Sunday, May 31, 2009

bourgeois, n.1 and a.

bourgeois, n.1 and a.
A. n.

1. orig. A (French) citizen or freeman of a city or burgh, as distinguished from a peasant on the one hand, and a gentleman on the other; now often taken as the type of the mercantile or shopkeeping middle class of any country. Also fem. bourgeoise, a Frenchwoman of the middle class.
2. Used disparagingly. a. In communist or socialist writings: a capitalist; anyone judged to be an exploiter of the proletariat.
2. Resembling the middle classes in appearance, way of thinking, etc. Also used disparagingly: selfishly materialistic or conventionally respectable and unimaginative; = PHILISTINE a. 2. (See also quot. 1960.)

I have been feeling incredibly bourgeois lately. I have just spent the past 10 and 1/2 days at home doing absolutely whatever I want. Within reason and morality though. It has just been one helluva week, as they say. I sit, perhaps at the pinnacle of the feeling of bourgeois-ness, at the computer reflecting on this most awesome Better Than Ezra concert that I just attended with some dear friends. It was quite amazing. All week though has sort of reflected this amazing-ness feeling. I have been reading (although very little of stuff of true merit, if there is such a thing), watching TV, listening to some awesome music (I finally got Glen's cover of "Into the Mystic," and I discovered a most cool new band), and I swam for five hours on Friday past.

Laziness, exploitation of the proletariat...well maybe, but it just seems that I have been feeling very "free" of things lately. I have been becoming more laid back and open to fun and a little chaos. I think I can almost say with some authority, yet again if there is such a thing) that Disney's UP is the greatest Pixar film. As Laura and I enjoyed a great post-movie analysis discussion I realized that the mundane, the everyday is amazing. It is worth living for. So I guess I also look back on this past week knowing that in many ways it exemplifies so much good-ness. If possible, I wish I could have spent even more time with those whom I love because there is never enough time to go around really. And on that note, I will finish this as I plan to stay up for the next three hours before flying to Tulsa. I have much to plan. The next two months will be far from ordinary as I finish up one chapter of my life to start another. I look forward to seeing the everyday of this summer!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Going Out on a Friday Night

... Well it's not quite like this. But wouldn't it be awesome if it could be. At least, sometimes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Moving Home

“To sum up, what we have discovered through the study of motility, is a new meaning of the word ‘meaning.’ The great strength of intellectualist psychology and idealist philosophy comes from their having no difficulty in showing that perception and thought have an intrinsic significance and cannot be explained in terms of the external association of fortuitously agglomerated contents. The Cogito was the coming to self-awareness of this inner core. But all meaning was ipso facto conceived as an act of thought, as the work of a pure I, and although rationalism easily refuted empiricism, it was itself unable to account for the variety of experience, for the element of senselessness in it, for the contingency of contents. Bodily experience forces us to acknowledge an imposition of meaning which is not the work of a universal constituting consciousness, a meaning which clings to certain contents. My body is that meaningful core which behaves like a general function, and which nevertheless exists, and is susceptible to disease. In it we learn to know that union of essence and existence which we shall find again in perception generally, and which we shall then have to describe more fully.”

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Colin Smith. London and New York: Routledge, 1958. 170.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Synecdoche, New York

Okay. So ultimate theatre/reading experience in the form of a film? Maybe. Trip into madness – definitely? I recently watched the film Synecdoche, New York, and I have still—after about ten days—been digesting it and thinking about it. I have already told several people about my experience of watching it, which was basically sheer laughter. I felt like I was experiencing hysteria, or possibly some other form of neurosis, as I was watching the film. Having said that, you might think I thought it was awful, but in fact, I thoroughly enjoyed the “film” in that it provided a very nice phenomenological experience. In fact, it was in many ways a wonderful cap to the past two years of my academic career.

One of the reasons I decided to finally rent the movie was because of this article by Hermione Hoby from Guardian about Synecdoche, New York the film as the postmodern novel. I was intrigued by the title, and Hoby’s analysis of it is all the more intriguing. She starts by stating that: “A few days ago I airily declared to a colleague that cinema never really did it for me, not as much as fiction, in any case. I'd always rather read a novel than watch a film. That snooty belief in the superiority of the written word has been as happily shaken up as my boggled brain itself since I emerged from a screening of Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York.” She goes on to talk about a Q & A after the screening in which many people asserted that Kaufmann was influenced by such-and-such novel only to be told no. Hoby continues, “Likewise, these perceived novelistic borrowings are most likely just that - perceived: any good piece of art probably reminds a million people of a million different things.” And I had the same sort of response. The fact that this so psychological and cerebral lends itself to this extreme multivalency in which the film radiates and reverberated everywhere.

