|ten good things (longest blog post EVER)
||[Oct. 13th, 2007|08:41 pm]
i've been meaning to write this for about a month. which hopefully explains its ungodly length. truth be told, i've been pretty busy for an unemployed dude. i do want to write on here more often though, for realzzz...
richard hughes' novel a high wind in jamaica engenders the exact breed of surrealism i like best... its setting (initially a jamaican plantation destroyed by a hurricane, later a pirate ship!) is bizarre but also plausible, and its uncanniness owes more to thought out, atmospheric descriptions than to sudden disruptions in logic. in fact it's the logic itself that supplies its weirdness-- the way it naturalizes unlikely situations. its spookiness sets in as one page leads casually to the next. were it not for its occasional-- and totally inexcusable-- bursts of racism, i'd even say it rivals my other favorite classic-of-understated-surrealism: bruno schulz' the street of crocodiles.
like the henry darger painting that graces its cover, jamaica is largely a book about child sexuality. but unlike darger's constipated blend of innocence and repression (brilliant as it may be), hughes' handling of the subject is lucid and respectful. contrary to what i may have looked like in 1993, i've never been a pre-pubescent girl, personally. and i'd wager that hughes hasn't either. but as far as i can tell, he paints a convincing, comprehensive portrait of how that might feel, hormonally-- minus much of the lechery such question-raising might imply.
hughes isolates the tension between playfulness and learned morality with astounding accuracy. the book's precocious central character (emily) emerges at the tail-end of childhood's most limitless pleasures. she is solipsistic and confident-- almost to the point of megalomania. one of the great surprises of the book is the way that hughes reveres her confidence-- there's something convincingly utopian about her ignorance of gender norms, her willingness to follow her obsessive inclinations, and her ability to make a game out of everything. her "sexual awakening" occurs alongside her instinctual bravery in a variety of ways, most notably in her often dangerous interactions with adult men. hughes foreshadows the barriers, frustrations, and new pleasures that might soon arise for her as a growing person. these real-life dangers are rendered with a deep respect for the curiosity they provoke within her (and even, ickily enough, within the "pirates" aboard the ship). the taboos that arise are handled with an unforgiving investigative integrity, but there's a distant gentleness to hughes' writing as well. i found myself able to find parallels between emily's adventures and my own childhood-- particularly those weird, pre-"gendered" moments that society at large would rather not discuss. and it reminded me of the strange balance of confidence, insecurity, sexuality and socialization that determined my own creative abilities, for better or worse.
9. my growing obsession with apocalyptic imagery lead me to go on a little kick with only-man-left-on-earth movies. it's a fun genre, but i didn't expect to stumble upon any really great films, quite honestly...
i rented ranald mac dougall's 1959 film the world, the flesh and the devil expecting little more than to enjoy the novelty of its premise: the human race has inexplicably vanished overnight, and the last living human is portrayed by harry belafonte.
as silly as this may sound, it's a remarkably sophisticated film in a number of ways-- and one that i think has taken on new meaning with age (as i will get to in a minute). first and foremost, there's the fact that it was made in 1959. the only major entry into the genre at that time was stanley kramer's dull, self-important cold war dystopia on the beach... and even that was released (more or less) concurrently. so-- to the best of my knowledge-- we have the world (and the twilight zone, which also began airing in '59) to thank for our first taste of the eerie, abandoned crane shots, schematic storylines and bitter cultural allegories that would define the genre from night of the living dead on up through 28 days later. hell, it was almost literally remade in 1985 as geoff murphy's the quiet earth, right down to its handling of miscegenation as a central topic.
... which brings us to the strange fate of the film itself. from the tiny bit of cyber-sleuthing i've done regarding the film, i've gathered that belafonte distanced himself from the project upon its release. he thought the film did little justice to the interracial romance that comes to occupy the center of its story, as his character comes to find that there is also a white woman (and later, a white man) who has survived the tragedy. and its true-- it totally chickens out when it comes to depicting their relationship physically.
but the nice thing about art-making is that mistakes can turn out to be assets. in 1959, there was undoubtedly a need to transgress the taboo of race-mixing on screen. the mere act of depiction could be sharply confrontational and politically useful. in 2007, explicit depictions often deaden my viewing experience. taboos and transgressions are par-for-the-course, and uninspired filmmakers litter the screen with them as a substitute for an active, engaged experience. there is a scene about halfway through the world where sarah (inger stevens) asks ralph (belafonte) to give her a haircut. this seemingly banal event points allegorically to all the simmering sexuality mac dougall doesn't quite have the guts to depict. upon its release it was undoubtedly a cop-out; in 2007, it's not only heartbreaking, but sexy as hell. as the mood moves from confrontational to confusing, from bawdy to malevolent-- its hayes code inheritance becomes the issue at hand. my initial titillation deepens considerably, becoming inseparable from its more general sense of melancholy. society might have broken down completely, but somehow its ideology survived. the miscegenation taboo almost zombifies the characters. it looms over their actions, and they become entranced by it. sarah and ralph wander their scorched earth like birds that can't quite hop out of their cages. what begins as a flirtatious and cowardly embellishment ends as a commitment to their own misery. and a mirror to the film industry's as well.
8. my uncle, james geary, has put another book out. it's his second book concerning the subject of aphorisms (i mentioned the first around here about a year back).
this one is an anthology, rather than a history, like the first. it's remarkably comprehensive, and a lot of fun to flip through. it's also fun to pick the author's brain, as i had the good fortune of doing this week when he was in town for a lecture/book signing. since you can't meet my relatives through the internet (yet?), the next best thing would be to check out this interview with him from NPR's all things considered, conducted on october 2nd.
7. speaking of people i know, suddenly a lot of my friends are starting blogs. first, a bunch of old friends from undergrad started a silly keep-in-touch type blog called the willow house, named after a now-condemned rowhome that an awful lot of us lived in when we were at the tyler school of art. i've mentioned it before. if you want to kill a few hours watching silly youtube clips, it's a good place to start.
from the comment threads there, i ended up getting back in touch with my old friend rubens ghenov, who's a much more dedicated blogger than i am. he posts about a variety of topics-- art, music, film, fatherhood-- and the enthusiasm i know him to maintain in real life comes through in his writing. he also maintains an art-related blog, with some great black and white drawings. i'm gonna go ahead and post one here...
rubens ghenov: An unpruned vine, the lonelier monk, Sumi ink, charcoal and graphite on paper (18x24)
...from there, my friend aaron-- arguably the last person i'd have guessed would enter the blogosphere-- decided to join in on the fun. his posts jump back and forth between art-related stuff-- paintings, source material, etc.-- and peculiar monologues pertaining to his own childhood. he's been makin' some nice art too:
aaron wexler: Bright Ideas, 2007
6. i'm moving at the end of the month. my roommate/oldest friend actually bought a place about four blocks away. so i'm going to be his tenant as well as his roommate. for the past week and a half i've been doing some extensive house painting prior to the move, and it's looking pretty good, i must say.
so-- with that and a series of other odds and ends-- the unemployed life has turned out to be pretty lively. initially this was not the case. when the checks started rolling in, and the ease of my first real break from a 40 hour work week in 5 years became a reality, things got a little sluggish. the novelty slowly eroded. by about week three i began to realize that you can only check your email and watch youtube for a finite number of hours before you begin feeling like this:
for better or worse, as i slid ever further into unbridled slackerdom, i was also making my way through samantha power's powerful historical polemic, a problem from hell: america and the age of genocide. i'm not about to embark upon a full-on review here... as a read, it's pretty essential if you're interested in the dark side of 20th century history-- particularly as it relates to u.s. policy. as an argument for intervention, it's nearly impossible to disagree with (given the thoroughness of her research and the ghastliness of the issues at hand)... and also (occasionally) troublesome to agree with entirely (on account of the murkiness and ulterior motivations that inevitably interfere with foreign policy, particularly when it's got a "humanitarian" ring to it).
if anyone has read the book, i'm dying to chat with people about it. i think i'm bumming out my real-life friends by bringing it up incessantly, to be honest...
but what i really wanted to talk about is how it introduced me to the work of raphael lemkin. power brilliantly recounts lemkin's life-long obsession with the notion of atrocity, and how it lead him to coin the term "genocide" as we now know it. my biographical understanding of lemkin is in many ways also a biography of that word-- he devoted the majority of his life to it.
lemkin recognized the power of language, and the deep need for its reconfiguration in the face of world history. the twentieth century was one of unprecedented brutality, and lemkin wanted new words to properly diagnose its wrongdoings. and so he gave us "genocide"-- a tool to address the particular attempts to punish, eliminate, harm or exterminate a group of people along ethnic, racial, cultural or spiritual lines. genocide was to be a barrier toward-- or a replacement of-- the various euphemisms state powers invent to sugarcoat their own malevolence. it was to ensure that grand atrocities would no longer hide beneath the rhetoric of "mass deportations," "excessive force" or "collateral damage." lemkin and his invented word lead the u.n. to assemble the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide in 1948, which began a long list of arguments, cop-outs, and diplomatic concessions concerning the word (as well as some recent enforcement in international law). hell, it's still going on today in the debates surrounding the armenian genocide in turkey, and the political incentives/ramifications in the west surrounding the use of lemkin's term itself.
what struck me very deeply as i read about lemkin was the intense urgency of his project. i thought, "here is a guy who could *quite literally* wake up in the morning and make a convincing argument that he's doing the most important work in the entire world." this thought (having occurred inside my own, deadbeat brain) was immediately followed by something like: "it's three pm, and it's high time i put a pair of pants on."
i'm not trying to imply that i ought to be saving the world instead of sleeping in (though i could stand to shoot a few more cover letters off). but learning about lemkin did somehow re-shape my understanding of labor. one of the reasons i haven't shuffled off into a mediocre, bill-payin' day job (other than because my unemployment hasn't run out), is that i'm trying to seriously consider the eight hours a day i devote to a paycheck. i'd like to make that time meaningful, and i'm hoping for the best...
here's a picture of me and my mother out saving the universe.
