All posts filed under “1990s

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The Missing of the Somme, Geoff Dyer (1994)

Dyer’s book is about trench warfare, World War I, artistic responses to war (especially in literature), the conventions of war memorial sculptures, his personal journeys around WWI battlefields and cemeteries in France, and other things, but his main concern is the nature of cultural memory. How do societies construct and revise the past? “The issue, in short, is not simply the way the war generates memory but the way memory has determined — and continues to determine — the meaning of the war.”

While this is a book very much focused on WWI, a period which of course had massive (and, he shows, lasting) import for Dyer’s native Britain, many of the book’s insights about history and memory are easily transferrable to other events. He writes persuasively, for example, about the ways in which the realities of historical events and their representations in language interact and determine each other, and his observations seem to me applicable to any such events, from the fall of Rome to 9/11.

One thing that feels kind of weird  here is the personal parts, which I think maybe — speaking of how our perception of the past changes over time —  may have seemed innovative and edgy in 1994 but now after 25 years of rapid evolution in the genre of CNF seems no longer very edgy and in this case kind of just annoying. When we get the accounts of Dyer driving around from monument to monument, village to village with his buddies, cracking jokes and eating sandwiches in their rental car, I think we’re meant to understand something about how memory is always cultural but also always personal? But the jokes are dumb and I could have done without them.

I don’t want to end on a sour note because this is a very sharp book and I enjoyed it. There are plenty of passages worth underlining. The one I’ll probably remember best: “Theodor Adorno said famously that there could be no poetry after Auschwitz. Instead, he failed to add, there would be photography.” Smart. Not entirely accurate, but smart.

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Ketchup 2018

Argh I’m just awful at keeping up with this. These are things I remember from 2018 so far. Maybe I’ll be better in the summer about making a note here and there.

Music

  • Ctrl, SZA
  • Until the Hunter, Hope Sandoval
  • Alone, Mall Grab
  • Elder Island, Elder Island
  • Con todo el mundo, Khruangbin
  • Freedom, Amen Dunes
  • Mind Out Wandering, Astronauts, etc.
  • Pop 2, Charli XCX
  • Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett
  • Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter
  • Scary Hours, Drake
  • Places and Spaces, Donald Byrd
  • Gabor Szabo
  • Lord Echo
  • Czarface Meets Metalface, MF Doom
  • War & Leisure, Miguel
  • SR3MM, Rae Sremmurd
  • These Falling Arms, The Sea & Cake
  • Treehouse, Sofi Tukker
  • Exotic Worlds and Masterful Treasures, Stimulator Jones
  • Sugar at the Gate, TOPS
  • In a Poem Unlimited, U.S. Girls
  • Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples
  • William Onyeabor
  • Provider, Frank Ocean

Required reading

  • Bluets, Maggie Nelson
  • Pale Fire, V. Nabokov – Students always love this
  • Olio, Tyehimba Jess – Most impressive new poetry book in years
  • Flaubert’s Parrot, Julian Barnes
  • Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino – Students always love this
  • If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, Anne Carson (and Sappho sort of)
  • Meadowlands, Louise Gluck
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
  • Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys – So magically good; her handling of time and tone is amazing
  • On Being Blue, William Gass – Did not remember the fundamental sexism in this; was embarrassed to have assigned it to students

Non-required reading

  • L’Amour Fou, Rosalind Kraus – Finally thought to buy myself a copy of this much beloved work on surrealist photography
  • The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst – Very smart but I don’t love it like Wendy does
  • Meditations, Marcus Aurelius – A little bit every workday instead of alazopram
  • Speak, Memory, V. Nabokov – Sometimes the pleasure VN takes in his own virtuosity makes me roll my eyes but this is just incredible in every way as a memoir, a history of 20c, and a string of blue ribbon sentences

