Saturday, June 10, 2006

Getting dissipated...

absinthe is my idea of a great first dateDissipation is more than the fate of the universe. It's a state of mind.

Now there's a lady who knew how to wear a hat.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Capote's Death Drive

Our reflections on men's relationships in the light of Brokeback have led to some lighthearted turns of phrase. My favorite is "Brokeback Moment" to describe unprobable encounters between men that seem to smoke with suppressed passion. It's a fun exercise in comedic cultural intervention.

But the story in Brokeback resonates less with me than the story in Capote of two men establishing a confidence - and a deeper bond than passion - that they also denied and betrayed.

In forging such a bond of trust with Perry Smith, in filling so many of Perry's needs for recognition and companionship, in seeing so much of himself in Perry, Capote treaded into the deep.

I watched the director's commentary in the DVD release of the movie. He noted that after In Cold Blood Truman did not finish another book (which is wrong) and that he wrote this inscription in his last unfinished novel Unanswered Prayers, "More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones."

Capote's director implied that the source of Truman's grief was having betrayed a friend's confidence and profited from his death. Others have speculated similarly. As much as I agree with plausible explanations, I'm unsatisfied. This betrayal was a trauma he repeated, which suggests to me that he was ruined by more than just routine journalistic betrayal and the loss of a friend. It was love.

Truman slowly drank himself to death, finishing with a drug overdose in 1984, but he died the first time with Perry Smith in prison. Did that first death drive him to the last?

UPDATE: Another Capote movie, Infamous, based on George Plimpton's book is being release this year. More soon.

Friday, March 31, 2006

"Look, I'm sorry I'm such a bitch."

Never believe a queen who says that, or who begins any rant with the words, "Look, I'm sorry I'm such a bitch, but..."

Because a real queen is deeply satisfied with being a bitch.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Newsweek frees a meme

I love seeing my thoughts echoed in print because it makes me believe in nifty shit like synchronicity, or maybe that Hundredth Monkey phenomenon where I spontaneously get brains when somebody somewhere frees a meme.

Jerry Adler writes Newsweek's March 27th headline story Freud is not Dead.

Well some of Freud is dead. Like pop psychology and jive talk therapy - the most annoying additions to the 20th century, aside from war, famine, pestilence, big hair, and valley girls - those are dead. But then there was that usefully cool shit about Oedipus, the death drive, fantasy, and ideology.

I read Freud in the early 90s, just when the world was looking and feeling too intolerably good for upper, middle, and upper-middle class white people. Social and economic progress was too much to bear. There were no more bogey men to animate their fears - so they looked inward to their own dissipated existence and found that they could torture themselves with the content of their own fundamental fantasies and then torture the rest of us by filling the airwaves with false recovered repressed memories of ritual psuedosexual nonabuse.

Newsweek ended the article by referencing the same disgusting stank:
It is no accident...that Freud's reputation reached a low point in the early 1990s, which was not only the height of the recovered-memory hysteria, but also of the post-cold-war optimism that made a best seller of Francis Fukuyama's book "The End of History." Fukuyama predicted that the dissolution of the Soviet Union would pave the way for the triumph of liberal democracy around the world - an idea that came crashing to the ground one sunny morning in 2001...What Freud has to say, which is worth hearing even if analysis never cures another patient, is that history will never end. Because it is made by human beings.
OK Newsweek, but even that sobering conclusion is too sanguine. Because in fact history can end whenever some Christian or Muslim Fundamentalist fucktard wants it that way.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sex, Love, Stability (choose any two)

This great quote from an article about Brokeback marriages in the New York Times:
Helen Fisher, a research anthropologist at Rutgers University, said in an interview that human partnerships are shaped by three independent neurochemical brain-body systems, responsible respectively for sexual attraction, romantic yearning, and long-term attachment.

"The three systems are very fickle. They can act together, or they can act separately," Dr. Fisher said. This, she said, helps explain why people can be wildly sexually attracted to those they have no romantic interest in, and romantically drawn to — or permanently attached to — people who hold no sexual interest. "Once the system is triggered, it's so chemically powerful that you can easily overlook everything about that person that doesn't work for you," Dr. Fisher said. "Even straight people have fallen in love with people they could never make a life with," she said.
This is why I hate answering the dater's question - you know the one - So uh what r u lookin 4? - even though - as the article suggests - there would seem to be only three possible answers: sex, love, or stability. (1) The truth is you can never give the right answer - which is such a defiance of the laws of probability - that those of us who ever tried to answer that question honestly could really have done better and been more theatrical by casting spells or chanting incantations across the dinner table. (2) What people want can't be satisfied by someone who poses that question fifteen seconds after saying "hello" because - hello - life is not a cheap remake of Evita, nor does it obey the laws of Dramatic Unity whereby a young couple meets, fights, saves the world, fucks, and falls in love before the credits roll. (3) And here's where I get pretty damned biographical: any dumb sonuvabitch who can't share what he wants before he asks the same from me will be served notice: "Excuse me, but if you can't just say what you want, you should learn to make conversation, and you are too old not to know better. You've been served. Now good night."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

And on the right kids, you'll see a police state!

In case you didn't already know, Sandra Day O'Connor just thought she'd make sure you do:
Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strongarm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.
The former Supreme Court Justice was talking to kids at Georgetown University who now have the same horrible insight as her plus the onerous duty of having to do something about it. Hey but don't let that spoil tonight's keg party kids!

Monday, March 06, 2006

1806-2006: Bicentennial of the End of History

The End of History: I love that campy academic idea.

To commemorate the bicentennial on this blog, I link to Francis Fukuyama's lecture The End of History? presented at the University of Chicago to an audience including the late Allan Bloom.

In 1806, as Napolean I and the French army defeated the Prussians at Jena, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel wrote that civilisation had reached the End of History. What was he thinking? Napolean of course had been a general in the fledging French Republic before seizing power as an "enlightened despot."

For Hegel, it was about the big picture, the evolution of society from tribe, to theocracy, to democracy, not about the bumps and snags along the way. Hegel believed that after winning independence in the US (1776) and France (1789), humanity had realized the ideal of Liberal Democracy and so achieved the final evolution of human government, never to look back, because there were no more unbearable and irrational contradictions to resolve. But others begged to differ. Communists of course thought that inherent contradictions between Labor and Capital would force an evolution to Socialism. Facists saw inherent human political, psychological, and moral weaknesses (anomie) as contradictions to be resolved by martial dictatorship. At least yesterday's facists stated their case clearly.

I first heard this phrase "end of history" in 1995 as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois - Chicago, just a few years after Francis Fukuyama published his 1992 book The End of History and The Last Man. Having a dark sense of humor, an appreciation of camp, and an apocalyptic imagination, of course I made this idea my own. You have to realize that, in 1992, things were looking pretty good. People swaggered with the belief that global peace could really follow economic and political liberalization. As for myself, I was not so predisposed to such happy talk.

I want to believe. But I cannot - not yet. And so I add my two cents with just two words. To Georg Hegel and to Francis Fukuyama, I say "death drive."


Sunday night I read this uncannily accurate description of our present circumstances (quoted below) while preparing the post for our bicentennial. Here's what Hegel - in 1806 - says to us today:
"The masses are the victims of the deception of a priesthood which, in its envious conceit, holds itself to be the sole possessor of insight and pursues its other selfish ends as well. At the same time it conspires with despotism which...stands above the bad insight of the multitude and the bad intentions of the priests, and yet unites both within itself. From the stupidity and confusion of the people brought about the the trickery of priestcraft, despotism, which despises both, draws for itself the advantage of undisturbed domination and the fulfilment of its desires and caprices, but is itself at the same time this same dullness of insight, the same superstition and error."
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, p.330

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

After Neoconservatism

Francis Fukuyama explains the mess we're in: how we got here and what we can do next. See especially his history of Neoconservatism, the political vision that has done the planetary equivalent of Hades on four dark horses rushing out of Etna.

Rape of Proserpina
The Rape of Proserpina by Luca Giordano

Friday, February 24, 2006

Academic Dhimmi Award Nominee

Dr. Stanley Fish for his New York Times editorial A Cartoon in 3 Dimensions: Our Faith in Letting It All Hang Out. This is not a free article, so let me share my free commentary below.

Just in case you thought the ideals of liberal democracy were the evolution of careful thinking and planning carried out over generations by the best minds of Enlightenment Europe and established in this nation only with much bloodshed and courage on the part of ordinary men and women, with extraordinary minds, and the leadership of a potent group of some of the strongest intellects ever to assemble in any part of the world at any time in history...Just in case you appreciated the accidents of history and fate that created the conditions for this liberal democracy to erupt on North American soil by finally breaking the bonds of servitude to a mad raving lunatic King George, and to open its shores to a world of immigrants for over 200 years, many of whom repeated the original accomplishment of our nation’s founders...Just in case you thought more of your political and religious freedoms, personal dignity, economic opportunity, and your inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, than to derisively write them off as nothing more than a vacuous, inane, and morally relative “liberal religion”...Just in case you treated the hopes you invest in the US Constitution for your situation in life with any amount of reverence, literary critic and Florida International University Professor of Law Stanley Fish would like to disabuse you of that notion.

On the whole, Stanley Fish is a thinker with some good ideas, some of which I share, and one of which is that university professors should not use their posts to propagate political dogmas and contrarian attitudes on a political spectrum. But outside the classroom, Fish lets his contempt for the rest of us really sizzle. Here’s Fish from his February 12th editorial:
“The first tenet of the liberal religion is that everything (at least in the realm of expression and ideas) is to be permitted, but nothing is to be taken seriously...strongly held faiths are equally and indifferently authorized (????) as ideas people are perfectly free to believe, but they are equally and indifferently disallowed (????) as ideas that might serve as a basis for action or public policy.

Should one of (the strongly held faiths) ask of us more than we are prepared to give -- ask for deference rather than mere respect -- it will be met with the barrage of platitudinous arguments....One of those arguments goes this way: It is hypocritical for Muslims to protest cartoons caricaturing Muhammad when cartoons vilifying the symbols of Christianity and Judaism are found everywhere in the media of many Arab countries. After all, what's the difference?

The difference is that those who draw and publish such cartoons in Arab countries believe in their content; they believe that Jews and Christians follow false religions and are proper objects of hatred and obloquy.... for (Arabs) the content may be life itself.... the difference, I think, is to the credit of the Muslim protesters and to the discredit of the liberal editors.”
I personally think much of Arab and Middle East culture is gorgeous. But the Arabs of Fish's article and of this episode are Muslim fundamentalist extremists: they get no credit from me except for rational complaints about US foreign policy in the Middle East. To be blunt to Stanley Fish, he overplayed his hand and showed us the cards he’s holding: the fantasy at the core of his screed is there in his own words: “deference” to fundamentalist believers - the content of whose faith “may be life itself.”

Fish exemplifies a class of mentally, emotionally, and spiritually depleted academics who exalt the exotic Muslim fundamentalist because “he believes” and because of the content of his faith may be “life itself.” This fetish is the work of capture bonding on the academic mind. Stanley Fish is writing like a man whose mind is captured by an exciting and fiery faith, felt more nearly and deeply than his own, that makes the domestic ideals of the rational Enlightenment seem dull and uninteresting to him, even worthy of contemptuous caricature. As a next step, Fish could eagerly accept his second class status as Dhimmi in a tribe of true believers, and he seems to think we should accept ours too: he closes his article by evoking a contest of wills between Muslim Fundamentalism and Liberal Democracy and nearly dares us to abandon our “faith” in (his caricature of) our “liberal religion”:
“...a firm adherent of a comprehensive religion doesn't want dialogue about his beliefs; he wants those beliefs to prevail. Dialogue is not a tenet in his creed, and invoking it is unlikely to do anything but further persuade him that you have missed the point -- as, indeed, you are pledged to do, so long as liberalism is the name of your faith.”
This the best that Nihilist academics can offer us...tie our hands with accusations of moral relativism, exalt the fundamentalist, celebrate a contest of wills, and dare us contemptuously to lose our nerve.

Liberal Democracy deserves more from our academics. In my next post, I point to a thinker with ideas for what we can do to get ourselves out of this UNHOLY MESS that Bush and neoconservatism have gotten us into.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Happy Birthday Nina Simone

Nina Simone (1933-2003)
EAGER: Love me, love me, love me, say you do / Let me fly away with you .... / Give me more than one caresse. / Satisfy this hungriness. / Let the wind blow through your heart.
INSATIABLE: I want more, more, and then some. / And do you know what I want to hear? / "I want some more and then some / I love you only dear."
POSSESSIVE: I put a spell on you / cause you're mine.
SUBLIME: Black is the colour of my true love's hair.

Thank you Nina.

Nurse, I'll take my coffee in a cup please.

Don't ask me what I'm reading...
"During WWI, a nurse discovered that patients who received coffee grounds in their enemas recovered from serious wounds at a much faster rate than those who received regular enemas....CAUTION: Do not use coffee enemas for more than six weeks at a time."
Just in case you were wondering I guess.
(Clearly this nurse had issues.)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Rhapsody on Crash (2004)

Allow me this rhapsody on Crash (2004) which I finished last night well after midnight. I have two votes for the academy's consideration.

I tap Don Cheadle for best actor in Crash. Spot-on performance as this generation's martyred man. A truly decent person beset by the demons in other people. His brother, momma, partner, the system, all dragging down a morally strong man. Somebody please buy that man a drink!

I give Thandie Newton a best actress tap in Crash. The girl is gorgeous. I first noticed her in The Truth About Charlie where she played next to Mark Walberg in a remake of Charade (1963) starring Cary Grant and Audrey going off topic...I would tell you that Thandie channeled Audrey in Charlie, but that cannot begin to describe what she did with Audrey's original pardon me while I offend Audrey's fan base...but Thandie raised the bar over Audrey's juvenile charm by doing the impossible. She added to Audrey's feminine innocence just a touch of something naturalistic and amoral - a very wet and incendiary secktual energy - all the while capturing Audrey's sweetness, vulnerability, and effervescence. She was incredibly seductive next to that secks hammer Marky Mark. And how charming was it to end this movie with Charles Aznavour serenading the couple while they danced through the closing credits on the sidewalks of Paris? OMG!

Now back to Crash. Imagine Thandie playing Audrey as Martha in Virginia Woolf, and you've got her character in Crash. She played out the contradictions of an hysterical and married secktual libertine by bringing her good man down. Now...good movies get me talking to the you could have heard me last night telling her, "Honey, you can't pork a ham and have it say grace at the dinner table! So sistuh, you better treat your man with a little respect!" lol

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Nothing happened but everything changed

Personal mythology, an attempt to account for the accidents of birthplace and time? My place, a town named La Moure. Probably a French surname, La Moure looks and sounds like love, and that spelling has a queer "e" on the end. My time, 45 days after the French student and worker rebellions of May 1968. I get a tingly feeling looking at the political posters of the time. My favorite had a sense of humor: "We are all undesirables!"

More than 30 years later, the French remember May '68 strangely as a time when "nothing happened" but "everything changed." Or so writes Kristin Ross in her book May '68 and its Afterlives. I'm reading Ross, because thinking about that time is one of my silly hobbies about personal mythology, but also because the times, they are a changin.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Camille Paglia in Chicago

I saw her last night at a book signing in the Harold Washington Library. I first read Paglia in 1993 while skiing my brains out and working as a waitor in one of the ski resorts of Winter Park, Colorado. That winter was a template for my adult life since: filling every day with intense physical and mental exercise. Work, ski, read, repeat!

You can hear Paglia speak online at NPR.

There's a lot already said about Paglia, and she's not short of words to describe herself either. So I'll just relate this personal anecdote. Seeing her on stage, she unexpectedly reminded me of someone from my past, one of my mother's best friends of 30 years, and one of my first professors in college, Dr. Joan Ferrell. A forcefully creative woman and a raucous feminist in the farm and coal towns of Southern Illinois, Joan had wit and intelligence that she matched with an outspoken demeanor - very energetic - and theatrically expressive.

I'm glad I saw Paglia last night, and I'm glad to have been reminded that I know first hand that my small town had its great people.

Coretta Scott King (1927-2006)

Before she was the keeper of a dream, she was a young woman in love with a man who would share her life's work and change the world.

Coretta Scott King (d. January 30, 2006)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Happy Birthday Etta James!

MAGNIFICENT. "At last / my love has come along..."
IMPERIOUS. "Don't let the sun find you cryin / cryin at my front door / you done mama dirty / she don't want you no more ... oh baby you can wail / beat your head on the pavement / til the man come and throw you in jail / But don't let the sun find you crying at my front door."
AFFLICTED. "These foolish things remind me of you."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sister Clara Slain by the Spirit

To my friends Kurt, Dennis, Harry, and Michael: "It's not Sunday morning if Sister Clara's not slain by the spirit!"

Dialog from The Fighting Temptations (2003) with Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyonce Knowles, and the Reverend Shirley Ceasar.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Exit stage left, pursued by lobster

After experimenting with mescaline in his twenties, Jean-Paul Sartre believed for the rest of his life that he was being stalked by a lobster. Thanks to Johann Hari for this bit of reflection on JP's life to commemorate his centenary in 2005.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Nicholas Wind on the New York Times

Just wanted to give credit to Nicholas Wind for bringing me back to my senses. I've been blissed out - mostly - for five days since the New Year festivities - and beginning 2006 in a state of weird and eerie ease - like when the meds kick in - and you thought you buried the demons of 2005 - but they're back - and it's all becoming clear again. Nick's got a few rounds of hear-clearing ammunition. Thank you Nicholas.

"Don't mistake paradise for a pair of long legs"

I can't believe it, but I just saw Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) for the first time ever over this morning's coffee. This teen movie is like Sixteen Candles meets I Shot Andy Warhol. Mary Stuart Masterson plays (yet another) lesbian-inflected straight girl (love that). But she's got a crush on sensitive artist Eric Stoltz who plays Dante to Lea Thompson's Beatrice.

I wouldn't count this entertaining if she hadn't told Dante: "Don't mistake paradise for a pair of long legs!" I'm not going to say this teen philosopher nailed the crux of a Metaphysical Horror. But isn't it kinda true that instead of a vision of ideal femininity, what most men really get is lotsa gawky genderphuck and plucky little tomboys in men's boxers? OMG! Mary was so cayoot!!

Monday, January 02, 2006

"Live out your fantasy here with me"

Of course I begin my first post by quoting Madonna from her world number one hit single Into the Groove. In the eternal course of time, you can interrupt the present moment with very few statements that pose a lower risk of disturbing the universe. So yes, I use Madonna to interrupt your fantasy and invite you over to mine.

And she's good for more than that. If I had to account for my past up to this point of posting on a blog over coffee, then I suppose I should include some blurbage about "living the fantasy" and some more about "the groove." What could be a more apt summation of the goings on?

Last night I began my new year at Berlin dance club in Chicago. Berlin hosts Madonna Night the first Sunday of every month, and happily, the rites of Madonna coincided with the holiday. Shortly after midnight, my friend Mark won a copy of the new CD Confessions on a Dance Floor. When the DJ offered the CD as a prize to anyone who could answer his trivia question, Mark knew the answer, but he already had his, so I was the surprise beneficiary. "What Madonna single reached number one around the world but was never released in the US?" Into the Groove. Thanks Mark!