Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

30 December 2010

In Case You Didn't Know...

...I love a Jewish boy. Especially when he's talking about philosophy.

28 December 2010

Monsieur Hulot Est Vivant!

I find myself biased against animated films, generally. This isn't that they aren't good films. There have been some really great animated movies in the last ten years. This year, I really liked Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon, for example, and last year I was a big fan of The Princess and the Frog. I like animated movies, in other words, and I see most of the ones that get good reviews.

They almost never, however, rank very high on my end-of-year film rankings. For a while I have wondered why this is, and I have been given a bit of grief over it before -- this was probably around the time of Les Triplettes de Belleville and Finding Nemo. But I think that my anti-animation bias is mostly due to the subject matter of many animated films. Of course there is Miyazaki, and I love John Lasseter, but even when these films are not about children per se, they frequently feel geared toward children.

All of this rambling is a preface to me telling you that I adored Sylvain Chomet's L'Illusionniste. Absolutely adored. And I didn't feel this way about Les Triplettes; L'Illusionniste is a whole other kettle of fish.


The first thing to say about this movie is that it is a Jacques Tati film. That fact, to me, already makes the film a must-see. If you have loved Tati's films in the past you cannot miss L'Illusionniste. Chomet has adapted a Tati script from the mid-1950s that had never been filmed by Tati himself. The adaptation is lovely! The main character is a down-on-his-luck magician named Tatischeff (Tati's own given name) and though he is an animated character, he possesses the unique gangliness, awkward gait, and seeming obliviousness that easily identified Tati's Monsieur Hulot. In other words the film's star is immediately recognizable and lovable on the instant.

But L'Illusionniste is also a Sylvain Chomet film. It is a comical movie, but it is also deeply sad. Chomet's balance of these two is flat-out masterful. The film manages to juggle a persistent nostalgia (the film's star is, after all a beloved icon who has been deceased many years) and a delightful, often breathtaking sense of whimsy with a rather sad plot about a man with outdated skills looking for work in an unkind economy. This is also a movie about regret: a kind of love-letter to or hopeful vision of a more generous mode of parenthood.

For L'Illusionniste is, at heart, a film about parenting; it is not, however, a film about children.

It's also a film about being poor, about how much things cost, and about how children don't understand the sacrifices parents make.

And it is also a movie about magic: illusions, sure, but also noticing the magic around us all the time. Parenting is itself magical in this movie, and Chomet asks us to see the labor our parents do to support us, the worry they expend for our safety, the dreams they give up to nurture our dreams, as quiet, unacknowledged miracles, little bits of magic that grace our lives every day.

L'Illusionniste displays Chomet's characteristic style. Some of the characters are intentionally (if rather beautifully) grotesque, and there is less dialogue than in a silent film.

Instead of dialogue the movie is filled with powerful standalone images, beautifully choreographed farcical sequences, and delightful non sequiturs; these accumulate to form a whole that is emotionally arresting and whimsically transportive. It is easily one of the best films of the year.

27 December 2010

The Four Big Ones

A couple of quick thoughts about the big four mid-December releases. You may be thinking that you might want to see The Fighter or The King's Speech, but I'm here to try to convince you that your first two choices ought to be Black Swan and 127 Hours.

Black Swan is so far my favorite movie of the year. It's creepy and exciting and basically a thrill a minute. I also found it incredibly sexy and often very, very fun. The best thing about this picture—and I put a high premium on this as a movie-goer so you can take my excitement about Black Swan with a grain of salt if you like—is that I pretty much never knew what the hell was going to happen. I was never ahead of this movie. The acting is great, as well – I was particularly fond of Ms. Portman and Ms. Hershey – both of whom are basically batshit crazy in this film. Darren Aronofsky is the star here, though. Has this man ever made a bad movie? Seriously. He's awesome.

The next movie on your list should be Danny Boyle's 127 Hours. While not quite the Hitchcockian drama that Aronofsky's movie is, 127 Hours is a riveting character study of a truly fascinating guy. It's a Danny Boyle movie, so it's a film about flash and color and, well, general coolness. To be honest, though, Boyle himself is outshined in 127 by the film's actual star James Franco, who gives one of the great performances of the year. The camera is on him nonstop and his desperation, fear, and even his ingenuity, are displayed through tiny nuances, minimal action. A ham in real life (obviously) Franco focuses his energy in this brilliant star turn and only gives away a little at a time. The result is, frankly, devastating. Boyle's filmmaking takes over again as the film's focus by the end, but this is no Slumdog Millionaire. 127 Hours feels deep under all of that flashy exterior in a way that Boyle's big Best Picture-winning extravaganza never did.

The King's Speech is a good movie. And the thing of it is, I just kept thinking that thought while I was watching this picture. In other words, I never really emotionally dropped in to Tom Hooper's movie. This has to do with direction, of course, and with, I think, the subject matter. The King's Speech is, after all, about a king, and, well, I am not sure that a king's problems are really that momentous just because he's the king. Maybe it's just me. The King's Speech feels very invested in the notion of patriotism and national togetherness and big stuff like that. (This is also a rather sex-negative film, to my mind.) It was good, but, well... I had the feeling that Tom Hooper was trying too hard the whole time. The acting is good in this movie except for the bizarre caricature of Winston Churchill, which I found baffling, even in a comedy.

 The Fighter also has really, really good acting. Particularly from star Christian Bale and supporting-actress-of-the-decade Melissa Leo, both of whom give extraordinarily fierce performances, tearing into these roles and never criticizing the people they're playing. The film itself is a little uneven, however. First off, it's like no David O. Russell film I've ever seen. And, then, the center of the movie isn't really the center of the movie. The scenes that need to be in the film in order to make the main character the main character never materialize, and the emotional center of the film doesn't ever quite jell. Because of this, the end of the movie threw me for a bit of a loop. In a way, all of this is because The Fighter, as it turns out, is a boxing movie. It's not an unconventional boxing movie or a new twist on the boxing movie. It's a boxing movie: you know, like Cinderella Man or Rocky or Somebody up There Likes Me or The Champ. I was expecting something... else. So, perhaps if you go in with different expectations than I did, you will come out feeling a bit warmer toward Russell's new flick.

17 December 2010

Fair Game

I am going to try and do a quick movie round-up in a day or two. Maybe tomorrow. I want to see The Fighter first. Not sure if I will have time.
But before I get to the three "important" movies I have seen recently, I wanted to make a quick report on the Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson movie Fair Game, which was directed by former Bourne Identity helmer Doug Liman. This is not to be confused with the Billy Baldwin/Cindy Crawford picture Fair Game from the 1990s.
This movie is a history lesson and a news report and the sermon on the mount all at once. This, as you can imagine, is not a good thing. The movie is fine, serviceable, unremarkable. It's never really gripping or shocking or suspenseful. Everything just seems so inevitable in this movie. Which of course makes a lot of sense since we know everything that is going to happen. Their story is not that old.
We root for the characters, sure: they are up against a superpowerful, mendacious, consciousless behemoth of an antagonist. But we know they are never really going to win. And we know this because we saw it on the news not that long ago.

