letters to a stranger

May 20, 2018

When the years pass, when the years
pass and the winds have strewn a wasteland
between your soul and mine; when the years pass
and I’m only a man who loved, a being that paused
for an instant before your lips,
a loser tired of walking through the gardens,
Where will you be? Where will you
be, oh daughter of my kisses!

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revolutionary road

May 20, 2018

Frank works for a firm in the 1950s that is developing computers. There is no meta-plot linking the domestic strife to the technological context of his work. And in that absent space the film allows us a much more realistic interpretation for connecting these elements. There is a walloping remainder of a bad conscious handed down from a couple that dreamed of being different, who briefly, failingly, stared into the void of their culture’s ‘hollowness and hopelessness’. They’re made to pay for having dreamt, and the canvas of complacency is spread out over their remains in the final scenes, making clear that the dream was permanently buried. Frank has a temper; he is verbally, emotionally abusive with April; at times physically. He has an affair with a secretary, and barely shows her an inkling of dignity. His stroke of genius at work, responsible for his promotion and eventual life-career, occurs amidst his dream of leaving it all behind. Here is an interesting congruency. The anti-work ethic permeates the field of business and technology, because the anonymity of the firm tends to produce this internal ‘anti-capitalism’, this laise-faire bright-boy tinkering in the clouds, whose ingenuity replicates Arrighi’s description of horizontal and vertical growth- it both hollows out the old, and inspires new terrains for the same company, the same system to colonize. And it does this essentially because of the non-revolutionary character of the domestic relationship; it does this exactly because the dreams are recuperated and the pregnancies terminated.

terms of endearment

May 18, 2018

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Siskel and Ebert have separate, short reviews available online. Essentially their remarks resemble those made on this blog, in that they are personal, fragmentary emotional responses. The central relationship of the film is agreed upon by all of us, one is not distracted by the techniques used from the force, whether that is MacLaine’s acting, her character’s quirks and growth, her dynamic with her daughter, her daughter’s death, that deathbed scene, its realworld implications, that life is short, filled with bursts of emotions and unreadable ironies, the heightened sensitivity of MacLaine and Winger that the men fail to reach, though perhaps they fail interestingly. How is life recorded? I kept a journal as a young man, and would at times note the music playing at the top of the page, as a kind of legend for retracing the emotion. I tried to write letters. I engaged in countless relationships. I mourned them and tried not to leave one, which didn’t take. I fell in love recently with Nina, it went beyond what I’d felt before. I contemplated calling my mom, telling her how sad the film made me, how sad I still am in my depths; contemplated whether she could hear it. I know she could but I don’t have the force. I write here after watching films, sometimes after listening to music, sometimes after breakups. I wrote a letter to Nina. In the film there’s no real goodbye and yet what could be more moving than her commandment to the boys to remember her love, really just her character shining like Roger said. She takes the time to say goodbye to them, and it’s the power and force of her character that emerges, and later its tension with the other brilliant character on the screen, MacLaine. Indomitable, living every moment with vigour, bitterness, tenderness, rage. The poorness of the politics allows them to be more cleanly dismissed, Winger’s annoyance at NYC feminism. Instead we can return back to the primal familial drama, maybe the journey Firestone charted in Airless Spaces. They fought, and they were very close, and they were the best record of each other, and one is disappearing and the other, though marked, could never carry it, it’s a loss. One thing the film does is widen the angle of our vision, so as to be less myopic perhaps, in seeing those other technologies as encompassing our lives, when in fact they are terribly fleeting. Amidst my tears I thought of the drama on Facebook, my anger with Madelaine, should I take back a ‘like’, would that be more true to my heart at this moment of sympathy? I suppose I’d rather say it here. I was mad and hurt by her, as by Isabella and others, and part of what hurts is the shut door, the lack of access for communicating, for letting someone know how you feel. I often rethink those things, should I have said this or that differently. I fantasized in the last few days about confronting the ‘accusers’, the group that has bullied me, making clear to them how they have hurt my feelings, how I will not take it silently, how unacceptable their shaming of me is, how incapable any of them have been or could be in looking me in the eye and having a real confrontation over our interactions, over what has been easier to ignore through insinuation, ostracization, and blind group-think. I needed a hand on the shoulder and support.

the wire

May 3, 2018

the phone laptop handheld, depository of a certain abject.

‘The unhappy couple turn to their phones, which reflect back a sublimated resentiment’.

