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  1. Truth in Advertising
  2. Art in the Moonlight Redux
  3. Free Reads -- Philip Roth
  4. TV Alert
  5. Literary Pleasures of Military History
  6. Art in the Moonlight
  7. Free Reads -- Funniest Jokes
  8. Free Reads -- Hugh Grant
  9. Amiri Baraka re-redux
  10. DVD Journal: "The Business of Strangers"

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Saturday, October 5, 2002

Truth in Advertising
Michael The L.A. Times on October 5 published some letters from non-tenure track lecturers that showcase the low priority the modern university places on its teaching staff and on the education of students generally. From Nick Tingle of Goleta: I have taught as a lecturer in the UC [Univeristy of California] system for 22 years. I do not want the ‘respect [or] rewards of tenure.’ I want the respect that the University of California, considered by many the greatest publicly funded university in the world, should accord its teaching faculty. Lecturers are the teachers of the UC system. However, lecturers have less job security than K-12 teaches and make less money, at the entry level and in terms of years of service, than their colleagues at community colleges…Clearly, the UC does not respect its teaching faculty and, by extension, its state-mandated educational mission. From Aneil Rallin, Assistant Professor of Literature, Writing Studies at Cal State San Marcos: …administrators at most universities across the country think of lecturers as ‘cheap labor,’ but I am made much more distraught by my colleagues who often collude with administrators …[to] treat lecturers as second class citizens. Perhaps an even more telling letter came from May Akabogu-Collins, who happily left a full-time, tenure-track position as an assistant professor of economics to serve as a lecturer, enabling her to make more money by writing freelance articles in her now plentiful spare time: …I don’t mind at all the mindless teaching of lower-division economics courses, which requires little or no preparation. Gee, did you ever wonder why most college classes were so boring, uninformative, needlessly confusing and eminently forgettable? Remember Those Exciting College Lectures? Did it ever dawn on you how much information could really be communicated in the amount of time an average college class absorbs? Imagine if the instruction was designed not by some underpaid junior academic who is happy that teaching you requires "little or no preparation"(!), but by a staff of professionals utilizing modern multi-media technology? And particularly by a staff that was incentivized, say, with financial bonuses based on the amount of material retained by students two years down the line? I have said it before, and I say it again, the actual instruction at modern universities is a joke, and a wildly out-of-date joke at that. If universities had a truth-in-advertising law, this notice would appended to all university recruiting materials: On the advice of counsel we make the following declaration: The purpose of the university degree which we may or may not award you is solely to certify to future employers or graduate schools that you are a reasonably bright, hard working individual. In return for this certification we demand four years of tuition, and the right to solicit you endlessly for donations. This certification will be accomplished based on two methods: we will examine your standardized test scores and high school record to ascertain your intellectual horsepower, and make a decision on whether or not to admit you. (We... posted by Friedrich at October 5, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Art in the Moonlight Redux
Friedrich -- Thanks for returning to the theme of art and economics, a much-underdone topic. The NEA study you discuss, about the job situations of “professional artists,” sounds fascinating. You’re no doubt better equipped than I am to pull it apart and make further sense of it. But one thing I’d like to know is how the study’s researchers define “professional artist.” I mean, if an artist isn’t making real money at his art, then he’s not a “professional artist” -- that’s basic, no? We’d laugh at a guy who claimed to be a “professional baseball player” if he had to hold down a fulltime job to support his baseball habit. So why do we allow a guy who enjoys playing the trombone but who makes his living as a carpenter to call himself a “professional musician”? (Most likely answer: sentimentality about that poor, persecuted field, the arts.) Another example: What’s the difference between a teacher who paints watercolors as a hobby, and a “professional watercolorist” who makes no money as a watercolorist and so supports himself as a teacher? No difference at all, as far as I can see. In both cases, it comes down to the same equation: Painting-for-pleasure plus teaching job. Does it really matter if the first person is relaxed about his commercial painting prospects, while the second person is still clinging to a dream of making it? They're both still doing the same thing. I wonder how the NEA decides which artists who make little or no money at their art qualify to be called “professional artists.” Is it a matter of holding a degree of a certain sort? Of making a certain amount of money from art? If so, where is the line drawn? And why there? I wonder this in full sympathy with all artists who wish they had fewer money challenges, and more time to do art. I know where you’re coming from, dudes and dudettes. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 5, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Philip Roth
Friedrich -- Working in and around the arts, you find yourself having to get past many sweet illusions. (It's either wise up, or go back to school for that business degree.) One of the first illusions I had to let go of, back when I was but a babe, was this: that fiction writers are smart. It's such an easy assumption to make. School tends to leave us thinking that writers write because they're smart. And there's a perhaps-natural tendency to look at and handle a book and think, Gosh, there must be something special about the person behind it: s/he got published! Wow! I was as prone to this delusion as anyone when, back in the early '80s, I attended a major international conference of writers. Award-winners from dozens of countries were present. There were panels, speeches, seminars. I ran around with pen and pad, interviewing whoever I could sink my claws into. What a chance to learn and be enlightened, right? In fact, I'd seldom heard such inane nonsense spoken in my life. Writer after writer, many of them famous, got up to speak -- and delivered naive baloney. The average American burger-flipper has more horse-sense about how the world works, as well as more shrewdness about basic psychology. Quel surprise: Fiction writers tend to be to hyper-reactive and over-imaginative, often to the point of near-hysteria. It's common for them to feel persecuted, unheeded, misunderstood. Their views of the world often reflect this; as political thinkers, they identify (ludicrously) with the oppressed and the unconscious. They're like children, forever looking for parents who'll take proper care of them. And, gollygosh, if life isn't fair it's because there are bad people (Americans almost certainly, and quite likely Republicans) out there! My conclusion is that a gift for writing fiction has nothing whatever to do with the ability to reason and make sense of things. Instead, it's a talent, like a gift for singing, dancing, or throwing a football. (I'm deliberately side-stepping here any fancypants games along the lines of: but gee, isn't intelligence itself a kind of talent? And, gee, isn't an athlete's talent a kind of intelligence?...) I've found that talent and intelligence are best thought of as two different things. It's possible to be very talented yet completely brainless; it's also possible to be very intelligent yet without talents (though, realistically speaking, we all seem to have some talent -- parenting, perhaps, or telling jokes, or taking care of animals. Or, in my case, setting the VCR). Having brains and artistic talent: now that's a nice, if unusual, combo. Add a little common sense into the mix, and you've found yourself a rarity indeed. What brings these thoughts to mind is a piece in the Telegraph about Philip Roth, who has been doing some (eek) thinking about America and 9/11. He's certainly a very talented guy, and obviously one with ferocious powers of mental concentration. But he also seems to be someone whose reasoning gifts are --... posted by Michael at October 5, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

