Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Dawn of the Dandy

In his review of Philip Mann’s The Dandy at Dusk (TLS, 2/23/18) Richard Canning quotes Oscar Wilde thusly, “in so vulgar an age as this, we all need masks.” How far away dandyism seems in this era of moral probity, with it’s language police and politicized sexuality! How would the l9th century flaneur or boulvardier navigate affirmative consent? Talk about paradigm shifts, the dandy would run aground in a time fixated on the notion of human betterment. As Mann says, “Everything the dandy feels, does, says or wears reflects a desire to stop the clocks.” You may not ever have met a dandy, but the basic idea is that of a person who lives in a world of irony, who wears ancien looking clothes (as least more ancien than the era he is living in) and talks with an affectation that's a mockery of aristocracy. Of course the dandy is above literally everything including aristocracy which usually puts him (sorry dandyism not being politically correct is as Mann points out usually a male affair) in a state of poverty. Though the Duke of Windsor and the French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville are apparently cited by Mann, most dandies are above the kind of ambitions that lead to wealth while at the same time being the product of a self-invention that’s not usually the province of a blue or black-blooded upper crust background. Dandies thrive in cosmopolitan settings and normally show little interest in either healthy foods or environments. There were lots of dandies in l9th century Paris and during the 80’s and 90’s in Manhattan where refugees from the social revolution of the 60’s patronized eccentric Victorian structures like the Dakota and the Osborne, oases of anachronism amidst the juggernaut of progress which would take off again at the millenium.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Le Corbeau

Henry-Georges Clouzot’s Le Corbeau (1943), The Raven, currently in revival at Film Forum, is a great title for a film noir. The Raven turns out to be the signature on poison pen letters. Spoiler Alert, without totally giving away the ending, let’s just say that one way of figuring out the perpetrator is to analyze the weapon. In some crime procedurals the forensics involves guns. Here it’s writing that’s responsible for at least one death. So graphology holds the key. Besides the poetic title and the inventiveness of unleashing a slanderer on the populace of a small French village, the film is pretty much a dud laboriously highlighting one suspect after another, until it finally comes to the end of the list. There are several nice shots including some prescient shadows and one in which the interior of a room is framed by the view through a keyhole. There's also an interesting piece of backstory involving Pierre Fresney, the great French actor who plays Dr. Germain. Germain is both the subject of the malignity and himself a person of interest, as cops like to say. He’s been accused of being an abortionist and there turns out to be some truth to it since in a former life he’d lost everything at the hands of another doctor who was overly zealous in his attempt to save both mother and child. “You just want to be examined,” Germain tells the vampish Denise (Ginette Leclerc). “For this kind of examination you don’t need a doctor.” The irony is that this is one patient the doctor actually will end up needing. One note the cancer sufferer Francois, who kills himself, is played by Roger Blin, the French director who premiered Waiting for Godot ten years later in l953.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Ministry of Loneliness

Britain has a Minister of Loneliness. "What Britain’s‘Minister of Loneliness’ Says About Brexit and Jo Cox," ran the headline of a story by The New Yorker's Rebecca Mead, who is incidentally the author of a book on Middlemarch. What would George Eliot’s famed intellectual, Casaubon, have said about all this? Mead weaves a tale full of sound and fury, but signifying something since Cox, the Labor Party member stabbed by Alexander Mair, a neo-Nazi who, like a lot of extremist Dostoevskyian characters, might have been suffering from social isolation, ultimately resulted in the appointment of Tracey Crouch. Crouch held the title Minister of Sport and Civil Society, before being offered the loneliness mandate ("The Minister for Loneliness Will Need All the Friends She Can Get,"The Guardian, 1/23/18). One of Mead’s other points is that a Minister of Loneliness is an anomaly in a culture famous for "the stiff upper lip.” Nevertheless despite Theresa May and Britain’s submergence in the same kind of populist backlash that elected Trump, a Minister of Loneliness stands out as one of the great creations of the modern nation state, a mixture of Kafka and Emily Bronte. Would such a minister’s headquarters be in a fortress or castle occupied by a  character like the once orphaned Heathcliff who lords his suffering over others. It’s unlikely that Tracey Crouch a Conservative M.P. fits that profile, but the fact is, it’s just a matter of time. Only a truly lonely person can really understand solitude. Lawrence Olivier played the sufferer in the l939 film of Wuthering Heights but who will star in the film that will ultimately be made about the occupant of this new seat of power?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ontology Festival

Being and Nothingness (L’Etre et le neant) and Being and Time (Zein und Zeit) are two of the seminal tomes of modern philosophy, the former being a baedeker to existentialism and the latter to the phenomenological project. Without Sartre you might not have had Camus but without Heidegger there definitely would have been no Merleau-Ponty and that’s not the name of a wine. What both tomes have in common of course are a concern with being. Orthopedics deals with bones, nephrology with kidneys, urology with the bladder and cardiology with the heart but ontology is the specialty when deals with the Gesamtkunstwerk. Hamlet was famously tortured by this problem and he framed his symptom in a famous question. But being is really a simply matter. Descartes thought it had to do with thinking, but that's too limiting. There's a branch of philosophy actually dedicated to the question of non-existence called “noneism.” However, being itself is a rather simple matter. You either are or you're not. When a branch falls in the forest and there's no one there to see it is a famous formulation, yet it’s actually a no brainer. You don’t have to exist for someone else to be or vice versa. Radioactive elements have unstable nuclei and hence relatively short half-lives. Perhaps the question of being should simply be stated as “here today gone tomorrow.” Something comes out of nothing and then returns to nothingness like the biblical ashes turned to dust. Human beings uniquely possess consciousness, but their being is just a footnote in the history of the universe. Before they're conceived they're not even a Platonic  ideal, then they magically announce their presence with a cry at birth, the crying continues, until life finally leaves the body and the human, animal or plant ceases to exist, with the last of these losing their petals.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


Randy is not going to be a popular name for newborn males in the next decades and it’s unlikely there will be another Pope Innocent, with all the abuse scandals that have afflicted the Catholic Church. If you remember Innocent X was the subject of the famous Velasquez painting upon which Francis Bacon based his Screaming Popes. It’s interesting that the nurse in the Odessa Steps sequence of Eisenstein’s Potemkin and Billie Whitelaw's solitary mouth in Beckett’s Not I both partake of a similar emotion of fearful fury. Could an adjective used for a priapic individual become a self-fulfilling prophecy in an age that frowns upon the Dionysiac? “That’s not funny” is the current expression of self-satisfied indignation that brings us all together. The ultimate ass man Don Juan is not likely to be nicknamed Don followed by the awful and murderously offensive C word for which users should be tarred and feathered. How could it? But what about Dicks? They seem to be everywhere and no one is worse for the wear. On the other side of the fence you don’t seem be hearing about too many Springs or Aprils or even Junes and what is the meaning? Is that raising the bar too high in the age where a woman with the name of Stormy has brought down the house.