Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"I'll tell you one thing I learned about movies?"

Samaritan (Richard Price)

- Highlight Loc. 3224-42 | Added on Tuesday, May 31, 2011, 10:52 AM

“You don’t want to get deeper into TV work yourself?”

“As what, a seasoned receptionist?” Danielle said with a twist of the lips. “Well, actually what I do is more interesting than it sounds. Like, three days after I got hired, OK? My boss Krauss, he buzzes me, says to come into his office, bring a notepad. I go in, he’s auditioning this actor for some movie, like a disease movie, a virus movie, or some such. I go in, he points to a chair in back, says, ‘Take notes.’ And I’m thinking, ‘On what?’ “So, the guy reads his lines with an actress, the audition lasts maybe ten minutes, Krauss gets up, says, ‘That was wonderful. We’ll call,’ the guy leaves, the actress leaves, it’s me, Krauss and this other producer, Krauss looks to me, says, ‘So what you think?’ I’m like, ‘About what . . . ?’ Krauss says, ‘Would you fuck him?’” lowering her voice on the f-word. “And I’m, in my mind, I’m, ‘How dare you.’ I mean I was shaking I was so insulted, but scared too, because I needed that job. But all I say is, ‘I don’t know. Would you?’ “And at first he’s like, his face is, ‘Who the hell are you to . . .’ But the other guy starts laughing like, ‘Hey, good one, Hal,’ and I guess that broke the tension. He never actually apologized to me but he’s been kind of, I don’t know, tasteful about things ever since.”


“I mean he still calls me in every time he’s auditioning actors, you know, ‘Take notes,’ but after they leave, all he says to me is, ‘So what do you think?’ and all I give him is thumbs up, thumbs down. But I’ll tell you one thing I learned about movies? It all boils down to ‘Would you fuck him, would you fuck her.’ Everything flows out of that.”

“Understanding what you just said?” Ray aching for her. “That’s a six-figure salary right there.”



Soul Substitute

Some denizens of the HGB will be gratified to learn that Brown's Baccalaureate Service was so painstakingly multi-denominational that even included a reading for atheists. As follows:

From the Silence
by Antonio  Damasio
Read by Tomas Rocha '11

And what is the ultimate gift of consciousness to humanity? Perhaps the ability to navigate the future in the seas of our imagination, guiding the self's craft into a safe and productive harbor. The greatest of all gifts depends, once again, on the intersection of self and memory.

Memory, tempered by personal feeling, is what allows humans to imagine both individual and the compounded well-being of a whole society, and to invent the ways and means of achieving and magnifying that well-being. Memory is responsible for ceaselessly placing the self in an evanescent here and now, between a thoroughly lived past and an anticipated future, perpetually buffeted between the spent yesterdays and the tomorrows that are nothing but possibilities. The future pulls us forward, from a distant vanishing point, and gives us the will to continue the voyage.

This may be what T.S. Elliot means when he writes: "Time past and time future / What might have been and what has been / Point to one end which is always present."
Forced to admit this particular passage didn't do much for me -- not half as much as the bit in one of the student Commencement Orations the following day about a series of studies of squirrel behavior in the 1950s that pointed to the evolutionary survival benefits of altruism.

The book, Self Comes to Mind, is the latest hot Cog-Neuro tome for the rest of us. It is in fact reviewed, unfavorably, in the issue of NYRB already quoted at length below. Cool quote:
...a common mistake is to assume that because science is objective and consciousness is subjective, there cannot be a science of consciousness. Science is indeed epistemically objective, because scientific claims are supposed to be verifiable independently of anybody’s feelings and attitudes. But the ontological subjectivity of the domain of consciousness does not preclude an objective science of that domain. You can have an (epistemically) objective science of an (ontologically) subjective consciousness. Much confusion has been created by the failure to see this point.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Not Red Band


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Red Band/Green Band/French poster


Friday, May 27, 2011

NPR reads The HG

Amusing interview with Gary Shteyngart yesterday on All Things Considered on the occasion of his winning the Wodehouse Prize. (Note that Shteyngart mispronounces "Wodehouse"...) The book is a riot, however, set in a wonderfully dystopian near-future America of complete economic and cultural collapse.

Best neologism is 'verballing', which elevates conversation to the level of 'texting'......


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bookstore Paradise or a Hangout for Poseurs?

Only a drive over will tell. (Looks like the place might be on the Gold Line...)