Chitty in his powerful foresight spotted the obscure sexual character to these devices. They are sex toys of a brutal alienation. And the show The Wire is a useful historicizing of this feature, the link to a racialized, abject character of what is hidden because it has to be. Sorry that is not clear at all. Let me be more descriptive. The nodal point of the show was the surveillance introduced in early episodes, somewhat concurrent with developments in the late 90s. Not unrelated was that the show exemplified a freedom for artistic direction in the series format. TV had lost its primacy, its ‘big brother’ emission as one-way communication, and had totally transformed into the diffused spectacle. Much of its own surveillance character had waned. There is something voyeuristic in spying on someone’s phone, in hacking their computer. In our lives today it is the essential site where the abject is stored. What porn, what scandalous abuse have you committed, what activity log of your online bullying, of the personaje that emerges from your profile which, once identified, can be ostracized as belonging to given focus group. When Adorno complained of the psychoanalyst tucking away the business man’s prior idiosyncrasies, he missed that they were tucked into that plastic smile, later melted into celluloid as the profile pic. The Wire seemingly periodizes a moment before the online profile, and it has to do with racialized, impoverished communities hiding from the encroaching surveillance of the state-capital partnership, which the show portrays as both one of solidarity as well as uneven tension. Drama is spent on the unperfectness of this state, whose idealism of providing for all by ‘solving crime’ is hampered by much real world messiness, so that the technology of the wire tap alternates as at once utopian and a coup de etat to bring about crimelessness, and simultaneously a foil, an aggravating reminder of a bad conscious, best exemplified in the alcoholic Mcnulty’s sardonic bad behavior and sexual promiscuity. It is in promising to every bedroom, every private pocket, every bathroom stall trip, an envelope to oneself, through which to surf potential partners, to juggle whatever secret liasons or micro-joys, one’s musical picks that might allow surviving another day, that a literal database is built with this surplus joy/shame. The unconscious has become flattened to the depth of an image, yet the real experiences that birth it are further from ever from the screen on which its referents now flash.

What Maisie Knew

March 31, 2018

One thing that the film contributes excellently is the discourse we generated regarding the role of the state in child-rearing, caring and socializing. In the novel the state is somewhat blended with the power of social convention, reputation, etc. But in the film it is more visible that the child is ‘abused’, is manipulated, lacking care, and the state has authorized all of this, it is in fact overseeing the situation and *enabling * it. The step parents are sympathetic, so far the closest we get to what could be a vastly more profound utopian element of a socialist communization of child care, where there are both resources as well as affective care, as well importantly as the stripping of biological and eugenicist primacy, tied to the legalistic juridical apparatus. Maisie hanging out in a bar somehow demonstrates all the precarity and social fracturing of the period; there is noone to look after the children.

What the Hollywood ending amazingly does is emphasize the contingency and necessity of the couple-form. True to the novel and the discourse generated in my course, Maisie practices self-care, defensive and offensive, she is capable of healing, of self-regeneration. As the catalogue couple unites, in contingency, Hollywood smiles at her happy fate. Now with the couple form restored, a kind of teepee around the nuclear family finds erection, but we are better off not erasing from mind the long traumatic night of being nowhere, of being failed by the state. As she revolves heliotropically towards the catalogue couple who can provide for her, she practices a type of self-care often ignored in discourse about children.

 