The film is right, of course, and Plame and Wilson were right, and there is a speech very near the film's end where Wilson tells us we must safeguard our republic and demand transparency and honesty from our elected officials. With all of this I wholeheartedly agree. I also think it decidedly uncinematic.

Good politics. Average movie.

15 December 2010

The New Malick

Finally, finally, finally. The trailer for The Master's new movie is out:

07 December 2010

Summing Up 2010

1. What did you do in 2010 that you'd never done before?
I officiated at a wedding. My dear friends Danny Lampson and Ashley Opstad got married on May 31st of this year and I was honored to be asked to preside as the minister.
Drank an entire gallon of milk in under an hour. For (graphic and unappetizing) evidence, click here.
Worked as a contributing scholar on a show remotely. Two in Chicago, one in New York, one in Virginia.
Went to the ASTR annual meeting.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I did. I worked out almost every day, literally. My New Year's resolution for 2011 is to have an approved dissertation prospectus. Or perhaps to actually publish the things I write...

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes. It was a year for boys. My friends Jill and Mike have a little son (after what seems like years of trying) named Henry Michael. My dear friend Ayana and her husband Derek have a little boy named Quincy Harris. And my sister LaTonya and her husband Darrell welcomed a little guy named Darriann Paul LeMar.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
The beloved chair of my undergraduate university's theatre department, professor William Morse II. He was a great man, exceedingly generous, very wise, and appropriately stern. I learned a great deal from him, and I am so grateful he was my teacher for so long. You can read the tribute to him on the Cal Poly Pomona website here; the much smaller Los Angeles Times obit is here.

5. What countries did you visit?
Um, none.

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
A sensible source of income.

7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
May 31st, see question 1. That might be it.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I don't feel very achievement-heavy this year. It has however been a fulfilling year for me as a teacher, and, I would say, a year where I have felt very full emotionally.
I was honored to be asked to speak at the FSU School of Theatre's convocation ceremony by the graduating class of 2009. It was very kind of them and I felt proud to do it. Slightly blurry photo below.
I have one more achievement that I want to share, and it is a moment of real pride for me. A couple of days ago at the Fall all-school meeting, a young man and student of mine who is graduating was thanking all of the faculty and staff who had impacted him in some way. He saved me, of all people, for last, and this is what he said: Most of all, thank you Aaron Thomas for teaching me how to think in new ways, challenging me to interpret the absurd, and for showing me that sometimes the most poignant thing you can do is pantomime smoking a cigarette.
I was so moved by this and so proud that I have been able to be a meaningful influence on this young man's life. This kind of thing is what it's all about for me.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Gosh, lots of them. Our lives are filled with mistakes, aren't they? For 2010, the obvious answer to this question is my inability to make my relationship with Kevin work. It's sobering to remember that very frequently love is not enough.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nope.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I bought a used Honda Accord after my old clunker was totaled on 4 January. It is very nice.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Nancy Pelosi (most of the time). President Obama (most of the time). My awesome students who graduated in 2010.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Glenn Beck. Anyone and everyone opposed to equality in this country and elsewhere.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Books for my comprehensive exams.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Tron: Legacy. My friends Ashley & Danny's wedding. My friend Joe's musical. My trip to Virginia to work for Endstation Theatre Company. My friends Sarah & Chris's wedding.

16. What song will always remind you of 2010?
In the realm of the totally ridiculous: Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You."

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?
Happier.
b) thinner or fatter? Thinner. So much thinner, actually.
c) richer or poorer? So much poorer, actually.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Watched more movies. Read more on the Dada list. Spent more time in Virginia. Spent more time with my family and my second family in California. Spent more time with my loved ones in New York City.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Wishing I was somewhere other than Tallahassee. And, to be honest, I wish I'd done less reading. It feels really strange to type that, but when one reads 100-150 pages a day and has to do that every day for nine months, it gets a little old.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
With my family in California. Can't wait!

21. Did you fall in love in 2010?
No, thank you.

22. How many one-night stands?
One. Sadly.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
I am still catching up on The Wire, which is, essentially, the only television I watched, aside from my the paper I wrote on South Park in the Spring.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Oh yes. There is a new crop of students every year. It is inevitable that I hate one or two. I will not be sharing names, of course, because I am polite to these assholes to their faces. To my mind, no matter how rude someone else is, returning that rudeness in public is simply not done.

25. What was the best book you read?
Oh my lord. So many books!
Michel Sanouillet's Dada in Paris, finally in English translation.
Raymond Roussel's Impressions of Africa
Joris-Karl Huysmans's À Rebours (Against Nature)
and the awesome collection I Am a Beautiful Monster by Francis Picabia
I was also really moved by Cherríe Moraga's Loving in the War Years and Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I came back to Michael Nyman this year. And I am becoming more in love with both Arvo Pärt and John Adams.

27. What was the best piece of theatre you saw?
Pina Bausch's final piece Voll Mond at BAM. You can see some (low-quality) clips on YouTube, but it is breathtaking even through a bad home video camera.

28. What did you want and get?
A new car. I needed one after my old, sad, Honda Civic was totaled on January 4.

29. What did you want and not get?
I tried to get my friend Andrés to move into the room upstairs, but he refused. We are both sad about this now.
The truth is, I have nothing to complain about this year. Or, at any rate, nothing really worth complaining about. I am very blessed.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?
So far it is Jacques Audiard's Un Prophète. But there are lots still to see!
Also, I don't rank documentary films, normally, but Catfish is extraordinary and the must-see film of the year as far as I am concerned

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I went out with a bunch of my friends, and then a week and a half later my roommates Mark and Meghan took me out to dinner and then threw me an enormous surprise party. It was very very cool.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
A raise. That's awful to say, I suppose, but it is true. Graduate students get paid nothing. It is very frustrating.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
You can't afford that. But, hey, you have a 30-inch waist now. That's cool, at least.

34. What kept you sane?
Talking to Michael Stablein on the phone.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Tom Ford.
I mean, my goodness.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
There is a lot to be pissed off about these days. Let's see, I was depressed by the mid-term election, astounded by the willful ignorance of many of the U.S. citizenry, angry at Arizona's ridiculously racist laws, shocked by the Senate's lack of effort to act on repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell (and surprised by the resistance to its repeal - who is that helping?), alternately amused and horrified by the rise of politicians like Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle, (people like Rand Paul make a kind of sense to me, but O'Donnell?) and completely mystified by the continued popularity (I guess) of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

37. Who did you miss?
Too many people to name. So many friends in Seattle, New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Sarasota, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Pembroke Pines (!), and Austin. And the freeways / They go coast to coast / They've taken away all my good friends...
Also, Kevin. Way more than I would ever tell him.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Caleb Custer. Does he count? I'm going to count him, anyway.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010:
This is from something I wrote a little earlier in the year. I'm going to re-use it here because it feels to me like it sums up my 2010 fairly well:
How funny it is that the whole world turns back on itself! The past comes back to meet us in beautiful ways; people we think we don't know any longer turn out to be closer than ever; a heart we think is broken beats in the chest with brand new life.

