Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Die Hard Without a Vengeance

What if you were told you had 24 hours to live? You could have swallowed a poison capsule by accident or perhaps you had recondite knowledge of Armageddon. What would you do? Empty the bank account and go on a hedonistic odyssey in which you gratify all your as yet unfulfilled fetishes and desires? Would you purchase the high priced hooker (s) or gigolo(s)? Would you fly to Thailand and have the soapy massage or massage sandwich with two lovelies? Probably not, it’s too long a flight and if there were delays, you could be DOA. Under the theory that money can buy anything, you’d probably decide you can find what you are looking for closer to home. What if food rather than sex was the ultimate pleasure as far as you were concerned? Would you construct an elaborate Last Supper composed of foie gras, chateaubriand, cold lobster, naturally caviar and say no holds bar the world’s greatest dessert? Would you finally fork out for those Teuscher champagne truffles that had previously seemed wastefully expensive. This is the theme of Kurosawa’s Ikiru. In that case Kurosawa’s character, Watanabe, learns he has a year to live. He embarks on a Walpurgisnacht in which he attempts to gratify his desires in the seedy side of town, but materialistic pleasures soon prove wanting and he finally devotes himself to helping children by creating a playground. There’s a wonderful scene at the end of the film when with little time left, Watanabe sits on a swing, in the playground he has built, as the snow begins to fall.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Nymphomaniac: Vol. II

Lars von Trier is an incurable romantic. Despite the severe lashings his nymphomaniac, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) endures, despite the beatings, the golden shower, the public fellatio, the abandonment of her husband and child and the career as an extortionist who uncovers pedophiliac desires (one of her marks doesn’t even know he had), he posits a belief in a lode of human empathy and emotion however evanescent it may be. There’s even a reference to Star Wars in Nymphomaniac: Vol. II in the form of two Jedi Knights whose sabers are erect penises at a gang bang--an interchange that is one of the few humorous moments of the movie. Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), who has rescued Joe and who takes her confession becomes like an analyst who sleeps with his patient or one of the rogue priests who have become the scourge of the Catholic Church. But does that allow us to discountenance, the purity and beauty of the transference which takes place between them throughout both Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 and II? Can we say that von Trier’s provocativeness both as an artist and public figure (if his character Joe is a self-described sexual outcast he made himself an artistic outcast by proclaiming his sympathy for Hitler at Cannes and literally getting himself banned). There is a point towards the end of Nymphomaniac: Vol. II where Joe is on her way not to accepting her sexual addiction but to being the one in a million people who actually overcomes it when she discovers the soul tree that her father (Christian Slater) had originally told her about. She has climbed to the top of a mountain where she attains a certain level of peace. It seemingly shares little thematic connection to the denouement of the movie which involves murder, but it’s significant. The belief in the humanity of the human being is hardly the conclusion of von Trier’s art, but it’s a dramatic moment on the map of the human condition that he's drawing. In the beginning Joe relives the memory of a spontaneous orgasm and a spiritual vision that occurred along with it. Only the vision is not of the Christ child and Mary, but of Magdalena the wife of the Emperor Claudius (who was one of the most infamous nymphomaniacs of all time) and of the Whore of Babylon. “I’m a nymphomaniac and I love being one and above all I love my filthy lust,” she screams at one point. The numbers and letters fly across the screen. The 40 Roman lashes she received was incorrect Seligman informs her. Christ received only 39 because they came in sets of three. K (Jamie Bell) is her torturer, L (Willem DaFoe)  initiates her into a life of crime and P (Mia Goth), is her disciple. Seligman goes off on a long digression about the Prusik knot that Joe calls one of his worst, but which is really one of his best. The schism between the Eastern and Western churches of l054 compete with Zeno’s paradox which is used to describe Joe’s futile attempt to reach orgasm. Von Trier wraps his sentimentality in layers of meaningful intellect and literally excoriating sadism (the cocktail of sado-masochistic compulsion and child neglect is one of the most difficult parts of the film to watch). And he is far from providing either a recipe for or hope of transcendence or even peace. And yet Nymphomaniac: Vol. II, like its predecessor is almost unbearably human or unearthly if you regard his nymphomaniac as the ultimate Christ and anti-Christ, the outcast, whose holiness and suffering are totally invisible and misunderstood and who's falsely accused of blasphemy and condemned to flames by the living incarnation of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor-her self immolating conscience.