Movies

  • Man of the West, Anthony Mann. I love how Mann does violence. There are no clean punches or shots, it’s all awkwardness and it goes on too long or not long enough to effect any catharsis. Grueling. Lee J. Cobb, Julie London, Gary Cooper. Movie Night! With Scott and Shrode.
  • Darkest Hour, Joe Wright. Movie Night! With Scott and Shrode. Watched and forgotten.
  • Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino. I guess if it’s sufficiently continental it’s OK that it’s predatory pedophilia?
  • Winchester ’73, Anthony Mann – The western where the rifle is the star
  • Stagecoach, John Ford – Everything’s going to be all right as everyone knows his/her place
  • The Gleaners and I, Agnes Varda – Still the greatest
  • Faces/Places, Agnes Varda – Also good but here as opposed to the Gleaners it feels a little bit like the openness to chance is slightly pre-determined? I like the part when they go to Godard’s house and he’s such an asshole
  • North by Northwest, Hitchcock – Movie night! With Scott and Shrode. For some reason we drank a lot of ouzo.
  • The Florida Project, Sean Baker. – Baker wants to get into some serious shit here regarding American poverty and hopelessness, but he also wants to make a kandy-kolored adorable movie about hope and the irrepressibility of the imaginative lives of children, and he can’t really have it both ways. If it ended in tears and agony instead of E. T. transcendence I would respect it more. Still this is worth seeing and I’m glad it got made.
  • Seeing Allred, Sophie Sartain, Roberta Grossman. This is a Neflix documentary about Gloria Allred and she is a badass.
  • Wind River, Taylor Sheridan. I’m sorry, this is bullshit. The movie is well made and earnest in its desire to condemn racism, government ineptitude, and corporate malfeasance but why why why must the lady FBI agent be incompetent, the Native Americans noble but hapless, and the only person capable of setting wrongs right a white guy? I fear I know the answer to that: If the Jeremy Renner character were played by a Native American actor, the movie would never have been made, because no one’s going to stomach watching a Native American hero coolly pick off the white bad guys. Ugh.

TV

  • Big Little Lies (HBO)
  • Silicon Valley (HBO)
  • Babylon Berlin (Netflix)
  • The Crown (Netflix)
  • Narcos (Netflix)
  • The Same Sky (Netflix)
  • Nobel (Netflix)
  • The Tunnel (Amazon)
  • Atlanta (FX)
  • Bosch (Amazon)
  • The Expanse (Amazon)
  • Prime Suspect: Tennison (Amazon)

I watch a shocking amount of television these days but I don’t know how much I’m really watching it since I’m usually doing email at the same time. Any of these will provide a reasonable amount of ambient narrative if you’re in need of that kind of thing, but Atlanta‘s the only show there that’s actually worth thinking about.

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Amulet, Roberto Bolaño (1999)

41e7ncucp6l-_sx322_bo1204203200_So far the only things of Bolaño’s I’ve really dug have been By Night in Chile and Distant Star, which are terrific. I struggled to care about The Savage Detectives, and felt the similar ambivalence about Amulet, which is a satellite work to The Savage Detectives. Books where the main focus is hagiography of writers-as-writers always turns me off. I’m often interested in poems, but very rarely interested in poets.

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C. D. Wright (1949-2016)

There’s no contemporary poet I’ve read as deeply or written about as much as much as C. D. Wright, who died this week, unexpectedly, at her home in Rhode Island. I admired her so much, for so many reasons. Most of all I admired her faith. She had as much faith in poetry as I’ve always wanted to have but have never quite been able to muster.

Deepstep Come Shining and One Big Self are the major works for me. Partially, no doubt, because those were the ones I came across first, and at a time when my sense of what poetry was, and what it’s for, was changing rapidly. I remember reading Deepstep for the first time and just laughing out loud at the audacity of it. You can just riff like that, just drive around and say what you see, love what you say, say what you love, and see what you say? My deeply internalized belief in poetry as first and foremost a form of rhetoric dissolved in the acids and syrups of those lines, which seemed genial and occult at the same time.

And then One Big Self. Here was the same technique — notice, speak, circle back, connect, repeat — but deployed in public rather than private, in a real prison occupied by others rather than the self-occupied imagination of the poet. I didn’t think you could do that. I’m actually still not sure you can, or should. (See elsewhere in today’s Times for an analogy.) But she just did it. That’s the faith I’m talking about. Doing it anyway, not because you trust yourself, but because you trust poetry.

I’ll never trust it as much as she did, but she helped me begin to persuade myself that believing in the stuff didn’t necessarily make me a sucker. I’ve never been the same, and I’ll always be grateful.

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Heat, Michael Mann (1995)

heat_1995_pic01In my yoot it seemed obvious that cinema auteurs fell into two categories: then (chiefly for me Renoir, Keaton, Murnau, Lang, Wilder, (Anthony) Mann, Fellini, Hitchcock, Godard, Antonioni, etc.) and now (Haynes, Lee, Almodovar, Lynch, Scorsese, Coen, Kar-wai, Haneke, etc.). It’s weird to get old and realize that one of the finest films of my “present” is twenty years old this year.

Speaking of art and time, let me also take a moment to mention the importance of patience. Mann wrote his first treatment of Heat in 1979. Good work takes time to develop, but good work lasts. I saw this first in a second-run movie theater in Houston in 1995 and I saw it again on HBO last night, and it’s lost none of its potency.

Heat is one of the best ten policiers of the second half the twentieth century, which puts it in the company of The Godfather, Chinatown, Touch of Evil, Sunset Boulevard, North by Northwest, and Blade Runner. It is so perfectly paced and edited that despite its length (170 minutes), its grip on the viewer’s attention is never loosened. We are moved inexorably from mood to mood, theme to theme, character to character, as the film’s web of associations, correlations, contradictions, tensions and releases (good guy/bad guy; intimacy/loneliness; coherence/chaos; instinct/cognition; commitment/freedom; etc.) draws ever tighter around us. It is deeply Classical in its symmetries, its pathos, its obsession with timêIts final peripety comes in the form of a cell phone call from Jon Voigt. I’d love to watch it with Alexander Pope, sharing a box of Milk Duds.

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Lasso the Wind, Timothy Egan (1999)

51POmzJuOKLRead this on our road trip through Nevada, Arizona, and Southern California in May, and it was a terrific companion. The West fascinates me, but I feel like I know less about it than I do about some foreign countries — the politics, the history, the relationship of the inhabitants to the environment, the controversial issues, the very light! are all so different from what I’m accustomed to as a Midwesterner by birth, Easterner by education, and Southerner by fate. I learned a great deal about cattle, mining, and above all (always always) water. For weeks after reading this I couldn’t turn on the tap without anxiety. One of many notions I’ll remember from this: Cattle ranchers staking their claims to be able to graze their cattle for free on public lands by lobbying for legislation to preserve the “custom and culture” of the “old west.” This despite the fact that Europeans only brought cattle to North America some 400 years ago, and widespread cattle ranching in the American West has been going on for less than 200 years. Bison, whose ancestors crossed over the Bering Strait into North America around 500,000 years ago, are not seen by these ranchers as part of the heritage of the “old west.” The chapters on the disastrous legacy of copper mining in Montana also blew my mind. Lots of fascinating and vertiginous thinking along these lines to be found in here.

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The Master of Petersburg, J. M. Coetzee (1994)

Coetzee Master of PetersburgNot my favorite of Coetzee and not his best, but a remarkable book, amazing to me not least simply because he manages to accomplish here such a complex braid of the historical, the personal, and the imaginary without losing his head. It’s nervy enough for a novelist to take up Dostoyevsky as a protagonist and presume to present the Master’s interiority. Coetzee goes a good deal further by transposing elements of his own relationship with his son onto Dostoyevsky’s with his. He further presumes to write in manner instantly recognizable as Russian-esque, as if he’s working on a kind of stylistic etude. Scenes oscillate between metaphysical speculation and intense sensory realism; the eternal questions of class, religion, and revolution are constantly in play; a chained dog in an alleyway or a battered white suit in a musty valise become occasions of terror and pity.

 

Coming to this straight from Pelevin’s Omon Ra, I’ll say a word about sentences. In Pelevin the sentences always seemed to be slipping through my fingers, never quite meaning what they seemed, often seeming to mean something other or more. What a contrast to Coetzee, whose sentences seem built stone by stone, every one a kind of temple with the aura of having always existed. I know such authority is a species of illusion, or worse, but the tiny fascist in me (almost everyone has one) does thrill to it.

