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  1. Free Reads -- Adorno Redux
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  5. Free Reads -- L.A. Cathedral
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  9. Media Overload
  10. Times Arts Frownlines 7

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Saturday, September 14, 2002

Free Reads -- Adorno Redux
Friedrich -- Knowing what an Adorno fan you are, I'm passing along this Edward Rothstein piece in the NYTimes about him, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- New Webzine
Friedrich -- "The Mixture," a slick new online magazine with much to offer multimedia-wise, here. Don't miss the video footage of surfer Laird Hamilton -- an hour and 30 minutes shorter than "Blue Crush," ten dollars cheaper, and far more enjoyable. Sample wisdom from Laird: If you see waves like what you saw here and you don't believe there's something greater than we are, you got some serious analyzing to do and you should go sit under a big tree for a long period of time. Athletes know what the Zone is. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Funny Bloggers
Friedrich -- Though no longer totally new to bloggerdom, I continue to be amazed by the number of smart, funny, and free-thinking bloggers out there. Many of them make the conventional media look like a bunch of stiffs. This morning I find myself wondering, for my own whimsical reasons, "Who’s the funniest blogger of them all?” Lileks? Hmm: He’s a pro, and his Bleats, while brilliant, are pulled-together pieces. He’s playing a different game than the one I'm thinking about. How about people who toss off a lot of stuff on the run, in true blogger spirit? Allowing for the fact that there are seventy-nine quadrillion people whose blogs I haven’t yet had time to sample, I’ve narrowed my personal “funniest blogger” competition down to three contestants. On the right is IMAO (site here), who has as good a brainy-redneck act down as I’ve ever run across. Here's a sample: Search Engines are the Opiate of the People Now China has blocked AltaVista in addition to Google just to make it clear to everyone they're still evil Commies. They can't have information going unfiltered to their populace making them realize how much better life would be if they just lynched all the Reds in charge. There doesn't seem to be any official statement on either AltaVista's or Google's webpage, but hopefully they'll do the proper American thing by responding, "Screw you, you stupid Commie bastards!" and then make one result of every search something embarrassing to the Chinese government. On the other hand -- no, actually, also on the right -- is Natalie Solent (site here), a wiz at libertarian-party-girl chat. Natalie? Stolen: one peal of thunder. The Blogger Sex War enters its second day. Godless Capitalist and Mrs Elizabeth Capitalist join forces in Gene Expression to make all my best points before I could in response to this post about sexism by Meryl Yourish. Letter from Gotham fires off a few salvos, too. Scroll up, down and sideways for more highly provocative commentary. (Did you know that in blind auditions orchestras hire more female musicians? That Venus Williams ran a 5:29 mile when she was nine years old?) Though I have to say Diane E misses the point about Stephen Den Beste. Although I am not well enough informed myself about Israeli politics to say which of the two is stronger on that topic, surely a high proportion of his audience consists of technically-minded men to whom what she refers to as an "overlay of wargame theories that look to me as if he got them from science fiction novels" is a feature not a bug. And finally here's Scott Ott, whose blog is called ScrappleFace, here. He shows the Onion how it's really done. INS to Probe Breaches in Microsoft Windows (2002-09-12) -- The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) launched a probe today to determine how many illegal aliens are actually entering the U.S. through gaping holes in the Microsoft Windows operating system. Good work from all... posted by Michael at September 14, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Uglow Model
Friedrich -- From an online talk with Lisa Coleman, an English actress, about working as a nude model for the artist Euan Uglow: At first I was very prudish about it, but then I felt really liberated. During coffee breaks I used to walk about the studio still naked, with a fag in my mouth. I posed for him for two years - and he never finished the picture. That did irritate me. Picture below is by Euan Uglow, though not of Lisa Coleman. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, September 13, 2002

Free Reads -- L.A. Cathedral
Friedrich -- Michael S. Rose has come out swinging against contemporary church architecture. (About time someone finally took that fight on.) Why do they look like drive-ins, food courts, and shoeboxes? In "Ugly As Sin," his new book, Rose explains the reasons. Few new churches have received the kind of ecstatic press that Our Lady of the Angels, the new L.A. cathedral designed by the Spanish modernist Jose Raphael Moneo, is currently getting. Rose has a contrarian's view in the Wall Street Journal, here. Geometry and Faith? I haven't seen the finished church myself. Have you? When the Wife and I drove by it during construction, it looked well on its way to resembling a chic parking garage. [Readers can take a few looks for themselves at the church's website, here.] Sample passage from Rose: The building consciously breaks with the historical continuity of two millennia of Catholic church architecture. Instead it pays homage to the past 50 years of banal and uninspiring utilitarian office structures that have littered the landscape of downtown Los Angeles (and many other American cities). Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 13, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

If I Were an Editor 5
