24 October 2008

22 October 2008

Book Survey

I have been delaying this post for a few days now as I tried to finish Clockers. The delay was so long, in fact, that I can no longer remember who tagged me. If I tag the person that tagged me, then don't whine and answer it again - as I am sure some answers have changed.

Last Book Bought - The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. I am not sure what I read to make me buy this, but I know I read something. It will either be too campy or there will be some brilliant insights. The author is a Constitutional law professor at Yale Law, so I suspect the latter. It is about a trip Freud and Jung make together to America (sounds campy) and then get involved in solving a murder (sounds doubly campy).

Book read more than once - On Deconstruction by Jonathan Culler. And not just for graduate school. Despite being written in 1982 the book is still timely and accurate in its descriptions of movments in theory. The year I was working at Cornell I audited a class by him and I feel as many must feel towards Obama, a sense of being star-struck.

Book that changed the way I see the world - Geneology of Morals by Nietzche or East of Eden by Steinbeck. I like to think Steinbeck made me cynical and Nietzche gave me the intellectual ability to understand and expand my cynicism. I remember my first summer after college going on and on to some high school friends about Nietzche, also learning about how being smart can be an aphrodiasic for some women.

Fiction or nonfiction - Fiction, if only because good fiction has glimpses of theory and human nature within it, but good nonfiction need not have the same quality.

Beautiful writing or a gripping plot - Writing. A good writer will keep me entertained. Yet a bad writer will lose a compelling script. Sadly I think of myself as a capable plot developer and not an engaging writer.

Most memorable character - Mr Norrell from Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Clarke did an outstanding job making this man capable in his trade and yet at the same time so overcome with insecurities that he was capable of self-destruction. It was a real treat making my way through this large tome.

Book on the nightstand - The above mentioned Rubenfeld book

Last book read - Clockers by Richard Price. I picked it up because so many other writers talk about it as a quality read and they were so right. I am not a fan of the police novels and while I cringe placing this book within that genre it was a treat to read.

21 October 2008

Brief Thoughts

Thirlwell, Adam. (2008). Amerikas. The Believer, 6(8), 3-17.

"The reason why style in a novel is translatable is because it is inextricable from composition. And it is through the composition itself, through a style, that a novel becomes true to life." (8)
I am not a fan of this solution to the problem (can and how does style in the novel translate?). Thirlwell flattens the term style to be nearly meaningless. He also has escaped the actual problem prompting this piece: Nabakov's dilemma of translating the rhyme and 'blossom' of Pushkin in Eugene Onegin.

Of course the translation has a style. Nabakov did not lament the loss of style in the translation. Nabakov lamented the loss of Pushkin's style in the translation. Here we come to what I find is the real problem at work: how does the translator reproduce her reading in the reader? Nabakov wanted to share the joys of the novel with others, not necessarily the novel itself. The difference may seem slight but it gets to the heart of the problem.

The reason Thirlwell concludes, correctly, that there is not a definitive text is because we are not really concerned with the text. The text is a mediation. What we, writers, readers and humans, are concerned with is communication and crossing the gap of mediation.

09 October 2008

Music Playlist: "Into the Great Wide Open" Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

I have been thinking of making an After Work playlist for quite some time now. Until I can find the bits of notes I have lying around the office I will inaugurate the list with a (should be) familiar track by an American classic.

The song is about trying to escape work but how industry has already moved into the creative fields. Immaterial labor is the subject of the implied criticism of this tune. It seems to be at first about the wide-eyed optimism of a stupid boy, but a closer listen reveals that the boy cannot help his stupidity: he is told that this is the way out. A revisiting of Tom Petty is now on my list of things to do.

Bailout Sadness

I am sad. Not as most people are: I am excited to be living through a time that might be historical. It is that very quality which makes most nervous, but not me.

What makes me sad is that the obvious solution to the bailout, turning the risky mortgages into secure mortgages, is finally being discussed by one of the two presidential candidates. Sadly it is the very one candidate I do not want saying it. It should be the Democrat that is calling for a mechanism to stop people from being kicked out of their homes. The next president will have near complete autonomy over how to distribute the bailout funds and it is McCain that is finally seizing upon that as reason for preference. I will still lobby for Obama because his Supreme Court justices will still be of more significance, but I am saddened by Obama's willingness to follow Paulson into this morass.

