Movie Review: Kaboom!

A Crisp, Sci-Fi sexcapade ushers in the apocalypse.
Kaboom! Directed by Greg Araki Starring: Haley Bennett, Thomas Dekker, James Duval, Chris Zylka, Brennan Mejia — Running time: 1 hour and 26 minutes

Movies are metaphors for dreams. Or, better still, movies can slip between reality and dream effortlessly. The movie dream is a cinematic exhibition of fantasy. I think David Lynch's fantasy mindbenders attest to film's obsession with dream sequences mirroring reality in strange, bombastic ways. Kaboom! is no different. Just less serious.

Araki's Kaboom! testifies to the surrealistic, dream-like aspect of film with a brief nod to Bunūel's Un Chien Andalou. A shot of a razor blade slicing through a human eyeball sends the message that the movie is a movie about film. Or a movie about film's obsession with dream-like fantastic images. Among other things. I'm not sure what to make of Kaboom!.

Characters eat lunch at a café called, "Ontological Void." Am I supposed to infer something here? What is the void? And how can a void be ontological? Am I supposed to applaud Araki for being both clever and blithely cynical? The protagonist, Smith, (Thomas Dekker) a film student at an unnamed California liberal arts college, pines for his hunky roomie Thor (Chris Zylka), spends a huge amount of quality of time analyzing his dreams, pals around with his Lesbian hottie gal pal Stella (Haley Bennett), experiments with lots of sex (with both boys and girls), and in a zany twist becomes caught up in a cultic conspiracy hurtling towards an end-of-the -world finale which will leave most viewers scratching their heads asking, "huh?"

Considering Araki's most recent films, Mysterious Skin, and his teen apocalyptic trilogy, one thing is for sure: Araki presents teenage sexuality (replete with young writhing bodies) as a domain of searching for self-identity in witty, culturally sophisticated tones. Even though everyone in this movie is crisply gorgeous, sans fault, and indulge in lots of sex, the overall sense I get from the movie is witty intelligence rather than visceral explosion. Just like Mysterious Skin's Cheerios sex scene, Araki films sex to avert the viewer's eye from the hormonal to the cerebral. I'm sure the Kaboom! in the title alludes to both orgasm and epiphany. The Kaboom! as in the comic arts Kaboom! Pow! and the kaboom of explosion, all's well that ends well.

I loved the ending. Kaboom! That's it. The movie is fun solely because it's ending is so self-deprecating. Araki's clean shot scenes of ultra modern college cafeterias and blue-lit dorm rooms all enclose an interesting plot replete with voodoo, magic cookies, witches, cult leaders, men in animal masks, lines like, "it's a vagina, not spaghetti," or "that's nuttier than squirrel shit," or, "Of course. And does Mel Gibson hate Jews?" At the end of the movie all is revealed and it's a satisfying nihilistic romp. It's not supposed to mean anything. Like a nihilistic fantasy, it's an ontological void. Am I supposed to love this movie because it takes nothing seriously? Or am I supposed to feel embarrassed because I just don't get it?

The movie is a fantasy stemming from Smith's over-active imagination. The opening shot is a dream sequence. The movie is a fantasy of what any good looking college boy embarking on sexual awakening would want: sex with no strings attached, unbarred adulation, sex with hot hunky, married men, an orgy, and in the end, the promise of a boyfriend. Or so it seems. You want Smith to find romance. The romantic plot is subterfuged*, however, by Araki's knee jerk reaction to take the film beyond genre and rest in the "meta" of metanarrative.

Araki overlays the typical college narrative with American Pie humor: Smith gets caught watching porn, and his gal pal quips, "You don't think I can't hear your porn through these thin walls?" Or, London in a sex scene tells a boy how to eat her out while reminding him of the Kinsey's loose interpretation of sexuality which leads both London, Smith, and the boy Rex having a Britney Spears 1-2-3. Smith calls his mom while she's having sex with her masseuse and she answers, "I'm in a meeting. I can't talk right now."

Add the myth of the absent father, the bitchy mother, the desire to annihilate reality, and the deep adolescent urge to live in a fantasy world, then you have Araki's new film.

Beware: the sex is not as titillating as watching "witch girl" evaporate in writhing pain, or close up shots of mac and cheese, snack vending machine turning out chips, or laugh-out-loud special effects more humorous than an Ed Wood flick - but just as corny as John Waters.

Sure to be a cult classic.
* N.B. I am aware that subterfuge is traditionally used as a noun; however, here, I use it as a verb.


Literary Criticism: Awful Musing on Philosophy and Literature

I'm not sure how to square philosophy with literature. I don't mean to sound philosophical with this sort of statement. I mean: how do I square literature, as in literature in how it is studied in American academic departments, with philosophy in academia. Not thinking about the zillions of ways to do literary theory and the zillions of way to do philosophy. Rather, I'm caught betwixt and between, one foot placed in a literary world, and the other, placed in a philosophical world.
Novels do not seem on the face of it to be concerned with epistemology or questions of language. Yet, novelists love to pepper stories with philosophic allusions. Philosophers employ literary metaphor to suggest their specific points.