Friday, April 11, 2014


Pygmalion and Galatea by Falconet (1763), photo by Alex Bakharev
In “The Secret Auden,” (The New York Review of Books, 3/20/140 Ed Mendelson quotes the following passage from a lecture Auden gave on Shakespeare’s sonnets, “Art may spill over from creating a world of language into the dangerous and forbidden task of trying to create a human being.” The essay is a brilliant meditation of Auden’s character in which seemingly erratic and selfishly indulgent behavior belied a deeper generosity. But the subject here is love which as we know doesn’t abide the reality principle, depending as it does on idealization. How else can instinct navigate the shoals of consciousness? Mendelson writes about Auden and his lover Chester Kallman, “He had begun to sense that he had caused the break between them by trying to reshape Kallman into an ideal figure, an imaginary lover who he valued more than the real one. What Auden had thought of as love for the younger man had been infected by libido domanandi, a lust for the power to transform him into someone else.” Personality is a subject that can drown the words of a brilliant poet in jargonese. But Eliot’s famous remarks about the impesonaity of the artist in "Tradition and the Individual Talent” not withstanding Mendelson’s quirky view of Auden turns out to be an exception in the often turgid world of literary biography. It’s a form of poetry in and of itself. And his observation about Auden’s relationship with Kallman makes one think in general about the nature of love. Eliza Doolittle finally rejects Henry Higgins in Pygmalion. All his work has gone for nought, but in actuality doesn't this transformative process goes on in most relationships in which the self is often shaped by its interaction with either the expressed or subliminal wishes of others?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

All in the Family

According to a piece Business Section of the Times (“Techology's Man Problem,” 4/5/14) Pax Dickinson of BusinessInsider tweeted “it’s not misogyny to tell a sexist joke, or to fail to take a woman seriously, or to enjoy boobies.” The tweet was in response to a presentation by two Australians at the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon who the Times quoted as saying, “Titshare is an app where you take photos of yourself staring at tits.” According to the Times the exchange caused ripples in at least one part of the tech universe. Dickinson lost both his job at Business Insider and his partnership with a young woman named Elissa Shevinsky with whom he was involved in a start-up called Glimpse Labs. Dickinson apparently made an apology (which not being one to miss a publicity op, he posted on a blog called VentureBeat) and Shivinsky and he made up, but isn’t this a little like the Salem witch hunts. Wouldn’t those who wish to counter the sexism of the tech world be better off if they fought fire with fire. Why not decree the equivalent of Title IX in intercollegiate athletics? Why not force men to face the same indignities as women by mandating male civil rights violations for educational purposes? Macho tech entrepreneurs could be required to watch a film like Oppressed Majority. The short which depicts a universe where women grope and bully the very men whose talents and abilities they’re dismissive of has according to the The Times already received 8.5 million  hits on YouTube (“French Film Goes Viral, but Not in France,” NYT, 4/6/14). Majorité opprimée, as it’s titled in French, was directed by Eleonore Pourriat, a screenwriter and actress, and according to The Times features a scene where bare-chested women jog past its harried stray-at-home dad, Pierre. Back in the 70’s Carroll O’Connor played Archie Bunker, a wise cracking neanderthal, who made offensive cracks on All in the Family. The show was a smash hit and also did more to create awareness of discriminatory attitudes than the language police who view political correctness as the salvo to inequity.  If only George Carlin were alive to make waves at the next TechCrunch?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ebonics Made Simple

The Staple Singers and Don Cornelius on Soul Train
White boys often speak Ebonics to sound tough, especially white boys who don’t feel very tough and in a kind of racist profiling participate in the notion that black men are more masculine and have bigger dicks. That being said there are oceans of language that provide an opportunity for this unique form of cultural miscegenation. Back in the sixties “what’s happenin’” was very popular amongst white boys who’d become lit up by the Motown Revue (which they may have been lucky enough to see at the Apollo in the glory days when Frankie Crocker emceed, Reuben Phillips provided the big band sound and Small’s Paradise and the Hotel Theresa were the hot Harlem nightspots for slumming whites) while today the children of 60’s hipsters listen to Jay-Z and ask “wassup.” Their lily white mothers might have packed a lunchbox full of treats that would energize them for the long climb up to Harvard, but when they left the split level for school, white teens would say “I’ll catch you later” or “later baby” (to their mother). Today, when a white boy who wants to recognize the achievements of his friends at the valedictory might give a "shout out," while in the past he might have referred to all his “main men.” “Dog” or “son” are tantamount to the old “dude” or “brother” which has now become totally whitebread. “Boss" was good, where today when you refer to an article of clothes or CD as “bad,” it means it’s good. In the past, “Slap me five,” or “give me some skin” were the way whites conversant in Ebonics shook hands and those expressions still hold up today. Ebonics Made Simple would sell like hot cakes in certain upper middle class suburbs and would probably even do better than The Official Preppy Handbook.