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

31 March 2011

All Before 2.00p

Two stories. Unrelated. Mostly silly.


I went to a series of talks this morning on campus that is supposed to be educational for graduate students as they try to find faculty positions. When the University sponsors these things things I like to go, and it was really helpful, actually, and there was free food at lunchtime.

But at some point this one boring guy was talking about funding and the office of funding on campus or somesuch business – it was boring; I've forgotten – and he referred to something as a "Mexican standoff" and then awkwardly sort of said "sorry about the metaphor" in this way that people have nowadays where they acknowledge the fact that they know what they've said is inappropriate but that they don't actually care whether or not it is inappropriate and that we oughtn't to either.

Now, I am not really sure if I think the phrase "Mexican standoff" is offensive. Mostly because I don't know why it would be offensive, but the moment this guy says it, and then follows it up with his not-at-all-an-apology apology, I get a little angry. I'm mad, of course, at the fact that he thinks it is unimportant that we  care about whether or not language is offensive. In other words, what is offensive is his attitude, here, not his "Mexican standoff" phrase.

And then a lovely young woman at my table says to her companion: Why does it have to be a Mexican standoff? Why can't it just be a standoff?
Thank you, I said. What about this standoff (in the office of the United States government, it should be pointed out) makes it Mexican?


And then on the way home, I am behind a rather nice, family sedan:
The bumper sticker says I see your point but I still think you're full of shit. 

You'll notice that on the sticker itself the last three words are considerably larger than the rest of the text. This means that the person behind this car reads full of shit before she reads the remainder of the sticker. The overall effect is quite classy.

28 March 2011

Advice from Nelson Algren

Never play cards with a man called Doc.
Never eat at a place called Mom's.
Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.

This is from A Walk on the Wild Side, of course.
I probably shouldn't even quote it here since it is so famous, but, well, I heard it on the radio today, and after I switched the gender in the last sentence, it made a Hell of a lot of sense.

The Bull-Jean Stories

I do not know why it has taken me this long to post about Sharon Bridgforth's amazing collection The Bull-Jean Stories. It's a collection of theatrical poems or performance poems or something like that. What they are not is "writing" in the sense that we usually mean that word. The poems simply feel spoken, even to read them. I can't get through them without trying them out, without sounding them out. Just reading them makes me want to know how the words feel in my mouth. I don't have this reaction to written English very frequently—I have it with French all the time (probably because I don't speak French)—but Bridgforth's makes me want to speak her work aloud.

I gotta find some more of this woman's stuff. It is awesome.

Here are some excerpts. This one is about two women in love:

ever na and then they come ova
sit wid me lookin drifty.
i give em some of my strong-ass-coffee
but they don't seem to smell it
and that makes me
and if you feels
what resemble Lovve


cause you know
you cain't handle it/be
ova here all looped up
and thangs.
Something a little lighter:

they sent bull-jean to see after she aunt tilly cause
word gotdown that the ole gal had been driving
on all sides the road
na/that hefa may could shoot blindfold
but she couldn't drive worth shit
One more, near the end of the book:

you my
biscuits and gravy
the amen
at the end of my prayers you
my perfumed hallelujah
sweet chariot stop and let me ride/you
my southern comfort
my gi-tar
all night
cradling the scent of you/are
my memories/you are
all the wy'mn i have
Lovved my
come back/my
new Moon
dancing across a cool stream
are settled
in the depths of me

27 March 2011

In Old Arizona Redux

My friend Charlie has set himself a project. He is going to watch all of the Best Actor Oscar winners in order, starting with Emil Jannings in The Last Command up through Colin Firth in The King's Speech. He, of course, has already seen some of these, but I think most of them will be new to him.
I recently watched The Last Command myself, so we chatted about that recently and about the next movie on his list: In Old Arizona starring Warner Baxter. I saw the movie in 2005, so I don't really remember it very well, but I told him that In Old Arizona was one of the first sound films to be shot on location. It was rather a big deal because the technologies were brand new for recording sound in an unconfined space. Anyway, I had remembered that the movie was fine, or make that unmemorable. Today, however, I got a message from Charlie. 

