Monday, November 24, 2014

Rosewater






The Daily Show is considered primarily a comedy program finding it’s provenance in That Was the Week That Was and the media parodies on SNL. However, there’s undoubtedly a substantial segment of The Daily Show’s audience for whom the program’s satire is their primary news source. And if the satire about seemingly sacrosanct news items seems tasteless, the argument can be made that the grotesquery of what is going on in Iraq and Syria, in the Ukraine and to the Ozone layer is what’s truly lacking in taste. Rosewater,, the movie about the imprisonment of Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) in Teheran’s notorious Evin prison (based on his memoir Then They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival), was directed by Jon Stewart, of Daily Show fame. However, as a director Stewart’s persona is a far cry from that of the television host. Instead of treating Bahari’s story as a comic strip or subject of satire (in the way Argo partially did in its tale of a notorious escape from Iran), Stewart tackles his subject with deadly seriousness. If there are humorous elements like one in which Bahari entices the film’s eponymous interrogator (Kim Bodnia) with stories about massage excursions in the exotic New Jersey city of Fort Lee, they’re intrinsic to the reality of what’s going on. The movie is curiously complex and a far cry from the kind of homiletics that are often the dark side of the satirist’s trade. The association between Rosewater and Rosebud is not serendipitous when one considers that one of the main axes Bahari’s tormentors have to grind is the link between journalism and spying. Whether Stewart or Bahari intended it, it’s hard not to fault the Iranian hardliners their insinuation of collusion (however one might detest their methods). The movie points to layers upon layers of connections rather than disconnects between the journalist and his captors, including the fact that Bahari’s father had been a prisoner of a common enemy the Shah—whose rise to power had come about due to the CIA’s machinations against the democratically elected Mosaddegh back in l953. There’s a scene where Bahari is about to be executed in the prison courtyard. His interrogator pulls the trigger, but there are no bullets in the gun. It’s a replication of an event in Dostoevsky’s early life. One wonders if the character, whose novelistic sensibility Stewart so vividly paints in Rosewater (personal/historical flashbacks are interspersed throughout the film), will someday turn the nightmare he lived into a great work of fiction.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Newspeak



Have you noticed the odd way that newscasters have of accenting varying words. One of the most common forms of poetic expression is iambic pentameter. Shakespeare employed it in his plays. Newspeak  was the language Orwell created for the repressive society he envisioned in l984. But it’s a good word to use to describe how television announcers communicate. It’s not iambic pentameter, but it has definite cadences that revolve around emphasizing certain words and whether you’re listening to CNN or NPR or CBS or even Al Jazeera, it has the tendency to make all the news, whether it concerns a lost pet or plane, sound remarkably the same. There’s an old neuroscience conjecture that if you put a monkey in front of a typewriter long enough he will write Hamlet. Can the same thing be said about newscasters? Sometimes the emphasis seems arbitrary. Every sentence seems to require a key word. For instance let’s say a CNN’s anchor like Carol Costello or Chris Cuomo wants to say “the cat is out of the bag.” They won’t just iterate the words like you or I. They will probably emphasize the last two words of the sentence, “the bag.”  Let’s take another sentence an anchor might say, like “Ray Rice punched his then fiancé.” “Then” would obviously be the nominee in that particular sentence. Or here’s another possible sentence a newscaster might read, “Sources at the Pentagon have indicated that the ‘no boots on the ground’ policy may soon be reversed.” You’d think the emphasis might fall on “sources” or “Pentagon,” but “indicated” is clearly the word that punctuates the mood that the sentence creates.  Newspeak is definitely a language that one has to learn like French or Spanish and like all language it contains its own river of meanings that lies under the superficial veneer that the words create once they are encoded into a particular syntax. For instance, French communicates a certain pertness (as opposed to the perkiness of Newspeak), verging on rudeness or abruptness; there ‘s a hyberbolic sardonicism to French. When a French man or woman can’t do something that you require, they say “Je suis desole,” which means they are not desole at all and you can go fuck yourself since you’re not getting squat. Newscasters are totally the opposite of the French. There hardly a negative personality amongst them and every word out of their mouths is an expression of interest and enthusiasm. When Carol or Chris speaks to one of their correspondents out in the field, she or he is incredibly interested in everything the correspondent has to say, no matter how insignificant it is. Neither Chris nor Carol would probably ever dream of uttering the English equivalent of “Je suis desole.” Berlitz is one of the places one goes to learn French, Spanish or Italian, but how does one learn Newspeak. It’s the old nature versus nurture question. Obviously there are some people who are born talking like newscasters. Others start to talk this way after watching too much news and other wannabees attend schools of broadcasting which supposedly will teach you how to be a radio or television announcer. But once you have learned to talk like an announcer, can you ever return to the monotone of normal human speech. Can a pickle be turned back into a cucumber once he or she returns home from announcing headline stories?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pornosophy: Pitch and Putt