5. you know, i've been listening to nina simone for well-over a decade now, but until recently i had never necessarily delved into her studio albums. i own a few compilation cd's-- and i love them, of course-- but i've always thought of her in terms of singles, rather than arranged song collections, i guess.
that changed drastically when i recently picked up wild is the wind, from 1966. it's the kind of album that really evolves from track to track, gliding through a wide range of feelings and emotions. it has the kind of build-in anticipation that i love so much-- i don't just revel in the songs themselves, but also the transitions from one track to the next. awaiting those transitions is an integral part of my pleasure. a lot of my very favorite albums expand and contract in this kind of way. i guess i'm a sucker for records that feel like hour-long statements.
i'll share my favorite track from the album, which is also a good candidate for my favorite song ever, for the time being at least:
nina simone, "lilac wine" mp3
i had a grand old time visiting new york city about a month back, and i finally got my butt up to the cloisters collection of the metropolitan museum of art. better still, my new-favorite-real-life-person orchid_and_wasp came along-- and her enthusiasm for 15th century european tapestries *actually managed to mirror my own.* the works themselves didn't disappoint either. the odd display of woven flower patterns and noble unicorns provided exactly the dosage of congested, decorative space i need to slip into my own paintings (in a fucked up sort of way).
even if you're not sold on the idea of a museum full of tapestries and medieval artifacts, the building itself is well worth the hike uptown. perched atop the hudson river, it one-ups central park for providing the illusion that you are no longer in a city at all. it's the perfect little oasis from the overkill of an urban setting, and it's one of my new favorite places in the universe.
keven mc alester's 2005 film you're gonna miss me: a film about roky erickson is the rarest of a rare breed-- it's a rock and roll documentary with a genuine sense of artistry. no fawning, nostalgic idol worship. no overindulging in cool concert footage as an alternative to having something to say. no meandering, diagnostic discussions with aging rock critics. it's a film with a story to tell-- and mc alester's penetrating approach to it maintains an eccentric sense of wonder akin to werner herzog at his best.
mc alester gets the 13th floor elevators footage out of the way quickly. you're gonna miss me is more concerned with the present than the past. and who knew erikson's present was so goddamned bizarre, anyway? after years of extensive drug abuse, eroding psychological stability and a deeply damaging history with mental health facilities, erikson finds himself at the (sometimes benevolent) mercy of his mother evelyn-- an eccentric, occasionally brilliant pack-rat, whose mystical breed of homespun christianity keeps roky from conventional medicine. his cooped-up life with her eventually leads to an all-out legal custody battle with roky's youngest brother sumner-- a classical tuba player... with a penchant for new age spirituality... who lives in a home that appears as if someone opened an ikea inside of pee wee's playhouse.
all of which must seem like somewhat of a carnival, until you consider the lack of judgment coming from mc alester's lens. unlike the similarly-themed the devil and daniel johnston, his approach is never diagnostic, and the sense of tragedy is more conflicted and peculiar. as i watched the film, i found ample reasons to resent evelyn as well as sumner (to say nothing of roky himself, who hasn't proven much of a father, to say the least). but i also came away with a sense that his family cares deeply about him. the really remarkable thing about the documentary is how it conveys the intimacy of its family dynamic, without sentimentalizing their considerable peculiarities. mc alester wisely avoids positing a standard of normalcy with which to branch out of. i found myself coming to terms with the eriksons as they conceive of themselves. my own preconceptions don't fit into the picture. and within those parameters, there is a genuine feeling of hope to the film as well. it concludes with roky's return to playing music, and watching him pick up the guitar is really remarkable when it happens.
here's the trailer:
2. i've always admired h.c. westermann's artwork, but my knowledge of it was pretty sporadic and superficial. thankfully-- due to a random museum trip when my old friend studiojorge was in town over the summer-- i got a more comprehensive look at the guy, thanks to a show of his early work at the pennsylvania academy of the fine arts.
westermann has always struck me as a more light-hearted, typically "american" alternative to joseph cornell. both work with a wide variety of odd materials, creating strangely personal artifacts with few limitations regarding materials. at first glance, westermann's ambitions seem less lofty than cornell's. he's rummaging through a highway trading post while cornell is gazing at the stars. looking at the two in proximity is like differentiating between a comic book (westermann) and a story book (cornell), i guess.
however-- being that i had the good fortune to see a number of westermann pieces in context-- i'm inclined to put less emphasis on the whimsical side of what he does (as well as his parallels to cornell in general). the exhibit certainly deals as much with war and cultural violence as it does with the oddities of americana. or better yet, it occupies the intersection of the two-- unwilling to sacrificing the pathos of the former or the pleasures of the latter.
1. if you've made it this far
you're crazy! get some fresh air!, you're probably getting sick of clicking on hyperlinks and listening to my ramblings. but if you get a chance, i highly recommend looking up this interview with donald b. kraybill, co-author of amish grace: how forgiveness transcended tragedy, from my local NPR affiliate's radio times. if you go to the radio times webpage, use the archive search at the bottom of the screen to find the program for october 1, 2007. it's the interview occupying the second hour of the show.