06 December 2010

The Wahlberg

I dunno how everyone else feels about Mark Wahlberg, but this is how I feel:
I love him. I try to go see every movie he is in. If Wahlberg is in it, I consider it a must-see no matter the picture's genre. Sometimes this makes for bad movie-viewing (I blame Peter Jackson for The Lovely Bones), but mostly it just means that I see movies I wouldn't normally see that have turned out to be good (Shooter, for example). Wahlberg has been recognized as a talented, award-worthy actor now for several years, most recently for The Departed, and I am glad that time has finally come because it is well deserved.

04 December 2010

My Current Read

Right now I am reading from the Atlas Anti-Classics series. The book is called Alfred Jarry: Collected Works I - Adventures in 'Pataphysics. It is unsurpringly morbid, although perhaps a bit more than I was expecting, and surprisingly sexy. He wrote, as it turns out, Symbolist plays, as well as his famed Ubu series. At any rate, I love Jarry, as I am sure you know, and I am finding this reading incredibly informative. It is safe, I think, to say, that not only did he obviously prefigure Theatre of the Absurd and (of course) Dada, but he seems to have been 1) a proficient Symbolist poet and not just a jokester and also 2) seems to have inarguably prefigured Surrealism. His oneiric poetry is easily of a piece with Breton & Soupault's Les Champs Magnétiques.

Fun quote from Jarry for today from Caesar-Antichrist:
Ubu speaks. "When I have taken all the Phynance, I will kill everyone in the world and go away."

02 December 2010

Art, AIDS, and the USAmerican Public Sphere

The Smithsonian Institution announced today that they are removing a video-piece by artist and writer David Wojnarowicz (who, as you probably know, died many years ago) from their landmark exhibition Hide/Seek, currently at the National Portrait Gallery, an exhibition I confess to have been aching to see since it opened at the end of October. You can read or listen to the story from NPR here. New York magazine has the story here. NPR has titled its story "Smithsonian under Fire for Gay Portraiture Exhibit," which is, on the surface, rather a misleading title.

The Smithsonian is under fire - they received threatening letters from Congressmen John Boehner and Eric Cantor - not specifically for so-called gay portraiture (a term the exhibitors themselves have noted is indefinable) but for somehow maligning the Christian faith. The logic is that if taxpayer dollars cannot be used to fund religious practices, than they ought not be allowed to fund anti-religious practices.


The allegedly offensive images (I say allegedly because as far as I can tell no one has actually been offended - none of the complainants actually even saw this video in the National Portrait Gallery) come from, get this, eleven seconds of a thirty-minute video piece commemorating the death of Wojnarowicz's lover from AIDS.

Some thoughts on this topic:
I fail to see how this image in any way maligns Christianity, Christians, or any religious faiths. The decomposing and grotesque image of the body of the dead Christ is a tradition in Western art going back to the Italian Renaissance.

Christianity is most likely the most powerful force in the United States, a power evidenced and demonstrated through the legal power mobilized against this image deemed offensive. Members of the United States Congress have acted in service of this powerful behemoth which quite clearly is not actually vulnerable at all given the amount of state power that has been wielded at its slightest behest. Note that no one in power in the U.S. Congress has come forward to disagree with Congressmen Cantor or Boehner and come out in favor of sacrilege. The power is all on one side, here.

The president of the Catholic League Bill Donahue, who is the main guy protesting here, has said this is about religious intolerance and has called these eleven seconds "hate speech." The logic here is that eleven seconds of video desecrating an icon of Islam would likely not be allowed at the Smithsonian, but they have no problem with images that (allegedly) desecrate the Catholic faith. But hang on a second! Let us not get confused, Mr. Donahue. This isn't actually about Christianity at all, and Donahue's choice of the term hate speech makes this abundantly clear. Make no mistake: this is only nominally about religion and manifestly about deviant sexuality.

Oh yeah. It is one of the bitter ironies that this story breaks on World AIDS Day. Wojnarowicz's piece is intended as a memoir and a portrait of his lover who died of AIDS; that portrait is being removed on a day intended to recognize and spotlight the many men and women who live with AIDS (over 60 million worldwide) and the millions who have died from the disease. The political and legal heft that has been mobilized against these eleven seconds further underscores the United States government's silence and intransigence about AIDS during the first years of the pandemic as well as the responsibility that the institution of Catholicism itself ought to take for its part in the spread of the pandemic. This is a religion that - in 2010! - continues to outspokenly oppose the use of condoms, a stance that has caused incalculable, unconscionable, unforgivable damage in the global fight against AIDS.

So the U.S. government comes to the aid of Catholics who are offended by an alleged desecration of a religious icon? That the alleged desecration is actually an elegiac piece created in memory of a gay man who died of AIDS should surprise none of us. As it turns out, the Catholics and the Republicans still think that a memorial to a gay man who died of AIDS is artistically worthless. Worse, they manage to construe a piece that appears to come from a deep source of pain, from an artist who suffered immensely, as something that needs to be combated rather than appreciated.

The attack on this piece strikes me - more than anything else - as deliberately unkind, an obvious ploy to attack the first exhibition the National Portrait Gallery has ever done that explicitly discusses queer topics. It strikes me that NPR's story is titled correctly. "Smithsonian under Fire for Gay Portraiture Exhibit" describes this perfectly. The Republicans and the Catholics are not angry that Catholicism might possibly have been maligned (Catholicism is, after all, maligned in the Baptist Church nearly every Sunday by some minister or another), they are angry that a portraiture exhibit on queer topics even exists.

You would think that they would console themselves by remembering that Wojnarowicz's partner, and Wojnarowicz himself, are both dead; one might even say that the men died as a result of the U.S. government's refusal to take the threat of AIDS seriously, its inability to act, and its complete disregard for the lives of U.S. citizens who lead so-called sexually deviant lives. If the institution of Catholicism has led to the spread of AIDS, so, surely, has the United States Congress.

The attack on this piece ought to remind us of the tens of thousands of human lives that the U.S. Government still views as less important, less worthy of memorializing, less than other USAmerican citizens. The attack on this piece ought also to reminds us (how could it not) of the furor over Andres Serrano's work in 1987 - i.e. more than twenty years ago. Boy have we not come a long way baby.

30 November 2010

La Davis

The Master.

One of my favorite things that I've ever read about Bette Davis is an assessment from the film critic Bob Mondello. He sums up Davis's career with the following:

"Excuse me: a temper tantrum or two, a bitchy remark (or six)? Entirely understandable. Bette Davis may have raised her voice on occasion, but difficult? What she was up against was difficult.

"And despite that, for six decades, she played tough, sexy broads in a way that suggested that a tough, sexy broad was what any sensible woman would want to be."

Indeed, Bob, indeed.  

I love her. 
OBVIOUSLY.

28 November 2010

Another Reason to Love Pixar

Though their films consistently tend toward the heteronormative (I'm talking to you, WALL·E), and though the internet seems to be saturated with these videos, this "It Gets better" video from Pixar is one of the best I've seen.

