Sunday, November 29, 2015

Adele and Janis Joplin

Nov 29, 15

Adele and Janis Joplin:

So I drove down to have lunch today with my beautiful, oh-so-smart daughter Aviva Basman, Canada's greatest refugees' rights lawyer, her exquisite and shimmeringly lovely husband Scott Pearce, their cute as all get out son, Max Pearce Basman, kinda nerdy, kinda geeky, in the best, most endearing, most charming senses of those qualities, and their oh so girrrly daughter Roxy Pearce Basman, a diminutive throw back to second wave feminism, when girls were girrrls as in girrrlpower, if you get my drift. 

But all that's a digression from my point. 

On my way down, today about a 35' drive, I played over and over and over and so on again and again, Janis Joplin's incredible version of Little Girl Blue. The best version of it ever, I'd argue. And as I kept repeatedly listening to it, I kept comparing it to Adele's Hello, which I've heard a few times now and don't love. S'ok. 

And I thought, for as much as I really liked Rolling In The Deep, a great marriage of voice and song, that Janis Joplin is so much the better singer judging by a comparison of Hello and Little Girl Blue. 

In Hello, I find Adele, who's got an undeniably big voice, more bombastic than affecting, more generic in her expression of sorrow and regret than inside those emotions, more histrionic than dramatic, unsubtle in her phrasing, dynamics and melisma, with too much unnuanced belting, more, generally, signing outside than inside the song. 

And to my ears, Janis Joplin's singing in Little Girl Blue is 180 degrees different. Her voice and phrasing range from the subtlest quiet delicacy in the intense empathy she feels for Little Girl Blue's pain and desolation to the powerful, big and full voiced urging of her to count her little fingers, just to get her past thoughts of suicide:

...And I know how you feel,
And I know you ain't got no reason to go on
And I know you feel you must be through.
Oh honey go on and sit right back down
I want you to count, oh count your little fingers...

from providing matter of fact, prosaic, resignedly sung, wise advice--"What else is there to do"--to the poetic and wistful evoking of the similarities and associations between "count your little fingers" and ...."count those raindrops/Oh, feel 'em falling down on you..., and the evocation of devastated loss and lonely hopelessness through the imagery and metaphor of the falling raindrops:

...all you ever gonna have to count on,
Or gonna wanna lean on
It's gonna feel just like those raindrops do
When they're falling down, honey, all around you.

Rodgers and Hart meet one of the bluesiest chicks who ever lived, who took your evocative show tune lyrics and elevated them by imbuing them with the spirit and sensibility of the blues.

To my ears, as MC Hammer once said, Adele can't touch this.

Here's the difference for anyone interested:

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Note On Harvey Mansfield's Manliness

Here's one of the maddening things about Harvey Mansfield's Manliness, which isn't at all a tract: he often says idiosyncratic things. He's a big conservative philosophic brain in Harvard's school of government, steeped in the great books, a prolific writer, totally fluent in a number of languages and revered by his students. He's been called "the smartest guy at Harvard." Unless he's operating by some cryptic code decipherable only to the congregation, some of what he says seems to an ordinary guy like me arbitrary nonsense. A recent example--I'm 4/10ths through his book:

(at 40% on Kindle edition)  ...Nietzsche conflates Socratic reason with Francis Bacon's science; he contends that classical rationalism intended for the *understanding* of things extends seamlessly into modern rationalism aimed at the control of things for the increase of human power....

I get this so far, but have no idea whether Mansfield endorses this or merely gives an account of Nietzsche's thought. If it's the former, I'm struck by his use of "conflates," which suggests a confused lumping together of disparate things. From the "endorses" perspective, this line of thought must be wrong since we can see science as a discrete mode of inquiry into the objective nature of material reality that holds no necessary political agenda and ideally seeks to make no value judgments. 

Science is separable from other rational modes of inquiry, say philosophy, which also try to understand what we think about the world and how we come to think it, and say, applied philosophy, including the social sciences, which seeks to evaluate human issues across a spectrum of concerns, which seeks to improve our lot, and which is inherently normative.

