My friend David Wolkin was nice enough to ask me for a contribution to Rosie’s Basement, a site about objects and memories. I wrote about my grandfather, Brooklyn, graduate school, and some other stuff. You can read the piece here. Thanks to everyone who has said nice things about it.
In other news, The Laughing Magician continues to chug along. This week I discussed Hellblazer #3, Margaret Thatcher, and yuppies from hell. This fall’s been pretty busy, but I’m trying to post over there at least once a week.
My poetry site, No New Yorker, has been updated a bit more regularly, and that’s going to continue as I work on my first chapbook, which is tentatively titled TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS.
Finally, you can find the usual Tumblr fare over here.
More updates soon, including some honest-to-goodness new content for So Fake It’s Real. Thanks for reading.
I’ve started a reading guide / journal of sorts for Hellblazer over here. I’ll still be updating this blog semi-regularly like usual, and I’ll be updating The Laughing Magician 2-3 times a week. Tell your friends! The first post in on The Sandman #3, site of my first encounter with John Constantine.
My favorite character in The Dark Knight Rises was John Blake, the police officer played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. At almost every stage of his young life, Blake has been let down by institutions supposedly designed to serve, protect, and provide for Gotham City’s downtrodden and impoverished. He’s almost a cartoonish embodiment of many of the institutional critiques present across all five seasons of The Wire (What if one of the boys at the center of season 4 grew up to become McNulty?), only he’s got the good fortune of inhabiting a heroic narrative with a happy ending.
An animal more like the gods than these,
more intellectually capable
and able to control the other beasts,
had not as yet appeared: now man was born,
either because the framer of all things,
the fabricator of this better world,
man out of his own divine
substance—or else because Prometheus
took up a clod (so lately broken off
from lofty aether that it still contained
some elements in common with its kin),
and mixing it with water, molded it
into the shape of gods, who govern all.
-Ovid, Metamorphosis, Book One(Trans. Charles Martin)
The first scene of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) resembles Ovid’s creation myth, particularly the description of Prometheus in these lines (and given that Martin’s translation is one of the more popular versions of Ovid, I would not be surprised if Scott had read them). There are important revisions as well. The Promethean figure we see in Scott’s sequence – member of a humanoid race called “Engineers” – is more clod than god, and it is “he” who get thrown in the mix when he falls into water, poisoned by a black liquid that rewrites his DNA at an alarming clip and dissolves him into..into what, exactly? Scott may be making a bad pun here: as the figure dissolves, so too does his film, and Prometheus is off to the space races.
Frank Ocean is one of the cool kids in the room because he can sing, but moreso because he’s got a sense of humor about himself. There is unintentional comedy all over the radio dial: the ridiculous line to beat in my house remains Akon‘s “I’m trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful!” And there’s plenty of unfunny, forced hamminess too: just give the mutants in LMFAO a few seconds to tell you how much fun they’re having. “Novacane” caught my attention when I heard it on the radio a few weeks ago: amidst a chorus of Chris Browns and Pitbulls, a kid crooning “She said she wanna be a dentist really badddd” is a voice of, if not reason, then at the very least self-awareness.
[I posted this on 7/11, but I went back and added to / revised the last seven paragraphs on 7/12 because I wasn’t entirely happy with where I ended things. Like I said, I was trying to make last call at the bar!]
I’ve been racking my brain over Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Not because I couldn’t comprehend the basic plot and demanded a refund. Instead, I’ve been trying to find a suitable response to my friends and to critics who’ve leveled some justifiable concerns against the film. One friend was infuriated with the film’s depiction of women, describing Jessica Chastain’s maternal figure as a character who did little more than prance around the yard and care for her children. Another friend found the staging of Sean Penn’s struggles with his upbringing little more than a “vulgar” reading of Freud’s psychoanalytic work. These buddies also hated the dinosaurs, but I’d rather focus on these particular concerns and tease out why I still like (but don’t love unconditionally) The Tree of Life.
Michelle Williams in Meek's Cutoff
In Shifting Ground, Reinventing Landscape in Modern American Poetry, Bonnie Costello reminds us that “Landscape is the world under the gaze of man” (10). Meek’s Cutoff is a film preoccupied with landscape, the gaze of men, and most visibly, the gaze of women. The film caused me to return to Costello’s book not only because it is a favorite of mine, and not just because Meek’s Cutoff has been described as “a collaboration between John Ford and Wallace Stevens,” (the latter’s work is discussed at length in Shifting Ground). I admire Meek’s Cutoff for the way it lines up with the work of the poets surveyed by Costello: like the poems she describes here, the film “reveals the entanglement of nature and culture, the interplay between our desires, our concepts, and our perceptions, and possibilities for renewal and vitality within that entanglement” (14). Like the modern poems Costello favors, the film “is not designed to establish epistemological or ethical truths, but neither is it indifferent to epistemological inquiry or immune from ethical motivation or scrutiny” (14).
In recent weeks, two high-profile works of journalism have demonstrated the changing physical and commercial landscape of publishing. In late April, Byliner published John Krakauer’s Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way. Krakauer’s in-depth examination of the gap between Mortenson’s reputation and the financial realities of his humanitarian operations has received significant coverage because of its content (an expose involving not one but two commercially successful authors) and because of its unique format: the work is only available online (for purchase at Byliner’s site or as a “Kindle Single” on Amazon) and has been designed to be “Readable in a single sitting” on your Kindle or iPad. More recently, Geoff Keighley published an iPad-exclusive app titled The Final Hours of Portal 2. The app is a interactive examination of the development process of the hit video game with high production values, exclusive access, and multimedia features. As an apprentice academic in the field of American literature, these developments have me thinking about the relationship between these publications and the potential for literary scholars and publishers to take advantage of newer technological platforms.
I’ve spent most of this rainy Boston day reading the Library of America’s 2008 collection of Elizabeth Bishop’s work, a volume edited by Robert Giroux and Lloyd Schwartz. I have mixed feelings about
everything The Library of America Series. Their editions house impressive surveys of various literary figures, constructed carefully by prominent editors, scholars, and artists. On the other hand, the bibliographic code of their “authoritative” series reminds me (and many readers, no doubt) of church hymnals: the hardcover volumes even come with their own skinny cloth bookmarks embedded in the spines. And while I have no doubt that these design choices are intentional and in keeping with the LOA’s perception of their noble mission, they do seem a bit old-fashioned in these post-McGann days of literary studies. What could be an inviting and accessible overview of a prominent figure more often resembles an inaccessible shrine to American (and if the title of the series didn’t spell it out to you, the red, white, and blue stripe running across each cover situates these authors as, first and foremost, models of American literary greatness) achievement. Despite these reservations, I think that Bishop’s work has been curated, not entombed, by Giroux and Schwartz in this edition. Their decision to include selections of her uncollected and unpublished work, not to mention drafts, runs contra to the dogma of literary scholars who find such matters distracting, ephemeral, or in worst cases deleterious to the author and his or her work and reputation.
Amy getting arrested (Photo by Karel Prinsloo / AP)
My friend Amy was arrested on Friday in London for daring to dress like a zombie on the day of the royal wedding (UPDATE: Amy posted her very sharp take on the incident over here). According to The Guardian, London police ” had imposed a section 60 blanket stop-and-search order around the whole royal wedding zone, after a few individuals were seen putting scarves over their faces in Soho Square.” This allowed police “to search without discretion,” and, apparently, to harass the undead: