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« New-Urb Elsewhere | Main | "The Dreamers," the novel »

May 13, 2004


Dear Friedrich --

* I loved snooping around Alex Chun's website, here. Alex, a devotee of the work of pin-up cartoonists, collects saucy art by guys like Jack Cole, Bill Ward and Dan DeCarlo. (During his G-rated work hours, DeCarlo was the main artist for the "Archie" comic books.) Alex has published collections of the work of some of these guys too; they can be bought at Amazon.

* JW Hastings thinks that the modernists gave "middlebrow" art and audiences an undeservedly bad rap, here. "America is pretty much a middlebrow country. This makes sense: Americans, as a type, aspire to be better than while shunning elitism," JW writes. "Most of our best artists aim for a middlebrow audience. And this is a good thing."

* I don't link to Alan Sullivan's blog Fresh Bilge (here) often enough, and though it's my fault, I'll pin the blame on Alan anyway. He keeps the thinking and writing levels so high it's hard to pick one posting over the others -- just about all of them stand out. Alan's a really good writer; it doesn't hurt that he seems to be a seasoned human being either. Be sure to ogle this wild piece of art-furniture (a "throne-screen," whatever that is) that Alan's peddling, here.

* Gerald Vanderleun's obit/memoir of the poet Thom Gunn (here) is personal and very moving.

* Ian Hamet has posted a lovely biography/appreciation of the great Buster Keaton here.

* Mara Miller's discussion of how to teach Japanese aesthetics (here) is also a firstclass introduction to Japanese aesthetics.

* Whisky Prajer has posted a sensible appraisal of The Atlantic Monthly here, and links to an interview with the crime writer Dennis Lehane here.

* A new study (here) suggests that women remember how other people look better than men do. Interesting to notice that both women and men were better at recalling how women look than at recalling how men look. What to make of this?

* Tyler Cowen (here) points out a study about how women select their mates, here. Encouraging if tentative conclusion, at least for us prettyboys: "As our ancestors evolved, the ability to attract a female mate through good looks may have become more important in the mating stakes than the ability to fight off male rivals." Take that, brutes.

* Fenster Moop works in a position of responsibility at a college, yet he's an unorthodox (if responsible) free thinker -- imagine that. He also has a way with the language, and a lot of unapologetic common sense. His recent posting about diveristy policies and accreditation (here) is characteristically smart, rueful and feisty.

* John Massengale visits Frank Gehry's $300 million new computer-science building for MIT (here) and isn't impressed. Neither is James Kunstler, here, who gives it his Eyesore of the Month award. The NYTimes' Sara Rimer seems to consider the building a Major Art Event, here.

* Toby Young writes an amusing Slate Diary that begins here about a recent trip to Los Angeles. Young arrives in town hoping to peddle a screenplay but by week's end is hanging out with papparazzi instead.

* Tim Hulsey recalls how he became a conservative, here.

* The Cranky Professor explains, amusingly and informatively, why teaching high school wasn't for him, here.

* Randall Parker supplies a lot of info about those mysterious Kurds here, and argues that the U.S. would do well to forget establishing a liberal democracy in Iraq. Randall thinks our best bet would be to break Iraq up, and give the Kurds their own state.



posted by Michael at May 13, 2004


"Nobody remembers the plots of my detective series. They remember character. Plot is just a way of explicating the character's needs and wants, his internal journey, and that's it." ....Dennis Lehane, the "crossover" crime novelist. James Lee Burke is another. I have read everything they have written.

But the primacy of character, the idea of character driving plot is a fine lit value. And maybe an American value, a Puritan value straight out of the Scarlet Letter. Character is destiny.

But there may be another American way to write. Melville:"Call me Ishmael." The blank, the pastless man, the man without possessions, place, attachments. The cowboy, the detective. Chandler's Marlowe. And novels can be written in which the protagonist is the still point around which the plot revolves. Existential novels are found more often in category fiction. :)

Posted by: bob mcmanus on May 13, 2004 09:14 PM

With all due respect, Tim Hulsey is not a conservative.

