29.1.10

Poem: "apple-faced kids"


when the clock sounds
the apple-faced kids
rush to class
not to learn
but to whiz in their heads
the wonders of the world

28.1.10

Movie Review: An Anarchist's Guide to "Teenage Angst"

Guest Post By Airplane


Movie Still - Teenage Angst (2008) 
With beauty and material wealth, The German 4 has the vehicle upon which they can explore their hedonistic nature. It is almost an imperative of those supposedly blessed with such genes and economic excess to sink in the Bacchanalian pool. Hedonism, in this case, most certainly answers to a big Other, especially when one has been obstructed which creates the complexity of the plot: Punishing those who disrupt the adult swim. Even if it's one of your own. The Big Other demands we keep appearances and maintain the order.

The Boarding School serves as Superego and their hidden Dacha as the Id. The Superego is meticulously maintained. Large but filled with an unshakable void which creates tense moments. The bodies seen in the seats are far much fewer than the possibility, most likely emphasizing what kind of extravagance attends. The Id, on the other hand, is messy, lit with the seducing red lights, and filled with accumulated junk from the outside. It is out of order, which fits the behavior. In the school, the men are distanced in the discussion. Far apart. At the Dacha they are close, hinting severe homo-eroticism, planning their future as kings and treating each other as ersatz subjects to practice their future tyranny (the first example is Bogatsch barking like a dog, while two other members spank him on the ass). Their interaction is a non-sexual orgy of Roman Empire lows.

The power from the beginning is established as being in the hands of Dyrbusch in the group. The sycophancy of Bogatsch is seen in the dog barking scene. He accepts the position without question. Once Leibnitz prevents Bogatsch from performing rape on Vaneska, his hedonistic excess receives no release and thus he is threatened. The punishment seems light at first, a slap and his eventual apology but the movie escalates to Salo-like proportions: bondage, punching, to sexual humiliation/rape with Stumer at odds at this paradox of where his allegiance in the power structure lies. At the top with Dyrbusch, or at the bottom, professing his mercy for Leibnitz. But Leibnitz fully accepts his position of masochistic pride and brushes off rebellious ideas from Stumer, the only one left questioning the rising tide of violence. Is this not what we question daily from the civilized point of view? Countries doing things, you are part of it, see injustice, and sit idly by because society imposes the group above all else? The country, the state above all else? Their punishment is internal, as these things such as betrayal must be dealt with behind closed doors only within the realm of the Id. We don't even see the bruises until the Mentor lifts the shirt of Leibnitz who finally sees the brutality of what occurs in the unchecked rooms of the excess-power teenager.

The violence in Leibnitz grows from a childish plea for "momma" into a deathly blow to their mentor, where his attitude is of repentance. We too deal with this transference of authority powers to inner angst to outer destruction. Lack of freedoms bursting out into rebellion jeopardy with other forms of law. Those with the lack (economic, phallic, social) raging against others to replace it in violent mediums. You see that Leibnitz has flashbacks of his prior tortures and unwanted touches when the mentor is seen doing the same thing. The mentor's aid is mistranslated and is met with consequence. Such is fate. Innocent victims in the chaotic path of authority's bale movements.

Airplane, otherwise known as Chancellor Karla, is a digital and sound artist who currently lives in the District of Columbia.

26.1.10

Apple's New Creation (and I hope it's not called an iPad)

A company known for its draconian tactics to protect internal secrets, Apple is expected to announce its new creation tomorrow (which was sent out to "friends" last week but cannot be found on Apple's site).
Everyone is abuzz. Since Christmas, I have been reading blog forecasts about the secret Apple device. What's it going to be? Apple remains mute. The consensus among the technorati seems to be some kind of multi-touch super-sized iPod on steroids running a version of the Mac OS X operating system.

As David Pogue wrote in his blog, quoting Robert Burns, “There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.” The certainty is so certain all of us are in some kind of suspended state of uncertainty: "What's it going to be?!" I have never experienced such a paradox: an emphatic declaration of a device's existence that may or may not exist. When journalists write about the iPad (I hope they don't name it this, as Mad TV humorously demonstrated), iSlate, iTablet, Mac Tablet, MacBook Touch - or whatever the damn thing's going to be called - it is usually prefaced with the epithet "the probable" or "expected" Apple miracle device. Are we talking about an unidentified flying object or a real thing? I dunno.

The device (which may or may not exist) has been deemed to have any number of features:

  • a Kindle killer
  • vendors will allow consumers to download lush, color graphic books, magazines, and newspapers. I must say if I can read National Geographic in full color and swipe the pages with my finger I want an iThingy too. 
  • a Nexus One killer
  •  If the new device signs on with Verizon who's going to want a Nexus One? I really doubt though that people who will have bought a Nexus One anyway are going to drop it for Apple.
  • Video Game Console Killer  
  • Adolescents and twenty-somethings will supposedly be wowed by the device which will undoubtedly beat anything the Playstation can do (Grand Theft Auto anyone?)
  • and even a laptop killer
 Well, if all you do is search the net and check email, then yes a multi-touch device would be an adequate replacement. But, anything more than that, in my humble opinion, is going to need a laptop or a desktop.    
I have read it may have the following features:
Whatever "the creation" is, I have the same sinking suspicion as David Pogue, that "there are some aspects, some angles, that nobody’s guessed." Apple has been notorious in the past for concealing its hidden angles. Throughout the company's history, Apple has revealed products that wow the masses and changed the status quo. Here are some notable game-changing features Apple has wowed us with in the past:
With the company's successes, however, there have been some notable guffaws, 
  • the Newton (which seems to be the closest product matching tomorrow's rumored gadget) 
  • or the Cube. Now, even though the Cube was a failure, Apple persisted and came up with the Mini. So, if tomorrow's device is some kind of tablet PC, hopefully, it will forgive the tarnish of the Newton.
Amidst the mass of speculation, I think I can offer one piece of clear, objective fact. Whatever is unveiled at tomorrow's press conference in San Francisco will inevitably face the trial of the hoi polloi. If the announcement does not live up to its hype, then Cupertino will surely suffer. People will be quick to say, "Apple has lost its ability to produce cutting-edge products." If the product dazzles, then Apple shares will exponentially rise. But: here is the rub. How quickly can Apple's Research and Development team concoct the next WOW device before the public gets bored of this one (which is not even out yet!)? Apple has always been able to foresee a market niche even before the market realizes such a niche exists. Case in point is the iPhone. Apple realized creating content for the mobile web was the way go even though many phones on the market only had measly WAP access to the net.

Apple's greatest strength is its weakness. Can it continue to foresee market trends? With Google now in on the hardware market, I think Apple will have a tough time in the future staying above the rest. I personally do not think they have lost their edge.

My own prognostication is that tomorrow's device will surely wow us. We will be impressed. I have a hunch though, that by Christmas 2010, the technorati will be buzzing again about another fabled Apple device. The question is, can Apple keep up with this game? What will the rumors be in six months? The flexible Apple device that fits in the palm of your hand, feels like a book, but miraculously is made up of tiny nanomites that feed its internal architecture (thanks GI Joe)!