OCD and Shame

My friend Greg is waxing all kinds of confessional over at The Good Men Project. His article, "The Sting Is There, So You Know It's Working," reads like... hang on, let me think.

I almost felt guilty reading it – no – ashamed. That kind of shared shame that we feel empathetically when someone reveals something that we would be ashamed about if we had revealed it. (I think about violence and sexuality a lot, which means, as you can imagine, that I think about shame a lot.)

Greg's work always feels personal, but this column is special. I cannot imagine writing something even vaguely similar. I guess that's why I'm an academic and Gregory Sherl is a poet.

The column has been announced as bi-weekly. I will be checking back.

21 November 2010

When the Honeymoon Is Over

Jaime: This kitchen is not big enough for the both of us.
John: This world is not big enough for the both of us.

14 November 2010

Bridges

Love him.
Seriously, he has got to be one of the best actors to have ever graced USAmerican film. He has been underrated for years and is finally truly getting his due these days.

I confess to having thought him gorgeous in The Last Picture Show, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (which has gay undertones, let's not lie about that relationship with Clint Eastwood), and the original Tron; and then admired his acting in the 1980s (Starman, Jagged Edge, The Morning After, and of course The Fabulous Baker Boys).

The truth is, though, that his work has been stellar throughout his career. In the '90s he made Fearless, The Fisher King, The Mirror Has Two Faces, The Big Lebowski, and was then nominated for an Oscar in 2000 for The Contender.

Since then, he has been flat-out brilliant in The Door in the Floor and Crazy Heart, and is about to star in the Coen Brothers' reworking of True Grit. This man is awesome.

Also. I cannot wait for Tron: Legacy to come out.

07 November 2010

Awesome Text Message

One of my students texted me the following this evening:

Aaron! I'm reading so many interesting things. Like, did you know it's illegal in some states for a woman to buy a vibrator for pleasure?!? Aghh!! You're teaching this so we are aware that societal inequality almost always coincides with sexual inequality!!!! Blahhhhhhh - head's been exploding all weekend. Haha. Thank you for challenging our minds. I mean it.

Stuff like this makes my whole life. It is for this that I teach.

Never Let Go, Jack

Mark Romanek's film of Kazuo Ishiguro's beautiful novel Never Let Me Go does not work at all. I am not going to post a long diatribe about this, because it's too late to save the movie, but it's really a shame that this movie is not better.

The film of Never Let Me Go completely misses the friendship that is so apparent in the books; instead, the movie seems to think that the most important relationship in the story is Tommy & Kathy's. By focusing on Kathy's unconsummated love for Tommy, the movie misses the importance and real feeling of Kathy's relationship with Ruth. The trouble with this is that Kathy and Ruth's relationship is the point.

The movie also cuts almost all of the references to the "Never Let Me Go" song. This means we miss out on Tommy and Kathy's search for the old tape (instead, they moon at one another on a pier and look very serious). It also means that the scene with Madame at the end lacks any content whatsoever (in the film Madame says only "you poor creatures" or something equally banal). And the final sequence with the ideas about lost things from childhood washing up on the shore relates to nothing from earlier in the film because everything has been cut.

And the movie cuts all the sex. Ugh. It's like they started to write a screenplay and got all prudish. So instead of Kathy experimenting and finding pleasure, she mopes and cries about how much she loves Tommy, and when they finally have sex near the end of the film, the movie behaves as though she's been saving herself for him. This is ideological nonsense, of course, and an incredibly sex-negative twist on a very sex-positive book.

Worse yet, the movie is really bleak. It is almost oppressively downbeat, and the actors in the film (delightful though they may be, and I am fond of all of them) do nothing to cheer up the mood even when that is possible. Sally Hawkins is the only one who brings a modicum of cheer to the picture.

Finally, and here I will stop berating the movie for its failings, the last sequence in the film makes explicit what is only ever implicit in the book – that the lives of these young clones are the same as the lives of "real" people. This is clear in the book because of Kathy's relationship with Ruth, because of the nuances of feeling between them, because of her ability to care for Ruth, because of their desires and curiosities and explorations. In the film it becomes a sententious little speech that feels like a homily at the end of a – frankly, rather boring – church service.

So: read the book. It is lovely. Really. And skip this funeral of a movie. You will be glad you did.

30 October 2010

Plato

While recently watching The Celluloid Closet in preparation for showing it to my Sexuality & Representation class, some clips from Rebel without a Cause came on the screen. "He died so young," I mumbled with a sigh. My roommate offered that "Yes, he did. And he only made three movies." I thought a bit about what she said, confused, and then I realized she was talking about James Dean and I had been talking about Sal Mineo.

Love him.

"Nine."

To say that I love her would be a vast understatement.

29 October 2010

The Facebook Movie(s)

There are people in the world who are not on facebook, I know, but I have to admit to being surprised every time that I meet one of them. "You're not on facebook? How do you keep in contact with people?" My indignation and confusion are justifiable. The ubiquity of facebook is not just my imagination. Take the poster for David Fincher's The Social Network as an example:
The poster recreates the blue facebook address bar and uses the facebook font for its title. The only other indication that this poster is for "the facebook movie" – as we were all calling it in the months before it came out – is the (newly redefined) word "friends" in the tagline. How, in fact, could anyone make 500 million friends without facebook.

I assume everyone has already seen The Social Network, so by now you know that "the facebook movie" is not so much about facebook as it is the story of the people who where there when facebook started and when facebook became the awesome juggernaut of a communication phenomenon that it is today. The Social Network is nominally a movie about the young men who designed and built facebook, the lawsuits that they have since filed against one another disputing each other's claim to facebook's invention, and Mark Zuckerberg himself, the world's youngest billionaire.

The Social Network is a very good movie. Beautifully directed, it has David Fincher's usual technologically marvelous touch: take the Winklevoss twins, who are played by a single actor (Armie Hammer, who is excellent). The movie boasts some great acting all around. Jesse Eisenberg gives one of my favorite performances of the year as Mark Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield is great, Justin Timberlake is perfectly cast and does a stellar job, and the movie has a flawless supporting cast.

The real star of The Social Network is Aaron Sorkin, of course, and this is clear from the first few minutes of the film. Sorkin crafts an opening sequence that tells us almost all the movie's ever going to tell us about the inner workings of Mark Zuckerberg, and the scene moves so quickly and with such unadulterated joy (at moviemaking, at itself, at the flexibility of the English language) that one cannot help but grin watching it. The Social Network is excellent, there is no denying it, and yet, it left me a little cold. In this sense: I kept wanting to know more about Mark Zuckerberg, about what he was thinking, why he did the things he did, how friendship and business fit together for him. The Social Network does not tell us these things.

It is not as though Sorkin, Fincher, and company are not interested in Zuckerberg's inner workings. They deliberately obfuscate them. The film designs Zuckerberg as a mystery. We do not know what is going on in his head and the film makes it clear that we cannot, or that we are not supposed to, that what is inside Zuckerberg's head is going to stay there. The scene where Mark has his (apparently) first sexual experience (in a restaurant bathroom, no less) is representative of what I am talking about. Our main character is experiencing something life-altering, brand new, eminently pleasurable, and the camera never finds him. The camera stays on his friend in the next bathroom stall and we hear Zuckerberg and the young lady but never have access to how he feels about this very important experience in his life.

