Sunday, October 30, 2005

Is It Me, or Is There Something Just the Tiniest Bit Familiar About
the Route of the 30th Marine Corps Marathon?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Now Look What You Made Me Do
Yesterday morning I spent a bit more than an hour revising my list of favorite movies. I'm still dizzy; I have papers to grade; I'm really into this idea for a new course; I've got three meetings coming up to plan; I have course descriptions to write for the department; and I actually have a short story sitting here for revision. But I worked on my favorite movies list for over an hour. Why? Because you, my public, all two of you, heckled me about it.
This officially makes me a blog nerd. Without any possibility whatever of getting rich off of it.
Cat People, Of Course, Cat People. But No David Fucking Lynch.

When I looked at my list, I was shoked--shocked--to discover I'd left a ton of my personal favorites off. I quickly revised my list to include: Cat People, La regle du jeu, Days of Heaven, If . . ., Man with a Movie Camera, Rashomon, The Searchers, A Matter of Life and Death, L'Atalante . . . I revised the order, too, but I'm not going to post the whole list now because:
I Don't Want to Get Started on This with You, Dude
But I have to say that I have an auxiliary list of movies I have to see again sometime before I decide whether they're among my absolute favories, or movies I've never seen but imagine will be among my absolute favorites once I get around to them, including:

A One and A Two . . .
Andrei Roublev
Belle de jour
Celine and Julie Go Boating
Day of Wrath
Fanny and Alexander
La Belle Noiseuse
Les dames du Bois du Boulogne
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Pierrot le fou
Sansho Dayu
Silence of the Palace
The Curse of the Cat People
The Home and the World
The Innocents
The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums
There is probably nothing so interesting as a list of someone's favorite movies. I went through the Sight and Sound 2002 survey of directors' and critics' Top Tens yesterday, too, and they were often interesting, often irritating. (Irritating: People who put Schindler's List, Gone With the Wind, Jaws, Blade Runner or The Piano on their Top Ten lists; people who leave off Citizen Kane because it's "the definitive white male movie"; and really, is there anything as pretentious as pretending that Rope is your favorite Hitchcock movie?) There's just this very clear line between people who like movies because they're good movies, and people who like movies because they approve of what they're saying, or want to be perceived as approving of what they're saying, whether they actually do or not, or want to be associated with some specious glamor, aura, or depth they imagine the film represents. I could just spit.
But nobody, including me, really much wants a list of actually, really, seriously good movies. It's more interesting to do a list of movies you know not everyone likes or even sees but that are somehow to your taste. And this is the thing about criticism in the recently morbid age of theory: the totally dumb smart-guy pose of supposedly avoiding the vicissitudes of personal taste while at the same time establishing an if-you-have-to-ask-why-you'll-never-understand Canon of Cool. (There's not a thing wrong with jazz, for example; it's academic talk about jazz that kills all the joy in life.) And that is why people like Dave Hickey: He elaborates on his taste, like Baudelaire, or Frank O'Hara. Oh, but you knew that.
Oh Crap, I Left Off Rosemary's Baby
My short list of movies not everyone loves that I can watch over and over again--the personal sensibility list:

Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
Bride of Frankenstein
Imitation of Life
The Gang’s All Here
Hiroshima mon amour
The Celebration
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Shadow of a Doubt
Week End
If . . .
A Slave of Love
Love Me Tonight
Law of Desire
Mon oncle d’Amerique
W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism
All That Heaven Allows
Cat People
The Devil, Probably
A Matter of Life and Death
The Idiots
The Long Day Closes
Double Suicide
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
The Terminator
The Dybbuk
Theatre of Blood
Boggy Depot
Talk to Her
Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills
God Told Me To
The Uninvited
The Crime of M. Lange
Last Summer in the Hamptons
Black Moon
The Haunting
Die, Mommie, Die
Scotland, PA
Sex and Zen
Dracula’s Daughter
And now I'm going back to work.