25.1.10

Poem: "nursing home"



 
her lying, sheets thin, mattress barely a support
she dying
glistening fluorescent light a harsh reveal
of her ruddy body, bare
save for the taffeta pajamas,
a crispy swath of rose embers,
issued by a crisis,
yet, her mouth curved a bit, sitting next to her -- so low --
i felt gravity’s relentless tug
and she curved, wincing at the pain,
although it hurt; a scissor-like pain throughout her entire frame,
she said it was okay;
her hair, long and brown like spaghetti string,
matted by the months of neglectful uncombing;
her beauty an archetypal beauty, matching the faces of every woman who was,
his, an is, an unmediated face of pathos lines, matching every face of those who are

24.1.10

Fragment: The Moon Shines Bright

23.1.10

Stolen Shot: Midnight Cowboy


One of the best on-location street scenes in movie history was actually an accident (although there are some naysayers who say the shot was scripted). When "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) yells, "I'm walking here!" to a New York City taxi driver in Midnight Cowboy (1969), the cabbie was a real-life cabbie. To save money, Director John Schlesinger did not file a permit with the city to use the Midtown Manhattan street for his film. The scene is a "stolen shot," which in film rhetoric means the director did not get official permission to shoot on a city street. The pedestrians are real New Yorkers, not extras. Their surprise is not canned. The cameramen were poised in a van a block away, shooting the scene. The cab driver is an actual pissed off cab driver. No extras on set.
Hoffman is brilliant in this scene. He does not break character. He keeps Ratso's limp intact (evidently Hoffman kept pebbles in his shoe to keep his limp consistent for every shot). His cigarette falls to the ground; he doesn't bother to pick it up. When his buddy (John Voight) looks stunned, Hoffman pulls him along by the arm. Hoffman's adlib is perfect; after a near brush with a yellow cab, he keeps it hot, muttering in character, "Actually, that ain't a bad way to pick up insurance, you know"; you can tell Voight is a little surprised by the interruption, but even still, he stays in character.

Me, describing him


"when I look at him now 
face scrunched into the shape of an oval 
he thinks with his jaw set"

 me, describing him

PDF Copy for Printing  

22.1.10

The Problem of the "Innocent Child" (Thanks, James R. Kincaid)


Shirly Temple 
image credit: movieactors
The notion of the “innocent child” is a powerful narrative in the West, so much so, we forget it is even a narrative to begin with. The Romantic child (boy or girl) historically has been around since the Greeks, immortalized by Sappho and also the Greek epigramists. This image of the child, unmediated and innocent is typical of the poetry of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience and William Wordsworth’s child of spontaneous, overflowing emotion in the “Prelude” but also, the image, at least partly, of Thomas Mann’s Tadzio in Death in Venice and Nietzsche’s Romantic depiction of the child as the pure child and bringer of a new philosophy in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. But, it was Jean Jacques Rousseau who made the claim that the child exists a priori in a state of innocence “in nature” which in time, through puberty, is corrupted a posteriori by the mediating forces of “society.” Rousseau famously advised nannies to allow children to wear loose-fitting clothes (or no clothes at all) so they would not be constricted by anything other than their unmediated innocence. Rousseau wrote controversially that children are not inflicted with Original Sin but are born innately innocent and pure. He made the then radical claim that Original Sin is an erroneous doctrine. Taint is not inherent on the soul of a newborn, but, the soul becomes corrupted by a misguided society. For Rousseau, the innate innocence of the child must be preserved through careful education. Education is what maintains innocence along with the child’s developing consciousness. For Rousseau, then, there is a general suspicion of nurture. In Rousseau’s Romantic (and I use this word purposefully, and critically) political vision, the good state is inscribed within a social contract that works to protect and preserve the inherent goodness of children.  It is an unguided introduction to society that corrupts the child and separates it from nature, thus distancing the child from an original innocence, its true and unfettered state.
One of my favorite cultural critics who explored further the idea of innate innocence is James Kincaid. He wrote a book called  Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting. In this book he argues once "adults" name the child innocent, such naming empties the child of a meaningful signifier. "Innocence," then, becomes a metaphor for an empty container, a blank face, devoid of substance which can be filled in by the adult’s desires. The innocent child is the “present” child — the ubiquitous Shirley Temple — who by being shed of experience, of sexuality, is in fact made to be molested. It seems in the West we are at odds with the binary of erotic/innocence. We cannot seem to reconcile ourselves with this strange pairing. Kincaid argues that the very construct of "innocence" is paradoxically warped to mean "protection" against experience but also, simultaneously, a disavowal of the child as inherently erotic. He uses some great examples from popular culture: the Home Alone kid: both cute, cunning, but utterly innocent. Shirley Temple, of course. Jean Bennet Ramsey. Poor thing. She was made both to be erotic and innocent. You can't have your cake and eat it too, kids.
I guess we could blame it on our Judeo-Christian heritage but, it does not take long to look into "recent" history: just look at the Genesis account of Adam and Eve (or at least how it has been interpreted). We were once innocent, until some dame messed things up for us. We were happy naked and in union with God. We got knowledge and now we're screwed. Seen from the view of the Fall, we've been trying to get back to the garden ever since (thanks Joni Mitchell). What a perfect scapegoat is the child (and the woman). They look kinda cute: a perfect face to throw all of our hopes and insipid wishes for innocence on them - poor, innocent creatures! So what has been created as a sort of compromise?! Well, adolescence of course. At first we were happy with merely the child/adult dyad, with the emphasis on the adult. It could be argued that the only truly human being in the West for thousands of years was the blue-eyed, blond hair man. The child? Not even considered as subject. The supposed invention of the child, as distinct from the adult, apparently is an eighteenth century invention that did not exist even as recent as the Middle Ages, according to the cultural historian Philip Ariès in his book, Centuries of Childhood. So, we go ahead and create the child three hundred years ago and then, to add insult to injury, create the adolescent. An even further blurring of the lines. It is no wonder that we are wee bit confused. But, that is fodder for another discussion.
The Good Son: the duality is brought out ad absurdam in the film, The Good Son (1993) also starring the kid from Home Alone, in a complete role reversal. From cutesy kid to serial killer. Mark, a boy of about nine or ten, played by Elijah Wood is sent to stay with his Uncle and Aunt in Maine after the death of his mother.  He quickly learns that his cousin Henry (Culkin) is in fact evil. He shoots dogs, wears a spooky paper-maché mask, drowns his brother, almost kills his sister, and attempts to push his mother over a dangerous precipice.  The movie, with cute child actors to boot, is almost certainly playing on the innocence/experience duality, the virtuous, innocent boy versus the abject opposite, an evil child, with no apparent explanation to why he does the cruelty he does — and why, no one, except Mark, Elijah Wood’s character, realizes his evilness. It is as if the child has to be either completely one or the other: any venture into the gray is taboo.
    Mark, the good child, is all-knowing and incredibly intuitive.  When his mother dies in the first scene, he is literally committed to the belief that she will not leave him, and, almost immediately, transfers the mother image to his aunt, as if he knows this must be the case.  We do not agree with his logic, perhaps, but we cheer his innocent intuition and allow it to endear him to ourselves, thus creating a convenient matrix to explain the Mother/Aunt Son/Nephew bonding.
    The evil child is also all-knowing and incredibly intuitive, but he uses his “gifts” to curse, convince people to fly, smoke cigarettes (the epitome of evil?) — and we are made to revel in this only as a ploy to convince us that he really ought to die!  Both boys, consequently, are inverses of each other: Culkin is blonde, blue-eyed and light, the other, Wood, is brown-haired, blue-eyed and darker complexion. In the movie’s final scene, as James Kincaid brilliantly observed (and I am ashamed to say I have capitalized on his argument), the mother dangles both boys from a Maine precipice in the hopes of saving both children, ostensibly her sons.  Her strength is not enough to hoist both children up, so she has to let one of them go to save the other or risk losing both.  What would you do?  Do you destroy the good child or the evil child?  As James Kincaid notes, audiences cheered when she destroyed the evil child (159-60) and we thought nothing of it, deeply satisfied she did the deed. It is as if the film is stating not quite subtly, we can now wash our hands of the problem once and for all.  We have saved the good child from obliteration and we somehow seem sated by this fact.