Damage II

March 29, 2018

Sudden suspicion that Damage (1992) is based on a… Henry James novel!?! As the family comes together for mother’s birthday, the triangles and relations in relation to each other begin to gel. Now, each sleeps in their own room, the formal privacy that old wealth allows. Our eyes then feast on the cinematic rendition of those shocking 19th century tours of point of view and the mastering of public space. Here I am recalling not just Nevsky Park, Poe’s Man of the Crowd, no I have found it to be the most singular aspect of reading James. His obsession with point of view seems to break open when confronted by physical reality, the ghost staring through the window at the Governess, the young boy Miles staring across the estate, the dotted lines we see connect one character to another across these managed, trammelled spaces. And in What Maisie Knew she stops cold in the park, seeing her step-father see her mother approaching with another man, and the drama and narrative are suddenly fired into the perfected organic machine of literature as the reader’s awareness slips into the rhythm of the prose, as if finally guided by the natural world, the physical pacing an unbelievable relief from the straightjacket in which we are held by James’ aristocratic dogmatism. Not just an upperclassman but a slightly underclassman ideologically bent on delivering himself and his linguistic vessel to the uptick and tone of all that is proper. But the language of cinema has never had a Henry James, and his adaptability is something else entirely. It is the drama, the felicity, the period piece, the kinship with Austen, the coquetry, the female protagonists. People want to escape themselves and often into others. His films don’t always give us a social tableaux approaching realism, nothing like Soderberg’s Contagion for example, but they allow for good acting out of the frustration in confinement, Helena Bonham Carter especially. Woody Allen, Bogdonavich, Polanski, the great autuers rope their scenery into powerful dramatic tension, the characters emerge from balustrades sculpted by their experiences, they avoid all the kitsch that would signify a James of the cinema. That might look something like Tarantino’s formula enlisted by copycats, or if he is or were to slip into tired repetitions of his own inventions. Anywho, we see Jeremy Irons’ gaunt strides in fine british ware slowly pan across the great lawn, as he and his mut move at a fine morning clip. Here is the individual; he has slept with his son’s lover, the demure, powerful, profoundly marked Juliette Binoche, who also upsets his wife. He accepts the affair, the ultimate isolation of the cloistered bedroom. The other relationships revolve around him; when in fact they don’t at all but around anyone but him. Yet they are nonetheless his progeny. This negative effect produced much of the vital power of modernism: the others of Wide Sargasso Sea for example, and the feminine force here in this story. Now the camera takes on a fine, soaring life of its own, an eye with a mind like an engine. As he traverses the lawn, the pan increases in speed. He lifts his head to the approaching sounds, he strides forth. The camera lifts us over hedges and treats us lushly, in its acceleration towards the anticipated object, to the verdancy of these regal barriers, rose bushes perhaps, mild trellises, and continues skipping up into the family tableaux playing croquet. All underneath gothic windows from the old stone mansion. Not incidentally, this panoramic sees the affinal gesture during the croquet game of pointing out a vector with the staff, indicating the dot dot dot of the billiard’s trajectory. But it also contains the clothing and gait of these upperclass affairs and trysts, with the wrapping the arms around the damsel in order to indicate direction of sport, as in tennis or golf. This completes the symmetry of form and content. Her initiation into an order of privacy and mutual duplicity. She comes somehow from without this class code, her brother’s suicide being the sin against the class, and her fidelity to his memory marking the impossibility of her inclusion within its customs. She rather must be consumed as a sexual object, quite graphically several times in the racy scenes with Irons we see trajectory more than penetration; something of the discomfort of sexually explicit films in the 80s and 90s. She is blinded, she is thrust about, she is in ecstasy but she also takes part in a way that refuses losing her autonomy and command of the situation. But what does the camera do? It cuts and zooms to his face looking at the crowd. Just as James constructed situations and characters intricately intertwined, with his own class repression impressing himself upon the characters’ consciences, here the director, Louis Malle no less, brings us into contact with the voyeur Irons, also utterly confined and who tries to control through conquest, but here halted and placed in the position of silent watcher. In that moment we find ourselves in rhythm as also voyeurs, taking in the social and technical dynamics, and the apparatus leaps into form as all the color and depth fill the celluloid. Who will find out what an other is thinking? What is this love and togetherness enjoyed by this family?

And too there is something here of propriety. The secret affair transgresses something. Actually there’s quite a lot of transgression, such as when the help observes intentionally or otherwise the passions and missteps of the master. Or the young child’s own sexuality. He’s a gov’t ministuh, upholding propriety but clearly insincerely. It’s modernism all over again, the impropriety slips in through the cracks. But Malle’s eye is quite refined; it rather expects that these troubled bourgeois have a hard time of it coming; no there’s something else. These bourgeois want everything, but only for themselves. The bourgeois lusts, it feels guilt, it feels no shame. Ana feels shame.

The classical music, the artistic refinery which complements this class, or rather its raison d’etre. Thanks to such refinement it comes to see itself, in its own emptiness, attaining its ultimate goal. The camera also focuses in on the shared secret affair, as the synchronous ambient sound carries on the illusion of their privacy, the others missing out on this meeting of the eyes (ours included). The ambient sound in the garden estate, finally, concludes these thoughts. Here, full nature reigns as both in on and indifferent to the affair, as each of these characters must be in their hearts; just as they are in empathy, such as the look Juliette gives sympathetically to Irons as her engagement to his son is announced. But in the garden we are free to associate and empathize at will. We gaze at the scene. We accept our voyeurism, even as we reject the pettiness of the jealous tryst against which the drama earns its keep.