(apparently there's no easy way to hyperlink to this. apologies. if you search "amish" in their search engine, that should work too.)
the interview concerns the one-year anniversary of a tragic school shooting that occurred in a one-room amish schoolhouse in nickel mines, PA on 10.2.06. the gunman took the lives of five young girls between the ages of 7-13, injured several more, and finally turned the gun on himself. when the story broke locally, i honestly wanted some distance from the outrage. the situation was awful and tragic, but it had all the ingredients for a media circus as well. the potential for scandal struck me as inappropriate, and the breed of pity that inevitably circulated toward the amish seemed mixed up with patronizing, ill-informed assumptions about their culture (as a remaining breed of "noble savages", etc.). suffice to say, i tried to avoid the public reaction as much as possible.
i haven't read kraybill's book. and despite growing up about an hour east of lancaster county, my knowledge of amish culture comes primarily from sources about as diverse as harrison ford and weird al yankovic. but ignorant as i may be, i was still pretty impressed with kraybill's account of the amish reaction to the shootings. several members of the community-- including family members of the slain children-- reached out directly to the family of the killer. a considerable number of amish even attended his funeral. and perhaps most surprisingly (breaking with stereotypes of seclusion and isolation), kraybill describes extensive co-operation with social workers and police officers in the wake of the massacre.
throughout the interview, he tries to characterize a specifically "amish" notion of forgiveness. obviously, i was struck by its sharp contrast to the often draconian, punitive measures taken within my own culture. it's easy to idealize the amish lack of judgment, but there is also a part of me that wonders if their extreme gentility and pacifism isn't also repressive-- perhaps even disingenuous? but ultimately-- for me, at least-- that was the wrong way of approaching the question. at one point, kraybill quotes a local woman who replaces my own vigilante inclinations with the following-- "i hate the evil inside him."
what really got me thinking wasn't whether or not such extreme measures of forgiveness should be taken, so much as the realization that they could be at all. to hate an evil instead of an individual, i'd imagine one must break somewhat with subjectivity itself. individual intentions come down from their pedestal; the force of an action becomes as worthy of investigation as its motivations themselves. i began thinking about the limitations of my own cult of individuality, and how it can lock the world around me in a maze of incrimination and punishment. but within each of my own isolated singularities (my "self", my "beliefs", my "homies") there is undoubtedly infinite pluralities as well. i believe, like walt whitman, that i do "contain multitudes"-- so it's interesting to consider i might also contain them at my worst. anyway... it's useful to be reminded that the world is expansive once in a while, isn't it? and in this case, even gentle, in a certain way. this is what was going on in my head as the interview concluded.
I've only read the first tenth of your post so far. I love A High Wind in Jamaica. I recall somewhere a passage about a toddler, a little girl, who is compared to Mussolini in Rome--have I got this right? She's on the edge between the dictatorial, omnipotent phase of infancy and something else.
The animals, too, are great: the pig, the monkey.
Paule Constant's novel The Governor's Daughter is occasionally almost as good, at least at the beginning.
I look forward to the rest of your post.
i'm almost positive that i heard about high wind because i saw it in your user interests. hahaha. it's sort of embarrassing to admit that for some reason...
i can't think specifically of the mussolini analogy, but i certainly remember the character. and the monkey. hughes kinda writes with the same venom as nabokov, but he seems to cautiously take sides once in a while... coming out in favor of wonder and invention, instead of perfecting his ability to brush aside the b.s. in everything.
i'll defintely look into the constant novel. and this time without lurking even, hahaha...
as for the rest of the post, i think you'll like the roky erickson documentary if you haven't seen it. you don't really have to be all that interested in his music to get something out of it, even.
Thanks for this (as always!). I am still tackling previous lists (I'm slow I know, I know. it's all that fresh air), and you've given so very many great books and movies to check out (though getting them here to Slovenia will take a little jiggery pokery).
Anyway I was just talking to my boyfriend about the Amish thing yesterday so it's funny that you post this link. The only other time that I'd encountered such compassion was back in the days when I was a student involved in the prison abolition
movement which--much like slavery--is comprised of quite a few Quakers (who are sometimes confused for Amish, blame the oatmeal). Anyway, we'd get quite a few stories of this sort of compassion when people would come to talk to us about restorative justice
projects they'd started or been involved with. Surprisingly, there was not always mention of Christian charity, oftentimes it was just individuals coming to a realization. Which was really the most exciting them for me, that it didn't take any massive belief system or joining up with any one group. So anyway, not to ramble but these stories are really powerful (in fact Oprah profiled some on her show
) and I am always glad to hear that people are coming across them.
2007-10-15 07:37 am (UTC)
as i was writing this, it occurred to me that it would take like an hour to read, hahaha
but i figured since i haven't been updating, i might as well just purge everything i've been thinking about while my enthusiasm is still up for it.
i don't know much about restorative justice projects, but maybe this is a good time to learn more about them. i'm definitely of the sorta foucaldian belief that my own punitive system is more about maintain a concept of power than justice, safety, closure, etc. it's actually really depressing to think about how that structure (judgment, condemnation) really works its way into everyday behavior, even.
another thing i like about the interview concerning the amish is the sense i got that respect was never broken in dealing with the tragedy. meaning that the real-and-necessary ill will felt towards this man avoided reactionary displays. the guy gave no indication of any desire to humiliate him, or lash out at the authorities, or anything like that. which is really impressive, and kind of encouraging...