Posted by: Morty on May 14, 2004 06:00 AM

As a fan of Buster Keaton, I was interested to read that Ian Hamet piece on him. Oh dear. I would immediately dispute his assertion that Keaton fans don't like Our Hospitality (I'm not big on it myself but I've always thought I was in the minority there) or that Keaton's voice is "beautiful" (matter of taste, I suppose), and he is dead wrong (as it were) about the Roscoe Arbuckle case involving "no death". And he seems to have not noticed that Keaton's last actual silent film was Spite Marriage, not The Cameraman. I know it's an amateur piece written for fun and that professional articles can be riddled with egregious errors just as much, but you'd still think the person writing would do a bit of research into kind of basic facts like that...

Posted by: James Russell on May 14, 2004 08:45 AM

Frank Gehry's building at MIT is the wierdest, ugliest thing in the world. I had to stare at the picture for awhile because I initially thought it was a joke rendering.

Isn't MIT the same place where they built that truly hideous new dorm about a year ago? Is it the ugliest college campus in America now, or what? Do math major alums just have no taste?

Posted by: annette on May 14, 2004 06:31 PM

"Isn't MIT the same place where they built that truly hideous new dorm about a year ago? Is it the ugliest college campus in America now, or what? Do math major alums just have no taste?"

Yeah. Or no spines to stand up for aesthetics when confronted by an "expert". I suspect all that stupid inhumane geometric architecture had some kind of really good BSing behind it relating it to mathematical ideas, though.

Posted by: . on May 15, 2004 02:04 PM

Bob -- Fun to swap notes with another genre buff. Question for you? Do you prefer seeing all the energy go into plot and genre requirements? I may have a bigger fondness than you do for more character-driven things. I like seeing the genre thing done decently (or better than decently). But I have a taste for a lot of extra-genre carrying-on too. I'm a little wary of that taste of mine, but can't deny the pleasure. Are there character-and-atmosphere genre people you enjoy?

Morty -- I'd love to know why you think so! Too bad Tim doesn't use Comments over at his blog.

James -- A few facts here, a few facts there ... Still, how lovely to see such a Keaton appreciation, no? I sometimes think that if I can just get a few people to groove on Keaton the way I do, I'll have helped them get what movies (and American art generally) really are. I'm deluding myself, I know, but am still struck by what a strong feeling that is. What does Keaton look like to an Aussie filmbuff?

Annette -- I kind of enjoy some of Gehry's designs just as designs (though not this one). But I find it amazing that anyone would think of asking (let alone forcing) other people to work in, or visit, or interact such things. Let him make lamps or ashtrays instead. And yeah, doesn't it seem like MIT is doing a wonderful job of defacing itself? They're really making a statement of some kind or other.

. -- Or maybe just a halo of "advanced thought." Get people to believe that you're involved in gen-u-wine "advanced thought" and you can get away with a lot of nonsense. One of the reasons I love running Nikos Salingaros' stuff on the blog -- he does such a wonderful job of showing what nonsense architecture's school of "advanced thought" really is.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 15, 2004 03:05 PM

"Do you prefer seeing all the energy go into plot and genre requirements"

Oh I am really so eclectic as to be nearly tasteless. Enjoy the character-driven independent movies, the small ones like "Sex Lies Videotape" and "Reservoir Dog". "Dinner with Friends"

I have almost stopped reading fiction. When I was reading, tho I read Austen and Tolstoy, I vastly preferred the intellectual stuff like Joyce, Mann, Pynchon. Don't know if that is character or plot-driven. Couldn't stand Thomas Wolfe. Developed no taste for theater. So I was probably self-limited in a way.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on May 15, 2004 05:28 PM


Thanks for your comments.

Among the Keaton fans I have known, including several in the film department at the college I attended, Our Hospitality was not loved. No one called it bad, but everyone preferred something else. I have never encountered anything to contradict this until you.

Keaton's voice had character, was unique, and I'd rather listen to him sing 24 hours straight than to Nelson Eddie sing for five minutes. I suspect you are right, it is a matter of taste.

I pointedly said that I'd done little or no research on the Arbuckle case, and that it was merely my impression that there was no death. I shall strike that phrase from the article in the next week. Thanks for the correction.

(The reason I didn't take time to check it too much is that I was writing about Keaton, not Arbuckle, and Keaton's reaction to the case was the pertinent point.)

I have not seen Spite Marriage, but thought that there were two versions of it, one silent, the other talkie, as with Hitchcock's Blackmail. I will double–check, but if this is so, then I stand by my claim that The Cameraman was his last silent. If they shot for sound, that affects the production even for the silent version.

Posted by: Ian Hamet on May 15, 2004 10:59 PM

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