A final note here: we can recognize the desire to understand things, to control, if possible, some of them for human betterment, without succumbing to the illusion Nietzsche diagnosed that everything is subject to discernible laws open to our understanding and control and, so, tameable, subject to our power. That may have been a romantic hope at the beginning of and part way through enlightenment science, but is now understood by most thinking people as a naive humanism. The point is to see both the promise and hope of rationality and deliberation in science and non science while seeing the vast darkness that lies beyond rationality.

Mansfield continues....Theoretical man who believes that nature is comprehensible implies that knowledge is your guide and will make you, nay, all men happy-- and thus paves the way for modern science and for modern socialism...

Again it's unclear to me whether adoption or mere reiteration. From reading his book, I'd put my money on the former, which includes the latter. Anyway, as we see the world today, who is this theoretical man? Who believes that knowledge will make all men happy? And why do any such seers and believers pave the way for modern science and socialism? (Certainly this last assertion is pure Mansfield.)

Again, the confusing use of "conflation" in the first quote makes trouble for me in the second quote. I can see the lineage from the enlightenment to seeing the universe as subject to accessible clock-like mechanical laws to philosophy, say Hegel-the idea of the idea inexorably moving through history, and to applied or materialist philosophy, say Marx and Marxism as "scientific socialism" or "scientific materialism" to a telling conception of "theoretical man," to a belief that knowledge and application of "scientific materialism" will make all men happy-"..each according to his need." 

But, and it's a huge but: how on any view of this:

do we see today the prominence of such theoretical men, save for outlier Marxists here and there? 

(Which isn't to take away from the power of Marx's analysis of material interests as a prime mover of social action, a deep insight separable from his predictive belief in the iron laws of necessary historical development.) 

and an even bigger but: how does the illusion that knowledge will make all men happy, whomever might still believe that, pave the way to modern science? 

There is clearly "better living through chemistry," which comes with destructive trade offs simply in the nature of how science proceeds; but how in the world does modern science get to be essentially characterized by any form of deluded Utopianism, as I read Mansfield to say?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

An Argument Against Robert Nozick

So I'm talking to a libertarian friend and I think from looking at some things, I've worked out, actually *learned* is more like it, a deep contradiction in the analysis of Robert Nozick that I'm going to trot out here. 

Either this is a telling argument against libertarianism or I'm missing or mistaking things.

....Larry, I tried this out, with a lot of help along the way, on someone I know. So If you don't mind I want to try a different tack with you, turning on the difference between aptness and legitimacy.

Nozick argues that independents are to be forcibly incorporated into society. Even if their rejection of it is their right, they pose a danger to what they reject (thus on a utilitarian basis decreasing the happiness of those accepting society by increasing their fear.) They can live in society obeying its laws or be dealt with by the monopolizer of force if their rejection leads to law breaking and worse. Since ought entails can, there is no moral duty to do the impossible. On this basis, the state does not lose legitimacy by that forcible incorporation: it is impossible to deal with the independents otherwise. In one way of understanding this, that incorporation comes down to the sheer power of the state compared to the relative powerlessness of the independents. 

Now, to take this one step further, what if a majority in the state want national health insurance. (Getting it increases their happiness.) What position can the minority take who oppose but are perforce required to help fund it through their taxes, or, even more pervasive, the welfare state? Does the state lose its legitimacy by forcing those opposed to support them by making them pay their taxes? Does the reasoning for the forcible incorporation of the independents without sacrificing legitimacy lose its force in relation to forcing dissenters from welfarism without, the argument is, by analogy, losing legitimacy? I'd think that those who oppose welfarism would continue to insist on their opposition but would do so conceding legitimacy. 

So if Nozick is:

as I understand he is, a social contract theorist;

and if he agrees that the basis of social contract theory is consent;

and if he rejects any proposition, as I understand he does, advanced by some that since unanimous consent in any state is impossible the state, any state premised on deep individual pluralism is therefore necessarily illegitimate;

then his notions of consent and legitimacy necessarily brook majorities that hold to policies that he stands fundamentally against.