Is there an alternative narrative? I wonder, is there a narrative out there that does not fall into this duality Rousseau set up for us so long ago? Is there a way out? In the present narrative, the child is discarded (like the Wild Child of Averyon) or is the child beatified (the child of innocence)? Kincaid suggests at the end of his book that to free ourselves from the current narrative we must free ourselves from suspicion, from repression, from nonsensical legalities and the like that threaten to blind us from the child qua child. Stay tuned. Peace.

Mental Health Resource: Stress Fact Sheet



What is stress? Stress is the body’s response to its environment when it feels threatened or challenged. All higher order mammals (with a functioning pre-frontal cortex) respond to stressors in its environment with either a “fight or flight” response. If I unsuspectingly walk into a house and stumble upon a snake slithering across the floor, my body’s pituitary glands will secrete adrenaline into the cardiovascular system and I will jump back, startled. The body’s stress response can be triggered by any number of external factors, “real or imaginary.” For example, when a student feels a professor is too demanding, the same scenario can enact the same adrenaline rush.
Stress is also highly subjective. People respond to job demands, friendships and expectations differently. In helping someone cope with stress, it can be helpful to help the person say out loud how they perceive stress in their life. Never be afraid to ask. Improperly managed stress can cause serious medical or psychological problems, high blood pressure, or even stomach ulcers. We got get out what we feel. Coping strategies are only as good as a person’s own storehouse of internal resources and a healthy ability to self-reflect. Once a person can learn what is causing the stressful situation, they can then marshall their own resources to cope.
Unnecessary expectations and requirements: Sometimes, stuff piles on and we can feel the world is pushing down on us like a thumb on a tack. Does our boss make unreasonable demands by giving unclear or impossible requirements? Are daily plans frequently disrupted? Internal homeostasis — that is, their level of equilibrium — has been unduly disturbed if demands are impossible to meet. If you hold your fist closed and held it closed for a month, after a certain period of time you would being to feel pain. When your body is that “tight”, the stress will manifest itself physically. Studies have shown that the bigger the consequence for failure the more stress one can expect.
Chronic stress. In some cases, a healthy amount of stress can encourage people to perform better than if they had an open window for completion of a project. The problem to keep in mind is chronic stress. Chronic stress pervasively and consistently inhibits our ability to succeed. Chronic stress is dangerous and can cause serious human and spiritual formation problems.
Need for Validation: Lack of recognition of achievement can cause even the most hardy of us to feel stressed out. People require healthy doses of positive reinforcement, especially when it comes from others who mean the most to us. Students, for example, perform better when they know and are told they are doing a good job by their teacher. Also, having good friends to share your life and stories with is vital for healthy psycho-social development. A good sense of how we “play” (how we enjoy our relationship with others), especially with our mentors, peers, buddies and whomever, is beneficial and essential to our human development and is a sign of our capacity for friendship and love. Lack of such dynamic support can diminish a person’s belief that they are doing well. This can lead to depression and even suicidal tendencies. More commonly, chronic stress is perhaps the largest cause of burn-out. Those who work for the church, social workers, teacher, or the “helping professions” can often take on too heavy of a workload in order to feel validated. When the body is chronically stressed, the need to isolate oneself and to limit empathic response is increased. Consider your own capacities. How easily do you get burned out? How easy is it to fall into a pattern of stressful situations because of loneliness or lack of support?


Primary Coping Strategies: behavioral approach

turn off the tv | organize your files | take notes in class | relaxation | call a supportive friend | write in a journal | team problem solving | yoga | remove distractions |
negative: harming others, harming self, destructive behavior, alcohol or drugs to self-medicate
Secondary Coping Strategies: cognitive approach
prayer | spirituality | think positive | reframing perceptions| learn from mistakes | humor | acceptance of stressor’s reality |
negative: denial of stressor, negative self-image, suicidal thoughts, mental escapism

Practical Scenario
A client comes to a shrink's office expressing concern that the architectural plans he has prepared for his immediate supervisor consistently gets sent back for a redo. The client claims that he has worked many hours to get his plans just right, including requesting outside help from colleagues and from his books. With all of his extra work, the client states that he is not achieving what the boss expects to be quality work. Because of his difficulty in giving a “good” finished product, his self-image has been tarnished and he has been questioning his ability to do well; his sexual libido has diminished and he begs off meeting with friends after work.
Questions
1. Coping mechanisms can either be primary or secondary. Primary coping strategies are direct ways we can can control our environment. Secondary coping strategies are ways we change our perceptions. How can this guy cope with his problem? Are there better coping strategies the client could employ?
2. What are the expectations of the client in this scenario? How can he reconceive the problem?
3. Can it be assumed the problem lies with the supervisor?


works cited:Johnson, John J. "STRESS IN CHILDREN." Journal of Pastoral Counseling 39 (2004): 68-87; Park, Crystal L. "Religion as a Meaning-Making Framework in Coping with Life Stress" Journal of Social Issues 61.4 (Dec. 2005): 707-729;Pector, Elizabeth A. “Professional Burnout Detection, Prevention, and Coping” Clergy Journal; Sep2005, Vol. 81 Issue 9, p19-20, 2p;Wagner, Cynthia G. "Stress and the Brain" Futurist 40.2 (Mar. 2006): 12-13. web sites: stress.about.com, helpguide.org.



