Friday, May 29, 2015

Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito

When you see the second of Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, Aparajito  (The Unvanquished, 1957), currently being revived in repetoire at Film Forum, you think first of Bergman. Ray was really the Bergman of India; we could also say that Bergman was the Ray of Sweden. Both had no qualms about letting the camera linger in the kind of stasis that is foreign to Hollywood in order to explore the complexity of emotion. Like the first in the trilogy Pather Panchali (1955), Aparajito is really about the development of consciousness and it unfolds as as a series of awakenings. The camera lingers on the face of the mother Sarbojaya Roy (Karuna Bannerjee) as she sees her son through a gate and then you hear the sound of the train which will eventually take them from Benares to their new home. The sound is superimposed in a no man’s land between the present and the future. There are other wonderfully touching scenes such as the coins anomalously filling a plate following a spiritual séance conducted by the husband, Harihar (Kanu Bannerjee), an aryurvedic healer and the black birds flying upwards as Sarbojaya gives Harihar his last drink of water. But what distinguishes Ray from Bergman is really the satiric cast of characters who are so reminiscent of Dickens. There’s the school teacher (Subodh Ganguli) with his wire-rimmed glasses and books on exotic locales like Africa and the North Pole and Nandu Babu (Charuprakash Ghosh), the owner of the Royal Press where Apu (played now by Smaran Ghosal) both works and lodges when he goes off to Calcutta for school. Apu falls asleep and is expelled during an English class in which his professor (Nemata Chatterjee) says “synechoche is a figure of speech based on association.” Later he is comforted by a more worldly classmate who tries to get him to try his first cigarette. But a filmic form of synecdoche, a series of symbolic omens that one might find in a bildungsroman like David Copperfield is really what Ray is up to in this coming of age in Bengal. “Benares is a nice place except for the monkeys,” Harihar intones before he succumbs to the illness that will kill him.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Conscious and Unconscious Factors Affecting Response Levels to E-Mail Requests

You are a man who hates women. You are a woman who hates men. Yet these feelings are very repressed so you don’t even realize you are failing to respond. You have the ANS (autonomic nervous system) or CNS (Central Nervous System) of an animal, who can smell the fear of his prey. You are very defended about this quality of your nature. The notion that your lack of response may be causing harm, and figuratively or even literally killing the person who is waiting for a response, eludes you. Moving from the unconscious to the conscious or cognitive level you are a person who receives between 50 and 100 e-mails a day usually from people who only feign to care about you because they want something. You are sick of these monotonous and often anonymous requests for attention. In general you're always hearing from those people who want something from you, but rarely or never hearing from another tier of individual who has things you want and  whose e mail's you would eagerly answer. Tier #2 people (those who you don’t want to hear from) rarely cross into being Tier #1 (those you crave love, acceptance and attention from). But there are exceptions. A tier #2 person may attain status or beauty (through some kind of radical surgery, self-realization program or workout regimen). And their e-mails may cross over from the status of near spam to being the kind of high priority specimens that leap out from your in box. Statistically these kinds of events are insignificant but they must be accounted for particularly by researchers who are working with random focus groups in social networks.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Established By the State"

                                                        photo: Pete Souza
"Established by the state,” are the four words that could kill the Affordable Care Act (“Four Words That Imperil Health Law Were All a Mistake, Writers Now Say,” NYT, 5/25/15).  But let’s take a look at some other words that have been of crucial importance to both Americans and mankind in general to see how these four stand up. In his first inaugural address, March 4, 1933, Roosevelt said, "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." Kennedy famously supported the West Germans when he said, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” His grammar was wrong (the correct German is “Ich bin Berliner”), but let sleeping dogs die. Critics of the health care plan might call upon Polonius’ famous advice to Laertes, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”  After losing the California gubernatorial race in l962 Nixon said,  “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” “Where’s the Beef?” is what an infamous Wendy’s commercial asked. John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” Speaking of fast food the Digital Underground were responsible for these iconic lyrics from “The Humpty Dance.”  “I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom.” Goethe said, “the eternal-feminine lures to perfection," Camus, “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.” And then there was Santayana’s famous, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However, in his address before the Democratic Convention in l936, Roosevelt also said, “this generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny." With all the great locutions made in the service of progress, redress and regress, could the rather lame “established by the state” really usurp America’s destiny? Oh and there’s one last quote which is always applicable in matters of jurisprudence, “while the cat’s away, the mice will play."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Zazen or Ah Zen?

