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

28 October 2011

America, Fuck Yeah

This film's subtitle The First Avenger doesn't make any sense without the Avengers movie which is coming out next summer, right? Otherwise what is he avenging? I don't get it.

In truth, I didn't understand most of this movie. It is just so dumb. I sort of loved Tommy Lee Jones and Dominic Cooper in it – and it was nice to see Derek Luke all grown up (remember Antwon Fisher?) and speaking French, no less. Captain America: the First Avenger is a film that totally rewrites history in more ways than are worth listing. I also really hated that the villain is this expressionless red skull dude and all of his minions were (literally) faceless automatons. Good and evil were just so easy in this movie. The right choice is always an obvious one in this Captain America universe.

Say what you will about Thor (I liked it) or Iron Man 2 (I was not much of a fan), their main characters are complicated and make difficult decisions. The extent of Captain America's decisions is only ever: Am I actually gonna do this thing that we all know is the right thing to do? Of course I am!

I find worlds like this kind of boring and I found Captain America pretty boring.

I will say one thing about it that I appreciated, which is that at least (unlike, say, the Transformers franchise or Iron Man 2), Captain America's fight sequences move us past the hand-to-hand combat tradition. You guys have crazy-magic guns that make people explode instantly and you're punching each other? Captain America does this a lot too, don't get me wrong, but there is also a lot of technological firepower on display here. Not enough to make this flick worth watching, but still.

P.S. Chris Evans has a gorgeous body in this film. And the camera is interested in it for a sum total of about thirty seconds. Foolishness.

27 October 2011

Two Walks

Overwhelmed by work, the writing the reading the studying – all about violence, prison, torture.
Images of mutilated bodies of genocide, invading my dreams, even.

Away from my desk and its bright screen with its tiny letters and big blank spaces I gulp in air.
Big full breaths, as though I have forgotten how to inhale.
Or as if, actually, I've been indoors all day at my keyboard reading and writing about prison-rape.

And I walk around this silly man-made lake in the middle of town and keep breathing.
I am aware, of course, of my breath as I walk. In. Deep in the lungs.
To the bottom. And out again. Walking.

And I am aware, of course, of my walking. Hyper-aware, actually. How
Is my posture? Are my hips sinking? Is my back aligned? How is my neck?
Do I feel my feet as they touch the sidewalk, even in these trackers? Does my breath have a rhythm?

Finding my center, locating alignment, will, I know, enrich this walk,
Allow me to calm down quickly. Worry less. And it does.

Back to a time I hardly remember. Walking to church.
Walking to school. My walk the subject of much consideration
By my parents and other adults, the cause
Of much anxiety for my eight-year-old-or-whatever self.

Hands at sides. Straighten up. Don't swish. Keep your eyes forward. I
Perfected that walk as carefully and methodically as I could.
It was never quite right, of course. But I approximated the something at which I aimed, anyway.

The art of walking.

I keep walking. High on my hip sockets, not thinking about swishing one bit.
And I look down and I'm – surprise – wearing a pink tee-shirt. Femininity not
A concern of mine these days.

And as the muscled twentysomething runs by and looks just a tad longer than normal
I smile at him broadly. And breathe in again.

26 October 2011

Whitman Whednesday

Proud Music of the Storm - §6

Then I woke softly,
And pausing, questioning awhile the music of my dream,
And questioning all those reminiscences, the tempest in its fury,
And all the songs of sopranos and tenors,
And those rapt oriental dances of religious fervor,
And the sweet varied instruments, and the diapason of organs,
And all the artless plaints of love and grief and death,
I said to my silent curious soul out of the bed of the slumber-chamber,
Come, for I have found the clew I sought so long,
Let us go forth refresh'd amid the day,
Cheerfully tallying life, walking the world, the real,
Nourish'd henceforth by our celestial dream.

And I said, moreover,
Haply what thou hast heard O soul was not the sound of winds,
Nor dream of raging storm, nor sea-hawk's flapping wings, nor harsh scream,
Nor vocalism of sun-bright Italy,
Nor German organ majestic, nor vast concourse of voices, nor layers of harmonies,
Nor strophes of husbands and wives, nor sound of marching soldiers,
Nor flutes, nor harps, nor the bugle-call of camps,
But to a new rhythmus fitted for thee,
Poems bridging the way from Life to Death, vaguely wafted in night air, uncaught, unwritten,
Which let us go forth in the bold day and write.

Les Trois Mousquetaires

It occurred to me only while watching this new adaptation (if you can call it that) of The Three Musketeers that musketeer movies never seem to be about muskets and are actually always about swashbuckling.

The most important things about the new version of The Three Musketeers are:

1.) The costumes (by Pierre-Yves Gayraud, who hasn't had an assignment this cool before) are spectacular. Absolutely gorgeous. They might even be revelatory. I was in love with almost every piece. And costumes become a kind of running joke throughout the film, so the audience is actively scrutinizing the costumes. There are fabulous hats and ludicrous colors and extraordinary brocades. I was in love.

2.) This movie has nothing to do with any novel ever written by Alexandre Dumas, père. Nothing.

3.) A lot of money was spent on this movie. And it showed.

4.) The Three Musketeers is completely, almost wholly derivative of two recent films: Sherlock Holmes and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Three Musketeers doesn't have beaucoup de slow-motion the way Sherlock does, but it has enough of it that it's debt to Guy Ritchie's movie is obvious. The whole idea of refiguring of a plot from seventeenth-century France so that it has lots of action sequences and explosions also seems indebted to the new Sherlock franchise. The debt to Dead Man's Chest will become clearer when I tell you that Three Musketeers involves airships. That are armed with cannons. That are, for some reason, steered using that same big wheel that pirate ships use.

5.) I love the young man who plays the King of France, Freddie Fox. He is adorable and (again) ludicrous. All of my favorite things about this movie are completely absurd.

6.) There is a poop joke and a puke joke. I hated both of them.

7.) Milla Jovovich is a big ol' mess in this. I hope they recast her (or at least reduce her role) for the sequel. (I'm guessing they'll call it The Four Musketeers like Twentieth Century Fox did in the 1974/1975).

8.) I love Orlando Bloom. I don't care what anyone says. I don't care if he doesn't know what kind of movie he's in. He's fabulous and earnest and I just love him.

I guess there is kind of a lot to say about this movie. I sort of had a blast. The whole things is laugh-out-loud funny. There isn't more than ten consecutive minutes in it that anyone could possibly take seriously. The plot is an absolute nonsense. There are more anachronisms than I could count if I were even to bother to try. But to worry about anachronisms here would be to completely miss the film's own delightful charm. The film is chock full of residents of Hollywood playing dress-up and doing their best to make unabashedly silly dialogue work. It had the best time. Think about this movie like a big old history book dressed up in a rhinestone-studded bridesmaid gown.

In other words, just let The Three Musketeers wash over you like a very pretty bit of inanity.

Aside from musketeer, I thought I would also look up swashbuckling. Because what the hell does that mean anyway. Well, a swash, as it turns out, is a swipe with a sword through the air. And a buckle is a shield. So swashbuckling appears to mean something like swashing-the-buckle or making a sound by hitting a shield with a sword.

25 October 2011

Tales from Teaching

A student and I were discussing a paper she is going to write for my Violence, Ethics, and Representation class. I am encouraging them to write about anything they want, as long as it involves violence, ethics, and representation. So the topics are their own.

My student has decided she wants to write about some screen depictions of lesbians who are crime-fighters. We discuss books she should read and then she looks at me a little worried.

I'm afraid I am going to move too far away from violence if I do all of this research on representations of lesbians in film.

Oh, I say, well there's no worry there, really. Representations of lesbians have been mostly violent. They are invariably killed, usually violently, by the ends of films.

Okay, she says, but I really want to focus on lesbians in film and I'm just worried that I won't talk enough about violence.

No, I say sadly, You misunderstand me. You won't actually be able to avoid it. 

And then I say: The history of lesbians in film is a violent one.

Got it, she says.

And we look at each other and both feel that there isn't much else to say. See you Thursday.

He Even Mentions Gayle Rubin!

I got a shout-out in the FSView/Florida Flambeau this week. One of my most brilliant students, the delightful Perry Powell, has an op-ed piece in the FSU newspaper about sex and the current generation.

Decide what’s right for you and do what turns you on. Perry says. Do it for humanity.

24 October 2011

The Man for Whom I Still Write

I wrote this in June 2009, soon after I found out my friend Andrew had passed away. This was, it should be noted, written during a time of deep grief for me. Part of this was me attempting the work of trying to mourn someone whom I loved deeply but with whom I had a troubled relationship. There is something in this that I keep pondering: How do you mourn the loss of someone whom you used to love but for whom your feelings are now more complicated than love? There he was, and I was busy having so many complicated feelings about him, and then he wasn't there any more. 

I have been thinking about sharing these musings for a while, mostly because I still think about him all the time – almost daily. When I'm writing I think about Andrew, and when I do yoga, and when I see a movie I know he'd love, and often while I go through my day in the most normal way, there he is. And I think the experience of grief is as complicated and rich as anything else I discuss on here. So: here goes...

I spoke to Linda this afternoon and she was able to articulate some of what I have been thinking about Andrew. She is the first person who has said to me that he was a very difficult person. His misanthropy, though it has gone unremarked by many people on the internet, was perhaps Andrew's most defining characteristic. Andrew had such contempt for so many people. He let very few in, was downright hostile toward many, and was openly derisive about more than a couple people who had not wronged him in any way: harmless people who simply didn't understand his melancholy, his dedication – obsession, really – with his craft. 

But, then, Andrew was impossible to understand for many people. He was terrified and mysterious and hateful. He was also beautiful and magical and amazing. I cannot seem to refer to him as lovable. That he most certainly was not. He seemed to actively resist being lovable, in fact, at every turn. There was so much hatred – so much hatred – that to love Andrew, to actively love him, demanded an act of will. I say that having loved him, known him incredibly well, having understood him. 

He was not easy to love. Or perhaps I mean to say that he did not wish to be easy to love. And I will confess that it was often difficult. I often loved him in spite of himself, often against his will, even. He was so filled with anger, resentment and hate, not least of which he directed toward himself. But I loved him still, for the better part of six full years. For me, the sun rose and set with Andrew, and even now, as recently as February when we last spoke, he had the ability to get under my skin (he knew this, of course). The traces of my love for him lay ignored by me but always, at any moment, ready to reawaken.

