Monday, November 26, 2007

The Three Faces of Eve

Joanne Woodward was excellent in The Three Faces of Eve. I thought it totally romanticized psychoanalysis and must have radically over-simplified whatever is going on in what is called multiple personality disorder. Like, oh you remember one terrible thing and then all your severe psychiatric problems vanish. That made it kind of unsatisfying. But the acting was great in that over the top melodramatic way, and there were some very interesting scenes between "Eve" and her abusive husband. Also, it's based on a true story and a lot of the dialogue between the shrink and Eve is supposed to be from direct transcripts, which makes it a little worthwhile.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Two essays in Policing the National Body

Tonight I read two essays in Policing the National Body: Race, Gender and Criminalization. I read an article on the drug war's manipulative attack on the black community, "Killing the Black Community: A Commentary on the United States War on Drugs" by Judith A. M. Scully. It contained an interesting discussion on the hysteria and manipulative rhetorical strategies regarding "crack babies" and the attempted criminalization of pregnant drug users. Then I read "Superpredator Meets Teenage Mom: Exploding the Myth of Out of Control Youth" by Anne Hendrixson which exposed the similar hysterical and rhetorically manipulative campaigns about bogus population issues and hostility to young people of color.

Basically, arguments and facts I'm pretty familiar with but it is very good practice to refresh one's memory and find more sources. I took good notes for my winter intercession class, although I think I will use Angela Davis more than these folks.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


I just watched Focus on Netflix Watch Instantly. Coincidentally I was having trouble focusing on a few projects that I'm a bit anxious about.

I thought this movie was pretty ridiculous, although it was slightly intriguing. It takes place in Brooklyn during WWII and a modest, nondescript man living in a neighborhood of anti-semitic ignoramuses buys a pair of glasses that make him look Jewish. Because he wants to avoid trouble, he doesn't join in with the rabble rousers and they decide that he is a Jew lover and that his wife must be Jewish. I kept wondering why he didn't buy a new pair of glasses the second he was demoted at work. It seemed like a stubborn streak in his personality rather than a principled one, because he didn't seem to have that much of a problem with "real" Jews being harassed. The other thing that made no sense is why they cast Laura Dern as his Jewish-looking wife. She screamed shiksa. But she was supposed to be so Jewish looking that she couldn't get a job. And, she was the one who felt like if you can't beat them join them and wanted to make Macy fit in more, but she wore these flamboyant over-the-top outfits that also inspired hostility.

Still, there was something to the colorful, surreal, and noir-ish way it was filmed that held my attention. Although it really wasn't scary or creepy or tense even for a second.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Waking Life

Okay, I didn't finish this movie (Richard Linklater's Waking Life). But I didn't not like it either. It is a very self-consciously philosophical film, where every single character offers their own existential perspective on reality, consciousness, death, God, free will, etc. And they may all be part of an alienated youth's lucid dream. You must have a liberal arts background to get this movie at all. It is very smart and interesting, with tons and tons of great lines. And it looks great, if you like contemporary animation, which I do.

But it was also very boring to me! I felt like I would rather read it. Or skip it entirely. But I definitely didn't want to listen to it. So I turned it off three quarters of the way through.

"Seems like everyone is sleep-walking through their waking state, or wake-walking through their dreams. Either way they're not going to get much out of it." Whatever.

Or, and better: "On really romantic evenings of Self, I go salsa dancing with my confusion."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Male Body

I read about half the chapters in Susan Bordo's The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private. I'm very excited about using her ideas in my class. Her writing is "accessible" -- I hate using that patronizing word, apt though it is in many cases. She explores how the male body is a signifier of power and dominance and just as much as female bodies a site where gender is written and expressed. One chapter that was particularly interesting to me addresses the phallus -- the metaphorical representation of the penis and male power. She also talks a lot about the contradictory ideals that constrain men and the double standards that effect them. The book kind of exhausts its subject matter without being too broad.

Portrait of an anti-semite in the New Yorker

Last night I read "Laugh Riots: The French star who became a demagogue" by Tom Reiss in the New Yorker. It's about this french comedian, or "militante humoriste" who is vehemently anti-semitic and who has inspired a lot of controversy in France. It was kind of disturbing to hear about, but also sounded familiar in a sort of so-what-? way. Like more of the same. I didn't think the article itself was particularly illuminating. The journalist didn't have much of a perspective and while he contextualized Dieudonne's career in France, I wish he had kind of extended it to the racialized humor we celebrate here. I don't know. It wasn't a good read.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I wasn't crazy about this movie, but Ed Harris was very good, very watchable. I just thought that there was no there there. No story. The relationship between him and Krasner felt flat and unexplored. In general biopics are just too linear for me and always seem kind of thin. Like I said, Ed Harris was great and all the shots of the paintings and of him painting were absorbing. But mostly it just made me want to go see some Pollocks.

What Narcissism Means To Me

Okay, seriously, Tony Hoagland is my new favorite poet. He may even be my favorite favorite poet, but I don't want to go overboard. The poems in What Narcissism Means to Me are each excellent, humorous, and devastating. And so fucking cool. He has this totally conversational style working with what I think of as the lyricism of the mundane. I love the way he quotes people, and brings people into his poem. It is very Frank O'Hara. And, I know this is a corny and annoying thing to say, but it kind of made me want to write. Or, it made me feel: this is what I should be writing, if I could. Which I couldn't. There was something about them that I identified with, that made me feel connected, although I feel like a jackass saying that.

I'd post some brilliant excerpts, but one can easily find them online, so I won't. Here:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


This was a ridiculously bad movie. I have no idea why it was in my queue. Probably because I like Laura Dern and Helena Bonham Carter. I watched it while I was eating dinner. Then turned it off and watched the rest, hating myself, while eating a snack. God it was bad. I'm not even going to talk about it. Except to say that I finally realized that I just don't like Steve Martin.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Gladwell on profiling

On the subway yesterday I read a Malcolm Gladwell article in the New Yorker on criminal profiling, "Dangerous Minds: Criminal Profiling Made Easy". Like all Gladwell pieces, you go through a subtle twist of logic that results in a mild surprise as well as knowing head nodding and smirking -- he is able to inform you while letting you feel "in the know". He described some famous profilers whose predictions seemed magically accurate down to details such as the perpetrator will wear a buttoned double-breasted suit when you catch him. You get an inside glimpse into the world of detectives, profilers, and serial murderers. Then he reveals how the profilers are using an array of techniques employed by "psychics" that make it so that whatever they say that doesn't fit is discarded, and what they say that turns out to be true is seen as proof of their powers. I loved the description of these techniques that are such entrenched tricks of the trade that they have their own names, such as: the Rainbow Ruse (where you credit someone with a character trait AND its opposite), the Jacques Statement, the Barnum Statement, the Fuzzy Fact, and many more.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Three Mo' Tenors

My mother had matinee tickets to a performance of Three Mo' Tenors, a troupe of superb black singers who do shows featuring three of them at a time. They do opera, Broadway, jazz, blues, r&b, Motown, and gospel. And a few others that I can't remember. They were phenomenal. The show was nothing but them. Minimal choreography, minimal costume changes. Just incredible singing, incredible singing, incredible singing. They were excellent entertainers and really worked the crowd. A real crowd-pleaser. (Although I got a little bit bored towards the end).


When I got home from seeing Before the Devil Knows You're Dead with RT, I was kind of shook up and anxious and had laundry to do. While doing it I emptied my brain by watching GiGi, a fluffy bit of wonderful eye candy.

It is a corny movie, and, when you think about it, a little creepy -- about the courtesan class raising a girl to be a high-class, uh, "courtesan"; a man who watched her grow up falls in love with her and arranges for her to be his "courtesan" and she is very upset. When she finally agrees, he feels like her spirit is being corrupted and so they get married. I don't know. I just don't know.

But the sets were so gorgeously over-the-top! And Leslie Caron was so beautiful. And I love that song, I Remember it Well between Maurice Chevalier and the woman who plays Gigi's grandmamma...

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

This movie was so intense! From the opening sex scene to the very end, I had an unpleasant knot in my stomach. It was incredibly well done and brilliantly acted but I don't know if I'd recommend it or not because of how upsetting it was and how uncomfortable to watch. There was just this constant level of tension that wouldn't go away.

I don't want to say what it's about because it is one of those movies that unfolds in a choppy, back-and-forth kind of way that makes basic relationships come as a revelation.

I will give one thing away. This came as a big surprise, so don't read on if you care, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character does heroin and those scenes were in some ways the most upsetting. He played a creepy asshole, but he did it so well. Instead of hating him or feeling sorry for him I was just viscerally complicit in his self-hatred. Which is a very weird, and, like I said, unpleasant, feeling...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Marvelous Bones of Time

I just finished Brenda Coultas' The Marvelous Bones of Time: Excavations and Explorations. There is nothing like this book. The first part is a long poem exploring slavery in Kentucky and Indiana, and the poet's voice makes this history very personal, intimate, strange. Heritage and national history distilled through the unique individual. The rest of the book is comprised of prose pieces about various ghosts stories and hauntings, and is written in a sparse poetic style that again is unique and intimate, layered.

The rest of the book seems haunted by the first part of the book. The way I understand paranormal stuff is that there is mythic misperception that we have about the solidity of our reality, and that other possibilities, other presents, are somehow there. This is true, always in our mind. In memory and dream and weird associations and feelings we have in our body, and these get tapped into sometimes with greater clarity. Or, as a poet Brenda quotes thinks about "consensus reality" - "about what we as a society agree is real, and his feeling was that there are other realities, which sometimes cross over into ours". It's like a bleeding or seeping.

Here's an excerpt from The Robert Investigations:

"He met a man who asked him if he were yelling 'Annabella' in a weird voice. The man, who was wearing white shoes and a shiny dark suit, said that it might be disturbing to other visitors. Robert said, 'No, I was yelling, "Brenda"' and he demonstrated. Then, out of the corner of his eye, Robert saw something move, so he turned his head, nothing there. When he turned back around the man had vanished. Later, he realized that the shoes were from the disco era."

I couldn't find an image of the book's cover, which is gorgeous, so I used this image of a photograph of "ectoplasm" that was on display at the Met a few years ago.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Age of Biomedicalization in ASR

I just read an excellent article in a 2003 American Sociological Review on the shift from medicalization to biomedicalization. It is an expansion and transformation of the existing paradigm. The authors discussed five aspects of biomedicalization, differentiating it from medicalization. It fits in beautifully with the course I am designing, as it presents an excellent overview and analysis of several topics we will be covering. I am slightly concerned that it might be too dense and professional for my students, but I also think it's important to expose them to this kind of writing.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Akilah Oliver at the Poetry Project

I went to an amazing reading last night by Akilah Oliver. She blew me away. I've always loved her work, the way she works with and through language. And the body and identity and memory. All from this very intimate but also intellectual position, but at the same time anti-intellectual.

But I hadn't heard her read in such a long time. Maybe a decade. Could that be? She was an amazing reader. The first piece was a heart-wrenching exploration of grief that was done with a harmonium accompaniment. I usually don't care for the music/poetry pairing, but this was absolutely fabulous, it worked so well. Akilah's reading style is already musical, and the sounds just sort of buoyed her voice, helped carry it. The reading was in the sanctuary and it was amazing how her words filled the space. I am really glad I went to this reading, it was one of the best ones I've been to ever.

Here, from The Putterer's Notebook (out of context etc)

"where is your embodiment? this small obsession of becoming and collapse."

"What is the primary duty of repair?"

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Before Night Falls, Julian Schnabel

This movie is stunning. Beautiful. The grim, horrifying scenes are told somehow stark and crisply, lyrically, without diminishing their horror. I saw this when it first came out, I believe with Tits!, and loved it very much then as well. The sadness is like a slow, sweeping ache, and the visuals work so well emotionally that it is almost perfect, any flaws are just not worth noting.

The Obesity Myth

I just finished this book by Paul Campos which explodes the popularly held and deeply entrenched beliefs about fat and health. He argues that BMI tables are arbitrary and meaningless; that the public health claims about the relationship between overweight and low mortality are a severe and reckless distortion of existing data; that the data show that being fit at any weight is better than being unfit an any weight -- i.e., that a fat person who exercises moderately, eats semi-wisely and doesn't smoke has a much better life expectancy than a thin sedentary smoker. His chapter exploring the research is really fascinating. The rest of the book more or less indicts the fat-hating culture we live and shows how we are all pushed to be semi-anorexic in our eating and thinking habits about our bodies and food. At points it was a little over the top rhetorically, but I definitely think I will use a chapter or two of this in my winter intercession class.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Key Largo

I'm not a fan of Humphrey Bogart. In fact, I don't care for him at all. The self-tortured tough guy routine doesn't do it for me. But I liked this movie well enough. A group of good people trapped in a hotel in the Florida keys with a bunch of old style gangsters during a hurricane. What's not to like? Lauren Bacall was so fucking beautiful, and there were a lot of great shots, especially smoky close-ups. She and Bogart didn't kiss in this, but you know they get together in the end.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

You're afraid to dive into the plasma pool, aren't you?

I saw The Fly when it first came out in the 80s and sort of remember thinking it was ridiculous. But, back then, I had trouble with movies if they weren't "realistic" -- so there was basically no chance that I would like a movie where a man gets his molecular structure "fused" with a fly's during a "teletransport" experiment.

Less principled in middle age, I have, at times at least, an increased ability to suspend disbelief. Of course The Fly is ridiculous, I realize, but I can move on from there and not be paralyzed by my own self-righteousness.

So, I didn't hate it this time around. I had completely forgotten how gross it was: arms broken with bones sticking out, ears falling off, Goldblum's face turning to an oozy mess, watery white vomit expelled from his mouth, pulling his own nails off with an expression of horrified wonder. I love the ideas Cronnenberg plays with, the biomorphic imagery, the invaded body, the false or shedding exterior. In The Fly, there is a dream sequence where Gina Davis gives birth to a giant maggot; at the end, Goldblum's shell is cracked open from inside by the metamorphosed giant insect. I was fascinated by the character's transformation and disintegration. At one point it seemed to mirror the normal aging and dying process that seems to be one loss after another. Goldblum watches his body fall apart, in a drastically speeded up and embellished version of what we all might go through in one way or another. We will still feel exactly the same inside, we will still be us, but our body will begin to decompose before our disbelieving eyes.

I have to say, Jeff Goldblum's eyes seemed more bug-like and creepy BEFORE the transformation. I mean, he was kind of weirdly insect life or not quite human from the beginning (I posted before and after transportation pictures so you can see what I mean).