Friday, October 28, 2005

History for Snot-Nosed Leftist Bastards
I've been thinking this would be a very good time to know more about the role of the sinking of the Lusitania in bringing the United States into World War I. It could make a very good premise for a play. (The sinking of the Maine is the same kind of thing but is a better-known story, and has less ambiguity, I think.) No one says it wasn't a catastrophe--but how did it happen? Did anyone argue it was being used as a pretext? There might be an opportunity for some nice arguing.
File Under "Good Advice"
When you start a blog--and you will--never post a list of your favorite movies.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

My Brain Hurts
I'm trying to do notes for my cinema class tomorrow--summarizing Ernest Hartmann on dream as metaphor, Mark Blechner on dream as extralinguistic thinking, Medard Boss, Fritz Perls, and a lot of what is obviously too much stuff to cover in one session--and for some reason my mind keeps wandering back to De Qunicey's essay, "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts." Maybe it's because when I am actually taking up an intellectual subject and making some pretense of treating it analytically, I slip into self-parody--and there isn't a better satire of the academic dilettante holding forth than De Quincey's essay.
It is a dry kind of humor:
My infirmity being notoriously too much milkiness of the heart, I find it difficult to maintain that steady equatorial line between the two poles of too much murder on the one hand, and too little on the other. . . . I believe, if I had the management of things, there would hardly be a murder from year's end to year's end.
My great discovery a few weeks back was that I'd really like to do a class on Sex and Sexuality in Cinema, so ideas about it pop into my head from time to time. My great discovery this week has been that I'd really like to do a class on The Uncanny in Film and Lit--not the Fantastic, as I've sometimes thought, but the Uncanny precisely because, to put it crudely, when theorists make the Fantastic their subject of study they begin with an idea of some class of things represented in lit or film--whereas I am interested in looking at the Uncanny, the sense of the uncanny, as a product of representation itself, not something represented. That is, the seeing the ghost, say, comes first, as a product of the problems in how we see, then the belief about ghosts. The perception of the fact of mortality necessarily creates the idea of immortality, as an idea one can play with in literature, art, belief systems. The problem, as in medieval proofs of the existence of God, is in a representational theory of thought and language--in assuming that the fact that something can be thought of is somehow an argument for even the possibility of its existence, rather than a feature of how representation works.
This would be much more interesting if one were applying it to Poe, or The Uninvited, or that very hit-or-miss TV show, Medium.
Shuffle function
Mahler's Sixth Symphony

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

So I was in New York at a conference Thursday and Friday, everything went fine, I was smart and funny and met interesting people, and Saturday morning I woke up with Vertigo--like, seriously, the room spinning round and round. Poor Grady had to get me to the emergency room as I kept throwing up; doctors looked at me, said, "Yeah, you've got vertigo, all right, isn't it the darnedest thing?" and I spent the night in the hospital. Now I'm back and walking a little bit like a drunk, otherwise OK but not quite ready to stare at a screen for any length of time.

So this may be as good a time as any to insert the list of my 97 (so far) favorite movies, which I made to kill time and clear my head, playing around at This kind of list is an awful lot of fun to do, especially the minute differences in favor one accords various entries--Do I really love All About Eve more than North by Northwest--and almost all my choices will seem incredibly pedestrian, except, of course, for the ones that are bizarre and inexplicable. I'm putting the list here because it's such a Live-Journal, What-kind-of-tree-would-you-be kind of thing to put on your blog but also as a reminder that even if Vertigo is my number 10 here, I would:
1) Happily watch it more often than most of 1-9, for what that's worth
2) Gladly avoid actual vertigo for the rest of my life because it really sucks.