21.1.10

The Rage of Achilles - A Review of the First Book of Homer's Iliad

"Rage, goddess, sing of the rage of Achilles" (1.1)
Homer, Book One of The Iliad
A review of the first book of Homer's Iliad, the epic story of the Trojan War.
In Medias Res
The story of Achilles begins in medias res, in the middle of things, nine years into a battle between the Trojans and the Greeks. The poet does not give the historical background to why the war started, why the war has lasted so long or any real information regarding the conflict between two Mediterranean nations. The story assumes much-acquired knowledge of the Trojan war and reads more like a psychological thriller than a typical war story. To get a background story on the Trojan war, students usually peruse Edith Hamilton's classic Mythology - there one can read the background events that led up to the war, including the Judgment of Paris, the famed allegory of how the war began. Also, there is evidence that a Troy may have existed in the Bronze Age; the story of Troy may not be entirely mythical.
A horse and his boy

The poet is silent, however. His main focus is on the humans and their immortal counterparts, the gods. The Iliad should be appropriately renamed the Rage of Achilles. Why? Well, the poem resonates with the theme of anger. The hero Achilles spends pretty much half the book resentful and bitter. The gods are pissed off at each other as they mock men. Anger, resentment, rage, bitterness, loss, are bound together in a tight-knit stocking. The muses, invoked by the poet as inspiration, act as furies in the poem's opening sentences: "Rage, goddess."   


The god quaked with rage (1. 54)
To compound the rage, the poet traces the genealogy of Achille's resentment in the epic's opening lines, zoning in on the rage of the god Apollo, incited by Agamemnon's refusal to give up his slave girl, Chryseis, back to her father, a priest of the archer god Apollo. The father pleads with his god to seek revenge for Agamemnon's refusal to give her back. In a second act of rage, Apollo rains down disease arrows onto the Greek camps (sometimes called Argives or Danaans). The Greek soldiers die of the plague, their corpses burned on the beachheads. The men are tired and grumpy. They want to return home, having fought abroad for nine long years. Agamemnon is stubborn. He is also very shallow. Not only does he refuse to give back the girl to her father, he mocks her father, he makes fun of his beliefs, and he tells him he will never give the girl up; he tells her father: "I will keep her till she is old and gray." A slave is a possession. A slave is something to have; a slave is not a human with a soul. Agamemnon's act of defiance is perhaps worse because not only does he insult a man's daughter, he insults his beliefs, and his future, instilling terror in his heart. Agamemnon will not give up his possessions (honor) even if it means the wrath of a god (belief) and the death of his men (a refusal to see mortality for what it is). Agamemnon reminds me of a corporate boss, at the top of the corporate ladder, who will not give up his house in the Hamptons, his Christmas bonus nor his private jet, even though his company is falling into ruin. Agamemnon's motto could be "the more I own the more I am."


A dispute among children
The core plot of Book One is a childish dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles. Achilles speaks out against Agamemnon. Achilles's argument is simple: why should the boss get the loot, and his men left with nothing? Agamemnon does not listen. Instead, he punishes Achilles for insubordination. He sends two men, not he, to take away Achilles's own slave girl, Briseis (notice the passive aggression here). The dispute is the same as two children fighting over a toy. "I want it! It's mine! No! It's mine!" When both cannot get what they want, one cries out, "Well, fine! If I can't have what I want I just won't play, then!" Agamemnon refuses to give in; Achilles vows he will never fight again and goes in his tent to sulk, comforted only by his best friend Patroclus. And Athena.


The boy with fiery hair (1.232)
It is perhaps not without coincidence that Achilles is depicted as a lad with fiery, red hair, a synecdoche for his rage. Achilles feels entitled. He does not identify with the rest of the soldiers. He has his own private tent; his own servants; others attend to him; he is like a god. Or at least, that is how he perceives himself. He thinks of himself as an immortal. A god should never suffer! So, when Achilles suffers, he acts like Apollo, and surges with rage, his hair fiery red, ready to slaughter Agamemnon on the spot. Of course, Athena, his protector, stops the blade and convinces him to think things over. How else does a boy with a temper tantrum appease his rage? He appeals to his mother, of course!

Thetis, the old man of the sea's daughter
In perhaps the most poignant scene in the book, the poet paints a picture of the tragic hero alone walking along the seashore, imploring his mother, the sea nymph Thetis to avenge him. The scene of the plaintive boy warrior on the beachhead is an interesting contrast to the enraged, murderous Achilles who has slain thousands of Trojans, inciting fear in the hearts of men. Of course, his mother hears Achilles prayers and promises to ask almighty Zeus to exalt his son. Notice what Achilles asks for: to be exalted. Achilles's prayer is to be raised up among men even though he is merely a man. The tragedy of Achilles's prayer is that his mother does not remind him he is only a mortal, not capable of being more than he actually is. Achilles is like an adolescent who does not realize that he is vulnerable. He is like the kid who gets on a four-wheeler and recklessly rides it dangerously through a mud track without ever thinking that possibly he may get hurt. Achilles's problem: he is like the kid on the four-wheeler who thinks an impossible stunt will not break his bones.  


Uncontrollable laughter broke from the gods (1.721)
The book begins with the anger of the god Apollo but ends strangely with the gods laughing, uncontrollably at the foibles of man. I have a funny suspicion that the gods are not laughing with us, here, but I would say it is a bit of godly schadenfreude.  Who do the gods laugh at? Do they laugh at Achilles? Or do they laugh at men? Do they laugh at us because we are mortal, or do they only laugh at the delusional men?
N.B. The edition I use is the Robert Fagles translation published by Penguin Classics (Deluxe Edition)
PDF copy for printing
Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com

