Monday, August 31, 2015

On Silent Reading

Interesting excerpt on the idea of silent reading, followed by a few comments by me:

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/122665/silent-reading-doesnt-exist

..............................

...I found parts of this excerpt interesting, other parts puzzlingly discursive. 

I liked the tracing of reading over time from communal and familial to private and solitary. And I liked the descriptions of the dialectic between the reader's inner voice, as the manifestation of the self, and the author's. At times I found Biguenet conflating "silent reading" as a metaphor with it as a phenomenon. And it's just me but I'm not very interested in speculation on the physiology of reading. Other than seeing the fluid interplay between self and writer, as manifest in his text, when reading, I have a clear idea of what silent reading is and that it is indeed silent.

This interested me for among two main reasons:

....So I couldn’t read. My ability to write, though, was undiminished by the psychological trauma of seeing my hometown destroyed. Returning to the city five weeks after the levee collapses, our house uninhabitable, we slept in a daycare center without hot water, where—seated on a twelve-inch-high blue plastic chair with my portable computer resting on a barely taller red plastic table—I wrote fifteen columns for The New York Times...

The first reason is that I've always maintained art provides no solace from afflicting sadness or anxiety. As Biguenet notes, we must be able to subside our selves in order to give ourselves over to another's text. His inability to read after Katrina's devastation is understandable in these terms, even over a long time. Almost by definition, an afflicted self will find no solace in art, I argue, because the afflicted self is the understandably self-consumed self. 

The second reason is the paradox of being able to write but not being able to read as noted as quoted. My guess as to the reason for this is, I'm assuming, writing columns was a job, something that had to be done to meet a deadline and to earn some money, whereas when there was, as I assume, no obligation, no practical need, to read, there is nothing to surmount affliction's block. I can think of times in my life when I was distressed or grieving or heart broken such that art held no sway for me but I could still do my work, which involved reading and writing, among other things. I'd think that If Biguenet was writing columns he could, for example, surmount his affliction enough to proofread them and edit what he wrote.

I imagine against my theory one could cite the instance of writer's block, when the self rebels against sacrificing itself to what's there at hand for any number of reasons. All I can think about that, at the moment, is that writer's block is specific problem within the realm of what one must do, such as writing columns, as opposed to the broad distinction Biguenet describes between being unable to read out of a grieving, afflicted  self and being able to write at the behest of obligation. ...

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Planned Parenthood: A Few Thoughts

I want to try to sort out a little some of the issues in the released PP videos.

The controversy is harvesting and selling the partially  formed body parts of legally aborted fetuses.


There are technical issues of not amending abortion procedures to enable harvesting and sale and there are technical issues of non profits profiting beyond cost from the sale of these body parts. 


I want to set those to the side.


The question I want to ask: why the outrage?


From the perspective of pro choicers, which I'm one up to a point, legal abortions in the main don't involve taking a life as such. They deal with an inchoate fetal mass, the parts of which can be put to beneficial, possibly life saving, medical use. 


So is someone eating a salad and drinking wine while discussing either in mercantile terms or in medical--procedural terms lawful harvesting and sale doing something offensive given the context of legal abortions? 


Why? 


When people consensually give up their organs on death or in life for medical purposes, would we be aghast if the legal harvesters and sellers/disposers of these organs speak straightforwardly and without reverence about their medical and transactional processes while eating and drinking? Especially if this less than reverent talk is done in the expectation of privacy. Entrapping people so who act lawfully and think they're off record is outrageous.


I'd think this analogy holds for most legal abortions. I assume the mother has consented to the abortion provider so dealing with the fetal parts. (Absent such consent, I can see there being a different range of ethical arguments flowing from that absence.) If I can consent to what is to be lawfully done for medical good with my removed tonsils, appendix, other organs, whether I'm dead or am alive after surgery, why not consented to dealing with fetal parts? 


What's the difference? 


Of course from the standpoint of those who hold life begins at conception, there's no answering them if their premises are granted.


So the answer to the conflict in arguments flowing from mutually exclusive premises is what the law provides, which generally is an unobstructed right to abort in the first trimester, which right gets grey some time into the second trimester, and which gets further weaker and weaker as the mother moves closer to full term.


For all of that, I can see the outrage for post first trimester abortions, for abortions past the point of fetal viability. Because, then, the tragedy, seen as the clash of two rights, manifest in post first trimester abortions gets acutely joined: the right of a developing baby, a life, so to speak, and the right of a woman over her own body. 


