Monday, December 31, 2018

So A Guy Asked Me What I Thought About Louis CK On Parkland Etc

Ok here goes.

I just listened to it.

My response is much like yours.

First off, I too never was a big enthusiast of the guy.

Once for my eldest daughter’s birthday, I took her to a Sarah Silverman hosted comedy revue of different stand ups doing bits, with the piece de la resistance being Louis CK. It may be hard for comedians to get me to laugh at the best of times but the preceding acts I thought were mediocre. He at least, for all his talk about jerking off and how depressing his life is, was polished and professional and comedically substantial. My kid and I both thought that. But even noticing that, he didn’t do much for my funny bone. I’m not sure he even raised a smile.

So I found this 5’ and change not at all funny and I sensed there was either a laugh track or the few goons I heard laughing uproariously were paid stooges, unlikely, were on drugs or dunk, maybe, or were high and caught up in the (dubious) thrill of seeing him live. 

Once when I was in law school a whole gang of us went to see Robert Klein at a Toronto club. We all thought he was neurotically hilarious, edgy, funny, incisive, outraged. We all laughed out loud. I can’t remember ever laughing so hard at any stand up. Even though I can’t remember any of his act, I still remember our unanimous view of how good he was. He was everything CK was not. Here I find CK decidedly unfunny. Zero he said offended me in any political or ideological way such that he should be shut down or institutional action be taken against him. And I’d give him sway over the outrage machine if that false choice were put on me

I thought what he said about Parkland and the kids bearing witness was witless and tasteless and not at all how you describe part of what comedians do—cutting against convention, satirizing social absurdities, pissing on certain proprieties, puncturing pomposity (to borrow a tired trope), taking the piss out of those who deserve it and all like that. Here, CK on Parkland and on the kids bearing witness, fell less than flat. It was ponderously stupid and self parodic, like someone mocking Sully after he made a safe landing on the Hudson or goofing on the 1st responders who went into harm’s way on 9/11, many dying for all that, true heroes. 

The Parkland kids weren’t heroes as such but after what they went through they had a halo around them at least for a while, at least for the reasonable aftermath. After that David Hogg to my mind got too self important for his own good and could have been some comic fodder. And on him as a microcosm, CK in this bit had a comedic point, on kids’ self righteous self importance these days. I didn’t find it funny but it was at least fertile comic ground. Same with some excessive aspects of gender fluidity and the LBGQT police, especially when the policing is done by teenagers. Just here again, I didn’t find him either funny or piquant. 

Parkland is different. It’s obtuse to go after targets who aren’t in any way targets and don’t deserve going after especially when they’re kids. The height of CK’s stupidity is his comment about, paraphrase, “What’s the big deal about kids dying, being shot en masse.” Logically, he must think Sandy Hook is ripe for laughs. 

What makes kids dying, being murdered en masse, is that, duh, they’re kids. I remember watching an episode of Family Guy, and it did a bit mocking kids in a cancer ward. It disgusted me and Seth MacFarlane was forever in my bad books after that. I saw him hosting the Oscars and I’ve seen him elsewhere. I’ve not found him funny. In fact, I prefer CK to him because for all my indifference to CK’s  comedy: he’s a least not pretentious—he brings self deprecation to mystical heights—not smug and not self righteous. 

I heartily oppose the PC sensibility even as I wonder whether US libel laws are too tough compared to other common law jurisdictions. The jury in my head is still out on that one and I can see the arguments both ways. And I’m pretty strong against censorship. So short of defamation or criminal incitement, I’m for letting comedians say whatever they want and, so to say, letting “the market decide.” And it does in its own way for better or worse, the PC sensibility and the influence it wields being part of the market, market here standing for the unregulated play of social forces that ultimately don a thumbs up or thumbs down, my own opinions apart.

Maybe, just a theory, CK calculated this bit would be well received by those reacting against the continuous machinery of outrage. Maybe not. Not a terrible calculation in fact. But in my view that’s an incidental conjecture. The primary criterion in his case should be, I think, is he funny, and bonus in that if he’s smart and truth telling. 

