Friday, December 29, 2006

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

From Wim Wenders on Culture and the future of Europe

"What is Europe?"
"How is Europe?"
One has the impression that Europe is a wreck,
if you think back to the constitution disaster,
reflect on Europe's actual political influence
or on the lack of enthusiasm shown by its citizens
for "the European Cause" in recent times.
"The Europeans" have had it up to here with Europe...

On the other hand,
Europe is heaven on earth,
the promised land,
as soon as you look at it from the outside.
Over the last couple of months,
I have seen Europe from Chicago and New York,
from Tokyo and Rio,
from Australia,
from the heart of Africa, the Congo,
and, just last week, from Moscow.
I am telling you:
In each case, Europe appeared in a different light,
but always as paradise,as a dream of mankind,
as a stronghold of peace, prosperity and civilization.

Now you see it,
now you don't.

Those who have lived for a long time in Europe
seem weary of it.Those who are not there, who live somewhere else,
want to get here at any price and join us.

What is it then
that some HAVE,
yet no longer want,
and for which others YEARN so much?

I can just as well ask myself:
Why is it that I find Europe so "holy",
as soon as I see it from a distance,
and why does it appear so profane, humdrum, almost boring,
as soon as I am back?

When I was young,
I dreamed of a Europe without borders.
Now, I travel back and forth
without ever having to show my passport,
and I even get to use the same currency all over,
(even if it is pronounced differently everywhere),
but where has that big emotion gone?

Here in Berlin, I am German,
in the meantime with all my heart.
Yet, hardly do you set foot in America,
than you no longer say you are from Germany, France, Italy or wherever.
You come "from Europe," or you're about to return there.
For Americans, this epitomizes culture,history, style, "savoir vivre."
It's the only thing they feel strangely inferior about.
Even rather permanently.

And even when viewed from Asia, let alone other parts of the world,
Europe appears to be a bastion of human history,

dignity, and, yes, this word again: culture.

Europe has a soul, indeed.
No need to invent or create one for our continent.
It's there in plain sight.
It is not to be found in its politics or in its economy.
It is first and foremost embedded in its culture.

I am kicking open doors.
Two years ago, the President of the European Commission
stood here in Berlin and stated the matter quite clearly.
I quote from the end of his speech:

"Europe is not only about markets, it is also about values and culture.
And allow me a personal remark:
in the hierarchy of values, the cultural ones range above the economic ones.
If the economy is a necessity for our lives,
culture is really what makes our life worth living."

I could quote other sections of his memorable speech,
in fact I'd like to read it in its entirety,
so much he took the words out of my mouth.

But, I'm afraid,
reality looks quite different:
to the outside world, and especially to its citizens,
Europe continues to present itself first of all as an economic power,
insisting on using political and financial arguments
over cultural ones at any give time.

Europe is not taking advantage of its emotional potential!

Who loves his (or her) country on account of its politics or its economy?
No one!

Just next door, 100 metres from here,
you'll find one of the "showrooms" of the European Community.

There's one like that in every other European capital.
And what's on display there?
Lots of maps, brochures, mostly economic information, all sorts of statistics and stuff on the history of the European Union.
What a drag!
Who can possibly feel represented there? Who are these places trying to reach,

or boring to death?

We live in the age of the image.Today, no other realm of culture displays so much power
than that of the image.
Words, music, literature,
books, newspapers, rock'n roll, theatre...
nothing comes even close
to the authority of moving images, in cinema and television.

Why is it that today, not only in Europe,
but all over the world,
"going to the pictures"

is synonymous with
"seeing an American film"?!

Because the Americans realized long ago
what moves people most
and what gets them dreaming.
And they radically implemented that knowledge.
The whole "American Dream"
is really an invention of cinema,
and it is now being dreamed by the whole world.

I don't want to discredit this,
but merely ask the question,
"Who is dreaming the European Dream?"
Or better: How are we encouraged to dream it?

A concrete, current example just occurred to me:
In the next 2 months or so,
some 20, 30, or even 50 million Europeans
will watch one and the same film.
It started the other day: every channel up and down,
every programme and news show,

-and I've been surfing TV stations throughout Europe -
reported at large on a film premiere in London.
As you have probably guessed already, all the racket was about James Bond,
that knightly British gentleman,
who has been saving the world from disaster for the last forty years.
Do you recall that magnificent Scotsman, Sir
Sean Connery,
who used to embody this European hero?
Or that most elegant, cultivated Irishman,
Pierce Brosnan?

Now, over Christmas and through New Year's Eve probably,
millions of Europeans will all be watching, at the same time, somebody who looks more like a thug, and whose resemblance to Russian President Vladimir Putin
can scarcely be denied.
new Bond is supposedly quite ruthless
and not too particular when it comes to applying violence.
What is the message here?
What is this American production trying to tell us?

All right, I might be exaggerating,
but the heart of the matter remains pretty much true:
our own myths don't belong to us anymore.
Nothing forms our contemporary imagination so intensely,
so specifically
and permanently
as cinema.
But we are no longer in control.
It doesn't belong to us anymore.
Our very own and precious invention has slipped away from us.

European cinema-
and it exists, in spite of everything! -
is produced in almost 50 European countries,
yet in European theatres our own European stories
no longer play a significant role.

Those images of European cinema,
could help a whole new generation of Europeans to recognize themselves,
they could define what Europe is all about
in emotional, powerful and lasting terms.
These films could convey European thinking to the world.
We could communicate our most valuable asset,
our CULTURE, in a contagious way, could spread the word of the "Open Society,"
which was so urgently invoked here by George Soros, only yesterday,
our civilization of dialogue, peace, and humanity…
But we have let this weapon slip out of our hands.

I intentionally say WEAPON,
because images are the most powerful arms of this 21st century.

There will be no "European consciousness",
no emotions and no attachment felt towards our home continent,
in brief: no future European identity,
if we are unable to project, and to absorb,
our own myths,our own history,
and our own ideas and emotions!

Spain, for example, has no stronger and more influential ambassador
to the world than
Pedro Almodovar.
For Britain that would be
Ken Loach, Andrzej Wajda or Polanski for Poland.
Although he died some 13 years ago,
Federico Fellini continues to define the Italian soul…
And that is exactly what European cinema does - it shapes and forms our consciousness of ourselvesand of each other!
It creates a European belief,
a European will,
that very European "soul" that we're talking about here.

However, have a look around
at the place we actually give to our TREASURE,
what a poor role it actually plays in the cultural life of Europe.
Yes, look at how European politics
ontinue to dismally neglect
not only cinema, but culture in general.
Yet, this is the CEMENT,
the glue that bonds European EMOTIONS!

All these countries yearning for Europe,
including all the new and future member countries from Eastern Europe,

could on one hand have the opportunity to introduce themselves,
tell us about themselves,
win us over,
and on the other hand be welcomed and embraced

by the European CAUSE
and the European SOUL…… if only
we would provide more support for our mutual ambassadors,
if only Europe could be brought to believe in the power of images.

