The Shock of the New

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On Richard Brody’s New Yorker Blog, the DVD of the Week is that fave, that treasure, Terrence Malick’s Badlands.

Brody writes:

It’s a jolt to see “Badlands” again after having seen the new movie; what seems, in the earlier film, to have been mere hints, adornments, and suggestions—background gleams, silhouettes, shots of nature and landscape, a fascination with the celestial, a sense of the cosmic …

And I am like, stop right there! What about those crickets and other night cries in “Days of Heaven.” What about those “background gleams” that sure as hell came to the forefront in the prairie fire. Silhouettes—Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, swiping at the fire with what was it, their shirts? Tricky fire, it seemed so small, so manageable, before it swept the plains. Just clumps of grass.

Grass. What a motif, throughout Malick’s work. The New World … nothing but grass whispers, until, y, Colin Farrell appears like a god, from nowhere the natives had imagined, ever had reason to imagine. The Thin Red Line. Must I go on? It is a pleasure to go on.

Then a commenter gets his pants in a knot. I make it a rule not to read comments, because they always spoil the damn piece.

… Kael’s opinion wasn’t based solely on the performance style of the actors. She says, “Kit (Martin Sheen) and Holly (Sissy Spacek) are emotionless, and the film looks at them emotionlessly.” She says that “Kit and Holly are kept at a distance, doing things for no explained purpose; it’s as if the director had taped gauze over their characters, so we wouldn’t be able to take a reading on them.” If any “mistake” has been made, it’s been made by you, Richard Brody, in your consistently skewed interpretations of Kael’s words.

Like Pauline Kael was someone to look to on the subject of emotion? Kael, as quoted here, is so misguided, I can’t help but think she was threatened by all that Malick foretold—not her kind of film. And film was hers, then.

For if Kit and Holly represented anyone, it was precisely nowhere kids like them: bored, without resource, without a future. Kit grabbed at what everyone grabs at now: fame. Via murder? Does the shooter care?

And Holly? Didn’t you know phlegmatic girls like Holly back in school?

Then you didn’t grow up in a small town. Where no one gave a thought to a college education. Where your life held no surprises. Only risk.

I left Mr. Pants a reply. Funny how you can care about a film.

Maybe it’s an age thing, or where you grew up, but nothing could convey that empty forward push of people like Kit and Holly than their “emotionless” demeanor. Which shows them as all the more lost, in the modern world to come.

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Eternally Yours

A radical confusion between art and action is at the heart of this. What we consider unacceptable in human behaviour, we consider unacceptable in art, forgetting that art exists precisely to say the otherwise unsayable.

You know what this means, don’t you. It means that art, the practice of art of any kind, is a necessary human function, as if given us precisely to do something with that which would otherwise remain outside of life, perhaps kill us, drive us to kill someone else, or any of the thousand other terrible things people do when experience overwhelms the spirit and the mind.

Or, in those people you don’t like very much, cause the inter-psychologic splitting by which some are capable of sealing off, as it were, the feeling part. Actually, it’s not so much that you don’t like them, as it is a matter of finding next to no response. We are the instruments that play each other—and if you don’t have resonance, I’m not going to attune to you. Be drawn in. No melody.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I guess what I am talking about is why we creative malcontents tend to hang with our own kind. Read Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death. His explanation divides people into two camps (I always like two camps) those who spend their lives in the successful denial of their upcoming death—and those who wade through the various manifestations of death that are part and parcel of being alive. Being human.

The animal, Rilke writes in the Eighth Duino Elegy, has its death behind it, and leaps forward for all eternity, as if a running spring (depending on which translation you read) and while of course this is the most enviable freedom we can imagine, it is also not Ours. That option was already lost. When we were born human—a member of the only species aware of its own, personal upcoming death.

I think a whole lot of the big, unnecessary, fruitless stink manufactured by persons, in this life, is for lack of having a way to do art. Or courage for the struggle.

Something like that.

Meaning Beyond Question

All I know is, my soul is a pest. Or whatever is that internal thing that has kept yammering away, lo these many decades. Always with a very clear idea of what is right. Not what was easy, at the time, or even possible. Certainly not taking my children into consideration, when I was young and most wretchedly married. Just, Move on, move on. You’re going to leave here, sooner or later. One of the leavings was without my children—and I have never been able to explain why that was something I had to do. Granted, I thought it would be a separation of months—but back then, and perhaps still, a girl who would do such a thing was a slut. Beyond slut: inexplicable. I simply knew that if I had to move to Iowa and live in married-graduate student housing, I would kill myself. Having seen the sad and depressed women who lived in the same at Princeton, which I figured to be a fucking palace compared to Iowa.

Women then had nothing to do but childcare, which is a really boring thing, as occupations go. And the grad student housing itself had wallboard that picked apart in shreds, the rooms were tiny, it was terribly hot. I saw enough. We lived in a cottage, as my then-husband’s family knew someone, a family so extended it was hard to go anywhere in America and not know someone. In truth, for a while I wanted to fit in with them, it was ever so much better than my family, which had no influence at all–except for my father’s fellow physicists, scattered along the Eastern seaboard at just enough removal so that every night, when we travelled north or south, there was always someone from whom to cadge dinner. For all six of us. Something I did not know was strange until I studied the whole autistic-spectrum thing and began to see my parents for who they were. People hugely without a social clue, which is where shades of autism show up. Who saw nothing wrong with arriving, four children in tow, just in time for dinner. I remember clear as day my father checking his watch, noting that it was ten to six, and, getting out his address book, punching into a pay phone the number of tonight’s potential suckers. And the worried look on the wife’s face of the wife, trying to make her bean casserole stretch.  Wondering, I realized later, how to feed another six people, while my mother sat silent, mortified—but then, she was always mortified—as the husbands talked physics or whatever the hell it was they talked.