20.1.10

Book Review: The Lives of Animals

In J.M. Coetzee’s novella, The Lives of Animals, protagonist Elizabeth Costello is an aged novelist famous for writing The House on Eccles Street, in which she imagines the life of Marion Bloom of Joyce’s Ulysses. She has been invited to lecture on a topic of her own choosing at Appleton College, where her son is a physics professor. The novella is interesting because it is dubbed an academic work, a strange genre form that offers footnotes and, in this case, two full lectures on animal rights, as part of the University Center for Values Series.    Elizabeth, a non-human animal sympathizer, provokes a visceral response from the faculty — and her family — because of her views.  People cringe to sit at the same dinner table with a vegetarian — “an animal lover” — because it puts into question their own self-assumed values and assumptions that they may have held since childhood.  so, when Elizabeth sits down at the dinner table with her son and daughter-in-law (who is a philosopher) she wonders where are the children.  Norma answers that they are eating in the other room because she doesn’t want to inculcate in them the belief that eating chicken is wrong.  In this delicate scene, it is obvious that Elizabeth’s beliefs are not strictly theoretical and impervious to the sphere of breaking bread in the domestic sphere, for her beliefs concerning animal rights impose upon the familial as well as the academic. What we considered clean to eat and what we consider polluted, has perhaps, defined us as human beings, and when these basic assumptions are challenged, it causes us to defend ourselves because we do not want to be considered “polluted.”  As Mary Douglas in her book, Purity and Danger, wrote, “Pollution dangers strike when form has been attacked” (130).  Pollution — or dirt — is a deciding cultural factor that humans worry about; dirt makes us anxious — especially if we feel dirty or polluted or made to feel that way, for it threatens our sense of form and “unity of experience.”
    Coetzee’s novel is interesting because, as readers, we are privy not only to the two lectures Elizabeth gives at Appleton college on animals: one on animal rights and another on animals in literature — but also the responses and behaviors of those who hear her speak.  Again, the theme of who is polluted and who is clean surfaces.  Elizabeth makes the startling claim that the Germans, living near the Treblinka death camp, were willfully ignorant of the slaughter of millions of human beings.  They could have acted, but they went on with their lives, acting otherwise.  This willed ignorance, this inability to act, argues Elizabeth, is a mark of their self-inscribed inability to be human.  They refuse to see the death camps as a mark of their own pollution.
    Costello makes the analogy that the willed ignorance of the Germans of the Third Reich is tantamount to the willed ignorance of those who refuse to do anything about the inhumanity of the factory farms or lab testing on animals.  This is a shocking claim.  For isn’t Burger King and McDonalds an industry we tolerate?  Costello and writers like Peter Singer would claim that in both cases, the ill-treatment and murder of human beings like cattle, and the actual ill-treatment and slaughter of cattle, are considered equally unethical, and a mark of a human being’s propensity to use his reason, his practical mind, as a means to use someone or something for his own end.  The inability of humans to recognize this unethical state of affairs is a sin, according to Elizabeth.  Because it makes the human being less human.  The Germans who refused to recognize the horrors at Treblinka or Dachau, their inability to realize that the gold chain they wore, or the soap they used to wash their children — once belonged to a dead prisoner marks them as polluted.  This inability of the citizens of the Third Reich to realize their own complicity in the systematic transportation, labor and eventual slaughter of millions of people is the same — and Singer would argue too — of the industrial raising and feeding of factory farm animals for eventual slaughter and consumption.  The point being raised, is that the common element we share, all sentient beings, nonhuman and human — is the capacity to suffer.  The inability to recognize the animal who has the ability to suffer is what animal rights seem to address.  No one would rather think of a sentence like this, written by Singer, about a slaughterhouse in his book Animal Liberation: “Millions of gallons of liquefied feces and urine seeped into the environment from collapsed, leaking or overflowing storage lagoons.”
    But I don’t think most carnivores think of an actual, living, sentient being who suffered when they bite into their burgers.  Most American, would not consider Plutarch’s ancient, infamous expression “Of Eating of Flesh,” concerning animal rights, “You ask me why I refuse to eat flesh.  I, for my part, am astonished that you can put in your mouth the corpse of a dead animal, astonished that you do not find it nasty to chew hacked flesh and swallow the juices of death-wounds.” (quoted in Coetzee 38).      

    Most Americans, it has been said, don’t care how their meat is produced as long as it doesn’t kill them.  Probably, many people would assume it is a Darwinian survival of the fittest: eat them before they eat you!  We may care tenderly for our pet canine or feed affectionately the doves at the local park, but it seems, that we do not consider the ethical complicity we share in the disavowal of the animal to be nothing other than a means without any real end. 
    I would agree, that at this level, we are prone to see the animal as merely an automaton.  We would rather not think that the animal has the capacity to suffer, like us.  We would rather consign to a non-ethical realm our decision to eat meat, to be carnivorous — for as Coetzee, suggests, most of our beliefs about what is clean and what is polluted lie in deeply set cultural and familial mores.  The prevailing ethos in the West is the notion that only the human, the most perfect in the animal kingdom, has the Adamic privilege to render that which is less perfect, as subject to himself (see Aquinas on this issue).
    As concerns my own beliefs, I have had several stints of vegetarianism throughout my life, but I have to admit, I have not been consistent in my resolve to put away a carnivorous appetite.  But, as we mentioned in class, even the vegan probably has animal leather on their sandal.  So even they are not fully removed from involvement in the suffering of animals.  We are all complicit at some level with the suffering of the sentient creatures that inhabit this planet.  None of us can exonerate ourselves completely.  But, I think the heart of Animal Liberation, and any liberation for that matter, is consciousness raising; for, we cannot think, that just because we freed the slaves, or that we gave women the right to vote, that all forms of oppression have been eliminated.

19.1.10

Book Review: On Clarice Lispector with Heidegger


 What is being?  What does it mean to be?  How does being situate itself in relation to the human being, Dasein?  How does the choice I make in the morning to get out of my cocoon of a bed reflect my a priori relationship to beingness, not only my own Being, but my relationship to the beingness of my bed, of the cat purring closer to the floorboard, to the beingness of those I encounter at breakfast?  Does this being-in-the-world irrevocably mark me as a human Being, made distinct by the metaphysical priority that having a world seems to grant?
  Heidegger states in his book Being and Time, that the human Being, Dasein, has a certain facticity, he calls it, towards his own beingness, “such that its Being-in-the-world has always dispersed [zerstreut] itself or even split itself up into definite ways of Being-in” (83). Heidegger seems to suggest that Dasein’s Being not only resides in the world, but Dasein, specifically has a world, in which he makes Being his home.  In his Letter on Humanism, he writes that “Language is the house of Being. In its home man dwells. Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home” (?).  Does my own encounter, my engagement, with the world, through my language, or my body, to put it that way, reflect my own rich interrelatedness to the world, my being-in-the-world, that differs from say, the chicken, in Clarice Lispector’s short story?  Does Lispector’s chicken have a specific facticity towards its own Beingness?  Can a chicken, in fact, have a facticity towards its Being?  Or is it , say, just a being, an aggregate that is not present, not at hand, independent, in its own Being-in?
    The chicken seems, by the first paragraph of the story, to have a certain anxiety, that “No one would ever have guessed...”  Is it because the chicken has its own language by which it makes its own home that Dasein, the human being who seems to be rich in the world, does not have access to?  Can Dasein, only, feel anxiety about its own existence?  Can it only feel alone in the world, or make existentel choices about its own existence?
    But Lispector asks, “What was it in the chicken’s entrails that made her a being?  The chicken, is, in fact, a being” (50).  Heidegger would argue that the animal, that the chicken, does not have a constitutive being that makes it independently its own Being.  The being of the chicken is poor-in-the-world because only Dasein can be-in-the-world.  Only Dasein has a world to inhabit, in this way, only Dasein has a Being that is verhanden, present-at-hand.  The chicken, by extension, does not have a world to inhabit.  The chicken is identical in appearance to all the other chickens, and its being is such, that if one were to die, like this chicken, another automatically appears to take its place.  Lispector seems to suggest that the chicken, for the most part, struts around the house, oblivious to its own existence, its own mortality, to its own relationship to the family, that wants to kill it, then wants to keep it, when it lays an egg, professing its maternity when the child of the house cries out, “Don’t kill the chicken, she’s laid an egg!” (51).
    But in its apparent oblivious to its own place in the world, the chicken has moments of expressing its own beingness, by strutting her chest out, when she feels threatened, and seems to embody certain human categories: apathy, fear, anxiety, hesitant, solitude, dumb and intent.  But in its oblivious embodiment of characteristic human attributes, the chicken is, Lispector notes, “unconscious of the life that had been spared her.”  And like I said, at the moment the chicken is about to become lunch, about to be not only commodified, but, literally modified into chicken parts, the chicken is plopped down on the kitchen floor by the father.  “It was then that it happened.  Positively flustered, the chicken laid an egg.”  By exhibiting its motherhood, its somewhat complicit engagement with the human family, but at the same time, exhibiting its otherness, its chickenness, its obliviousness, “the chicken became part of the family.”
    It is not as if Lispector is suggesting that the chicken became a member of the family in the same way that Dasein becomes a member of its own house, for in the final paragraph, in the final sentence, in fact, the tenuous nature of the chicken’s own Beingness is conscripted to its ugly consignment of a empty head, a chicken head, and the family kills her for dinner, “and the years rolled on.”
    The chicken appears to be present-at-hand; it appears to strut its chest out like a proud mother, affecting its maternity, eliciting an emotional response from the child in the family to exclaim, “The chicken loves us!” 
    But this apparent being-present-at-hand is quickly taken into Dasein’s own hand.  What I mean is that the chicken’s own sense of power, its apathy, and fear, is quickly, and quite unceremoniously, consigned to a hollow silence. The chicken is, after all, merely a empty-headed entity, right? — devoid of any ethical dignity or care!  And it seems, from the story’s conclusion of the chicken’s own fate, that the chicken has not been denied, in its short life, life, its way of being — whatever that is! — but can it ever have a say in this life, outside of which is transcribed by the human other?!  What it has been denied, though, is a place in the world; its way of being, in Heidegger’s view, will never grant the chicken a metaphysical priority of that of Dasein.