For another review/resource to talk about the film, I checked out my friend’s blog and his entry on the film from a while ago. I think what he was to say is quite true: “Unfortunately, and I know how elitist this sounds, most people don't like movies because they don't respect them as a living, breathing thing, and Synecdoche, New York is nothing if not that.” The film is that—“a living, breathing thing.” Its essence smacks you in the face when you watch, and my own reaction to the film echoes his reading of the film. “When I recommend it, I'm recommending it not as a film, but as an experience that no two people will receive in the same way. It's kind of a miracle that it exists at all, and if you like movies, you should see it.” I sort of felt the same way when I read Ulysses…that this book was all about experience and that trying to control that experience or mold it into someone else’s reading would be detrimental because the whole point is to have that original, untainted (if there can be such a thing) experience.

Here’s a trailer for the film:

extending the meaning of birth control

I recently saw the new film Angels and Demons at the movie theatre, and it has me thinking about all of these issues that I have with the Catholic church. Well, I guess one of my biggest ones happens to be their stance on birth control. And if you couple that with an odd conversation at Tulsa Studies you will sort of get the idea for this post. Hall announced to me that she and her husband discovered an interesting fact about Oklahoma -- that is has the highest rate of ED. Well, this got me thinking about sex and birth control and then the Catholics. And of course with this issue, a double standard presented itself in my mind because of recent cultural developments of the past decade.

With the advent of Viagra in the 1998, men with erectile dysfunction are able to have sex. If the end result of sex according to the Church is to conceive, then couldn't Viagra be seen as a form of birth control? It is altering the potential outcome of a heterosexual couple's chance of having a baby. "Pfizer, leaving nothing to chance, has even requested and received the Vatican's unofficial blessing for Viagra (according to this article in TIME)." I just think this is interesting because the Vatican condemns IVF and stem cell research. According to this article at Catholic Insight, "IVF violates the rights of the child: it deprives him of his filial relationship with his parental origins and can hinder the maturing of his personality. It objectively deprives conjugal fruitfulness of its unity and integrity, it brings about and manifests a rupture between genetic parenthood, gestational parenthood, and responsibility for upbringing. This threat to the unity and stability of the family is a source of dissension, disorder, and injustice in the whole of social life." (Notice the gender at work here, too. Deprives "him" of "his" rights.)

While Viagra is not producing the same consequences that IVF apparently creates, it does in a way manifest a "rupture" in that without Viagra it would be difficult for the man to ejaculate. Or at least that is how my simple understanding of ED works. Any thoughts?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Bit of Obssession

Beyond the future of the project, Roland was worried about his own future. He would have been in a panic if he had allowed himself to think, but the dreamy days, the pearly light alternating with the hot blue, and something else, made it possible to leave thinking in abeyance. Things did not look good. He had simply walked out on Blackadder. He had done the same to Val, who was, he considered, unforgiving and dependent in equal proportion—he would have to go back to be berated, and then how could he leave, where would he go, how should he live?

Things had changed between them nevertheless. They were children of a time and culture that mistrusted love, ‘in love,’ romantic love, romance in toto, and which nevertheless in revenge proliferated sexual language, linguistic sexuality, analysis, dissection, deconstruction, exposure. They were theoretically knowing: they knew about phallocracy and penisneid, punctuation, puncturing and penetration, about polymorphous and polysemous perversity, orality, good and bad breasts, clitoral tumescence, vesicle persecution, the fluids, the solids, the metaphors for these, the systems of desire and damage, infantile greed and oppression and transgression, the iconography of the cervix and the imagery of the expanding and contracting Body, desired, attacked, consumed, feared.
They took to silence. They touched each other without comment and without progression. A hand on a hand, a clothed arm, resting on an arm. An ankle overlapping an ankle, as they sat on a beach, and not removed.
One night they fell asleep, side by side, on Maud’s bed, where they had been sharing a glass of Calvados. He slept curled against her back, a dark comma against her pale elegant phrase.
They did not speak of this, but silently negotiated another such night. It was important to both of them that the touching should not proceed to any kind of fierceness or deliberate embrace. They felt that in some way this stately peacefulness of unacknowledged contact gave back their sense of their separate lives inside their separate skins. Speech, the kind of speech they knew, would have undone it. On days when the sea-mist closed them in a sudden milk-white cocoon with no perspectives they lay lazily together all day behind heavy white lace curtains on the white bed, not stirring, not speaking.
Neither was quite sure how much, or what, all this meant to the other.
Neither dared ask.