One may applaud me for being so interdisciplinary. Literary studies has for a long while been influenced by philosophic thought. Philosophy likes to think about the possibility of literature, or the conditions that make literary reality possible. Derrida is famous for pushing literature to the fore by asking again and again in numerous books and essays, "what the fuck is literary affect? What does it mean to have a literary effect? And how come literature's "affects" become articulated in philosophical musing?

In graduate study of English, I was immersed in theory. We did not discuss Derrida's questions. Not to say we didn't discuss Derrida. We just were not concerned with Derrida's questions. We were more concerned with deconstructing a text or psychoanalyzing a character.  I learned to think through a novel's structure using clever theories. It was fun. My difficulty, however, was always trying to extract from a piece of literature a philosophic thought. Walker Percy's The Moviegoer: I extract existentialism. William Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream: I extract the distinction between appearance and reality. Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man: radical alterity. John Milton's Paradise Lost: the ontology of evil. And so on.

In philosophy departments, the study of literature is reversed. It's not what can be extracted from a particular literary piece that is important, but questioning literary methodology itself. Philosophy makes philosophy from literary expression. What makes a novel feel? How is a poem a poem? Where is the moral good in literary fiction?

Philosophy sees itself as superior to literature. Literature sees itself as more beautiful than philosophy. No one asks if a philosopher is literary or not. And if they do, philosophers shrug their shoulders. So what if Plato, Kierkegaard, or Nietzsche are literary. That's cool, says the philosopher, but Kant is much clearer. So what if Milton's view of prelapsarian innocence is whack. Milton's poetry cannot be approximated. Philosophers get frustrated by literary tropes. Literature buffs become weary of theory. Give me a clear, well thought out argument, says the philosopher. Philosophy is preoccupied with meaning: what we say. Literature is preoccupied with suggesting what is not said.

I had a few fellow graduate students read a philosophy paper I wrote on whether a reclamation of history was possible in Kant's Third Critique. "Relegate your literary allusions to the footnote," one of my colleagues wrote in the margin. I guess he's right. What does Homer have to do with Kant?

Kant, it seems to me, could learn much from Homer. Waywardness. For one. Homelessness. The comfortable homeliness of the categories (the moral law within!) can't tolerate raw homelessness.

Homer could learn a thing or two from Kant. I'm not sure what, though. Odysseus does not seem to be an exemplar of the categorical imperative. Who is an exemplar of the categorical imperative? Even Jesus Christ would have to be asked, "Yo, Jesus! Do you follow the moral law?"

Literature came late to philosophy. Plato expelled the poet from the city-state.

In a way, literature is still expelled from the city-state.

The philosopher asks about the novel, "is the novel dead?" The novelist asks, "Will they buy my book?"

I said earlier that my feet are squarely in both worlds. In English departments, we call philosophy "theory." Although not all theory is philosophy. Some theory is literary criticism. Although some literary criticism is philosophical, I'm not sure if philosophy could every be considered literary criticism. In philosophy departments, we call what we do analytic or continental. But, then, even those distinctions quickly get muddled. Literature is subsumed under aesthetics. But, aesthetics is a non-word in comparative literature. We just assume literature is beautiful. It's left to the philosopher to figure that one out. In literature, philosophy is the search for wisdom. We are not so sure what to do with Kant or Plato. We're happy enough to supply beauty without questioning it.

I will end my musing this way: I've arrived at a question about embarrassment. Why is it embarrassing for a philosopher to resort to fiction? For the novelist, there is no such embarrassment. In fact, if there is something philosophical there he will grin. For the literary critic, it is not embarrassing to avoid philosophy altogether. In fact: in some circles, it is encouraged.

The beauty of philosophy is its ability to care about stuff the novel confronts willy-nilly. Heidegger's Being and Time has no comparison in the literary canon. What I love about fiction is its unabashed embrace of play. There will never by a Vladimir Nabokov in the School of Athens. That is why: I have two books on my shelf: in the brain, I have my philosophers; in the heart: I have my literature; the rest I put up my arms in a certain Je ne sais quoi.
image credit: cindy sherman


Online Citation Software: RefWorks or no Refworks?

