A Muffled Lantern

November 3, 2017 at 2:44 pm (Uncategorized)

 

There’s almost no new news about the “West Side terror attack.” I can’t decide if that’s media amnesia—the accelerating addiction to ever fresher thrills—or an admirable determination to go on with life.
All I know is, you’re still resonating with the emotion of a story and the media hustle you on. My first experience of this was Tiananmen Square, and it put me off media news consumption ever since. I am a slow-paced ruminant, I guess. I resist being turned into a media lab rat conditioned to await the next jolt from the electrode. Partly, it’s having lived with Jacques who had lived through something very real in real time. I got it a distant second-hand (second-hand is always distant*) and worked very hard to make it as real to myself as was humanly possible (which is not very) using only an imagination. Vicarious media participation in traumatic events is film-thin and can be peeled off just that easily. One feels one owes the directly traumatized more respect than that. And of course we privately give, in our imaginations, more respect than the amnesic media with their ratings cravings.
*(Jacques loved this quote from L.–F. Céline: “Experience is a muffled lantern that sheds its light only on the bearer.)
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The receiving instrument

October 26, 2017 at 11:06 am (Uncategorized)

(Some discoveries are too good just to drop on @#&^$*&!! Facebook where I myself will never see them again. Besides, I want Louise to see this.)

What a lovely term I never heard before — the “beholder’s share,” the unique creative contribution that each viewer/listener/reader brings to perceiving a work of art. It was coined by Alois Riegl of the Vienna school of art history and his disciples Ernst Kris (who became a psychoanalyst) and Ernst Gombrich.

I had come to this concept (without having a word for it) in regard to Jacques, who was an immensely generous and percipient listener to music, especially jazz — its ideal audience perhaps — who was obviously musically gifted, but had never learned, in his rough-and-tumble life, to play an instrument well. (It might have been the bass.) It struck me that “the ear is the fifth instrument in the quartet,” that no piece of music is complete or fulfilled without a listener, a witness, and that listening, like playing, must also be practiced and refined. And the same can be said for every art. Now I have a term for it. The beholder’s share.

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Whose foot is it, anyway?

December 22, 2016 at 8:28 pm (By Amba)

Sometimes it’s like that.

                                                                                               [better with the sound off]

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Thank you for [not] sharing.

September 14, 2016 at 3:31 am (By Amba)

Just because I’m drunk on self-inflicted sleep deprivation, I’m going to inflict a journal entry on you. But I’m putting it here, not on Facebook, so only the true masochists will make the effort to see it.

______________________________

Went to see a film about John Berger. He’s still alive! A hearty 90, smoking and shoveling snow. But he just lost his wife. I went to see it because his short story about a farmer and a calf so haunts me. He went native in a French peasant village 40 years ago. I was a little disappointed to see he is still something of a cultural sophisticate after 40 years of helping with milking and haying. When young he was beautiful and self-dramatizing, with a mop of wavy black hair, high cheekbones and a prominent nose, a sort of Leonard Cohen or Leonard Bernstein of radical art criticism. He’s a beautiful old man, rugged and luminous, with beseeching eyes,

john-bergers-quotes-2

and his dialectics are at least simplified and more enigmatic, the fancy edges worn off. . . . The film, much of it, was annoyingly hip and formless. As if form were a form of capitalist colonial oppression. But I could look at Tilda Swinton forever. She looks like a 6- or 7-month fetus, when they are fully formed but haven’t yet put on any fat.

I realized that I am something of a radical, in terms of despising the worship of money, the loving of it more than life. (There’s a desperation about it, the flight from death that it is, that only makes things worse, gives you more to flee from.) But I see it almost the way an old Catholic would, not as a flaw in “the system” but in human nature, the way we cleverly hot-wire and short-circuit our own brains. And in that way I’m more of a conservative . . . except I don’t think returning to tradition is the answer, because tradition isn’t adapted to the modern world. [Which leaves me feeling] we’re fucked.

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The storm troops of cancer

September 15, 2015 at 1:11 pm (By Amba)

The storm troops of cancer
burst in on the family dinner,
brute shoulder to the door
dull gray-green fabric tight
over meat malleus as bronze
smearing the candles,
dislocating the delicate jaw,
incinerating the snowflake of order
tatted by held-breath billions of years.