2007-10-17 02:00 pm (UTC)
Re: as i was writing this, it occurred to me that it would take like an hour to read, hahaha
yeah really good interview (and really good radio station, i had to bookmark it!).
i still have like a ton more questions but i guess that means i better go on and grab the book
2007-10-18 06:24 am (UTC)
i want the book too
i have so much crap i wanna read; it's ridiculous.
i hear ya about questions. i tried to write about this in a way that acknowledges that i don't really have any informed point of view about any of this; hopefully it came across... it almost made me want to visit "amish country" since it's only about an hour's drive, but then part of me feels like that's sorta counter-productive; and part of the exoticism that bothered me in the original news coverage.
as for the radio station, it's just the philly/wilmington branch of NPR. the show-- "radio times"-- is typically pretty good, if occasionally philly-centric. that actual episode was guest hosted. the usual host is good though. she looks a lot like amy goodman ("democracy now!") and i used to get them confused when i'd see either of them on tv...
2007-10-18 07:07 am (UTC)
Re: i want the book too
i usually hate NPR but this radio times is quite good. i don't mind the phillycentric-ness. after i listened to the amish one i listened to one about ending modern day slavery that informed me about some interesting groups i should donate to/ get involved with.
2007-10-18 07:49 am (UTC)
ways you can tell i'm in my thirties:
... there are two links to NPR in this post.
2007-10-18 08:05 am (UTC)
Re: ways you can tell i'm in my thirties:
yeah i guess so... while i have ultra-left views on many things I don't identify as a liberal at all and it's hard for me to stomach a lot of the sentiments expressed on NPR. Sadly, I can usually (more comfortably) stomach right wing radio than standard NPR commentary.
maybe that'll change in a few years when i turn 30, can't say.
2007-10-19 04:54 am (UTC)
at least i'm not yammering on about how great wilco is yet
i guess i identify as a liberal on a pragmatic level. i kinda think it's useful in opposition to, say, the bush administration-- which isn't so much right wing as extremist. i certainly pledge no allegiance to "neoliberalism" obviously, and not much to "liberalism" in general, ultimately. i guess i'm comfortable with the liberal tag when it means caring about recycling, or human rights violations or the war in iraq or whatever. i'll owe up to "liberal" on account of its demonized nature. when people on the right use liberal as a put-down, they're usually referring to things i believe in.
what i actually, ultimately, and philosophically believe in is more utopian and hypothetical, i guess. everything is a balance of practice and idealism, right?
as far as NPR is concerned, the lukewarm tone of a lot of the programming can get to me, but i gotta say i'm a big fan of the BBC world report. and i think it's a better news source than any other non-text based option, ultimately. i like stuff like democracy now! and so forth too, but i like getting the boring version alongside it, with more of a semblance of neutrality i guess. even though my sympathies are more with the amy goodman crowd usually. the stuff that bothers me most on NPR is the arts-related stuff. all those awful lit. readings where they hire actors to over emphasize prose that's over-written to begin with. i hate that shit!
I'm rereading Charles Taylor's The Ethics of Authenticity in which he tries to account for the ethic of individualism and personal freedom while avoiding the trap of soft relativism. It's one of my favorites and hits on some of the stuff you mention in the last good thing.
2007-10-15 06:02 am (UTC)
I've always been sort of confused by the idea of "justice"
And what can really be gained from it.
2007-10-15 07:45 am (UTC)
the reuben elephant is quickly becoming my "nice comment" avatar...
yeah, i agree. i was totally thinking of you and your last post while i listened to the interview. i think it was your last post; the one about forgiveness. i haven't read any charles taylor (though masculin
has been encouraging me to for years), but maybe soon i will? i've been avoiding philosophy temporarily of late, to concentrate more on history and crap like that. anyway, have you ever read carol gilligan? she'd i guess be called a second wave feminist who wrote a book called in a different voice
. her argument is essentially about replacing an ethics of "justice" with an ethics of "care." she does some pretty convincing research about the different ways boys and girls are trained to solve problems, and privileges what she tends to discover in the girls (e.g. a tendency to ask questions, consider context, avoid contracts, etc.) over the more old testament stylings the boys seem to drum up. i haven't read it in years, but it's stuck with me.
i share you're confusion though. i think there are actually emotions i experience that are almost always useless, and they're usually the ones that make me want to resort to an argument about justice (contempt, righteousness, jealousy, etc.)
2007-10-15 06:23 pm (UTC)
Re: the reuben elephant is quickly becoming my "nice comment" avatar...
you've outdone yourself! I was looking forward to this top 10 for awhile now, as I had almost completely forgotten the many suggestions you had made to me awhile back (A High Wind in Jamaica
, the world, the flesh and the devil
and the Lemkin, in particular). Although it will probably be quite some time before I get to any of them, I now know that their titles (along with a nice description of why they are worth visiting) are now available in livejournalland, if ever I forget them again. (I find, more and more, that I require written references for life in general... I need to know where I can access the information I now have in my head if ever there comes a time where it is less than clear.)
If you do end up picking up Taylor mistercreepy
's suggestion of Ethics of Authenticity
(outside of the US entitled Malaise of Modernity
, which I like better) is a good one: it is the easiest place to enter into Taylor's work, is short, and is straightforward (it was originally a Massey Lecture). (Although Varieties of Religion Today
is a similarly easy, short place to start if you're at all interested in how the cult of individualism has crept into religion since the protestant reformation, sometimes to be embraced, sometimes to be rejected.)
It is great that you mentioned Carol Gilligan and "care ethics" because I've been reading a lot of it lately in a class I'm in entitled "Vulnerability, Affliction, Care, and Justice" (that is specifically on the intersections between Virtue Ethics and Care Ethics) and didn't expect to encounter a mention of it on livejournal here. More good books to look into, if this interests you -- or anyone -- include Nel Noddings Caring
Kittay's Love's Labour
I did, however, read Gilligan as offering a distinctive type of justice (a care-centred justice) rather than discarding the virtue of Justice wholesale.
(and I should also apologize for not getting back to you on that movie challenge the other day... I've been super busy and though I wasn't trying to bait you into responding, I did anticipate a response, and the response you gave predictably saw through my argument to its Zizekian basis...without me even mentioning him! Although I don't find this basis as problematic as you do, the response was thorough enough to deserve something more than a trite response -- and, as of yet, I haven't had the time to come up with anything substantial).
2007-10-15 06:34 pm (UTC)
Re: the reuben elephant is quickly becoming my "nice comment" avatar...
Also, Dan, I've been meaning to ask you if you've ever read Doris Lessing? My tradition is to read at least one book a year by the current Nobel Literature award-winner and I can't say that I've ever had much interest in reading her (I'm much less enthusiastic about this than the winners of the last few years, but I should hold off the pessimism until reading her I suppose). The Golden Notebook doesn't seem like it would really be my cup-of-tea and I figured it would probably lack the immediacy it presumably had when first published. A Repulsion-esque psychological escape into the inner goings-on of the female mind strikes me as very...i dunno... dated?...mid-century?... and not something to sacrifice my studies for, at this moment. The jacket-synopsis of The good terrorist seems a bit more interesting.... I'm having some difficulty finding anyone with an enthusiastic suggestion.
2007-10-15 08:13 pm (UTC)
Re: the reuben elephant is quickly becoming my "nice comment" avatar...
thanks for all the great info, regarding care and justice. i guess i don't mean to slam the notion of "justice" outright, but i do think the privileging of contracts has a way of breeding contempt sometimes. anyway, it's a discussion i'm certainly in the baby stages of even thinking about, so perhaps after a little investigation (following your suggestions... as well as reuben and camille's elsewhere in this thread so far) i'll have more to say/think/consider about it.
as for the movie challenge, i've been looking for any excuse to attempt to refine my own stance regarding pleasure, because it's becoming more and more important to the way i think about things. i keep threatening to write something around here about it, but instead i cop-out and it takes the form of punchy, half-written comments.
as for lessing, i haven't read her. i recently began and temporarily abandoned memoirs of a survivor though. the nobel win made me want to jump back into it, actually. i asked a similar question to yours in another livejournal thread (which is friends only, unfortunately), and had the following suggested to me:
* the golden notebook
* the four-gated city
* in search of the english (memoir)
My vote is whole heartedly with The Golden Notebook. It easily trumps the other two.
i hear it's pretty great. it's one of those intimidating opuses though-- the kind that take me a full month. so it's on the list, but not at the top just yet.
the more you mention this post, the more curious i become about what you said initially (that was deleted).
The Golden Notebook is one of my all time favorites. There's nothing about it that's Repulsion-esque and I didn't find it dated in the slightest. It's not about the inner goings-on of the female mind, but about a struggling writer, trying to juggle writing, career, politics, dating, etc., and not doing a very good job. The 'fracture' is the way she's trying and failing to compartmentalize everything and how she's continuously distracted. The politics are definitely not our own, but her political concerns are, as are her dating concerns, and concerns as a struggling artist.
She's written a lot, and some ok sci-fi, but The Golden Notebook is deservedly the most famous. I'd say it's one of the best Post-War books written in English.
2007-11-15 06:14 am (UTC)
Re: Jumping in, unasked
thanks for jumping in, and I'm very glad to hear my dust-jacket-based pre-judgment might not be all that accurate. Your synopsis has led me to think that I might like it much more than expected and I'll probably start with this one (that is, if I can juggle my own time enough to fit in another book) Also, while I have your recommendations at my disposal, have you read the good terrorist? It seemed interesting as well.
2007-10-15 06:14 pm (UTC)
Re: I've always been sort of confused by the idea of "justice"
There are quite a few people working on Justice at the moment (from a virtue-ethics -- sometimes together with care ethics -- perspective), as an indispensable virtue, but characterizing it in a manner quite different than the usual liberal treatments (i.e., Justice as protector of rights, justice as duty/obligation/debt, Justice based on calculated models or market-relations a la Rational Choice theory). Taylor, and other communitarians and virtue ethicists like him, hint toward a richer conception of justice as something required for proper care and compassion (social justice). Many of the people in care ethics don't stand opposed to justice but actually develop their own distinctive conception of justice (see Morals from Motives, Michael Slote, pp. x or Martha Nussbaum's Frontiers of Justice).