Charlie: Okay... I started watching In Old Arizona the other day. I got about halfway through until I decided to take a nap instead. 
Me: Haha. 
Charlie: It's awful. Even Warner Baxter isn't good. I'm going to finish it, don't get me wrong. 
Me: Just 'cause it is an important movie doesn't mean it's gonna be a good one. 
Charlie: True. But i don't see why he got an Oscar for this! 
Me: Well... I mean, sometimes they want to award people for all sorts of things.
Charlie: I mean, I haven't seen the whole thing yet.
Me: I haven't seen any of his five opponents.
Charlie: I wouldn't want to.
Me: Haha. You really hate this movie! I didn't think it was that bad.
Charlie: I like his chemistry with the girl. It's the most believable.
Me: It's a very '20s movie if I recall correctly. 
Charlie: Oh yes. It's like a musical on film. Bleghhh
Me: And I seem to recall he has weird (i.e. bad) makeup.
Charlie: Yes. The mustache is so stupid.
Me: Does he sing? I can't remember.
Charlie: Yes, but not in a musical way. He sings in the bath tub. 

Me: well, AMPAS does love a song. 
Charlie: AMPAS?
Me: The academy. AMPAS loves a bathtub scene, too. Haha.
Charlie: Ohoh, I read your IM wrong. I thought it said "AMPAS does a love song."
Me: oh hahaha
Charlie: It was hardly a song though. He was just in the bath tub, singing. Anyway, I am not looking forward to finishing it, but I suppose I should just rip it off like a band-aid. At least Emil Jannings was good.
Me: It is short, no?
Charlie: 90 min or so.

Me: Well, you will probably not think much of Disraeli either. Should I warn you? 
Charlie: No, let me just realize my mistake while I'm watching it, knowing I need to watch every movie anyway.
Me: You will get to The Champ and be in love with Wallace Beery. So you have that to look forward to, at least. And A Free Soul is also really really good. If I remember right.
Charlie: They should all be really, really good! Or at least good.
Me: Well, they aren't, I'm sorry to tell you. Haha. There are plenty of Best Picture winners that I hate. No way around it.

Charlie: Why did they do this?? Was it because something about it was just revolutionary to the time? I don't see how actual words coming out of Warner Baxter's mouth can help his cause. If anything, it should hurt it.
Me: Hahah. You are so mad about it. Hahahahaha. This is amazing. Poor Warner Baxter.
Charlie: Haha. I'm glad you're enjoying this... at least someone likes something that's a result of In Old Arizona.
Me: I just spit my coffee out onto my desk. I'm posting this on my blog.
Charlie: Good. Tell the world. No. Warn the world. Warn is a better word. 
Me: You are putting me in an excellent mood.
Charlie: Haha well I'm glad, because this movie didn't put me in a good mood whatsoever. You must enjoy misery.
Me: I am laughing so hard right now. I really didn't remember it as that bad. I feel like a 90-minute movie can't really be as soul-crushing as you are describing it. It's not like it's Alexander or something.
Charlie: I'd tell you to watch it again to refresh your memory, but I REALLY don't think you should. Trust me, it's that bad.
Me: I just looked to see if I wrote a review of it in '05 when I watched it. I didn't. 
Charlie: Wow, shame on you. You should've told everyone how awful it was. Okay, again, I'm jumping ahead. I haven't seen the whole thing. I need to watch the whole thing and I'll tell you if I feel the same way or not. I doubt I'll change my mind though...
Me: Alright. Go watch the rest of this movie.
Charlie: This is only my second movie! I've got so many (bad) movies to go.

25 March 2011

Do Not Close Your Eyes Yet

I remember also it was a day softer than a woman
I remember you image of sin
frail solitude you tried to conquer all the childhoods of landscapes
you alone failed to answer the astral summons
I remember a clock which cut off heads to tell the hours
those that wait at the crossroads the lonely ones
in each lonely passerby is torn one day the crossroads of a day
and as the hour of love comes from air returns to air
each crossroad finds itself in another calm waiting
with the melody sung in the distance
childhood more and more distant


your words equipped with sails reach all the ports of memory the
ferryboat links our two hands that seek each other in the hay of dream
hand—opened diadem of the heart opened to the crowns of fruits
gentle word resting in my hand magic freshness
in the cormorant concealed in its breast flying in a turn of astral sign
the light expressed loses its petals

flock of towns and villages grazing in the shade of an herbivorous god
a god no larger than an oak leaf
no heavier than a cricket's chirp
no richer than a nosegay of buttercups
no larger than a diamond's setting
and how many useless sufferings on this flower of archipelagoes and islets
fallen with a few drops of water noiselessly in the azure
the world the continents the oceans the hulks

a scattering of gold between the forests and the lakes
bad instincts dozing in the lazy depth of pitchers
no enough of this peace
I want the battle I want to feel the burning of the fate stamped on my heart by a carnival god
to feel the hot breath body to body the injustice the battle
to throw off the heavy obsession—laden with so many obscure links
face to face and to clear my way across satanic outlines of mustiness
and sly temptations seasoning the tumor that so many others have mouthed before me
the unknown

This is from Tristan Tzara's Approximate Man, which is a giant, 100-page poem that is, in a word, extraordinary.

24 March 2011

The Inadequacy of Language

I have been reading books. Books other than books that I should be reading, if you know what I mean. I no longer need to study and so I am no longer forced to read the 140 pages I was reading every night. Instead I am allowed to take my time with my reading and choose texts that are not strictly necessary so much as I know they will give me pleasure.

I just finished Howard Barker: Plays Two. I am ordering this book for a class I will be teaching next Fall semester. His writing is so exquisite, so filled with agony, and also so very violent. I love him, of course.  At any rate, some passages from the four plays in this volume:

From Gertrude - The Cry:

I hate the word sex I really do I hate the word
I tried to shut it out of my vocabulary but frankly it's impossible charm allure sensuality what little words what poor and little words

And from later in the play:

ISOLA: You're a fool
CLAUDIUS: So you say
ISOLA: I do say it
CLAUDIUS: You say it with such frequency it has entirely forfeited its effect

And from still later:

What a fine departure the stupidest individuals I have observed design perfect departures for themselves whereas the sensitive are invariably embarrassing (Pause). Pain ruins their vocabulary

From 13 Objects:

We must struggle with the language that we possess
we must employ the inadequate knowing full well its inadequacy


And wishing people dead
I do it all the time
We all do
I defy a single man or woman to state they never wished another dead
I defy
I do defy

22 March 2011

How to Move Forward

I am not completely sure what I was expecting from Rabbit Hole. But whatever it was, John Cameron Mitchell's film was nothing like what I expected it to be.

I have never been a fan of David Lindsay-Abaire's play Rabbit Hole (though I have loved his other stuff). And I was irritated when it won the Pulitzer Prize (that committee, it seems, has no idea what it is doing). The play felt too simple to me, too interested in itself, too preachy.
I should have known JCM would craft something with a totally different tone when he went to make the movie. Rabbit Hole feels like something of a departure for him after his first too films, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus (both of which are genius).

The film of Rabbit Hole is pitch perfect. There is, quite honestly, not a false note in the whole thing, and the performances are really wonderful. Nicole Kidman and Dianne Weist and Aaron Eckhart and Miles Teller are simply lovely. And we grow to understand these people; the medium of film allows their grief to seep into the audience more slowly, so that when they do the things they do and say the things they say it all makes a sort of sense—a sense that felt to me almost like a memory.

This is all coming across in a rather incoherent manner. The movie is very sad—at one point I stopped hearing what was happening in the movie because I was crying too much—so I am not actually going to recommend Rabbit Hole to anyone. I found it very moving, and it closes with a perfect prescription for a way to keep going after tragedy.

17 March 2011

New Favorite Thing

This is a delightful response to those Sassy Gay Friend webisodes that is just laugh-out-loud funny.