18.1.10

Levinas's "The Name of the Dog" and Interview

I have to admit, upon reading both Levinas’s essay “The Name of a Dog, Or Natural Rights” and the subsequent interview Levinas gave on animality a few years after, along with the critical review essay, “Ethical Cynicism” by Atterton, my own preconceived notions of Levinas’s ethical system was rather certain. The certainty I felt was in Levinas’s privileged place he sets ethics as first philosophy. For Levinas, Ethics presupposes any metaphysics or epistemology. For him, in order to have a “good” metaphysics, there has to be an ethical foundation to support a view of being-in-the-world, which Heidegger calls the human being, Dasein.  For Heidegger, I imagine, Ethics presupposes care, or, put more succinctly, care for Dasein, that inscrutable post-Freudian Ego which centers much of twentieth-century philosophical discourse.  Dasein is the central figure of any philosophical approach for Heidegger because the human being is the only being that can care, not only for itself, for its own being-in-the-world, but a certain care for others, an emphatic care that seems to situate Dasein as not poor-in-the-world.  The animal can not care; it can richly inhabit the world as dasein. For Levinas, Dasein is situated in the phenomenon of the human face, the central origin point of care and the impetus for any human action, or responsibility, to the other.  
    This ethical situation of the face, for me, seems to fit into a metaphysics that can actually allow for mutual understanding among human beings who have historically and presently, not very good about caring for themselves or others.  So, it seems, Levinas is positing the phenomenon of the face or the ethical sign of the face as that signifier which imbues the human person with humanity.  When the face is stripped of its meaning it becomes “a signifier without a signified,” as Levinas writes about it when he experienced being stripped of his humanity in a German concentration camp during World War II.  “Social aggresion,” Levinas writes, “shuts people away in a class, deprives them of expression and condemns them to being ‘signifiers without a signified’ …” (qtd. in Animal Philosophy, 40).  Even the women and the children of the guards stripped the prisoners of their “human skin.”
    Levinas writes that the only species who actually employed any kind of categorical imperative to recognize the humanity of the Jewish prisoners was a stray dog, affectionately named Bobby, who until the guards disposed of him, greeted the inmates with a happy bark, because of his happy nature.  “For [Bobby] — it was incontestable — we were men.”  The dog’s almost univocal, almost biological, acceptance of the men as human beings who can play with him and give him attention, somehow, for Levinas, was in stark contrast to the artificial “social aggression” of the guards who distinguished the prisoners as undesirable, rooted in anti-semitism and culturally constructed hatred.  Only the dog perceived, through his own species awareness, and not the German guards, the interred humans, Levinas included, as human beings.
    But does Levinas diminish the dignity of the dog by not ascribing to it the same phenomenological category as the human being, as Levinas calls the human face, “a new phenomenon”?  I don’t know.  He does claim in that interview that the dog has a face, but it is not in pure form, as is the human face.  Atterton seems to use this as a way to Say that Levinas is still mired in traditional Western thinking; his thought may be radical — but it could be more so.
    But Atterton challenges that Levinas’s ethical system is only concerned with the face of the human being.  The dog of Levinas’s essay, albeit a real dog, not a fictive one, as Atterton points out, like Odysseus’s faithful pet who recognizes his owner after a twenty-year hiatus, is a kind of hermeneutical clue for Levinas to recognize the efficacy of the human face and it primary role in his Ethics, but the dog is not there, Atterton claims, (and I would imagine Levinas would agree) to prove a kind of ethical primacy for the dog itself.  And as Atterton mentions in his essay, Levinas is not too quick to place this kind of ethical primacy on the dog, even though it has a face (but a snake — Levinas contends in his interview — doesn’t have a face!).  The dog’s face is only a face in so much as the human being is able to recognize the face of the dog and respond to the dog.  This is where Atterton criticizes Levinas for stripping the dog of primia facie being on its own merits, just because it does have the speech, or the logos, to make claim to its own being-in-the-world.  For Levinas, the human face is an “epiphany” in of itself because the human face, which demands and supplicates, “deprived of everything because entitled to everything” is not the same face as the animal other.  I don’t think this takes away from the possibility that a Levinasian ethics could be established that takes this “epiphany” to the animal level.  Levinas was just not ready to go there.  But, it seems, he inched the door open, if just a little, in a few arcane passages about a prison dog named Bobby and an interview with some graduate students about animality.  The ambiguity that Atterton correctly points out in Levinas’s statements about the animal face is not ipso facto a denial on Levinas’s part that there can be no animal/human breakthrough.  He does say, concerning the snake, that further analysis needs to be done.  And, yes, it is true that Levinas had not done any of this analysis.  But, I think just because Levinas is steeped in the Western (and a very Jewish and Christian worldview) does not de-evaluate his claim.  Nietzsche is not somehow more authoritative on what is natural and what is ethical only because he debunks the progress of Western thought as much as a Taoist philosopher and her own musings on animality — if there are any — is not to be devalued solely on the basis that new ground was not broken.  I think the fact that Levinas’s face, albeit distinctly human, can be a medium by which we can, in fact, break new ground in the way animals and human recognize one another as credible and phenomenologically rich.
    I guess, for me, to sum up, this rather rambling response paper, is to conclude by saying that I think there can be made the claim that animals are rich-in-the-world.  I don’t think that is the problem.  I agree with Atterton.  Just because the animal other does not have a discourse by which to lay claim to its own meaningful existence, such as logos, does not eradicate its own ontological richness.  What is bereft here, is a bridge between the two riches — that of the animal and that of the human being.  Our language, our signs, our semiotic waste, is non-communicable to the animal.  At least, as far as we are able to know.  What would happen — I place this as an aside — if we were to confront a different face, like Dick proposes in his novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  Dick imagines a post-nuclear war Earth where androids pose a threat to human hegemony.  What if we would encounter such an alien race that was more superior than our own, that had mental consciousness at a level we could not grasp?  Would that change the state of affairs?  Would we all of a sudden find ourselves in the situation of Bobby?  I think we would ...