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Omon Ra, Victor Pelevin (1992)

omon raThis is a brilliant and heartbreaking little novel which I first read years ago and enjoyed just as much the second time around. Omon is a postwar Russian kid who dreams of transcending the banality of his circumstances by becoming a cosmonaut. The Soviet state is happy to help him do so, since his desire dovetails perfectly with the state’s desire to project an image of achievement and glory to the world. In the end it turns out all parties have been deluding themselves and each other; transcendence and glory turn out to be induced hallucinations. In the sacred profane tradition of Gogol, the story’s both tragic and comic, naturalistic and fabulous.

And to extend that last point, from a writerly point of view, I marvel at the way Pelevin segues seamlessly from the realistic to the absurd and back again, so that as a reader, you find yourself in a sort of hall of mirrors, where the unbelievable seems inevitable and the simplest explanation impossible. I wouldn’t know for sure, but it seems a perfect stylistic match for what life must have been like behind the Iron Curtain.

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My Best Fiend: Klaus Kinski, Werner Herzog (1999)

Well, you have to have a serious predisposition for these two madmen to find any pleasure in this, and if you do have the predisposition, you’ve probably already seen this. It’s somewhat about the relationship between two quite thoroughly co-dependent collaborators, but it’s also a “making-of” documentary about Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo, which is a lot of fun for nuts like me.

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Ketchup

Zeitoun, Dave Eggers (2009). Eggers tells the story of a remarkable family in a very easy-going and simple voice.

Animal Kingdom, David Michôd (2010). Stark, crisp, finally melodramatic.

Restrepo, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington (2010). They should show this as a curtain-raiser before every war movie. War isn’t hell, or glory, or dramatic; it’s tedious, confusing, and random.

The Town, Ben Affleck (2010). I’ve never much cared for Affleck, but this is twice now that he’s turned in some really fine work as a director.

Howl, Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman (2010). Wow, totally unwatchable! I made it up to the part where they’re on drugs and everything turns into an undersea cartoon or something.

Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy (2010). Sly and fun.

Friday Night Lights (2006-). Has there ever been a more emotionally manipulative show? This thing constantly makes me cry, even though there are precious few characters I really have any sympathy with. It’s weird.

The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998). I got weirdly hooked on this for a while there. Shandling is on the one hand hard to watch and on the other I can’t turn away.

Four Lions, Chris Morris (2010). This seemed like a bad idea. I had to check. It was.

The Next Three Days, Paul Haggis (2010). This was tight and gripping. Haggis knows what he’s doing.

The American, Anton Corbjin (2010). Lifeless.

The Social Network, David Fincher (2010). Eh.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Stanley Kubrick (1964). Every other year or so.

Marwencol, Jeff Malmberg (2010). Very nicely done.

Mesrine: Killer Instinct, Jean-Francois Richet (2008). Mesrine: Public Enemy #1, Jean-Francois Richet (2008). The French are so easily seduced by even the most caricatured image of the outlaw. Richet thinks he’s showing us Mesrine’s pathos but all that really comes across is how much he worships the man. Still, this is super entertaining and great to look at.

The Way Back, Peter Weir (2010). Almost absurdly epic. Absolutely worth the afternoon.

Colonel Chabert, Honore de Balzac (1832). Superb.

Salt, Phillip Noyce (2010). I can’t remember anything about this now.

Cold Souls, Sophie Barthes (2009). Anything with Paul Giamatti is worth a look, in this case only barely.

The Tourist, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (2010). The Green Hornet, Michel Gondry (2011). Two incoherent and atrocious payday films from relatively interesting directors. It’s almost like they’re trying to be as contemptuous of you for watching this dreck as they can be.

Fair Game, Doug Liman (2010). This is the dramatization of the Plame affair and one of the best films I’ve seen about the Bush administration’s post-9/11 rush to judgment. Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are both terrific. Highly recommended.

Even the Rain, Icíar Bollaín (2010). Nice conceit, nice try, but it turns out a muddle.

Etc. etc. etc.