Roland has learned to see himself, theoretically, as a crossing-place for a number of systems, all loosely connected. He had been trained to see his idea of his ‘self’ as an illusion, to be replaced by a discontinuous machinery and electrical message-network of various desires, ideological beliefs and responses, language-forms and hormones and pheromones. Mostly he liked this. He had no desire for any strenuous Romantic self-assertion. Nor did he desire to know who Maud essentially was. But he wondered, much of the time, what their mute pleasure in each other might lead to, anything or nothing, would it just go, as it had just come, or would it change, could it change?

Byatt, A. S. Possession. New York: Vintage, 1990. 458-459. [American Edition]

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Bit from Barnes

She also knew that it had been this very gentleness, this lack of ego – which had been one of his attractions. She had thought … what, exactly? She thought (now) that she had thought (then) that here was someone who wouldn’t seek to impose himself on her (well, true), who would let her be herself. Had she indeed thought that, or was this a later version? Either way, it was false. ‘Be herself’ – that’s what people said, but they didn’t mean it. They meant – she mean – ‘become herself,’ whatever that was, and however that might be attained. The truth was, Martha – wasn’t it – that you were expecting Paul’s mere presence to act as a growth hormone to the heart? Just sit over there on the sofa, Paul, and beam your love at me; then I’ll turn into the mature, ripened person I’ve always wanted to be. Could you get more egotistical, and more naïve? Or, for that matter, more passive? Who said human beings became ripe anyway? Maybe they just became old.

Barnes, Julian. England, England. New York: Vintage, 1998. 210-211.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Victim (an old film, a real life)

If you have ever wondered how fastidious I am on following through on recommendations people have made to me, rest assured it is uncannily abnormal. I just watched a film, Victim, that my Victorian lit professor recommended to our class almost two years ago. Released in 1961, this film was willing to talk about homosexuality at a time where it often went unspoken. (Can you imagine that a married man might actually be gay? Duh! If these people had it figured out in 1961, why can’t we seem to remember that today?)

I’ve watched several documentaries about gays in early cinema and Hollywood, but I can’t consciously recall if Victim was ever one referenced in the documentaries. Of course, the documentaries mention about how there may have been an occasional gay man as a waiter or dancer in a film, but it wasn’t until the later part of the century that movies began to feature gays and lesbians as actually subject members – and its wasn’t until a decade or so after this that gay films weren’t about fear, disease, or self-hatred.

This movie opens up with one of the “victims” being chased throughout London. He attempts to reach out to his former lovers and his current one, only to no avail. The film starts with his suicide. He was stealing money to help protect his current lover in order to pay off blackmailers. The other “victim” is a barrister played by Dirk Bogarde who does an awesome job in this film. The scene when his wife confronts him about his homosexuality and he admits his love for his murdered lover is AMAZING! This film really needs to be shown to contemporary society.

It is just so interesting to see a historical portrait of what it may have been like to be gay in the 1950s or 1960s. I can just barely imagine what it must have been like to hide who you truly were because if anyone found out you could go to jail. It's horrifying. And in light of today's national debate on marriage, I think this film might be an interesting way to discuss topics like equality, homosexuality, and bigotry.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Disturbing Movies

I just watched two of the most disturbing movies made in the last decade.

The first was my first film by Werner Herzog that I have ever seen—Grizzly Man. It was a documentary about Timothy Treadwell, a naturist? who lived in the Alaskan wilderness during the summers to protect the grizzlies from hunters and poachers. He had been going up there for 12-13 years and was bringing a camera up for the past couple years. I don’t really know what to say about it except that it was really good. It was riveting, and I pretty much kept my eyes on the screen the whole time, even for the scenes in which they talked about Timothy’s death. He was killed by the very animals he swore an oath to protect. His final moment on Earth were recorded on film, however, the lens cap was not removed and only audio remained. Perhaps this was the most haunting moment, the bit held back. The coroner and Herzog at one point narrate the events of the audio recording, lasting a little over six minutes. And while it is perhaps a bit morbid of me, I was dying to know the whole time. Documentaries are all about informing, and yet, this film shows how so much of Timothy’s own video is scripted and rehearsed and how fiction treads on the grounds of fact. The censoring of his final moments, while probably for the best, still haunts me.