17.1.10

On Speciesism

“We philosophers are not free to divide body from soul as the people do; we are even less free to divide soul from spirit.”  — Nietzche
    The speciesist point of view, that one species has more worth than another, or that one species’ interests takes precedence over another has its origins in the western philosophical hierarchy of the soul, first proposed by Plato in the Republic.  Plato divides the soul into the three distinct parts: as either vegetative, animal or human. The vegetative soul can be likened to an inert stone.  A stone exists.  And that is all a stone can do.  The stone has no interests.  It does not have rights.  No one, except for the hardcore deep ecologists, would posit that a stone has rights, or that a stone has interests.  The stone is no worse off if it is tossed into a gravel driveway or if it lies at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.  As Heidegger puts it someplace, a stone is a different kind of being, from say, a bug, and its stoneness is not contingent on its efficiency or potential for breaking a window pane.  We don’t call a stone, “that which breaks windows. “ It is there.  It’s name does not set it apart.  It can be picked up.  It can be skipped across the water.  But the stone cannot think of who is picking it up, nor can it feel anything specific about its trajectory across the surface of the water.  Nor can it be opposed in its mood to decide whether it wishes to be skipped across the water.
    The stone does have a soul, what the Greeks considered its animating force, but only by its nature of existing, nothing else.  What the Greeks originally though of as a the life-force, the soul, in Greek, “psyche,” was bifurcated further, or let’s say, dissected into animal and human parts to distinguish from that which is inert.
    The animal and human soul are different from the “stone soul” in that the “animal soul” can respond to its environment.  For when an animal is picked up it can resist; the animal is not just an aggregate composite of its parts; the animal does have a certain knowledge of its existence and of its efficiency.  The animal can maneuver itself in its world.  But the human soul, Plato claims, is different from the animal soul.  And this is where the speciesist argument comes in, although the deep ecologists might say speciesism is present in disavowing the stone of interests, but I digress. 
    The problematic provenance of the human soul imbued with reason is where the problem arises for me.  The human soul imbued with reason is what is often argued by philosophers as setting the human person apart from the animal.  Peter Singer points out in Animal Liberation that most philosophers have proposed reason as being man’s greatest gift without the realization that this “gift” does not preclude man from being superior to the animals.  Nietzche put it passionately about man being the measure of all things, “We philosophers are not free to divide body from soul as the people do; we are even less free to divide soul from spirit.  We are not thinking frogs, nor objectifying and registering mechanisms with their innards removed: constantly, we have to give birth to our thoughts out of our pain and, like mothers, endow them with all we have of blood, heart, fire, pleasure, passion, agony, conscience, fate, and catastrophe.  Life—that means for us constantly transforming all that we are into light and flame.”
    It is our reason that has bifurcated the “soul” in the first place.  “I think therefore I am” is a big problem.  It keeps us asleep in the warm blanket of speciesism.  It is our reason that has given us the scissors by which we divide up everything into kinds.  Yes, it is true, that the human being is unique; the human can think; the human can feel; the human can produce art but these abilities do not grant us sole sovereignty because of our intelligence, no more than the color of our skin (the racist strand of speciesism) or our sex (sexism) or the number of limbs to treat cruelly another creature, let alone our own kind.  It is in this dividing into “kinds” which are reason dictates, that has made us into the Nietzchean divider of frogs and spirits.  Even the Adamic principle, that God gave Adam the power to name the animals, should not exclude animals from an equal playing field.  Which is why philosophers like Singer and Jeremey Bentham long before him, saw that universality of suffering, that a dog, as well as an Enron executive, feels pain, levels the playing field.  We all share a commonality in that we suffer and can experience pain.

16.1.10

Movie Review: Verfolgt (Punish Me)



If Harold and Maude Meets Equus (with a sadomasochistic twist) sounds like the perfect combination for your next couch potato party, then Verfolgt (Punish Me), now out on DVD in the United States, may be your perfect cinematic mixed drink.  But a little caveat: the movie is certainly not as lusty as its DVD cover seems to purport (and I am a little suspicious that the raunchy lad posing as Kostja Ullmann might be a stand-in!).
    But even if the cover box screams campy bondage art film, the film itself touts two magnificent performances by Maren Kroymann, who portrays Elsa Seifer, a fifty-something juvenile probation officer who falls — gasp! — for one of her delinquent charges.  Kroyman plays the part of a professional woman, tepid in her marriage, and successful (but slightly unchallenged) in her job.  At first, I was not sure, even after the end of the movie, of who was using who, whether this was a case of manipulation, or true, heartfelt devotion between two risky lovers.
    The role of Jan, played by Kostja Ullmann, is convincingly portrayed and starkly different from Sommersturm (2004) where he plays a clean-cut teenager who rebuffs the longings of his questioning gay friend in an affecting summer camp tale replete with oodles of skin and sweaty competition.
    In this film, however, Ullman presents us with a character study in isolation and fantasy.  His eyes tell the tale.  He perfectly nuances his facial expressions evoking the image of a youth desirous of intimacy and affection but only knowing how to achieve attention through manipulation.  His behavior is that of a teenage thug.  But his eyes reveal something tender.

    I give the film a thumbs up.
Verfolgt (2007)  International Title: Punish Me
Directed by: Angelina Maccarone
Written by: Susanne Billig (who has a cameo appearance)
Starring: Kostja Ullmann; Maren Kroymann; Moritz Grove; Sila Sahin; Ada Labahn; Markus Voellenklee; Stephanie Charlotta Koetz; Sophie Rogall

10.1.10

Streetcar at Saint Charles and Common

A Saint Charles Avenue streetcar travels uptown in New Orleans at Common Street
- the car is emptier than earlier today. Going uptown, back to the Carrolton neighborhood of my recent re-birth.

NOLA: Saint Charles Streetcar at Freret Street

Taking the Saint Charles Avenue streetcar from my house to a birthday party, I make a few observations along the way.
A street sign at the entrance to the New Orleans French Quarter prohibits the use of cellphones
Winter in New Orleans is Stupid Cold, Ya Heard?       
      28 degrees in New Orleans is as cold as -6 degrees in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Most of us have opted to stay at home. Usually, on a Sunday afternoon, the streetcar is softly filled with tourists making their way past Saint Charles's homes and oak-lined streets. Not today, Satan.
Taking the Streetcar To Attend A Birthday Party
     I am on my way to a birthday party on Saint Louis street. It is a surprise party. I may be late. Punctuality has never been a well-groomed commodity of mine.
     A young couple reverts their seats so they can look at each other and converse. Otherwise, the car is quiet.
The Hum of the Streetcar is My Anodyne for Anxiety
     It never seems to bother me, the contemplative nature of public transportation. If only I can always look and feel while I travel. The back of the car is the front and the front is the back. I tend to migrate to the back and look out as the scenery moves into the past.