26 September 2008

Cagematch: Tropical Thunder v Burn After Reading

Cagematch, Cinema: Burn After Reading vs Tropic Thunder

It has been a while since I have done the theatrical Cagematch, so please forgive the error I am about to make: referring to the same source for the reviews.

Tropic Thunder is destined to lose most of the Cagematches it which it finds itself. While Dustin Rowles has a nice review of the movie over Pajiba, Rowles is plagued by a single fault: courtesy. His review is scathing in places but then not in others that richly deserve it. His one bit of deserved praise is solely about Robert Downey, Jr’s performance:

Robert Downey, Jr. owns Tropic Thunder. A dude playing a dude disguised as another dude steals just about every second within every minute of every scene he is in. Even when he’s given mediocre material to work with, he transcends it while firmly maintaining a supporting role, so the shtick blessedly doesn’t get old and, assuming there’s not an unnecessary sequel, you can find comfort in the knowledge that Downey has created one of the great characters in comedic history (and there is no one, I’d argue, that could’ve come close to pulling it off as well as Downey — anybody else and it would’ve been laughable, over-the-top, and offensive, instead of silly, ridiculous and, in its implicit commentary on the hubris of white America and the egotism of actors, pretty insightful too).
Other than that section Rowles is undeservedly nice to the movie. Rowles is incorrect when he claims this movie is not about men in states of arrested development. While this is true of some parts of the movie, overall it is about a state of arrested development. What Rowles misses (how does he miss this?) is that it is about an industry run by adolescents, so no local criticism is made of the characters being adolescents. Rowles says the problem with the movie is that they “created a brilliant comedic premise, offered up all the raw materials for a great Hollywood satire, and then half-assed it.” Of course they did. The industry attracts half-assers firstly because of the (as Rowles notes) bottom-line directives but also because it is the half-assers which are more concerned with celebrity and “making art” than making serious criticism. I realize there are exceptions to the rule and you are welcome to name them but I would argue they are the exceptions that prove the rule.

A movie that is a better criticism of adolescents is Burn After Reading. When watching the other movies by the Coens I realize they are mocking morons, but I never actually feel as though they endorse those in power because they usually do a fine job of also lampooning those with money and/or power. However, this movie is different.

Malcovich’s monologue at the very end resonates. Normally I feel these speeches in their films are just another example of the character’s idiocy, but this time I felt it was sincere. Sadly, it was directed against the only likeable character in the movie, which brings to my theory about why this particular film will not make big bucks.

There are two things which will make it seem slow: the lack of likeable characters and the joke is not known to most people. The joke is the Ivy League good-old boys network of espionage films. There is a lot of Princeton bashing in this film, but I wonder if most people remember just how enfranchised the Cold Warriors were in this pedigree.

Daniel Carlson, also over at Pajiba, has a review of this film that is not nearly as good as the above referenced review. One of the main errors Carlson makes is by dismissing the setting of the movie. “The park” is really The National Mall, which is important. He also makes this explicit disavowal of it being a Washington, DC film:

It’s impossible to view Burn After Reading as anything other than another film in which the Coens create a small world of idiosyncratic characters and then watch them run into each other.

Wrong. It is precisely this seemingly nature of idiosyncratic characters that makes it an explicitly DC movie. These movies are driven by characters, usually named Mother or something odd, and this movie is an homage to the form: even if it may be in the form of some mockery. The genre is so pervasive, as the Coens hint, that even morons with no connection to espionage think they know enough to hang with the big boys. The plot does not begin because the characters are morons, it begins because the espionage genre and living in DC is so pervasive. The idiocy of the main characters only steps in where most people would bow out: when confronted by the professionals and their own in-over-their-headedness. Carlson wants to read this movie as a comedy instead of as a continuation, which seems to be a fairly devastating error given the Coens are all about remaking genre pieces.

24 September 2008

McCain suspends campaign for bailout legislation

Of course he is, it was his support of legislation that helped create this mess by deregulating the industry and allowing it to happen in the first place. Smartly he has called on the Obama campaign to do the same thing, as though being in DC is necessary for anything other than the roll call vote, which is not yet scheduled. The call is supposed to deflect blame and make it appear as though this is normal business for a senator. But it is not. It is business as usual for a senator that can share in the responsibility of the crisis. It his penance. Obama should stay on the road and point out that McCain’s debt to the country. If those days of campaigning cost McCain the election, good. He deserves that as part of his penance as well.