If so, then what exactly is the core of his notion of  legitimacy, and what does that core do to the illegitimacy of the welfare project you argue against? Arguments pro and con specific policies on the basis of legitimacy run up against the concession of legitimacy to the state even as majority policies breach libertarians' central thesis of deep pluralism not to be trenched upon. And so, finally, arguments against say welfare policy can cite that central thesis, but can't with consistency, I don't think, assert the illegitimacy of that policy. Or can they?

No doubt there are frailties in this reasoning. I'd be happy to see that set out, as you see it...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thoughts On Unifying Libertarians And Conservatives

Thoughts On Unifying Libertarians And ConservativesMy take on this by Peter Berkowitz's argument for the harmonization of conservatives and libertarians.

 What distinguishes say Burkean conservatism from classical liberalism? 

The former wants to go slow--despite the American Revolution--in policy change, be incremental, be concerned about unintended consequences, wants to emphasize traditions for at least two reasons--a presumptive bulwark against radical policy change and the organic continuity of the past into the present, our bonds with out past being the meaning of who we are nationally. 

So on this conception, there is no necessary denigration of government or even the imposition of government in our lives. Rather government working within the imperatives of going slow, being incremental, and respectful of traditions is fine. One could say the emphasis is on the polity as such and not so much on the individual and perhaps harkens to an aristocratic notion of regime, the complete appropriateness of betters ruling lessers. Hence perhaps Berkowitz's shorthand conceptualization of conservatism as virtue. Normatively, tradition yields stability, predictability and so traditional institutions such as, writ large, the state as manifestation of its past and, smaller, the family, the church, local communities, and within those habits of respect, civility, obedience to authority. And other things too.

Classical liberalism is not so concerned with tradition, our organic connection to the past or the nature of the state as such save for what it minimally ought to be. It focuses on the individual. It sees its ideal in individual liberty, in unleashing the potencies of that, of the manifestation of that in the market, entrepreneurial energy, competition, where the role of the state is to set the minimum conditions for allowing that to flourish and to secure it all including securing the state. Decentralization is a watch word here and central planning is anathema as an individual energy killer. More deeply, in this tradition, is a philosophic  commitment to the primacy of the individual as a principled starting point, a natural law commitment to inalienable rights preceding states (which, could be consistent with Burkean conservatism--but I don't know that.) So there is no right in the state to do more than what its minimal role is, which is to safeguard individual liberty and the enterprise it unleashes. Laissez faire, as they taught in grade 10 social studies. And here the shorthand conceptual counterpoint to virtue is liberty. 

I'm uncertain how this all works out in foreign policy. What positions necessarily flow from the starting premises. 

On the social issues side, I can't readily see a harmonization of the two positions. There is no necessary or compelling reason emerging from classical liberalism's starting premises that could be argued to commit it Berkowitz's idea for virtue; and, more, classical liberalism is doctrinally set against aristocratic notions of man and government that for Burke lead to the imperatives of hierarchy, rank, and tradition in the structuring of societies.  

On the law and order side, from the standpoint of criminal law I can see compatibility in criminal law against harming conduct but direct incompatibility on criminalizing non harming but aguably offensive conduct.

On the fiscal policy side, I don't see necessary compatibility or incompatibility but can see tensions between perhaps conservatives' willingness for state regulation to enhance the desiderata of stability and predictability and classical liberals' willingness to tolerate some upheaval, disorder, unpredictability in the unleashing of individual energy. In two words, again, laissez faire. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Some Thoughts On Michael Eric Dyson's "Think Out Loud"

A few thoughts:

After an interesting start comparing a generation of black intellectuals to the New York intellectuals, including the veering of some from both groups pronouncedly rightwards, Dyson descends to a kind of elaborated baseball cards catalogue of who's prominent these days and who has been, what they've done, with nothing much else, save for some stock comments about the Internet and what modern technology delivers and makes possible. And even in that, as the piece gets increasingly rhapsodic, Dyson stops being self aware of some of the nonsense he's in effect subscribing to:

...The book is no longer exclusively dominant in the realm of black ideas. The black digital intelligentsia flourishes in an epistemic ecology in which the scholarly impulse has been sheared by the cutting edges of new technology and the desire for instant knowledge and commentary on current ideas and events...