Prognostication: A Hurricane and the Flu

Hurricane off the Coast of Florida
Still haunted by Mark Fishetti's article, "Drowning New Orleans" published in October 2001 in Scientific American. Someone had placed a photocopy of the article, replete with graphic maps of drench and ruin, on our work bulletin board the day before Katrina in August of 2005.
Computer models by researchers at Louisiana State university predict that the counter-clockwise winds of a slow moving, Category 4 hurricane (characterized by winds of up to 155 miles per hour with storm surges) crossing the Gulf of Mexico from the southwest would drive a sea surge 30 miles inland, right to New Orlean’s back door. Surging water would also fill Lake Pontchartrain, which would then overflow its western bank and pour into the city. At the height of the flood, the downtown would be under more than 20 feet of water only about 33 hours after the first storm winds touched the southern barrier islands.
Then in 2005, "Preparing for the Worst" was penned by the editors of Scientific American. Using predictions of devastation on the Gulf Coast, the editors warn that the flu virus could reach pandemic proportions if vaccines are not amply supplied by pharmaceutical companies - the death toll could rise ten times more than Hurricane Katrina.

Flu season comes every year as reliably as hurricane season, if we shore up our defenses against both, we will be in a much stronger position when the "big ones" hit.


I am not a doomsday sayer, but it seems to me, that scientists notice disasters long before politicians are willing to act. Maybe we should listen to the hard science prognosticators - we will listen to the dead ringing predictions an ancient Mayan calendar, but find death ears on hard, empirical facts. Surprising. America has left the Enlightenment a long time ago.

Now, granted, both predictions above were worse than the actual chain of events - but still, the worst-case scenario was presented - and the real scenario was not that far from what transpired. New Orleans is still vulnerable to flood waters; The flu did strike a terrible scourge this past September. I am sure 2012 is just a metaphor for incompetency more than Nostradamus's prophecy. Come on, let's give more credibility to science and let them help us a little, huh?

7.1.10

Top Ten Movies in Black and White Made After the Invention of Color Film


1. Wizard of Oz (1939)
Oz is meant to be in dazzling techno-color, right? What is Glinda in black and white but a dried out witch?  As a kid I loved the surprise transition from black and white to color, dazzled by the transition from black and white of Kansas to the sparkling color of the Munchkin village. But, the black and white scenes give us the film's original avatars of the scarecrow, the tin woodsman, the cowardly lion and the wicked witch of the west as shadows of Dorothy's unconscious. Wait! Does that mean the black and white world is the dream and Oz is the reality? Ah hah. I think I've stumbled upon something here. And, don't forget, Dorothy's rendition of "Somewhere, Over the Rainbow" is sung in glorious black and white, not color.

2. Schindler's List (1993) 
Image result for schindler's list
A film about the holocaust filmed in black and white seems to suggest that black and white only represents the darkest, most insidious side of human nature, but Steven Spielberg is blithe to contend that even a bit of color can intrude in the darkest moments of human history. Interspersed within the panoply of dark and shadow granulation, a colored spectacle of a fated Jewish girl appears on film. The colored vision Schindler sees is supposed to represent his epiphany - the error of the Aryan solution. Schindler sees her carted off by the Nazis; her colored body adrift among a sea of gray. The absence of color represents everything stark. Everything Gestapo soldiers are not but the color of the little girl is: life, innocence, hope.

3. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Although technically not a black and white film, this World War II flick reaches the limit of color while still retaining color status. I think it is the only color film that I still remember in black and white. The director and his color expert drained most of the color out of the scenes to give the film a grainy, realistic look, as if the viewer is right there with the soldiers on Omaha beach. It is a gritty film. I cannot say there is a better film in color that mimics the mise-en-scene of black and white any better than this one. A must-see.

4. Psycho (1960)
OK. Now when you thought I'd pepper this blog with only seemingly black and white films, I have finally added a true black and white film. Albeit, the shower scene was filmed with chocolate syrup, I still think the horror of this film is aptly felt. When I show the shower clip in the classroom as an example of the horror genre, the students laugh at the low-tech - but they fail to realize the beauty of the of the edit, the visual deletion of the knife hitting skin. I recently watched Gus Van Sant's loving reproduction of Psycho in full color and still remain partial to the original black and white piece. I think it has to do with the fact that Hitchcock is plain brilliant and Van Sant, although brilliant (recently watched his original genius, Mala Noche, and loved it) does not pull off even in reproduction what Hitchcock was able to do with sheer invention.

5. Raging Bull (1980)
Again going on the metaphor of blood - there is something about seeing blood stream from a boxer's body in the rink that fares better in black and white than it does in color. Scorcese's film is a mixture of color and black and white. I think the reason Scorcese chose this montage was to exacerbate the underlying theme of the film: the vacillation of the alcoholic rage, going from prickly tenderness, as the familial scenes in the kitchen, to the parallel between domestic violence and the grueling games of the rink. I would say this film is almost too perfect to be filmed totally in color. In the discombobulated form of color and gray  


6. Wings of Desire (1987)
If Woody Allen's films form a poetic paen to New York, then Wim Wender's orgiastic love song to war-blown Berlin is equally beauteous. I may be biased because I love the library scene in this film - and library books shine better in sepia tones anyway - a book does not need Technicolor. This film about angels entertaining us unaware is half a dirge and half a love song to humanity. I loved it. One thing about black and white - and sounds cliché but I will say it anyway - black and white cinematography, if done well, brings out the humanity of the human face (as an allusion to Emmanuel Levinas, somewhere).

7. The Seventh Seal (1957)
The black and white image of the Virgin with Child apparition coupled with the dance of death is beauteously rendered in black and white in this entirely diaphanous film. For a film about death, the beauty of a stark, rocky beach - a crusader and the personage of death - is painted in miraculous poetic tones. Of all the films I have ever seen, this film stands out as a gem of cinematic technique.
 


8.  Manhattan (1979)
So, Woody Allen is a neurotic who cannot keep stuffing sunshine up his you-know-what, I still love this beautiful take on romance and cityscape. And yes, the plot is basically the same as all of Woody's films: an older neurotic cannot keep the young girls from falling all over him - but I have to say, of all the directors in this list, Allen has the unequivocal ability to make cinematic love to his city. What I like about Manhattan more than the dysfunctional romance is the paint brush swathed over a canvas. New York is a commonly filmed town, but Woody Allen's films make New York a character.

9. Europa (1991)
Lars Von Trier's eerie look at post-war France is both a Hitchcockian mystery, Cagney-esqe train thriller and existential romp that will leave you scratching your head. There must be something about existential movies (see the Seventh Seal) that seem to fare so much better in black and white than they do in color. Color is too happy (see Pleasantville) or is reality too much like Kansas (see Wizard of Oz). The distinction between color as freedom and black and white as fascism (and the race against time) seem to be the predominant themes in this little treat of a film from everyone's favorite Dogme hero. I think the prize goes to Europa for the last scene. I cannot image the death any other way than in water and in black and white. Water, trains, floating bodies - black and white for sure!


10. Pleasantville (1998)
Just as the Wizard of Oz begins with a dream and enters dream reality, Pleasantville begins with an illusion and enters a satirical nightmare. Playing on the conventions of boring 1950s black and white television that needs some color, the film playfully looks at the land of Oz from a completely sardonic point of view. I thought the movie deserved a place in this list because it is perhaps the only film I am aware of that is so meta-aware of itself as a black and white film poking fun at black and white films.