This is what The Social Network is, after all, about, of course: mystery, the failings of memory, the missed connections of friendship, the inability to get back to concrete truths, the difficulties of putting things in order, of saying what came before what, even a few days or weeks after things have happened. This is also a testament to how fast the world moves nowadays. Things get away from us. Before we know it, in The Social Network, so much has happened! Suddenly everyone has read your livejournal entry. Suddenly your website has 200,000 hits. Suddenly the man is a billionaire. It's a whole new world.

This world is further explored – and in a movie that I liked even more than Fincher's – in a documentary called Catfish by filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Catfish is flat-out brilliant and everyone needs to go see it as soon as you can.

The film follows Ariel Schulman's brother Nēv, a New York photographer, as he begins an internet relationship with a seven-year old girl who is a painter and who lives in Michigan. The correspondence with the seven-year-old transforms into a regular correspondence with the little girl's nineteen-year-old sister Meghan, who is a dancer and who plays guitar. They correspond regularly, and though they meet through facebook, they begin talking on the phone, texting, emailing, etc. Then the filmmakers follow Nēv to Michigan to meet Meghan.

Do not let anyone tell you what they find there before you watch this movie.

Every review of Catfish has danced around what the boys find when they get to Michigan, and I am not going to spoil it here. Part of the pleasure of the movie is the suspense that the movie builds. There are moments in Catfish when I was squirming in my seat I was so nervous about what they were going to find.

But Catfish is even more than a movie about great thrills and suspense. It (unlike The Social Network) is really a movie about how facebook has changed our real lives, and how the abilities to connect that facebook provides us have powerful impacts on us and how we see ourselves.

The final forty minutes of Catfish are a kind of double character study, exploring the power of the virtual, the real gravity of the imaginary – even when we know we are imagining it! Catfish figures out that there are real feelings in all of those online data, real emotions swept up in the pokes and the pictures and the tags and the status updates. Those projections – call them imaginary at your peril – affect us so profoundly, and they have become so much a part of who we are and how we understand ourselves, that to pretend that they are "just" words or "just" data or "just" pictures is not only foolish it is to fundamentally miss what it means to communicate in the twenty-first century.

I completely loved Catfish. Go see it. Take a friend. You will still be thinking about it weeks later. I promise.

21 October 2010

La Stone


I am not sure how other people feel about Sharon Stone. I adore her. She is, first of all, both incredibly sexy and ridiculously talented. And as a human being -- well, I don't know the woman, obviously, but in interviews -- I find her thoughtful, spiritual, generous, and inspiring.

 So damn fabulous.

20 October 2010

Twenty-five Things

This list of random bits of information about me comes from a facebook meme that circulated in January of 2009. I never posted it here, but I am posting it now because I revisited it a few days ago (for various reasons) and found that it was still quite accurate and not uninteresting. The requirement of the meme is simply that one lists 25 "random" things about oneself. This was my list in January 2009. So:

1. In the last year or so I have become an angry feminist.

2. I was a Christian until I went to university. I had a mini-crisis of religion while I was there and started going to church three nights a week. I asked all the questions I needed to ask and then I quit Christianity. I haven't been to a church service since around 1999. I became an atheist later.

3. My favorite food is cheese. I love almost all kinds of cheese and I am always trying new cheeses. If there is wine involved, my happiness knows no bounds.

4. I see hundreds of movies a year but I almost never watch a movie more than once. There are only a few exceptions--I have seen Network a million times, and I rewatch Maurice and The Hours and Howards End every once in a while.

5. I don't eat candy that isn't dark chocolate. Not because I am anorexic or anything; I just am not that into it.

6. I spend lots of time alone--an incredible amount, in fact. And I have gotten used to doing things in public by myself: going to the movies, eating dinner, seeing theatre.

7. I will never leave a movie in the middle of it, but if a piece of theatre is bad I race out of there at intermission as fast as I can. There is almost nothing worse than bad theatre.

8. I have a minor obsession with diacritical marks. I feel like people should use them when they write and I wince when I see words like mañana and résumé or names like Zoë and Dalí spelled without them.

9. Sometimes I wish I were still working as an accountant so that I had a steady income. Being a student scares me a lot. I don't like being unemployed.

10. I am a huge nerd when it comes to J.R.R. Tolkien, and I know all kinds of ridiculous trivia about his work, but I judge people who love Star Trek.

11. I think of myself as a very mean person, but I spend a lot of time trying to be nice to people so that my meanness doesn't make other people sad.

12. I really hate getting my hair cut. I have a complex about it or something.

13. I am a Pisces. This means that I never know what I want to do for my birthday. What I really want is for my friends to plan my birthday without me. And I want it to be perfect. But I don't want them to ask me about it.

14. I was in a theatre company once, but I found it to be really difficult and mildly depressing. Artists sometimes have wild, exciting dreams, but often no desire to make them reality.

15. I frequently convince people that I'm Jewish. I am not sure why.

16. I don't believe in "the self" or "the soul." I think the idea is outdated. I only believe in actions.

17. I really wanted to be a parent when I was about 23 years old. I became obsessed with babies. I would cry when I saw them and all kinds of dramatics like that. Now I am almost 28 and while I like my newborn nephew, I want nothing to do with parenting. If I had been straight I would probably have a kid by now and my life would be completely different. [Oct 2010 update: I am currently pushing 30. Still no desire for children.]

18. I don't really listen to "good" music. I listen to classical music and sometimes bands come into my life, but I don't have emotional connections to bands or things like that. Everyone else I know seems to really love music, but I guess it isn't my thing.

19. When people mention plays or other books, I generally behave as though I've read them. I have read more than most people I know my age, but I have shame about not having read more.

20. I am proud of all of my good friends. I think that they are the most interesting, talented people. I love having parties with them because just listening to them talk is fun for me.

21. This is news to no one, but I am obsessed with the Academy Awards. This is how obsessed: I have seen 398 of the 462 films ever nominated for Best Picture (85%) and 368 of the 401 movies (92%) nominated for Best Director. And yes I am keeping track of the statistics. [Oct 2010 update: For BP, 412 of 478 (86%). For BD, 374 of 406 (92%). Yes, I am still keeping track.]

22. I never dated a white guy until I moved to Florida. Since I've been here there have been three. Weird.

23. I hardly ever have a boyfriend, but I usually have a crush on someone or have machinations about someone. Right now I have no crush and no machinations. It is weird, but okay.

24. I read two magazines regularly: Vanity Fair and the Gay and Lesbian Review. I used to read Out, but it is too heteronormative and boring for me now that I am a radicalized opinionated queer scholar. ;-)

25. I interpret dreams. And I am kinda good at it.

19 October 2010

Does the Pope Wear a Dress?