16 March 2011

The Heterosexual Within! (Like What Lies Beneath, Only Scarier)

I'm supposed to be studying for a four-hour test tomorrow on critical race theory. Instead, I have some musings I want to share on queerness that have come out of this reading. To wit:

One of Paul Gilroy’s important projects in The Black Atlantic is a challenge to seek out the legacies and formative influences of Western (white) culture within Anglo-African culture. What he points out is that the two are implicated in one another. The reverse of this has, of course, been argued by many African-American scholars; in other words, many have argued that not enough attention has been paid to the history of black Americans in the formation of USAmerican culture. So much of what we think of as USAmerican culture comes to us directly from black American culture, and therefore the two are imbricated. USAmerican culture is a hybrid of forms, a kind of (and Gilroy uses this word from Gloria Anzaldúa) mestizaje of its own. Gilroy’s argument is that cultural studies is too nationalist and that nationalism is dangerous and (of course) racist.

What this provokes me to think about is the way that cultural studies of so-called gay ethnicity—I really hate that term but its use is increasing, it seems to me—have ignored the legacies and influences of straight culture on queer culture. I will use the term queer culture as a broad sweeping designation. (There are, of course, numerous cultures within the so-called LGBT community, but there are cultural formations which we might simply call countercultural formations which specifically address themselves to the entire queer community and are received as such by the queer community at large as queer cultural formation.) What I am getting at is that queer cultural formations refer to both other queer cultural artifacts as well as cultural artifacts coming out of the larger, Western, mainly heterosexual tradition. And we do not acknowledge readily enough the impact of these heterosexual elements within our own cultural formations and artifacts. To say this simply, of course, I only need to say that in order for us to queer something we need something to queer and that something is definitionally not queer before we have a chance to queer it. But makers of queer culture also take portions of heterosexual culture and keep them. There is a legacy of heterosexual culture within queer culture and it has too long gone unacknowledged. To move out of the realm of art and into the realm of queer subjecthood, I think it important to also point out that the vast majority of queer people were raised by heterosexual parents, and the influence of these heterosexual life models upon our own queer subjectivity is (although often unremarked) undeniable. Even those of us who were raised in queer families have taken heterosexuals as models, gurus, coaches. The model of heterosexuality has had an undeniable impact on our queer world-making, and it is important to note that this impact has (to refer momentarily to La Volenté de Savoir) not always been a repressive or Victorian one. To speak more accurately, this heterosexual influence on our own queer subjectivities has often been productive, positive, even worthy of celebration. 

I am not a particularly family-oriented person, and so I have often noted with wonderment that many of my friends are devoted to their parents, consider their parents their best friends, call their mothers every day. I’ve been on dates with men who have reported to me: “the first thing you need to know about me is that family comes first.” Personally, I am always put off by statements of this variety, but surely such a devotion to family cannot be explained fully through the lens of repression or guilt. It must be said, then, that the heterosexual family and heterosexual relationships in general affect queer subjectivity in productive ways that—if not central to queer world-making—are at least essential to it. Queer history is, in part, heterosexual history. To trace the legacies handed down to us as twenty-first century queer subjects, we need also to trace the heterosexual components of those legacies.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear some of my wise friends weigh in on this.

13 March 2011

Thoughts on Masculinity...

I am studying for my big exams right now and while reviewing José Esteban Muñoz's game-changing book Disidentifications, I came across this great critique of masculinity studies that made me smile: 

I see very little advantage in recuperating the term masculinity because, as a category, masculinity has normalized heterosexual and masculinist privilege. Masculinity is, among other things, a cultural imperative to enact a mode of “manliness” that is calibrated to shut down queer possibilities and energies. The social construct of masculinity is experienced by far too many men as a regime of power that labors to invalidate, exclude, and extinguish faggotry, effeminacy, and queerly coated butchness.