What animates the outrage for post first trimester harvesting and selling is the irreducible sense that a life, a baby, is being killed. It's not the unobjectionable brass tacks, irreverent private discussions about process, medical and financial, as such. It's that talk in the context of that irreducible sense.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Few Thoughts On Canada Day: July 1, 2015

My own private (not exactly Idaho, but in that vein) Canada Day, what with my wife out west, where it's the best, visiting her mother et al, and my kids and their families hither and yon, and me hanging back to water flowers and to keep my house safe from tigers. 

Thoreau said, I paraphrase, "Why travel far afield, when we don't know fully our own backyards?" Well, in the spirit of that notion, I thought I'd take a long, meditative walk around and about my own neighbourhood and think and then say something about  my country. 


I've lucked out in any number of ways, without being exhaustive and in no particular order: who I married, who I've made friends with, who taught me, what and who have influenced and guided me, the experiences I've had, the good fortune of hard effort bringing to me and mine reasonable return and reward, who my parents and brother and cousins and uncles and aunts were and are, what abilities I have, my health--knock on wood, my kids, their kids.


And not least in this trove of treasured contingencies, where I was born and have lived my whole life, this massive, beautiful geographically and culturally diverse country, so cosmopolitan here, so down to earth and close to the land there, with forests and rivers and lakes and oceans and mountains and prairies and big busy cites and towns and villages. So much land, so few people. 


I was born in Winnipeg and lived chunks of my life there, in Vancouver--such an astonishingly beautiful city, and, for the longest part, in Toronto. I worked a big part of my way through school as a waiter and assistant cook on the trains running between Vancouver and Winnipeg, Winnipeg and Toronto, and Toronto and Montreal. And as a kid I traveled by train almost every summer from Winnipeg to Toronto and back. And later a few two-three times between Vancouver and Toronto and back. I've driven more than once through the magnificent Rockies. I've driven through Quebec, the Maritime  provinces and around Newfoundland, where people are particularly salt of the earth. Which is a long way to say I have a concrete sense of the breadth and diversity of this great country. (The north still awaits me.) 


Why, given all that travel, I mention Thoreau, is that on my 6 mile, almost two hour unhurried walk around and about where I'm lucky to live, what I saw and felt seemed to me like my country writ small. I passed and took in the mix of tall, population-dense apartments contrasting with houses, some more modest, some large and lavish on considerable pieces of land, all set among forested parks, ravines, and valleys and a small river, filled with bike and walking trails, and dotted here and there with shopping malls, places of business and restaurants, where people from all over the world live and work and, for the great most part, get along. 


And I thought as I walked that for all my country's many problems and issues, her poor, her mistreated and her disadvantaged, for all her riven politics, for all of that, compared to most places in the world, including our southern neighbour, we have it so relatively good, where our mainstream sensibility constrains a Tory federal government to by and large respect the rule of law, to leave essentially in tact our decent, however imperfect, social safety net, our old age benefits, our single payer health care, our sane gun laws, and our socio-cultural liberal policies on abortion and same sex marriage, which are so explosive to the south of us.


A small country population of about 35,000,000 living comparatively peaceably in the second largest land mass of any country in the world: I say again how blessed I am to have been born and to live in Canada.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Few Thoughts On The End Of Mad Men

So I finished the last half of last season of Mad Men. It and the finale were ok.

I noted the finale's last two scenes: DD in a group sitting on a grassy green stretch of lawn overlooking the ocean, very Esalen-like, smiling broadly and crazily like one of  Kerouac's holy fools, listening to therapeutic type talk from a kind of guru about, I paraphrase, a new day, a new dawn and new beginnings and possibilities. Then cut to the famous Coke commercial, "I'd like to teach...," (which pimped out racial harmony to sell diabetes-inducing cola.) 

So is Weiner a wiener? He said in an interview that it's inferable that DD went back to the McCann world eating ad agency and hatched this ad from his retreat experience, that it's a great ad and that it's cynical to be cynical about it.