Friedrich -- If I were the editor of a book-review section, I'd provide coverage and reviews of the usual, but also of visual books, pop fiction, joke books, self-help, and more. I'd also make a point of running profiles of and interviews with the many non-author people who help make the world of readin'-and-writin' what it is: designers, editors, artists, agents, booksellers.... It's bewildering that "books coverage" limits itself to the small cast of characters it does. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 13, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Pontormo and Ingres
Michael I just got a new book on Pontormo (Jacopo Carrucci), the Florentine Mannerist. As I went through it, I was struck less by the similarity between Pontormo's art and that of his contemporaries (e.g., Andre Del Sarto and Agnolo Bronzino) than by the way it seemed to find an echo in the work of J.A.D. Ingres, some 300 years his junior. I'm not suggesting anything very mystical here; Ingres spent 20 years of his career in Rome and 4 years in Florence, so his opportunities for exposure to Pontormo were significant. But since Ingres' "worship" of Raphael is an art-historical cliche, I think it's useful to examine if his affinities were not closer to the less academically acceptable Pontormo. Both Ingres and Pontormo were masters of an extremely refined style, and with both painters they caressed the "strings" of style with as much attention, if not more so, than the "music" of their subject matter. Their palates were so fastidious that neither could really choke down Michelangelo's example, although they both spent time attempting to do so. Raphael, on the other hand, could and would shove everything he could find into his artistic maw (Leonardo, Michelangelo, Gorgione, you name it), burped and went on to the next course. Both Ingres and Pontormo preferred a rather distant and subdued rhetoric in their treatment of subject matter, while again Raphael is far more of a showman, now refined for the royalty in the gallery, now coarse and playing to the crowd. Neither could remotely be envisioned as the painter of Raphael's "The Transfiguration" which is one of the showiest, "Hey Ma look at me!" paintings ever made. And both Ingres and Pontormo were aesthetes who turned to private visions of sensuality while adrift on the seas of war and turmoil; Ingres (1780 - 1867) experienced the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars as a young man, while during Pontormo's lifetime Italy went from chaotic independence to being dominated by outside powers, with episodes like the Sack of Rome tossed into the mix. Anyway, just to give you a little visual thrill, I include some examples. The first is "The Grand Odalisque" by Ingres (painted 1814). Note the similarity of the pose to that of the Pontormo's figure study for the loggia frescos in either Careggi or Castello (drawn sometime after 1530.) [I'll get back to you shortly on this] The second is Ingres' "Woman Bathing" of 1807. Again, although the pose is quite different, notice the Madonna of Pontormo's "Madonna and Child with a Young St. John" (sorry, I don't know the date.) With a little hair coloring, it could be the same woman. Cheers Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 13, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Alan Ayckbourn
Friedrich -- The Telegraph runs a brief but amusing excerpt from playwright Alan Ayckbourn's new book "The Crafty Art of Playmaking," here. Do you know Ayckbourn's plays? I like 'em: Sly and virtuosic, even while working a familiar dowdy-yet-amusing Brit vein. Sample passage: Ironically, when the play went to the West End in the so-called Swinging Sixties, I was asked to reset the first scene to the day before, around 4pm - the argument being that the audiences would be less shocked at seeing a young unmarried couple waking up together in the afternoon than in the morning. The logic in this confounded me. You mean they couldn't have been making love in the afternoon? So much for the traditional unities. I guess Aristotle hadn't reckoned with that one. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 13, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Media Overload
Friedrich -- The book I finished last night I got free; the audiobook I listened to this morning also came free. That's one of the upsides to working in an arty corner of the media world -- free stuff. One of the downsides is: too damn much free stuff. Keeping up with the product, even from a mere housekeeping point of view, can clog your brain, swamp your desk, and make you forget what you really enjoy, as well as how you'd really like to spend your time. Let's see... Before me right now are invites to movie screenings: "Spirited Away" (Japanimation -- don't think so); "Moonlight Mile" (Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon -- hmmmmmm, nope); and "Ballistics: Ecks vs. Sever" (spy thriller rated R not for sex but violence -- puhleeze). Into the circular file. There, my head's clear again. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 13, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Times Arts Frownlines 7
Friedrich -- Headlines from the front page of today's NYT "Weekend" (ie., popular arts) section: * Mob Life Resumes, Darker by the Day * Tragedy Kindles Dance of Hope Phew. I'd almost forgotten what a heavy burden the arts are meant to be. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 13, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Jealousy of America