On that measure, I’d give this 5’ .05 out of 5, 1 out of 10, 10 out of 100. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Film Grey, Or Consistent With Film Noir, Film Gris

So I wrote this to a guy I know:

....I know, not as much as you mind you, from film noir.

But I just watched for the 8,000th time, Ride The High Country, directed, and screenplay written collaboratively, by Peckinpah.

Then I found out he before had conceived, written and directed the tv series The Westerner starring Brian Keith, and had written episodes of Gun Smoke. I’d watched Gun Smoke as a kid and was struck by how every episode ended depressingly with the sad, struggling loser antagonist dying (often by the gun smoke of James Arness.) I’d never seen The Westerner. So I checked it out, watching a couple of episodes—YouTube. And it’s even more dour and depressing, life failing all around Brian Keith who’s perpetually sour, scowling and unfulfilled, things never working out for him. All this high pitched  melodrama receding into overall hopelessness reminded me of fifties dramas I saw like The Naked City—with its 8,000,000 stories, this has been one of them—and movies like Marty. This genre might be called a variation of kitchen sink realism.

But I propose, neologistically, film grey or, consistent with film noir, film gris.

Ya think?

Saturday, December 22, 2018

On Candace Owens As Not Nearly All That

Candace Owens’s not all that. 


One guy who espoused her says about this article:

....i'm supportive of this author's idea that IDW should be calm thoughtful intellectuals. and that candace isn't that smart/unique and is a very partisan political animal ...

but that said, her "lock every last single one of them up" tweet attack has some grounding in corruption facts and bias in the media, and is not at all analogous to "Imagine if a prominent left-wing commentator said a group of journalists at the Daily Wire or Fox News should be imprisoned for violating a few too many progressive taboos"

and candace's tweet "The plan you hatched to exterminate blacks via Planned Parenthood" i've now learned is based the fact that Sangers work was originally called "The Negro Project" etc (info you will not find on Wikipedia but only on other less mainstream sites). it took a lot of searching to learn about it, and also that Ben Carson, Herman Cain and Ted Cruz have also said this. it seems reasonable to me that a black woman would be totally outraged to learn this. but this article writer is certain there's no obviously no merit to this (without any factual investigation) and says this discussion without Rubin challenging Owens shows how uncritical Rubin is!

this article is not clear analysis in pursuit of truth, just persuasively written opinion...

To which I said:

...I appreciate your having read this article, researching some of the points and commenting on it.

What you support in it is my position for mild: at a minimum she’s not that smart and is utterly partisan politically. For mild, because she’s worst than that. She’s a flame thrower, who obstructs calm, thoughtful discussion, and whose extremism isn’t, imo, rescued by some points she makes that make sense.

For example, “Lock every every single one of them up,” is a terrible notion however rhetorical and rallying it’s meant to be and for all the grounding it has in examples of fake news. It suggests some arbiter on the right shutting down speech anathema to it instead of countering fake news with truthful news. It makes demonstrable Johnson’s thesis that in rhetoric the far right mirrors the sins of the far left. Plus, Owens does with this tweet even more than that: the left wants to silence oppositional speech, oppositional to its angle on things; she wants to criminalize oppositional speech. She’s too rabid with this tweet. It explodes the calm, thoughtful discussion that we applaud. That kind of discussion would in this example consider the 1st AM and weigh and balance its benefits, or more than its benefits, its fundamental importance to liberal democracy, against instances of freedom of speech turned into licence. 

I mean, really?


....In January, Owens called for the imprisonment of Hillary and Bill Clinton, James Comey, Robert Mueller, Loretta Lynch, George Soros, Jeff Bezos and “ALL compliant members of the fake news media.” Then she listed Jake Tapper, Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper and Jim Acosta, as if the secret police had asked her for a good place to start. It’s difficult to think of a more direct assault on free speech than a demand for journalists to be thrown in prison for criticizing the president. But instead of admonishing Owens for expressing near-total contempt for one of his most cherished principles, Rubin has defended her at every available opportunity....