Our current sexual zeitgeist is predicated on the notion that there can be purity of sexual intention. The advent of the “affirmative consent” law in California is only one example of the notion that there’s a sensibility governing an individual's sex drive. If this were really true however, then neither the sex nor any of the other physical traits governing attraction would be relevant when choosing a love object. However, empirical evidence points to the opposite being the case. Human beings are gonadally driven. They aren’t attracted necessarily to what someone is saying or thinking or feeling. These are just the icing on the secondary sex characteristics cake. Sure a nimbus of idealization allows desire to negotiate the shoals of consciousness--though it's fundamentally the palette of organs that makes the prospect of coitus, fellatio or any other sexual activity enticing. Some women like penises, others prefer to be penetrated by a dildo and still others prefer the pleasure of both giving and receiving cunnilingus. Some men love to thrust their penises into a warm vagina while others like having a penis in their ass or mouth. In one sense the human body is like one of those pitch and putt golf courses to the extent that it offers only three holes with little room for bogeys. Asses, penises and breasts are what makes Sammy or Samantha run. Civilization has created the notion of love as a rationalization for its own animal nature. Denis de Rougement wrote a book called Love in the Western World. But at the end of the day, humans are nothing more than animals who happen to be capable of thought.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Intepretation of Vladimir Nabokov’s Dreams




Gennady Barabtarlo’s TLS piece (“Textures of Time, “ 10/31/14 ) recounts an experiment that Vladimir Nabokov conducted between October of l964 until January 3, l965 in which he wrote down his dreams. Barabtalo explains, “The point of the experiment was to test the theory that dreams can be precognitive as well as retrospective.” According to Barabtarlo, Nabokov was testing the theories outlined by J.W. Dunne in his An Experiment with Time (Studies in Consciousness) (1927). Barabtalo’s TLS piece also provides some sample dreams which are unavoidable fodder for the kinds of simplistic interpretation Nabokov would have enthusiastically discountenanced. Only a comically deluded character in a Nabokov novel would be grandiose enough to take on the psyche of the master. But here’s a go. On November 22, l964 Nabokov dreams he's in a "lecture-hall." His father is speaking. Nabokov is plainly interested in what his father has to say and he's taking notes. At one point after Nabokov clears his “throat a trifle too loudly,” his father unjustly reprimands him thusly, “Even if you are bored you might have decency to sit quietly.” If you noticed a tremor in your computer, it’s Nabokov coming back from the afterlife in attempt to cut off the oncoming oedipal interpretation at the pass. On October 16, l964, Nabokov dreams that he is "dancing with Ve” (his wife Vera). He comments “A man kisses her in passing. I clutch him by the head and bang his face with such vicious force against the wall that he almost gets meat-hooked on some fixtures on the walls.” OK, OK! Why belabor the obvious? Oedipus here, Oedipus there, Oedipus everywhere. Nevertheless our psychoanalytically oriented sleuth can’t help himself. And finally there’s October 14, l964. Here Nabokov dreams about running by a “carriage." "A stranger in the cab (round face, oldish) asks me in Russian (or German?) am I well off? Criticizes my clothes (those I wear to-day) I explain that the spots on my trousers (which are browner than any I wear to-day) are due to my splashing across a puddle.” Thundering and lightening from the heavens, but alas nothing can stop the avalanche of earth bound rumination. Our sleuth is certainly having a party with this one to the extent that Nabokov was a Russian émigré, a displaced aristocrat, who lead a hardscrabble life in Berlin(where his father was assassinated). Is our sleuth being too simplistic in concluding that the puddle may be the Russian Revolution with the stains on our esteemed author’s pants representing his decline in social status?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pornosophy: Don’t Behave Like an Ass





Would it be bigamy to marry the ass of a woman who is already married to someone else? This question is raised by the recent picture of Kim Kardashian’s fundament that appeared on the cover of Paper. The fallout from the whole K.K. episode has yet to be felt. You might not want all of her, but there's no doubt that at least a part of Ms. Kardashian, who happens to be married to Kanye West, could provide happiness to the appropriate suitor. Naturally the question of Ms. Kardashian’s ass brings up the whole issue of whether it's possible to love or even be married to a part of a person. Back in the 70’s there would have been many women and men who might have married John Holmes for his endowment. Medical science is constantly making advances. It’s rumored that Chicken parts like wings, breasts and thighs will soon be cloned and human body parts aren’t far behind. Puppy mills will give way to the mass production breasts, lips (both of the mouth and the vulva), thighs and of course rumps by celebrities like Kardashian who will lend her name to them, in the same way she has to her line of perfumes. But what would it be like to be married to Kim Kardashian’s ass? What would it be like to have just Kim Kardashian’s ass lying next to you in bed? And is there a justice of the peace, rabbi or priest who would be willing to perform such a  synecdochic ceremony? One thing is certain, those who fall in love with Kim Kardashian’s ass need no longer fear making asses of themselves.

Bonus question: If Mephistopheles proposed that you could sleep with K.K.’s ass at the price of your soul, what would you do?