Another quite interesting bit to the film was the fact that Timothy hid from the cameras one truth about his trip—that he was not alone in the Alaskan wilderness but that his girlfriend Amy was up there with him. She only appears on camera two times – in which her face is well hidden – and a final third from around the final moments where Timothy seems to be forcing her into the video. And a cursory fourth time in which she is holding the camera but never seen. I haven’t quite figured out what the importance of her being removed from the film is exactly. However, it just makes me think about V. S. Naipaul’s An Area of Darkness (who would imagine I would reference Naipaul in any way in later life). But Pat’s absence from Naipaul’s text seems very much like Amy’s absence from Timothy’s videos. Interesting thoughts, I just don’t know if I want to pursue them.

The other film which shocked my system yesterday was Gus van Sant’s Elephant. Wow! Need I say more, perhaps so since I am pretty sure this film has not gotten as much press, notice, or recognition as many other great films released in recent years. The movie is about the day at a high school in which a school shooting is about to occur. Being an educator of some kind, I know that schools are not the temples of knowledge we make them out to be, high school especially in which so many kids are bullied and transformed by their hormones. There is so little that actually happens in the film, and yet it is so completely rich. Can we blame violence on video games? The juxtaposition of the video games character holding a gun and the two boys shooting up the school is obviously set up to suggest some connection. And yet, I wonder what is going on with the plethora of minor characters. And even more creepy, it remains so unclear to me the two boys’ motivation for actually killing everyone – that is probably what most scares people I think: that there is no motivation for violence. I don’t really know what else to say about the movie except that I think you should watch it. Here’s a trailer:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tony Kushner on Liberal Arts Education

Taft-Kaufmann, Jill. "A TPQ Interview with Tony Kushner." Text and Performance Quarterly 24.1 (January 2004): 41-42.

Jill Taft-Kaufmann: I would be curious as to why you say that and what sort of an education you prize as a way to keep yourself a vital citizen, a vital human, and, of course, a professional, too.

Tony Kushner: I think I’m a real child of the Enlightenment, and I really believe in the liberal arts, and I believe in liberal arts education. I don’t think a fine arts education is a substitute for it. I feel that undergraduate theatre training is vocational education. I think it’s training for a career. And I think it’s great. If you’re an actor, if you really want to be a serious actor, you have to do a conservatory training program at some point. I don’t actually think I’ve ever met an eighteen-to-twenty-one-year-old who’s ready to do a conservatory training program, because conservatory training is, first of all, about stripping you of everything you thought you knew about acting. If you talk to anybody in a good conservatory program, you’ll hear that it’s a miserable experience, makes them fall apart. It’s like psychoanalysis for the first year. And in the old days, when you started psychoanalysis, you didn’t work. You just did psychoanalysis five days a week, because you were going to become dysfunctional for a while, and then you sort of put yourself back together. I think that acting training, in a sense, is like that. At any rate, I think there’s nothing you need to learn; it’s not like being a dancer. If you’re going to be a dancer or an oboe player, you have to start when you’re five or eight or ten, because you have to train your body to do this thing that it’s simply not biologically equipped to do. And that takes an incredibly long time. But there’s nothing in the theatre profession in acting, directing, playwriting, designing that requires you to train your body in that way at eighteen. What I do believe is that the genius of this system is that, at eighteen, you’re old enough and together enough and have enough energy so that when you become an old, desiccated wreck, which happens about five or six years later [laughter], you still have the energy of youth (and old people like me hate you for it), and you’ve got four years in which society will leave you alone, basically, to read. You’ll never have that time again. Ever, ever, ever. For most of us, that four years is an unbelievably important opportunity. If you don’t lay the groundwork to become a really educated person in those four years and have read the ridiculous amount that a good liberal arts education provides, as I’m sure you can find here—if you don’t get that in those four years—I worry that you won’t ever be able to get it again. Because you’ll never have those four years again, unless you do something extraordinary and drop out. But in this economy, there’s no safety net anymore, so it’s not something that anybody could necessarily advise that you do. That’s what freaks me out about it. I think it’s a replacement of liberal arts training with vocational training, because we all know what happens when there are too many students reading too many dangerous books. You have the sixties. You have the student revolution and the French Revolution. You have the 1848 revolution. Students are a dangerous political force. So, I believe there’s a sort of maligned political will. It may not be any one person’s decision, but I believe there is a political reason why the liberal arts education is more and more being replaced by training for jobs. And I don’t think you should necessarily, as an undergraduate, be training for a job. I don’t think you should know what you want to do yet.