I have more memories than I know what to do with. My heart is so ambivalent about him. Having loved him, of course, I also had to kill him, to attempt to cut him out of my heart in order to move on from him, to let the love of someone else in. And so many of my memories of Andy are laced with pain, like a vein of gold running through a mineral. 

There is wreckage. What does his absence leave us with? No, I should stick with myself. I do not actually understand anyone else's experience of Andrew: only my own, and even that... 

He told me many lies; we were frequently dishonest with one another, so that there was much that he intended to hide. I saw much of it anyway, but I offer this as evidence of an occasional lack of trust. He did not always feel safe, even with me, and perhaps he was correct not to. I wanted – for many years anyway – something he refused to give me. I spent so long cutting him out of my heart. There is a lot of bitterness left. Much of what I remember is darkness, grief. 

And there is only emptiness when I consider Andrew and the uselessness of his death. He lived a life filled with suffering. Even he, I would wager, did not understand its source. He certainly could not envision its endpoint. Well... I guess he did, though it is not, perhaps, the end any of us would have chosen for him. So sad. He was the saddest person I ever met. The saddest. No contest. But how I loved him! For me, that love remains. It no longer feels like it is a part of me – I can only speak of it as something I no longer feel as love. But I can remember feeling it. I remember what I was like while I was feeling it, and I remember precisely what it felt like. Its traces remain in my body.

He was twenty-eight years old. And he loved me. And I loved him. And now he has died.

22 October 2011

To Begin

The little terrier on the poster talks. And this film is really charming... for a while.

There are a lot of good things to say about Beginners, and I was with it for a really long time, so I will start there. The film charts the story of a man in his late thirties who has been unlucky in love as he embarks on a new, quirky relationship with the completely wonderful and equally quirky Mélanie Laurent (who you will probably remember from Inglourious Basterds). Beginners also tells the story of the death of the man's gay father, which happened right before he starts this new relationship. The film moves back and forth from the present (romance) the immediate past (loss and mourning) and the man's childhood (also quirky and very interesting). I want to note how easily the film moves back and forth between these storylines without ever having to flash dates up on the screen. Beginners is never confusing; I never once thought okay when is this? I note this because I feel like I have recently seen quite a few films that have a lot of trouble keeping track of time.

Okay, so Beginners is about dealing with a gay dad who has recently come out at age 75, falling in love, and trying to be happy, and then it is also about mourning his father, mourning his mother, and trying to grow up. The film actually manages to do all of these things. The performances are great – Christopher Plummer is a particular delight – and much of the script is clever and not so whimsical as to be annoying. The actress who plays Plummer's wife, Mary Place Keller, is extraordinary and is probably the film's best feature. I also think Beginners is pretty smart about sex. Also, Mike Mills (who directed Thumbsucker, a film I love) manages to constantly historicize various events in the film, by quickly charting who was the president when certain things happen, what pretty looks like, what happy looks like, keeping things in perspective.

There is a great moment late in the film when Ewan McGregor's character says that he and his girlfriend feel sadnesses in a way that their parents would never have had time for. This was my favorite moment in the film and I felt it as a kind of relief. This is because Beginners is rather a depressive film about two depressives trying to love each other. As such – and I hope this doesn't sound too unkind – I became irritated with the characters in act three.

Cheer UP, y'all, I kept thinking.

I suppose, though, that in a film that has two very distinct storylines, it is normal for one of those to stand out as more interesting than the other. I loved the father-son stuff throughout, and I loved the romantic stuff for most of the movie, but after awhile the romantic self-destruction of these two frustrated me. And this was probably because the other story was so compelling; the film itself invited comparison between the two narratives, and the father-son tale, in my mind, won out. Still, if you liked the whimsical, slightly depressive tone of (500) Days of Summer, Beginners will totally be your cup of tea.

20 October 2011

A Prayer, Perhaps

As flippant as I occasionally am about violence, it is a huge part of my life. I spend my days reading about violence and thinking about violence, and (increasingly) my nights dreaming about it. Currently, I am teaching a course on Violence, Ethics & Representation at FSU. I have assigned theatre pieces to my students that I think approach violence in interesting ways, and we have spent so far – and will spend in the weeks to come – many hours discussing the ways violence is represented and how the theatre can ethically represent violence, genocide, torture, atrocity.

This week was designed to be part of a module about ritualistic drama for our contemporary moment. Without really thinking about this other connection, I assigned two plays about genocide: Cecilia Parkert's play Witness about the genocide during the 1990s in Srebrenica, and Erik Ehn's play Maria Kizito about the Rwandan genocide (also in the 1990s).

Today we spoke in class about Maria Kizito and I asked my students to talk about the end of the play. Near the play's close, Maria Kizito, a nun who was responsible for the deaths of seven thousand people, speaks the following prayer/elegy:

I have done what I was told. I have been told wrong things.
I have imagined terrible things.
I have behaved as if the world and my imagination were real, as real as each other.
I have straddled wealth; walked over the dead.
I have failed to envy the dead.
I have treated the past as if it were real, instead of the past.
I have hidden in fear instead of hiding in God.
This century is a few centuries long.
This century is an account of holes.
This century is a hill, no matter which way you walk: downhill.
This century is an abdominal wall too weak to hold up the intestines.
This century is skin carved instead of stone,
stone carved instead of soil,
soil carved instead of soul,
soul butchered instead of sacrifice,
sacrifice offered rather than known,
knowledge rather than heaven,
heaven rather than God,
God idolized rather than God,
God rather than God.

