Friday, August 31, 2007

If social existence weren't just a latticework

of paranoid taboos, and you had some way to ascertain the proper amount of enthusiasm in your potential partner, would you have sex with a tiger?

This is just a question I've been asking myself lately.


I just fucking adore the universe.

Thank you

Tonya for your kind words about my shirts.

I never knew my shirts were so spectacular. Now I'm thinking about them a lot. I noticed my collar in the bathroom mirror. One side was flat/deflated. The other side had a weird fold. I tried to fix it and then I thought, "What the fuck am I doing?"

After that, I decided to just act natural, and left the bathroom.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Drugs--and why I'm looking forward to caring for my daughter

Sometimes I think taking drugs, which I don't do, except for alcohol and advil, is--if you bracket out the tragedy of true addiction--a really important part of human experience. Other times I don't. Other times I think you should be like the eagle that knows only the sun.

Anyway--this is one reason I'm looking forward to my baby. She's kind of drugs and eagle at the same time. She'll be stinking of poo and she'll have really bad manners but simultaneously it'll just be a three of us, in a little relatively uncomplicated cocoon, within whose fibers Nadia and spend our time and attention attending to her needs. What better use to put our life skills to?

No running away from life. Making the quotidian miraculous. Kind of like sex, except with diapers and no orgasms.

In that post about Stardust

Where I was bitching about adolescent hero fantasies?

This is the sort of shit I was thinking about.

I was thinking of this whole chunk of hero narrative psychology I like to bitch about in terms of the shift for which Byron's transition from romantic to ironic is sort of emblematic

But then I'm like--Tristran the shop boy or Manfred the idealist?

They're not in the same league motherfuckers. They're just fucking not.

And another goddamn thing while I'm feeling misanthropic

Murdering people? Totally horrible! Why do you murderers do it? What the hell are you thinking? You're just adding to the garbage. It's like this murderers. Say you're going up the sidewalk and you step in some dog shit that someone didn't scoop. Well that's the shit you're pulling on everyone except vastly more severely. Stop it.

I shouldn't even make light of it and I'm not sure I am. I just . . . try to think about it simply.

Also--institutional crime. I think I blogged about below. Why? Why can't we a) be more self conscious about the possibility that the systems we set up can have injust consequences for people who don't deserve to be injustly treated?

In England they're giving people degrees in yacht crewing.

I guess this is okay--it's not like they're majoring in english, right--but it also kind of sucks. People's instinctive inclinations toward one craft or another are sound compass I think for life decisons, but somehow I wish these english cats were getting degrees in business.

I went to the french laundry once. It was fine until we started talking about our policies vis a vis giving money to the homeless.

Why did that happen to me? How did I get here?

(I love you, donkey--it's just that everything can't be perfect.)

Whatever. Like I said, I'm an eagle. None of this shit really bothers me.

I am a fucking Eagle

And I'm soaring over all this humanity bullshit and I just dipped my sinewy wings into the ocean, freeing them of lice.

The only thing I know is the sun and the rumbling in my eagle tummy.

Watchout fish.

I'll fight the osprey and fucking hunt in his territory. And I'm different from the osprey. I'm a fucking glutton.

If you're lucky you'll know to hide in the kelp. I hate that shit. It stinks too much of life, like when I ate that snail. I cracked that fucker open with my beak and all this fucking rubber shit oozed out.

I prefer mammal meat. I eat the tenderest parts and leave the rest for the turkey vultures.

Some birds don't dig the turkey vultures, but they're all right with me.

Fuck this shit. I'm going to fly into a cloud.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


What are stories? It's an old question but Stardust, which I saw last night, has me speculating. The reason is that it's utter hackwork yet the audience I saw it with was rapturous, especially the girl sitting next to me, who kept repeating lines of dialogue, mimicking emphatic gestures, and saying to her companion, "I love this movie."

That's great stuff. That's what stories, as far as solaas goes, are supposed to do.

(Presuming we're not cultural theorists or scientists, in which case you can frame the idea of what stories are "supposed to do" in vastly more rigorous terms. Of course, I do believe in a qualified way some of the ontological claims you can derive from the chaos of conventional human lore. I find them vastly more reliable as a compass for understanding myself than I do cultural theory, though cultural theory has its good points too in this respect.)

But I did not find myself rapturously transported. I felt, as I watched, that we were going through the motions, that neither Neil Gaiman nor the collective producers of this film, excepting the actors to an extent, had put anything in this movie that was not formulaic.