Mind you, a grave error is being made here.
Europe prefers to use political and economical arguments,
over emotional ones!
Next door, in the showroom,
the most boring maps are hanging on the walls,
while in our most important embassies,
in cinemas and on TV,
the superpower of imagery, America, is pulling people under its spell,
including our European citizens, of course.

These young people
now suffering from a "European withdrawal"
will one day turn against European policy makers with the harsh and bitter reproach:
Why did you allow
a whole generation to get bored of Europe?!
Why did you just babble on about politics,
instead of SHOWING us how much our magnificent home continent
could have meant to us!

Europe HAS a cultural history,
it HAS its own culture of life, of conflict, of dialogue,
yes, it HAS an amazing political culture.
George Soros calls it "The Open Society."
And because, as he explained, America had failed in recent times
to exemplify and demonstrate its moral and political values,
Europe represents an even more important MODEL for the world.

This model is invalid and weak
if it has no confidence in the power of its own imagery!
No one, esteemed Mr. Soros,
will be swept away, enthused and inspired by the OPEN SOCIETY,
as long as it remains an ABSTRACT IDEA.
Such a vision has to be attached to feelings,

to places, to memories.

These "European emotions" are right in front of our eyes,
you can almost grasp them,
the citizens of Europe are certainly yearning for them…
but politics is widely ignoring them.

The field of imagesis largely being left to others.

I hope that Europe is not too late in recognizing
which crucial battlefield is about to be abandoned

with little resistance.

This speech was delivered on November 18, 2006 during the conference "A Soul For Europe" in Berlin.Wim Wenders is one of Germany's foremost filmmakers. Having lived for many years in the USA, he has recently declared his intention to return to Germany and make films on the German reality today.Translation: John Bergeron

For a graphologist, the spacing on the page reflects the writer's attitude toward their own world and relationship to things in his or her own space. If the inputted data was correct Bernard has left lots of white space on the left side of the paper. Bernard fills up the rest of the page in a normal fashion. If this is true, then Bernard has a healthy relationship to the past and is ready to move on. The right side of the page represents the future and Bernard is ready and willing to get started living now and planning for the future. Bernard would like to leave the past behind and move on.

Bernard has a healthy imagination and displays a fair amount of trust. He lets new people into his circle of friends. He uses his imagination to understand new ideas, things, and people.

Bernard is sarcastic. This is a defense mechanism designed to protect his ego when he feels hurt. He pokes people harder than he gets poked. These sarcastic remarks can be very funny. They can also be harsh, bitter, and caustic at the same time.Bernard is a practical person whose goals are planned, practical, and down to earth. This is typical of people with normal healthy self-esteem. He needs to visualize the end of a project before he starts. he finds joy in anticipation and planning. Notice that I said he plans everything he is going to do, that doesn't necessarily mean things go as planned.

Bernard basically feels good about himself. He has a positive self-esteem which contributes to his success. He feels he has the ability to achieve anything he sets his mind to. However, he sets his goals using practicality-- not too "out of reach". He has enough self-confidence to leave a bad situation, yet, he will not take great risks, as they relate to his goals. A good esteem is one key to a happy life. Although there is room for improvement in theIn reference to Bernard's mental abilities, he has a very investigating and creating mind. He investigates projects rapidly because he is curious about many things. He gets involved in many projects that seem good at the beginning, but he soon must slow down and look at all the angles. He probably gets too many things going at once. When Bernard slows down, then he becomes more creative than before. Since it takes time to be creative, he must slow down to do it. He then decides what projects he has time to finish. Thus he finishes at a slower pace than when he started the project. He has the best of two kinds of minds. One is the quick investigating mind. The other is the creative mind. His mind thinks quick and rapidly in the investigative mode. He can learn quicker, investigate more, and think faster. Bernard can then switch into his low gear. When he is in the slower mode, he can be creative, remember longer and stack facts in a logical manner. He is more logical this way and can climb mental mountains with a much better grip.

Diplomacy is one of Bernard's best attributes. He has the ability to say what others want to hear. He can have tact with others. He has the ability to state things in such a way as to not offend someone else. Bernard can disagree without being disagreeable.Bernard is sensitive to criticism about his ideas and philosophies. He will sometimes worry what people will think if he tells them what he believes in. This doesn't mean he won't talk, or that he feels ashamed. It merely means he is sensitive to what others think, regarding his beliefs.

Bernard is moderately outgoing. His emotions are stirred by sympathy and heart rendering stories. In fact, he can be kind, friendly, affectionate and considerate of others. He has the ability to put himself into the other person's shoes.

Bernard will be somewhat moody, with highs and lows. Sometimes he will be happy, the next day he might be sad. He has the unique ability to get along equally well with what psychology calls introverts and extroverts. This is because he is in between. Psychology calls Bernard an ambivert. He understands the needs of both types. Although they get along, he will not tolerate anyone that is too "far out." He doesn't sway too far one way or the other. When convincing him to buy a product or an idea, a heart rendering story could mean a great deal to him. He puts himself in the same situation as the person in the story, yet he will not buy anything that seems overly impractical or illogical.

Bernard is an expressive person. He outwardly shows his emotions. He may even show traces of tears when hearing a sad story. Bernard is a "middle-of-the-roader," politically as well as logically. He weighs both sides of an issue, sits on the fence, and then will decide when he finally has to. He basically doesn't relate to any far out ideas and usually won't go to the extreme on any issue.

People that write their letters in an average height and average size are moderate in their ability to interact socially. According to the data input, Bernard doesn't write too large or too small, indicating a balanced ability to be social and interact with others.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

For the Severely Porno-Deprived

I'm finishing grading and a couple other things but in the next couple of days I'm getting on to the winter writing projects (as well as spring courses). Meanwhile, Christmas comes early: Dennis Cooper put up pages and pages of favorite porno fiction sent by his blog buddies, posted at a special page: "The Filthy." Not to everyone's taste. (Dude, if I have to read about one more teen-age boy ejaculating as he's strangled, I'm going back to Penthouse Forum.) Dennis' effort inspired me to get in touch with one of my favorite porn writers, R. J. March, and now we have a nice little literary correspondence going. So that's cool.

And here's a link to the very fine-looking exhibition on Walt Disney at the Grand Palais in Paris, coming down January 15, I think. Looks like it's traveling to Montreal. (Yes, I am still on the topic of the porno-deprived.)

"Title? What Title?"

Monday, December 18, 2006

The History Boys

The History Boys packs a lot into a small movie because of the density of Alan Bennett's wit, which isn't just verbal irony, though verbal itony is all over the place in the film. His real interest shows up in an exchange like this:

Dakin: Do you think Poland was taken by surprise, sir?
Irwin: Possibly. But I'm pretty sure they knew something was up.