Where better to start a Los Angeles–based culture diary than on the city’s enpretzeled freeways? I leave an editorial meeting and take the 101 to the 5 to the 10 to Boyle Heights, en route to David Kipen’s Libros Schmibros, “a community bookstore and lending library.” It’s pretty much the best bookstore in the world, not so much for its scope (its stock is superb, but it’s an average-size storefront), but for its curation and spirit. Not only is every book in the shop one that any sane reader would covet, but if you happen to empty your pockets while you’re there, you’re free to borrow books you don’t buy.
The author is the editor of something called "The Los Angeles Review of Books", and represents a kind of epicene man of letters that I have never actually met here.... The entire blog entry is worth reading for that alone. More:
Whiskey! Why haven’t I thought of it sooner? I go to Musso & Frank with the excellent Katherine Taylor. We drink Maker’s Mark Manhattans. We keep our eyes peeled for the battling ghosts of Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, who apparently together wrote Double Indemnity here, “both drinking heavily because they couldn’t stand each other.” I understand the temptation. Last time I was in, I was almost carted out in a wheelbarrow.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

As discussed.

This review of The Millennium Trilogy, by a writer of lit-fic, Tim Parks (Vaguely familiar. Canadian?),  is predictably snooty about Larsson's clumsy prose. (The apposite comparison, after all, is with Dumas, not Nabokov.) But then, against all odds, it goes on to get almost all the major points right, chapter and verse as to why the books are wonderful  anyway. Parks is especially good on the importance of the lifestyle details some critics have dismissed as indulgent:

Not all is lurid. Food is important. Shopping. Furniture. Domesticity. Larsson invites us to identify with his heroes by filling in the ordinary moments of their lives, the humdrum aloneness that makes colorful sexual encounters so desirable. A cookbook could be compiled from Blomkvist’s efforts in the kitchen in the first novel of the trilogy. Salander prefers to get herself pizza and Coke. Both of them are used to eating alone in front of a computer screen. As independent spirits, they prefer Apple to Microsoft. Both pay more attention to technical stats than nutritional value. Replacing her computer after an accident, Salander
set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz in an aluminium case with a PowerPC 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 MB Ram and a 60 GB hard drive. It had BlueTooth and built-in CD and DVD burners.
One is reminded of the frequently cited technical specs of guns in Mailer’s Why Are We in Vietnam? [The citation of Mailer, rather than Tom Clancy or Stephen Hunter, is proof positive that Parks thinks he's slumming. - DC] The computer is Salander’s weapon. Unlike firearms, however, this is a weapon every ordinary reader handles every day:
Best of all, it had the first 17-inch screen in the laptop world with NVIDIA graphics and a resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels, which shook the PC advocates and outranked everything else on the market.
It is through the computer screen that the free individual can hack into the evil world of the great corporation with its corrupt practices and pedophile porn rings and begin the duty or the fantasy of striking back. Not quite Alice in Through the Looking-Glass but not unrelated; when Salander goes online she is transformed, omnipotent.

Many novels have captured the global imagination by presenting modern man as in thrall to a vast international conspiracy; one thinks of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The hidden organization that conditions and controls us is the antithesis of individualism and its natural enemy, an evil extension of the potentially perilous family that wields such power over us from birth, or the traditional marriage that restricts our sexual encounters, or the incompetent if not nakedly evil state that tangles us in a web of bureaucracy and is always complicit with organized crime. From all these things, Salander shows us how to be free, with inspired use of our laptops.

It is the ingenuousness and sincerity of Larsson’s engagement with good and evil that give the trilogy its power to attract so many millions of people.
Elsewhere in the same issue, Alison Lurie outlines the art-fiction consensus that a writer like Parks has to buck to say anything nice at all about a writer like Larsson:
In Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) Miss Prism says of her three-volume novel, “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.” When Miss Prism composed this work—presumably at least twenty-eight years earlier, before she unfortunately left it in a perambulator, and the baby in a handbag at Victoria Station—this rule prevailed. Readers of Dickens, Trollope, and their contemporaries, after suffering through many misfortunes and hardships with heroes and heroines, could usually expect a happy ending.