If you're interested in any of these distinct conceptions I would check out Chapter 9 and 10 of Alasdair MacIntyre's Dependent Rational Animals, where he talks about the virtue Just Generosity (or, Wancantognaka, in Lakota). Here, Justice plays a role in a virtue of acknowledged dependence on others (rather than of autonomous individualism) -- where we are obliged (justice) to respond to (care for?) the needs of others in an uncalculated manner (generosity). This is a way in which justice might be able to function in a sense that is outside its typical reading.
2007-10-15 10:09 pm (UTC)
After Virtue was quite the workout but excellent
I would definitely be interested in checking out more of his work.
you know for like the past four of these i always end up adding whatever fiction book you talk about to my amazon wishlist because they always sound so damn good.
2007-10-15 08:15 pm (UTC)
i tried to reply to this last night but lj fucked up
anyway, i picked up a used copy of dennis cooper's frisk the other day b/c you suggested him, so it works both ways...
also, do you know a bout the film version of high wind in jamaica? the dude who made sweet smell of success made it, and two of the pirates are anthony quinn and james coburn (who i love). also, one of the little children is played by a very young martin amis, apparently!
2007-10-15 09:09 pm (UTC)
Re: i tried to reply to this last night but lj fucked up
As I'm pretty sure I've mentioned to you before that the movies good, but the sexuality is naturally really played down. You have to dig deep to find it but it's there and I highly recommend giving the film a look.
2007-10-16 12:04 am (UTC)
speaking of not being able to post comments
i've had that trouble on cinebeats before too. unfortunately i can't remember what i had to say when it happened though. i've been reading though!
i don't think we've discussed the film. i figured it'd be less controversial-- that's fine. i was mostly happy to hear that james coburn is in it. luckily, i didn't read up on the film much prior to reading the book though. i kinda hate it when a film "casts" the way you picture the book's characters (e.g. i read a scanner darkly a few months prior to the linklater film specifically to avoid picturing keanu the entire time. it worked.)
i just said outloud to no one in particular "oh awesome, dan did another list!" can't wait to dig into this later.
terrific post as usual. you seem to be using your unemployment time more productively than i did!
the cloisters is one of my favorite places in the world. i often find myself trying to defend medieval art to my friends, who pretty much all hate it . . .
2007-10-15 08:27 pm (UTC)
i sent along the link, hahaha
thanks for the good cheer.
yeah, when i enter a museum nowadays, i tend to gravitate to medieval stuff, or minature paintings, or things like that much more than to my obligatory trip down 20th century lane. when i was younger i used to feel this weird obligation to head immediately to "modern and contemporary"... lately, i'm pretty much open to anything...
I missed yr posts! I really need to read A High Wind in Jamaica, I want that edition for th cover.
i know it's annoying and all when people try to, like, pigeonhole your tastes or whatever... but i gotta say i really thought of you specfically while i was reading this, and i'd be shocked if you weren't into it (save all the awful, colonial "darkie" stereotypes at the beginning)... definitely seek out at all costs!
I have no real comment to make, except to say that that Lou Reed music video freaked me out when I first read this post at, like, 4 am last night. Also, I need to check out this THE WORLD, THE FLESH, AND THE DEVIL. Speaking of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic cinema, have you seen Roger Corman's LAST WOMAN ON EARTH (made on a $1.99 budget)? Methinks it would be up your alley. Also, I still need to send that f'ing disc (GLEN AND RANDA) to you (it's sitting to the right of me with a post-it note attached with your address) -- though I've mostly just been wanting to run into something else I think you'd dig and make a dub of it.
I want to make my own "10 Good Things" list, and include "Dan Schank's 10 Good Things" somewhere on said list!
2007-10-16 04:57 am (UTC)
haven't seen "last woman" yet, but i should
re: the lou reed video, be glad i didn't go with my first impulse, which was to post actual camcorder footage of a monkey jacking off at the zoo. i thought it was pretty hilarious, but i figured you guys would be reading this shit at work, and that i'm google-able, and i decided against it.v i have a weird sense of humor.
no worries about the discs man! take your time. if it'd be easier, you could maybe even send it digitally if you want. i think programs like pando let you send files that are big enough, if i'm not mistaken.
I'm just surprised that an entry with this kind of depth hasn't taken longer than a month (not to mention whatever else has been going on in your non-internet life or extensive blog-reading life for that matter as pointed out in this here post!). On a more...erm..practical note, I'd ask how you'd ensure that your 8 hours a day are spent meaningfully (fresh out of school, looking to be a parking attendant myself for a spell), were it not for the fact that advice dealing with these kind of big issues of fulfillment generally do not translate very well from one situation to another.
i actually wrote most of this in a two-day purge that ended yesterday afternoon. but i've had them brewin in my head for about two months, actually.
as for spending my time meaningfully, i'm honestly NOT really managing to do that. hahaha. getting a little better though. it helps to assign myself projects, and maybe a bit of a schedule too. checking lj probably doesn't help things too much either. i also try to get out of the house as often as possible i guess...
this isn't very helpful, is it?