Formulaic is sort of a pop-critical term and one that's often expressed without supporting argument, but it applies to Stardust.

  • Story teller voice over performed in the first person plural? Formulaic.
  • Young boy with limited prospects hoping to win the love of a popular girl? Formulaic.
  • Romance between two people thrust together by circumstance and initially loathing each other? Formulaic.
  • Princes competing to become king given an impossible task to determine the heir? Formulaic.
  • Helicopter shots rotating around people riding on horseback over grass-covered ridges with mountains in the distance? Maybe not formulaic, but at least derivative. You've seen it in more than one film since Lord of the Rings.
The movie is rife with examples like this, but there's one which is particularly telling:he cameo by Ricky Gervais, who plays a merchant with whom all three of the plot's contending parties, the witch, the evil prince, and the hero/heroine, barter for one thing or another. He's dressed in a sort of bizarre costume and he's got long hair, but it's basically a reprise of the character Gervais improvises in the office. It was, to me, reminiscent of the scene from Man on the Moon where the college students are chanting at Andy Kaufman to do some famous routine., maybe the mighty mouse thing, I don't quite recall.

In this case, because it was a character and an actor imported without elaboration from some other work, and because that character/actor is so much a part of the present cultural moment, it stood out particularly as a crib, but to me the film, as I elaborated above, was full of such thefts.

Which would not in most cases doom a film, but in Stardust, there's a near total absence of enthusiasm for the material in the production work. For instance, the primary villain, a witch played by Michelle Pfeiffer, starts of the movie riding around in a cart pulled by two goats. To me, this is one of the few opportunities the narrative provides to do something weird and original. They could have made the goats look menacing or something. But they just made a cart pulled by two goats. And then that's what she traveled around in for a while. That's it.

There are other instances of a failure of imagination. The market town that stands as a sort of transit point between the film's two worlds, ordinary England and mystical Stormhold, is supposed to be a sort of hotbed of orientalist exoticism, but its wierdly sterile. There's a tiny two-headed elephant in a cage and a jar full of eyeballs that actually look at things, but otherwise, it's just a bunch of cages and buildings and a few undistressed curtains slapped together. No real detail.

But the worst thing about the film is the fascism.

That's hyperbole, obviously, but there's this weird innocence about the pleasures the film seems intended to provoke.

It starts with the protagonist's name. It's Tristran. I hate this name. It's just a few steps short of Prince Valiant. And its a variant on a name that's used throughout fantasy novels. I don't have examples, so you'll have to take my word for it. But it's the sort of name given to the sort of strapping but mildly effeminate name given to the sorts heroes that movies like Shrek seek to pillory. Because its the convention, he starts off bumbling and earnest, but by the end of the film, he's got beautiful hair a great outfit and is a master swordsman.

This is the guy were supposed to identify with. Think about the Pirates of the Caribbean films and how there's this sort of id/superego battle in the film's consciousness between the Orlando Bloom character, who is noble and chased, and Captain Sparrow (a much more evocative name than Tristran, btw), who is lecherous, androgynous, unreliable, self-interested, and vastly more interesting. And that franchise, at least in the second film,
acknowledges the appeal of the antihero, when the Keira Knightly character makes out with Jack Sparrow and then, almost in an act of homage, betrays him. However psychosexually unhealthy you might deem this, it was mature and knowing. Stardust is neither of those things. In it, every infantile fantasy is fulfilled. The hero defeats everyone and he doesn't just get the girl, he gets to become king, he gets his mom back, and he gets the opportunity to live forever. It's all gold and castles and immortality.

This just isn't material I can wrap my heart around.

The audience I saw it with was entirely in love. And it ives me pause that what produced this response was a combination of deeply formulaic plot construction and some naive and uninhibited wish fulfillment. It makes me wonder about why I respond the way I do to better work than this.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

From "Why Are So Many Americans in Prison" by Glen Loury in the Boston Review:

We have a corrections sector that employs more Americans than the combined work forces of General Motors, Ford, and Wal-Mart, the three largest corporate employers in the country, and we are spending some $200 billion annually on law enforcement and corrections at all levels of government, a fourfold increase (in constant dollars) over the past quarter century.

This country is as rife with institutional and moral crime as it imagines it is with criminals, conventionally understood. Obviously, it's a complicated issue, but the magnitude of the phenomenon and its connection to race should trouble us greatly. I can't help but think of Madness and Civilization and wonder if we are just adding the concept of minorities to the series that, Foucault posited, started with lepers and moved on to insane, thus deepening our own madness.