I’m not sure of the history of Margaret Sanger’s project, the original intent of it and I’ll stipulate to your researched word on it. I also don’t recall the context of Owens’s tweet. Was she simply refreshing our understanding of the history and origin or was she making a point about the intent of Planned Parenthood today?


....Just take a look at a tweet she posted earlier this month: “Great news, liberals! The plan you hatched to exterminate blacks via Planned Parenthood is going well. 61% of us never made it out the womb. Bad news: I did make it out and I plan to be the loudest voice against the MURDERS you have committed.” During an interview with Rubin, Owens said Planned Parenthood was “literally built for the purpose—and it served its purpose, you know?—to decrease the black population by a lot.” A follow-up question would’ve been helpful here—e.g. “So you believe Planned Parenthood is a genocidal, racist organization?”—but Rubin just moved on....

I read her tweet as more than a refresher. I read it as saying, paraphrase, “the intent continues today—‘is going well’” Someone with a modicum of nuance would have drawn distinctions between historical and present intent and wouldn’t have conflated opposition to abortion—which I of course understand and  have come a long way over the years to agreeing with—and a racist, quasi genocidal project. It’s utter flame throwing. And it suggests either analytical ineptitude or, morally worse, if not ineptitude, then cynical race card playing of high proportion.

As a side note, I’m reminded in rereading Johnson’s essay of how astounding is Rubin’s “just moved on.” This is but one example I’ve seen of some of his guests saying outlandish things about which any competent, disinterested interviewer would ask further questions instead of simply leaving the most provocative assertions or insinuations to hang out there flapping in the turbulent hot air. I maintain he’s the pet poodle of the IDW and is tolerated by its “members” because he has a big social media presence that is of great use to them.

Finally, what can one say about your standard of “clear analysis in pursuit of truth”? Johnson’s piece isn’t a lab experiment or pure reporting. It’s an essay trying to persuade readers of his thesis, that in rhetoric the extreme right, take Owens for example, is much like the extreme left.  Can it be any more than being, do any better than being, persuasively written opinion? Of course opinion pieces aren’t the word of either God or irrefutable data. They’re born of an opinion and can always be critiqued, found fault with to some extent. But if Johnson here is persuasive, then hasn’t he pretty well accomplished what he set out to do? Respectfully, I think, as just noted, your standard for judgment of Johnson’s piece betrays a category error. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Guy Asked Me About Creed 2...

I took myself to see Creed 2 this afternoon and had, for the 1st time ever, the theatre to myself.

So I settled in with a glass of Chianti to enjoy the show. It was bargain day at the VIP cinema. In a not million years, would my wife have wanted to see this movie.

It’s a dreary thing, I found. And a word that came to mind as I watched it was “pastiche,” by which I meant a whole bunch of pasted on things. Another word that kept coming to mind was “formulaic,” as in following a formula, in this case in a tired and untrue, as opposed to a tried and true, way. And another was “cliche.” 

There was for me so much recycling of past narrative lines and sequences and arcs too, that I felt the oxygen of the organic had escaped this film nearly completely. Michael B. Jordan bored me. His wife bored me. Their domestic dramas bored me. His dilemmas bored me, as did his arcs, as did his scenes with Stallone. I found it all flat man, flat.

And here’s one thing that irked me, the fantasy element of the boxing. The film gave the appearance of showing how badly Creed got hurt in the first fight with Drago. And I know we see him wince and keel over in apparent abject pain and we see him in the hospital with his face busted up, eye swollen, wrapped up in bandages. But I never got the sense of the reality of his pain. And his recovery was pro forma, not even a hint at the real physical and mental struggle that his recovery would have involved. I thought his training camp getting ready for the second fight was better even as it was that Rocky thing done one more time. There were enough detail and specifics of the training that they sold it to me more.