As time passed, Miss Prism’s Rule began to be challenged. Today only genre fiction usually ends happily, though often after generous helpings of death and violence, or a great deal of jealousy, despair, and damage to female clothing (hence the colloquial term “bodice-ripper”). Best sellers typically have an upbeat conclusion that nevertheless leaves the hero and heroine somewhat tired and regretful as a result of the terrible events they have lived through. As in the Victorian novel, it is often the case that the happier the principal characters are at the beginning, the worse are the things that will occur to them later, though they may be partially rewarded at the end. Even if they do not survive they may be portrayed as looking down benevolently from heaven at the material and emotional contentment of the other good people in the book.

Literary fiction, however, now tends to conform to Tom Stoppard’s addition to Miss Prism’s Rule, first stated in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966): “The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means.” The scale of the tragedy, of course, varies widely. When we begin a story by a known and admired writer in a known and admired journal, we do not always expect a major disaster, but we know that something unpleasant is going to happen to the main characters, and/or that they will end up understanding something unpleasant about themselves, their friends or family, or the world in general. (Years ago, a Harvard student called Speed Lamkin described the latter tales to me as “stupid little realization stories.”*)
Later, on the other side of the NYRB firewall, and after trudging through an entire volume of Julian Barnes stories that all end grimly, she adds:
It is disheartening to think that today the choices for a gifted writer are often unconsciously limited to satire and tragedy. Not all stories end unhappily or unluckily, and to assume that they must do so it to take as false a view of life and fiction as Miss Prism's.
A tiny hint that the consensus might be shifting; that even lit-fic purists are finally getting fed up.


The world takes its cue from The HG

From the breakthrough of Jo Nesbo to the canonization of China Mieville, you'll read it here first. And today we learn that Gary Shteyngart has become the first American to win the Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction..... I love the prize, mentioned in the last paragraph below:

The author's winning novel, Super Sad True Love Story, is set in a dystopian, near-future America, where the 39-year-old Russian-American Lenny Abramov is attempting to persuade the 24-year-old Korean-American Eunice Park to fall in love with him. It "leaves you wondering whether that dull ache in your stomach is from laughter or just plain sadness", wrote Chris Cox in the Observer.
Prize judge and Hay festival director Peter Florence called the book "great literature" and "wild comedy".
"Gary Shteyngart's writing is thrilling. He's a staggeringly clever satirist who manages to create worlds and people of perfect coherence and outrageous misfortune," said Florence.
Shteyngart wins a jeroboam of champagne and a set of Wodehouse books. The author will also be presented with a pig named after his novel.


"Torchwood: Miracle Day"


Monday, May 23, 2011

This looks great!


Sunday, May 22, 2011


Henry Rollins:

One of the nice things about a favorite pop song is that it's an unconditional truce on judgment and musical snobbery. You like the song because you just do and there need not be any further criticism.

That said, a pop song can be evaluated by several criteria. Composition, arrangement, lyrics, melody, the singer, at least. But then, there's that indefinable thing that either escapes words or at least cannot be captured by your humble scribe here. There are songs that have the power to move you, over and over again. It is quite often difficult to pin down the exact reason, and that's what makes the pop songs you like have such an intoxicating effect.


The pop genre has some of the brightest lights in music under its umbrella. It is not a genre I spend much time in, as my taste in music has veered toward the room-clearing "You're on your own, son," variety over the last several years (see last week's column on outsider music). However, now and then, when I am in a somewhat less combative and furious state, I have time for the pop. I am not softening with age. I am calcifying.
Rollins' list: "This Magic Moment" (Drifters version), "Tracks of My Tears" (Stevie Wonder/Miracles), "I Only Have Eyes for You" (circa 1934; Flamingoes 1959), "Cupid" (Sam Cooke, "One of the greatest voices ever committed to tape"), "Isn't She Lovely" (Stevie Wonder).


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cut of His Jib, Liking of

Gary Johnson on NPR.

He has a book coming, apparently based on this. Let the eye-rolling begin.


Friday, May 20, 2011

For the weekend

Gary Shteyngart is one of a group of young writers touted by The New Yorker ("20 Under 40"), and his recent novel "Super Sad True Love Story" has gotten some good reviews. He's also a complete buffoon, as evidenced by the trailer he made for the release of the book. There's a second trailer (for the paperback) in which Paul Giamatti plays his twenty-something roommate as they go to a Brooklyn Heights book club meeting trying to pick up women.


Thursday, May 19, 2011


One was "supposed" to remove the paper band from the cigar, so he left it on. To break even the smallest rules by which others convinced themselves that they were behaving correctly gave him great pleasure. His disdain for vulgarity included the vulgarity of wanting to avoid the appearance of being vulgar. .... He could just as easily despise a man for leaving the band on his cigar. ...

Everytime he sm0ked he thought of the emphysema that had killed his father and felt annoyed by the prospect of dying in the same manner.

"Never Mind", by Edward St. Aubyn, who makes Evelyn Waugh look like Alexander McCall Smith...


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Important and deeply cynical: The hype cycle

After reading this essay by Benjamin Kunkelyou'll know exactly what to think about the hyperbolic (geddit?) heading on this post. Too many cool quotes to count, but these will resonate with our readers. I added the bolding in the last paragraph, because it resonated so strongly with me...

You know the drill: the ginned-up enthusiasm of publicists combines with word of mouth (and blog) to create so-called buzz. Articles appear, posing one of three questions. For the new artist: is this the next big thing? For the established artist (or restaurateur): will stratospheric expectations be met? For the figure whose stock is down: can a comeback be staged? Then the release date arrives, or the premiere, or opening; at last the thing itself can contend with its reception. But, wait, now backlash surges alongside the ongoing hype. And understandably, too: it’s not nice being force-fed even the tastiest food. But hold on a second, here comes the backlash-to-the-backlash …


No, the problem with hype is that it transforms the use value of a would-be work of art into its exchange value. For in the middle (there’s no end) of the hype cycle, the important thing is no longer what a song, movie, or book does to you. The big question is its relationship to its reputation. So instead of abandoning yourself to the artifact, you try to exploit inefficiencies in the reputation market. You can get in on the IPO of a new artist, and trumpet the virtues of the Arctic Monkeys before anyone else has heard of them: this is hype. Or you issue a “sell” recommendation on the overhyped Arctic Monkeys: this is backlash. But there are often steals to be found among recently unloaded assets: “Why’s everybody hatin’ on the Arctic Monkeys?” says the backlash-to-the-backlash. The sophisticated trader is buying, selling, and holding different reputations all at once; the trick in each case is to stay ahead of the market. And the rewards from this trade in reputations redound to your own reputation: even though the market (i.e., other people) dictates your every move, you seem to be a real individual thinking for yourself.

No one will admit to being the 100% tool whose taste is 100% social positioning. Probably no one is that person. But anyone sensitive to art is also sensitive enough to feel his true aesthetic judgments under continuous assault from publicists, bloggers, journalists, advertisers, reviewers, and assorted subcultural specimens. Hype-and-backlash overwhelm the artifacts that supposedly occasion them.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011



Make me chaste, but not now.

We here at the Hungry Ghost Blog have taken vows of rhetorical chastity. We have agreed that the function of the artist in society is best protected through the respect and humility of the critic and audience.

But, I can declare, without having seen it, that Terence Malick's new movie is unbearable. Moving from an 'evocation of the dawn of time' (all quotes courtesy of Variety) through to 'flurry of awe-inspiring images at astronomical, biological, macro- and microscopic levels: a nebula expanding in outer space; cells multiplying in a frenzy; a school of shimmering jellyfish; darkness illuminated by a volcanic eruption; a bubbling primordial ooze...' we end up with Sean Penn wandering the desert accompanied by 'biblical imagery.'

It is a 'a transfixing odyssey through time and memory that melds a young boy's 1950s upbringing with a magisterial rumination on the Earth's origins', and is 'nothing less than a hymn to the glory of creation.'

Took six years to make and, to be fair, seems to contain within it a pretty good coming of age movie starring Brad Pitt in the Robert Duvall role...

If the penalty for missing this one were summary execution, I'd write my will.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

GoJoe burns rubber

Valued HG commenter and noted Asian film enthusiast Joey O'Brian wrote the script for this new Milkyway thriller, working for one of the coolest movie production companies on earth on what looks like a scorcher.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Almost not silly

Final frame of the final episode of the final season of the television series Smallville.


More "chaos" theory

The full article is behind The New Yorker's %$#&ing firewall.

Starkweather, and his compatriots at Xerox PARC, weren't the source of disciplined strategic insights. They were wild geysers of creative energy.

