The Emperor’s New Clothes

I never quite understood how Matthew Barney could fool anyone with his twaddle. Not when I sat near-dead from boredom through one of the Cremaster ‘movies’ (only half actually, as I walked out), not when he had a special on PBS, not through his retrospective in the Guggenheim. Empty spectacle with the occasional interesting image, but a thousand times more monotonous than a Don Siegel flick. But the worm turns, and this poseur’s brief reign is coming to an end. The Village Voice published a very funny attack on his new Japanorama flick, as did the New Yorker, which I’ve typed up below. But it’s worth looking up the Voice piece (on their website), if only to assure yourself that you weren’t the one who was crazy all along.

‘”The Simple Life” for a pair of of self-important art-world celebrities. With a combination of of lavish pageantry and industrial exertion, the Nisshin Maru, Japan’s last whaling ship, sails of from Nagasaki Bay. Along with its crew, it carries two guests, Matthew Barney and Bjork, who submit to elaborate rituals of tonsure, pomade, and dress at the ands of solemn bearers whose job it is to keep from laughing at their employers’ airs. They partake of a classical tea ceremony in an unabashed display of Oriental kitsch that makes “Memoirs of a Geisha” look like an ethnographic documentary. As their berth fills with what might be water or whale oil, the couple lovingly carve each other up into human sushi. Barney. the director of this unbearably empty spectacle, has in effect filmed at great expense the couple’s designer-sightseeing cruise with little more skill and vastly more pretense than the average tourist.’
– The New Yorker

Jaime Gil Biedma

20th Century Spanish poetry is as sublime and interesting as that of all the other major European countries. Unfortunately, it isn’t much translated or known in the U.S. I did a quickie translation of a piece of a Biedma poem from the original and a prose translation I found in the Penguin Book of Spanish Verse. It needs a lot of work so I’ll mess around with it if I have the time and inclination.

The Death of Jaime Gil Biedma
(excerpt)

> > > Do you remember Carmina
> > > fat Carmina climbing the stairs
> > > with her ass sticking out
> > > and a candelabra in her hand?
> > >
> > > It was a happy summer…
> > > ‘The last summer
> > > of our youth’ you said to Juan
> > > in Barcelona when we got back,
> > > full of nostalgia,
> > > and you were right.
> > > Then came the winter,
> > > the endless months of agony
> > > and the final night of pills and alcohol
> > > and vomiting on the carpet.
> > >
> > > I saved myself by writing
> > > after the death of Jaime Gil.
> > > Of the two, you were the better writer.
> > > Now I know how much
> > > the desire for irony and dreams were yours,
> > > the Romantic muted note
> > > pulsing in my poems that I liked best,
> > > in ‘Pandemic’, for example.
> > >
> > > Although perhaps it was I who taught you.
> > > Taught you to take vengeance on my dreams,
> > > out of cowardice, corrupting them.

Death to My Friends

“…so much is true in Socratic rationalism that one can scarcely imagine a seriously intelligent man, whose thoughts are directed at objects and do not circle formalistically within themselves, as wicked. For the motivation of evil, blind absorbtion by contingent self-interest, tends to dissolve in the medium of thought.”
– Theodor Adorno; Minima Moralia (127)

I usually avoid arguments with friends, especially arguments about politics, because they usually end up in rage, recrimination and hurt feelings. Nevertheless, I recently had two such arguments, one about Israel, one about American history. Both ended in rage, recrimination and hurt feelings.

The failures of these discussions started me thinking and I went back to some of the Platonic dialogues for the first time in years. It was so refreshing, so soothing actually, to see a conversation about something important conducted in reasonable manner. When I was younger, I didn’t realize how rare and difficult such conversations are. In fact, looking at age 40 and the state of the world, it seems instead that they are so fragile and rare as to be almost impossible. Nothing seems more threatened than reason. And nothing is more necessary. I would guess that this is perpetually the case.

The problem seems to have a lot to do with how thought and identity are tied together. For example, I can’t draw or paint and have no training in drawing or painting. If someone says this to me, I’ll immediately agree with him.

Yet if you point out to someone that they’re making bad arguments, and even offer proof, their reaction is not to admit to a lack of training or practice. Instead, they immediately attack as viciously and savagely as they can. This applies to men in particular. I can’t say that I’m immune to this.