Sunday, December 30, 2007

An insect bite can make you very sick. But the insect remains an insect.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Hum II Sp 08

AS2000 A&C Humanities II
Sp 2008

Our topic will be: Dehumanizing Humanity – Technophobia and Technophilia in Modern Culture. We’ll look at this topic in the light of several themes: The foundation of concepts of the human in concepts of nature, work, and technology; Modern media’s power to represent and reshape humanity and social life; Technology’s enabling of the dehumanization of others; Androids, robots, and other artificial human creatures in the modern popular imagination.

Books:
Bill McKibben - The End of Nature (2006 ed.) (Random House, 2006)
Stanley Perkowitz - Digital People: From Bionic Humans to Androids (Joseph Henry Press, 2004)
Mary Shelley - Frankenstein (Signet, 2000 – the 1818 edition. Do not get the 1831 edition.)
Susan Sontag - Regarding the Pain of Others (Picador, 2004)

Most of these are available used from Amazon or abebooks.com. But be sure to get the right edition.

The following required readings are available free online:
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – The Communist Manifesto
Henry David Thoreau – Walking
Franz Kafka – In the Penal Colony
Michel Foucault - Panopticism
Guy Debord - The Society of the Spectacle

The following films will be studied in class:
Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1926)
La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962)
Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)

Further suggested reading:
George Orwell – 1984
Walter Benjamin – The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Bill Joy – Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us
Kevin Kelley – Out of Control
Nick Bostrom - Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios
The Unabomber’s Manifesto
Francis Fukuyama, - Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. Picador, 2002

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Love Songs

For "heart" read "sexual organs."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Just a minute left in Joseph Conrad's 150th birthday. We started Heart of Darkness in the evening Humanities section tonight. Nothing seemed to impress them so much as the coincidence of its being Conrad's birthday. The symmetry in this semester is planned: We started out with Civilization and Its Discontents and are ending with analysis of HoD, considering whether it's the same argument in the form of narrative. (More successful and more "earned"--you can see why Conrad didn't care for Freud.)

It's funny how like Mann Conrad is. I remember suddenly realizing sometime back that The Goat was Albee's Death in Venice; of course HoD is DiV, too, only that much darker. These are metamorphosis stories--along with Kafka's actual Metamorphosis--where the central character encounters some sublime force that makes it impossible to live as he once did. It seems like they ought to be all over the place; that every bildungsroman should be a transformation, but they're not; they're relatively rare, compared to takes in which the change is just a melodramatic readjustment to the norm. The real ones are sort of grim, earnest, and religious in implications, like Diary of a Country Priest and Le diable, probablement, The Counterfeiters, Young Torless, Demian.

From www.bathybius.com

Beaudouin-Mason-Welt
Dec 02, 2007 @ 11:51 am

I had an amazing time at the reading last night in Baltimore. David Beaudouin, Chris Mason, Bernard Welt read in that order. part ways thru Bernard’s reading the word ecstatic came to mind. by ecstatic I mean that each of the three readers seemed to have left themselves behind as a condition for their having written the things they did. the work all seemed especially unburdened by… I want to say identity, or specific expectations or preconceptions about what being a writer is all about.

I learned from Michael after the reading that Chris had put the three together for this reading. Chris was the only one of the three I knew at all prior to the reading, but I hadn’t seen Chris read, outside of his part in a collab thing I did with him, Bender, Rupert and Adam Good. Chris’ reading surprised me. His presence was not what I would have predicted, tho I’m not sure I can get more specific about that. he was commanding in a very untyrannical way. (not that I was expecting tyranny.) among the things he read were some sound poems called “click poems”. I asked him if he had recordings of the poems and apparently he does, so I will want to get those on the dc poetry site and link to them. I think Chris stands the same way I do when I read. and/or moves or doesn’t move, the same way. same kind of peculiarly intentional verticality. but he moves less, I think.

David, who read first, read a few very different kinds of things. there were some denser longer (but not very long) things that especially worked for me. not dense like leaden. free & surprising, utterly. not like the other kids. Says the i.e. series blog, “He was the founder of Tropos Press, Inc. (1976-2001), one of the region’s most respected alternative literary presses, as well as THE PEARL (1980-2001), a Baltimore journal of the literary and ’spontaneous’ arts.”

I’m not usually comfortable with big words like “astonishing,” but Bernard’s reading could be described that way without fear of excess. he read some things he described as “prose.” among them was a piece (series of pieces?) about George W. Bush. the piece is a series of dream sequences in which George W. Bush — who is always referred to that way in the piece, with the “W” — appears exactly when we least and most expect it. the piece is funny but also devastatingly sad. something about the affect is just so perfect for this particular moment, late in W’s presidency, where we’re all exhausted by what he has wrought, to the point of something like punchiness, at times. something happened to me during the reading wherein I was suddenly struck by my capacity as a human to be affected by what is happening to THE ENTIRE WORLD. at some point in recent years I think I decided it might be possible to only be affected by what is happening within a 10-mile radius (putting aside the fact that my 10-mile radius contains the federal gov’t, etc) and not care about the rest of the world. I’ve even had times where I stopped believing that human beings can care about the out-of-sight. you know, cuz you can’t really hold a whole world in your head. but Bernard’s piece recovered a lot of that for me, my real relation to something as big as the world. (as soon as I publish this blog post I will start working on recovering my indifference.)

Bernard also read a piece called “I stopped writing poetry.” It’s one of these pieces that is just jammed full of things that are funny and true, not only about being a poet but being a human. You keep thinking to yourself as you hear it read, I’m not going to be able to remember all of this so I just need to remember this one sentence because this must be the one that can’t be eclipsed by anything that remains in the piece. but then that happens fifteen more times. It appears in The Best American Poetry 2001, I now know, from a search. So if you happen to have that volume. Hopefully it’s the same version as what was read last night. It is about the numerous times when Bernard has stopped writing poetry and the various reasons for those stoppages. From various searches I now see that the piece got quite a lot of attention way back in the year 2000.

After the reading I asked Bernard if he had any books and he mentioned a book of essays, but he didn’t mention an out-of-print book of poetry — Serenade (Z Press). I see also that he has some things here. The book of essays is Mythomania: Fantasies, Fables, and Sheer Lies in Contemporary American Popular Art. I was able to order Serenade from Amazon, but I’m a little skeptical because it was $5 there and listed in “new” condition, whereas it is upwards of $30 from other sellers. a little worried I’ll get a “just kidding” email from Amazon.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Title:
I Fucked a Communist for the FBI

It practically writes itself.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The only difference between me and a madman is that I am not mad.

-Salvador Dali

The only difference between me and a retard is that I'm not retarded.

-Bernard Welt

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Today in class: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. I just watched most of A proposito de Bunuel, one of the best documentaries on an artist I can think of. To write like a child with the knowledge and vocabulary of an adult--that must be great.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Just discovered I can do a killingly funny imitation of Bela Lugosi as Dracula singing "Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab." That will certainly come in handy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tom the Dancing Bug


Augustine of Hippo

Do not ask what truth is. For mists of corporeal images and clouds of phantasms will rise forthwith and confuse the clarity that flared up in you in a first impulse when I said: 'truth.' When the word 'truth' is spoken, remain if you can in the first impulse which struck you as a flash of lightning. But you cannot. You fall back into this world of familiar, earthly things.
-De Trinitate

Saturday, October 27, 2007

If Rumsfeld Were Gay

I read with heart-bursting joy tempered by deep skepticism that there's just a slight chance Donald Rumsfeld could be arrested for ordering torture while he's in France this weekend.
As Rummy would say:
Do I wish I were getting fucked up the ass right now? Sure. Would I like to be blasting a hot load down some muscle-stud's throat? Of course. Would I rather be eating out that same muscle-stud's hole while he fucks some daddy's-boy twink senseless? It goes without saying. But it's not a perfect world, and sometimes instead of getting the filthy, kinky, gayer-than-gay sex you really want, you find that your only choice is to initiate hapless, incredibly ill-conceived and breath-takingly reckless military adventures that ruin the lives of millions, destroy both the credibility and the future prospects for security of the United States, and benefit no one but your overfed, grotesquely self-satisfied cronies. If the American people want to call that poor judgment, we'll just have to agree to disagree.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books

I am incredibly jealous of Marcel Benabou's title, but the book itself I found flat and kind of empty. And maybe that's postmodernism, contemporary writing, poststructuralist takes on literature, and/or Frenchness all in a nutshell.
I am constantly subject to this conflict--more than conflict, internal antagonism, rivenness--between my two modes. Benabou really writes about intellectual activities in critical terms, and after a lot of interesting, self-reflecting turns of thought, writes exclusively about reason, critical analyses. But to me it seems like this is intellectualization, rationalization, avoidance of issues that are psychological and in fact founded in unreason rather than reason. It is something of a cliche to point out that artists and critics can spin out a lovely surface and even claim that there is nothing but surface, theorize endlessly about the death of the metaphor of depth, precisely in order to avoid the fact that depth is invoked merely as a metaphor for something that is empirically real (if anyway we actually try to account for human behavior) and that it is that something really real that one theorizes in order to avoid. (If I could show that Freud's notion of an "unconscious" is ultimately flawed and unsatisfying, that is not to say that reflecting upon childhood, family dynamics, and personal symbolism becomes useless.)
Because I can write well--not in a note on a blog, to be sure, but elsewhere, when I refine phrases and get interested in patterns of metaphor--I've always felt stuck between the pursuit of artifice as a means to "get at something"--to find that playing with the language makes something pretty or sublime that reveals ideas I didn't know I had (on the one hand) and (on the other) blurting out an almost-spontaneous rant that turns out to articulate just where I'm standing, or what I'm feeling, about something that's really important to me. (I'm thinking of "I stopped writing poetry" and "No Title" especially; there's a lot of irony and adopting of characters in them but they're basically improvs that allowed a lot of stuff to come out, as opposed to "poems" I made by starting with and fooling with language.)
I don't feel like I have to come down on one side of this, cause I've sort of embraced my schizoid position generally, but my heart seems to be with the rants, and perhaps more importantly, they seem to energize me and get me working, and after all, I might be saying that when my mind and my heart seem to be in conflict, yes, it's very nice to integrate the two, but if I have to choose I'd go with the heart, and after all, even my reason tells me to be mistrustful of reason if my heart does not.

So:
Stories I have notes for and haven't written-
The Juniper Tree
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
Further Researches of Dr. Praetorius
Old Man (Little Acorn)
Brian's Dream
I Will Hold You
Come As You Are

Also: Jonah
That's a lot to be backed up on.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Young Frankenstein is the funniest piece of comic musical theater I've ever seen. In adapting it to the stage, they've made some very canny choices: First, as the film was in black and white, the stage production adopts the conventions of the comic revue circa 1934, when the story is set. So there's a kind of Marx Brothers tone to everything (in fact, Frederick Frankenstein's entrance is sort of like Groucho Marx's in Horsefeathers). Second, they sort of deal with much of the audience knowing the best lines by setting them cleverly within the context of musical numbers. You wouldn't think that Frau Blucher's "He Vas My Boyfriend!" could be spun into a great comic aria, but it works amazingly well. Third, the same is done with stage design and other conventions: the show plunders the whole vocabulary of classic designs for musicals the way the film did with Hollywood mise-en -scene--anyone who's looked at Young Frankenstein closely sees immediately why Mel Brooks championed David Lynch and The Elephant Man--and essentially every musical number is a variation upon a showstopper in another, classic show--including the Gilbert & Sullivan comic operetta Ruddigore. And maybe you don't like Will and Grace, but Megan Mullally is fucking brilliant--and you'll be hearing this in reviews in a week or so, so let me be the first to mention: she's channeling Charles Busch in Die, Mommy, Die, the latest in a long line of distinguished performances by biologically female entertainers as drag queens.
So yes, it's very, very good, and I'll be surprised if it doesn't run for eleventy-hundred years. If there isn't a strike this week, that is.
So not everybody here is into musical comedy, but it's kind of my equivalent of serial killer/tribal rock band/Japanese porn. (As Jake Shears once said, "Judy Garland is my heavy metal.") We had every Broadway cast album in my house when I was a kid, and I knew all the lyrics. And I obsessively reread the New-Yorker, Algonquin-table humorists, and loved borscht-belt comics. When I got "serious"--starting with Thoreau, Buddhism, Marxism, then, God help us, symbolist French poetry--in my teens, I left it all behind. Sometime in my thirties, I realized that my inner voice was closer to Ethel Merman and Buddy Hackett than to Verlaine and Rimbaud. That's just the kind of hairpin I am.
Although come to think of it, I do think that's why the South Park movie is so brilliant, and why Johnny Knoxville feels so close to Rip Taylor and John Waters--and why the brilliant finale of Jackass Two is a musical number Mel Brooks must have pissed his pants over (though he'd probably say that at his age, he pisses his pants over very movie he sees).

Monday, October 08, 2007

Note: That Asperger's represents some kind of mutation that's actually evolutionarily healthy. The survival value of a failure of empathy, so humans can finally make rational decisions unclouded by emotion.
(I haven't gotten around to reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time because Bob Smith's novel came out. But it's next on the list.)
This week starting on the chapter on interdisciplinary courses on dreaming, which means collecting every note on the topic I've ever written.
In Humanities, The Bacchae, Leviticus, then on to The Tempest. In Dream Screen, from Freud to Jung by way of Mark Blechner and Ernest Hartmann, Forbidden Planet and Living in Oblivion.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Animal Collective



The show I saw last night at the 9:30 Club is available at NPR.org. I can't get the link to work, but it's still online, audio and slideshow.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"I don't think that people accept the fact that life doesn't make sense. I think it makes people terribly uncomfortable."
-David Lynch

Saturday, September 15, 2007

From The Fortean Times

Curtis Harrington

Actor and photographer Lisa Jane Persky pays tribute to legendary B-movie director, avant-gardist and esotericist Curtis Harrington, and reports from a very strange memorial service.
By Lisa Jane Persky
August 2007

Curtis Harrington, director of famed weird B-movies such as Night Tide (1961), Games (1967), Who Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) and What’s the Matter With Helen? (1971) was one of very few avant-garde directors to successfully make the transition into commercial filmmaking. He passed away at the age of 80 in Hollywood on 6 May 2007 from complications related to a stroke he had suffered in 2005.

“HIDEOUS BEYOND BELIEF… with an INHUMAN CRAVING!” was the tag­line for Harrington’s best known cult classic, Queen of Blood (1966); strangely, it could have been applied to his fellow avant-gardist and occult celebrity Kenneth Anger when he made an appearance at Harr­ington’s burial service last month.

I met Harrington in 2006, at an opening for Dennis Hopper’s photo­graphs and paintings. We were introduced by Gregory Poe, a friend with an apt last name. Harrington was a lifelong fan of Edgar Allan Poe and he began and ended his career with different versions of 'The Fall of the House of Usher'. Gregory told me that he designed funeral urns and that Curtis had already ordered his. A year later, at the Forever Hollywood Cemetery adjacent to Paramount Studios, Harrington was ready to put Mr Poe’s handiwork to use.

Harrington’s memorial service was an open-casket affair held in the cemetery’s small chapel. Among other guests was Kenneth Anger, who arrived with a cameraman in tow. Best known for his films Fireworks, Inauguration of The Pleasure Dome (in which Harrington appeared, along side Anaïs Nin) and Lucifer Rising, Anger is also the author of two compendia of trashy Hollywood scandals, Hollywood Babylon and Holly­wood Babylon II, and his name is often linked to those of Satanist Anton LaVey and the notorious Aleister Crowley.

According to Harrington’s executor, screenwriter Robert Mundy, Harr­ington and Anger had been ‘friends’ since childhood but had carried on a lifelong feud, during which Anger had repeatedly been cruel to Harring­ton. Because of this, as well as the attendant cameraman, Mundy asked Anger to leave. Anger informed Mundy that he would have to call the police to get him off the property. Eventually, they reached a compro­mise, and Anger turned off the camera. But this didn’t prevent him from kissing the embalmed face of Harrington or from taking a seat in the front row. Anger, who is also 80, looks hardy and sports the intense, bullet-headed look of Aleister Crowley in his later years.

Actor Jack Larson (Jimmy Olson in the 1950s Super man television series), who was to be the only speaker at the service, described the Hollywood milieu that he and Curtis entered in the 1940s. He had barely started when he was interrupted by Anger, who shouted juicy ‘correct­ions’ to Larson’s speech. Larson persevered as Anger continued to pro­vide a running commentary in a we-of-the-theatre tone. Larson referred to a mutual friend, ‘Paul’ from Pasadena, who ran a ‘coven’ which att­racted many people, including Harrington and himself. At this, Anger shouted “NO! NO! It was an order of the Ordo Templi Orientis and it was of as high a degree as 33rd degree Masonry. I am a 33rd-degree member through Crowley.” Previous to this, Larson had already men­tioned Crowley and Anger had corrected his pronunciation: “Crow as in Crow. Then Lee.”

Larson mentioned that ‘Paul’ had supposedly created a homunculus. Anger agreed – “OH HE DID! I saw it. It held my hand. Its little hand, like a tentacle, wrapped itself around my finger. There were 33 others in the crib, but not in full-fruition like this one” – suggesting that deg­rees of Masonry and homunculi litter have something in common. A number of actresses were involved in the “coven”, one of whom report­edly saw the homunculus. Anger informed the guests that who ever sees a homunculus is henceforth responsible for its life, and this, he sugg­ested, may be why she ultimately became a recluse.

Larson recounted that ‘Paul’ supposedly had a tail. Anger concurred. “I SAW IT!” he shouted. “I showed it to Kinsey and he said that wasn’t so unusual – one man in 50,000 has one.” In the 1950s, the sexologist Alfred Kinsey became interested in Anger and his films, and in 1955 the two visited the site of Crowley’s ‘Abbey of Thelema’ in Cefalu, Sicily.

According to Larson, ‘Paul’s’ home burned to the ground. Anger exp­lained why. “HOWARD DID IT!” he exclaimed. “Howard Hughes, who was crazy because he had syphilis of the brain.” For once no one disagreed, although this did produce some uncomfortable laughter.

Toward the end of Larson’s speech, Anger announced that he and Harr­ington had both been dying of prostate cancer (although Harrington didn’t die of this) and that he had told Harrington that he would outlive him. Anger then informed everyone that his own memorial would be here, in the same place. He turned toward the crowd and said “Oh yes, It’s been confirmed. I know the date of my death. On Hallowe’en 2008. My memorial. RIGHT HERE! HALLOWE’EN 2008!” Then, as an after­thought, he added, “INVITATION ONLY! Sorry.”

Across from Anger’s seat was a huge floral bouquet. The card read: “For my old pal Kurtiz (sic) from his old rival Kenneth Anger”. The note, which usually bears the name of the deceased, read “Dr. Kenneth Anger,” making it look as though it was Anger’s funeral instead, well ahead of schedule. One of the themes Harrington explored in Queen of Blood and other films is that of beings who feed off others. With this in mind, one assumes that Anger won’t starve to death.

A second memorial service sans Anger was held at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on historic Vine Street. Speakers there included scream queen Barbara Steele, directors Peter Medak (The Krays) and Bill Condon (Dreamgirls), and Dennis Hopper, who appeared in Harrington’s early work Night Tide. This film also featured Marjorie Cameron, the widow of Jack Parsons, the scientist at Pasa­dena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who was also a follower of Aleister Crowley. Cameron appeared in Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and was part of the occult bohemia depicted in John Carter’s Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons, and it’s quite possible that Parsons was the ‘Paul’ that Superman’s pal and Crowley’s devotee had argued about at the previous service. Parsons blew himself and his house up in an ‘accident’, although there are suspicions it may have been suicide. Then too, they may have been speaking of Paul Mathison, the art director and actor who played Pan in Inauguration of The Pleas­ure Dome.

In a short documentary screened at the Anger-free event, Harrington had the last word: “There is the exoteric and the esoteric… That’s what I’m interested in. The esoteric. What goes on beneath.” He also had a sense of humour. “Did you know,” the husband asks his wife in Games, “that Aimee Semple McPherson was buried with a telephone?” “Why?” “Just in case,” a nod, to be sure, to Poe’s “The Premature Burial.” Harr­ington is now entombed at Hollywood Forever in an urn made by another Poe, in which, sadly, there is no room for a telephone. The obituary in Variety claimed Harrington had no survivors, but this isn’t true. He has Anger, whether he wants him or not, along with a coterie of friends and admirers. Most importantly, he is survived by the prints of his films, which have been willed to The Motion Picture Academy.

Curtis Harrington, director and occultist, born 26 Sept 1927; died Hollywood 6 May 2007, aged 80.

Good Curtis Harrington bio at the Alternative Film Guide:
http://www.altfg.com/blog/directors/curtis-harrington/

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Dream People

On the train back from Newark North Gate to London, then from King's Cross station to Paddington to pick up the Heathrow Express to get to I don 't know which terminal to fly to Charles de Gaulle Paris, where I hope to be by 7:15 tonight. Newark North Gate is half-hour bus ride from Lincoln, the bus having been substituted for the regular train and arriving maddeningly late but it's all right because the train to London came in late to Newark too.
-I have to remember to get down the story of the gypsy funeral.
-John Corbett - I went to his talk because he was on with Olaf. It said he was going to talk about archaic dreams but he actually chose dream accounts completely randomly--all fictional, I think but I'm not certain--from India, Wales, Greece. He codes the references to colors according to a numerical system--if a horse has grey legs, that's 4, if a man wears a green suit, that's 4--then he plots these numbers according to a system I couldn't follow to make an image. In this way, he "decodes" the dreams into primitive drawings of a house, a tree, a stick-man. Somehow these are then transformed to large, Rorschach-y bilaterally symmetrical images--a bit Shroud of Turin-y. I'm not sure anyone could follow just what he made of the end product, but it proved that God speaks to men in dreams. At one point, he derived the form of an airplane from 13 dreams from Hindu literature--and he couldn't get it just by connecting the dots signifying colors, he had to "fold" the resulting image to get the wanigs and tail--and he expressed his astonishment that anyone could deny that God revealed the form of the airplane to the ancient world in the face of this incontrovertible evidence.
And that's not the weird part. (Well, it is, actually, but . . .) When he gets his PowerPoint up, he introduces his talk by saying, "I em-a Chohn-a Cor-bait." His English is barely comprehenisible. So I'm thinking, is he liked some crazed Italian Northern Exposure (or Sex in the City) fan who's named himself after his favorite actor?
He sat alone at lunch; you could see people glancing in and choosing to go to a table that hadn't been set rather than join him (I was one of them). But we ended up walking next to each other up Steep Hill Street (yes, it's about the steepest hill I've ever walked in a city, including San Francisco; coming down, you think your knees will give out and you'll just roll down like a tire), so I was nice and asked him where he was from, and he said,
"I yem-a frohm Cain-toohk-ee."
So that was the end of that.
-I am better friends with Olaf Hansen each year, which is good because we agree on most things--which is also good because he's the next IASD president. Very complimentary about my talk and very interested in bringing in artists and critics and social scientists. After seeing the Cathedral and the Jews House--apparently one of the oldest inhabited structures in Europe-Olaf was very insistent on having a proper British tea--despite the very large meals they're giving us--and very disappointed that the tea room we ended up at had just run out of scones--till the couple from Manchester next to us assured him that the tea cake was actually even more authentic.
Olaf has always worked for, and often directed, organizations for the promotion of "cultural understanding," especially in education and the arts, and he now tells me that he was convening a meeting of delegates from Europe and the Islamic world in Copenhagen right when what they call the "cartoon crisis" hit. (At first I thought he said the "Khartoum crisis.") The Copenhagen papers decided his group, which was sponsoring a show of art from the Middle East, was some kind of anti-semitic front group--despite the fact that this was the first time anyone had talked the various states represented into sponsoring a show with Israeli aritists in it, and that the Israeli embassy had contributed backing.
Not long afterwards, he goes to his office and finds a woman in a sandwich board handing out leaflets that quote a speech Olaf gave in Morocco on cultural exchange. She represent a right-wing organization in several European countries that believes there's a secret concpiracy led by energy corporations to convert Europe to Islam in exchange for a secure flow of oil.
--The Cathedral: I associate Lincoln with The Prioress' Tale, which ends with the prayer to St. Hugh of Lincoln to protect the pilgrims but is the story of how the Jews killed a little boy for his blood--I think one of the first appearances of the blood libel. I didn't know Lincoln was such a centre in medieval times, with a very large Jewish community that apparently grew around the moneylenders to William the Conqueror, who had a castle--I don't know if it was his big castle--there. The cathedral has charts depicting its history a nd in the first couple centuries there were enough catastrophes--the spire destroyed by lightning, the tower collapsed, the enture building destroyed by an earthquake (in the 11th or 12the century)--that you'd think it would make people wonder about this whole Christianity business. I mean, they try to put a good face on it, but the destruction is much more impressive than the reconstruction.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Best Editorial Ever


From today's Washington Post

CRAIG'S LUST
Hypocritical? Don't Ask.
By William Saletan
Sunday, September 2, 2007; Page B02


Poor Larry Craig. He's being held to the same standard of sexual conduct he imposed on the U.S. armed forces.

Fourteen years ago, in his first term as a Republican senator from Idaho, Craig helped enact the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The Air Force, for instance, now says that any airman will be discharged if he "has engaged in, attempted to engage in, or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act."

According to the report filed by the police officer who arrested Craig at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in June, Craig stood outside the officer's bathroom stall for two minutes, repeatedly looked at the officer "through the crack in the door," sat in the stall next to the officer, tapped his foot and gradually "moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot . . . within my stall area." Craig proceeded to "swipe his hand under the stall divider for a few seconds" three times, palm up, using the hand farthest from that side of Craig's stall. Most of these gestures, the officer said, are known pickup signals.

I feel sorry for Craig, who pleaded guilty three months ago to a charge of disorderly conduct. I hate the idea of cops going into bathrooms and busting people for coded gestures of interest. I'd rather live, let live and tell the guy waving his hand under the stall to buzz off. But that's not the standard Craig has applied to others. Any gay soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who admitted to doing what Craig has admitted would, at a minimum, lose his job for violating "don't ask, don't tell." In fact, many have been kicked out for less.

Most people think "don't ask, don't tell" means that if you don't announce that you're gay, you can keep your job. It should mean that. But in practice, if you don't tell, the military can -- and often does -- investigate and interrogate you until you're forced to tell.

Margaret Witt, a major in the Air Force Reserve, is in the process of being discharged because she is a lesbian. How did investigators find out? An anonymous tip. They tracked down her former partner, a civilian, and got the woman to admit that she and Witt had lived together. When they interrogated Witt, she confessed. If she hadn't, they could have prosecuted her for "false official statements" and imprisoned her for five years. Last fall, a federal judge conceded that Witt had "served her country faithfully and with distinction" and "did not draw attention to her sexual orientation." Nevertheless, he concluded, she had no constitutional grounds for contesting her discharge. If you don't tell, they make you tell.

Six years ago, the Army kicked out Alex Nicholson, an interrogator, under "don't ask, don't tell." How did he disclose his homosexuality? He mentioned it in a letter to a friend -- in Portuguese. A colleague found the letter, translated it and outed him. "Nobody asked me if I was gay and I wasn't telling anyone," Nicholson said. "You would think that a private letter that you had written in a foreign language would be sufficiently safe." But you would be wrong.

Last year, the Army discharged Bleu Copas, a sergeant, from the 82nd Airborne. The basis? Anonymous e-mails. The first time superiors asked Copas whether he was gay, the context was informal, and he denied it. The next time, they put him under formal interrogation -- "Have you ever engaged in homosexual activity or conduct?" -- and he refused to answer. Eventually, to avoid prosecution for perjury, he gave in.

Four days ago, the Record newspaper in Stockton, Calif., reported the recent expulsion of Randy Miller, a paratrooper who served in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne. His offense? Being in a gay bar -- and rejecting a proposition from a fellow soldier, who apparently retaliated by reporting him to the Army. Like Witt, Miller admitted his homosexuality, but only under interrogation. If you don't tell, they make you tell.

Compare any of these cases to Craig's. You cohabit quietly with a same-sex partner for six years. You write a letter to a friend in Portuguese. You deny being gay but are interrogated until you give in. You're spotted in a gay bar rejecting a sexual overture. For these offenses, you lose your career -- thanks, in part, to a man who stared and extended his hands and feet repeatedly into a neighboring bathroom stall.

Were Craig's gestures ambiguous? Not by his own standards. Under the details of "don't ask, don't tell," he'd have to prove that what he did was "a departure from [his] usual and customary behavior," that it was "unlikely to recur" and that he did "not have a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts." But the Idaho Statesman reports three other incidents, from 1967 to 2004, in which Craig allegedly made similar overtures. On the newspaper's Web site, you can listen to an interview in which one of the men describes his tryst with Craig in a public bathroom. These accounts, combined with Craig's arrest report, would easily get him thrown out of the Army if he were a soldier.

Did Craig's arrest chasten him about "don't ask, don't tell"? Not a bit. "I don't believe the military should be a place for social experimentation," he wrote to a constituent two weeks ago. "It is unacceptable to risk the lives of American soldiers and sailors merely to accommodate the sexual lifestyles of certain individuals."

Now you know why Craig tried to withdraw his guilty plea. The cardinal rule of "don't ask, don't tell" isn't heterosexuality. It's hypocrisy. The one thing you can't do is tell the truth.

In that sense, Craig honored the policy in his own life. But that's the only sense. I don't think what he did should cost him his career. I'd like to cut him some slack. But first, I'd like to restore the careers of a few thousand gay Americans who have done a lot more for their country.

human@slate.com

William Saletan is national correspondent for Slate, the online magazine at www.slate.com.

Friday, August 10, 2007

American Movie Critics: An Anthology from the Silents Until Now, Phillip Lopate, ed.

William Troy, "King Kong"
". . . unfortunately, it was thought necessary to mitigate some of the predominant horror by introducing a human. all-too-human theme. 'It was not the guns that got him,' says one of the characters at the end, after Kong has been brought to ground by a whole squadron of battle planes. 'It was Beauty killed the Beast.' By having Beauty, in the person of Miss Wray lure the great monster to his destruction, the scenario writers sought to unite two rather widely separated traditions of the popular cinema--that of the 'thriller' and that of the sentimental romance. The only difficulty was that they failed to realize that such a union was possible only by straining our powers of credulity and perhaps one or two fundamental laws of nature. For if the love that Kong felt for the heroine was sacred, it suggests a weakness that hardly fits with his other actions; and if it was, after all, merely profane, it proposes problems to the imagination that are not the less real for being crude."
"The Invisible Man"
"A body without a voice we have had on the silent screen, but not until this picture have we had a voice without a body."
These are two perfect film reviews. Troy was primarily a literary critic, and his emphasis is on plot - "scenario." But he has a terrific sense of how the uniqueness of the film experience arises from the paradoxes inherent in processing a representation of the inner world of fantasy presented in realistic visual and aural form. In criticizing Kong, he identifies the distinctive feature in the film's approach to love and sex, but he considers it as an error rather than as the enactment of a fantasy; it realizes its power, but he disapproves of it. And on aesthetic grounds, he's probably right.
What's great in him is that he recognizes so clearly the impact of the illusionistic qualities of film and how they push us towards the kind of thinking we do about plot and character. The recognition of the bad fit--and that's very, very bad joke--between two visions of sexuality is indeed the key to the movie, and works well with the later revisionist views that see Kong as about race. This essay alone makes me much more enthusiastic about including the original Kong in the Sex in Cinema class. (Previously I used only an excerpt. It's great to compare with the "Hot Voodoo" number from Blonde Venus--the one quoted in The Dreamers.

Robert Warshow, "A Feeling of Sad Dignity"
On Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux and Limelight

Ralph Ellison, "The Shadow and the Act"

Martha Wolfenstein and Nathan Leites, "Got a Match?"
On the "masculine-feminine" girl in movies

Parker Tyler, "Double into Quadruple Indemnity" and "Warhol's New Sex Film"
Of course I think there should be a lot more Tyler in this anthology. This is the famous essay on the relationship between Walter and Keyes in Double Indemnity; and the essay on Warhol is one of the most lucid explanations of what he was up to (addressing the film Fuck).

Susan Sontag, "The Imagination of Disaster"

American Movie Critics: An Anthology from the Silents Until Now, Phillip Lopate, ed.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

American Movie Critics: An Anthology from the Silents Until Now, Phillip Lopate, ed.



Vachel Lindsay, "The Photoplay of Action" and "The Artistic Position of Douglas Fairbanks and The Thief of Bagdad Production"
Lindsay seems like the definitively outdated, time-bound poet--those rhythmic incantations high-school students memorize--but his judgments on film are incredibly subtle, broad-minded, and far-seeing. The D. Fairbanks essay is a defense of Entertainment against the demands of Art.

Robert E. Sherwood, "The Ten Commandments" and "Greed"
"The Ten Commandments may not exercise as much influence as they should, but they are certainly good theater."

H. L. Mencken, "Note on Technic"
"What afflicts the movies is not an unpalatable ideational content so much as an idiotic and irritating technic. . . . How can one work up any rational interest in a fable that changes its locale and its characters ten times a minute? Worse, this dizzy jumping about is plainly unnecessary: all it shows is the professional incompetence of the gilded pants-pressers, decayed actors and other such half-wits to whom the making of movies seems to be entrusted. Unable to imagine a sequence of coherent scenes, and unprovided with a sufficiency of performers capable of playing them if they were imagined, these preposterous mountebanks are reduced to the childish device of avoiding action altogether. Instead of it they present what is at bottom nothing but a poorly articulated series of meaningless postures and grimaces. One sees a ham cutting a face, and the one sees his lady co-star squeezing a tear--and so on, endlessly. . . . If, at the first attempt upon a scene, the right attitude is not struck, then all they have to do is keep trying until they strike it. On those terms a chimpanzee could play Hamlet, or even Juliet.
"To most of the so-called actors engaged in movies, I daresay, no other course would be possible. . . . They are engaged, not for their histrionic skill, but simply for their capacity to fill the heads of romantic virgins and neglected wives with the sort of sentiments that the Christian religion tries so hard to put down. . . . The worst of it is that the occasional good actor, venturing into the movies, is brought down to the common level by the devices thus invented to conceal the incompetence of his inferiors. It is quite as impossible to present a plausible impersonation in a series of unrelated (and often meaningless) postures as it would be to make a sensible speech in a series of college yells. So the good actor, appearing in the films, appears to be almost as bad as the natural movie ham. One sees him only as one sees a row of telegraph poles, riding in a train. . . .
"All this is ingenious. More, it is humane, for it prevents the star trying to act, and so saves the spectators pain. But it is manifestly a poor substitute for acting on the occasions when acting is actually demanded by the plot--that is, on the occasions when there must be cumulative action, and not merely a series of postures. . . . In the movies they are dismembered, and so spoiled. Try to imagine the balcony scene from "Romeo and Juliet" in a string of fifty flashes--first Romeo taking his station and spitting on his hands, then Juliet with her head as big as a hay-wagon, then the two locked in a greasy kiss, then the Nurse taking a drink of gin, then Romeo rolling his eyes, and so on. If you can imagine it, then you ought to be in Hollywood, dodging bullets and amassing wealth. . . ."

This is very interesting to read in conjunction with Noel Carroll's A Philosophy of Mass Art, as I'm doing. Clement Greenberg and Adorno and Horkheimer's arguments against mass forms like movies turn on the idea that they make the audience intellectually lazy--Greenberg hilariously insists that the reception of real art should be hard work--where do they come up with these things?--while Adorno and Horkheimer more sensibly fear the cultivation of the habit of passive reception. An essay like Mencken's, coming relatively early in the history of film, clarifies the obvious point that the claim that mass media are easy or passive is bogus. (Carroll is very good at showing that the key terms in most of these arguments are incoherent, biased, or entirely artificial. He's also very good at briefly showing how Kant's ideas about aesthetic judgment are illegitimately extended to art--as if the objects of judgment should display the same characteristics as judgment does. I'm so poorly educated I never realized this before, but my excuse is that the arguments based on this mistake--like Greenberg's--always seemed to me so ridiculous that they were not worth considering in detail.)

Then there is this extraordinary diatribe:
"A successful movie mime is probably the most admired human being ever seen in the world. He is admired more than Napoleon, Lincoln or Beethoven; more, even, than Coolidge. The effects of this adulation, upon the mime himself and especially upon his clients, ought to be given serious study by competent psychiatrists, if any can be found. For there is nothing more corrupting to the human psyche, I believe, than the mean admiration of mean things. It produces a double demoralization, intellectual and spiritual. Its victim becomes not only a jackass, but also a bounder. The movie-parlors, I suspect, are turning out such victims by the million: they will, in the long run, so debauch the American proletariat that it will begin to put Coolidge above Washington, and Peaches Browning above Coolidge. . . ."

American Movie Critics: An Anthology from the Silents Until Now, Phillip Lopate, ed.



Monday, June 04, 2007

Incoherence is the new coherence.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

This appeared in Dennis Cooper's blog yesterday:

Bernard presents ... Michael Daniels' Watchword Technique

----


I use the Watchword technique in class to introduce Jung and offer a practical example of free association. Since it isn’t a good idea to try free-associating out loud in front of a bunch of people—yes, I know, there are plenty of folks who visit this site who would do it, but you all are special—Watchword is a fast way to demonstrate that free association can quickly lead to the individual’s characteristic patterns of thought—that is, complexes.

Michael Daniels, a British psychologist, created the technique by adapting Jung’s ideas on word association, archetypes, individuation, and personality types. Here’s what he says:

“Watchword is an aid to psychological understanding. Its purpose is to help you to identify your psychological type and to examine important psychological forces and tendencies operating within your own being. Watchword is not a system of fortune telling and it does not offer advice about problems. In providing a description and interpretation of your psychological situation it may, however, assist your choices and decisions.

“At one level, Watchword may be considered simply as an amusing party game or form of psychological solitaire. At its most profound, it is a system that may be used to guide you along the path towards self-fulfillment.”

Whatever. What my students and I like about it is that, like a Tarot or I Ching reading, the results can be spooky and right on. Daniels is undertaking a research project and says that if you send him your completed “Watchword matrix,” he’ll send you his reading of your personality type. If you play his game, you may want to contribute to his research. But I think your personality type is pretty easy to read yourself, and the fun in Watchword isn’t in categorizing types, but in the eleven “Key Words” that are the result of the game, according to Daniels’ directions.

Before you try the game, though, let me tell you:

------1) This is better if you don’t know too much about what’s coming, so fill out the Watchword Matrix before you read on about what you’re going to do with it.
------2) It’s easier to focus if you have someone else administer the game/test, or administer it to someone else, at least the first time (but you can do it yourself if you like). Watchword depends on maintaining a relaxed attitude for entirely free association and that’s hard to do while you’re reading directions and surfing from page to page.
------3) This will take 30 minutes or so the first time.

So read this first:

START by downloading the blank Watchword Matrix, which you can print out in Landscape format to fill out

THEN download the sequence of the game
which you can print out or just look at online.

THEN follow these directions

“Try to clear your mind of any current preoccupations. Close your eyes and focus gently on the sensations of breathing slowly in and out. Relax any obvious tensions in your body, adjusting your position if necessary. Try to forget what you are about to do.

When you feel ready, take a copy of the Blank Matrix Form and proceed as follows:

Step 1 Place the form horizontally and write eight different words, from left to right, in the boxes along the top of the sheet. You may write any words at all - just the first words that come into your head. Try not to censor your thoughts in any way and don't spend too long thinking what to write. Also, don't write a sentence or grammatically connected sequence. Simply write eight separate words.

Step 2 Write another eight different words, from left to right, in the boxes along the bottom of the sheet. Do not turn the sheet upside down to do this. Again, just write the first words that come into your mind.

Step 3 Refer to the Sequence of Connections and consider the two words that you have written in boxes 1 and 2. Now think of another word that, in your opinion, somehow connects the two words that you are considering. The connection can be of any kind at all as long as it makes sense to you. Don't worry if another person might not understand the association you make. If you think of more than one connecting word, choose the one that provides the link which, in your opinion, is the most personally meaningful. The word you choose must be different from the two you are considering but it may, if so desired, be the same as a word written elsewhere on the sheet. If you cannot think of a single word that makes an appropriate link, you may use a short phrase instead. Now write the connecting word (phrase) in box 17.

Step 4 Repeat Step 3, using the Sequence of Connections. Do not run ahead of yourself - make sure that each connection is written down before proceeding to the next. Also, once you have written a connecting word, do not change it.”

COMPLETE THE ENTIRE MATRIX BEFORE READING FURTHER, HERE OR AT THE WATCHWORD SITE.

After you complete the matrix, Daniels suggests you consider these questions:
“1. Did you feel that, as you progressed through the exercise, you seemed to be tapping deeper and more psychologically meaningful layers of thought?
2. Do the eleven words that appear within the rectangular outline seem in any way significant to you, perhaps when understood as metaphors or symbols?
3. Do the central three words in particular seem to encapsulate or symbolize something very basic about your personality or present situation?”

STOP TO CONSIDER THIS AND ASK YOURSELF IF THESE WORDS MAKE YOU THINK OF A PARTICULAR SITUATION OR ASPECT OF YOUR LIFE.

NOW INTERPRET YOUR WATCHWORD KEYWORDS

Daniels’ site, as I said, emphasizes using Watchword to ascertain your personality type. But my students and I enjoy it more as something like a Tarot reading. Daniels believes that the inevitable emergence of complexes in word-association tests, coupled with our archetypal associations with directions (up and down, left and right, inner and outer), lead us to fill in the Matrix in ways that reflect our self-assessments, aspirations, and fears according to the system you find under “Watchword Keys”

Each of the keys has a sort of Lord-of-the-Rings-ish archetypal designation, suggesting its function. You can see that they match up with the eleven boxes in the inner box of the matrix, and Daniels suggests you look at them in this order:

31 Giant – Driving forces
32 Dwarf - Inertial tendencies
29 Soul – Basic inner personality
30 Persona – Basic outer personality
25 Guide – Higher self
26 Imago – Ego-ideals
27 Shadow – Repressed material
28 Spectre – Anxieties and fears
33 Station – Sense of basic selfhood
34 Battle – Personal quest
35 Destiny – Realized self

Check his explanations for quite a bit more on each of the Watchword Keys. You can also see an example of a Watchword self-analysis at: http://www.mdani.demon.co.uk/wword/example.htm
But my students have mostly enjoyed just seeing how their own Keywords match up with Daniels’ designations and ideas, and sometimes the results are a little uncanny.
If you want to know more about Watchword, you can buy the ebook.

If you want to, you can reply to this Day with your eleven keywords for a symbolic Watchword self-portrait. Then we can all consult the list ourselves and know all your secrets.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Ellenberger

Henri Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious
53-74 Gassner and Mesmer. Enlightenment rationalism emerging in challenge to Gassner's "preternaturalist" explanation of "possession"; Mesmer's "rational"explanation of "animal magnetism." Mesmer's obscure involvement in politics 1785-1815. The notion that slave rebellion and thus Haitian independence were inspired by a mesmeric fad.
(Curiously, I dreamt of Haiti last night before reading about this this morning:
I am sitting in on a class at the Corcoran. The instructor doesn't know I'm also an instructor, and I'm appalled by her behavior: She keeps the class waiting while she finishes a personal phone during class time; she seems unsure and unconcerned about requirements and due dates; she seems to have a superficial grasp of her subject. Cory Hixson, Bob Devers, and Richard Wilkerson are sitting there, too, and all sort of acknowledge this isn't good but also "what can you do?" The instructor switches on a television for us to watch a video. On the screen I see a report about poverty, hunger, and political unrest in Haiti. There is an image of a kind of sculpture: a wooden board that has a largish metal bomb mounted on it pointing downwards, a bullet-shaped bomb with a tail, like a cartoon bomb dropped by a plane, very rusty, surmounted by a smaller bomb of the same shape, also pointing downwards. Mounted above the bomb are some leaves and vines, other things like twine, making a pattern that suggests a loincloth, like the bombs represent a cache-sexe holding a very large penis. The title is "Il met son front sur le fronton," and I understand that this means that the sculpture is a daring political joke about the military dictator, who has a phallic idea of power.
BTW, I immediately associate the loincloth with watching Walkabout last night, and the dictator (partly through the leaves and vines) with Bush, and my feeling that he is all balls, all nerve, with nothing else to back it up.
After I wake up, I don't know what the French phrase means. I have to look it up to get the sense it could mean "He puts his face (forehead) on a monument."
77-101 German Romantics - Clemens Brentano's book of the visions of Katharina Emmerich - The Seeress of Prevorst (von Eschenmayer?) - Kerner's inkblots (which could be a key precursor of the uncanny use of photography) - spiritualism - Bernheim against Charcot
Chapter 3 110-174 Multiple personalities, doubles (dipsychism)
Chapter 4 The philosophical and ideological background

The point of this is to depict the growth of cinema and psychoanalysis not just as coincident and changing the cultural conception and place of images in similar and related ways, but to see both as growing out of changing assumptions in the previous centuries--about the nature of perception, imagination, ansd representation--and particularly to emphasize the contribution of "fringe" phenomena - hypnotism, spiritualism, secret societies, esoteric knowledge, the faddish ideas both Freud and Jung took up - as a kind of popular avant-garde in signifying and even bring about change.
(It's just because of the failure to recognize the significance of such movements that liberal democrats and academics failed to understand the power of Christian fundamentalism, or that a fathead like Fukuyama was able to declare history done with even as Islamic fundamentalism was gathering momentum. The issue is a continuing profound inability to appreciate the role of the irrational in political and cultural life, and thus to understand cultural change in terms of the role of the unconscious. What is usually done is [still] hand-wringing over reason confronting unreason, as if one side were more reasonable than the other, as if one side was not subject to unconscious motivation, as if [with Freud] the id could be replaced by ego.)
As with politics and culture generally, a real appreciation of the unconscious changes understanding of the nature of cinema fundamentally, and not according to the specious models of Metz, Baudry, or Eberwein.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I'm Marrying Lana Turner


I'm marrying Lana Turner as some kind of publicity stunt, as part of her planned comeback. The wedding is going to also be a press conference, but it's on the stage of a high-school auditorium, which makes it sems chintzy. It seems the reason they want me to marry Lana Turner is that I'm big and strong and this will somehow make her look good. (Lana Turner is wearing a modish white dress and a white turban.) It goes without saying that I see this marriage as a practical arrangement; it'll be nice to be rich, but mostly I'm doing it to help her out, because they asked me to. The thing is, I'm already married, to some other Hollywood star, and I can't remember the details so it'll be difficult to find the papers etc and find out if I'm still married to her; it sems like it was a long time ago, like as long as as from now back to the '40s, when my first wife's films appeared. At this point, it seems, as it didn't before, very much like an old movie. Still in color, though.

Special Pleading

I'm thinking about the rhetoric (the spin, really, the marketing) among artists and critics. The declaration that art is "conceptual" usually means that it is just that kind of art not likely to engender new concepts.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I dream about . . .

Sitting in a Metro car--which doesn't seem to be moving. Someone, I don't know who, is sitting to my right; the two people in front are turned around to talk to us. They're a young, college-ageish couple; the girl is like the ingenue in a European movie, although she speaks unnacented English, the boy is blond with fair skin. She's telling us that she's noticed that since he's Jewish, his skin is sticky, she always has to wash her hands after touching him. This is clearly intended to embarrass him. He looks perplexed. I'm surprised he's Jewish, and also surprised that she apparently doesn't know that I am. I say, "You know, we're not so much sticky as greasy."

* * * * * *

An open-air tent in which some kind of catered lunch is being served. Each tent holds about eight people. The caterers come to each tent and describe the choices, but only half the people in the tent can hear. It's like ordering in a restaurant in which there's no printed menu, the waiter has to tell you everything verbally, and only half the table can hear at a time. Then the caterers have to go back and get the sandwiches etc. for the first four people before serving the rest. It takes forever and we feel we can't talk until they're done or we'll miss the part where they tell us what's available. When they come back, I'm extremely irritated but try to just hang on and listen carefully to what's offered, but before they can start, one of the people from the first half asks if he can get a beer, and the caterer regards him with suspicion and asks him to stand up. He won't. I can see from my angle that he has a beer behind him (some bad American beer in a can); he's trying to get an extra beer. I am supposed to understand that the caterers think that's why there's this complicated, difficult, frustrating system: because the customers break the rules, hoard stuff, like sneaking stuff off from the buffet to take home.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What I Do All Day, It Seems

From the IASD group on Dreams, Creativity and the Arts:

I mostly haven't answered on this stuff, because I'm not sure what Juan is asking about. I have a feeling that this has something to do with the fact that Juan is asking a question from the standpoint of critical scholarship on the analysis of film, while most of the users of this list are practicing artists. If critical theory bores you, p l e a s e skip this message.
Another issue may be that Juan is, I think, in South America, where the critical discourse in humanities scholarship has a very powerful influence from Lacan, whereas in the United States, while that influence has been very significant in film theory, it has also much abated in recent years. I also hesitate to start recommending books etc. when I have no idea whether Juan is already thoroughly familiar with them. I can't tell whether he is starting out in this topic or already steeped in it.
Juan speaks of the interpretations of psychoanalysts, and that can mean a lot of things. I suspect he means the interpretations offered by psychoanalytically-oriented critics of fictional dreams in artworks, and of the artworks themselves as wholes. In South America particularly, these are likely to be the statements of Lacanians, which may be very different from what a traditional Freudian would say--and on top of that there's the fact that it is entirely legitimate and may even be clarifying to refer to Jungians and objects-relations therapists as "psychoanalysts," as it is not a proprietary term.
As for actual psychoanalysts' interpretations of actual dreams, most of us simply have no experience of them at all--very few people inthe United States see a psychoanalyst, and you are much more likely to encounter a Jungian than a Freudian, and almost never encounter a Lacanian, whereas there are many Lacanians in practice in Central and South America. I wonder if what Juan means by psychoanalytic interpretations, then, are those offered in books, and especially by Freud himself. I have been considering the relation between psychoanalytic theory, dreaming, and film for a long time now, and I have almost never encountered anyone who uses, or feels content with, the projection of any orthodox psychoanalytic theory on to real people's actual dreams. I think there is a consensus among therapists in the US that into the 1960s, the use of dreams in classic Freudian therapy was a means to convert the analysand to the Freudian system rather than a helpful means of addressing the analysand's issues, and thus dream analysis was to a large extent abandoned in actual psychoanalytic practice.
The use of psychoanalytic theory as a tool to explore a fictional dream--as Juan says, either a dream sequence, or an entire film or novel that structures or portrays itself as a dream--is almost always, in something like the same way, simply a use of the artwork as rhetorical support (illegitimately, pretty obviously) for a concept in psychoanalytic theory. A good example is Zizek's use of Hitchcock movies to make a claim for Lacan's theories; I'm not sure even Zizek would insist that they teach us something about the films and how they work, as opposed to making clever illustrations of theoretical points which are actually about the culture that produces and consumes films, rather than the films themselves.
Again, I'm only guessing and I'm not sure what he is asking about, but academic film theory in the United States, Europe, and I suspect elsewhere, has been very much influenced by two authors, Christian Metz and Jean-Louis Baudry, who take a very narrowly Freudian/Lacanian approach to art. What is interesting is that they do not offer "interpretations" of fictional dreams, or films, at all; they offer a whole view of cinema that is based on Freud's dream theory. I'm kind of partisan about this, but I certainly think many, many film theorists would agree with me: the application of Freud's theory of dreams to art has been very misguided, and Metz and Baudry, though influential, are just wrong in a variety of ways. (For example, they are mistaken about the empirically verifiable responses cinema audiences have to being in a darkened theater--as Freud is mistaken about patterns of dreaming.) The classic objections to Metz and Baudry are in Noel Carroll's book, Mystifying Movies. Another book very much influenced by them is Roger Eberwein's Film and the Dream Screen, a fascinating curiosity which summarizes a lot of psychoanalytic theory about film, and which I also happen to think is very mistaken. I emphasize though that Eberwein does not offer "interpretations" of either dreams or films; he writes about the phenomenon of cinema.
My feeling is that Juan wants to explore further the phenomenology of dreams, but I am not sure what exactly, in his view, this has to do with the phenomenology of cinema. For what is "dreamlike" in cinema, generally, the first classic statement was by Suzanne Langer in "Feeling and Form," but it's pretty rudimentary. Filmmakers like Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage have written about how their work tries to approximate or learn from the dream state; Parker Tyler's writings on experimental cinema are very smart about the same topic. Gaston Bachelard's book, "The Poetics of Reverie," is a good guide; as is, as Richard W. might have mentioned, Bert States' book, The Rhetoric of Dreams. (Richard, by the way, put together a formidable introduction to a lot of relevant matters at the Postmodern Dreaming site.) I think Gestalt psychology and object-relations theory still have a whole lot to teach us about what happens when we experience a film and enter a state much like dreaming, reverie, or fantasy (and understanding this better might undermine a tremendous amount of sloppy politically or morally-oriented criticism). I do not know ifJuan has mentioned or is familiar with Medard Boss and existential psychiatry's view of dreaming; George Devereux kind of applies it toGreek tragedy in "Dreams and Greek Tragedy," and more centrally, Ludwig Binswanger does in "Dream and Existence." Finally, Michel Foucault's introduction to Binswanger, "Dream, Imagination, andExistence," is something I think Juan would enjoy if he's not already thoroughly familar with it. I apologize if I am rehearsing material that is already familiar.
By the way: I also think Wittgenstein's criticism of Freud's theory is very much to the point, and his general comments on Freud are witty and insightful. Interestingly, Jung's criticisms of Freud are very similar to Wittgenstein's. I think people may overlook this because they do not expect Jung to so rational.
And I think Mario Levrero has not been translated into English.
Bernard