needs or else they "get to that place " where they become The Hulk. Funny , but I've never seen these "bad spaces" or dreaded "places" that make people become awful. Is there a map I can buy?

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

TV Makes Us Smarter?


All the McLuhan and Baudrillard fans who’ve spent their lives misconstruing both these thinkers’ circuitous thinking are cheering these days, as a current conceit circulating among some in cyber society has it that digital media, television in particular, has made us smarter than generations before. Smarter, more intelligent, more aware. Real people with fake lives watching TV shows full of fake people acting out real ones. Social anxiety disorder is a real condition, though we dispensed with the trend of making every discomfort a disease and just referred to sufferers as either existentially perplexed, or more simply, "neurotic".

Any good post-war philosopher knows the cure to the constant fretting and despair: GET A LIFE, or at least create one. In the current age, we begin with simply turning off the TV and getting a library card, for nothing makes you smarter as well has reading books , one page at a time, at pace where you're allowed, or rather compelled to develop sound thinking. TV has replaced the ability to abstract with the mere capacity to summarize, which is the difference between synthesizing information and formulating a solution to a problem under inspection, and the other merely a form of inventory taking, hardly more than putting everything in specimen jars, labeling them, and categorizing them in a method that renders the information inert, useless, and mere clutter. This is a time when citizens can know so much about so many things and yet understand absolutely none of it. Extreme, perhaps, but it feels that way as you make your way through phone conversations, exchanges at work, conversations in grocery stores and coffee houses and the bars where one might sit for awhile trying to regain their composure;  voices heated and voices calm citing this article, that website, that blog, this TV show as they sally forth with a world view that hasn’t changed much since they were a teenager. So much information absorbed for positively no effect. We fight wars and drop bombs for the old , ruined reasons dressed up with new terms and end notes. We are able to express the limits of what we perceive faster.

Real people with fake lives watching TV shows full of fake people acting out real ones. Social anxiety disorder is a real condition, though we dispensed with the trend of making every discomfort a disease and just referred to sufferers as either existentially perplexed, or more simply, "neurotic".Any good post-war philosopher knows the cure to the constant fretting and despair: GET A LIFE, or at least create one. In the current age, we begin with simply turning off the TV and getting a library card, for nothing makes you smarter as well has reading books , one page at a time, at pace where you're allowed, or rather compelled to develop sound thinking. TV has replaced the ability to abstract with the mere capacity to summarize, which is the difference between synthesizing information and formulating a solution to a problem under inspection, and the other merely a form of inventory taking, hardly more than putting everything in specimen jars, labeling them, and categorizing them in a method that renders the information inert, useless, and mere clutter.

Saturday, February 4, 2006

Metal Immersion: on listening to a neighbor's Metallica album over and over and over again


Let's tell the truth about these guys: metal has been boring as soggy granola for decades, but Metallica's music, unvarying as tract housing, has lowered the bar to the point that the band name is fated to become a synonym for torpor, ennui, skull-crushing lassitude .This steel tempered barrage is the audio equivalent of the hooked leather tassels some varieties of religious extremists flagellate themselves for sins they've yet to commit against their humorless god.How do you like your punishment?Faster, heavier, angrier, meaner, edgier? Sell your house, burn your car seats and cancel your dinner reservations because Metallica is going to chain to the wall of the first cave they come across where they intend to throw every hard note and quicksilver scale in their arsenal at you. That's what they wanted to be when they appeared so many distant days back when, but they got to the convention right as they concluding gavel was pounded and the other bands were either gearing up other musical approaches,or seeking other employment. They've always tried too hard , and have fairly much given off a corporate feel to their music. Let's compare them to a Ford Truck: BIG, LOUD, POWERFUL, and utterly characterless. Metallica has done little more than make the reigning cliches and tropes of metal louder, bigger, stupider. This is the music for those who cannot wait to have what dead registers of hearing they have left made erased like chalk drawings. Soon, the sound ceases to be what this band is about; it becomes the vibration, the rattling of the teeth, the spinning senses, the incipient nausea that follows a good pummeling. Listening to Metallica is the next best thing to an anxiety attack, and for many who crave this ceaseless noise, fast and beset with routine tempo shifts , ostinato screams of wounded and placeless rage and throat-cancer vocals , this is the closet they get in a week to feeling as if they have a life worth showing up for.I pity such folks, but there are limits, especially on a day I counted on sleeping in on the first day off in three weeks of being nice to cretins, simps and various other illiterates who want to argue their taste in stores where I work.They should vanish, go away, stop at once rather than continue the sluggish tragedy that is the sum of their continuing existence, as well as the unerasable fact of their loathsome, drooling legacy. After that, we take hammers to the cell phones

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