The psychologist Dean Simonton argues that this fecundity is often at the heart of what distinguishes the truly gifted. The difference between Bach and and his forgotten peers isn't necessarily that he had a better ratio of hits to misses. The difference is that the mediocre might have a dozen ideas, while Bach, in his lifetime, created more than a thousand full-fledged musical compositions. A genius is a genius, Simonton maintains, because he can put together such a staggering numbers of insights, ideas, theories, random observations and unexpected connections that he almost inevitably ends up with something great. "Quality," Simonton writes, "is s probabilistic function of quantity."

Simonton's point is that there is nothing neat and efficient about creativity. "The more successes there are, the more failures there are, as well."


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Even more on Norse crime fiction

An academic pow wow at UCLA and a nice overview in "New York" mag.

Key quote: "You have to be extremely careful what you take on now, because there are some gold-diggers," says literary agent Niclas Salomonsson. "When it doesn’t come from the heart, you notice." (Another aesthetic axiom.)

(Bloviating update and comments eaten by Blogger.)


Wu Xia Pian

Purchased by the Weinsteins at Cannes.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Turns out David's right about e-books

This article about Andrew Wylie sets out the issues, and it appears that the e-book market for backlist titles is in fact in constant negotiation and renegotiation. Meaning that Jones's rights may well have been up for grabs.

The context (since this is from Harvard Magazine, the numbers are presumably year of graduation):

The Wylie Agency, founded in 1980, with offices today in midtown Manhattan and in London, is a mighty force in publishing. It represents more than 700 clients, including Martin Amis, David Byrne, Dave Eggers, Louise Erdrich, Ian Frazier ’73, Al Gore ’69, LL.D. ’94, William Kennedy, Henry Kissinger ’50, Ph.D. ’54, Elmore Leonard, W.S. Merwin, Lou Reed, David Rockefeller ’36, LL.D. ’69, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, Oliver Sachs, and Nicolas Sarkozy. Wylie’s deceased clients are even more illustrious than his living ones: W.H. Auden, Saul Bellow, Roberto Bolaño, William S. Burroughs ’36, Italo Calvino, Allen Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Vladimir Nabokov, Hunter Thompson, John Updike ’54, Litt.D. ’92, Andy Warhol, and Evelyn Waugh, for example.

The e-book kerfluffle (This is from before Wylie want rogue.):
The music-industry lawyer John Eastman, who represents his brother-in-law Paul McCartney as well as other musicians, has advised the Wylie Agency in discussions with publishers concerning e-book rights. (Tulkinghorn comment: John Eastman's reputation is not that of a protector of bunnies and kittens. Just saying)

Wylie’s negotiations with publishers on the book industry’s version of the iPod, e-books, are currently on hold across the board. He’s dissatisfied with the terms publishers have been offering for e-book rights, which were not widely foreseen and are not allocated in most extant book contracts. In fact, Wylie threatens to monetize those unassigned rights by going outside the publishing business entirely: “We will take our 700 clients, see what rights are not allocated to publishers, and establish a company on their behalf to license those e-book rights directly to someone like Google, Amazon.com, or Apple. It would be another business, set up on parallel tracks to the frontlist book business.” Such a heretical strategy would likely meet with stiff resistance from publishing houses, which have invested years, even decades, and millions of dollars in establishing their authors as brand names in the marketplace by printing, promoting, and selling their books.


More facts here:

Priced much lower than hardcovers, many e-books generate less income for publishers. And big retailers are buying fewer titles. As a result, the publishers who nurtured generations of America's top literary-fiction writers are approving fewer book deals and signing fewer new writers. Most of those getting published are receiving smaller advances.

In some cases, independent publishers are picking up the slack by signing promising literary-fiction writers. But they offer, on average, $1,000 to $5,000 for advances, a fraction of the $50,000 to $100,000 advances that established publishers typically paid in the past for debut literary fiction.

The new economics of the e-book make the author's quandary painfully clear: A new $28 hardcover book returns half, or $14, to the publisher, and 15%, or $4.20, to the author. Under many e-book deals currently, a digital book sells for $12.99, returning 70%, or $9.09, to the publisher and typically 25% of that, or $2.27, to the author.

Of course an author who wants to do without the support of a publisher -- advance, design, sales, promotion -- can actually get the full $9.00 herself. And some might.. Doesn't sound like much of a way to build a career, but we'll see.


Probably better off just posting videos from now on...

Some of my snarkier readers will insist that Shania Twain's loss of voice is good news. Kicked out of class and flunked, etc.


Cool story...