>... particularly those weird, pre-"gendered" moments that society at large would rather not discuss ...
mebbe if we knew what they were!--mza.
2007-10-19 05:01 am (UTC)
Re: found that roky erickson movie offputtingly detached
i liked its detachment, actually. particularly in the setting of a rock-doc, which are usually so trite and adoring. sometimes i think detachment can be a more legitimate form of engagement than an attempt at empathy, because it affords more respect for its subject, and also its audience. i think herzog does this really well sometimes-- some of his docs seem to say "i like you because i can't understand you", which more often than not strikes me as the deepest breed of affection.
as for pre-gendered moments, i'm thinking of times in my life where the distinctions between boys and girls break down, or are held up in ugly ways. i can remember me and my neighbor getting bored with g.i. joe one day and playing with his sisters' barbies instead. we got into a world of shit with his dad (who blamed the affair on me!), but we didn't really know any better. we were acting out of boredom, and according to the options we had before us, prior to internalizing the bullshit of the universe as we would come to know it. i also experienced a lot of megalomania as a little kid-- believing i was a superhero, believing my stuffed animals were all secretly alive, etc. a high wind in jamaica takes that mentality really seriously, and it was interesting to return to it through someone else's really incisive lens...
agreed on usual triteness of rock docs
Well part of th difficulty for me in watching any kind of documentary is that a certain degree of detachment is ASSUMED by both filmmaker and audience a.k.a. "journalistic objectivity"
which is why I wouldn't expect to see Roky Erickson listed in th credits as both character and actor
but underneath that assumed journalistic objectivity is an unstated but just as well understood directorial point of view
which some documentarians attempt to camouflage more than others (and some, e.g. McElwee, don't camouflage much @ all)--which, for me, what I consider artistic detachment is often not a whole lot more than a camouflaging of intent
and I guess I'm auto-suspicious of artistic detachment when it comes to anything to do w/ th rock (because obvsly I come as a fan, not an artist)
Th filmmakers obvsly had a TON of access to this family, and it's a great story, I think I would have forgiven them a little attachment
There was a part I'm thinking of wherein they interview Roky's father, and it was played for a laugh, th way they edited it, it was cut for maximum humour, and it was th sort of moment/humour that's possible only w/ a high degree of detachment ... I found it disengaging ...
On th other hand, th therapy scenes were undeniably great, and I laughed, and those scenes required detachment, too
and I'm not even sure what exactly I wanted from this movie--certainly not worshipfulness or anything like that--I mean I def enjoyed it, but there were moments of detachment that put me off and made me wonder what was on th cutting room floor
Oof, please excuse my thinking out loud here
2007-10-22 06:05 am (UTC)
crumb erickson johnston trilogy-- my prefs go: erickson, crumb, johnston
underneath that assumed journalistic objectivity is an unstated but just as well understood directorial point of view
point taken about the dad. and some of the camerawork does sorta overemphasize everyone's craziness in an annoying way sometimes (it even has that token tracking shot through empty hallway of nuthouse... the biggest cliche of the "mental institution" segment of any documentary... hell, it's in the johnston one too).
still, i think there are key moments where they refrain from judgment, and i appreciate them. i'm glad it didn't go the daniel johnston route of "here's some amateur psychoanalysis c/o a variety of aging rockers who used to hang out in austin".
i think there's a difference between refraining from commentary and concealing your intentions. i didn't really get a sense of restraint when i watched this; it sounds like you did. the filmmakers seemed to value their inability to comprehend the family's interactions, and i think that became "the content' in the end, i guess.
did you watch the extras? they tend to favor the youngest son in a way that struck me as a lot less interesting. and i ended up liking him less, having watched them.
2007-10-19 12:28 am (UTC)
and to think I almost didn't go see roky perform
but I did. it wasn't mind-blowing or anything like that more of a cerebral experience but still definitely worth it after seeing cat power bitch and moan for 70 minutes
long live the hayes code!!!!!
(check out the first few pages of Louis Dupre's Religious Mystery for a neat and very personal take on the unicorn tapestries.)
and C. Taylor's The Secular Era is the best book I've read published this year with Gass's Temple of Texts a close second although I guess that's more of an 06 release but who cares but Taylor's is really long but if y ou read some reviews it may peak your interest but Sources of the Self is a sort of prequel and god it'sbeen way too long since I read that one but it's a tad shorter and it's a good book if you're in the project of having your world completely flipped around and oh shit I gtg I don't get online much anymore as may be evident but it's great to seee this fantastic lj tradition alive and well!
2007-10-19 05:05 am (UTC)
nice punning, mr. hayes...
hahaha, yeah cat power can be really infuriating. the first time i saw her she was very charming though. i think success hasn't worn well with her...
looks like i need to add charles taylor to the reading list, ASAP. thanks for the rec's... and get some computer access so you can chime in when reuben finally resumes "the game"...