Citizen Kane
City Lights
Dr. Strangelove
Wild Strawberries
Double Indemnity
Bride of Frankenstein
The Grapes of Wrath
Children of Paradise
Imitation of Life
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Bicycle Thieves
La Jetee
Sunset Blvd.
Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
The Wizard of Oz
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
Rome, Open City
Modern Times
His Girl Friday
The General
Hiroshima mon amour
All About Eve
North by Northwest
Rear Window
Sherlock, Jr.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Zero de conduite
Closely Watched Trains
Duck Amuck
Law of Desire
The Celebration
Week End
A Zed and Two Noughts
Mon oncle d’Amerique
A Slave of Love
Grand Illusion
Wings of Desire
The Idiots
The Terminator
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Waking Life
W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism
Terminator II
Sullivan’s Travels
Double Suicide
Shadow of a Doubt
Pennies from Heaven
The Passion of Joan of Arc
The Lady Eve
The Gang’s All Here
Cecil B. Demented
Y tu mama tambien
The Maltese Falcon
Boggy Depot
Forbidden Planet
The Conformist
Velvet Goldmine
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
Hamlet (2000)
Scotland, PA
Death in Venice
The Devil, Probably
Apocalypse Now
Before Night Falls
Die, Mommie, Die
The Women
Theatre of Blood
Black Moon
Prospero’s Books
Peeping Tom
Dark Eyes
God Told Me To

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I Work My Ass Off
Today I can't say anything at all because I'm working on a conference presentation. I have to focus all my energies on remaining human and sticking with what I actually find interesting about the subject so that it doesn't generate into exactly what you think of when you hear the phrase "a conference presentation. I mean, the energies I'm not using in fretting, catastrophizing, and self-flagellating. I'll be back on the weekend.

Monday, October 17, 2005

More About Dionysos
For Vernant, Dionysos was the god who crosses the boundaries and confuses reality and illusion, who makes us lose in his collective our self-
consciousness and identity of self. Tragedy is appropriately Dionysiac when we suspend our disbelief in watching the drama and enter a world of
mimesis, a world presided over by the mask behind which individual identity is hidden.

-Storey and Allan, Guide to Ancient Greek Drama (Blackwell)

That's fine, but "lose" should be in quotation marks, because self-consciousness and identity aren't "lost," they're simply relegated to another part of awareness. The "confusion" of reality and illusion in drama is itself an illusion, responsible for a lot of the enjoyment of illusion in art. This seems to be the easiest thing in the world to get confused about, but it does remind us that the inadequacy of our ways of describing "illusion" is due to the inadequacy of our ways of describing "reality."
Really, someone ought to do something about it.

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before

The entire comedy of art is neither performed for our betterment or education nor are we the true authors of this art world. On the contrary, we may assume that we are merely images and artistic projections for the true author, and that we have our highest dignity in our significance as works of art--for it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified--while of course our consciousness of our own significance hardly differs from that which the soliders painted on canvas have of the battle represented on it. Thus all our knowledge of art is basically quite illusory . . .
--Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A work of genius seems impeccable: Although you can enjoy thinking about how human minds put it together, you experience it as you do a work of nature. There's no reason for analysis to consider how it might be done differently, because all its parts are understood as existing only in relation to the whole. That is how a work of genius transcends conventions, rules, codes, and why it's an error to try to reduce it to its place in the systems that give rise to it and through which it operates--not because it is "universal" or embodies some timeless message but because it works very, very well, as an art-machine.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Too Much God
The exercise in my Humanities course this week was to propose a production concept for The Bacchae, then meet in small groups to choose one for a theater company to go with and offer a pitch for. Three of four groups chose to put it in a contemporary setting, with a show-down between religious and secular forces, although, interestingly, some groups saw the play as about religious hysteria infecting the populace and others saw it as bureaucratic culture unable to deal with the inevitable irrational forces represented by religion. Practically everyone says they have a huge problem with organized religion; practically no one knows anything about it. (The previous week, no one was familiar with even the idea of the proscriptions of Leviticus or their cultural context, since almost everyone imagines, as you would if you got your ideas about the Bible from television, that there's some undisputed short list of laws you're either for or against that come packaged with their own obvious interpretations.)
Which is only to confirm what you know already: People are experiencing the stand-off between religious and secular views as the dominating polarizing issue of the times, although this isn't saying anything about how they characterize that polarization. For example, almost everyone who says they have problems with organized religion is careful to pay respect to "faith" and "everyone's right to believe what they wish" (as if your beliefs were a matter of choice rather than unconscious forces you'd do well to consider carefully)--to the point that they take offense when I mention that Freud found the survival of supernaturalist beliefs into the 20th century embarrassing and demoralizing, or to the point where they insist that "skepticism" is "a belief system" just as religion is (or intelligent design--I cannot accord it the dignity of capitalization--a "theory" just like evolution). Nor do they particularly want to take on the resemblances between Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism (or recently, constitutional fundamentalism).
A Still, Small Voice
As always happens with these rants, I eventually lose it--there's nothing out there, no social or cultural phenomenon, that I can find irritating enough to completely overcome my natural tendency to sink into embarrassed silence as I observe myself opinionating. What I'm ranting about becomes less interesting to me than the fact that I'm ranting.
I was going to get around to saying something about Dionysus and Nietzsche, but that'll have to wait.

