Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Look at your teammates…
Now back to me.
Now back at your teammates
Now BACK TO ME.
Sadly, your teammates are not me.
BUT, if they learned how to hustle and rebound
smell…Win like me.
Now BACK UP!
Where are you?….
You’re IN THE GAME!
I’m THROWING A CHAIR!…….
There is a theory that the disproportionate length (and general warpedness) of the figures in El Greco’s paintings was occasioned by the physical dysfunction of his eyes.
The goal of this kind of theory seems to me to be to exterminate the extraordinary (by making it a small- statistically predictable and definite category of the ordinary)… To make the experience of the “genius” relatable to the you as an “ordinary” person…
“El Greco painted that way because he saw funny. There is nothing surprising in it, he HAD to paint that way….. So you see, again, there is no mystery and you really are just like him…. Except that he saw funny…. The chances of life, huh?”
The upshot of this is that it gives you common ground with El Greco and at the same time makes clear you could never be like him…hopefully this will eliminate any nagging worry you might have that you too should do something great… genius is innate… but also (perhaps for that reason) nothing to get especially excited about…You are what you are, he-is-what-he-is (and DEFINITELY as we all know IT is what IT is!)
I think this is a poor way to think about this issue (even if there is at least some basis for doing so)
Yes, El Greco had an unique instinct (leave aside why for the moment)… but what really distinguishes him is that he had the temerity to regard himself as called, mandated or just allowed to express that inclination… or rather to develop it and express it through his art… (and indeed, I would guess, to discover what it was more and more through doing so)
(part of the tyranny of this naturalistic account is that it imagines that distinctive genius has the character of Athena- emerging from the head full-formed….of course the whole thing is complicated by the fact that this is exactly how inspiration is often experienced… but the point is that the soup from which it comes is not like that at all… so Athena can and will have all kinds of prefiguring ghosts)
What is being talked about here is an aesthetic. That is not given to you as a blue print… it is something felt… and I think that it is often (precisely because its unique individual thing) experienced as something unreal and beside the point… so the first task with an aesthetic is actually to believe that it exists… or that it can exist.
That is not to say that aesthetic does not develop for a reason- there is always a reason and certainly some reasons are… more insistent than others… absolutely. My point is that I think we all have this thing aesthetic/ inclination… or at least the particular turns of mind and associations and sentiments from which an aesthetic can be made…. but we are required to recognize it develop and ultimately just dare to have it.
To return to the beginning- Explaining El Greco by means of an astigmatism makes you into the same sort of person (in terms of your relation to life) as he was and at the same makes clear that you can not be like him. But I would say-
“You are not like El Greco (indeed you* suck) but you could be more like him.”
*You mostly means me.
This argument has a shorter form. It would run as follows
Hypothetical Person: “El Greco’s style is totally unique and internally consistant in such a way that it suggests he saw things differently…. he must have been astigmatic
Me: El Greco makes perfect sense to me and I am not astigmatic
HP: Yes, but how did he think of it?
Me: How did you get to be such a moron?
(This is my preferred style of argumentation)
Consider this post a place holder for a better more exciting post to come-
“Madam, you have done me wrong,
–Malvolio, Twelfth night
Notorious (Hitchcock 1946) is an excellent film- I recommend it. Although (or because) I won’t be providing an exposition of the plot exactly I suggest you watch it before reading this (maybe by then I will have really written the post). Please not that I am writing this before reading any criticism- I make no doubt that much of what I will suggest resembles much that has been said before.
Notorious’ reputation is interesting.
On the one hand it is very highly thought of in a general way, but on the other most of the people I’ve actually talked to about it seem to feel slightly underwhelmed. I think- reductively- that it boils down to this- they don’t know what to make of the seeming simplicity of Notorious’ end. They expect the eerie, the uncanny, the shocking. Their view seems to be that, while it is an excellent old time suspense movie, it lacks the characteristic Hitchcock twist-Instead the end feels rushed and anti-climatic.
Needless to say I think these impressions are intentional.