...on NPR this morning. Nice twist of helping to create the future by restoring the past. Buy here.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Ursula Le Guin likes China Mieville a whole lot..

She may have been reading this blog, too, although she puts the point better that I, or I suspect, even David could:

Some authors fill a novel with futuristic scenery and jargon and then strenuously, even stertorously, deny that it's science fiction. No, no, they don't write that nasty stuff, never touch it. They write literature. Though curiously familiar with the tropes and conventions of the despised genre, they so blithely ignore the meaning of terms, they reinvent the wheel with such cries of self-admiration, that their endeavours seem a doomed effort to prove that one can write a novel without learning how.


If you're still interested.....

More Jennifer Egan, from the Guardian:

"Are you Jennifer Egan?" asks the waitress in the (very booky) part of Brooklyn where we meet for lunch. There is such a thing, says Egan, as over-exposure. "If I was a person observing it I would be, like, when will she stop?"
The idea for Goon Squad came to her after her reading group got stuck into Proust. It took them about seven years to plough through In Search of Lost Time, during which she became obsessed with how to represent entire lifespans, non-sequentially and in the way people actually experience them, that is as a constant negotiation between reflection and anticipation.
After Goon Squad, she is thinking around the possibility of historical fiction, a more straightforward form of storytelling, because "I'm tired of the fragmented approach, and crave a centrality."
(The book) is saved by pace and sheer readability. Egan is so swift and funny, so light on her feet, that her reputation lingers on the borders of chick-lit, which might explain her omission from the Orange prize shortlist in favour of more earnest titles.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Small is crafty, if not beautiful

No need to write in to let me know how little of this I really understand. I admit it freely.

(F.A.) Hayek’s skepticism about the effects of "big government" are rooted in an epistemological observation summarized in a 1945 article called "The Uses of Knowledge in Society." There he argued that most of the knowledge in a modern economy was local in nature, and hence unavailable to central planners. The brilliance of a market economy was that it allocated resources through the decentralized decisions of a myriad of buyers and sellers who interacted on the basis of their own particular knowledge. The market was a form of "spontaneous order," which was far superior to planned societies based on the hubris of Cartesian rationalism. He and his fellow Austrian Ludwig von Mises used this argument against Joseph Schumpeter in a famous debate in the 1930s and ’40s over whether socialism or capitalism offered a more efficient economic system. In hindsight, Hayek clearly emerged the winner.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Notes on Baxter and Egan

Obviously I'm inclined to think so because I happened to read them back to back. However: The Feast of Love (2001) and A Visit From the Goon Squad (2010) are similar enough to make you wonder.

A point in Charles Baxter's favor is that Feast's characters are comparatively ordinary Midwesterners, rather than trendy New Yorkers working in or connected with the music industry, like Jennifer Egan's.

Also, I doubt (as of page 84) that Egan's enjoyable structural choreography (flash-forwards within flashbacks, etc) will turn out to be anything more than that, such as an analog of a world view.

(Egan is being reviewed as a post-modernist, which I guess still applies even though her favored devices don't seem especially radical. Almost the opposite. Gothic novels like The Saragossa Manuscript had lots more embedded stories. And the device now known as the flash forward used to be a prerogative of the omniscient Victorian narrator. It reminds me of Trollope taking his readers aside to reassure them about the outcome of a troubled love story.)

Baxter is a bit of square who believes we're all connected. The book is about the accretion of an extended family. Such literary fancy footwork as he does employ is, arguably, strictly functional; required because the events he's narrating are intertwined. Egan, so far, seems less serious, more playful. Both congenial, but in different ways.

In her first few pages Egan pulls off a neat trick that may or may not be revealing: Introducing both of her major characters, Bennie and Sasha, by plunging us immediately into their most unmentionable secrets, their deepest soutrces of shame. An instant, powerful sense of intimacy is created -- though we hope this emphasis isn't reductive; that she doesn't believe that in all cases the worst thing you can say about a person is also the most fundamental.

COOL UPDATE: Egan on Masur.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Forgive me...

Fatherly duty requires me to post the news that my offspring is being initiated into both Phi Betta Kappa and Sigma Xi. Smarter than me, in other words.

My dad, who is also in both, has long since forgotten the non-secret PBK handshake -- which Nora will learn at the ceremony, and teach him later in Maine. The circle of life!


"The very banality..."

