Thursday, July 30, 2015

Synecdoche, New York Revisited




In Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York (2008), Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a character who is suffering from a number of symptoms, but it soon becomes apparent that the real culprit is existence. Caden Cotard (Hoffman’s character) is dying of life, as we all do. It’s appropriate that Caden is a theater director whose gesamtkunstwerk is an autobiographical piece of performance art because by definition what we his audience all strive for is, at least, the illusion that we're in control of our destinies. And what is life according to Charlie Kaufman? Perhaps no movie has ever envisioned the protoplasm of being in a more poetic way that also rings true. Life is a fungible currency which is  constantly trading. It also resembles a labile dream in which people suffer the neurological conditions of either Capgras syndrome (in which an imposter seems to occupy a recognizable face) or prosopagnosia (in which the ability to recognize face is totally lost). Finally it also resembles the ephemeral stage set Caden is building whose fragile layers comprise a tower of aspiration leading to nowhere, a tower of Babel in which all the inhabitants are locked in themselves and where, lacking a common language, no one effectively communicates with anyone else. Lovers become strangers and strangers turn into lovers. And all the while the director and his proxies wander from room to room, with part of the movie also devoted to Caden’s search for the child who had been snatched away by an estranged wife. Lewis Thomas wrote a classic called Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology WatcherIn biology the cell is the basic unit of organic matter whose DNA and RNA can tell you everything you want to know about a living organism. In Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman creates the imaginative equivalent of a basic component of human life, fragile, ever changing in shape, elusive and contradictory in its instinct both for creation and extinction.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Getting Off the Treadmill



The Boston Marathon GSX Treadmill (Gym Source)
What is the point of exercising if you’re only going to shrivel up and die? A well-toned body is nice, but it’s prone to atrophy. When a cast is removed from a broken leg, the sight of the diminished muscle is unnerving. Injuries or not, at a certain point you’re facing a losing battle. In order to maintain strength, you have to exercise, but the very exercising itself takes it’s toll, due to the decline of the lungs and heart. It’s a Sisyphean struggle. The Second Law of Thermodynamics underscores the entropy that’s a natural condition of all matter. Heat flows from warm to cold, but the reverse isn’t true. Contrary to what experts tell you exercise has relatively little to do with future health or how long one lives. Some people die faster than others. No pain no gain goes the popular saying, but the gains are not about the future. While the effect of exercise on longevity is purely hypothetical (with some people facing death by aerobics on the treadmill), it’s true reward comes in the here and now. Exercising is all about the present. It increases a sense of awareness and mastery and like Zen aids its practitioners in being more mindful and present. Exercising helps you to live in the moment. Mark Greif, an editor of N+1 wrote a controversial essay entitled “Against Exercise” (N+1, Issue 1, Summer 2004). If Susan Sontag’s legendary Against Interpretation made an argument for leaving art alone, Greif extended the sentiment to the body commenting that exercise is “a set of forms of bodily self-regulation that drag the last vestiges of biological life into the light as a social attraction.” The problem with Greif’s point is that he fails to make the mind/body connection. Exercise may start from the physical, but it’s value lies in its metaphysical component—which ultimately makes it a form of prayer.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The First Law of Emotional Thermodynamics: Longing is Directly Proportional to Self-Hatred




first edition of Chekov’s Three Sisters (1901)
Before you plunge down the black hole of longing, consider that desire, particularly for an unattainable object, is directly proportional to self-hatred. You want only what you can’t have because you hate what you have. You have to want what you have is the other side of the coin. However, there's something delicious about this search for phantoms. If self-improvement had been all the rage during the 18th and l9th centuries, the romantic movement might never have gotten off the ground and The Sorrows of Young Werther might have been rejected by Goethe’s publishers. On the other hand there wouldn’t have been any copycat suicides by jilted young lovers—since people would have fallen for love objects within their ken and in the absence of self-loathing suicide itself wouldn’t have been an antidote to anything. Self-esteem might be a nice thing, but it’s a killer of a whole literary oeuvres. Flaubert famously said “Madame Bovary, c’est moi,” but if Flaubert hadn’t experienced a hatred for himself and everything around him, if he hadn’t entertained the notion that there was some kind of new found land that was worth hurting himself and others to attain—as is Emma’s plight—would he have been able to write the book? There are no Emma Bovarys in utopia. Yes it’s nice to live in the present and develop the Zen way of thinking in which you treasure every moment, neither regretting the past nor living for some unattainable future, the Moscow Chekhov’s Three Sisters dream of as they slog through their dreary provincial existence. But let’s face it, that kind of level-headedness can be boring too.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Pornosophy: The Four S's




Remember when women used to shave their legs—and other parts? Now that Brazilian or bikini waxing is waning, old fashioned shaving is experiencing a renaissance for those who don’t want to remove body hair forever. Before the advent of electric razors shaving commercials filled the broadcast waves. You’d see an actor's face covered with Old Spice, Palmolive or Barbasol and Schick and Gillette amongst others would provide the blades. But imagine today’s unisex commercial. A young man or woman is going to the beach and they want to get rid of all that dreaded pubic hair that sticks out of their tight fitting swim suits. Instead of a face full of cream you will see a crotch looking like Santa Claus’s beard. If it’s hard to imagine a man or woman spreading their legs and lathering up their gonads for a shave on TV, look no further than the recent Swim Suit issue of Sport Illustrated where the model Hannah Davis freely exhibits what was previously considered one of the most private parts of the female anatomy, the mons pubis. Now with Brazilian waxing confining itself to Rio, try to envision a whole new generation of ads exhibiting well known porn stars like Stoya and James Deen scraping aside the cream as they perform a new version of the shaving portion of the three S’s in totally conventional settings with dogs barking and spouses calling out things like , “where are you, your breakfast is getting cold” and toddlers walking in on the proceedings with their thumbs in their mouths. In all likelihood major manufacturers of shaving creams and razors will also produce lines of after shaves which will be thinly veiled lubricants. In fact the three s’s are likely to become four, with the final s being sex. What else are you supposed to do after you’ve shaved your groin area?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Meltdown at Home



Three Mile Harbor Reactor (United States Department of Energy)
Two self haters seeking validation of each other is a little like the critical mass that occurs in an atomic reaction, using say Uranium 235 or Plutonium 239. Put Hedda Gabler together with Hamlet and you would have the potential for mass destruction. Someone should actually create a play about a  therapeutic community inhabited by a host of self-hating and self destructive characters, adding of course Iago, Lady Macbeth, Medea, Mary Tyrone from Long Day’s Journey, Solyony from the Three Sisters and say Bazarov from Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons. That’s essentially the palette the director Neil LaBute is using in brilliantly misanthropic films like In The Company of Men. If you look at the history of the humankind the self-destruct impulse has often won out over the forces of creation. When Tito died and Yugoslavia caved into its irredentist impulses former neighbors, Bosnians and Serbs, who had lived peacefully for generations, became enemies and the massacres of Srebrenica and Sarajevo were the result. On a microcosmic or ontogenetic level we see the same pattern occurring in proliferation of relationships where freedom often includes the choice to fail. You see it must frequently in aging couples who blame the failure of their aspirations on each other. The aspiration for greatness, for success in either art or life is often the culprit, but once the chain reaction starts, it’s a little like the meltdowns at Three Mile Harbor and Chernobyl. When the “reactor” becomes overheated,  it’s almost impossible to stop.