I was glad I had asked one of the students to read it, because I couldn't get through it without crying.

I said in class that this piece of the play seems to me to be a kind of vision of the ways in which we fall short of what we ought to do, a series of images that depict our inability to make the world into the kind of place it could be. And I see it, too, as a kind of apology, a mourning but also a repentance for what we have made of our humanity. This century is a few centuries long. I am sorry if this is a little bleak for a Thursday, but I have been spending a lot of time with the worst of human behavior and it is weighing very heavily on me these days.

19 October 2011

Whitman Whednesday

Are You the New Person Drawn toward Me?

Are you the new person drawn toward me?
To begin with take warning, I am surely far different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?
Do you think it is so easy to have me become your lover?
Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy'd satisfaction?
Do you think I am trusty and faithful?
Do you see no further than this façade, this smooth and tolerant manner of me?
Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?
Have you thought O dreamer that it may be all maya, illusion?

18 October 2011


There is a particular joy in having seen a lot of films from a certain director. People occasionally insultingly tell me (usually after I've told them I didn't like some film they particularly liked) that I watch too many movies and so that's why I can't enjoy them. The implication is A) they are better judges of movies because they've seen fewer of them, B) that my judgment about that film they loved is wrong because I am a stuffy academic or something, and C) that I don't enjoy a lot of movies. In fact, I like most movies that I see and I am not even close to being an academic about film. I am at best an amateur. And as for being wrong about that film they liked, who cares? We like what we like. My take is, if you like a film, great. We can't argue about whether or not either of us liked a film objectively. It's not an objective discussion and never will be. If you loved Forrest Gump or Click or I don't know The Good Shepherd, you go right ahead and keep loving it. We don't all have to like the same things.

So I finally sat down the other night and watched Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog from 1991. It is a weird little movie. The plot is bizarre and the film jumps from sequence to sequence through a series of episodes with characters we only meet once and who never return. Madonna, for instance, has a single scene, as do Wallace Shawn, Julie Kavner, Kate Nelligan, etc. The whole setup is strange.

And indeed the whole point of the film is really the shadows and fog. Allen and his costars run up and down this sound stage which is built to look like some city in 1920s Europe and the whole movie is lit in bizarre ways, like an extended parody of film noir. It feels like Allen wrote the script just so he could shoot the picture in this way. And he and his DP have pushed this whole concept past the point of any sense, creating shadows with light from impossible sources and filling scenes with gratuitous fog. It is a delight.

The movie is also a comedy about a serial killer – Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) is also a sort of murder/comedy film – a singularly odd combination. I had a great time watching this movie, and I think the reason I liked it as much as I did was because I am so familiar with Allen's other movies. The whole time I was watching Shadows and Fog I was thinking about how much fun Allen obviously had making the movie. His joy with the process of filmmaking was evident throughout the movie. And I found this pleasure infectious as I watched it.

I have seen almost all of Allen's movies, and I have this great book called Woody Allen on Woody Allen where he is interviewed by Stig Björkman about each of his films (up through Manhattan Murder Mystery), so whenever I see one I haven't seen before I go look up the interview to see what Allen had to say about it. Some of the fun things he said about Shadows and Fog are...

On being an artist:
I don't agree that the artist is superior; I'm not a believer in the specialness of the artist. I don't think that to have a talent is an achievement. I think it's a gift from God, sort of. I do think that if you're lucky to have a talent, that with that comes a certain responsibility. Just in the same sense as if you were born rich.

And on night and civilization:
Once you get out in the night, there is a sense that civilization is gone. All the stores are closed, everything is dark and it's a different feeling. You start to realize that the city is just a superimposed man-made convention and that the real thing that you're living on is a planet. It's a wild thing in nature. And all the civilization that protects you and enables you to lie to yourself about life is all man-made and superimposed.

Allen ends Shadows and Fog with a ridiculously whimsical sequence that steps outside of reality completely, even the reality of the film. It's a kind of senseless deus ex machina that I found quite charming, although I can see how some people might be really irritated by the device. Critics ate this film alive when it was first released and it doesn't surprise me one bit, but I found the whole thing just unabashedly silly – and that's a good thing, I think. Also, the movie is filled with cameos: It stars Mia Farrow, John Cusack, and John Malkovich, but Jodie Foster, Lily Tomlin, Kathy Bates, John C. Reilly, and William H. Macy all make brief appearances.

17 October 2011


By now, perhaps, you have read that actor Zachary Quinto has publicly stated in New York magazine that he is a gay man.

The gay news and Awards Daily both reported this on Sunday, and a few of my friends also shared the above link on facebook. I read a couple of posts on Twitter, too, noting that hopefully other famous people will also feel the need to "come out" now.

I am going to speak ambivalently. True story: I recently refused to go out with a man because he is over forty but still not out on facebook. It seemed like a good rule for myself. I don't need to be on a date with a grown man who isn't also proud of being gay. And yet when I told one of my kids about this he said Well, I'm not out on facebook.

That's different, I said. You're young! You have your folks to worry about. And other family. And bullying and all of the fear that goes along with being still dependent on other people, including parents, teachers, etc.

And I do think it's different. I'm not saying that this gentleman who wanted to date me should be out on facebook. Just that I don't date people who aren't. It's not a prescription for him; just a rule for myself.


Sedgwick has this moment in Epistemology of the Closet where she says that all gay people are always to some degree or another in the closet. Am I out to my next door neighbor? Am I out to the checker at the grocery? To my mechanic? To all of my teachers? To the woman in the seat next to me at the theatre? To the Dean of my College?

And sometimes I am intentionally in the closet: with some of my relatives, with old family friends (I did that just this summer!), with various bartenders I know, when I'm on the phone with payroll. I am not saying that it's right to be in the closet (however fully) in these moments, but I also don't think it's wrong, either. It's a kind of code-switching, something queer people are actually asked to do by a homophobic society that constantly polices public space: make your sexuality invisible, please. We don't need any of that around here!

I get very uncomfortable when people call for public figures to come out of the closet. Not that I wouldn't love it if they did. Not that I don't think that being out and proud is helpful. I do think it's helpful, and I know from my own experience how helpful it has been to my own students who – because I am very open about my identity as a gay man – feel like they have someone who understands them as lesbian and gay kids going through difficult things. But I don't think anyone owes it to anyone else to declare his or her sexuality. I don't believe that queer people like Zachary Quinto or Ricky Martin or Jodie Foster have any responsibility to be out and proud. In fact, some people are in a better position to do good work (I am thinking now of a certain newsanchor) if their sexuality stays an open secret.

I am probably extra-sensitive about this topic because I teach undergraduates. They are constantly being asked to declare their sexuality. And sometimes they can really pressure those who are unsure about their sexuality – or unsure about their sexuality qua identity or afraid their desires will be misinterpreted – to just come out already. To my mind these young people do not need to declare who they are, do not need to speak about what it is that they think they might want, do not need to decide if they wish to identify with one or another group until they are ready. And I get very protective when others wish to hurry them along (particularly since our society promotes a near-complete disavowal of the existence of bisexuality).

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that queer people don't owe the rest of us anything. And if they don't feel like publicly declaring their queerness, that should be up to them. I am proud of my queerness, and I am a privileged white male who is in a position to be queer publicly without undue detriment to my career prospects, my work, and my personal safety. To me, a call for someone else to "come out" covers over this privilege and pretends that everyone else is just as privileged as I am. Indeed, it seems to me that a call for someone else to "come out" pretends that coming out is actually easy, when it can, to many queer people, feel like a nearly impossible task.

13 October 2011

Tales from Teaching

Teaching Aristotle's Poetics today in my text analysis class, my students and I had the following exchange:

Aaron: So Aristotle says that tragedy is an imitation of an action. That is, a mīmēsis of a praxis. From praxis we get our words practice, of course, and practical. And from mīmēsis we get our word...?

Luis: Mimosa.

Aaron: ...

12 October 2011

The Plague

I do not often think about what I want the theatre to do. At least anymore. The last full-length play I directed was over two years ago and it accomplished exactly what I wanted it to do, but I am not a director at our School of Theatre (nor would I wish to be). At any rate, I am usually busy thinking about how the theatre works, what it is trying to do, and I only rarely think about what I would want it to do were I in charge in some way.

And yet... I assigned sections from Antonin Artaud's The Theater and Its Double to the students on Tuesday and I find reading Artaud so exciting! I assigned him to them because of his theories about how watching violence can impact the spectator, but it is his theories about the theatre itself and its capabilities which I find the most invigorating.

In his discussion of the plague, 
for instance, Artaud says:
The state of the victim who dies without material destruction, with all the stigmata of an absolute and almost abstract disease upon him, is identical with the state of an actor entirely penetrated by feelings that do not benefit or even relate to his real condition. Everything in the physical aspect of the actor, as in that of the victim of the plague, shows that life has reacted to the paroxysm, and yet nothing has happened.

The theater, like the plague, is a delirium and it is communicative.

The theater restores us all our dormant conflicts and all their powers.

If the essential theater is like the plague, it is not because it is contagious, but because like the plague it is the revelation, the bringing forth, the exteriorization of a depth of latent cruelty by means of which all the perverse possibilities of the mind, whether of an individual or a people, are localized.

Like the plague the theater is the time of evil, the triumph of dark powers that are nourished by a power even more profound until extinction.

And he has the audacity to conclude that:

All the great Myths are dark, so that one cannot imagine, save in an atmosphere of carnage, torture, and bloodshed, all the magnificent Fables which recount to the multitudes the first sexual division and the first carnage of essences that appeared in creation.
The theater, like the plague, is in the image of this carnage and this essential separation. It releases conflicts, disengages powers, liberates possibilities, and if these possibilities and these powers are dark, it is the fault not of the plague nor of the theater but of life.
And if Artaud is fond of what he calls cruelty, it is because, like the theatre itself, cruelty is excessive, unnecessary, gratuitous.

11 October 2011

Compliment of the Day

Drew: Man, the other day when we drank really heavily – I was a mess the whole next day. I had trouble bouncing back.
Aaron: You know, Jeanne and Walter were saying that too after we went out on Friday night.
Drew: Yeah?
Aaron: I don't know what's wrong with you people. I am fine the next day.
Drew: Well, I think it's mostly because I'm not really a drinker.
Aaron: Yeah, that's true.
Drew: Jeanne and Walter aren't really drinkers either, right?
Aaron: I think what we're saying here is that I'm an alcoholic.
Drew: I think it's just that you're good at everything.

I love this guy.

10 October 2011


I remember reading that Piñero had problems, but I also seemed to remember that there was a bit of Oscar buzz for Benjamin Bratt at the time that Piñero was released (2001).

In any case, I will be writing about Miguel Piñero's play Short Eyes in my book, so I wanted to (finally) watch Leon Ichaso's film about Piñero. It is a disaster.

First off, the film jumps back and forth in time, beginning in Sing Sing prison in 1972 or so, jumping to 1974, jumping again to 1988, and then also occasionally back to Piñero's childhood.Now, Denis Villeneuve's Incendies, for example does this and it is not confusing, so I am not objecting to jumping around in time per se, but in Piñero most of the time I had no idea when or where we were. It was downright confusing. Now they're fighting, now he's been forgiven, now they're sleeping together, I don't get it. This actually made the film downright incoherent.

Worse, the film feels guilty for liking Piñero himself and so the movie is, more than it is anything else, a kind of apology for who Piñero was. Honestly, this made me uncomfortable. Piñero was a troubled guy, erratic, he hurt  a lot of his close friends, he was an addict, and he finally couldn't get his act together and died of cirrhosis of the liver. But... the film shows us that all of these friends loved him deeply; they are all, for example, at his funeral in the lower East Side. So why does the movie spend so much time showing us what a jerk Piñero was? Why did people love him? The film ignores this aspect of Piñero – we don't see the opening of Short Eyes, we don't see his friendship with Joe Papp, we only see the tortured side of his love affair with Sugar, his main female interest, and the film totally short changes his sexual relationship with playwright Reinaldo Povod.

The whole thing was just so strange. Piñero didn't necessarily need to be a celebration of this guy's life, but why is Piñero important? I daresay he is quite important, having founded the Nuyorican Poet's Café with Miguel Algarín, but Piñero seems much more interested in criticizing its main character than in anything else. I mean, why make a movie about a guy you don't really like all that much?

07 October 2011

Struggles with Balance

I have been doing yoga for about ten years. Sometimes I do it more frequently than at other times. For example, when I am doing P90X, yoga is only a weekly workout routine.

When I was an undergraduate, several of my friends and I would meet and do it at school in our studio theatre space. There were a whole bunch of us undergraduates who did this: probably more than ten. I did yoga a lot back then.

The thing is, I almost never do yoga at a studio. I have maybe done yoga at a studio a total of ten times in my life. And I've been doing yoga for ten years. This is a cost issue. Yoga classes are expensive and I do not have a lot of money. So that solves that.

My friend Jeanne (who blogs about happiness) convinced me to try a hot-yoga class last night and, well, I haven't worked out in about a week, and she wanted to try out this local studio, so I agreed to go.

It was hot in there. An average of 100º, actually, for the whole time.

One of the things that I was noticing while I was practicing, though, was how competitive I can be. Doing yoga by myself at home or with only a few people, usually means that I am not very aware of other people's work. And I shouldn't be. They are at their own place in their practice and I am in mine. There is nothing to compare. Our bodies are different from one another, and if I'm working hard I'm doing it correctly.

But when I'm in a room full of people, I can't help but think oh I am not quite doing this right or oh look how well she can do that. And I correct myself: no, release that: do your work. But, well, these feelings come up, and if I'm thinking about being as "good" as someone else, I'm not doing my own work.

Even more than that, I find myself looking to the yogi for approval! And what kind of approval do I want? Oh, who knows. Is he supposed to say Good work, today? And according to what rubric? He barely knows me, right? And he certainly can't know whether or not I am really pushing myself, working toward my personal edge. I notice myself seeking this approval as I move through one asana into the next. And then, of course, I judge myself for seeking his approval, for trying to get to some mythical level two (yoga is not tetris, no matter how much I want it to be). And then I correct myself again. I need to fail without judgment; recognize my failures and move on. Yoga means balance, and sometimes finding that balance can itself be a struggle.

I voice these pitfalls because I find that acknowledging the places where I fail is good practice.

And in fact, these struggles become a part of the practice of going to a studio. That is, they are not so much things that I'm doing wrong or problems that I'm discovering as they are a portion of the work that I ought to be doing when I do yoga. Doing yoga at home by myself would certainly allow me to avoid feelings of inadequacy, competitiveness, needing approval, but when I am in a studio, I have the opportunity, not simply to bypass those things, but to work through them.

06 October 2011

The Duchess

In my play analysis class this semester, I decided to switch out a play that I've been teaching since I started teaching this course in 2008: Hamlet. The last time I taught the play the students just seemed bored by it, as though they knew everything about it and that no amount of effort I put toward new ways of approaching the text would convince them otherwise.

So, I said, I spent a year reading other plays from this time period. I will swap one of them in in place of Hamlet. I chose to replace Hamlet with John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi. At first I was a little worried: the kids seemed very frustrated by the play and its language. Nothing happens, they protested.

But as we got to the end of the play, the play's outlook on life convinced me (again) of Webster's brilliance. I just want to share some of the play's final thoughts because I think they are fascinating, and have a completely different perspective on the world than I think we normally credit the Early Modern English with having had.