So excited is Dyson by the sweep of his way inflated prose--"digital intelligentsia flourishes in an epistemic ecology"--that he can't pause for a moment to note how impoverished it is and what a bane for a culture it is to want "instant knowledge and commentary."

A defensive tone forecasting what's to come is evident pretty early on in this on a past generation of black thinkers:

...We proved that, as with basketball and music, the dominant American thinkers were black. Which brings us to the present...

Paradoxically, the triumphalism, which suggests a continuation of that "dominance," trumpets the defensiveness and foretells a need in Dyson to make outlandish claims, in which, among other things, he assesses mediocrity, competence and better as "brilliance":

....They include, to name only a few, Jamelle Bouie at Slate, Nikole Hannah-Jones at The New York TimesMagazineJoy Reid at MSNBC, Jamilah Lemieux at Ebony, and the NewRepublic’s Jamil Smith. Brilliant, eloquent, deeply learned writers and thinkers, they contend with the issues of the day, online, on television, wherever they can....

This is like saying the white journalists in the mainstream press or white pundits who appear on television are "brilliant"--surely a  quality to be spoken of sparingly, not indiscriminately as does Dyson--rather than these these white scribblers and talkers being what they are, mediocre, competent and in some instances good and exceptionally good. Dyson's overestimation, fuelled by skin colour, is particularly so in the highlighting of Ta-Nehisi Coates, who a commentator on this thread nails for precisely Coates's  lack of intellectual brilliance. I'd add he's an ok writer, not much more than that. Quoting from what I agree with in the comment:

.....The problem with having Ta-Nehisi Coates as the standard-bearer of the "Emerging Black Intelligentsia" is that he's clearly not exceptionally intelligent...

My abiding criticism of this essay, apart from it being an outlandish catalogue written in inflated  prose, is Dyson's need to claim for black Americans exclusiveness and dominance as truth tellers, thinkers and as measurers of what's right and moral:

...IN 2013, Professor Eddie Glaude, chair of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton, argued  in The New York Times that black intellectuals ought to be “the moral conscience of their societies...

Tyson, instead of blanching at the precious grandiosity of "the moral conscience"--not even just "a moral conscience" will do, welcomes the idea and goes on to say that those he catalogues, who themselves range from the mediocre to the competent to the good and to the very good, are in Dyson's reckoning to a man and woman, as noted, "Brilliant, eloquent, deeply learned." The myth at the foundation of the "Ferguson rebellion"--euphemism for thugs rampaging, burning and looting--"hands up don't shoot," seeing BLM as the cutting edge of something, seeing it and its apologists as "the moral conscience of their societies," eliding BLM's radical distraction from the hard day to day work to improve the conditions of black lives, flying over its illogical conflation of disparate impact as an actuality and "structural racism," these all measure both Dyson's rhapsodic remove from actuality and his flawed skewing in only one ideological direction. For he doesn't engage, or just catalogue, conservative black intellectuals, journalists and media figures. Except for one brief passing mention, noted, he excludes them all from his grandiloquent survey.

The clear inference emerging here is that the foundation for Dyson's overpraise is skin colour. In a nutshell, for Tyson, black is beautiful, necessarily, which is to say, black of an acceptable ideological stripe, is beautiful, necessarily. In a nutshell, for that beauty, Dyson is cheerleader: "Give me a B; Give me an L; Give me an A; Give me a C; Give me a K." Whatta ya' got? Ya got: "...At The Atlantic Coates called Harris-Perry America’s 'foremost public intellectual'...," a spectacularly dumb assertion Dyson affirms.

Monday, August 31, 2015

On Silent Reading

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


...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? 