I will argue that Notorious does something unusual- it does not build a single strong narrative and satisfy its audience with an all out shocking denouement or turn that shakes the audience in a way that they can easily get hold of, instead it splits itself at the end. While the main narrative hurries somewhat mechanically to conclusion it develops a kind of negative image, a counter point, that increasingly demands out attention until, in the final frame, where we should see the mother of all kissing scenes (to top the earlier famous one) what do we see but a closed door. A closed door behind which lurks- not the long-awaited-hanky panky but the villains pitiable fate.
Part One- Skeptical Love
The dynamic between Devlin and Alicia in Notorious is a familiar one. Each party loves (or wants to love) the other but cannot trust themselves with reading the others intentions. They can’t really be blamed for this because they are both so afraid of being caught out in the act of un-reciprocated love that they obsessively maintain the barrier of obscuration that gives rise to their anxiety.
For both parties the other’s true feeling remain mystery within an inaccessible system the external actions of which cannot be treated as indicative.
This description is inadequate. Of course the lovers not only fear being mistaken in their investment- being caught out and left hanging they also fear being swallowed up losing their agency.
The dynamic between the two of them is the central engine of the plot- the tension in events follows from the tension between them. All of the character’s external difficulties are at base internal ones- or an internal one… the characters (and in particular the male character) have to awake their faith- risk investment- and the world will be transformed. In this sense (as will become clearer) the film displays what can be called the logic of utopia- a world of perfect harmony exists underneath the present one… accessible through a simple but fundamental shift achievable in a moment.
The tension (and enjoyment) we experience as audience members in their division from one another is in large part a result of this Utopian structure- the condition of bliss at once perfectly remote and incredibly near- so easily achievable.
Before I go any further I should probably say something about what I mean by Narrative Logic. Implicit in my thinking here is that narrative trades on a kind of inevitability- or, rather more simply it trades on the fact that it IS (it has come to pass). In other words it is not so much that narrative needs to convince us that it could have happened no other way (indeed, clearly chance can be good for narrative… fuel for its sorcery… these ideas are not at cross purposes… I will try to come back to that) the point is that most strong narrative does not even deign to have the argument… it presents us with the fact of itself…. The argument of narrative is not that Devlin must get the girl- it is simpler- it is that Devlin got the girl. At the same time it relies on setting up compelling relationships within itself so that Devlin’s final choice to make his priorities explicit is powerfully tied to the result.
(Wittgenstein says that logic cannot be described only be displayed…. I think that is helpful here…. )
Before we get to the resolution, look at this of Hitchcock talking about the kissing scene, it is the highly exemplary. As Hitchcock reflects, the lover’s physical attachment to one another reflects a fear that love can only remain if physically held- they need to pin it down and hold it static.
Their paranoid passion is summed up by Alicia’s comment “This is a strange love affair… (in that) you don’t love me”. The other’s final inaccessibility means that they are only in love in so far as they are in the act (kissing).
The above clip seems to make a great deal of Cary Grant’s response- “Actions speak louder than words” (it repeats it at the end). ‘After all’, it seems to say ‘Hitchcock calls this clinging true love and what could be a better motto for movie making, particularly in Hitchcock’s style than “actions speak louder than words”?’
Actions, or more precisely things (and their motions) do speak loudly in this movie, but one can’t help wondering if the makers of the clip failed to notice the obvious inadequacy of Grant’s response.
The actions speak yes but is it intelligible? (Is it really speech) Neither party is able to trust the message of the other’s actions and each becomes increasingly non-communicative as a result. However physically close to one another in this scene the fundamental separation between them remains the same.
It will take a monumental effort on the part of plot to get them to reach across this gap……
next time “Utopia and its Shadow”
Britain… now in effect!
In the second to last line of my translated bit of ‘Gawain’ I was tempted to leave the word ‘bigged’ in… maybe I should have. Garbaty gives the word ‘founded’… I wanted to preserve the alliteration with the next line and give a sense of willful creation so I chose built… it now seems to me that the clear choice would have been ‘began’ even though that does not have quite have the sense of putting one’s stamp on something. I am kinda attracted to the phrase “busted-out”… though most people would laugh at me ‘And when this Britain was busted out by that baron rich’?…. “Ta-da! Britain… now in effect!”