The soul so intimately tied up with memory. When everything fell into place later, in adulthood, I realized most of what my soul had nattered on about was the normal. Healthful. Not a massively distorted life. It definitely wanted and still wants for me to live amongst people who love me, and whom I love. Something I’ve had very brief experience of. And trying to stay sane in the midst of thought-disordered people is the biggest damn energy-suck. The point always was, I coulda been a contender. Instead of a bum. Which is of course what I turned out to be.

Words to that effect.

 

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Time Is Like An Arrow, Isn’t It?

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“Why does time slow down when we fear for our lives?” asks Burkhard Bilger in The New Yorker.

Oh, but it doesn’t—or rather, not only then. Not at all. Anything fantastic enough, witnessed, will do the trick.

I’ve seen it. Following closely behind a vineyard tractor as it slowly chugged down the narrow dirt road that ran along the creek at the bottom of our ranch. Two kids squeezed together on the tractor seat, distracting each other. A car came from the other direction, and the girl suddenly put the tractor in reverse, apparently thinking there was room for anyone to pass. I watched the tractor’s right rear wheel roll to the crumbly edge of the road and hang in air, inches beyond. The edge gave way, and the tractor went airborne, flying into a slow ballet of a complete somersault, as it rolled off the edge and backwards, moving through what seemed like an excess of air, floating in a high and graceful loop. There was no noise. I would never see anything so beautiful again – every color, every outline unnaturally clear. Never know again this eerie pause in the onrush of normal events.

But this was, of course, not normal.It is the improbable-unexpected that jars loose these long, still moments. The tractor bounced off the nearly vertical creek bank and came to rest upside down in the shallow creek, its wheels spinning like the paws of a great beast unable to right itself. I left my car, because you have to have nerve, but found instead of crushed bodies at the bottom, pinned between the huge and pointy rocks, the girl was sitting gingerly halfway down the rocky, loose bank, nursing her shoulder, the young man already scrambling up to her side, both thrown free, lucky souls.

I had a car phone, back then, and called the sheriff. In a short time, the chopper, patched through, was calling me back, hovering anxiously above. But we were hidden inside a cathedral of trees, with no way to see each other, air or ground. I verbally herded them to the field across the creek, telling the paramedics to just head west, no matter what.

We heard them crashing through the underbrush, cursing as they slipped on half-submerged rocks. Soon they came clambered up the bank, insofar as the stretcher, which they still bore, would allow. But no one, as it turned out, needed rescue. By stretcher or by air. The girl and the young man were flown off anyway. Remarkably, they were mostly unhurt—but it made sense, I supposed, that in its wondrous, strange flight, the tractor would have thrown them free.

I don’t have to tell you that time assumed its clock pace again. But the question remains: did time slow down? Or is time far more mutable than, in our daily struggles, we usually ever know.

Who’s Sorry Now

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Of all the scenes in the book, the one most resembling the later life of the Tolstoys is not a Levin-Kitty scene, but the final row between Vronsky and Anna just before she goes out to throw herself under a train. Tolstoy’s mastery of the feat of simultaneously putting the reader inside the heads of both characters as well as his own, as if the ball is being tossed from Anna to Vronsky to the narrator at high speed without ever being dropped, is one of the supreme moments of craft in all fiction … James Meek, LRB

A statement so disarming, I had to go find it.

In rereading even this small part of the novel, I was struck that Tolstoy turned Anna into someone who had to destroy. Was this supposed to be her guilt, then? Her self-punishment? The nagging, clinging woman she seemed to will herself to become was nothing like the Anna we first met. I suppose we all do this. Historically. Take great leaps of faith and then, as day follows night, render upon ourselves in spades precisely what society thinks of us, the society whose norms we have so dashingly ignored. The moral? Well, for one thing — when it pays off — this is probably how women have always gotten ahead, gotten a leg up in a world made by men. You have to defy.

The second part, the tearing it all down—perhaps it comes of not really knowing what love is. What it’s for. Romantic love is simply not transformative. Did Anna think so? I expect she simply struggled with and failed, as we so often do, at the more difficult task of finding meaning for herself. And it drove her mad.

What I found was a perfect bit of modernity …

“Oh, by the way,” he said at the very moment she was in the doorway, “we’re going tomorrow for certain, aren’t we?”
“You, but not I,” she said, turning round to him.
“Anna, we can’t go on like this…”
“You, but not I,” she repeated.
“This is getting unbearable!”
“You … you will be sorry for this,” she said, and went out.

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Burning the Hajib

hajibBurning down the cloth house. Have you a shred of a chance of realizing all that you know in your heart are your dreams withheld, stifled, lost? And does this loss, what you have already lost and what will come, does it resonate anywhere? Or do your struggles as women rise and disappear like waves in the ocean, what does one woman matter, in a world you know is Wrong. Misguided, stupid to the core. Could you do better with one little finger than the men you refuse to call, anymore, leaders. And don’t you have to live with the terrible obviousness. Your perfect skill to find the moral balance midst conflict. Isn’t it all a big pissing contest, no more than gang behavior … and aren’t you, as a woman, with your maternal, familial skills, aren’t you the hope of the world?

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The Secret Life of Cows

Cows have a secret mental life in which they bear grudges, nurture friendships and become excited over intellectual challenges, scientists have found.

The findings have emerged from studies of farm animals that have found similar traits in pigs, goats, chickens and other livestock. They suggest that such animals may be so emotionally similar to humans that welfare laws need to be rethought.

Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at Bristol University, said even chickens may have to be treated as individuals with needs and problems.

Okay, here’s where I draw the line. First, women. First, wives, first, girlfriends— then we will talk about chickens.

link: timesonline.co.uk