A joke for today from George Chauncey's delightful book Gay New York, which I will be discussing briefly today in my Sexuality & Representation class:

This anecdote comes after a discussion of the uses of the words gay, queer, and fairy to describe homosexually active men:

Twenty years [after 1939], SLA agents casually used gay to mean homosexual, as did the gay men they were investigating. One agent testified in 1960 that he had simply asked a man at a suspected bar whether he was "straight or gay."

"I am as gay as the Pope" came the knowing reply.
("Which Pope?" asked the startled investigator.
"Any Pope," he was assured.)

15 October 2010

Andrew Garfield

Currently risking a slight overexposure, Mr. Garfield has recently played significant roles in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (don't see it), and Boy A (see it!), and is currently doing excellent work in both The Social Network and (I've heard) in the film version of Never Let Me Go. He will also shortly be filling Tobey Maguire's shoes as the new Spider-Man, a development in which I have no interest whatsoever.

I'm a fan.

14 October 2010

Decadence & Pleasure

I am still reading my Parisian avant-garde list. I did not read these books in order (not sure if this is good or bad) and so I am sort of jumping back and forth between Symbolism, Surrealism, and Dada. There are only two novels on my list, and I am, quite frankly, not used to reading novels, but as it turns out they read amazingly quickly--reading a novel is nothing like reading, say, Joe Roach's Cities of the Dead.

The novel I just finished is called À Rebours (Against Nature), and it is a very influential novel. Its author, J.-K. Huysmans, was a Naturalist, but À Rebours is an incredibly anti-naturalist text. What is fabulous about this book is that it really is about almost nothing, by which I mean that nothing really happens in this book. If À Rebours is about anything it is about the tastes and pleasures of the novel's main character, who is named des Esseintes, a wealthy man who tires of Parisian urbanity and moves to the suburbs where he lives completely alone. There are entire chapters in À Rebours that simply detail why des Esseintes likes this gem instead of that gem, pages and pages discussing colors, a chapter on the decoration of his bedroom, a chapter on flowers, all of which resemble carcasses or meat of some kind. I found the book, in other words, completely and totally absorbing.

À Rebours is not devoid of politics. It also includes its share of philosophy, and several passages on what des Esseintes (Huysmans himself?) believes the function of art to be. The book flows so naturally, though, that even his strict (and arbitrary) opinions fit beautifully within the book's whole. I want to share a few of these delightful musings.

Here, des Esseintes muses about poverty, prophylaxis, and the lower classes; (des Esseintes is exceedingly wealthy):
The Law deems it completely legitimate to defraud the reproductive process – this is a recognised and acknowledged fact; there's scarcely a home, however rich it be, that doesn't nightly consign its offspring to the laundry or that doesn't use artificial devices, which are freely sold and which it wouldn't occur to anyone to condemn. And yet if these precautions or subterfuges prove insufficient, if the fraud misfires and, in order to remedy matters, one has recourse to more efficacious measures, ah! then there aren't enough prisons, enough police cells or enough penitentiaries to hold those who'd be condemned – and in all good faith moreover – by individuals who, in the conjugal bed the night before, had tried every trick in the book so as not to beget brats of their own. / The fraud itself was not therefore a crime, but trying to make good the failure of it was.
There is a good deal more that is of interest in the book. Des Esseintes discusses Catholic literature, Sadism, a tortoise whose shell he has inlaid in gold (totally hilarious), and how he hates going to concerts:
secular music is a promiscuous art because you don't read it at home, alone, like you do a book; in order to enjoy it he would have had to mix with that swarm of inveterate theatre-goers who besiege the Cirque d'Hiver, where, under the slanting beam of a spotlight sun, in an atmosphere as hot and steamy as a washroom, you can just about make out a man with the build of a carpenter beating the air as if whisking mayonnaise and butchering disjointed excerpts from Wagner, to the immense delight of an ignorant crowd.
It is not all pontificating, though (most of it is, to be honest). The last selection I will share is a description of a heat wave that oppresses des Esseintes late in the book:
The season advanced and the weather became unsettled; everything was mixed up this year; after the squalls and the fogs, white hot skies like sheets of metal appeared over the horizon. In the space of two days, without any transition, the damp cold of the mists and the streaming rain gave way to a torrid heat, an appallingly sultry atmosphere. As though stirred by furious pokers the sun opened like the mouth of a baker's oven, darting out an almost white light that burned the eyes; a fiery dust rose from the charred roads, grilling the dry trees and roasting the yellowed grass; the reflections from whitewashed walls, the light blazing on zinc roofs and on glass windows was blinding; a heat like that of a foundry being fired hung oppressively over des Esseintes' house.
I love this description! Now here is weather with character. This is the pleasure of Huysmans' prose. He describes things completely, almost in the manner of the cubists (they would come later).

At any rate, À Rebours is obviously not for everyone. I can imagine many being very bored by Huysmans' commitment to des Esseintes' inner monologue, by this cataloging of tastes, but I found the entire thing fascinating.

07 October 2010

Francis Picabia and Dada

The most recent text I have been reading is a collection of Francis Picabia's poetry and prose from his pre-Dada period through to the end of his life. It is called I Am a Beautiful Monster and it the most Dada of anything Dada I've ever read.

I find Picabia completely totally delightful for pretty much all of the years leading up to his Dada phase and I find him one of the most exciting, ridiculous, fabulous writers I've ever read for the duration of his time spent with Paris Dada. His critiques of Dada are also interesting -- at least to me -- but I lost interest in Picabia after the last of these.

Still, some of this stuff is just extraordinary!


The following segments are taken from a long poem that is mostly nonsense called Poésie Ron-ron.

I am excerpting just my favorite parts:
Napoleon
one can imagine he amused Paris
he was a member of every circle
and the biggest fusspot
was in love with him
what an example for the children
...
the cholera of times past
was more beautiful than war
the names of all great men
piece of rag at street corners
fed on digestive tablets

And these are from Pensées sans Language:
on a stone
where a pale and delicate
acacia swims
a cubist declared to me
that I was crazy
...
what charming people these artists are
attached to the stretchers of art
I haven't a single penny to buy a work of art
...
like the virginity of men
that of women is a joke
virgins are like military incompetence
dramatic turn of events for bourgeois morality
I see only cowardly morals
...
there you have it monsieur madame
this century has ravishing charm
reforms become useless
one has children when one wants
a simple question of hygiene
to not have them
science is antiseptic
love isn't so on the pillow
humbly admit that you are not unaware of places of ill repute
at polygamous moments
...
what happiness
to have infallible intuition
and to know how to behave
like one of Shakespeare's
great ladies
...
and the moon impatiently mounts the sky
if you know what I mean

The following is an open letter to the poet Rachilde, whose real name was Marguerite Eymery, but who, when beginning her career in Paris, passed out cards reading "Rachilde: homme des lettres" (which explains the "woman of letters" quip below). Rachilde dressed in men's clothing when she was young and wrote scandalous and very sexy novels and plays, but when she became older she became much more conservative and nationalist. Picabia, who loathed nationalism, wrote the following open letter to Rachilde in a Dada review called Cannibale:
To Madame Rachilde
Woman of letters and good patriot
Madame,
You've presented yourself on your own, with your lonely French nationality. Congratulations. As for me, I am of several nationalities and Dada is like myself.
I was born in Paris, of a Cuban, Spanish, French, Italian, and American family, and what is most astonishing is that I have the very clear impression of being all these nationalities at once!
This is no doubt a form of dementia praecox; I prefer, however, this form to the one that affected William II, who considered himself to be the only representative of the only Germany.
William II and his friends were good patriots. Just like you, Madame...
Yours sincerely.