I don’t understand the need for the baby not being able to hear. Maybe I missed something important in the story that made that make sense but short of that it made none to me. And we’re left at the end of the film, at least I was, not knowing what if anything later tests had shown. 

On the plus side, I thought Stallone was pretty good as a “demz, doze and deze” kind of guy. I thought he did some authentic and and effective acting that gave me a concrete sense of a real guy. But then his owning a restaurant is thrown in with little about it that makes sense or is attached to the movie as a whole. I see him in one scene pounding and rolling dough. Is he the chef there or what? And the fantasy of him as some kind of brilliant boxing mind who could teach Creed how to overcome the behemoth who is a good boxer besides being a massive hulk was just that for me, a fantasy. As was the thought that Drago, a hulking powerful guy who is, as the movie has it, a good boxer, could fall at the hands of Creed also seems like fantasy to me, as if a good powerful heavy heavyweight couldn’t decimate a good strong but much smaller, lighter and shorter light heavyweight. 

Also fantasy to me too were the boxing scenes themselves. Boxing is in your wheelhouse not mine, but I’ve seen a fair number of prize fights on TV and the notion that anyone could sustain repeated blows to the head as are shown in the movie and come out of it conscious and mentally firing on all cylinders seems preposterous to me. Those blows are concussive leading to deathly or at a minimum permanent brain damage. 

On the other plus side, for all my doubts, hesitations and criticisms, the final fight was effective in absorbing me despite them all. So there is that.

If the movie is intended to be a kind of escapist fantasy, then maybe some of my criticisms get waylaid. But I think it takes itself too seriously to have intended to be that and so I think finally it’s a pretty bad movie. 

And I say that as someone who remembers himself quite liking  Creed 1.

If I had to judge it, I’d give it 38 out of a 100, 3.8 out of 10 and 1.9 out of 5.

I see from the reviews that I’m way out of the mainstream of opinion on this film, which got pretty high marks. But that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. :-)

So I Say Back To The Guy (See Below)

I’m not sure what the nutshell is. If it’s about what Lear is about, then you may be saying what you think about that in a nutshell, but Lear is incidental to the main point I make, one example at the end of what might be a spectrum of instruction as I’m using instruction.

But maybe you mean to address Lear in the service of a larger point. That’s not clear to me.

To meet what I take to be your sidebar, I don’t agree with the nut in your shell. The play is about the desolation of Lear but it goes beyond that. It’s Shakespeare’s play of negation, of ...No, no, no life!...We feel for Lear and our feelings for him mark our sense of the nihilism of his world, which is to say about the world of the play. So I don’t accept your distinction, as a matter of theme, between Lear and his world, the play’s world. It’s about desolation, tragic loss, futility, evil rendering the world abysmal, bleak dark, hopeless. As it turns out, I’d just read this a few days ago and liked it:  Teachout as I read him makes the same point I do about Lear’s thematic nihilism. 

We value a lot of literature because it touches us. And if the touching isn’t a manipulative tug at our heartstrings causing reflexive emotions the way tears running down the face of a child in a garish painting might do—you know those tear jerking paintings—if the touching of us is born of good or great art, Lear at the highest instance of it, how can we not be instructed, how can we not see and “learn” something about the world? And I’d think there the “delight” is our exhilaration in being powerfully affected by what we experience. So delight too, though I’m not focusing on it, needs refinement. 

Lear need not have a moral, something homiletic, but it has a theme. The play among other things means something. And it’s not at an absurd question to ask, say, students, to write an essay on their interpretation of Lear, say, what it’s about as supported by textual evidence. That requires close reading. And for me close reading is of the essence of literary criticism. 

There is a sense in which no one learns anything from literature beyond what the work is about unless it’s purposefully didactic and is meant to teach something through its own fictional vehicle.

But of course we do learn something from Lear. We learn to imagine what irretrievable loss is, how desolate and defeating the world can be. It is instructive in the most potent sense of that term as I’m using it.

So The Guy Says Back To Me (See Below)

In a nutshell.  King Lear is not about the desolate nature of things.  It portrays the desolation of King Lear, which though a fiction, deeply moves audiences beacuse they feel it too, or not.  End of story.  Most people who try to write such a story will turn our pure laughable dreck.  Which is why we value Lear.  It touches us.  How Sh. manages this is that he, to quote the very funny Coleridge on poetry, the poet puts "the right words in the right order."  What that means is the words lead one to imagine the soul of the being who speaks them.  That is how we follow the story, and why we care.  There is no moral, though I don't see why "things are desolate" is not a moral.  Nothing one learns from Lear will help avoid such a fate.  Nor should one perhaps even wish that, since it would mean being anaesthetized.  Maybe great literature overcomes the anaesthization of the soul--for a moment, then back to business. One does not of course need lit for that, but it feels good and so one seeks it out.  

So I Say Back To The Guy (See Below)

Wodehouse is a good exception to what I proposed. The brilliance of what he does, which delights but doesn’t instruct, is what, the exception that proves the rule or maybe decimates the rule? 

I’m not sure what you mean when you say that “literary as an honorific is new.” Literary has this dictionary meaning:

...concerning the writing, study, or content of literature, especially of the kind valued for quality of form.

"the great literary works of the nineteenth century"...

So, in one of its big meanings, it applies to works of quality and so we might say to good or great works as distinct from mediocre works or, to take an extreme example, doggerel in poetry. What I’m trying to get at, if possible, is a way of understanding in fiction what might distinguish between the literary and the non literary, between what is valued as great or good and what isn’t, like, for an another extreme example, a Jacqueline Susann from a Jane Austen. What, if anything, are, as Don might put it, maybe he wouldn’t, the necessary and sufficient conditions of the literary.

I wouldn’t have thought that what literary critics do has any bearing on what might constitute literary as an adjective of quality. That might be confusing literature as standing for what’s written—....Literature, most generically, is any body of written works...and literary as an honorific. I make the same point, by now it’s redundant, in response to your note in your second paragraph as to what “literature” at its most capacious can encompass

Aren’t you as well taking my notion of “instruct” too literally? I tried when I first wrote my note to you to be clear that I didn’t mean anything didactic or pedagogic by “instruct.” I’d wanted to be clear that it stood for the kind of exploration in fiction that goes beyond simply entertaining readers with a good story. (Didn’t Wordsworth mean by it something like sublimity for the soul, something deeper than a lesson? I’m not holding “instruct” to that high standard but illustrating how far from the didactic I am in using it as shorthand for a range of effects beyond being entertained.)   

So Animal Farm is one kind of instruction, and a literary one, on a spectrum that might range from making a point to dramatizing a powerful vision of, say, the desolate nature of things—Lear. And Lear exemplifies, to me, in the deepest sense the deepest sense of your use of “profound.” 

Middlemarch presents us with a panoramic view of life in a community itself ranging from high to low with philosophic depth and penetrating psychological acuity. Certainly it instructs. 

All these works are modes of instruction in the way I mean it. Which one might be more pleasurable than another is both subjective to a point and past that point, arguably, indicative of a dented sensibility. If someone were to compare Animal Farm to The Brothers Karamazov and say, “I get greater pleasure from Orwell’s than I do from Dostoyevsky’s,” we’d either have to drill down on the meaning of pleasure to get at exactly what he meant or conclude he was “out of it.”

This all goes, I think, to the arguable difference between instruct and delight on one hand and only delight on the other, in the way I’m using meaning these terms. But if there’s anything to my point, it seems to be only the most meagre beginning. The varieties of instruction may be taxonomically challenging. And then, say with Wodehouse, there is the sheer brilliance of the delight, the artfulness of it, without, it seems, any instruction, without, that is to say, saying something about the world. But it is surely literary the way, say, Kiss Me Deadly, seems not to be. So is heightened artfulness without apparent instruction literary; which is to ask, as I did, do its instances prove the rule as exceptions or do they collapse the rule into meaninglessness? I can see the latter and I’m not married to the rule. I’m only trying to road test it. 