Babylon Berlin

March 29, 2018

Imagine a man from the past, staring on some strand at the majestic kaleidoscope of nature that centuries from now will be all but obliterated, somehow grasping the fleetingness of his world and his alien presence in it. The tree trembles in the zephyr because it knows that the wind blows from the catastrophe of the future. I was such a man in 2007, standing on the strands of Victoria, haunted by the magic around me and the fulminating  ecstasy at my fingertips. There’s little point in recounting it now, still such a man near paralyzed by the splintering of social life; it’s too long to live in the eye of the needle, sifting from the chaotic warble of the past into the orden cuadrado of the post-manufactured. In delirium lying, painfully taunted by past ghosts, women I loved hating me now, beautiful recollections stripped of their beauty but not their names, wondering behind which of these semiotic doors might I forget that I have not moved from my bed in centuries. Lacking all of Genet’s terrorous desires, to blaspheme this world lacks content, watching porn brings shame and more recollections of past connections. A sort of petty promise was made not to strike back, some strange Elliott Smith like confusion over the word abuse and its referent, not quite sure of the PC committee’s ruling on how valiant it might be to take some minor stand; but no doubt I have been cast out. Regardless of who I choose not to abuse, I am marked abuser. Thus the days are purgatories, there could be some heroic act of kind goodness, but it will not come from me. I imagine pooping longly, into the mouth of Brigadier Pudding; might this be the moment to drop the screen and pick up a book? There is little reward then, little won, after each insult goes unreturned. But on the isle of Chiloé I was insulted, by the woman I was sleeping with, and when I refused to abase myself in vindictive texting my patience paid off: she apologized. Had I unlocked something? To not strike back. It gets nowhere fast. For years I couldn’t sleep well. I was tormented by the wrongs done to me. Well I might as well recount them or explain, I felt very wronged. I felt deeply hurt, like I had noone to trust. I was fantasizing about saying this or that response to change my situation, to correct some misunderstanding. Many of those nights go back to one night in particular, when it was so painful to lie alone in the forest, separated from Jenn. I felt betrayed. Perhaps all this time I’ve needed to communicate to her how hurt I was.

Damage

March 27, 2018

20 minutes into Damage. I think I commented elsewhere on the chord I trace back to Tomas and Teresa, and to the moment in the film when Juiliette explodes onto her love, a love I believe I tasted but as if in a dream that can’t be certified. And I asked a few times: is love like that? Something that attacks, that overwhelms us, that fills us up so much it expands you, so that afterward I have these attractions. Girls with short hair, who read, eastern european women, intimate, dark, shy, passionate, trauma, on a razor wire of whether it can be superceded. Because I can’t go back and touch the dream there is still the possibility of falling into it again, do you see? Those disconnected passions have the cosmic absurdity of re-alligning anew, or not. Here she sleeps with the father of her boyfriend. She cannot shake a certain demure. And neither can I. I walked out to the rocks at squam and sat next to a woman I’d been in love with for years, who had a certain forcefield that attracted and repelled me, and there was something to the dance of transgression, of some procession leading me on. Was it building towards a kiss, towards a romance I’d positively dreamed? Or some vapid shipwreck of cowards who fail to act, and look back with regret after the years pass? Or was the forcefield the unknown, flitting back and forth between ruin and exaltation? The infinity that the unknown stores, the true source of love, the dialectic of failure that prepares us, the possibility of attainment…. What I know is that here, years later, the horizon of that night, that place in and out of time, is vast and full, it contains multitudes, sitting on the rocks alongside Elizabeth Coleman and looking out into the bleached orb of the world. The world there is vast and it birthed another man, who mourned his aunt, who loved again and planned out a revolutionary path. The very same man who walked on water and whistled the sirens of the astros, those melodious magnetic fields drenching his brow and luridly caught in the squall of eternity, also paused for a very long time before a tree and let go of everything that had befallen him and sank into self-pity, and ground his teeth over the loss perceived, and imagined in vanity that it had not befallen at all. And that became a little disk spinning in space, an oasis of regret amidst a sea of chaos. On a pouring streaming night surrounded by broken branches and notions of old age he stared into the choppy waves, ripping the old clothes from his chest, excoriating the hidden stars beyond the mist, nauseous of gut and somewhere between ill and invigorated by desperation, he dove into the storm and was immediately swept under. Days later he awoke in Italy or Libya, water in his lungs, being nursed by a very old man, with no memory of who he was. He could perhaps fathom rage, could fathom love, hunger, overexposure to the sun; yet none of these sensations were at hand. He had his language and about a third of his brain pivoted on the existence of the Brothers Grimm and the misty sense of their frightening folklore, pushing him back into the garish sands presently cradling him. He knew he would set out shortly, and with a little food and water had soon come by a water bison that some miserable local had allowed him to accompany. He traveled down a river, he was in Africa but it was a sort of jungle, there were large palms above on ridges, unencumbering his path, plenty of shade. He remembered again the Brothers Grimm, the Juniper Tree and the horror of the hungry children, but a hatred and love of whoever his mother had been repelled him fiercely, and the world leaped up in the shape of a river pebble and badly stubbed his toe. He had to brace himself against a large rock, noting the mild fracture of the nail, rinsing the blood as he heard the splashes. A woman approached wading strengthfully forward with ocre colored blouse, skin, jewelry, teeth, eyes, hair, tattoos; ripping him from the abyss of solitude in which he’d been and forcing him now to reckon with a face whose wideness evoked immediate reflection and awareness, it was a face he’d long thought of during the month spent in Elmwood county lockup. A face that Allowed him to approach, but in careful modicums. There passed a period of telepathy, seeing the woman’s two children in a nearby village, seeing her fierce anarchism in the face of various injuries: idiotic men seeking power over her, horrible poverty due to colonial perpetuation of her society, draught and natural misfortune that had spawned a kind of folie a deux, a shared madness with her children ignoring and blaspheming the oppression of their hunger. The traveller with the throbbing toe had lived none of this, and he put his foot in the soft mud of the riverbed, feeling the squishing in between his toes as his gravity moved forward, accepting the alien reality that invited him to explore and leave behind, and finding a new question of what it would mean to commit to something if in that very act one detaches from all responsibility. In the months of labor that followed, repairing huts and patching tarps following a recent storm, sowing the fields and reshaping the clay that the season now allowed to be molded in the village’s humble infrastructure, that foci of interdependence, vegetable baskets, water jugs, pipes, bonfires around which passed desolate council, hard, brutal labor for days such as splitting wood or digging trenches — he hid from the question somewhat as he had hid from his mother’s face after awaking on the shore. The woman came to him sometimes at night as he tied his tarp and mat. Hand on his shoulder, they stared at the moon, whose brightness was being support against by her presence. Something blinding and overwhelming pierced him through the forehead, and her hand like an iron wrench formed a spine that would not wrestle free from its penetration. Something melted away, and he saw plainly the question: he concentrated on it briefly, understanding the community here, his outsiderness, the temporality of these people that utterly eluded him, their trades and customs with others that turned like a slow wheel, introducing the youth to problems in nature that invited their rebellion, a generational, oedipal conflict. He knew then that as he set out again soon, he was leaving behind community, not a throbbing toe. He was more sure of his hands, of the rise and fall of the sun, of his body’s repose at night, of his capacity for respect of these people and his lack of capacity for emulating them. He was restless, demanding of answers, aware dimly of a violence inside him that would guide him far from here to be enacted on the first object other than himself that might deserve it – that might collide with himself like two stones to reveal their mettle.

