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I watched La Haine twice in the last week

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2014 by will2487

Which is fairly abnormal for me. I reread books and poems all the time, but I usually don’t rewatch movies. I get fidgety and bored and think about all the work I could be doing.

What was it about La Haine?

The jokes. How it starts and ends with a joke, and how the joke becomes so much more than a joke, proving that context, momentum, or mass can enliven or add profundity to or radically alter any element of language (in the same way that there are no cliches, only cliched uses of cliches  (I think?)).

How it ends: the compilation of events strung together fairly loosely (plot, yes, but with lots of room outside the plot for people to sit around, to tell stories, to be themselves) ended by a gunshot.

The humor (that batman joke!).

The graffiti. How it’s everywhere and means more than it says when it’s contrasted with the people who live by it and make it.

The contrast between “high” and “low” art, the former when Said, Hubert, and Vinz crash an art opening, the latter with the music in the streets (“Nique la police”).

So much. I could watch it again, but that might be overdoing things.

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I finally saw Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby

In Uncategorized on August 4, 2013 by will2487 Tagged: ,

thereby breaking a streak of watching only black-and-white films from 1960s France. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t terrible, even though Luhrmann probably piled too much extravagance on the book’s sleek structure. It was generally entertaining and at times funny, an adjective I had never associated with Fitzgerald’s text before. It was anyway worth the three dollars I spent to see it at the Riverview.

I shall probably return to 1960s France, though. Color, especially sharp contemporary color, has lately made me feel claustrophobic. No soul leaches through such perfection, whereas it bleeds through the fuzzed grays of Jean-Luc Godard’s work.

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Goodbye strictly books & hello media

In Book reviews, Thoughts, Uncategorized on July 4, 2013 by will2487 Tagged: ,

I’ve been thinking about writing here again in a semi-regular way. I have been reading a lot and writing some, but the two projects don’t immediately overlap and what’s more I’ve started to want an outlet for critical thoughts on pop whatever. If I watch songs on Youtube twenty times in a row it’s not because I’m brain dead, and the same goes for films. So maybe goodbye strictly books and hello media; partly the idea owes its beginnings to the experiences I’m talking about and partly the idea owes its beginnings to a book titled L’Adieu à la litterature written by a French academic named William Marx.

The book centrally argues that literature owes its marginal status among contemporary arts to the aesthetic positions that certain European writers and theorists took in the past three hundred years or so. Beginning in the seventeenth century, society began attributing all sorts of powers to literature that culminated in the eighteenth century with a widespread belief in literature’s ability, via the sublime, to act as a surrogate religion. Marx, using the analogy of an economic bubble,  calls this the period of “survalorisation.” A period of “devalorisation” followed, instigated by “art for art’s sake” theorists, who attempted to expand the authority that society granted literature by cutting off literature off society (“perd and emphasizing its formal, aesthetic aspects. As a result, Marx claims, society in general abandoned literature as literature itself, having lost its former powers, began increasingly to proclaim its own death.

I’m not entirely sold on all parts of Marx’s argument. For one, Marx attributes literature’s failure to its unwillingness to engage “reality” [“coupée du réel” (104)]. My doubts come from a knee-jerk reaction to the concept of “real,” as the concept is usually associated with mimetic novels (social realism, etc). This would make Marx’s thesis pretty bland. Who hasn’t heard someone or other pin literature’s irrelevance on its non-mimetic practitioners before? Clearly, “unrealistic” novels and poems (Ishmael Reed’s novels, Charles Simic’s surrealist poems) address real social issues. But I think Marx is after a certain literary way of talking about literature, not a certain way of practicing literature – one that believes that literature (especially poetry) has evolved toward an ever-purer form throughout history. The second “écueil” he advises his readers to avoid is the notion that “la poésie s’achemine peu à peu vers la pureté” or has an essential characteristic (14). Poetry doesn’t work toward a specific, unavoidable goal but is rather contingent, shaped by its place in society and history and the theoretical beliefs of its writers. It is “coupée du réel” insofar as it claims it is independent of such forces.

This aside, it’s the conclusion to L’Adieu, where Marx assesses literature’s present status among the other arts/fields of study, that really interests me.  He suggests that literature may be able to restore some of the public’s confidence in it through minimalism, by forgoing the grandiose claims of the “grand priests” of nineteenth century European letters:

Plutôt que de sortir de la crise par la haut, c’est-à-dire par la poursuite tous azimuts de solutions esthétiques radicals, mais au résultat incertain, les minimalistes choisissent une issue par le bas, en restreignant la literature à ses usages fondamentaux et en espérant par là revenir en phase avec un corps social qui, de son côté, n’attend plus grand-chose de cet art.

Literature, no longer preeminent, must learn to live with its disgraced status. I mean to partially reflect that in the subjects I write about in this blog.

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L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Poetry: Not as Ugly as its Name

In Thoughts on February 3, 2013 by will2487 Tagged: ,

[I wrote this for a class this semester and decided, hey, I kind of like it, why not stick it up?]

Where do I get my ideas about schools of poetry? For the longest time, I thought the Beats were losers, the confessionals solipsists, and the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets a bunch of drab Marxists deeply concerned with the Ethics of Poetry.

The one nice thing about harboring such terribly wrong impressions is it turns every reading into a revolution, from Plath to Ginsberg to Charles Bernstein. With Bernstein, I knew I was wrong the moment I started listening to the Penn Sound recording of him: his reading style (decidedly energetic) elicited background laughter throughout the whole of its forty-five minutes, and his sardonic humor carries through in his texts.

 “The Lives of the Toll Takers,” for instance, satirizes economic pragmatism by advertising poetry with business-speak:

                                                   Poetic

             opportunities

,

            however, do not fall into your lap, at least

very often. You’ve got to seek them out, and when you find them

                            you’ve got to have the knowhow to take advantage

of them.

The admonition “you’ve got to,” combined with the jargon of “opportunities” and “advantage,” conjures no one so much as an American Polonius, some suited-up busybody for whom expressions like “do not fall into your lap” and “you’ve got to have the knowhow” summarize the tenants for a life well-lived. Rather than mocking such triviality to its face, Bernstein keeps his straight, pushing the speaker closer and closer to absurdity. The benefits of poetry tick off like bullet points on a PowerPoint: “you’re less likely / to get in an accident if you’re home reading poems,” and:

(studies show higher levels of resistance to double-bind

political programming among those who read 7.7 poems or

more each week

 

).

None of this joking, however, precludes a more serious register. Bernstein follows the spatial and tonal levity of the preceding lines with a block of text whose import is as heavy as its mass: nothing less than a post-structuralist assault against the “‘plain sense of the word’” and its ability to obfuscate political agendas. “Genocide / is made of words like these,” writes Bernstein. But it isn’t long before the register broadens, skips a beat, enters nonsense [“These are the sounds of science (whoosh, blat, /  flipahineyhoo”)], and remerges as yet another speaker who, whatever he (she?) is, may be Marxist, but definitely not drab.

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I started with the existentialists…

In Thoughts, Uncategorized on January 29, 2013 by will2487 Tagged: , ,

Camus and Sartre, then hit the harder stuff: Derrida, Barthes, Foucault. All French through and through, meaning I’ve tried to read them in French through and through (this, too, has gotten more difficult); and the question is (pardon my French), est-ce que cela vaut la peine? Speaking from a strictly utilitarian perspective, of course. Whatever the difficulty, I can read a Derrida text (let’s say) x-times faster in English than in French, and even if I’m reading it in French, I’m sure I’m not getting half the wordplay the text contains. Given these (again, strictly utilitarian) criteria, is reading the original (!) really better, more worthwhile, than reading the translation?

On the down-and-dirty levels of comprehension and expediency, surely not. I wouldn’t try this during the academic year; “La Structure, le signe, et le jeu dans les discourse des sciences humaines” cost me eight hours of headache yesterday. But I don’t suppose I’ll ever get to equal levels of fluency (equal levels of comprehension, equal levels of expediency) without this inefficient meanwhile.

And none of this takes into account the pleasure (la jouissance, surtout!) of actually saying the damn phrases, and scattering them about afterward.

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I’ve been reading British historians lately

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2012 by will2487

First Robert E. Lee: Icon for a Nation, by Brian Holden Reid, then Ghosts of Empire, by Kwasi Kwarteng. I was leery of reading the first one. I picked it up mostly because I thought it would be a hagiography and wanted something to laugh at. Once I saw it was by a Brit, though, I grew respectful and actually read it. His essential goal is to show the character and generalship of Lee, stripped of the cult of personality that, he argues, sprung up around Lee in the years after the Civil War. The book was short, methodical, and entertaining, though I would not have minded more maps (Wikipedia had to suffice). 

The second, though – that was something. If you’ve ever wondered about the sources of ethnic conflict in Sudan, Burma, Iraq, and Kashmir, this book outlines the basics, though Kwarteng’s purpose lies elsewhere. He wants to show how the British Empire was shaped by individuals with large amounts of personal authority, instead of by unified government policies. These individuals shared a similar educational background (Cambridge, Oxford), political outlook (imperial, hierarchical), and personality type (generally domineering), but nothing in the way of concrete policy. Colonial administration changed from one governor to another; so did the methods of interacting with the native populations, and the course one imperialist followed could be reversed by another. Hence Sudan: Arab north, African south, destined to be two different countries, yet abruptly jammed together by one person’s decision. Similarly Burma: never to be annexed, until Winston Churchill’s father decided upon it and sent in the military. For anyone interested in British Empire, or current world politics, it is well worth reading. 

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We’ve been getting POETRY magazine for a couple months now…

In literary magazines, Thoughts, Uncategorized on January 29, 2012 by will2487 Tagged: , ,

And it’s strange. Some issues, I’ll read every poem again and again until I almost have every one memorized. The November 2011 issue was like that. It had so many poems that I read and reread and underlined and read again that I keep it like a book, separate from all the other Poetry issues we have accumulated. There was “The World is in Pencil,” “If,” and “Brutal,” not to mention “Bryant Park at Dusk” and above all Marcus Wicker’s “The Way We Were Made.” This last is a splendid finger-pointing (at some creator – God, I would assume): “but you made every / eyelash erotic….sweet / in every wrong way.”

Other issues, however, leave me cold, no matter how hard I try to concentrate on the poems. The latest issue – February 2012 – was like that. The only poem that I’ve reread for the joy of it is a reprint on the inside of the back cover. It is short, four lines: “The rhetorical ‘How goes it old boy?’; / the unnerving response: // ‘Infinitely sad, old warrior, / infinitely sad. I’ve just heard…'” Although the poem is just a snippet of dialogue (the ellipses is in the original), that snippet captures a rupture in the commonplace that I find startling and moving at once.

So, I’m not complaining about Poetry‘s selection; I’m not about to write a letter-to-the-editor lambasting their selections. Take this as more as an observation about poetry and taste: I can understand without liking, and like without understanding, but either way the only way to find out is to read lots and lots.