Thursday, November 30, 2017

Letter of Resignation

A friend writes: “I am sending a letter of resignation to Minnesota Public Radio, to the three major networks, CNN. The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Washington Post in anticipation of allegations that I might harass someone if I were hired to become part of their staffs. Harassment is viral and I don't know if I can be certain my autonomic nervous system is to be relied on in situations where there are other bodies in an enclosed space. After all, it is by definition, autonomic, right?” People who are suffering from illnesses which make them particularly vulnerable to infection have to be quarantined in germ free rooms in which they run no risk of contamination. That is what is slowly happening in America today. The only way to avoid allegations of harassment is quarantine. Who knows if the next handshake a firing? Of course terrible things have occurred; many men and women have been victims of ugly assaults on their bodies and dignities. But such wrong doing is always how massive counterreactions begin. And these sometimes match or even exceed the injustices they are out to correct. In one view the deleterious effects of the Versailles Treaty catalyzed the rise of fascism in Germany. Doesn’t anyone remember the House Un-American Activities  Committee and the blacklist and the tarring and featherings that are an ignominious part of American history? The alacrity with which whole careers and lifetimes are disposed of, without even a semblance of due process and the self-righteous outcries for revenge, all reek of lynch mob style justice? What about Big Brother and Newspeak? This is like Stalinist Russia or present day Russia for that matter. Why is no one speaking up? Why is no one arguing for a reasoned response in which each case is dealt with separately and with a modicum of equanimity that precludes hysterical rushes to judgement?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Misery on the Orient Express

Misery loves company goes the old saw and there's a great truth to the aphorism. Most of the star-studded cast of the latest doomed version of Murder on the Orient Express (including Kenneth Branagh, who also directed, William DaFoe, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench) which might have been retitled Ship of Fools, if it hadn’t taken place on the train, look miserably at ease with each other. And it has nothing to do with Agatha Christie’s backstory (the kind of murder going on in this version has to do with lousy direction and an even worse script). But the derailed train, where the mystery unfolds, is a wonderful metaphor for human foibles and frailty itself. Imagine your train being hit by an avalanche and being stranded precariously over a snow filled gorge. That’s the moment at which people come together and let down their armor. It’s almost more fun to be the victim of something than to simply be one of the competitors on the playing field of life. You know how your heart goes out to people when they’re in trouble and how much more preferable it is to be with someone who's going through something then the self-same person imperviously pursuing his or her business with a shit-eating grin on their faces. Now double that and you attain an equanimity that can only result when the chips are down for everyone. That might not have been what Agatha Christie was after when she wrote her mystery, but she couldn’t have foreseen what a lousy adaptation can do to bring actors together.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Loving Vincent

Animation is a unique form of cartoon art, to the extent that it's so capable of expressing realistic forms of human emotion. There’s a huge difference between Popeye for example and the Princess Mononoke. The enormous range of animation is illustrated in Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s Loving Vincent, a gargantuan project which employed 115 artists to create the 65,000 paintings of which the animation is comprised. The fact that the animations themselves are faithful to the art of their subject, only increases their resonance. There's an almost nuclear effect to the shimmering images which are detonated by Van Gogh’s signature brush strokes. The movie, of course, needed a plot, and the central story which takes place a year after the painter’s death, deals in an almost forensic manner with the question of his suicide and whether he was suffering from what today might be termed bi- polar disorder in which a precipitous mood shift brought about tragic results or whether he was in fact “soul murdered,” by the jealous Dr. Gachet, who was also the model for one of van Gogh’s most famous and highly valued paintings. What's peculiar and enchanting is to stare into animated faces of the cast of characters in looking for clues, though the story for all its twists, turns out to be a fairly open and shut case, at least in the filmmakers’ formulation of events.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Emotional Crumbs

Robert Mugabe (photo:www.
In large families children often fight over food and when there's  poverty there sometimes isn’t enough to go around. However, part of the struggle relates to love. Siblings fight each other for emotional crumbs that are all that beleaguered parents hard put to make enough money to place food on the table are able to provide. A large family in this way can become like a gang since in an environment where there's scarcity there's going to be a Darwinian survival of the fittest, with surrogate parents controlling the food or emotional supply and cossetting a substantial store over which they have control and which they in turn dole out to those who aren't strong enough to fend for themselves. Thus there is a sociology to large families with alliances formed that are based on power and to some extent powerlessness. Those who aren’t able to prevail may bond together to overthrow the top dog. This is a little bit what Lord of the Flies is about and it’s a scenario that’s playing out in the recent coup which overturned the long dictatorship of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Mugabe made a fatal mistake when he dealt with the problem of succession by tossing off his vice president who had strong ties to the army in favor of his wife. The Mugabe junta had all the characteristics of a large dysfunctional family, with nepotism directing most political and economic decisions and the people of the country suffering the results.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950-1980

"Ladder" by Yayoi Kusama (photograph by Hallie Cohen)

On one wall of Delirious:Art at the Limits of Reason, l950-1980 currently on exhibit at the Met/Breuer the curators quote Joan Didion thusly “An affect of vertigo and nausea does not seem to me an inappropriate response to the summer of l968.” Delirious is divided up in to sections entitled “Vertigo,” “Excess,” Nonsense” and “Twisted,” and the strategy is to present works that subvert and undermine the viewer’s initial perception of an ordered universe. It’s a theme show like the recent Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible,  employing pieces by a variety of artists to propagate an idea. Jennifer Bartlett’s “Fixed /Vanishing” (l970) creates an orderly grid whose bottom line is ultimately a question. A copy of Semiotext (e) the magazine that derived from Sylvere Lotringer’s conference “Schizo-Culture: A Revolution in Desire” features works by Kathy Acker, Jack Smith, Lee Breuer, Gilles DeLeuze, William Burroughs, Philip Glass, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Richard Foreman--luminaries of the period under examination who explored the fracture of consciousness.The sculptor Robert Smithson (1938-73) who is represented describes himself as a "keeper of derangement." Yayoi Kusama's contribution which features penises and high-heeled shoes hanging from a pyramid shaped "Ladder" (1963) is the perfect accompaniment to Hannah Wilke’s kneaded eraser vulvas which shatter the calm surface of postcard art in “Grant’s Tomb” (1976) and “East Falls, New York” (l975).  Not surprisingly Beckett, a major figure in the period, is an influence on a number of the artists in the show including Philip Guston, “The Street” (1970) and Bruce Nauman whose “Slow Angle Walk (Beckett Walk)” from l968 is an essay in absurdist perseveration. "In-Out Anthropophagy" (1973-4) by the Brazillian artist Anna Maria Maiolino is a video that against hearkens back to Beckett’s Not I (and the horror struck nurse in the famous Odessa Steps scene in Eisenstein’s Potemkin) by presenting a faceless gaping mouth, in this case not screaming but masticating.