I say with D.H.L. "Never trust the teller, trust the tale." For large, for me, the hot dog in Weiner respecting his comments on the finale rests principally on two grounds:

1. I'm a critic of the ending of The Sopranos as an artistic cop out, betrayal if you want to get dramatic about it. After X many hours following the story, I argue we're entitled to a touch of resolution--I don't need ribbons and bows wrapping a gift box, I can live with controlled ambiguity, irresolution and ambivalence but not fatuity--you viewer decide, I'm not saying--parading as purposeful ambiguity. We have here, I say, inartful anti climactic darkness, as in being kept in the dark, over richly textured possibility. So, analogously, but not in parallel, in Mad Men's last two scenes we have no way of inferring, con Weiner, whether DD went back to the agency. No, not able to infer, which means being able to draw a conclusion from a body of information, we're simply left guessing. And after all we've been through with DD, how is the sheer unknowing of what happens to him defensible? There's a difference between arguable interpretations arising from a textual foundation and arguments over meaning and significance OOH and guessing over the failure to provide artistically controlled irresolution as is the case, I argue, with the ending in both series, OTOH.

2. Weiner by his comments shows that he can't stand up to the deeper and darker implication of his own work. The adjacency of the last two scenes at a minimum could be thought to show the commercial coopting of such beneficent promise as the "higher" Esalen-like consciousness may hold for us all in order to sell diabetes-inducing, syrupy, teeth rotting, terrible-for-you soft drinks. Here we have an essence of much of advertising: the fantasy-oriented falsification of reality to sell prosaic crap. A more dire implication may be a thematic link between the romanticized hokum of Esalen-like consciousness, namely the privileging of self absorbed feelings-"How do you feel about how Sunflower feels about you feel about how she's feeling?"-and the fetishization of self-involved "freedom" inclining to something solipsistic-as if the hardnesses of reality can be subject to such self centred nonsense, so the link between that romanticized hokum and the traduction of the ideal of racial harmony to sell syrupy not-good-for-you crap: "if it feels good do it" marries being made to feel good about one's self by drinking a soft drink. As I see it, Weiner is stuck in the shallow end, "mad in craft" as Hamlet says,  unable to ascend to the depths, so to say, rise to the heights, that is to say, promised but not delivered by his art. 

My takes, poor things that they are, for as idiosyncratic and contrarian as they may be. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

On Basquiat And Emily Carr

May, 7, 2015

I went this afternoon to the AGO to see the Emily Carr exhibit, From Forest To The Sea. I don't recall having given her two thoughts ever before and if I ever saw her paintings--I have to think I did, what with Kleinberg being a hour's drive--they never stuck. I had a couple of months ago gone to the AGO to see the Basquiat exhibit, Now's The Time and even went to a Saturday long seminar on him (that deserves its own note.) I came away from Basquiat thinking that the celebration of him has more to do with him being black, a street kid with tons of street cred, good looking, a buddy of Warhol's, and having died young and of a heroin overdose no less than his art. I don't buy the claims that his primitivism has great and deceptive skill behind it and that his explicitly cruder paintings, like Car Crash, have that behind them. I see lots of busyness and clutter in his paintings than great art. The sublime and the ridiculous are Breughel's magnificent peopled paintings and Basquiat's busyness. I got no emotional wallop from his paintings and felt no resonant depth in them.

But Emily Carr just knocked me out. Maybe wrongly the curator had 1930s and early 40s dark paintings of trees and forests to start the exhibit. They're so full of dark menace, ferocity and foreboding. They put me in mind of "lovely dark and deep" but with weighty emphasis on the "dark and deep" in their most forbidding and threatening aspect. The trees, tall, spindly, sparse, denuded of foliage, seem stuck and submerged in cannibalistically herbivorous vegetation with imagery of jaws wanting to swallow up what's around them, all painted in dark, gloomy colours. In many of these paintings the surrounding vegetation is painted in water imagery with tidal waves about to crash down on the trees or with swift River currents about to carry them away. And what light from the sun that does appear in some of the paintings often seems like a consuming fire. For all Emily Carr's talk about the animism of nature, of forests and trees, they seem played, fragile, weak and vulnerable in their thinness. 

So, I found a disconnect between the curator's annotation of these paintings interlarded with snatches of Carr's own strong and expressive prose, much of it to a view of nature's refulgence, fecundity, regeneration, divine teleology and the dark. foreboding ferocity I just described. Accordingly, I saw way more ambivalence in her well known work Indian Church than the curator allowed for, the mere contrast of imposed European cum Christian while linearity and the nature as wild, flowing of many complex darker shades and shapes. The church was that but also had the quality to it of Hemingway's "A Clean Well Lighted Place," a small oasis of sanctuary. And in line with that two sidedness of it, the forest, in which the church sits quite alone, has untamed and threatening dark wildness to it of a thematic piece with her other paintings of nature's ferocity.  So I saw exploration of both sides of that nature church paradox, each side with its own paradoxical ambivalence.

So, too, to move from these later dark paintings to the lighter, more benign paintings of her earlier years in the exhibit shocked me a little and took some adjusting to. There's a kind of smile that suffuses many of these earlier paintings in their benignity. And in that regard there's a computer based recreation of her travel to Alaska diary book of sketches and prose entries, which is delightful and funny, whimsical and charming, endlessly lightly self deprecating. I'd have thought a more telling curation would've proceeded chronologically from light to dark, so to speak. 

I think her art is great. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Two Thoughts On King Lear


We saw today a filmed version of King Lear as it was performed in Stratford, Ontario. The play is of course magnificent. I see it as play about nothing, not Seinfeldian nothing as in the utterly prosaic and uneventful, but nothing as negation, evil so deep, cruel, sharp and pervasive it drives life into meaninglessness.


Volumes can be written about it but I want to say only two things.

The first is how cold, stinting, doctrinaire and even prideful is Cordelia in refusing to give Lear even a touch of what he wants, some generous profession of her love. She is righteous in refusing to flatter him for gain, in being disgusted at her sisters' tendentious falsity, in saying "nothing" in contrast with their massive protestations of love and reverence for Lear. But she is as self righteous as she is righteous. She is in love with her principled righteousness. And  her "nothing" measures Cordelia reacting against, and to, Lear's pathetic and foolish purchases of his daughters' love and their self advancing exploitation of it rather than transcending both with a heartfelt, genuine expression of her love. She will parcel out her love in accord with her "bond" and her "duty," half to her father, half to her husband, no more, no less. Contrast this minginess with the Juliet's expression of love:

....My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep. The more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite...

The other thing on my mind prompted by the play is my continuing to remain stumped by "Ripeness is all" in Edgar saying to Gloucester:

  Edg.  Away, old man! give me thy hand: away!
King Lear hath lost, he and his daughter ta’en.        10
Give me thy hand; come on.
  Glo.  No further, sir; a man may rot even here.
  Edg.  What. in ill thoughts again? Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither:
Ripeness is all. Come on.        15

Hamlet says to Horatio "the readiness is all," which I take in part to mean that he can no longer think out and plan what he will do against Claudius. All he can do is be ready to meet and do his best with whatever befalls him, including the likeliness of death. 

So, in Lear, "is all" also suggests a fundamental and singular insight that crowds everything else out for importance. "Ripeness" suggests to me fullness, a maturing peak, the best or peak of oneself, maybe a kind of point of equipoise between getting to that point from the instance of creation--"their coming hither"-- to the descent into spoliation and death--"Their going hence." But, in Lear, it's all a sad and burdensome lot, the going and the coming, it seems. For it all must be "endured." So, what in all that is the exact meaning of Edgar's "ripeness"? 

I feel like it's at the periphery of my understanding, like I'm only one thought away from it, but I just can't make it out. 

Sent from my iPad

Friday, March 6, 2015

Boyhood, A Few Comments

For me, what I found entrancing is the beautifully observed and quietly complex social reality of  the specific scenes of daily life that cumulatively gain depth and impact as the characters change over time, as they fill out, mature and show the effects of time and gravity too, both physical and emotional. Patricia Arquette who wants to improve herself makes an upwardly-mobile relationship with the off putting  psychology prof who turns out an overbearing drunk, rife with menace, beating her up in a shattering scene, set against the movie's general quiet, and then all the kids' huddled reaction and then him standing in front of them with such a latent promise of bullying violence about them and you can feel their terrified fear of him lashing out. 
So much of the movie's focus is on the  resilience of kids, their moves and self protections when their world can turn dangerous on a dime say at the dinner table or when they're swept up in the consequences of their parents' big choices. The small, intimate detailed touches are fantastic: scared of the prof's explosive rage, Mason hides in a bedroom and obsessively watches a comedy video;  Lorelei’s version of Britney Oops! … I Did It Again; the trek to buy  copies of a Harry Potter book. I could go on forever. 
So beautifully and quietly and subtly observed, so much of the feeling of lives lived. 
There is a comparison to Catcher In The Rye, I'd make: Holden wants Phoebe and her friends never to leave the field of rye they're playing in, never to lose their innocence because the world is so full of crap, as Holden might say, only the innocence of childhood redeems it. In Boyhood, we see them leave the field, meet life as it meets them, crap and non crap in all that, as it all meets so many of us in our own late twentieth century and early 21st century moment, and shows us their adaptations, their beginning to mature, leaving them on the precipice of adulthood. By my lights, clearly not everyone's, it's simply an amazing and beautiful movie.