05 March 2011

One Good, One Kind of a Mess, One Dreadful

Let us start with the worst one. Christophe Barratier's Faubourg 36, which was inexplicably retitled Paris 36 for distribution in the U.S., is awful. In fact, the stupidity of this movie knows no bounds. I will not talk about all the clichés that are rampant in the film. There just does not seem to be any point. The movie is a complete waste of time. I do want to mention, however, the sexism of this film. In a relatively benign father-son story with (extremely stupid) subplots about Nazism, young love, fame, and communism, the male gaze is everywhere. I normally don't even notice the male gaze (ideology, when it is working, is always invisible) but perhaps it takes the sheer boredom of a film like this to make the male gaze in even a silly film obvious. To drive the sexism of the film home, let us compare the French poster (on the left) and the U.S. poster (on the right). The poster for distribution in the states changes the whole point of view of the film. No longer a father-son story, we ought all to go see Paris 36 so we can look at this pretty young woman and her bare shoulders.

Ugh. Stupid.

I also recently saw Sherlock Holmes, and I don't have much to say about that movie either except that it was pleasant. I was sort of bored, I have to admit. I really enjoyed the homoeroticism between Jude Law and Robert Downey, Jr. That was easily my favorite part of the film, but the rest of it... I was not sure why the action sequences all took place in slow motion. I find slow motion boring. I want my fights to be exciting and fast. I also was baffled by how bad the visual effects were. The film has gorgeous costumes. They are inventive and beautiful and feel like they reinterpret the Victorian era in a new, fabulous way, and the art direction was nominated for an Academy Award. And yet, amid all of this opulence, the visual effects all looked really fake. I was kind of disappointed. Still, the movie is diverting, the score is lively and very cool, and, as I said, the character work is quite fun—particularly from Jude Law (I had forgotten how much I liked him).

I also saw Ajami, a film by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani. This is a really, really smart film about racism, violence, and labor in Jaffa. I really liked it, and I recommend it highly. The movie is told in a kind of Alejándro Gonzalez Iñárritu kind of style, with episodes that converge on one another and where we see sequences from one point of view that are then re-interpreted when we see then again from another. Anyway, this is a renter for sure!

A Little Interwar Bitchiness for Saturday

Some delightful selections from Michel Sanouillet's Dada à Paris:

In 1919, [André] Breton and his friends felt no admiration for [Jean Cocteau], who was swiftly making his way up in the world ("Cocteau is taking shape," [Louis] Aragon noted ironically), and made no attempt to hide their aversion. "My opinion, completely disinterested, I swear," writes Breton to [Tristan] Tzara on December 26, 1919, "is that he is the most hateful person of our time. Again, he has done nothing to me and I assure you that hatred is not my strong point.

Because it is too busy adjusting its lorgnette, the Nouvelle Revue Française never watches the show. --Erik Satie

Our main reproach to Dada is that it is too timid. Once the rules have been broken, why so little? Not a single Dada dares commit suicide, dares kill a spectator. One watches plays, one listens to music. --Jean Cocteau

All the painters who appear in our museums are failures at painting; the only people ever talked about are failures; the world is divided into two categories of people: failures and the unknown. -- Francis Picabia

Tristan Tzara visited Zürich in the summer of 1921 and penned the following: "From this provincial hole," he wrote [Francis] Picabia, "Paris takes on wonderful proportions. Paris with you, your activities, the hours we spent together. It is to you and your friendship that I owe that stay, which was one of the most pleasant of my life. [Hans] Arp is still the very likable and vivacious boy. He's all alone here and terribly bored. He'd really like to see you and wants to come to Paris or New York. ... What a stupid country! Zürich is in the hands of a few old women. I can't imagine how I could have spent years here."

A couple of phrases by way of noting Francis Picabia's complete and utter genius:
"A priori, which is to say with eyes shut, Dada places before action and above everything: Doubt. DADA doubts everything. Dada is an armadillo. Everything is Dada. Beware of Dada. / ... true Dadas are against DADA. / [...] / Dada works with all its strength for the more universal establishment of the idiot. But consciously. And itself tends to become one more and more." This manifesto ends with the word "howl" repeated two hundred times.

A last bit of anti-art (?) from Picabia: "One says of a man that he has taste when it is that of others."