Or words to that effect. This turns out to be maybe the funniest moment in a very funny movie. And you can't explain why without totally spoiling the joke. But more than any preaching any character does--and the screenplay mercifully cuts down on the preaching in the play--the exchange addresses the movie's interest in the embodiment of ideas in persons, and people's retreat from life into ideas, and sex and power, and very refreshingly wins over the viewer to a sensibly adult view of the possibilities of sex outside of conventional better judgments. It is three-dimensional in its dramatuc structure and dialogue, even if it's a little two-dimensional in its portrayal of the external world.

It's a pretty sentimental story, Goodbye Mr. Chips played out in a world in which the possibility of a friendly blow job is overtly acknowledged (as it must have been sometimes in the real world a real Mr. Chips would have lived in). One kind of strange, sentimental lapse is the apparent failure to distinguish between Irwin and Hector, as if to overlook their differences in order to underline their similarities, which don't need any emphasis. The film seems to play it from a schoolboy point of view, as if what mattered was that one is kind of cool and thus holds more power than the other, who's sympathetic but with the emphasis on the "pathetic." But this is just a version of a very old-fashioned view of love as suffering and self-denial. Once in a while, while you're watching History Boys, you actually long to encounter an adult character who is as blithe about having a wank as a real human being might be.

And it's awfully good ensemble acting. It'd be a bit odd if these boys don't turn out to be the next generation of Jude Laws and Clive Owens.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Almost done grading, working on a conference proposal, looking forward to working on the poem for Colby's show and some other writing during the break. When I spend a lot of timne alone, I always start thinking about this poem by Coleridge:


This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison
[Addressed to Charles Lamb of the India House, London]

Well, they are gone, and here must I remain,
This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost
Such beauties and such feelings, as had been
Most sweet to have remembrance, even when age
Had dimm'd mine eyes to blindness! They, meanwhile,
Friends, whom I never more may meet again,
On springy heath, along the hilltop edge,
Wander in gladness, and wind down, perchance,
To that still roaring dell, of which I told;
The roaring dell, o'erwooded, narrow, deep,
And only speckled by the mid-day sun;
Where its slim trunk the ash from rock to rock
Flings arching like a bridge; —that branchless ash,
Unsunn'd and damp, whose few poor yellow leaves
Ne'er tremble in the gale, yet tremble still,
Fann'd by the water-fall! and there my friends
Behold the dark green file of long lank weeds,
That all at once (a most fantastic sight!)
Still nod and drip beneath the dripping edge
Of the blue clay-stone.

Now my friends emerge
Beneath the wide wide Heaven—and view again
The many-steepled tract magnificent
Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea,
With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up
The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles
Of purple shadow! Yes! they wander on
In gladness all; but thou, methinks, most glad,
My gentle-hearted Charles! For thou hast pined
And hunger'd after Nature, many a year,
In the great City pent, winning thy way
With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain
And strange calamity! Ah! slowly sink
Behind the western ridge, thou glorious Sun!
Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb,
Ye purple heath-flowers! richlier burn, ye clouds!
Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves!
And kindle, thou blue Ocean! So my friend,
Struck with deep joy, may stand, as I have stood,
Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round
On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem
Less gross than bodily; and of such hues
As veil the Almighty Spirit, when he makes
Spirits perceive his presence.

A delight
Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad
As I myself were there! Nor in this bower,
This little lime-tree bower, have I not mark'd
Much that has sooth'd me. Pale beneath the blaze
Hung the transparent foliage; and I watch'd
Some broad and sunny leaf, and loved to see
The shadow of the leaf and stem above
Dappling its sunshine! And that walnut-tree
Was richly ting'd, and a deep radiance lay
Full on the ancient ivy, which usurps
Those fronting elms, and now with blackest mass
Makes their dark branches gleam a lighter hue
Through the late twilight: and though now the bat
Wheels silent by, and not a swallow twitters,
Yet still the solitary humble-bee
Sings in the bean-flower! Henceforth I shall know
That nature ne'er deserts the wise and pure;
No plot so narrow, be but Nature there
No waste so vacant, but may well employ
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart
Awake to Love and Beauty! and sometimes
'Tis well to be bereft of promised good,
That we may lift the soul, and contemplate
With lively joy the joys we cannot share.
My gentle-hearted Charles! when the last rook
Beat its straight path along the dusky air
Homewards, I blessed it! deeming its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)
Had cross'd the mighty Orb's dilated glory
While thou stood'st gazing; or, when all was still,
Flew creaking o'er thy head, and had a charm
For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.

(This poem is in the background of Songs, the last poem I did as a collaboration with Colby.)

Had a great note from R. J. March. I'd written to him to tell him I sent Dennis Cooper some praise of him to post on Dennis' blog on Porn Writing Day. He turns out to be a big DC fan, and thrilled to be brought to the Great One's notice. So it's always a good idea to let someone know you like their work; it's not like it's ever bad news.

Long phone call with Kelly and Phil on the dream education book. I'm working on a guide to proposing a course and on some ideas for teaching the "sociology" of the history of depth psychology, organizing study of anthropological perspectives on dreaming, the value of in-class dream workshops, and a few other topics.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I Get It

It's kind of amazing that it took me this long to get it. Just because I happened to go to a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" last night, I finally realized that "Shortbus" is sort of a version of the "Dream." The "Dream" has built into the plot the elements of dream, magic, and fantasy that prevent most viewers from retreating into the default stance of literalism, but somehow a lot of viewers haven't gotten that about "Shortbus" and come away imagining that it advocates occasionally switching sexual partners as a solution to depression, insecurity, anomie, and the meaninglessness of life--not that that's such a bad idea, really. Well, yes, it does, to the same extent that the "dream" counsels running away from your parents into the woods and getting involved with a lot of fairies.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Why Are Conspiracy Theories So Stupid?

Maybe I'll just go into the business of posting links to stuff I read online, which I thought I'd avoid. But this is an extremely interesting article:

Friday, September 15, 2006

This message went out to my film course today

At the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring (2 blocks from Metro):
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodovar) - a film from Spain, but extremely influential in recent American independent cinema, and worth seeing for the cotrast between European and American cinema. Other Almodovar films coming to AFI soon in a retrospective: All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Live Flesh, Bad Education, and Law of Desire, which remains unavailable on DVD in the US and is one of the most important of all gay films. See at least Almodovar film if you can; they're unlike anything else.

At Landmark E St:
This Film Is Not Yet Rated - Kirby Dick's documentary on the MPAA rating system, very directly relevant to this course.

At Shirlington: Quinceanera (Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland) - "Wash West," as he used to be known, started out as a gay porn director, and is probably the only example of a director successfully transitioning from porn to mainstream film (by way of "The Fluffer," a fairly good independent film set in the porn industry). Quinceanera, a film about Latino/Anglo/straight/gay tensions in an LA neighborhood, got raves at Sundance. It's also playing at the the Dupont, but nobody should ever have to try to watch a film there.

Hollywoodland and The Black Dahlia, both playing at area theaters to lukewarm reviews, are good examples of contemporary directors imitating the style of film noir to tell a story of the dark side of the American dream in southern California. A consistent theme that's of some interest in the depiction of sexuality in American cinema is the way Hollywood keeps returning to depictions of the corruption of Hollywood. In other words, the Republican election strategy of emphasizing that Hollywood is estranged from the American mainstream may itself be an ideological theme manufactured in Hollywood.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Sunday, September 03, 2006

On Submitting to Trends in Popular Culture and Liking It

"I have HAD IT with these motherfuckin' SNAKES on this MOTHERFUCKIN' PLANE!"

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Annals of Literature

The New York Times today reports that A. N. Wilson, in his biography of the poet John Betjeman, published what he called a love letter by Betjeman which has been revealed to be a hoax. Wilson accepted the authority of the letter, which was sent to him under obviously suspicious circumstances, without apparently checking up on it. It turns out that the first letters of each sentence read, "A N WILSON IS A SHIT."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Interestingly enough

Tim Page, in tomorrow's Washington Post, chooses Alvin Lucier's "I Am Sitting in a Room" as one of his 25 representative pieces of 20th-century music. I've always found more in it than just about any other piece of classical musical experimentalism, and it's been the topic of conversations with Colby about noise and degeneration in processes of representation.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Creator of "Frank & Ernest" comic strip dead at 81
Associated Press
MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. - Bob Thaves, whose nationally syndicated comic strip "Frank & Ernest" amused newspaper readers for decades with its quirky observations on life, has died of respiratory failure. He was 81.

Thaves died Tuesday at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance, said his daughter, Sara Thaves.

His long-running strip stars the happy-go-lucky punsters Frank and Ernest, who travel the universe and through time - and sometimes change shape - as they comment on everything from science to world politics.

The strip, which was syndicated in 1972, is distributed to 1,300 newspapers worldwide by Newspaper Enterprise Association and is read by more than 25 million people a day.

Thaves' son, Tom, has collaborated with his father on "Frank & Ernest" since 1997 and will continue to produce it, according to a statement from United Media, whose Newspaper Enterprise Association syndicates the strip.

Sara Thaves said her father's curiosity about the world made his comic strip unique.

"He was an avid reader. There are books and periodicals and newspapers stacked up all over the house," she said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "That allowed him to be interested and engaged with the world in a way that was pretty unique and it consequently made him a really interesting person to be around."

Thaves, who held both bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology from the University of Minnesota, began cartooning as a child and was published in a college humor magazine at the University of Minnesota.

He went on to cartoon for various magazines and created "Frank & Ernest" while working as an industrial psychology consultant in Los Angeles. The strip wasn't syndicated until Thaves was 48, and he didn't quit his consulting job for several years.

"He knew the chances of being syndicated - you might as well try to be a professional athlete," his daughter said. "And then to be as successful as he was, it's even more lucky. ... He did not take that for granted."

"Frank & Ernest" went on to become one of the most popular comic strips in the world, as well as one of the most innovative. According to United Media, it was the first newspaper cartoon to run in a strip format; the first to use block lettering; the first to use comic book-style digital coloring for the Sunday pages; and one of the first to have its own Web site, in 1997.

The Web site features interactive cartoons as a way to draw Internet readers without losing newspaper fans, Sara Thaves said.

Thaves was a three-time winner of the National Cartoonists Society's prestigious Reuben Award for best syndicated panel and won the Free Press Association's Mencken Award for best cartoon. He was named one of the University of Minnesota's 50 most distinguished alumni and was recognized this year as Champion of Creativity by the American Creativity Association.

In addition to his daughter and son, Thaves is survived by his wife of 52 years, Katie, and a son-in-law, Michael van Eckhardt.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Invisible Machine

I'm studying up on Utopias to teach a couple of courses aligned with the Modernism exhbitiion planned for the Corcoran in Spring 2007. Every time I take on a topic, it seems to me the one thing that explains everything in the world that we're not getting (even though it's always some point that's painfully obvious--my whole life theme seems to be that what's most important is what we're overlooking). But this passage from Lewis Mumford's essay, "Utopia, the City and the Machine" is particularly clarifying:

The many genuine improvements that science and technics have introduced into every aspect of existence have been so notable that it is perhaps natural that its grateful bneficiaries should have overlooked the ominous social context in which these changes have taken place, as well as the heavy price we have already paid for them, and the still more forbidding price that is in prospect. Until the last generation it was possible to think of the various components of techonology as additive. This meant that each new mechanical invention, each new scientific discovery, each new application to engineering, agriculture, or medicine, could be judged separately on its own performance, estimated eventually in terms of the human good accomplished, and diminished or eliminated if it did not in fact promote human welfare.
This belief has now proved an illusion. Though each new invention or discovery may respond to some genuine human need, or even awaken a fresh human potentiality, it immediately becomes part of an articulated totalitarian system that, on its own premises, has turned the machine into a god whose power must be increased, whose prosperity is essential to all existence, and whose operations, however irrational or compulsive, cannot be challenged, still less modified.
The only group that has understood the dehumanizing effects of the Invisible Machine are the avant-garde artists, who have caricatured it by going to the opposite extreme of disorganization. Their calculated destructions and "happenings" symbolize total decontrol: the rejection of order, continuity, design, significance, and a total inversion of human values which turns criminals into saints and scrambled minds into sages. In such anti-art, the dissolution of our entire civilization into randomness and entropy is prophetically symboliozed. In their humorless deaf-and-dumb language, the avant-garde arrtists reach the same goal as scientists and technicians, but by a different route--both seek or at least welcome the displacement of and the eventual elimination of man. In short, both the further affirmation of the mechanical utopia and its total rejection would beget dystopia. Wherever human salvation may lie, neither utopia nor dystopia, as now conceived, promises it.

Monday, August 07, 2006


I'm traveling and can't post frrom my home computer so this will be primitive, but look at Dennis Cooper's blog for today and you'll see a pretty extensive exhibition of keepsakes from regulars: photos with reminscences. Mine are about the most long-winded, natch, yet poignant, fraught with suspense, revelatory. Dennis' blog is a pretty great endeavor--one of the few I know that reaches in all directions to bring in people obsessed with very different obsessions, connecting them along unexpected lines of affinity, which is very much in character for him. Dennis is a great anthologizer and it makes sense that he's showing the possibilities of the blog as a contemporary literary form.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Destruction of the Sodomites

"'The day of the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ was prefigured according to Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome by the fire of of Sodom, since all the sodomites in the world were annihilated on that night. The same Saint Jerome comments on Isaiah (VIII-X): "The light was so potent that it destroyed all those who engaged in that vice. It was the work of Christ. It carried out the extirpation of this filth from the face of the earth."' There is a mystery here. Modern research has found no source for the legend in the works of Jerome or Augustine, despite the specificity of the references, and has failed to trace it back beyond the early thirteenth century. But this fantastic and ugly fable, which turned the prince of peace and good will into a mass murderer, gained a powerful hold on the Iberian imagination. It was repeated in a theological thesis by a Cuban archbishop as late as 1860."
-Homosexuality and Civilization, by Louis Crompton, quoting from a 15th-century guide for inquisitors in Spain.

Fables and myth have the interesting advantage of embodying contradictions in symbolic form which, if they were stated rationally, in a form susceptible to logic, would be exposed as specious instead of appreciated as powerful images expressing ambivalences and conflicts. In the rhetoric of religion and politics, homosexuality is on the one hand completely unnatural and on the other so seductive that even the most confirmed heterosexuals have to be protected from it. The association of homosexuality with apocalyptic destruction is especially fascinating. Nobody knows exactly what fate it is that has to defended against by outlawing gay marriage, adoption by gay couples, a visible gay presence in the military--it seems incredibly bizarre that this hysterical movement has just given up entirely on preventing sodomy itself, which is all that really matters, just as they gave up earlier on preventing masturbation and birth control. The arguments are so confused I've never felt I could accept any analysis of them I've ever come across; I feel convinced that public defenses against homosexuality have to be rooted pretty deep in the unconscious, but theorists of "homophobia" usually seem to me to be conjuring up their own nightmare visions of the enemy--that is, homophobia and homophobiaphobia seem to come to the same thing (as do pedophilia and pedophiliaphobia). The most obvious relation between the dreaded sin of homosexuality (as in previous eras of witchcraft and various heresies) and the End of the World is simply that apocalyptic destruction stands in, in the unconscious mind, for "I don't know what": "If men get to fuck other men, then I don't know what." The thing is, that "I don't know what" has to be taken very literally: Why does one sin or another place the believer in the position, not just of expressing hatred or contempt, but of so entirely giving up any attempt at reasoning that they have to fall into the default position of "I don't know what," therefore: the future is blank or ceases to exist.

But this idea of the spontaneous destruction of all sodomites in a single night prefiguring the birth of Christ is something you can sink your teeth into. It of course invites a lot of the same kind of questions as any theological myth: If sin is that easy to eradicate, why not do it more often? If sodomites were eradicated in one night, why did they come back? And if they could, why bother eradicating them in the first place? But even more, I appreciate the idea of some kind of balance between the destruction of the sodomites and the birth of Christ; it makes one think about what Christ and the sodomites might have in common in the minds of believers. (Crompton also notes that in Italy as well as Spain, an interesting feature of the public martyrdom of sodomites is how much widespread sympathy it elicited, to the point where officials felt they had to intervene to soften the harshness of punishments.) It therefore suggests to me that the most dangerous aspect of a totalizing and comprehensive opposition to any sort of unreasoning prejudice, even at its most homicidal, is the failure to recognize the ambivalence at its root, and therefore the potential for altering apparently implacable conflicts. Why, after all, has religiously based anti-semitism all but disappeared in the Christian sects of the United States while it's become an even more dominant theme in Islam? It does no good to say it's "about" the Arab-Israeli conflict, in part because that just places the question at one remove instead of answering it. (I'm not denying the material sources of all important political conflicts; I'm just saying they don't explain away the accompanying ideologies and mass psychology of ideology.) It would be a mistake to put aside the question of how the most rabid anti-gay rhetoric satisfies homosexual impulses--especially in religious contexts.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

News Flash

President Bush today vetoed the Senate's stem-cell research bill, flanked by hundreds of soiled Kleenex tissues, stiffened hand towels, and discarded tampons. "Each cries out eloquently to Americans never to forget the innocents who are wholly in their power. Let the enemies of the culture of life be warned."

Friday, July 14, 2006


This morning when I sat down to look at the paper, I was holding in my hand a small red button with "UTOPIA" on it in white letters--from the V&A show on Modernism that's coming to the Corcoran. And the first thing I saw on the front page was a small headline reading: Red Buttons is Dead.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Here's the story on Chris Moukarbel's film, based on an excerpt from the Oliver Stone 9/11 script, which has resulted in his being sued. It was his thesis project at Yale this year.

An Artist Releases a New Film After Paramount Blocks His First

Published: July 8, 2006
He's back. Chris Moukarbel, a New York artist who was sued by Paramount Pictures over a 12-minute video based on a bootleg
Oliver Stone film script about 9/11, has another video in a New York gallery exhibition that seeks to marry politics and art. This one was created from film shot in the process of making the video that led to the lawsuit.
Paramount filed suit in United States District Court in Washington last month saying that Mr. Moukarbel's original video, "World Trade Center 2006," infringed on the copyright of the screenplay for Mr. Stone's $60 million film "World Trade Center," scheduled for release in August.
"I'm interested in memorial and the way Hollywood represents historical events," Mr. Moukarbel said in an interview yesterday, the day after his new video was shown as part of the group exhibition "Data Mining" at Wallspace, a Manhattan gallery. "Through their access and budget they're able to affect a lot of people's ideas about an event and also affect policy. I was deliberately using their script and pre-empting their release to make a statement about power."
"My film was offered free on the Internet," he said of "World Trade Center 2006." "It cost $1,000 to produce. We're at a place now where technology allows the democratization of storytelling."
After a temporary restraining order was placed on the distribution and showing of his video (part of a thesis project for his Master of Fine Arts at
Yale), Mr. Moukarbel went ahead and produced another for Wallspace. For his new 13-minute video, he used film of the two actors in the first video while they were waiting for direction and getting into character. It has no dialogue except for the banter between the actors and off-camera direction from Mr. Moukarbel.
Mr. Moukarbel, 28, who graduated from Yale in May, said his new video was intended to capture the art of performance and to serve as commentary on his plight. "I had to put together a project to reflect on the old project but also stand in its own right," he said.
Chris Klatell, a lawyer for Mr. Moukarbel, said yesterday: "We've reached a settlement in principle with Paramount that we hope to finalize. Chris is in full compliance with the temporary restraining order. The new video doesn't have any dialogue or any elements of the 'World Trade Center' screenplay."
Spokesmen for Paramount could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Wallspace has addressed the controversy by mounting on a wall the text of a press statement by Mr. Moukarbel explaining his ideas about his work, the genesis of his project and his legal adventure.
Janine Foeller, the co-owner and co-director of Wallspace, said the curator Joe Scanlan had intended to put Mr. Moukarbel's first 9/11 video in the show. "We're happy and willing to show Chris's work," Ms. Foeller said. "It's taken on another life of sorts."
Mr. Moukarbel admits that, for the first video, he used a bootleg script. Mr. Stone's film focuses on the ordeal of two
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officers, Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin, who survived the World Trade Center collapse.
In March, Mr. Moukarbel created a Web site,, for the video. Other sites, including, began to take notice. The question in cyberspace was whether his first video was valid commentary or a rip-off of Mr. Stone and the movie studio. Many e-mail postings sided with Mr. Moukarbel.
"I would have been bummed if they hadn't noticed," Mr. Moukarbel said of the executives at Paramount. "But I didn't expect to be sued."

Monday, June 12, 2006

The reason A Prairie Home Companion works so well for its subject, the reason it's an unusual movie, the reason it's a typical Altman movie, and the reason critics have been more or less condescendingly calling it endearing rather than just recognizing that it's a really good movie, all come down to the stranglehold the standard three-act structure has on American movies. While most movies derive from Ibsen, Altman's derive from Chekhov; not only are their plots and characters diffuse, but they have that same seriocomic spirit and unfamiliar acceptance of everything that make Chekhov popular with actors and a little scary for most audiences. No matter how big the project, Altman's movies are always modest in aim; he's never wanted to make a great movie featuring great performances that will knock everyone's socks off, and that makes him very hard for film reviewers to really get. They treat him like an eccentric uncle because they don't get that the rejection of greatness is a pretty great thing.
John C. Reilly has such a beautiful voice you have to wish somebody'd write him a musical.

The Faculty Room, at Wolly Mammoth, is not great and does not work. There's sort of an amusing bit in it in which a sock-puppet Holden Caulfield has a dialogue with an English teacher and, eventually, a sock-puppet J. D. Salinger. The thing is, it only reminds one that Holden is right: most people are phonies, and that sucks, and people really ought to try to make some kind of commitment to being truer to who they really are. The Faculty Room seems phony because everything in it seems contrived to have its effect, including the invocation of the popularity of the Left Behind books. It's evident that the play is trying to use the Rapture in the way Angels in America used angels, but it comes off as just a device to make something happen. The central line of the drama futzes around on the topic of teachers sleeping with students, but it just makes the appeal to conventional morality seem squalid and unimaginative.

This week I've got to finish a conference presentation on The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T to give in Massachusetts next week and I'm way behind. I'd like this to be the core of an article or even book I've had in mind for at least five years. I'll also be working on stuff for the dreams and education book. After the conference Art and I will be in Provincetown for a week, so it'll be July 4 before I'm back and trying to get back on a writing schedule. When I get a chance I'm going to write some on what I learned by doing the Sex and Cinema course this summer; I want to throw together a couple of book proposals and see if I can get a project going (on dreams); and I've got fall preparation to do. But i'm hoping to get back to some other writing in July and August.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Latest on Sex in Cinema

So once again, I'm figuring out how to fit this into 12 sessions, but I'm trying to articulate some principles--not only movies I think are cool, but following a theme. I'd been thinking the idea here is Conformity and Repression, Rebellion and Subversion. Sometimes the best theses are sort of obvious, and it seems to me it makes sense to emphasize how American representations of sex, in popular culture and in politics, are founded in essentially puritan notioons of orginial sin. New populations, new media, new artforms, new belief systems arise, but that is the currency they deal in, so they adapt only in terms that fail to escape the prevailing ways of framing the cultural questions around sex.
Now, I like this approach because it gets at what's American about American movies' ideas about sex; because it allows us to focus on sexual behavior and how it's represented, instead of taking sexuality as a mere instance of gender identity and relations; because it allows me to ground the course in a few basic instances I particularly like, especially Bill Condon's film Kinsey (along with the cultural politics of serious biological, sociological or historical study of sex) and Michael Warner's book The Trouble with Normal; because it puts the hetero/homo division, along with fetishisms and paraphilia and the whole question of what Americans do and don't consider sex, consider racy, and really enjoy and fear in representations of sex, in a more interesting light than either politics or Freudian views; because it sets me up personally to come back later and discuss the garden-of-Eden fantasy in relation to Melanie Klein's ideas about sex and aggression; because it seems to me to place issues of genre and sexuality in an interesting light (as with film noir, horror, and farce especially); because it gives me some kind of ground for distinguishing between the commercial cinema, porno and the adult film industry, and avant-garde and experimental film, on a kind of ideological as well as purely descriptive basis; and because I think it provides the ground for interesting choices in readings.

So that is kind of where I am today, and it leaves me choosing from among the following films, I think
Introduction to the course:
with Sex Ed Videos from the 1950s, with excerpts from The Subject is Sex, Heavy Petting, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex
If I decide to cover the early establishment of sexual themes in melodrama in silent film it might be with
Broken Blossoms, Our Modern Maidens
To establish the difference between American and European representations of sex:

Pandora's Box

For the importance of star persona and celebrity:Marlene Dietrich (Blonde Venus), Mae West, Marilyn Monroe

I want to do something on the erotics of the musical: The Gang’s All Here, with Busby Berkeley numbers, and the documentary on Carmen Miranda, Bananas is My Business. This covers star persona and exoticism of culture and race as well.

For melodrama on the theme of repression in "middle America": All That Heaven Allows (women and children)
Rebel Without a Cause (teens, homoeroticism, "homosociality" and triangles)
Blue Velvet
For farce on the same theme:
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek

Pillow Talk, The Thrill of It All, or Man’s Favorite Sport

Back to the Future (great Oedipal stuff there, a good place to cover Freud)

On sex and power:
The Apartment, Secretary, Some Like It Hot (as well as Sunset Blvd.)

On the film noir "myth" of repression, erotics, and violence:
Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd.

On the same issue in other genres:
Duel in the Sun / Lust in the Dust, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Carrie, Psycho, Bonnie and Clyde, Scream (as pastiche)
Boys Don't Cry (with The Brandon Teena Story)
The "erotic thriller":Basic Instinct

How homoerotics is represented:
Top Gun, The Gay Deceivers, The Celluloid Closet, Poison, Postcards from America

How race is read as sex and vice-versa: Mandingo, Foxy Brown, She’s Gotta Have It
Porno: Inside Deep Throat, with some interviews with Adult Stars and early porn; Pornography: The Secret History of Civilisation (British documentary)
Avant-garde: Trash, Curt McDowell shorts, Thundercrack!, Blow Job, Sins of the Fleshapoids, Scorpio Rising, Flaming Creatures, A Dirty Shame. I'm surprised and pleased at how much stuff I've got on this topic, so I want to do it right.

To establish differences between American and other ways of representing sex, I'm thinking about: The Dreamers, Last Tango in Paris, Belle de Jour, and Happy Together, but especially thinking of showing Y tu mama tambien or Law of Desire.
Some of these are pretty indispensable to me; the others I need a couple more weeks to mull over. I'm working on the readings now, and in some instances I may choose a film on the basis of whether I can find a good reading to go with it. I'm still thinking these over as possible required texts:

Warner, Michael. The Trouble with Normal

D’Emilio, John, and Estelle B. Freedman. Intimate Matters : A History of Sexuality in America

Dyer, Richard. Stars. McNair, Brian. Mediated Sex : Pornography and Postmodern Culture.

Money, John. Gay, Straight, and In-Between: The Sexology of Erotic Orientation

Poulson-Bryant, Scott. Hung : A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America.

There really isn't a reasonably short introduction to the critical study of film I can throw in, or I would. I have a lot of essays collected for reserve readings. That's it for now.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you . . . Shorty!!!
Shorty used to be Chris Moukarbel's cat. Now she's ours.
She is, I think you can see, adorable.
She is also deep. The little wheels are always turning, the grey matter percolating.
Shorty has had an immediate and dramatic effect on the whole dynamic here.
If there were a novel about this household, I'm afraid it's clear who would be the central character.
Shorty--she's a cat and a half.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bernard the Blue-Nosed Reindeer

I'm at St. Mary's--although it doesn't look like St. Mary's. I'm going to meet up with some people at a swimming hole; a young woman is giving me a ride. They seem to be the people I went to school with at Hopkins. In the water, I'm aware I'm wearing contacts and shouldn't get water in my eyes. I can see my own body from above, through the water; I'm impressed I can see the definition of my abs and pecs and think I'm really not far from having a good body. I'm naked; so are some of the other swimmers but not all. There are two young women wearing Mennonite or Amish caps wading in shallow water in full skirts. The water seems to be draining away, and now I'm not in a swimming hole but an artificial pool. The water is lower on one side than the other, as if it's tilted. When I stand on my head in the water, there's hardly enough water to cover my eyes and nose; I can still breathe through my mouth.
There's a black preacher handing out pamphlets. I shake my head and think that's the end of it, but he starts a religious service. The swimming pool is now a large room, like a gym. He's going to start reading from the New Testament; we all have copies in front of us. My copy is open to the Book of Jonah in parallel Hebrew and English. I say aloud, "I can read Hebrew," in a joking manner. One of the man's two young sons steps forward and reads aloud in Hebrew--not well, haltingly, but he reads it. Then he pipes up, "I can read Hebrew," just as I did.
The boy and his father produce some candies wrapped in colored foil. The boy places a blue one in my hand, then splays out the end of a red one and puts it on my nose. He looks at me, then removes the red candy from my nose and replaces it with a blue one and sings,
"Rudolph, with your nose so blue,
Who'd have thought you were a practicing Jew?"
March 18 2006

Saturday, April 08, 2006

My Mother is Dying Again

My mother is dying again. She is in her bedroom in the old house--the one that burned down in the '70s. She keeps falling out of bed and I have to lift her up and get her back into bed. I talk to Art about this: "She already died, didn't she? I mean, we buried her." He says, "Yeah, I didn't want to bring that up. I thought we did, but now I'm not sure."
At the same time, I've lost the car. But it also seems like it isn't me that lost it; it was borrowed by an older relative who lost it, Junior from The Sopranos or Sophia from Golden Girls, someone who's supposed to have senile dementia. So I have two things to discuss with Art, my dying mother and the lost car.
Back at the house, I ask my mother how it's possible for her to be here when she's already died. She becomes much younger suddenly. She has in her hand a black stone figurine that's supposed to be from ancient Mesopotamia and says she is never going away. She appears very happy about this but I am troubled; there's something supernatural about this that bothers me very much. A naked man appears in the doorway to the bedroom, looking very embarrasssed; a naked woman peeks over his shoulder behind him. "You wouldn't have any condoms, would you?" he asks. I say no; I'm irritated with him for interrupting. When I come out of my mother's room, he's sitting fully clothed in another bedroom, with another man seated in a chair near him. His name is Derrick but I call him Rick. I ask if he knows anything about possession. He says no, but the other guy starts to mumble, "I had a dream once . . ."
March 17 2006

Thursday, April 06, 2006

I go to some weird shit sometimes. Among the weirdest shit I've seen is Hot Feet, the Earth, Wind & Fire musical. I vaguely remember Earth, Wind & Fire as associated with the bad kind of disco, the kind that seemed to have very little to do with drugs or illicit sex.
Hot Feet appears to begin with the character Blossom from the late-80s TV show wandering through Taxi Driver. (There's a fine line between Jodie Foster and Mayim Bialik, really.) She runs into some creatures who have escaped from either The Lion King or Ionesco's Rhinoceros plus, I think, Debbie Allen in Dorothy's ruby slippers. The audience is enjoined to "boogie," which, I find to my surprise, is actually easier while seated than standing up--or maybe I'm doing it wrong--is it anything like Kegel exercises? After that, it's kind of a really bad version of The Red Shoes performed on the set of Fame, with a little bit of the Sparks notes for Faust and some Oedipus, or Iphigenia at Aulis, or something. And Soapdish, without the funny parts.
I used to dance (they gasp) and it's always a little weird for me to see the mythology of dance in recent popular entertainment. I get the dance-off thing, I get Footloose, but when did dance become a kind of desperate high-stakes struggle? Bob Fosse has a lot to answer for. Why do the unnatural, forced expressions of ecstasy on the dancers' faces seem to mask an implacable hostility toward the audience, and a profound despair at their condition in life? Dance is deep, deep, deep. My suggestion for a tagline: Hot Feet - Because Moulin Rouge went way over your heads.
I am waiting for the sequel: Hot Nuts.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I Am a Dirty Rotten Scoundrel
The last matinee of the Broadway musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has just ended and I am going on as the understudy for the co-star, Norman Leo Butz for the last evening performance, the last show. Apparently, he's never missed a performance and there's some rule that the understudy has to go on once and now I have to do it. I haven't taken this very seriously so I don't know my lines or the musical numbers. Suddenly it strikes me that what he has to do is really complicated and I can't just fake my way through it by doing what everyone else is doing. I have had dental work that day and it sounds serious but really hasn't hurt very much; still, I decide I am going to get out of it by saying the dental work makes it impossible for me to sing or speak on stage. (At the same time, I am frantically riffling through the script.) But I put off calling, and although the people I'm with don't have a real problem with my faking my way out of this, they are starting to get upset that it's 6:30 and I haven't called in yet, since the curtain's at 8:00. I get the impression it will basically be OK because although the understudy has no understudy, in a situation like this, they can list the actor as the understudy to the understudy. Norman Leo Butz will go on after all, as he wanted to all along.
(BTW: The use of "Butz" kind of screams out at you, doesn't it, but in the dream there's also this obscure sense that Norman Leo Butz may also be called Norman Bates.)

Sunday, April 02, 2006

You really want to know what I'm writing? I just finished the first draft for my section on film and literature in the book proposal for Dreaming in the Classroom, which I'm co-writing with Kelly Bulkeley and Phil King (God bless 'em for getting me to actually to do something that might result in publication). I know you will find this f a s c i n a t i n g.
The photo is by Ralph Gibson.

Draft: Film and Literary Studies (BW) – 4-3-06
Literary studies of dreaming may begin with myth, folklore, and biblical criticism, and thus address the same cultural and psychological issues as the anthropology of dreaming. Folktales and religious scriptures featuring dreams set the models for later literature, from medieval dream visions to surrealist poems. The range of possible objects of study is extremely wide, and in offering some suggestions in our chapter on this topic, we try to focus on texts from different cultures and periods that are accessible, available, and perhaps most importantly, short enough to be actually read by your students.
In his introduction to The Dream Adventure (Orion, 1963), Roger Caillois identifies two main approaches to literary dreams: the psychological, which seeks an interpretation applying to the psychology of character or author (or by extension, to the group psychology of a society), and the philosophical, which uses the dream as a device to illustrate a metaphysical issue, or perhaps more properly, considers the genuine metaphysical questions raised by dreams. Contemporary classes may learn from Freudian or Jungian theories, apply the lessons of Gestalt therapy or Montague Ullman’s dream-appreciation seminars, or extend the horizon of topics from Western to Eastern literature, but the fundamental division in method remains the same. The psychological approach treats the dream as a coded message like others in the literary text to be decoded through the critic’s favored method; the philosophical approach may be more conducive to post-structuralist approaches like deconstruction, as it invites continual reconsideration of the ontological status of both the dream and the text. (Just think of Alice’s position in her underground adventures, trying to figure out whether she is actually dreaming, and the enduring appeal of the philosophical approach even to untrained readers is abundantly clear.) Both are of obvious relevance to contemporary classes in literature, especially when so many have branched out into popular culture, cultural studies, and alternative media, all of which present new contexts for dreams outside of traditional literary genres. (A third approach, which treats the literary dream as historical evidence, can add fascinating conundrums and new interest to history courses, particularly in periods when the dream vision is a prominent form as in the European Middle Ages.) Increasingly, instructors who invoke psychological theories in their teaching of literature must be prepared to offer the relevant accounts not only of depth psychology such as psychoanalysis, but also of contemporary brain science, mind-body philosophy, and cognitive psychology.

What is true of literature is, in this case, anyway, true of film, where the lessons of cognitive psychology are only beginning to be integrated into critical study. A limited number of courses on dreaming and cinema have been taught in the United States. Those initiated by psychology departments or instructors have emphasized the interpretation of dream sequences as revelation of character—as, perhaps most famously, in Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece, Wild Strawberries. But courses developed by film instructors are more likely to broaden the focus beyond the psychology of character to consider dreams in relation to the many issues raised by the genres of fantasy, children’s film, and most recently, the spate of metaphysical fantasies such as The Matrix, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Waking Life that testify to an unprecedented interest in dreaming among filmmakers and the general movie audience. Nearly every specialist on film has encountered the idea of the cinema as a form of collective dreaming. The difference among instructors is primarily in how they choose to investigate this analogy. Those who adhere to a realist theory that characterizes film essentially as a means of faithfully recording the objective world will treat cinematic dreaming as an interesting special case; others may find that films featuring dreams and dreaming consistently pose provocative challenges to realism.

Clearly, the fundamental topics in which dreaming can be of special interest in courses in literature and film studies are: the unique access that dreaming offers to the study of symbols generally; the models, derived from the theories of Freud, Jung, and other psychologists (including traditional non-Western sources only now becoming familiar in the United States) for understanding how dreams express the relation of the individual to the world; the genuine metaphysical questions raised by dreaming as they appear especially in self-reflexive texts; and the endlessly fascinating question of the relation of dreaming to the roots of imagination and creativity generally.

Dreaming may be not only an object of study but homework in a class in literature, film, or any of the humanities fields. Beginning (to the best of our knowledge) with Richard M. Jones’ courses at Evergreen State College in the 1970s, as described in The Dream Poet (Schenkman, 1979), many teachers of literature have found that asking students to keep a dream journal and raise their own dreams in class fuels their imaginative impulses and fosters a subjective identification with authors and characters that results in eager, engaged and creative interpretation of literary texts. Composition and creative-writing teachers have long found that dream-based assignments not only often result in an unlabored, unself-conscious that breathes new life into student writing, but also encourage active and empathetic listening when writing is shared in class.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Brandon Flyte is a high-school student in Oregon who recently made a film for a class assignment. He chose to do a take-off on Brokeback Mountain called Brokeback High. (That's him above playing the jock--the high-school equivalent of a ranchhand--in his film.) He removed a short scene in which the two leads "snuggle" shirtless as the teacher deemed it violated the assignment's prohibition of "nudity." But he showed the film to another class and was expelled for "insubordination," but was soon readmitted, under circumstances that are a little unclear. (A local news story claims that he lied on his website about the circumstances of his expulsion.) You can find the story and the "snuggle scene" on his website. Brandon is straight.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

I got some comments on the post about teaching Sex in America Cinema, so here's more:
I have like 10-12 films I can show. The list I posted of 40-50 was already pared down a bit and obviously, what I need to do is figure out how these films can create "units" on topics it makes sense to me give priority to. For what I'm thinking of--heterosexual courtship vs. marriage--Rear Window works better than Vertigo. I don't really like Eyes Wide Shut or Last Tango in Paris, but I'd probably use excerpts from them, as I will from some of these other films, including Salo, maybe I am Curious (Yellow), In the Realm of the Senses--because it is a course on American cinema, and I'm bringing in foreign films, especially of the '60s, only as an influence on American culture and films. I might use some subterfuge to bring in Y tu mama tambien, very likely in contrast to an American film like The Last American Virgin, American Pie, or one of the other countless who-can-get-laid-first-or-most comedies from the '80s to the present. (I have a real soft spot for Porky's.) And at the moment, I'm thinking I'll ask students to analyze a film we haven't had time to see in class, so I don't want to show everything there is.
I am very, very interested to see--after researching this some--that there's really no book out there that attempts to survey this area. (There's one coming out in Britain this week.) There are collections of essays on the topic (like Robin Wood's or Laura Kipnis's), and books on particular issues (like Linda Williams' excellent survey of straight pornography, Hard Core). But not a book--I don't have time to review the articles--that attempts something like a typology, a general consideration of the relation of cinema to sexual behavior, something that connects social history to film theory.
I posted a query at a listserv I belong to on film studies and the response was interesting. I made the mistake (well, it isn't actually a mistake) of saying I'd like to do more than gender studies and was berated--one of the respondents called it a "pile-on": why was I so determined to ignore gender studies? Clearly I did not understand that the whole question of sexualty could be reduced to gender performance theory. Yeeesh. So this is why I'm not really an academic, or a critic, or whatever these people are who, at the age of 26 or so, have the answer to everything.
I swear, I just get meaner and nastier every year.
My research is pretty haphazard. After receiving a solicitation from Deep Discount DVD, 3 films for $20, I added a fw others to the list. For one thing, it reminded me of Foxy Brown, which I'm thinking I can add as a comparison to Mandingo.
By the way: Matt Langley, I don't know how to find you. Where'd your blog go?