Michael I was sitting in the food court at a local mall yesterday, eating lunch while pondering European and Middle Eastern anti-Americanism. As hard as I tried to feel the pain of a European or a Middle Easterner, I kept getting distracted by the steady stream of lightly dressed 18- to 45-year-old women strolling by. September is the hottest time of the year in Southern California and, while the ladies are always quite impressive, the heat made it possible to inspect their virtues far more thoroughly than at some other times of the year. Thoughts like "Why do those decadent, pushy Americans think they can tell everyone else what to do?" kept suddenly making a left turn into "Where do they find these unbelievable women?" Suddenly, a light bulb went off in my head. The reason these guys hate us is...THEY'RE JEALOUS OF OUR WOMEN! And...THEY'RE RIGHT TO BE! WE'VE GOT ALL RACES, COLORS AND CREEDS OF FIT, STYLISH, GORGEOUS BABES! Well, as I always say, it's better to know the score when you're dealing with these thorny international issues. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 13, 2002 | perma-link | (13) comments

Free Reads -- Michelle Malkin
Friedrich -- Michelle Malkin's been doing a bang-up job of covering how lax the U.S. can be about policing its borders. She's got another good column on the topic today, here. Sample passage: Barely two months after the September 11 attacks, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated his commitment to preserve the Big Apple as a formal sanctuary for illegal aliens. "People who are undocumented do not have to worry about city government going to the federal government," Bloomberg vowed. This assurance was stunning coming from the new mayor of a city still covered in rubble as a result of foreign terrorists who exploited our lax immigration policies at every turn. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 13, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reading -- Random Jottings
Michael All Friends of Truth and Humor! Ye must check out "Random Jottings: A weblog by John Weidner," here -- especially the running comments on New York Times demogogue Paul Krugman. These run under the heading of "Krugman Truth Squad" and are now up to 40 installments. His mix of careful analysis (where does Mr. Weidner get the time to put graphs and such together?) and street-smart language is to die for. A brief example from installment #36: In effect, the whole field [of macroeconomics] has been reduced to a battle of anecdotes, usually based on a sample of one event. The death of the Blinder/Rubin doctrine [that high taxes increase fiscal discipline, fiscal discipline gives lower long-term interest rates and lower long-term rates promote investment and economic growth] is just the latest casualty of a single-event macro theory. And it has left Paul Krugman up shit creek without a paddle. He's probably hoping no one will notice. But the Squad is on the case. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 13, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Free Reads -- Steven Pinker
Friedrich -- The ever-resourceful Arts and Letters Daily (here) points out a long q&a with Steven Pinker, here. Have you read Pinker? He's immensely brainy, interested in things that interest me, and a good popularizer. He brings together neuroscience, evo-bio and linguistics, and then explains himself in verve-y, plain English. His new book, "The Blank Slate," is a terrific intro to these subjects and their intersections, although most of what he says won't come as startling news to people already familiar with the material. But his thesis -- the ludicrousness of the notion that there is no such thing as human nature, that people are endlessly malleable "blank slates" -- is always pleasing to hear argued. And he writes a useful chapter (that'll be of special interest to readers of this blog) where he discusses the implications of this kind of thinking for the arts, and introduces the reader to evolutionary esthetics. (Rah, rah! Sis boom bah!) Sample passage from the book: Western societies are good at providing things that people want: clean water, effective medicine, varied and abundant food, rapid transportation and communication. They perfect these goods and services not from benevolence but from self-interest, for the profits to be made in selling them. Perhaps the aesthetics industry also perfected ways of giving people what they like -- art forms that appeal basic human tastes, such as calendar landscapes, popular songs, and Hollywood romances and adventures. So even if an art form matured in the West, it may be not an arbitrary practice spread by a powerful navy but a successful product that engages a universal human aesthetic. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friedrich -- I just finished making my way through Ryszard Kapuscinski's "The Shadow of the Sun." Have you read him? A Polish foreign correspondent with a knack for showing up just when things go insane. I'm a big fan of some of his books, which struck me as among the very best new things I've read in the last few decades, fiction or nonfiction. "The Emperor" (about Haile Selaisse's Ethiopia), "The Soccer War" (about a war in Latin America that broke out over a soccer match), and "Shah of Shahs" (about the Shah of Iran) were all standouts -- intense, to the point, atmospheric. ("Imperium," about Russia, was awfully good too.) The books are all more like hallucinations than conventional "reportage." I seem to remember that there's been some controversy about how literally accurate they are. I don't worry about that much myself; I doubt anyone's likely to be tempted to use them as reference books. You read them as nonfiction poetry, really. "The Shadow of the Sun" struck me as the weakest book of his I've read. It covers 40ish years of visits and work in Africa, and it's like sitting next to a friend who's determined to take you through his travel photo album, picture after picture, one after another. Maybe he's traveled to amazing places and seen amazing things, and maybe some of the material and the sights are amazing too. But the recitation, whatever its virtues, drones on, and the attention wanders. It's a surprise that Kapuscinski, so tough and shrewd in his better books, comes here to seem conventional, and a little hysterical, even silly. When he's on his game, he's focused on what strictly needs to be conveyed. Here, he keeps losing himself in his own responses. (A journalist friend tells me that many foreign correspondents are like that -- intense, overdramatic, urgent.) Maybe it's just that Kapuscinski isn't at his best when writing about his own experiences. When he's got a real story to tell, one that's about someone else, he's superb, able to line his material up and make it flow. And a few of this book's chapters are keepers -- there's a good one about Idi Amin, and another about Liberia and Samuel Doe. For a few minutes the history, personalities and tribal rivalries all make cruel sense. "The Shadow of the Sun" has its virtues, lord knows: it's atmosphere- and information-rich. But it's also pretty shapeless, and can be passed up without too many regrets. But some of his other books? Whew: just amazing. A good Guardian piece about Kapuscinski, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Europe vs. America
Michael Somewhat to my surprise, there is an excellent piece in the September issue of Harper's, entitled "Le Divorce: Do Europe and America have irreconcilable differences" by Nicholas Fraser. It is full of wonderful bits, including a Frenchwoman explaining why America no longer inspires confidence (it has newscasts with aggressive special effects, and President Bush uses primitive theological concepts like "evil" and other low-class rhetorical effects in his speeches), the homogeneity of British television coverage of America (the only topics include the underclass, innocent people on death row, the history of lynching, the fences separating Texas and California from Mexico, and American obesity), the frustrations resulting from the inability of Europe to create sufficient political unity to serve as a balance to American power, and the sense of overall political impotence giving rise to European xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism. One brief quote: Otherwise the European future consists of wishes--that nation-states should somehow cease to exist, that the nations of Eastern Europe might by ingested by the Union without excessive inconvenience, that less money might somehow be squandered on cows or olive trees, and that against expectations the world will somehow prove itself capable of being a less dangerous place, more in keeping with the carefully policed, air-conditioned, and wholy unexceptional space colonized by the E.U. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 12, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- immigration
Friedrich -- Lawrence Auster over at View from the Right has a posting about anti-Jewish riots in Montreal, the rioters being Palestinian immigrants, here. Sample passage: In the supreme irony, Jews and other Westerners decided that the meaning of the Nazi Holocaust was not evil, but intolerance, which must be overcome by eliminating all racial and ethnic discrimination from public law. So, in the name of counteracting Nazism and advancing tolerance, the Jews helped admit en masse into North America the most virulent Jew-haters on earth. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Artistic Problems
Michael In my posting, "Godard redux," I referred, rather mysteriously, to the concept that art needs sustained engagement with artistically nurturing emotional/technical "problems." Reading that over, I'm highly confident (as Michael Milken of Drexel Burnham Lambert used to say) that nobody could guess what the hell I'm talking about. So here's an example. In 1481 Leonardo Da Vinci got a commission for an altarpiece on the topic of "The Adoration of the Magi." Leonardo, not having an ounce of Christian piety in him, saw this as an opportunity to explore some formal ideas he was playing with. (Of course, this being the Renaissance and not the 20th Century, Leonardo had no intention of shocking or alienating the religious order who were paying his bills--he was perfectly happy to "illustrate" the Gospel story in such a way that it could be used as a backdrop for their church services.) Leonardo apparently began his thinking with Boticelli's version of the same story which was about six years old at the time. Botticelli Leonardo obviously didn't think Botticelli had said the last word on the subject. If you notice, Botticelli's brightly daylit painting describes space largely by having his figures (conveniently clothed in different colored outfits) overlap, and having them stand under a structure that is obviously constructed in one-point perspective. Only in the upper corners does Botticelli use atmospheric perspective to show that the landscape background is far, far behind the foreground. Leonardo seems to have had a brainwave: what if he could use atmospheric perspective (or something closely related to it) to describe the foreground figures and bring them into a clear spatial relationship with each other. He would have discovered a new "unity" for painting, that could make the figure groups attain the monumentality of sculpture (albeit by a completely unsculptural device). Leonardo seems to have found the technical effect he was looking for in dim, highly diffuse yet still directional light. Leonardo, after two years of playing around, brought the picture to this state: Leonardo He then abruptly left town, abandoning the project and leaving the poor monks with this unfinished picture. I'm sure he had a cover story (artists always do) but I believe the real reason Leonardo gave up on the picture was that he couldn't figure out how to take it any further. To be more specific, when he started superimposing local color over his monochrome underpainting, how could he keep the "picture puzzle" effect of differing local colors from disrupting the unifying effect of light, shadow and atmosphere that he had already created? The altarpiece sat unfinished for years, serving as a challenge to ambitious painters. Leonardo, on his travels around Italy, kept playing with this problem, although not, in my opinion, really solving it. The best he could do in his later paintings was to introduce very quiet, subdued, grayed-out colors (e.g., The Mona Lisa). However, in the fall of 1504, a youth from Urbino showed up in Florence, eager to prove his mettle.... posted by Friedrich at September 12, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Spy Novels
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Do you have any patience with the spy-novel genre? I keep giving it a try, as though one of these days I'll catch on and start grooving to it. And I never do. I'm reading a Robert Ludlum right now. (Ludlum website here.) I've read an Ambler, a couple of Le Carres, a Jack Higgins. And it all strikes me as silly-little-boy fantasy stuff I'm being asked to take seriously. I enjoy the apparatus: the telegrams, the mysterious communications from MI5, the former Nazis still scheming to take over the world, the dark nights at the Geneva airport, the deadly devices hidden in the heel of the shoe, that athletic blonde Nazi/Commie with the cheekbones who always seems to beat up the hero. But, my failing, I'm sure I can't take any of it seriously. Spoofed-up or sexed-up, spy fiction can amuse me: I like the Bond novels, I enjoy "Ramba" and "Modesty Blaise." Spoof 'n' Sex: Modesty Blaise But without the sex or the humor, I have a terrible time even paying attention. The events and conspiracies go by, and after a while I find myself taking it all as modernist collage-poetry -- all scrambled motifs, bizarro moments out of expressionist movies, and inexplicable, misterioso plots. Who's "Helmut"? Why are we in Curacao right now? That blonde woman the hero's sleeping with -- is she really his sister, or was I dozing again? My response to the spy novel genre is so basic that it gets me wondering about genres generally -- where they come from, what purpose they serve, how they function. It's striking how some genres simply work for a reader and some don't. Why should this be? In my case, I like some crime novel subgenres, I can stand thrillers, I can make my way through some romances, but I have no interest in serial-killer novels, sci-fi, or spy novels. These tastes and preferences -- which are so gut-level basic -- seem built into the system itself. I find myself wondering if -- convinced, really -- they're based in the organism, down in some deep physical level. Historically, genres are certainly evolved semi-biological phenomena, something like language. I'd argue that they are the language, or are at least part of the language, of narrative itself. Why not conclude that, like language, they have a basis in biology? Which genres do you find you can go with? Which do you find you can't go with? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2002 | perma-link | (3) comments

Times Arts Frownlines 6
Friedrich -- More headlines from the NYTimes' Arts section that'll set your pulse racing with anticipation. On the front page: * Journey Back From the Abyss in Beijing (about a Chinese director who has made a movie about his own struggle giving up a drug addiction) * Poet Turned Antic Architect Keeps Exploring Inner Space And inside: * Zurich Theater Director Becomes a Public Issue (subheaded "A shrinking audience, a firing, a petition of protest" -- be still, my heart!) When did the arts become a branch of the social services industry? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Policy Break -- Legal System Redux
Michael In today's Wall Street Journal there's a priceless nugget: One county [in Mississippi] popular with forum-shopping trial lawyers has 21,000 asbestos cases but only 9,700 people. For all of you out there in the stock market, you should pay attention to companies having the slightest asbestos exposure (including, for example, GE)--the ONLY strategy that has permitted any such company to manage its legal risks is bankruptcy. Have a nice day, trial lawyers. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 12, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Pygmy Negritos
Friedrich -- Steve Sailer talks with George Weber, a Swiss businessman who's knowledgeable about the Pygmy Negritos of the Andaman Islands (in the Indian Ocean), one of the few remaning Stone Age cultures, here. Sample passage: It is thought that the surviving Negritos are a remnant population representing an early -- perhaps the earliest -- migration out of Africa of modern Homo sapiens. That such an early population could have survived into our days is a major miracle, made possible only by the Andamanese ferocity toward outsiders and their geographical isolation over tens of thousands of years. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Michael I haven't spent a whole lot of time on Nietzsche lately myself, although from time to time I have pondered how his writings, bursting with contempt for late 19th century socialism, could have been hijacked by the left. As best I can tell, without making an extensive study of post-modern thought (for which I will never, ever have time or interest) post-modernists were enraptured when they read that Nietzsche denied the "objectivity" of human thought and pointed out the primacy of the "will to power"--and then just took the bit between their teeth and galloped off to pursue their left-wing agendas, feeling empowered to say or do anything in their pursuit of power--oops, I meant to say, in their pursuit of perfect social justice for the oppressed and equality between the sexes. Nietzsche, on the other hand, as best I can tell, was attempting to treat logic, morality, etc., from an evolutionary (biological) point of view. In other words, Nietzsche was opposed to the ahistorical, acultural idealism of German philosophy of his day, e.g., Kant, who segregated mental processes into a priori ideas (that provide an "organizational context" for experience, such as 3-dimensional space, time, etc.) on the one hand and concepts derived from experience on the other, thus raising the a priori ideas far above any historical or cultural context. In other words, Nietzsche is saying that we use all ideas (a priori as well as experiential) because they are useful, and will use other ones when the current set become useless--not because a particular set of ideas are, in some Platonic/metaphysical sense, true now and true always, as the idealists keep trying to suggest. I think Nietzsche would have been very amused at the way relativity and quantum mechanics have "blown up" many of the concepts that Kant (man of the 18th century that he was) assumed lived safely in the pristine, crystaline world of the a priori. None of this is to say, however, that Nietzsche considered himself or the concept of "usefulness" as above mere "facts," and especially not above inconvenient facts. In his Darwinian world, vital new thought had to pass the test of usefulness--it really had to "work" (e.g., using structural mechanics to design bridges that have stood for centuries) or it would be found out and rejected by power-seeking humanity, (e.g. Marxism-Leninism.) I think he would have had the greatest scorn for the post-modernists and their sloppy thoughts, which appear to have all the long term usefulness of schemes developed by con men. Maybe I'm wrong, but I place Nietzsche in the whole current of modern evolutionary thought along with Darwin, Hayek, and sociobiology. Cheers, of a "Joyful Science" sort, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 11, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

New Classicists
Friedrich -- Robert Adam's Sackler Library at Oxford If you're interested in the New Classicism, here are some treats. First, the thoughts of a few New Classicist intellectuals: *Leon Krier on how absurd modernist architecture is, here. *Carroll William Westfall compares classical and modernist architecture, here. *David Watkin, a brilliant British architectural historian, arguing that classical architecture is the language of Western civ, here. *Lucien Steil, himself a New Classicist, runs Katarxis, a terrific webzine about traditional and classical architecture, here. You can taste-test some of the work of the New Classicists at these sites: *The Institute for the Study of Classical Architecture, in NYC, here. *The studio of Robert Adam, one of the more bold New Classicists, here. *The native-born and still-young Eric Watson of Tampa, Florida, who has worked with many of the New Urbanists, here. *Julian Bicknell, one of the stricter but also most romantic of the group, here. [Note to the zillions of journalists (small joke) who frequent this site looking for ideas to steal: go wild! And lotsa luck with this one, which I tried to sell for years, and for which I never found any takers.] Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 11, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Catesby Leigh
Friedrich -- One of the most interesting developments in architecture in recent years has been the resurgence of classical (not just traditional, but actual columns-and-porticoes) architecture. It's also been one of the most unremarked developments, at least so far as the mainstream and official architectural press go. Catesby Leigh writes about the rebirth of classical architecture for the Weekly Standard, here. It would also be worth buying a copy of the magazine, which includes photos of the buildings discussed. Sample passage: The romantic stereotype of the architect as a Promethean genius--a man who invents the terms of his art more or less ex nihilo--has done the profession considerable harm. Most clients haven't much use for visionaries who aspire to erect gigantic upside-down woks. A small number of high-profile jobs allows a well-placed coterie to inflict their "creativity" on the hapless public. But meanwhile, more and more work slips away from architects, as clients get the job done with construction engineers and tradesmen. Add on top of this the preservationists' listing of everything they can get their hands on, and the average architecture-school graduate finds it very hard to be "creative" and make a living. Some good news: one of the best of the New Classicists has been engaged to build a new $100 million quad at our Lousy Ivy College. I didn't like much about the place but I did think it was pretty, and it's been awful to see the mess the administrators (and their fave postmodern architect) have made of new construction in the years since we left. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 11, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Terry Teachout
Friedrich -- Terry Teachout meditates for Commentary magazine on the future of recorded music, here. Sample passage: In the not-so-long run, the introduction of online delivery systems and the spread of file-sharing will certainly undermine and very likely destroy the fundamental economic basis for the recording industry, at least as we know it today. Nor can there be much doubt that within a few years, the record album will lose its once-privileged place at the heart of Western musical culture. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 11, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Colored Prints
Friedrich -- I had no idea that Renaissance prints were often hand-colored, or colored at all. Did you? The Baltimore Museum of Art (website here) opens a show of 80 such colored prints on October 6th, which they describe as "the first extensive exploration of hand-colored prints of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. During the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries, the application by brush of washes, body color, and precious gold, and silver paints to engravings, etchings, and woodcuts was a common aspect of print production." Here's an example, a hand-colored Durer woodcut from 1511. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 11, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Media Bitch
