Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Voice at 3:00 AM

Today I sat outside in the Coco Bar, drinking rich cinnamon hot chocolate and reading the last pages of The Voice at 3:00 AM: Selected Late and New Poems by Charles Simic. I've always really liked this poet, ever since I read The World Doesn't End, about a decade or so ago. His writing is haunting and surreal, filled with ghostly characters and presences, funny and existential non-sequitors, and Old World locations.

Reading a whole collection of any poet sort of numbs me out. I hear each individual poem less and less clearly the more familiar I get with the voice, the cadence of imagery, the idiosyncratic diction.


They had already attached the evening's tears to the windowpanes.
The general was busy with the ant farm in his head.
The holy saints in their tombs were burning, all except one who was a prisoner of a dark-haired movie star.
Moses wore a false beard and so did Lincoln.
X reproduced the Socratic method of interrogation by demonstrating the ceiling's ignorance.
"They stole the secret of the musical matchbook from me," confided Adam.
"The world's biggest rooster was going to make me famous," said Eve.
O to run naked over the darkening meadow after the cold shower!
In the white pavilion the nurse was turning water into wine.
Hurry home, dark cloud.

(I couldn't reproduce the line breaks here, because of something in the website's formatting...)

Monday, October 29, 2007

It Happened One Night

It's taken me days to watch It Happened One Night with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert from 1934. I just kept not caring that much about it, and could see where it was going a mile away. This movie took away a bunch of Academy Awards and was loved at the time. I can sort of see why. The plot is kind of... okay. The dialogue is kind of... okay. At the time it was probably considered zany, witty and racy.

Actually, the main problem I had with it was the pacing. Some scenes were too long, and some snippets of dialogue or action happened too quickly. Clark Gable is really good at flirting with the bratty girl, similar to his performance in Gone with the Wind. I think they could remake of it. Not try to update it, keep it in the 30s but do it with 21st century technology and narrative techniques...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Interpretive Interactionism

Norman Denzin's Interpretive Interactionism is an excellent handbook on qualitative methods in the postmodern era. His ideas will be enormously helpful to me when I embark on the interpretive/analytic phase of my research, and will help me write up my process notes and even my orientation to the interviews as they are happening. This has helped clarify the goals of my research which is to untangle the meanings embedded in, articulated through, and structuring "the existentially problematic emotional experiences that occur in the lives of ordinary people"

Saturday, October 27, 2007


I just finished reading Coetzee's Disgrace and had to post about it right away. I actually felt the need to write about it in order to get away from the sickening, sad, hollow feeling it left me with. It is written so sparsely, so cleanly, but it is like this slow emotional bleed. Without much consolation. There is, in a hopeless way, some consolation for the main character, but not for me as a reader. The descriptions of dogs being euthanized were excruciating, and for the main character there was just loss, loss, loss. It seems so unfair to have to come to terms with such sadness, but then, what is the alternative?

By the way, this cover is from another addition of the book. Mine had a very blank, elegant cover, that is sort of more fitting. But I thought this looked cooler on the blog.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Back to the Mothership" on salon.com

I just read a wonderful Jod Kaftan piece on salon.com about what it was like being raised by the actress who played Spock's wife on Star Trek. It is really funny and insightful and incredibly well written. It was too hard to choose a favorite line, so I'll share one which resonates with my own particular existential angst:

Responding to a compliment on his thick red aura, "If you're a 'Star Trek' agnostic, like I am, all you can say in these situations is 'thanks'; the true agnostic just thanks people for their input, then privately envies their absolutism."


Monday, October 22, 2007

Igby Goes Down

I love this movie. I watched it for the second time tonight. The first time I thought it was hilarious. This time I thought it was more intense. The dialogue is witty and dark, all the characters sardonic. I think I laughed more the first time I saw it because I was with someone. I never laugh as much when I watch things by myself. Amanda Peet is so beautiful. And I loved Jeff Goldblum in this. I'd write more about it, but I think the Times review, that I got off Netflix, puts it very well: Even though the movie drifts uneasily between satire and realism, and its visions of military school and bohemia feel secondhand, it maintains a ruthless emotional honesty. Ultimately, it gets at something that no other recent American movie has captured quite so acutely: a resentful, lurking disappointment in the good life.
Instead of bringing them happiness, prosperity has left most of the grown-up characters with only a frustrated sense of entitlement floundering in a spiritual void.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

On Charles Schulz

Read a review in the New Yorker this morning of a biography Charles M. Schulz. He was apparently a kind of anti-social, shut-down, unaffectionate man who was devoted and obsessed with his work. He was the richest cartoonist of all times. The review made me more interested in reading Peanuts again, but didn't inspire any interest in the guy's life. I'm not interested in his wives and families. I'm more attracted to the way he dryly depicted the existential loneliness of a simple grade-schooler.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Groopman on "disorders of consciousness"

Just read an article in the New Yorker by Jerome Groopman on brain-imagery technology and people in vegetative states. This technology shows that non-responsive patients are still "unconsciously" processing information. They are capable of interpreting and imagining. There is something terrifying about this. It is so cool how our brains work, but brain biology stuff confuses my sense of self. Thinking of myself as this neurological processing unit... I don't know.

Fortunately the imaging technology results led to helping a couple of patients recover. Most still don't, though.

It is so scary to think of being in a coma, being alive but not alive. And it is worse to think about being in that state and being conscious. As a doctor quoted in the article explains, "The thought of coma, vegetative state, and other disorders of consciousness troubles us all, because it awakens the old terror of being buried alive. Can any of these patients think, feel, or understand those around them? And, if so, what does this tell us about the nature of consciousness itself?"

Elegy on Toy Piano

I just finished reading this fabulous fabulous book of poems by a fabulous fabulous writer. The poems are so cool -- they incorporate technical scientific language and imagery with lyricism and humour into these strange and distinctive poems. Funny harsh poems questioning existence and nothingness. Poems which can be read too fast and must be read again. A book of poems in which I like everyone so much I can't choose a favorite. Poems packed with great, swiftly moving lines so that it becomes impossible to isolate the perfect phrase, because each is seamlessly woven into the whole. I love Dean Young.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Jim Dine at the Graduate Center

I saw an exhibit of Jim Dine prints at the Graduate Center art gallery today. I loved the Pinocchio ones. A few years ago I read the original Pinocchio story which was so much grimmer than the Disney version, but I also remember the Disney version as terrifying to me as a child. The exhibit was good overall. There were some flower prints that didn't too much for me.


This is an utter waste of time. I don't know how you could get Gene Hackman, Paul Newman and Susan Sarandon together and come out with such completely boring cliched crap, but they somehow managed. Even with Resse Witherspoon, Liev Shrieber and Stockard Channing in supporting roles. It was just unbelievably boring. I watched it while eating Chinese food and fell asleep before the ending.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Julie Heffernan at PPOW

This woman's paintings are AMAZING. I had read about this exhibition on www.3quarksdaily.com and it's closing this week. So even though I was really busy and Chelsea is sometimes hard to get to, I made myself go. I am very proud of myself for the effort (because I've been so wiped out) and was greatly rewarded. Her work is rich and creepy and delicious. I just love it.

Afterwards I saw Tom Otterness (who made the sculptures on the 14th street A-line stop) at Marlboro Gallery, and a really cool artist Jillian McDonald's work at another gallery. This show included these intense hologram-type pieces where a normal looking person was transformed to someone that looked beat up to someone that looked like some sort of hideous ghoul. I loved it.

But Heffernan was my favorite.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

I do not know what to make of this movie. I found it very tedious and over-wrought. The plot degenerated into a big mess that really began to make no sense. I had no feeling for any of the characters (except maybe a little for Dracula). There was so much absurdity; I was embarrassed for the actors. Particularly Winona and Anthony Hopkins.

And yet, it was visually stunning in parts. Sexy and creepy and gross. Perhaps if it had been half an hour shorter I would have enjoyed it more...

Monday, October 15, 2007


I just finished Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. He is such a good writer! There is something so gentle, or smooth rather (like soft-serve ice cream), about the way he writes. It is effortless to read him and yet what he is addressing is subtle and complex. He weaves anecdotes about interesting characters -- food tasters, military experts, art historians, facial expression researchers, etc -- with data and ideas.

The book is about the intricacies of snap judgements and the role the unconscious plays in our conscious decisions. There isn't quite a clear line of argument -- sometimes snap judgements are the best and decision making gets too muddled when there is too much information; and sometimes they are hopelessly biased. And, those who are good at snap judgements are those who have years of experience and training. Although he also says there are somethings we can all make correct snap judgements about. So, there is no simple answer. But, clearly anyone can read a page of Gladwell and come away with the same impression as someone who has read the entire book: this guy is a terrific writer.

The stuff on facial expressions kind of freaked me out. He talks about how these researchers studied every possible movement of the face and analyzed "micro-expressions" that flicker across people's faces too quickly to be "seen" -- but they are picked up on. It made me paranoid about what I might be betraying...

Oh, the edition I read includes an afterward that I thought was critical. Otherwise it ended abruptly, without much summing up. His final reflections contextualized the whole thing, and I think I might have feel cheated if I read the original version without it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

New Yorker article on Kara Walker

I just finished a New Yorker article on the artist Kara Walker who does these amazing installation pieces that are made entirely of silhouettes and depict the antebellum south, slavery, etc, but in an imaginative, crazy, sexual way. It sounds amazing. She has a retrospective up at the Whitney now that I can't wait to see. The article talked about her sexuality and her identity as a black women and how she got bashed in the culture wars. I am thinking of using it in my class on the body that I will be teaching in January.

Thank You For Smoking

I enjoyed this movie, which was like a semi-surreal parody. Only maybe most parodies have that semi-surreal quality to it. Larger and broader than life. It reminded me of the movie with Laura Dern about abortion. But I liked the Laura Dern movie more. This seemed more forced. And it made me nervous about smoking...