After years of organizing research in a Moleskine notebook, I have finally landed on an online bibliographic manager I can kinda live with . . .  
When writing papers, I have always managed my own citations and created bibliographies with the help of either a stylebook or books.google.com and worldcat.com). The frustration comes in getting the style format correct. Formatting a research paper in MLA or APA style is tedious work. Have you ever found yourself at your desk and not able to access the citation for a book you have already returned to the library? Have you ever wondered whether to use parenthetical citations or footnotes? How does one cite a web site? A movie? A sound recording? A librarian told me once that the easiest way to use a citation style is to not learn how to use it. He meant just refer to the stylebook for the rules. I am sure he would agree a citation manager is even better.
Libraries Often Give Their Patrons Tools to Create Citations and Bibliographies
     At my university, the library makes it incredibly easy for students to use bibliographic management software. RefWorks is not free but if you are a college student it is highly likely your institution subscribes to the service, but you can use Zotero or WorldCat if you don't have RefWorks (but their features are limited).
    When I research on the web or browse books and articles I can simply add references to my RefWorks account. Why didn't I do this before? Before the advent of online citation managers, I had to either carry a notebook with me to the library to record bibliographic data or I would key in the data into a word processing program but then I would be paralyzed by not knowing the proper citation format. Do I add the publisher and publication place? Do I need the ISBN? With RefWorks I have folders for the projects I am working on. I have a folder on Hobbes and folder on Kant; I even have a folder for the presentation I am supposed to give on Stanley Cavell's book Pursuits of Happiness. All my citations are there (whether they be a website or a film or a peer-reviewed article). I feel more organized and I feel like my research is all in one place. I think of RefWorks as my citation library, in the same way, I think of Evernote as my ideas library.
RefWorks Keeps Your Research Organized
    RefWorks keeps my projects organized. If I have already entered a citation in one folder on Kant I can easily put it into another folder I created on Kant and Arendt.
     I do have a gripe about the user design. The graphic interface is rather complicated so you have to have patience and persistence at first. There are several ways to add references to RefWorks. Searching a library catalog or an electronic database, RefWorks allows you to import citations directly from a subscribing school's online catalog or database to your RefWorks account. Look for the export to RefWorks option. I have not found this method to always be efficient. For example, I am a student at a school that shares its library with other consortia members. So if I am not in my home library, but in another library only affiliated with my school, the RefWorks login screen pops up demanding that I enter the group code. I don't know my school's group code. Or if I am at home I have to remember to log in to RefWorks through my school's page. I have to manually type in the information for the reference. The nice thing though is that RefWorks gives me a host of fields: I can enter in as little or as much information on a source as I want. An awesome feature is the attachment option. If I have a file of quotes from a particular source I can append it to the citation as an attachment.
RefWorks Stores Your Research in the Cloud
      The big plus for using RefWorks is the same reason why I use Google Docs or MobileMe or Carbonite. The service is web-based and I can work on a project no matter where I am. Either at home, at work, or at school I can add to my RefWorks account with references. The other big plus for me is that when I am ready to export a bibliography from the sources I intend to use for my paper I can export them into almost any available citation format (MLA, APA, Turabian, etc.). This feature saves me tons of time because some of my professors require different citation formats. It's a pain in the butt to have to re-format a paper. I did this once for my Master's Thesis. Not fun. Where was RefWorks then?
    I can actually create a document in Microsoft Word and install RefWorks plugin Write-N-Cite and practically write my paper and at the end of the day convert it into any citation style I may need. Unfortunately, you have to use Microsoft Word (on a Mac or PC) for this feature to work. I use Google Docs or iWork. What do I do? I have to use RefWork's CiteView option which allows me to manually insert citations I create into my documents without the advantage of instantaneously formatting allowed by Write-N-Cite. The CiteView option is tedious and not user-friendly. RefWorks forces you to insert clunky text chunks where your citation should go then when you are done writing your paper you upload the document to RefWorks and it correctly formats your paper. Personally I rather just do this myself and only use RefWorks for the organizational features which makes me second guess any reason why I would pay a premium to use the service when I can get the same functionality from other online venues. The huge improvement in services like RefWorks, however, which differs from EndNote, is the freedom to work on any platform and in any word processor. EndNote is a great application but I have to be sitting at a computer that has it installed with a compatible word processor. EndNote, in my opinion, is not worth the money. And to my knowledge, it is not cloud-based.
While RefWorks is Not 100% Perfect it Manages Fairly Well
    RefWorks is not intuitive. The graphic user interface is intimidating. There are way too many buttons and options. To do simple tasks like generate a bibliography or toggle between folders can become frustrating ordeals if the wrong button is pressed. I tried to import an existing bibliography I had created in WorldCat and I was not able to accomplish this feat. RefWorks is a powerful tool in assisting students in managing their research and citing sources but I recommend taking an hour introductory class before jumping into it. I took a class at my university and found it to be extremely helpful and I can see already that two things will increase my productivity: the universal access to my work and the ability to create bibliographies in tons of formats. If you are not affiliated with an institution that has a subscription then I suggest go with the free online services. Personally, I like WorldCat's List feature. I will write about it in a future post. It allows you to create folders as well and to create multiple bibliographies in various citation formats. Also, I should add, none of these services, WorldCat, Zotero, RefWorks, EndNote, will do your research for you; the programs will not magically provide an A+ paper but they will certainly (if used efficiently -- with a little bit of a learning curve) aid you in creating a polished, finished product.

What has been your experience with online bibliography and citation managers?