There is a wealth of delightful writing in this collection. This guy was a true character of the modern era. Imagine a man consistently signing his poems, Francis Picabia, the Funny Guy (which he did) or Francis Picabia, the Failure (which he also did, and frequently).

01 October 2010

White America

If you haven't seen the cover of the Village Voice and the BRILLIANT article "White America Has Lost Its Mind," you MUST check it out. It is a phenomenal dissection of the racism that is currently permeating USAmerican political rhetoric.

I loved this piece so much that I personally emailed its author to tell him how much I appreciated his work.

Ms. Perez.

So, I realize that I've been putting a lot of YouTube clips up here, but... well, I don't have time, really, to be blogging and as it turns out, there's good stuff on YouTube that I think everyone should be checking out.

As it happens, gay marriage and I are not sweet sweet besties. I am, as they say, ambivalent. BUT people who want to get married (and this should be obvious) should be allowed to do whatever the hell they want to do.

Any opinion that is anti-gay marriage is fundamentally unsupportable. It is fine for queer people to sort of wish that gay people wouldn't want to support a system that is interested in legitimizing some relationships in exchange for deligitimizing others. Fine. But, um, if the law -- and I am not speaking about so-called rights, here, I am talking about the law -- allows some people to do something, it ought to allow all people to do that.

Also, I have always loved Rosie Perez, and this video is about her, so:



Love her.

29 September 2010

28 September 2010

Michôd, Un Prophète, et un Hommage à Van Sant

David Michôd's Animal Kingdom is a story of a crime family--a group of petty criminals, actually--who sell drugs, rob banks, kill policemen, and randomly threaten hapless civilians. The story is told from the perspective of a seventeen-year-old nephew who has lived outside of the family for most of his life. Sounds good, right?

Well, to be honest, it really isn't. Part of this reason is one of the last movies I saw was Jacques Audiard's Un Prophète, which doesn't quite tell the same story, but does cover the not dissimilar narrative of a young male naïf who learns the ropes and then rises meteorically to run the criminal show. Un Prophète, however, is a far superior movie to Animal Kingdom.

Michôd's film tells its story in fits and starts, pausing to lovingly shoot a walk down a hallway in slow motion, and covering what could be illuminating dialogue with its score (which is, admittedly, probably Animal Kingdom's most interesting component).

The more I think about Animal Kingdom, in fact, the more I think that it wishes it were a Gus Van Sant movie. But Gus Van Sant would appear to know a lot more about building tension, casting, and cinematic poetry than David Michôd does. Too, Van Sant is not really interested in cold movies. His films have real affection for their protagonists and, indeed, for their supporting characters.

Michôd is highly critical of his characters, while simultaneously employing a Van Sant style of shooting those characters. The effect is bizarre to say the least, and I kept waiting for Animal Kingdom to lurch into real action, to ramp up its brutality, to ratchet up its tension. But the film simply never goes there. It is content, instead, to behave as though it is an emotional character study, revealing the inner workings of masculinity and family dynamics in an Australian crime family, when it is clearly nothing of the sort.

Two more things:
I want to point out that Michôd includes a direct homage to Van Sant in Animal Kingdom, when he has one of the characters sit watching the music video of Air Supply's "All Out of Love" after his friend has been murdered. I took this as a direct reference to the scene in Last Days when Van Sant shoots the video of Boyz II Men's "On Bended Knee" almost in its entirety.

The other thing I wanted to underline before I finish talking about Animal Kingdom is the fact that Un Prophète is totally great. It's a French prison movie about a young Arab (a naïf, like the young man in Michôd's film) who goes to work for the Sicilian mafia while in prison, learns to read, then learns Italian, then starts running his own setup while still in the clink. It's also simultaneously brutal, poetic, intelligent, and incredibly tension-filled, with a stellar central performance by Tahar Rahim. I highly recommend it.

23 September 2010

One More Thought on Academia

...and then I'll shut up about it. For a while.

I have been reading Michael Eric Dyson (who I find simultaneously irritating and illuminating), and he says the following in an essay called "It's Not What You Know It's How You Show It: Black Public Intellectuals":

Many conservatives believe the university is a den of politically correct educational thieves, robbing our kids of their moral futures with all sorts of strange theories.

Well the university isn't all it's cracked down to be: an artificial environment removed from the lives of real people. Last time I checked at my university, there were actual bodies in the classroom, real people running the place, and life-and-death issues being fought over by people who will one day run businesses, defend clients, make millions, enrich lives, ruin government, and become politicians (sorry for the repetition) in the Real World.

Preach it, brother.

22 September 2010

Invention

Poem for the day by Paul Éluard. This is called "Invention" and it's from his collection Répétitions. The translation is by Mary Ann Caws and Patricia Terry.

The right hand lets sand slip through.
All transformations are possible.

Far off, the sun sharpens on the stones its haste to finish.
Describing the landscape matters little,
Just the pleasing length of a harvest.

For my two eyes a brightness
Like water and fire.
*
What is the role of the root?
Despair has severed all its links
Raising its hands to its head.
Sevem four, two, one,
In the street a  hundred women
I won't see again.
*
 The art of love, liberal art, the art of dying well, the art of thinking, incoherent art, the art of smoking, the art of pleasure, medieval art, decorative art, the art of reasoning, the art of reasoning well, the art of poetry, mechanical art, erotic art, the art of being a grandfather, the art of dancing, the art of seeing, the art of charm, the art of the caress, Japanese art, the art of playing, the art of eating, the art of torturing.
*
But I've never found what I write in what I love.

21 September 2010

When Something Little Can Mean Something Very Big

As a teacher, a post like the one below can really make my day:


This is the kind of impact I hope to make on the world, and when I (only occasionally) receive a note like this, I can hope to believe that I am making the kind of impact that I wish to make.

An acquaintance of mine this week referred to the work I do as "working in an ivory tower" or words to that effect. A relative of mine several months ago similarly referred to my writing as "batting theories around" or some equivalently flippant dismissal. It is easy to take criticisms like these very seriously. It is very hard, in addition, not to take them personally (they are, after all, meant personally).

In a world where one's sphere of impact can oftentimes be very small – even for people who are allegedly very powerful – a note like this from a former student is a great reason to keep teaching, keep theorizing, keep criticizing, keep writing, keep thinking. We're talking about people's lives.

14 September 2010

Current Obsession


"Forgiveness is the release of all hope for a better past..." Wow.

I have now watched this video about a total of ten times. And every single time it makes me cry. "If I really was created in God's image. Then when God was a boy he wanted to grow up to be a man: a good man. And when God was a man - a good man - he started telling the truth in order to get honest responses."
I can barely deal with how good this is, how this voices so much of my life all at once.

09 September 2010

When Sarcasm Goes a Long Way

I have some witty friends. The following is a facebook status I posted. My friends responded with some of the funniest and clever comments I've ever received on a facebook post. At any rate, here it is:

Aaron: I don't mind heterosexuals as long as they keep it to themselves.
Katerina: If they want to reproduce that's their problem, just don't do it in my schools or shopping malls.
Liz: And keep them out of my church. Jesus wants nothing to do with your angsty slutty bullshit.
Frank: I mean, don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are straight. But it seems like I can't even walk from my apartment to the subway station without seeing a couple of breeders holding hands or making out or displaying their progeny.
Carrie: I think it's better not to ask, not to tell, not to pursue heterosexuals. If we wouldn't make such a big deal out of our heterosexuality, then gay people wouldn't have to fear us in the gym showers and such. We need to keep our private bedroom practices private.
Jordan: The thing about heterosexuals is that they could change if they really wanted to.
Driggers: I blame my mother.

06 September 2010

Poem for Today by Joseph Mills

On the Writer's Almanac, this morning, the featured poem was Joseph Mills' "The Guardian" from his collection Love and Other Collisions. It begins:

I don't think my brother realized all
the responsibilities involved in being
her guardian, not just the paperwork
but the trips to the dentist and Wal-Mart,
the making sure she has underwear,
money to buy Pepsis, the crying calls
because she has no shampoo even though
he has bought her several bottles recently.
You can read the rest here. The poem's ending is superb.

As I get busier and busier with my comprehensive exams, never seeming to be able to do the reading I am supposed to do for the day, and so feeling as though I will never catch up, I really miss my friends and family. Not that I have the time to speak to them, in all honesty, or that I have anything to say to them -- my life consisting primarily of having read or not read the day's 140 pages or having taught, with varying degrees of skill, the week's classes.

In truth, reading is not a lonely business. Reading, rather, feels like a connection, like sitting at the foot of masters. I have felt this way reading Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga, especially. But then the book is over and I am on to the next book. Stuart Hall and then Paula Gunn Allen and then N. Scott Momaday and then Gayatri Spivak and then Cherríe Moraga again and then Homi K. Bhabha and then Michel Foucault because Dr. Bhabha started to make me tired.

At any rate, I am currently living for connecting with my friends and family through social network sites and email. The encouragement that I get from the internet is about all that there is right now and I am trying to be particularly appreciative about it.

02 September 2010

The Third Eye

Last night, while reading Cherríe Moraga's book of poetry and essays, The Last Generation, I came across the following tiny poem, entitled "Meditation":
The third eye
never cries
it knows.
That's all there is to "Meditation," but the poem served to do so much in the few seconds it took me to read it. It's a reminder -- an important reminder, in fact -- that the third eye is there for me to use. That I ought to be working at developing its sight as much as I work at clarifying the site of my other two eyes. And it is a reminder that though we may weep through our standard pair of eyes, there is still a future, something to look forward to, a future where we may not have to weep quite as much.

25 August 2010

Spirit

I've been telling people I had a very spiritual summer. I get a lot of grins from people when I say this. I do not intend this framing of my summer as a jocular one, but, rather, as an honest description of how I experienced the several weeks between May 1st and August 15th of this year.

On May 31st I presided over the wedding of two of my dearest friends. The wedding was attended by a large number of people whom I love more than I can say. This wedding, at the request of the bride and groom, included no mention of "god." It was, nevertheless, an intense experience of the spirit: the spirit of place as well as the spirit of community. The sacred permeated the ceremony. I'd try to tell you what this spirit felt like, but language cannot really approach the description of such a feeling.

In Virginia, where I worked at the end of June and the beginning of July, I spent time with a company of people who work together regularly and ritually on an annual basis, who have established a community and a way of working together. I was a guest there, but welcomed. The company itself, Endstation, is a troupe that is dedicated to the sacredness of space. Each season they perform a show at a different site on campus, a site that then infuses its own power into the performance. The site of a performance is de facto a holy site, invested as it is with the ritual coming-together of audience and performers for the sake of play and pleasure. But the sacred spaces at Endstation assert a power over the performances themselves, the sites creating the performances as much as the performances make the sites sacred.

My trip to Endstation also meant that I would be two hours away from my friend Gregory, whose poetry I have posted on this blog on numerous occasions. I hadn't seen Greg in three years, since he left Florida for Virginia. The two of us spent an amazing afternoon together in a city strange to both of us, and we walked the entirety of downtown Roanoke, exchanging stories, mocking each other's choices, and generally providing encouragement and support.

My reading this summer has been in Critical Race Theory, Violence Theory, and the Parisian Avant-garde. As I sat in solitude in Virginia contemplating the disappearance of Julien Torma in the century previous, I scribbled in my notes that:

To confront the question of suicide is to confront the question of art, of art's ability to make meaning for our lives and art's power to give value to culture, to history. Those who commit suicide as art find the courage to take this inquiry still further, or perhaps to aver that even this question is itself without meaning.
As I returned to California later in the summer, the past came alive again. A professor of mine from undergrad died suddenly, and memories came flooding back. I, quite unexpectedly, spent some time with several people I hadn't seen in many years, people who are close to my heart, but whom I never see. These encounters felt very spiritual to me, and feel so now, as though there is a message here, a kind of connectivity across time and across distances. That we carry memories and affection in our hearts, though our work has taken us far from our places of departure and far from our original life-goals.

And then there is the even stranger fact that my trip to California was coincident almost to the day with a friend's visit from China. Spending time with him also meant spending time with people whom I had not seen in over thirteen years. When I got back home to Tallahassee I wrote:

How funny it is that the whole world turns back on itself! The past comes back to meet us in beautiful ways; people we think we don't know any longer turn out to be closer than ever; a heart we think is broken beats in the chest with brand new life.
And this summer I set foot in a yoga studio for the first time in many many years. I do yoga by myself quite frequently, but the sweat and the breath in the studio is a completely different experience of spirit (literally: breath).

There are many more convergences that have colored my summer of the spirit, but I will share just one more. My time in Virginia was marked, particularly by the time I got to spend with my friend Michael, about whom I do not have enough good things to say. Since I have returned to Tallahassee, he and a friend have begun reading Joyce's Ulysses together so that they can talk through it without having to do so alone. I wanted to read the book with him, but, alas, I have comprehensive exams coming up and simply haven't the time. Yesterday Michael and I spoke briefly because he had just finished part one of the book. But again, I am not reading the book with him, and am not really on the journey. This morning, however, I was reading N. Scott Momaday's The Man Made of Words, part of my Race Theory comp list. The following passage leapt out at me from the page:

I belong in the place of my departure, says Odysseus, and I belong in the place that is my destination.
Sometimes even though paths appear to diverge and take us far afield of one another, there are times when it becomes beautifully clear that the journey we are on is the same journey.