Friedrich -- Good lord. Here's the publicity copy for a book Morrow will be bringing out later this month. Girl becomes woman, and woman becomes bitch. It is a matter of self-preservation and the beginning of independence. Just as women begin to celebrate their freedoms, anger sets in. Sometimes harrowing, always intriguing and each time hitting close-to-home, THE BITCH IN THE HOUSE: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage is the polar opposite of what Virginia Woolf coined, "The Angel in House." To Woolf, the angel in the house symbolized the domestic goddess who kept her family content and cared for at all costs, especially her own. The Bitch in the House is a flawed goddess. She often must do the work of the angel, but while balancing myriad roles. The bitch is sometimes selfish, sometimes angry. As Hanauer says in her introduction, "This book was born out of anger." And the bitch realizes that sometimes her anger fuels her. But ultimately, she doesn't want to be angry. I've got whiplash -- partly from trying to make sense of the above, but mostly from running for cover from the kinds of people who'd publish such a thing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 11, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Godard redux
Michael In your posting Walter Hill redux you remark: "I can't think of another filmmaker so talented whose work has gone so completely to hell. Can you?" Unfortunately, I can: Godard. Maybe precipitous declines are a risk of greatness in movie-making, something like "the bigger they are, the harder they fall." Or maybe because art in movie making (at least in the modern movie industry) seems to be much more a matter of balancing on some unconscious or at best semi-conscious razor's edge than in some other media. I suspect that's because the conditions of modern movie making don't seem propitious for the sustained engagement with artistically nurturing emotional/technical "problems." (See, I can make you mutter "Say what?" with the best of those post-Modernists.) What I'm getting at is that few of today's movie makers are lucky enough to have anything like the sustaining "problems" of physical comedy underlying, for example, the films of a Buster Keaton. I think a lot of them would be grateful to be goaded from one inventive "solution" to another. If you want to skip seeing Godard's most recent piece, fine by me. Just rent one of his pre-1968 movies and write your heart out. I mean, if we're going to discuss Greek architecture, I'm happy to go straight to the Parthenon and skip the little plastic knick-knacks now on sale at the Athens Airport gift shop. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 11, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Ashley reredux
Friedrich -- Why we love actresses, part 742: A page of links to interviews with Ashley Judd, here. She's a charmer. Here's a sample, from a talk with Salma Hayek for Interview magazine: When I accept a role, I feel that as an artist I have to submit completely to the tutelage of my director. And while I expect to be heard and encouraged and honored, at the end of the day, man, it's the way the director wants it. And that gives me a great adrenaline rush, because I like the challenge of doing it the way they want it done. If they ask me to do it, I can get to a place where I can deliver completely what they're looking for - with my own oomph. Grrrrr. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 11, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Moviegoing: "XXX"
Friedrich -- Today (a hot one) the Wife and I went to the multiplex in seach of good air conditioning and mindless entertainment, and wound up in a theater showing "Xxx." 15 minutes in, I offered to leave if and when the Wife saw fit. Five minutes later, air conditioning or no air conditioning, she saw fit, and we were outta there. Necessary preface: I'm capable of all sorts of snobbism; I'm also all in favor of brainless, dynamic fun. "Xxx," which wants to be a post-Gen X/ESPN2/Xtreme- sports reworking of a Bond-like franchise, was brainless and dynamic, but it wasn't fun. All it was, as far as I was concerned, was a blur of noise and hyperactivity happening at a very far distance -- one of those duds that sends you out of the theater wondering why you never once felt involved or interested. It proposed its world, its premise, and its game, then failed completely to lure me in. Vin: Icon of Edge? Larger Michael Musings: 1) How does "involvement" occur? And what is it that happens, or fails to happen, when it doesn't occur? The Wife points out that while "Xxx" had lots of cleverness and energy, it had no playfulness and no spark. I felt like a column of numbers that the movie was determined to crunch. 2) Some performers -- such as Cameron Diaz, or (here) Vin Diesel -- are so striking in supporting roles that you can't wait for the pleasure they'll deliver as stars. Then, presented in a starring role, they can't hold you. Why? Cameron Diaz is a charmer in "My Best Friend's Wedding" but seems all-used-up in "The Sweetest Thing." Vin Diesel seems like an instant icon in "The Fast and the Furious" but fails to hold the camera in "Xxx." What gets lost in the move from striking-supporting-player to not-really-a-star? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 11, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Walter Hill redux
Friedrich -- Thanks for the Walter Hill update. I'm not exactly surprised "Undisputed" is a turkey. I remember how exciting Hill's early movies were, and how quickly his work deteriorated. Thenish I haven't seen many of the movies he's made since "48 HRS," but each one has been awful. Downright bizarre how bad Hill's work has become. It seems lazy and pointlessly "dynamic," as though he now thinks that tons of footage, camera angles and edits can make up for a lousy (albeit "mythical") script and an aversion to staging. Nowish I can't think of another filmmaker so talented whose work has gone so completely to hell. Can you? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 10, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Schopenhauer redux