Friday, October 07, 2005

I was working with a whole writing staff on the script for a new Scooby-Doo feature film, only it was going to be done in claymation, like Wallace and Grommit. I was excited about this and thought of it as a genuine aesthetic advance; somehow this was going to help make the script urbane, multi-layered, relevant. I was unsure about whether to reveal that I've never seen a Scooby-Doo cartoon but it turned out that wasn't really expected. What I was supposed to contribute was based on my background in classic film and theater conventions, especially Shakespeare. It was going to be hilarious and brilliant.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

This Just In
George Bush's right-wing base is now complaining that the Harriet Miers appointment shows he isn't conservative enough. They added that hell is too cold, the Pope isn't actually Catholic, and Hitler wasn't enough of an asshole.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Stop Me if You've Heard This One
George Bush is getting his morning report from his staff. Someone says,
"Mr. President, I'm sorry to tell you that three Brazilian soliders were killed in Iraq yesterday."
Bush stares in shock, the color drains from his face. "Th-that's awful," he cries, and sinks his head into his hands on the table.
The staff is stunned. He's never reacted so emotionally to any war news before.
After a moment, the president raises his head and says,
"Exactly how many is a bazillion, anyway?"

This is an actual joke now circulating on the internet, which means not only that you've probably heard it already, but that 80 million Chinese will be totally confused by it by the end of the week.

Prolonged Hilarity Ensues
Oh yes, I think a lot about humor. Last night we saw Urinetown, great show, great production at Signature Theater in Arlington. In any artform, there's a kind of funny you can get at only by exploiting the contract between artists and audience to accept certain conventions. To expose the conventions is funny in itself (but can be wearing, as it sometimes is in the self-conscious narration in Urinetown, which is meta-funny: It not only is a Brechtian alienation effect but refers to its being a Brechtian alienation effect, and though this doesn't make it any funnier, it certainly argues for its being "postmodern." Oh God, shoot me now, someone, and put me out of my misery.)

But the more fun kind of funny in this production of Urinetown comes from direct parody, wry allusions to basic conceits of musical comedy over the years, exposing not only their conventions but their incongruities (like ending a Les Miz-style number about poverty and woe with . . . jazz hands!!). Why have so many people who have tried to understand humor insisted that it's "fundamentally" one thing or another?--for Bergson, perception of the incongruity of humans behaving mechanistically, for Freud defusing an anxiety reaction, for so many modern humortists, just pain, pain, pain. For example, the next subhead works on many levels.

He Gave Good Subhead
The problem is, I just don't know which of those levels is the most annoying.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Terrible dreams last night. I woke up at 4 am from a dream in which I was abducted by this Satanist cult led by Christopher Lee. We were in an upper room of a church or cathedral and he was torturing people, slashing them with knives. I had to look on without doing anything or it'd happen to me.
Whenever I have a dream like this, I assume immediately that it has something to do with work and authority conflicts.
After I fell asleep again, I dreamed I was in class and no one was doing the work; this flipped around, and I was a student in a class who hadn't done the work. This in itself is pretty interesting. I always assume it's a universal that hasn't been given much emphasis but maybe it's just a prominent feature in my own dreams: the ability of dreams to vary your point of view and erase the subject-object distinction seems an absolutely central feature. It's the reason I've made such a big deal about Whitman's The Sleepers; it seems like he's on to something about dreaming that doesn't really enter into the big twentieth-century psychological theories, at least until recently. Perhaps the fundamental characteristic in imagination of being able to construct different viewpoints from which to observe the world--as in, for example, even being able to imagine outer space enough to conjecture or develop theories about it--is always active and simply most noticeable during sleep or trance states because of the relaxation of the ego's hold over processing of perceptions. This is undoubtedly a very well-known idea I just don't happen to be familiar so I imagine it's obscure.

Tobias Schneebaum, Chronicler and Dining Partner of Cannibals, Dies
by Margalit Fox (NYT) September 25, 2005
Tobias Schneebaum, a New York writer, artist and explorer who in the 1950's lived among cannibals in the remote Amazon jungle and, by his own account, sampled their traditional cuisine, died on Tuesday in Great Neck, N.Y. He was in his mid-80's and a longtime resident of Greenwich Village.
The cause was complications of Parkinson's disease, his nephew Jeff Schneebaum said. The elder Mr. Schneebaum, who had several nieces and nephews, leaves no immediate survivors.
In 2000, Mr. Schneebaum was the subject of a well-received documentary film, ''Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale,'' which follows his return to the Amazon, and to Indonesian New Guinea, where he also lived.
Mr. Schneebaum came to prominence in 1969 with the publication of his memoir, also titled ''Keep the River on Your Right'' (Grove Press). The book, which became a cult classic, described how a mild-mannered gay New York artist wound up living, and ardently loving, for several months among the Arakmbut, an indigenous cannibalistic people in the rainforest of Peru.
Publishers Weekly called the memoir ''authentic, deeply moving, sensuously written and incredibly haunting.'' Other critics dismissed it as romantic, solipsistic and undoubtedly exaggerated.
In either case, Mr. Schneebaum's work raises tantalizing questions about the role of the anthropologist, the responsibilities of the memoirist, and cultural attitudes toward sexuality and taboo. It also offers a look at the persistence of an 18th-century idea -- the Western fantasy of the noble savage -- well into the 20th century.
In 1955, Mr. Schneebaum, then a painter, won a Fulbright fellowship to study art in Peru. There, he vanished into the jungle and was presumed dead. Seven months later, he emerged, naked and covered in body paint. The experience had transformed him, he would later say, but in a way he could scarcely have imagined.
Theodore Schneebaum was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, most likely on March 25, 1922 (some sources say 1921), and reared in Brooklyn. Visiting Coney Island as a boy, he was captivated by the Wild Man of Borneo, a sideshow attraction famed for its brute exoticism.
Mr. Schneebaum, who disliked the name Theodore and eventually changed it to Tobias, attended the City College of New York. In 1977, he received a master's in cultural anthropology from Goddard College in Vermont.
As a young man, Mr. Schneebaum was part of New York's flourishing bohemian scene. He studied at the Brooklyn Museum School of Art with the renowned Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo and was gaining recognition for his abstract paintings, shown in New York galleries.
But as a gay man and a Jew in 1950's America, Mr. Schneebaum felt, he often wrote afterward, that there was nowhere he truly belonged. Craving community, he began to travel, and lived for several years in an artists' colony in Mexico.
In 1955, Mr. Schneebaum accepted the fellowship to Peru, hitchhiking there from New York. At a Roman Catholic mission on the edge of the rain forest, he heard about the Arakmbut. (The tribe, whose name is also spelled Harakumbut, was previously known as the Amarakaire. In his memoir, Mr. Schneebaum calls it by a pseudonym, the Akaramas.)
The Arakmbut, whose home was several days' journey into the jungle, hunted with bows, arrows and stone axes. No outsider, it was said, had ever returned from a trip there.
Mr. Schneebaum was not inclined to boldness. In New York, he had once called a neighbor to dispatch a mouse from his apartment. (The neighbor, Norman Mailer, bravely obliged.) But when he heard about the Arakmbut, he set out on foot, alone, without a compass.
''I knew that out there in the forest were other peoples more primitive, other jungles wilder, other worlds that existed that needed my eyes to look at them,'' he wrote in ''Keep the River on Your Right.'' ''My first thought was: I'm going; the second thought: I'll stay there.''
To his relief, the Arakmbut welcomed him congenially. To his delight, homosexuality was not stigmatized there: Arakmbut men routinely had lovers of both sexes. Mr. Schneebaum spent the next several months living with the tribe in a state of unalloyed happiness.
One day, he accompanied a group of Arakmbut men on what he thought was an ordinary hunting trip. The walked until they reached another village. As Mr. Schneebaum watched, his friends massacred all the men there. In the ensuing victory celebration, parts of the victims were roasted and eaten. Offered a bit of flesh, Mr. Schneebaum partook; later that evening, he wrote, he ate part of a heart. It was an experience, he later said, that would haunt him for years. He left the Arakmbut shortly afterward.
''Keep the River on Your Right'' caused a sensation when it was published. Anthropologists were aghast: ethnographers were not supposed to sleep with their subjects, much less eat them. Interviewers were titillated. (''How did it taste?'' a fellow guest asked Mr. Schneebaum on ''The Mike Douglas Show.'' ''A little bit like pork,'' he replied.)
Some critics doubted Mr. Schneebaum's story, though he maintained it till the end of his life. From the documentary film, it is clear that he did live among the Arakmbut. The filmmakers travel with Mr. Schneebaum to Peru and to New Guinea, where he lived for years with the Asmat, a tribe of headhunters and occasional cannibals.
In both places, tribal elders, some of them his former lovers, recognize Mr. Schneebaum and greet him warmly. Neither community is willing to talk about cannibalism. The filmmakers, the brother-and-sister team of David and Laurie Gwen Shapiro, leave the issue deliberately unresolved.
Mr. Schneebaum's other memoirs include ''Wild Man'' (Viking, 1979) and ''Where the Spirits Dwell'' (Grove, 1988). His most recent, ''Secret Places: My Life in New York and New Guinea'' (University of Wisconsin, 2000) moves between the communities he loved: Asmat, now ravaged by globalization, and his friends in Greenwich Village, ravaged by AIDS.
An authority on Asmat art and culture, Mr. Schneebaum was formerly assistant to the curator of the Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress in Agats, Irian Jaya, Indonesia. He was also the author of ''Embodied Spirits: Ritual Carvings of the Asmat.''

I met Tobias Schneebaum when I interviewed him for the Blade when his book Where the Spirit Dwells, about his experiences in Asmat. I'd been very, very influenced by him when I was in college. I read Keep the River on Your Right when I was still anthropology major. I never imagined myself doing field work; I only wished I imagined myself someone who could do that sort of thing. Oddly enough, I think Tobias was the same way until he had experiences that threw him into the arms of head-hunters and cannibals, where, on the whole, he seems to have been comfortable.

Tobias had a very romantic, Whitmanesque vision of gay sex as comradeship that, in practical terms, had much more the feel of a pile of puppies frolicking than of two grooms standing on top of a wedding cake. That vision was around more in the '70s and '80s than recently and Tobias communicated it well because he conveyed it without a lot of complaints about the resistance of Western societies to open eroticism; he made toleration of variation in all kinds of customs seem like obvious common sense. He always said he was terribly uncomfortable about participating in ritual cannibalism but he was very disinclined to characterize that discmfort as grounds for some kind of universal moral code.

When we met we had instant rapport, fed primarily by the exchange of stories on sexual practices around the world--I think I had just finished reviewing a round-up of histories of sex--and I was totally delighted to be tittering in at a cafe table with a guy I thought of as my hero. I wanted him to like me and I was thrilled that he did. Eventually I realized he was one of those people who affected almost everyone the same way; everyone he knew seems to have thought they had a special, intimate bond with him. I only saw him a couple more times in New York. He wrote me once from a cruise ship where he was lecturing on South Pacific flora and fauna. On this voyage, they'd warned him away from lecturing on Fijian sexual practices, which seems a shame, since he knew so many fascinating details about them. I still remember the look on his face as he discussed how Fijian women applied ants to their labia to make them more alluring; it was the look of a grandparent describing something absolutely adorable a grandchild had done.

The week I met Tobias he was on Charlie Rose, who seemed to be trying to get him to express misgivings about sleeping with Asmat men in New Guinea. Tobias' attitude was essentially, for heaven's sake, these people are adults. Uninformed commentators--Melanesian homosexuality is as well-known among anthropologists as ancient Greek homosexuality--focused on the profoundly misguided idea that somehow westerners were introducing western-style decadent practices into the area; but the more insidious idea was that in all encounters between people from industrialized nations and indigenous peoples, the latter are to be regarded as children.

We spent an evening together once at Mary Truitt's; Tobias was a close friend of Mary's mother, Anne Truitt. Mary told me that in her childhood, she was fascinated by the way Tobias would come back from his travels and still seem to carry traces of the wild in his behavior. She hadn't seen him in the years she went from child to adolescent--I think when he was in Borneo--and she said that when he saw her again, he slapped her across the face and said, "You grew up!"

I liked the sound of his voice. I'm glad to have the documentary Keep the River on Your Right because of the footage of him speaking, but I think I'll go back and look at the books now.

What is wrong with me? Why don't I know more about Max Ernst?

Photo by Frederick Sommer

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I recently bought a print of this strip. At this point, with three prints of Zippy strips, I may have spent more money buying work by Bill Griffith than any other living artist--which should pretty seriously embarrass me in front of my incredibly talented friends whose work I don't seem to get around to actually spending money on.
But how can you not fall on your knees at the altar of Zippy? Bill Griffith and Raymond Pettibon are the kind of artists I admire, am inspired by, and furiously envy. An artist whose work seems perfectly right for you, whose work seems to you to incarnate your own sensibility and resonates with all the ideas you insist that you've thought yourself but simply happen never to have expressed, both redeems the world of that depressing feeling you have to get sometimes that nothing smart or interesting or exciting is going on these days (in whatever field), and inspires in you the probably entirely false feeling that at least someone "gets it" the way you "get it"--when in all likelihood, you don't get it at all. Like the mingling of pity and fear in tragedy, the mingling of feelings of closeness and distance to the work of any artist who's actually mature, developed, articulate and occupies the territory you always thought was eccentric in yourself gives rise to rich and complex feelings that agitate as well as satisfy--in this case, something that mixes the response of "Sheer genius" with "Hey, I could do that."
I know I've always felt that everyone has a personal canon, not of artists they admire so much as artists that feel like their gang. In the most embarrassing possible way, you come to feel that some people you know only through reading or looking at their work are actually your friends--even worse, you imagine that were you to meet, they would like you. (I wonder if Walt Whitman would have wanted to, you know, hang out with me.) It's embarrassing, as I say, but gee, I'm not sure I've ever met an artist or writer who wasn't powerfully or even primarily motivated by this feeling. (And yes, I do know about The Anxiety of Influence.)
I've always said that it's interesting that the smartest people I know or read always seem to agree with me. The ones that disagree--well, I know they must have their points, but secretly I suspect them of just being kind of slow.