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Why Two

July 7, 2015 at 11:26 pm (By Amba)

It’s really strange to me that I haven’t seen articulated what seems to me the obvious reason why gay marriage isn’t the moral or legal equivalent of polygamy, and is not, therefore, bound to lead to it.

In a word: Two.

You can have sex with more than one person (like it or not, many married people do). I would hold that you cannot have full intimacy with more than one person (at a time, and it also takes time).

In fact, I’m not sure you can have full intimacy even with one person. It’s an ideal to strive for, to achieve at moments and at other moments fall far short. As the saying goes, we’re born alone, we die alone, and we’re often never more aware of our aloneness than in marriage.

But the point is, sex is only the opener, what overwhelms our resistance to getting close enough and open enough for the rest to start happening. If you stick around, then, it’s a full-time job trying to be intimate — and its daily double, companionable — with one other person. If you divide your attention you cut its depth in half and blow your focus. You may have fantasies about other people, you may be infatuated with another person, you may imagine that intimacy with that person would soar far above what’s possible with your current partner. Well, maybe: some people are better at it, or better together. But even at its best, coexisting with one other person, bringing two such different inner lives into one space, striking off the rough edges, takes a lot of work and time, a lot of attention, a lot of failure and rage and remorse, a lot of discovery and revelation of the other and of yourself. It’s not something we have the time or capacity to divide up and parcel out. If you do that (as in Big Love), it becomes something else — more reproductive and social, less . . .

spiritual.

At the core of marriage, underneath the habit and comfort and irritation, you bear witness to another person’s existence — and, let’s face it, you just bear another person’s existence — a little bit like God would. If we invented God (where would we get such an idea?), it was in the hope of being seen like that, through and through, with steady attention and patient, unblaming fascination, down to our dark places.

Try and do that with a harem, even a small one.

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On joining the ranks of the old

May 8, 2015 at 1:40 pm (By Amba)

This, by Alessandra Stanley, who has gotten herself in trouble before (h/t Tom Strong), got me going:

People who complain about aging sound old. But “Grace and Frankie” is a senior angst comedy that somehow doesn’t seem fusty and out of date. . . . Together, [Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin] pull this comedy about 70-somethings back from the brink of ridicule. . . . This series covers a later phase in life, somewhere between late-blooming love and assisted living.

And it’s been a while since a series was so intently centered on the early-bird-special set.

Television shows tend to reflect the preoccupations of their creators, and ageism is a fact of Hollywood life. It’s not just older actresses who feel discarded. [It’s e]ven [the] people behind the camera . . .

Reviews reflect the preoccupations of their creators, too. Stanley is reportedly 60 herself, and every line of this screams, “I am NOT one of THEM!!!” Ageism is also a fact of New York media life—hell, of American life. And milking that fact for bittersweet laughs (after all, there’s a large, retiring demographic coming along, the death-diminished bulge in the python, with lots of TV-watching time on its hands) is what this sitcom is all about. Toward the review’s end, Stanley stops sneeringly editorializing with every phrase and simply describes a scene from the sitcom:

Grace and Frankie find that without important husbands, they vanish. Old friends don’t call and strangers don’t even acknowledge them. In one scene, the normally poised Grace is incensed when a male supermarket cashier doesn’t turn to serve them or even acknowledge their waves, pleas and yoo-hoos. He has eyes and time only for a pretty young woman who saunters up asking for lottery tickets.

Grace has a screaming meltdown, and Frankie ushers her back to the car and reveals an upside: She stole a pack of cigarettes. “We have a superpower,” Frankie says slyly. “You can’t see me, you can’t stop me.”

Grace and Frankie feel invisible, but here they stand out.

So this has made me think about the perennial subject of age and ageism: how getting old really sucks, and how it actually doesn’t; why our culture dismisses, derides, and despises the old, and what it misses thereby. (Disclaimer: I don’t think this is all or even the main thing we should be talking about, in some last baby-boomer bid to monopolize the cultural conversation.)

How getting old sucks is perfectly obvious: your body starts to fall off. And sometimes, and therefore, your mind too. And it’s simultaneously happening to all your friends. Nature is through with you and starts looking for a way to kill you. And it is perfectly clear to you that it is not a matter of if, but when, and how, and how bad. From now on you’ll be occupied with tossing parts of yourself you can live without to Captain Hook’s crocodile to postpone the inevitable; then, you’ll be smashing the crocodile in the snout with your rifle butt as its bad breath engulfs you. It’s the price of life. And it’s amazing to arrive at the threshold of old age and discover how very little of a dent the triumphs of science have made in it. Okay, more of us now make it to our three score and ten. And then, if not before, the shit starts hitting the fan, right on schedule. Knees are replaced, stents put in, breasts and bladders turn cancerous . . .

What’s more amazing to discover, though, is that it isn’t all loss and fear. If you have your mind. If you have your mind, it becomes like a study glowing with burnishing lamplight, with a deep, comfortable chair, with shelves of books on all sides receding into the darkness of the infinite. As you sit in that chair you have a magical arm that can reach out past Alpha Cygni in a languid gesture and pluck just the right apple from the farthest twig of the great tree.

Of course there’s more — the detachment and perspective we call “wisdom,” which feels like rising to stratospheric heights above the busy surface of the globe and taking it all in with an eagle’s-eye sweep—the patterns, the vanishing tininess—on the way to leaving it all behind. And if thinking has new, powerful pleasures, so does stopping thinking—paradoxically recognizing how futile, inadequate, and disconnected from actual life are all efforts to systematize and understand. You know so much more about what you don’t know—the pinnacle of education!

Why doesn’t our culture find any value in this? I think mainly because it’s invisible, or hidden in homely vessels. We’re an almost exclusively visual culture, obsessed with the charm of surfaces. We’re also obsessed with marketing, which goes for the lowest biological common denominator, locus of the strongest impulses and the broadest base—therefore the surest profits. (Profits über prophets!) Sophisticated presentations of the most basic drives and arousals are our entirely worldly focus. In the heat of the prime of life, the insights of wisdom are impotent cobwebs, or snowflakes, to be shouldered off.  Only loss reveals them to be weighty anchors and deep wells.

It’s holding on that makes age ridiculous. If you’re too busy fighting the loss, you can miss the gain.

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The Race Between the Two Human Drives

October 28, 2014 at 11:24 pm (Uncategorized)

The Race Between the Two Human Drives.

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Everybody Has a Theory About Procrastination. Here’s Mine.

August 27, 2014 at 4:41 pm (By Amba)

But first (ha ha!), here’s the latest new one that made me want to write this. And here’s an old post of mine presenting two opposed perspectives on procrastination, one heroic, one subversive. So there you have three other theories of procrastination (four, actually: the first link talks about procrastination as a time-management error before proposing that it may instead be a mood-regulation error).

So here’s mine.

For us to do anything challenging, and particularly anything creative, our regular everyday self has to get out of the way, and it doesn’t want to.

Our regular everyday self wants the credit for the work, and the gratification of having done the work, but in fact it cannot and does not DO the work. For the work to happen, our regular everyday self not only has to sacrifice the petty, reliable pleasures with which it lines its cozy nest and shores itself up; it has to sacrifice itself. It has to go away. It has to cease to exist for an indefinite unbounded while, a little death that for all it knows might be the big death. For the regular everyday self, this is not only unpleasant, it’s terrifying. It will put up a fight for hours, for days. Procrastination is its rear-guard action. A miniature version of this battle must be fought at the entrance to every workout, every workday.

But you can’t go in at the deep end with your clothes on. You have to shuck your regular everyday self: it’s the entrance requirement of the creative realm. Once you do, and only then, new stuff can come through, into the world through you.

And then at the end of the day or the task, your regular everyday self comes back and celebrates to find itself still alive and possessed of this new stuff that it can show off. The creative doesn’t need to celebrate. It just goes off looking for some other place where it can get into the world.

/my theory of procrastination. But does it help? It helps me.

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As I Wrote 4 Years Ago . . .

June 15, 2014 at 2:06 am (Uncategorized)

As I Wrote 4 Years Ago . . .

Wow!! I’ve S T I L L got my Dad!!!

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