So The Guy Says To Me (See Below)

Responding to that is not easy.  First, literary as an honorific is new.   A literary critic can review all sorts of works.  Literary scholars write about non-fiction.  

Fictional works are all literature in the most common meaning. Poetry and drama would also be included. 

While some literary works clearly instruct, e.g Animal Farm is a fable about the nature of communism, others, very great ones, do not, e.g., King Lear.  My word for those would be profound.  And great works tend to be subtle, not crude.  Parts of novels may explicitly instruct, eg Middlemarch, but not the novel as a whole.   As for pleasure.  I take much greater pleasure in  Decline and Fall than in Middlemarch, but the latter is profound the former is not.  Chandler is more profound, I'd prefer serious to profound here, than Waugh, but less pleasurable.  So at one end are books that are pleasurable, usually comic and others that are profound, verging on tragedy, and the good ones in both are subtle.  So for me the old dramatic masks are the key to the serious and the pleasurable, and what makes either good is subtlety vs. crude, clunky, or obvious.  

Monday, December 10, 2018

So I Asked A Guy This...

Reading Brides Revisited reminds me of what Ive been wondering lately, whether the following is a truism.

Let’s say literature instructs and delights us—I’m thinking of fiction now, whether short or long.

And I’ve been thinking about what does and doesn’t count for the honorific literary.

And before Waugh I’d been reading some Elmore Leonard. Waugh clearly makes the cut, but does Leonard? And if not, why not? 

My thought is that simply telling a story without more, without wanting to explore something about the world, raise paradoxical themes, present moral dilemmas, reflect and illuminate through fiction something profound about the world, and so on, however this serious intent gets formulated, is the demarcation between what’s literary and what isn’t.

Clearly Brideshead Revisited is on one side of the line.

So what about Leonard, or esteemed crime/detective writers like say Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett? For sure Leonard doesn’t want to do more than delight. No instruction there, if instruction is shorthand for that serious intent. And unless I under-read the last two and others of their kind, they also don’t instruct. The question to my mind is whether instruction is a necessary condition of what counts as literary, wanting to be clear that I don’t equate instruction with didacticism. 

Can what solely delights us by way of story be literary?

I’m not sure but tend to think not and am hard put to think of examples showing me wrongheaded about this though I can well believe I am.

Poetry may present a different issue though I tend not think so even as I understand that imagism was meant to be and not to mean. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Whose Presidency Is Normatively Worse, Climton’s Or Trump’s?

I’m reading Gary Byrne’s Crisis of Character.

He’s the former Secret Service officer who worked in the White House during the whole Clinton Lewinsky thing. 

He’s not shy about expressing his political biases but that granted he saw what he saw, heard what he heard and experienced what he experienced, to be tautologically rhetorical about it.

There’s little reason to doubt these rhetorical tautologies. 

On what he describes, in no particular order and not being exhaustive but rather Illuminative, Clinton’s wanton recklessness, personal and political, his lying under oath, suborning perjury, prevailing on others to commit perjury, his so sullying the integrity of his office—getting, for example, blow jobs in the Oval Office while in high conference with world leaders, or, for another, in the Oval Office shoving a cigar as sex device up Lewinsky’s vagina—there seems a consensus that impeachment of a president needn’t be grounded on criminal acts—Clinton’s blaming and heedlessly sacrificing others, whether directly or indirectly—in Byrne’s case, as he details it, getting caught in a legal vice, needing in testimony to dance between the tightening vice grips of conflicting legal doctrine on what he was permitted to say on pain of criminal sanction from any legal angle it was looked at, which near to drove him to a nervous breakdown and near to wrecked his life—among other delicts, I don’t see how anyone can say, on what is thus far publicly known, that, normatively, Trump’s presidency is as bad.