The Feast of Love (Charles Baxter)
- Highlight Loc. 3359 | Added on Wednesday, May 04, 2011, 05:55 AM

I KNOW ONE UNASSAILABLE TRUTH: Help your friends and those whom you love; hurt your enemies. The very banality of this formulation ensures that most academics —- who enjoy hurting their friends -— will ignore it.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How to become cool...

The ne plus ultra of Kindle impulse buys.

I'm with the Band (Pamela Des Barres and Dave Navarro)
- Highlight Loc. 1372-76 | Added on Monday, May 02, 2011, 11:50 PM

I still looked up to, and felt lesser than, an awful lot of people. I would kill and murder to get myself into a certain enviable situation, and then feel like I was the only person in the room who should throw in the tattered towel and go home. I’ve got to hand it to myself, though; I waded through those feelings of complete and utter inadequacy and gritted my teeth, waiting for the most celebrated celebrity in the room to bust my butt and tell me I was out of my element: “Go back to Reseda, NOW!!” But it never happened and slowly my fraudulent composure started breathing by itself. I acted “as if,” until I was.


"...fairly quivering with ecstasy ..."

Predictably, I think A.O. comes off best in this she said/he said exchange.

SCOTT: I think the first Salander movie ran into a serious problem when it tried to translate Larsson’s anger about pervasive sexual violence into cinematic terms. It is in the nature of the moving image to give pleasure, and in the nature of film audiences — consciously or not, admittedly or not — to find pleasure in what they see. So in depicting Salander’s rape by her guardian in the graphic way he did, the director, Niels Arden Oplev, ran the risk of aestheticizing, glamorizing and eroticizing it, just as Gaspar Noé did with Monica Bellucci’s assault in “Irreversible.”

The risk is not dissolved but rather compounded when the answering, avenging violence is staged and shot in almost exactly the same kind of gruesome detail, since the audience knows it is supposed to enjoy that. In other words, even though the earlier violation can be said to justify the later revenge, that logic turns out to be reversible. You could call this the “I Spit on Your Grave” paradigm. It is definitely at work in “Sucker Punch,” which gains in sleaziness by coyly keeping its rape fantasies within PG-13 limits and fairly quivering with ecstasy as it contemplates scenes of female victimization.


Jean-Luc Godard posited that all he needed to make a movie was a girl and a gun. (Some of his later work makes me wish he had stuck to that formula.) To put the gun in the hands of the girl may be a way to cut out the middleman, as it were, and also, as you suggest, to maximize commercial potential by providing something for everyone. I think that calculation works best when the filmmakers show some interest in exploring the complex intertwinings of sex and violence, rather than simply mashing them up or using one as a substitute for the other. On the other hand, it’s sometimes just fun to watch Saoirse Ronan or Ellen Page — or all the other sisters of Angelina Jolie, our era’s pioneering and still supreme female action star — beat up some deserving Badman.


Monday, May 2, 2011

"If you can't say something nice..."

For a year or two now I've been referring off and on to critics as parasites and to myself as a recovering professional writer. In conversation a few days ago with a fellow sufferer I took it a step further. I explained that for most of my distinguished career I was a second- or third-string film critic, whose job was to trash the worst of the worst as entertainingly as possible. To eviscerate people who'd spent a minimum of several months trying to make something other people would enjoy. Eventually I was sick and tired of the way I had to think and write about movies to do that job effectively. I didn't quit solely for that reason, but I was glad to see the back of the profession.

I was drawn back in repeatedly, though, in part because for several years writing reviews was the only thing anyone was willing to pay me to do. But my heart wasn't in it. What occurs to me is Homer Simpson's snorted remark at the notion that the employees of the Springfield nuclear plant would ever stage a work action: "This is America. We don't go on strike. We show up and do a really half-assed job."

An option I have pursued pretty faithfully for the last few years is writing only about things I like. Not something editors tend to favor, but it can work fine on a blog. Almost invariably when I forget myself and regress and trash something, I regret it. No evidence whatsoever that large numbers of film professionals read HG and get their feelings bruised. But its creators aren't the only people who can be stung by a snide ad hominem comment in a review of a work of cinematic or televisual entertainment. Life may or or may not be more important than art. It sure as shit is more important than criticism.


The Importance of Being Snooki

Been trying all day to figure out what this video -- which is one of five made by the stars of a current production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" -- demonstrates.

Does a good performance redeem bad material, or are the kids on "Jersey Shore" really witty?