the Wanderer

December 17, 2017

Attention, everyone, I need one second of your attention:
Look over here, for once, at something different.
I know you all have personal issues but I promise
It will be okay if you set your doubts and feuds by the door,
And finally look in the eyes of this part of society.

Listen to a soul that has been stifled for years in a sexual and intellectual abyss…
No, seriously, do any of you deny that
Sometimes around here, one may not even breathe properly,
Through their nose,
Or at all? I want all the refined individuals out there to
STOP IT MOMENTARILY while we try to clarify some stuff bothering me.

The daily drama gets to me and I come back to my room dismayed,
My computer is overheating and I have pain
Physically from sitting so much, plus my mental state is pretty disastrous.
In fact I shouldn’t be typing this, but my hatred for the American government
And the ruling classes has released a tart gush in my mouth, and a fetid stink
Associated with public hangings (sorry, that’s a weird thought).
You take great selfies and your personalities attract me, making me believe
Rich people have a seventh sense about how it feels to be an outraged loser.

I still call my mother, wandering, and though she doesn’t know about the insults,
Am honest at least, miss my ex-girlfriend, don’t work and am frequently ill,
Do my best to inspire students and dream once in awhile
In a way I’ll never write down or express, ideas that are world-changing,
Or so personally intense it’s as if my chest contains the gravity of a star.
High on coffee, remembering a plan to do violence to the banks and You! –ceaseless mockers of private shame–
These flights of fancy are the cherishable moments of a life
That will never register a blip on the screen, and wants it that way.

– anti-translation of El Peregrino, Nicanor Parra, 1954

la vita é bella

December 13, 2017

but i really did believe it was like that. but i really did have prayers answered and the streets were glittering. but she really did love me too. but i really did see things that way. i seem to have messed up and been taken advantage of and i fear the future is being stolen, i fear that they would like to come for my dreams. but i really did imagine i could do the right thing. someone i barely know. barely find. without connection, without sense and understanding. without magic.