Friedrich -- Glad to hear you're enjoying Schopenhauer. I'm no Schopey scholar, but I've loved what I've read: grimly (but enjoyably) pessimistic, poetic, influenced by some of my favorite Eastern ideas. Schopenhauer's basic vision of life suits me pretty well, but the writing is what makes me love his work. It's breathtaking. Plus his view of art suits me. Here's a nice passage from Bryan Magee, a British professor who writes first-rate intros to philosophy: In Schopenhauer's view there is one way in which we can find momentary release from our imprisonment in the dark dungeon of this world, and that is through the arts. In painting, sculpture, poetry, drama, and above all music, the otherwise relentless rack of willing on which we are stretched out throughout life is relaxed, and suddenly we find ourselves free from the tortures of our existence. For a moment we are in touch with something outside the empirical realm, a different order of being: we literally have the experience of being taken out of time and space altogether, and also out of ourselves, even out of the material object that is our body. You go, Schopey. Schopenhauer: Cheerful Zen pessimist Confirming once again just how shallow and pleasure-oriented I am -- go ahead, call me an aesthete -- I find that I react much more to the quality of writing in philosophy than most readers seem to. The tone, the words, the style, the energy -- all mean a lot to me, at least as much as the ideas. I love and (not that anyone needs to know) basically agree with Hume, for instance. But if he weren't so drily amusing and incisive I wouldn't bother with him at all. Hume: Cosmic yet bemused There's more meaning in the writing itself, or so I'd contend, than is usually acknowledged. I remember once discussing Nietzsche with some professor and doing my lame best to ask him why more discussions of Nietzsche didn't take his humor and style into account. (I always found it hard to take Nietzsche's goofy ideas seriously -- but what a dazzling writer.) The prof (a perfectly bright and helpful guy) kept doing his best to steer me back to the exact meaning of the words. Which was probably the sane and responsible thing to do. Because when you read philosophy scrupulously, it's helpful; you sharpen your brain a bit, you polish your tools, and you find out pretty quickly which team you're cheering for. But, good lord, it can also be pleasurable, dammit, and that's not nothing. I marvel that that isn't discussed more. But perhaps I'm weird. I find that generally I'm more interested in what reading a philosopher is like than I am in his ideas, which seem to me to be mere parts of a much more rich experience. And in most cases I'd rather talk about the experience than hash over the ideas. How do you tend to read philosophy? For the ideas alone? For the literary... posted by Michael at September 10, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Walter Hill
Michael I made a rather discouraging pilgrimage to a local multiplex last night. I went to see "Undisputed," a film co-written and directed by the once-great Walter Hill. Unfortunately, it was like paying a visit on an old friend and being shocked to see how far downhill they’ve gone since you saw them last. Walter Hill first burst in upon my consciousness in 1979 with a TV ad for his movie, "The Warriors." My roommate and I were so pumped up by the ad (hey, we were 25) that we literally ran several blocks to a local theatre to catch the next showing. "The Warriors" was a weird brew of a movie--a disco-era remake of Xenophon's (431-354 B.C.) "Anabasis." (For those of you unfamiliar with your Classic literature, this is the true story of ten thousand Greek mercenaries, including our author, who, having signed on with the Persian Cyrus to help take the throne from the emperor Artaxerxes, end up stranded a long way from home by Cyrus’ death and have to fight their way out against a series of foes.) In “The Warriors,” the Greek mercenaries have become a Coney Island street gang, summoned to a pan-gang conference in the Bronx (conducted under a turf-war truce) in which gang-leader Cyrus’ vision of taking over the city is short-circuited by his assassination. When the assassination is blamed on the Warriors, they become the target of all the other gangs whose turf lies between the Bronx and home. On the one hand, the movie is a series of action movie set-pieces of increasingly kinetic violence as the Warriors—refusing to remove their gang insignia—run or fight their way past hostile gangs. On the other hand, the movie, shot largely on city locations—grafitti-sprayed playgrounds, the subway, Central Park, Coney Island, etc.—also functions as a sort of nightmarish documentary of 1970’s crime ridden, bankrupt, neon-lit, disco-decadent New York. The same artistic strategy of using real city locations as backdrops for action-movie gymnastics is applied to the actors. Our heros, while directed to give highly stylized, strike-a-pose, ultra-tough-guy performances as they confront one blood-chilling opponent after another, also come across as believably teen-aged: scared, stupid and full of the redeeming adrenaline-and-hormone charged energy of adolescence. “Undisputed,” in regrettable contrast, is a tired, middle-aged, improbable fantasy that takes off from the adventures of Mike Tyson (famous boxer convicted of rape and sent to the big house.) The movie spends a good deal of time on the Tyson character, here called Ice-Man, and on the gripping question of whether or not he is actually guilty of rape. Unfortunately, we never really find out who to believe before the movie suddenly loses interest in the whole question. I bring this piece of “extended character development” up only to point out, that like most of the film, it is just window dressing. Ice-Man is really a walking plot device, brought onstage so that we can see the climactic boxing match between the him, the undefeated World Champion and our... posted by Friedrich at September 10, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments