Monday, August 17, 2009

Experience, by Martin Amis

"In one of his most stunning utterances Nietzsche said that a joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling. * * A passing note. When Princess Diana died it took four or five days for the jokes to marinate. When John Kennedy Jr died the jokes were instantaneous, electronic, light-speed. The feeling, in other words, had no chance to exist; it was born dead. One wonders, too, about subsequent road kill on the information highway."
It’s an unusual book, more moving in the depth of its completion than any of his novels, even Success and Money, my favorites. He tells the very busy, if at times too baroquely detailed, stories of a) his life up to the moment, b) his relationship with his family with a definite concentration on his father and c) the serial murder of his cousin when he was still a young man. The way he fractures the narrative in time and place is eerie, not quite right, but very poetical and atmospheric, and the three stories, with millions of other smaller stories, insult each other sometimes and cozy up at others. It’s not compelling formally but you enter deeply each scene and vignette. They’re either vivid or vicious (or both).

The photographs he includes in three sections are also intriguing because they’re not really in order and are deliberately misleading in their captions: photographs of his two wives, a couple of lovers, his parents and children and Philip Larkin, and then his cousin Parkington who was strangled (at least) by Frederick West, a particularly horrifying British serial murderer.

And Amis is devoted to poetry. His father was no small poet and his father’s best friend was Philip Larkin. He piggishly smokes cigarettes and drinks and lets it all hang out sexually, but he’s also very interested in how everything appears to him, the way people talk and impress and betray or are just silent toward each other to him, what’s the motivation?

from Jake by Kingsley Amis:
Jake did a quick run-through of women in his mind, not the ones he had known and dealt with in the past few months or years so much as all of them: their concern with the surface of things, with objects and appearances, with their surroundings and how they looked and sounded in them, with seeming to be better and to be right while getting everything wrong, their automatic assumption of the role of the injured party in any clash of wills, their certainty that a view is the more credible and useful for the fact that they hold it, their use of misunderstanding and misrepresentation as weapons of debate, their selective sensitivity to tones of voice, their unawareness of the difference in themselves between sincerity and insincerity, their interest in importance (together with noticeable inability to discriminate in that sphere), their fondness for general conversation and directionless discussion, their pre-emption of the major share of feeling, their exaggerated estimate of their own plausibility, their never listening and lots of other things like that, all according to him.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

St. Luke's Labyrinth, Bethesda MD

Today I am planning on taking the kids over to Bethesda, picking up my mother, and walking the nearby St. Luke's Labyrinth. This will accomplish my childrens' longing for mystery and Harry-Potter-like anachronistic gothicisms (i.e., they love labyrinths) and my mother's need to exercise. Supposed to get hot (94 degrees) so we will probably not stay long. Thought I'd write a pre-emptive note about it, to keep me subconsciously alert to any opportunities for concentrated thinking or imagery. Here's the church's opening description of the site: "The labyrinth has a single path for walking into and returning from the center. Unlike a maze, the labyrinth has no false turns or blind alleys. You cannot get lost." What's not to love about that? Also, the church's suggested prayer for meditation while walking: "Bless this labyrinth and all who walk it, O God. By the power of your Holy Spirit, make this a safe path, a path of discovery, a holy path. May all who walk this path be strengthened to serve all creation in your name."

Letter's to Wendy's

September 27, 996

If we think of the future as the Pritty Titty Bah-B-Q, and the past as a Motion-Excreting Machine (excreting through the pores), we get a much clearer picture of the present. Will the present is forever beginning to be a buffet, it is always already eaten away to the point of shimmering. This shimmering should not be confused with what is actually edible.
Wendy's restaurant comment cards beg customers to "Tell us about your visit," and Wenderoth writes a year-long diary this way.

They call it fiction but I was reading it like a long thick burger of prose poems: am I wrong. There are no characters but the speaker. There is no plot but the calendar.

If there are themes to the entries (each one no longer than a medium-length paragraph of five or six sentences, and some shorter than that), they are pornography, American plastic culture, a sort of existential philosophy tethered by junk food and anonymity, solipsistic desire-fulfillment. But it's funnier than all that, sad, too, sometimes, in a sentimental way.

In fact, the Wendy's setting provides the intellectual space for an almost infinite deconstructive exercise.
November 25, 1996

This idiotic notion that one should love the other customers. Love here really only means: agree, for the time being, not to attack. People pretend, though, that each customer is an irreplaceable piece of some priceless puzzle -- like the death of each customer is significant for every other customer. It's just not true; one cannot love what one does not know, and -- unfortunately -- one knows very little.'

November 27, 1996

The Virgin Mother appeared to me today. She was holding two baked potatoes with sour cream and chives. "The're delicious," she said, and she smiled, emanating a great white light. I took one from her. It was warm and inviting. I cut into it with my plastic fork and plastic knife and I took a bite. It was, as usual, very dry. She held out the other potato to me. "You try it," I said, "it's dry as fuck."

December 11, 1996

Thinking presses on one, demands that being admit its foundation in sense. Faith relieves this pressure. Its strange babbling is learned intuitively, like a way of laughing. The most stupefying faith there has ever been is the faith in "heaven." Such a faith proposes the abrupt and complete end of sense. This proposal cannot even conceivably be accepted, however much one cries, "I accept, I accept."

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

By the end of the year it happened that she had quite lost interest in the man himself, but was deeply absorbed in his mind, from which she had extracted, among other things, his religion as a pith from a husk. Her mind was as full of his religion as a night sky is full of things visible and invisible. She left the man and took his religion and became a nun in the course of time.

the creme de la creme

the dialogue for the character of Jean Brodie is almost impossible to excerpt, it is all pitch-perfect and eminently quotable.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Throne of Blood by Akira Kurosawa

The reason this film trumps all other Shakespeare adaptions to cinema is simple: it doesn't care a whit for the original, cerebral, figurative and image-laden language. It carves all the meat off the bone of the plot, and uses music, atmosphere, stark melodramatic performances, and visual imagery instead.

Some of the sounds -- the wind howling up and down Mount Fuji, where the film was located, the whinnying of the battle-mad horses, the solid percussion of the actors' bare feet running in measured syncopated blocking, the whistle and impact of arrows -- take on the force of characters themselves.

Yamada's Lady Asaji is bone-chilling. Her face barely moves, her pale white makeup is passive, and she has eyebrows drawn on two level of her forehead. When she finally breaks down near the film's end, endlessly washing her spotless hands in a room whose walls are covered with an innocent victim's blood (the notorious traitor Fujimaki killed himself in the same room, now known as the Forbidden Room), wailing that she can't get clean, the effect is almost euphoric. Earlier, she exits through a panel in the dwelling's wall, vanishing into pitch black, then returning seconds later with a pitcher of drink for her husband.

Mifune's Washizu scowls even when he is laughing.

mist, colossal trees dripping with rain, rich black volcanic soil and bulky fortress architecture

Noh thousand-year-old theatrical tradition

The Noh stage must have on it three pine branches and a symbolic Shinto temple-arch. In the film, shots are carefully composed to include tangles of branches in the foreground, and the vast entrance gate of Washizu's fortress serves for the temple arch.
A Noh play features a "doer" (Shite) and a "companion" (Waku) who plays a subordinate role. Washizu and Asaji are the Shite and Waku respectively. Elements in the Noh include a battle-drama (we get one here) and a so-called "wig drama", in which a female character dominates the action. This is the central portion of the film, in the quiet of the fortress quarters, when Asaji ruthlessly manipulates her husband's ambition. Every Noh play has a ghost which appears to the Shite, and the spirit in the forest fulfils that function. Noh plays are never original works, in that (by a venerable convention) they are re-workings of ancient legends. Kurosawa follows tradition by quarrying his tale from Shakespeare's play.

There is no western term to describe the stylized striking of poses so important in Noh. Our word "dance" is a crude word which approximates to, but does not convey, the grace of the Japanese art-form. Asaji, alone with the blood-stain, gives us a glimpse of this delightful ritual.

Finally, Noh contains an aural richness almost totally absent from western tragedy - the complex rhythms of stamping and percussion which accompany the spoken word. In the film, the rhythmic patterns of horses' hooves on soil, and Washizu's bare feet on the boards of the banquet hall, are meant to reinforce the mood as they creep into our emotions by subliminal insistence.

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