For me, Malfi demonstrates an almost total confusion about why human beings exist, a near utter hopelessness in the possibilities of good government, and only bewilderment and absence in the face of death.

Julia, for example, as she is dying, declares "I go I know not whither." Those are her last words!

And when Bosola commits murder accidentally he bemoans the fact that "We are merely the stars' tennis balls, struck and banded / Which way please them." And later:

Oh, this gloomy world --
In what a shadow or deep pit of darkness
Doth, womanish and fearful, mankind live!
Let worthy minds ne'er stagger in distrust
To suffer death or shame for what is just.
Mine is another voyage.

As for Antonio, he says that
In all our quest of greatness
Like wanton boys whose pastime is their care,
We follow after bubbles blown in th'air.
Pleasure of life -- what is't? Only the good hours
Of an ague, merely a preparative
To rest, to endure vexation.
I don't think I've ever read anything this bleak from the ostensible hero of a play.

This is a play that ends without the romance and sentimentality of, say, Othello or even of Hamlet, which at least ends with a son regaining his dead father's lands. On the contrary, The Duchess of Malfi has no such faith in the order of things. Instead it insists upon life as painful and confusing. Even the Duchess herself, probably the play's brightest character, questions why people are so fond of life:

Of what is't fools make such vain keeping?
Sin their conception, their birth weeping,
Their life a general mist of error,
Their death a hideous storm of terror.

I mean, damn, girl.

05 October 2011

Fish Tank

Last night Drew and I watched Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank from last year's movie season. It's been released on DVD by the Criterion Collection, which is why I first took notice of the film. (It ought simply to be a fact in all of our lives that any movie released by the Criterion Collection automatically deserves our notice; I treat a Criterion release as though a person whose opinion I deeply respect has given a film a stamp of approval.)

But I have to be honest: the real reason I rented this movie was that it contains a performance by Michael Fassbender, who in the last couple of years has become one of my favorite actors to watch. He gave one of my favorite performances of 2009; he is flat-out brilliant in Steve McQueen's Hunger, and I recently enjoyed his work in Jane Eyre and (though I thought the film was fairly asinine) in X-men: First Class, as well.

But never mind Michael Fassbender, because Fish Tank is not about him.

Fish Tank is about poverty and living in a world where there simply aren't a lot of choices. And Fish Tank is about bad – bad, bad, bad – decisions, and how sometimes we can't stop ourselves from making them because we feel powerless and don't know what to do.

My roommate and I watched this film and talked back to it almost throughout its entirety, frustrated with the choices the characters made and wishing we could talk sense into them and knowing that was impossible. Fish Tank is troubling in many ways, and often extremely uncomfortable to sit through. We changed our loyalties to the characters many times throughout the film, and fought among ourselves about responsibility and proper behavior, as well as horror and taste (this girl thinks she is a dancer, but Drew and I agreed she is most definitely not).

Part of the pleasure of the film, it seems to me, is its ability to make its audience squirm in its seats. If this doesn't sound interesting, Fish Tank is definitely not for you. It won't be fun for most people, I'd wager.

But wow. This film is excellent. I absolutely loved it, I enjoyed it entirely, and I've moved it into my top fifteen for last year.

04 October 2011

Incredibly Close

I know I am way behind on reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I buy books or books or given to me and then they sit on my shelves for a long time without me ever looking them. There are just too many! It's a curse. But after I saw the trailer for the new film (which is directed by Stephen Daldry) I immediately took the book off the shelf and committed to reading it. It only took me two days, which probably means I should actually take the time to read a novel now and then since they don't take me very long.

For me this trailer looks a little... schmaltzy. (I particularly object to that song at the end. What the ?) I am guessing it's just the trailer, though, because Stephen Daldry's first three films were Billy Elliot, The Hours, and The Reader, which are all superb movies that manage to be moving without ever being cloying.

The book, though. The book is really wonderful. The main voice in the novel is a young boy, and though I have started to lose patience with stories told from the perspective of young boys, Foer switches the book up with other voices enough that I didn't get tired of our little autistic narrator. But for me it is Foer's own presence in the book that comes through the most. He places the destruction of the World Trade Center next to the 1945 bombing of Dresden and also next to the bombing of Hiroshima.

And then it is a book about mourning for loss, and the importance of reminding those we love that we love them, and how much we can be connected if we wish to make connections with one another. And about parenthood. One of my favorite passages comes near the very end of the book (don't worry I won't spoil anything). The narrator is talking to a limo driver in the middle of the night:

Gerald smiled at me in the rearview mirror and asked if we wanted any music. I asked him if he had any kids. He said he had two daughters. "What do they like?" "What do they like?" "Yeah." "Lemme see. Kelly, my baby, likes Barbie and puppies and bead bracelets." "I'll make her a bead bracelet." "I'm sure she'd like that." "What else?" "If it's soft and pink, she likes it." "I like soft and pink things, too." He said, "Well, all right." "And what about your other daughter?" "Janet? She likes sports. Her favorite is basketball, and I'll tell you, she can play. I don't mean for a girl, either. I mean she's good."

"Are they both special?" He cracked up and said, "Of course their pop is gonna say they're special." "But objectively." "What's that?" "Like, factually. Truthfully."
"The truth is I'm their pop."