photo of Eugene O’Neill by Alice Boughton
There’s an argument to be made that if everyone were mindful and lived in the moment, that little art would be produced. Are Waiting for Godot or Madame Bovary about living in the moment? It’s certainly unlikely that Flaubert did. However, both had to be conversant with a non Zen attitude (even though there are scholars who have made Zen interpretations of Beckett’s work), as was Chekhov, whose three sisters are constantly dreaming about going to a mythic Moscow that’s the representation of all their dreams and desires—ditto the windmill chasing Cervantes describes in Don Quixote and the “pipedreams” that Eugene O’Neill’s characters suffer from in The Iceman Cometh. Cervantes, O’Neill, Chekhov, Beckett, and Flaubert all understood the enormous power that that  which has yet to be has over that which is. But the sensibility is also a description of imagination. By allowing the imagination to fly from what is to what could be, almost all creators are charter members of the romantic movement, even though the styles in which they work might flirt with the most advanced forms of post-modernism. Yes, it can be argued that all imaginative work partakes of the romantic agony. Even though actually influenced by Zen, John Cage’s 4’33," a work in which there is time, but no sound seems to be reaching for something beyond itself. If nothing else the open space allows in an ineffable flow of non-existence. Any thought, feeling, or even melody can occupy the emptiness, the black hole opened up by the artist’s erasure of all signposts of a familiar present--at least in so far as musical form is concerned.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Where Do Stools Come From?

eHemco Hardwood Footstool in  Espresso Finish-12"
You can talk nostalgically about a child’s first  words, whether it’s  “mama” or “cookie,” but BM is one of the first acronyms many people will ever remember hearing. BMs are a source of curiosity and pride and undoubtedly some of the interest may derive from the way in which they mimic the birthing process. Many children might even regard a BM as a form of reincarnation or wish in which a hated or feared older sibling comes back to life in another form. But there's another life passage and that's the change that comes when we start to call bowel movements, stools. Stool is the way that BM’s are referred to on TV ads for laxatives and it’s the word that you use when you discuss your digestive system with a gastroenterologist or proctologist, depending on your symptoms. Few adults would report having trouble eliminating a BM to their GI person. Stool is the euphemism. Stool is even a word that can be used at a dinner party since it may be mistaken for a piece of furniture by the person sitting next to you who can’t believe that you’re talking about BMs at dinner. But where does stool come from? Merriam-Webster simply defines it as “a discharge of fecal matter,” “or a piece of solid waster that is released from the body," but unlike the other definitions of stool offered, it is strangely withheld when it comes to amplifying a potentially colorful word; the dictionary is queasy when it comes doody. But there's one clue. One definition of stool is “a seat used while defecating or urinating.” And it's probably safe to assume that stool comes from the place that stools were taken back when people spoke Middle English. A toilet is after all a stool with a hole and those people who like to read on the loo are obviously using a toilet as a piece of furniture. If we were a more liberated society there would be whole rooms in libraries filled with toilets where people could read and defecate at the same time, but alas that's not the way of the world. There are few people who feel liberated enough to take their bowel movements in public even if given the chance to get ahead on their reading while they're ridding themselves of other forms of matter. But the next time someone looks cross-eyed at you when you attempt to talk publically about your stool, you can remind them that everyone is eventually going to meet their maker and sometimes you have to shit or get off the pot.