Aesthetic Thursdays: Paul Chan at the Whitney Museum

1st Light
Paul Chan, 1st Light, 2005. Digital video projection. 14 minutes, edition of 5. Courtesy Greene Naftali Gallery, New York. Photo: Jean
At the Whitney Museum in New York City, there is currently, as of this post, a video installation made in 2005 by the American artist, Paul Chan.

Upon walking into an open room in the museum's "Singular Visions" collection on the fifth floor, devoted to single pieces of individual artist's art, there on the floor, like a cut into another reality, emanates Chan's video imagery.


Movie Clip: The Worst Christmas Eve Ever (Gremlins)

Gremlins (1984)
This otherwise comic film is lodged with perhaps the most tragic dialogue in Hollywood history ...
Kate: Now I have another reason to hate Christmas.
Billy Peltzer: What are you talking about?
Kate: The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas. Oh, God. It was so horrible. It was Christmas Eve. I was 9 years old. Me and Mom were decorating the tree, waiting for Dad to come home from work. A couple hours went by. Dad wasn't home. So Mom called the office. No answer. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. Neither one of us could eat or sleep. Everything was falling apart. It was snowing outside. The house was freezing, so I went to try to light up the fire. That's when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And me and Mom were expecting them to pull out a dead cat or a bird. And instead, they pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He'd been climbing down the chimney... his arms loaded with presents. He was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck. He died instantly. And that's how I found out there was no Santa Claus. 
Gremlins (1984): Directed by Joe Dante. Written by Chris Columbus. Starring Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, and Hoyt Axton


One World Trade Center Under Construction

One World Trade Center, New York City
View of the World Trade Center site from Washington Street in Lower Manhattan. 52 stories have been constructed so far. The glass façade on One WTC is clearly visible. Notice to the right WTC 7 sits completed as if ready for the party, but no one has arrived yet.
PDF Copy for Printing


The 4 Train On Sunday

He told me this morning the four train is beast. Not beast as in animal. But beast as in best. I had taken it on Sunday after a visit to my Shrink. (I capitalize her name to make it proper). So I knew what he was talking about.


Video Repost: United States of Tara Theme Song

Do you know the opening theme song to the Showtimes series The United States of Tara? It took me awhile to figure it out.
I like the opening song to the Showtime TV series The United States of Tara. But it took me a while, figuring out the lyrics, to realize the vocalist was singing, "ride." For a moment there I thought he was crooning, "rye," and I was like, 'is there a connection to Catcher?'
Showtime Television Series Created by Diablo Cody
Lyrics from the Opening Theme to United States of Tara:
Open up the sky this mess is getting high
It’s windy and our family needs a ride
I know we’ll be just fine when we learn to love the ride
I know we’ll be fine when we learn to love the ride
I know we’ll be just fine when we learn to love the ride


Aesthetic Thursdays: Keith Haring

Keith Haring, "Wedding Invitation"


Photo, Grand Central

Lubavitchers, Grand Central, New York City


"The Red Wheelbarrow"; Or, A Poem About Poetry

In this post, I write about my favorite William Carlos William's poem  "The Red Wheelbarrow".
"The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams has fewer words than his other famous poem "This Is Just to Say." 28 compared to 16. "This is Just to Say" is simple: desire. "The Red Wheelbarrow" is complicated because it is not about desire. It is about language. And meaning what we say. A poem about poetry. I don't think I am saying anything different than what a poetry professor would say. It just seems right. My reading.

The Red Wheelbarrow

by William Carlos Williams

so much depends
a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white


This is Just to Say; Or, A Reflection on Desire

William Carlos William's very short poem "This Is Just To Say" frustrated me on my first read. Is this a poem? These few words? 28. Words. Seem to say everything. At least something. Not nothing. Something to say about desire, I take it? A fresh plum in the refrigerator that sits there expectantly, wanting to be eaten. I eat it. It is so cold, sweet, delicious.

The beauty of the poem is that it cannot be said any other way. What I mean to say is that if I wanted to tell someone about this poem I would have to read it out:
This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
...that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
I cannot paraphrase it. It is the poem itself that utters its meaning. I could translate the poem.

C'est juste pour dire
par William Carlos Williams

J'ai mangé
des prunes
... qui ont été
dans la glacière

et qui
tu as probablement
pour le petit dejeuner

Pardon moi
ils étaient délicieux
si doux
et si froid

Is my translation adequate? No matter. 
The translation would have to be another poem. I mean. The same poem. Written under the same conditions. I am afraid I am not a poet. Even if I were a poet I would have to be convicted to write a poem such as this one. I would have to be William Carlos Williams. I can only present an ersatz -- both in translation and in paraphrase. It would have to be a translation written by a poet in the same mind as Williams. The translation would have to stand alone as a piece of poetry as simple and beautiful as the original English. A bad translation would take away from the poemness of the original. Worse than a bad translation is a bad paraphrase: to say, "Oh, that poem is just about some guy who ate his girlfriend's plum that was not his to take that he took out of the refrigerator." There are two things wrong with the previous statement. First, it is a gross estimation of affairs. Second, it adds its own interpretation that was intuited, absconded, I should say, from the original. I cannot intuit from a poem and call my intuition the poem. The intuition, that it was a girlfriend's plum, is an intuition that could be countered. It may have been a boyfriend's plum. It could have been a plum in the icebox at work. 
The intimacy of the poem seems to suggest something intimate, something personal, something non-work related. 
To take the plum from a stranger, a co-worker, even someone who lives with you, but is not a lover, is not what is evoked in this poem. I just know it is an intimate partaking of the plum uninvited. It is at the level of togetherness and separation that this poem speaks. The three ellipses in the first stanza attest to the hesitation I speak of. The probably hints at "knowing your habits," the "you" an instance of the intimate second person. The forgive is only to be understood by the confession itself: a declaration, not a confession. It is not so much the narrator admits to eating the plum but he declares -- and here is the simplicity  that they were "delicious / so sweet / and so cold." The guilt is not there. Not even in the forgiving. Is the narrator asking to be forgiven for his own desire? No. If he knew it to be wrong he would not have done it. Or he would have given another reason. "Forgive me / they were not mine/ but yours / not mine to take." There is no impunity either. This is not a poem about release from moral obligation. A simple declaration of desire. Desire qua desire. Desire that happens upon an encounter with an object of desire. The natural affinity of a person to sate his desire. And to realize, perhaps, afterward, oh wait, the desire is yours to partake as well. In my desiring the deliciousness, the sweetness, the coldness, I forgot about our togetherness, or co-habitation, our couplehood. And only here, in my presentation. It is an ersatz.
For William Carlos Williams's poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" click here.


Printable Quotes from Stanley Cavell and On Everything From God to Art

In this post, I collect four quotes on art, transcendence, God, and meaning in the world from American philosopher Stanley Cavell. Can you link all of the quotes together?

Stanley Cavell on Beckett and Positivism
"Positivism said that statements about God are meaningless; Beckett shows that they mean too damned much." 
-Stanley Cavell, "Ending the Waiting Game" reprinted in his collection of essays, Must We Mean What We Say? (p. 120)
Stanley Cavell On the Limits of the Frame
"The world of a painting is not continuous with the world of its frame; at its frame, a world finds its limits. We might say: a painting is a world; a photograph is of the world."
Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed (p. 24)
Stanley Cavell on Philosophy and Art
". . . philosophy, like art, is, and should be, powerless to prove its relevance: and that says something about the kind of relevance it wishes to have. All the philosopher, this kind of philosopher, can do is express, as fully as he can, his world, and attract our undivided attention to our own."
Stanley Cavell, "Aesthetic Problems of Modern Philosophy" reprinted in his collection of essays, Must We Mean What We Say? (p. 96) 
sources: (1.) Cavell, Stanley. Must we mean what we say? : a book of essays. United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press, 2002. (2.) Cavell, Stanley. The World Viewed : Reflections on the Ontology of Film. New York: Viking Press, 1971. Print.


Movie Review: The Time That Remains

The Time That Remains is Elia Suleiman's autobiographical account of his Palestinian family in Nazareth who lived under the post-1948 sovereignty of Israel.
A movie review
The Time That Remains (Al Zaman Al Baqi) (2009)
Director: Elia Suleiman
Starring: Elia Suleiman, Saleh Bakri, Zuhair Abu Hanna, Samar Tanus, Ayman Espanioli, Shafika Bajjali

The Time That Remains is Elia Suleiman's autobiographical account of his Palestinian family in Nazareth who lived under the post-1948 sovereignty of Israel. The film opens with the events that led Nazareth to surrender to Israeli forces in 1948. An Iraqi soldier runs through the streets of Nazareth after the Arabs surrender. White sheets of paper rain down from the sky announcing the details of the Israeli/Arab armistice. Fuad (played by a handsome Saleh Bakri), who we later learn is Elia Suleiman's father, is suspected of distributing arms to Arab fighters during the war and is tortured.


How to Create Dock Icons For Web Apps in Mac OS X

Do you use web apps often? Do you want to access these apps the same way you would access a normal Mac app in your dock? Well, you can. I create dock icons for Web Apps using a few simple steps on Mac OS X.
Creating Dock Icons for Web Apps is Easy with Fluid
I sometimes want to use Web Apps just like any other App on my Mac.
  1. Download and launch Fluid, free software that creates a “site specific browser” for Web Apps you use all the time. 
  2. Download an icon or .png file for the Web App you want to install. Using a web browser and search engine simply search for “Facebook icon” or “Google Docs icon” to find .icns files or .png files. Download the file you want to use to your computer. There are tons of styles available and most are for free. *For Mac users, .ico files will not work.*
  3. Launch Fluid. Type the URL of your web app. I want to install Facebook so I insert “www.facebook.com” and give it a name, “Facebook." Select “Application Folder” for the location of the app. 
  4. Upload your icon or PNG file. Select other from the menu. Choose your icon or PNG file you downloaded in step 2. You can use the “select website favicon option” but I prefer to upload my own. 
  5. Fluid places your Web App in your Applications folder. When you launch the application it starts up and appears in the Dock just like any other application. 
  6. Simply use the Web App like any other app. Click it in the dock and it launches as a stand-alone application.
Cool Features: You can work in your Web App environment in full-screen mode. It allows you to focus on a project without the distraction of your web browser. Gives your Web Apps like Google Calendar, Google Docs, Facebook, etc., pride of place on your dock with your other Apps.

Be aware: Only use for apps you use often to increase your productivity. Also, it can be a pain finding a decent resolution on .icns and .png files. Choose your files with care.


Aesthetic Thursdays: In the Studio

In the Studio, Alfred Stevens. 1888. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
 "In the Studio," is a nice example of art playing on art and reality. Notice the model sits on a couch entertaining visitors to the artist's studio. The unfinished painting of Salomé is perched on the easel to the right. The piece plays on the viewers perception of reality. Is the model posing for the work or is the representation of the unfinished work the work? Where does art end and reality begin? Works of art adorn the wall, as well. Notice the mirror. Another nod by Stevens of the mimetic nature of art. Does art imitate life or does life imitate art? The piece becomes more than a mise-en-scène of the artist's studio, but is a representation of the mimesis itself, the artist's craft, and the effect art has on the viewer viewing an artist's work, as if Stevens is inviting us to view both the process of art and the art itself as art. Brilliant.


Quotation: Alfred North Whitehead on Great Ideas

A great idea, says Whitehead, "is like a phantom ocean beating upon the shores of human life in successive waves of specializing."
 Alfred North Whitehead
Source: Whitehead, Alfred North. Adventures of Ideas. United Kingdom, Free Press, 1967.


Lyotard's Caution on Taste

image credit: © Greig Roselli 
"There could be no greater misunderstanding of judgments of taste than to declare them simply universal and necessary."

Jean-François Lyotard, Analytic of the Sublime, p. 19.


Little Red Lighthouse Under the Gray Bridge

To get to this Lighthouse, officially called The Jeffrey's Hook lighthouse (which is inoperative but maintained by the New York City Park Service), I took the subway to 168th street (A, C, 1). I walked west on 168th street toward the Hudson. 168th street ends at a psychiatric hospital. Turn right to follow the highway then turn left onto the meandering path which will lead you into Fort Washington Park. There may be an easier way to do this. If you know of one please let me. I figured my way over and under the Henry Hudson expressway and a multitude of other expressways that cut vertically through Manhattan's Westside. Once you get to the Fort Washington Park (follow the signs) the Little Red Lighthouse is easy to find. I did make one wrong turn, though. I climbed up a flight of stairs that brought me to a dead-end walkway alongside an overpass. The trick is to keep walking west. The bright red structure sits under the George Washington Bridge. It's a really fun trek to make on a nice weekend day. Make sure you bring something to eat. There are several picnic tables positioned close by. Watch out for the bikers. On the opposite side of the lighthouse, there is a ramshackle hut built for the security guard who watches over the bridge to make sure no one trespasses. Oh, and if you want to play tennis there are courts nearby to the south. Speaking of the south, the view of Manhattan from the vantage point of the lighthouse's location gives one a great view of Midtown in the distance. The way the island descends southward and widens is evident from this view. Considering the lighthouse is a tender memory from a children's novel (which I never read) attracts attention enough. But even if you don't know the literary connection, I'd say the trip is satisfying on its own.


"Apparently" and "Weird": A Report on Colloquial Usage

I overheard a conversation on the subway today between two college kids: "It's weird, you know, apparently she was his girlfriend, but now it's so awkward, I'm like whatever."
The words "apparently" and "weird" have taken on a nuanced meaning in contemporary Americana. Jonathan Franzen, in his novel Freedom, first alerted me to the phenomenon of "weird." Everything Patty Berglund notices that should be contested, like her son living with the next-door neighbor, instead of in his own home, is just weird, she says. Anything Patty Berglund doesn't like, "it's weird." The neighbor flicks cigarettes from her window into the baby pool below. Patty Berglund just says, "It's weird."

"Weird" no longer means oddly strange or not normal. Weird is a catch-all phrase for anything a person doesn't understand or agree with. "It's weird," a student told me. I thought she would tell me about a strange occurrence on the way to class, but she only meant her grade. "You gave me a C-."