I don't know where I read that this is the first great book about 9/11, but I think I have to agree.
(Side note: Foer is married to Nicole Krauss, who wrote Great House – the best novel I've read in years – and The History of Love.)

03 October 2011

Masochism and Aesthetic Pleasure

I decided (finally) to look at Leo Bersani & Ulysse Dutoit's The Forms of Violence today. I am not sure why I felt compelled to do this, but, as it turns out, the topic of this book was exactly what I needed for the discussions I am trying to have in my Violence, Ethics & Representation class.

I have been trying to formulate a discussion of the ways in which aesthetics (or perhaps I mean narrativization) forestalls an ethical engagement with violence as such. To ask the students to engage with how aesthetics disallow or interfere with ethics. Well, as it turns out, it is precisely this topic with which Bersani and Dutoit are concerned in The Forms of Violence. Their approach is, understandably, through Freud (and masochism), and I am finding it absolutely fascinating.

B&D argue that:
The only psychologically intelligible explanation of the sadist's enjoyment of the suffering of others is this: that he is, precisely, enjoying that suffering. He has introjected the self projected into the suffering position of the other. 

If I understand this correctly, the argument is that the sadist enjoys the suffering of the person he harms because he experiences the suffering as his own. The pleasure of sadism is, to put it a different way, felt through identifying with the masochistic pleasure that he projects onto the victim.

The next phase of their argument is that:
The fantasy-identifications outlined by Freud may be crucial to all sympathetic responses to suffering. [...] "Sympathy" always includes a trace of sexual pleasure, and [...] this pleasure is, inescapably, masochistic. If this is the case, there is a certain risk in all sympathetic projections: the pleasure which accompanies them promotes a secret attachment to scenes of suffering or violence. The psychic mechanism which allows for what would rightly be called humane or morally liberal responses to scenes of suffering or violence is, intrinsically, somewhat dysfunctional.

They say this because to identify with a victim's suffering is, precisely, what the sadist does, deriving, as he does, pleasure from the suffering of a victim through introjection. Right?

Last bit from B&D:
The very operation of sympathy partially undermines the moral solidarity which we like to think of as its primary effect. Our views of the human capacity for empathetic representations of the world should therefore take into account the possibility that a mimetic relation to violence necessarily includes a sexually induced fascination with violence.

Bersani & Dutoit think that the reason we enjoy watching violence – even when we are moved to sympathy for the victims of that violence – is that we take a partial pleasure in that violence as sadists.

02 October 2011


One of the things I miss without you is a kind of attuning.
Before, even though we were far away, 
you were attuned to me.

I felt your presence throughout the day, 
not just in the small messages I'd receive as the day progressed 
("Hope your day is the greatest!") 
but something else, 
a feeling of knowing you were there behind me, 
the way you walked up that night 

after we drank wine in that field under the tiki torch – 
I knew you were there, 
felt you on the wind long before you materialized to put your hand in mine.

Losing you has been tangible to me, 
though you may pretend there is no loss, 
that this now is no different from that then
because I know the difference between now

and the way you used to bend your thought toward me 
even when we did not speak, 

even as we both existed in our separate busynesses of the day.
I miss the way you could talk to someone else in a crowd 
while all your energy was directed, palpably, toward me.

It is this feeling of loss that makes me the saddest. 
I sense not that you are gone, but that I am gone for you, 
that you do not lean toward me across the distance
the way you used to.

So: mourning for you, for loss, for myself, all of the above. I do. 
And I am awash with self-pity. Why not? And 
I am not speaking, either, about love, although falling for you was a true pleasure. 
I mean, instead, to speak around something I have 
never been able to articulate when it comes to you 
and your presence in my life. Call it magic or spirituality – 
the physical sensation of connecting as we did. 

And now I must relearn that connection as something other 
than I thought it was, As something 
more subject to the space between us 
than I had imagined it before.

—This is from 29 August 2011

01 October 2011


Jonathan Levine's 50/50 claims that it is based on a true story, and, frankly, I believe it.

It should be noted, however, that no matter how real the story on which it is based, the film's trouble is that it leaves reality completely behind. I didn't hate the movie by any means, but 50/50 is uncomplicated, easy, and rather obvious. The young man at the film's center learns everything we expected him to learn after the film's first act, and the movie lacks both surprises and wisdom.

When I say that 50/50 is unrealistic, it's because everything is just so easy. The bad girlfriend is bad from the movie's second scene and all that's left is for the main character to realize what the audience and the man's best friend already know. And the film sets up a bunch of conventions at the beginning – a job that we see only in act one, a habit of nail-biting that lasts only through the first half, a friend played by Philip Baker Hall that inexplicably disappears after act two, a habit of pot-smoking – that it loses track of completely by the film's end.

Even the medical scenes are played broadly – in a kind of whimsical parody of healthcare in the United States: some doctors are really really terribly automatons who have no capacity for feelings and all of the others care so much they fall in love with you and give you rides home when you have to wait for the bus. I am being glib. And this is a film that is interested in whimsy and charm and actually doesn't ask much of the audience, so I should be less glib about it. It is a rather harmless movie, but also, when it comes down to it, rather contentless, as well.

I do think that the poster is pretty great, though. And Seth Rogen is funny. I found him very charming.

Also, I still love Joseph Gordon-Levitt and will see everything he's in no matter what.