The thing is, ‘Bigged’ (which can be glossed cultivated or inhabited as well) is, in the amorphous way it strikes the modern reader, just about exactly right for the idea am thinking about in this post. The notion that a space- ribbed with structural lines burst out for something in the creation of a name- a word…. The thing is that the fact is this space was not created truly whole-sale nor was it fashioned consciously out of parts…. Instead it was…. ‘bigged’.
How would a word like ‘bigged’ have struck a Middle English reader? Differently than it strikes you or I, with it’s absurd and defamiliarizing impression, a rather humorous Chimera- an impossible beast with overtones of size and simplicity. Equally though, it would not have registered with them as meaning ‘founded’ in the way that founded means itself to us… or at least the way we think of it’s doing so- the point is that that we have a sense of our language having a fixedness. This is not something the speaker and writer of Middle English had. Middle English had neither grammar nor dictionaries and meanings were shifting and elusive…. For a good explanation of how this was the case I recommend the chapter about the Middle English attitude toward Latin in “Chaucer and the trivium- the Mind-song of the Canterbury tales” by J. Steven Russell… Basically, he discusses how Language in the sense that we mean it- something with a grammar- (laws) was exclusively the province of Latin- which displayed an order which, if not of heaven, was at least heavenly- the language of the bible and a remainder from a time when learning was greater. The relation between word and concept might be direct in Latin but the vernacular- like all that was messy and earthly was distorted approximate- in a word fallen….
In this way, it can be argued, the medieval English attitude towards language- and this is certainly part of my attraction to it- was not far from a Saussurian/ Lacanian one in which language is a chain, an independent sphere- like a mesh which re-presents, inadequately, something else.
It might be that the informal character of Middle English makes it even more futile to translate it than most modern ones- however alien… because, however estranged the context of the language is it still probably understands itself as conforming to given laws- accountable practices- if it is written… As a note- there is I think a huge advantage to reading works in the original- this is well known- but I think that reading works in translation has perhaps an undeservedly poor reputation- its an issue not unrelated to the ideas discussed here and hopefully I will address this in a future post.
The (free) translation of the bit of Gawain and the Green Knight (Garbaty) is my own… I feel like “Big-man” should have been capitalized. The picture is a photo I took in Wales… when the world was young. accompanying not to the translation
The Misreading engine and the love of battle
“Misreading is the secret engine of life” I told M.
“I’m not sure I know what that means… but I feel like I like it” she said.
The stony field
I had the thought- as a phrase like that- while working on an essay on Gawain and the Green Knight last year. Embedded in my thoughts about the poem, I had misread the title of the song I was listening to- an American Analog Set song “trespassers in the stereo field”. It is a pretty good title itself but on my itunes it abuts a song called “stony chariots” (whose title in its turn makes me think first of the surprising persistence of Bronze-Age culture on Iron-Age Cypress). Anyway, the proximity of the two titles allowed me to read the song as titled “Trespassers in the stony field” instead.
I say allowed because the mistake is not too easy to make physically- the word “stony” having to be embedded in the phase the way it does…. it is as if my state of mind during the song allowed me to jump to the conclusion that the title was “stony field”.
As a fragment, it feels like an image held for a brief but deliberate space.
–I thought of a field with wild tangled green grass with figures (trespassers in some sense) standing starkly but indistinctly on it… and stones weathered, hoary with liken and mystery, crouched aloof but magnetic among the windswept grass. (We see it from a perspective just above grass level).
So organic is the moment of misidentification, that it is difficult to sort out how it comes about… the thought create the reading, or the reading the thought?
Perhaps I would say that the thought in the mind is a mist that aches towards form- nearly has it- and there in the proximity of those two titles the ‘stony” and the “field” the thought is able to suddenly jump the gap like fire and acquire for itself a name -“trespassers in the stony field”.
The name is in some sense given by the thought but it also seems given by the external world and has a power of law…. my thoughts expand into a freshly created space the moment when I misread the title… a space…. of a singular and unique phrase… that makes it feel recognizable yet entirely new. It feels alchemical.
I associate this song with the moment in Gawain and the Green Knight where Gawain comes down into the vale of the green chapel. It maybe my favorite moment in the poem- not for anything that happens but for its impression- and the way that impression- direct and intense yet indistinct- is emblematic of the whole poem’s effect on me.
-The vale a rocky place of gnarled trees (perhaps sporting a red berry like the one that bursts on the hills here now in January) The valley walls are steep the sun is just creeping in. There is dark, vibrant grass in the crevices and mist in the morning clinging close to the ground. The stream runs in shadow through a deep channel overhung by ferns and the grass bursting from the dark- frost dampened- chocolate of the cold vital earth. The stream, deep in its narrow channel, churns and seems to boil in an uncanny way. Beside the stream there is a strange grassy mound- there is no sign of a chapel. Gawain looks around “ofte chaunged his cher” seeking to see the Green Chapel…. Suddenly he sees that there is a door in the mound- a gaping hole (it is presumably an old- perhaps Viking- barrow) and he recognizes that the mound is the Green Chapel.
Garbaty’s note to the line- “ofte chaunged his cher” suggests the act of looking about- turning the face (cher, countenance) this way and that- which is fine- But (perhaps in an act of misreading), because of the uses of “cher” to describe demeanor more broadly- attitude (be of good cheer) I read this line as (also) describing the way that Gawain seeks to “see” the Green Chapel in a way that is not encompassed by the physical search. He changes his “cher”, changes his mental state, trying to be in the space where it is possible for him to see the chapel.
If this is a misreading it is a misreading (like all of the vivid sort) not without foundation. There is a moment earlier in the poem that suggests something similar- Gawain is lost in the wilderness and he sends a prayer to the virgin. Suddenly- as if from nowhere he sees a mighty castle (he was traveling- his view must have opened up)- the moment feels similar.
-There is also the connotation of the familiar ‘hollow hills’ story- A man stumbles upon an entrance to the hills and sees Arthur and his knights sleeping -or something of the sort- he finds gold- maybe he sneaks away intending to come back or he steals something intending to come back… but he can never find the place again. Somehow the conditions were just right and a rift (a door… but not so cleanly built) opened up in the normal world… everything was changed the ordinary becomes something else without losing its previous identity… it opens.
A brief Tutorial
It is this moment and this sense that I associate with this song. From inside the stony field now I look at things- trees, rocks, water, clouds- staring balefully… (I like to stare at things balefully- especially objects… it is additionally good to be wearing a substantial coat while you do this). Stare as if expecting them to change. Stare with hawk’s eyes and twisted, imperious mouth- “What is the magic of this world?”
( In the Knight’s Tale as Arcite lays dieing he asks “What is the world?” if the question merely expresses final confusion…. Represents the lack of response…. Then I don’t want the two questions to be conflated. To me though, they are much the same…. Certainly neither expects what they demand- an answer… I use the word Magic to clarify )
The song gives a form for this experience- it seems to latch onto something and draw it out for a while- pulsing- before letting go and restarting drawing and building to greater intensity- building a structure of connection in tension (yes, you are supposed to think of that). As if one’s gaze pulls on the object, feeling the vitality created and then stops,breathing, allowing the object to remain solid and the world to collapse again into its work-a-day self. Then locking with belligerent joy the battle again to draw with all ones might against the stubborn solidity of the world- the crooked grin as one demands the impossible- “give up your secret!… transform!”.
-The wizard is a misreader someone who shapes things out of nothing… the insubstantial … yet the things he makes are somehow real–
The middle of the song releases, changing, floating with melancholy enjoyment overtop a pulsing that is constant. It is as if the objects have given something up to the demand of the gaze… perhaps not…. but something has been created nonetheless… certainly it is not as if the objects have burst and the moment of annihilation is upon us…. But the pulsing is sustained, sustainable… and the gazer sees or feels he draws out things that form in the air dissolving even as they are formed molded out of the effusions of the quaking but stubbornly real world. (That is the joy- not bursting through and laying objects bare but feeling or imagining you feel the tremor of being felt- of connection across the impossible gap between things… not achieving the impossible (needless to say?)… but still living for its (the impossible’s) intimations).
To my mind this thing I am calling misreading happens all the time to some degree or another… when things not obviously connected in the mind get associated with one another. Here we are talking mostly about the thing we term imagination. Much the way that Hobbes understood it… only I draw a different moral. Hobbes thought of the imagination and dream as ‘mere’ diseased experience- the giving of a horse wings etc… For me, at times at least, this fermenting of experience is the only thing that justifies the whole charade; for a flicker and only a flicker we can speak a new word… open a new space that is formed already belonging.
Its involuntary quality is a strange and powerful part of this experience…. Its crucial that it not feel like a game of permutation and combination… that there is impulse…. It bursts from the head Athena-like unbidden- given as if by a natural form.
I wanted to use the misreading/mishearing of titles/lyrics in songs to talk about this because it is amusing- seeming absurd and banal- and at the same time it seems almost like this process distilled… part of it is the instantaneous quality… suddenly there it is!… (snap) out of thin air!…. And part of it lies in the way that the presence of music speaks to the idea that the accident of The New… is not a true accident at all.
My favorite example of my doing this comes from my mishearing (willfully hearing might be a better way of saying this) a Sea Wolf song. In Middle Distance runner at one point, perfectly reasonably, he says- “ Well my heart is beating hard and I’m off will a shot at the start”… but I first heard “my heart is beating hard… I’m a moth with a shot at the star(s)”. Again, its much easier to hear it the way it was intended but that did not stop me. This phrase represents something important for me… of me…. but I could never have thought that phrase up… not knowing I did so…
The strange thing in all this (or perhaps not so strange) is that it feels something uniquely mine for seeming given that way….
Middle distance moth (link to song)
Still, living in a world in which you had to sit around waiting for salvific accidents would be annoying as hell. One can misread knowingly (knowingness being something of a scale) and get somewhere.
When listening to pinback (admittedly a fairly silly band and not a bastion of clarity and coherence) I allow myself a lot of freedom in hearing the lyrics.
In“The Hatenaughts of melancholy wall” the chorus is “Within a closed system… you can’t win” more or less. It is the kind thing, not unintelligent…. Indeed definitely the sort of thing its good to think about and say at some point… but not spectacular, that, from my knowledge of pinback, is exactly the kind of thing I would expect them to say…
I know that this is what they are saying but to make it suit me better I imagine some kind of jumbled alteration between ‘within a closed system’ and ‘without a closed system’ ‘you can’t win… caught in between, in a kind of friction straining to break free but if you where to break out of the system then the game would collapse of course.
dilemma (δί-λημμα “double proposition”)
As I explore the things that interest me I want to keep searching for an account of desire that better describes the way it both feeds on the action of peeling away, of constantly refining, -shearing itself free of the mesh, and covering film of definition, solidity and pinned-downness and at the same time relishes the net of things, the tangle. To explain as well the potency in what is residue (and so not direct fuel for desire) and the unexpected tug in the moment of thwarting (when the tree remains solid and shakes free of the lines of connection we have forged to it)- to develop a better theory of the love of battle.
“Hatenaught of Melancholy Wall” rogue version 1st verse
“Wizard making….. alota emotion
“Wizard making….. alota emotion
Squirrels will mouth (Squirrels run off)
You know you’ve seen them
Sharks attack across your bow
You’re Pontius Pilot you will defeat them
Smoke on the rock
But its alright now (But you’re wrong right now)
“Wizard making….. alota emotion
(or –“wits are making… another emotion”-comes to the same thing)
Same as above
(energy is condensed in preparation by the repeated musical phrase)
(The conjuring of images kicks in)
Squirrels will mouth (and also run off)(mouth like talk back but also open vast maws that threaten the abyss)
You know you’ve seen them
Sharks attack across your bow (For a moment the squirrels were the sharks running across your bow… but now we are safely in a- metaphorical- aquatic environment… whew)
You’re Pontius Pilot (wait… I am? Yes, you are.) you will defeat them
Smoke on the rock (Clearly an aquatic hazard… but its actually the smoke that is key here… the hazard is the imminence of something… something suggested in the play of smoke and light…. That suggests something beyond the solidity of the rock might burst forth)
But its alright now (But you’re wrong right now… its only smoke after all)
(The fabric of the world holds)
Without a closed system….
within a closed system….