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. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Sea Is My Brother

So I like Kerouac a lot, a lot--that's two "a lots."
I some time ago while hunting through the remainder bins of Book City on the Danforth came across JK's first written, last published novel The Sea Is My Brother. I noted from a bit of a web hunt a few snottily dismissive reviews of it as clunky and amateurish.
Didn't care. I read it, with open arms, mind and heart. I just finished it.
And I loved it, some part of that pure sentimentality out of my two "a lots" for Kerouac but a bigger part out the interest its descriptions, themes and characters evoked for me and by its stretches of really good, concrete writing, especially at the end when the sea voyage gets underway, and Everhart's conflicts get some resolution and Wesley Martin is affirmed in his love of the sea and both the solitude and the brotherhood sailing it as a merchant mariner offer him.
It also struck home with a few of my own experiences:
for example, encountering and working alongside working men in my working my way through school in a saw mill and then as a dishwasher, assistant cook and waiter on the trains, getting shocked into seeing what vital and diverse life went on beyond the puny, coddled precincts of my own experience;
or for example, encountering the sheer monotony of endless, boring, repetitive manual labour and seeing myself as miraculously blessed to have my ongoing education as a pathway from that--while admittedly Everhart is on balance thankful for his monotonous work as part of real experience that shows up the limits and thinness of his academic life at Columbia;
or for example, engaging in vigorous talks about all kinds of ideas with vigorous, engaging guys of all kinds outside any academic setting; 
or for a last example, feeling in miniature the cleansing involved in leaving day to day life behind when starting on 4-5 day runs on the trains from Vancouver to Winnipeg and back, during which the flashing-by mountains, forests and prairies had some of the vast cosmic magic and purification the sea and the lengthy sailing of it have for Everhart and Martin.
I can't stop talking about Kerouac without quoting one of my favourite sentences in all literature and surely a match for any novel ending sentence in all literature except maybe Ulysses
Love it, just love it:
...So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty....

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Mr. Turner: Short Commendatoy Note

We just saw more or less all 150' of Mr. Turner ("more or less" because I cop to having missed about 20' in its first third, due to something apparently called "nodding off.") It moves slowly, all in all a mite too slowly, its only weakness; but once you get into its rhythm, especially if you're well rested, and once you get in tune with the initially off-putting, frog-like, croaking unloveliness of Mr. T., you are into, literally, "a heartbreaking work of staggering genius." Once in that rhythm, the movie, like Boyhood--a totally different movie, to be sure--not at all plot driven, simply absorbs you scene by scene, each with its own nuances and complexity, till they build into a whole, into a full representation of a complicated, many sided man, all genius, personally prosaic and warts, of a marvellously depicted society, of the paradoxical relation between man and artist, and, generally, as the best, most unsentimental film representation of an artist, in any of the arts, that I think I've ever seen. 

I can't recommend it highly enough. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hollywood History?

What *is* the case for Hollywood history? 

I find the argument in the below comment hard to pin precisely down.

Francine Prose's sort of saying distortion doesn't matter; and she's sort of saying it does.

She says at one point, on having taken her eight year old granddaughter to see Selma, (itself a questionable choice):

...And though the violence made the film painful to sit through, to underplay what the activists—and ordinary people—had endured would have been much worse than misrepresenting the part played by Lyndon Johnson. Later, I thought, my granddaughter and I can deal with the film’s historical mistakes.

But then she says:

...As a member of a generation that, because of Johnson’s stand on Vietnam, underestimated or ignored his admirable record on domestic issues, I was sorry to see him cast as the villain of a story in which his actual involvement was much less obstructive..


....Were I a director, I would want to avoid the sort of errors and exaggerations that make reasonably knowledgeable audiences so dubious and uneasy about what they’re being shown that it ruins their pleasure in watching...

Prose earlier in her piece (seems to defend?) defends distortion in historical films in the interest of drama. But, while the distortion of LBJ in Selma didn't bother me, maybe it should've, there was no great dramatic heightening that I could see from the distortion of his involvement with King. There seems to me in that a general answer to the attempt at rendering the story in history. There seems to me no need seriously to sacrifice accuracy in the interest of drama. There ought be, well and creatively done, drama enough in the raw source of actuality.

I'd make two distinctions here: one, between an imaginative representation of a set of events or a person, where imaginative distortion is of the essence of the art, as against the effort to get the story right; and, two, in the latter, between some minor licence and embellishment--say writing King's speeches (because the actual speeches weren't made available by King's estate) as against outright distortion that materially falsifies a material event or events or a particular historical actor.