Instead of, confused, or give me a reason, the epithet I get is weird.
"Awkward" deserves its own post. It's like weird in that it replaces what we'd rather say about a situation or unable to say, so we say weird or awkward instead. Everything is either weird or awkward. I think Franzen is keen to the usage of words, like weird, because the word becomes a substitute for whenever we rather not say what we would like to say, so we just say it's weird or awkward. It's similar to standing in front of a painting at a museum and saying, "That's interesting." We know we like the painting. We just can't give words to what we feel. Weird works like this, but it masks a moral attitude. Patty could have said the neighbor was sociopathic, or mean, or just plain bad. But it's weird. Nothing beyond weird was in her vocabulary. She avoids placing moral blame on an action by substituting right or wrong, just or unjust, with weird.

The word has taken on a moral ambiguity that Franzen links to a propensity to choose not naming an action for what it is out of fear of being labeled weird. By taking the weird stance, I protect myself from being weird.

Anything that threatens becomes weird. Weird is the neologism that defines fear of otherness. Building a Muslim Community Center in Tribecca? That's just weird.

Then there's "apparently." This adverb is everywhere in speech patterns I've overheard. It's supposed to be a useful way to suggest an inductive conclusion based on surface knowledge. "Jorge apparently had not studied because his answer sheet was blank when he turned it in to the teacher."

If something is apparent, it means I know it to be true only at the level of appearance.
People use the word incorrectly to talk about events that are known. "The J train's not running, apparently." Is it running or not? There is no "apparent" in sight. The word insinuates suspicion of a claim on certainty when no such suspicion is necessary. It's weird!


Aesthetic Thursdays: Oedipus and the Sphinx

In this blog post, I compare Gustav Moreau and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres's two very different paintings of Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx.
"Oedipus and the Sphinx" - Gustave Moreau. 1864. Oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
Notice the bottom of the painting. The gray corpse and fallen crown foreshadow Oedipus's tragic fate. The painting depicts young Oedipus as powerful, able to thwart the Sphinx's cunning by answering her riddle. But, the viewer can't help but notice death hiding just beneath.
Oedipus and the Sphinx, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. 1827. The Louvre, Paris.
Notice in Ingre's version, we see depicted in the left foreground the foot of a fallen corpse (who guessed incorrectly) as well as in the right foreground a foreshadowing of Oedipus's own demise. Since Oedipus solved the Sphinx's riddle and saved Thebes from a plague, he was given the Queen Jocasta as his wife who later is found to be his mother. Jocasta hangs herself and Oedipus blinds himself with her brooch.


Photograph: Dogs of the Upper East Side

Dogs diligently wait as dogs are wont to do.


English Teacher at the Yeshiva

Inside an empty hallway in the Satmar Hasidic Yeshiva School
Today at the Yeshiva my patience ran thin. I'm exhausted by the antics of three of my students.
Most of the boys I teach love to learn. They dive into the strangeness of English. The silent "k" of "know" and the funny -ed ending of past tense verbs. Why "spoke" and not speaked? Questions abound from them about curiosities in language. English words are like rare finds. "It's a pity," I said today, "few boys don't want to learn." One astute and perennially smiling child asked, "Teacher, what means 'pity'?" I say, "It means, 'It makes me sad.'" "I say you something, yeah?" I don't hear what he says because I'm distracted.

The Classroom Is Full of Non-Stop Chattering Boys
The classroom is loud. The boys are supposed to be doing a Spelling review. Spur, snap, rub, scrub, run, etc. Joel, Shlomo, and Shlomo are out of sync with the lesson. I motion towards the trio of boys who are huddled around a drawing of an oversized rebbe and a picture of a horse.

No spelling words in sight. "Get out of my classroom if you don't want to learn," I say. This is not a first warning. Earlier Shlomo had eaten into the husk of a pen splattering ink over his face and onto another boy's pants. This is not the first time these three have completely ignored the lesson. I'm not adverse to drawing. But it is insolent to not even have at least one spelling book.

The rebbe comes into the classroom. "Boys no discipline?" I say only a few boys, pointing to the three huddled together. He takes the three boys outside.

Teaching English To Yiddish Speaking Satmar Hasidic Children Is Not Easy
This is life in the Yeshiva. I try to teach English to children who barely speak the language or seemingly have an interest in it. If you walk the streets of Brooklyn in certain areas one only needs to know Yiddish (or Jewish, as they call it).

I love the chaos, though. Sometimes the school day is electrifying. Hundreds of kids rush by me on a late weekday afternoon. In class, we talk about the Amazon Rain Forest, or exponents, the normal fare of American elementary schools.

But, it's different though when I'm the minority. It's not that the students are vile or mean spirited or even apathetic. There is a huge throb of energy in my students I find contagious. But, this energy is directed toward Jewish studies. "We boys are Talmud," one boy with sharp blue eyes and round glasses says.

The task is to get that energy focused on English. One father tells me, "I'm not so good with the Math either." And his son tells me, "I not love English." So what am I supposed to do?

I embrace the chaos. I go with the flow.
Today I became frustrated. The three malcontents who seem to be completely furious I turned them in return. The Rebbe tells me in front of the boys, "You good teacher. But too good. No discipline. Boys take advantage of you." I listen to his wisdom. All the boys grow quiet when he speaks. Any boy who not learn send them to me. If you teach and they not listen send them to me. But, you are the teacher Whose fault is it that boys not learn?" I say, "mine," feeling just as chastened as the punished boys. "Right," he says. "You must have the discipline," he says and leaves.

The three promptly do the work. For a time. I walk around the classroom. All the boys are seated in benches like they do in the old schoolhouse style. I answer questions about "slept" and "overslept."

I've been with these boys seven months now. I know them well. I know who loves English and who doesn't. I envy their love of the Torah. It's so unbridled and passionate. I envy the rebbes who command attention. They stand like gods. If only the boys would listen to me like that, I think.

Seeing Hasidic Judaism Through a Child's Eyes
"Teacher, I say you something, yeah?"

Ok. I say.

"All boys learn English, no? Why you not learn Jewish, yeah?"

Tomorrow will be no different. And the next day. Boys will learn a few words. Some boys will simply do nothing. Others will talk loudly and incessantly. I'll manage to conjugate "to be" or tell a story about a boy who rides in an ambulance in the snow. Lately, I've noticed stories grab their attention. And it's in English. A plus! More on storytelling later. For today it's about the discipline.

It's a normal day at the Yeshiva.


True Story: The Death of a MacBook Pro

The specs: 17" 2008 Aluminum MacBook Pro; 2.5 GHz; 4 GB RAM; 200 GB hard drive. But, that's only the hardware. The truth is ...
I loved my Mac as much as a human being can possibly love a machine. My friend Bonnie says people are growing up with attachments, not with people, or pets, but with machines. She says this is the cause of the proliferation of Autism.

Maybe she's right. We're more fond of our binary buddies then we are of our flesh and blood compadres.

I know it's not "right" to have loved a machine. To use the word "love" is sacrilegious when what I really mean is what Aristotle meant by storge. A kind of love that is built on use and use alone. I love my Mac cause I used my Mac.

What I miss is not the machine itself but the use of the machine which fired my loins and made me whisper, "Mac ... Mac ... Light of my life ... Fire of my loins."

(Mac is not my Lolita. I just couldn't help but use a Nabokov reference.)

The practical loss is I'm bereft of a machine.

The iPhone is my primary computer now.

The good news is I'm backed up on Carbonite. If you don't know, it's a nifty online storage solution that backs up your files in the background to the Cloud.

I'm thinking my next Lolita will be a Mac Mini. I'm fond of its portability. I thought maybe I would go bold with the iPad but I'm still not rogue enough to give up the traditional computer. Besides, I don't think the first-generation iPad is capable of replacing a computer 100%.

What I miss most about my Mac in its absence:

1. My cute Finder boyfriend.
2. iWork: and how the only library computer lab with Mac's exclusive productivity suite is Bobst.

3. Movies: But, hey I'm reading
more. Last night I finished Lyotard's Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime.
4. BitTorrent (Using Transmission). On an iPhone, I can't download an entire Season of Dobey Gillis.
5. Google Docs. I can't edit Docs on a smartphone. :-(


Walking to Work on a Sunday

How I walked to work on a Sunday (thinking it was Monday) and what this says about my current state of being . . .
Walking to work on a Sunday, thinking it was a Monday, but then realizing it was Sunday and not Monday. What finally tipped me off that it was still the weekend (and not Monday like I had thought) was the discovery that the M train to Brooklyn through the Chrystie Street Tunnel and over the Williamsburg Bridge was not running (because it does not run on weekends). *puts the shape of an "L" on my forehead*. Well, at least on my walk through Lower Manhattan I took the above shot of the Brooklyn Bridge. Do you like my photograph? Let me know in the comments!


A New Year from the Perspective of a NYC Blizzard

Snow piled in a heap in front of the Century 21 store entrance on Broadway and Cortlandt Street, Lower Manhattan, Financial District:
I write the first entry of the new year from the point of view of a blizzard's detritus.

Stones of Erasmus is a blog ostensibly devoted to good writing, in whichever modality that can be articulated.

My primary focus is to reach folks who enjoy good writing, no matter your class or by how many bad pieces of art you have hanging in your house, or the number of pulp fiction titles that adorn your bookshelf.

People say fine art and quality literature are in their final death throes. I'm not sure if that is an accurate assessment or not.

I do know that we can only focus on the particular in art or in a narrative to seize in an aesthetic object something autonomous and not subsumed by overarching dumbness.

I credit Kant's aesthetic theory in opening my eyes to the muscle inherent in art and not merely art as sensation, which is how it's too often presented in the manifold of visual pleasure found replete in kitsch media, shallow status updates, Tumblr, what have you.

Please, fellow readers, continue to read Stones of Erasmus, offer comments. I want 2011 to be another successful year for this blog.

Hey, maybe I'll post more than 300 posts.

Peace, love, and tomatoes.