TV Alert
Friedrich -- Cable TV is so rich in movie pickings next week that the best rep theater would have a hard time competing. Here are some highlights: * Cat People (TCM: Thursday 8 PM). The producer Val Lewton made a number of no-budget horror films in the late ‘40s that have since become small legends for their low-key eerieness, and for the way they chilled and scared viewers with subtlety and suggestion rather than overwhelming effects. “Cat People” was the first in the series, and was directed by the very talented Jacques Tourneur. * Vanya on 42nd St (IFC: Sunday at 8 PM EST; Sunday at 2 pm; Friday 8 AM; Friday 4 PM). In this version of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” the team (Andre Gregory, Wallace Shawn, and Louis Malle) that was responsible for “My Dinner With Andre” moves fluidly in and out of theater reality. What’s rehearsal? What’s real? Am I reacting to the actor or the role? A meditation on theater, film and reality that's modest in physical scale, but big in emotional impact. * Training Day (Cinemax: Monday at 8 pm; Tuesday at 3:30 AM; Wednesday at 10 PM). The performance for which Denzel Washington won his Oscar. Washington is spectacular -- was this his first time portraying a truly Bad Dude -- but the film itself is notable too: a tough cop melodrama, small but flamboyant, and well-turned on all levels. Some viewers had trouble making the leap into the third act, though I didn’t. Major dirty-language and wild-violence alert. * Mermaids (AMC: Monday at 8 PM EST; Tuesday at 12:30 AM; Tuesday at 5:30 PM). Cher, Winona Ryder and Cristina Ricci as a mom and her two kids. Laugh-a-little-cry-a-little period dramedy about what happens between a sexy working-class mother and her daughter when the kid hits adolescence. Memorable and touching: Cher’s terrific; Ryder and Ricci are spunky and sensitive; and Bob Hoskins is sweetly bewildered as Cher’s beau. Hard to beat if you love watching actresses do their thing. Why isn’t this film better known? * Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (TCM: Tuesday at 6 AM). The Frederic March and Miriam Hopkins version of the Robert Louis Stevenson material. Effectively moody, operatic in its studio stylization (as early horror often was), and surprisingly frank in its eroticism. * This Land is Mine (TCM: Wednesday at 2 AM). A Jean Renoir rarity -- I’m a Renoir nut, and I haven’t seen it -- and one of only a handful of films this great filmmaker managed to complete during his years in Hollywood. No one makes huge claims for it, but I’m setting the VCR to Record anyway, and am losing respect for anyone who doesn’t. * Desire (TCM: Wednesday at 12:30 PM). Glamorous comedy about a jewel thief, with Cooper and Dietrich. A curiosity for film buffs, because it was a Lubitsch production, but was actually directed by Frank Borzage. So: How much of the “Lubitsch touch” comes through? * The Stepfather (IFC: Wednesday at 8... posted by Michael at October 5, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Literary Pleasures of Military History
Michael I don’t know if I ever mentioned to you that I spent several years reading a lot of military history, possibly being a sucker for the intellectual pugnacity that seems a dominant characteristic of writers in this field. I also found their literary qualities to be highly underrated. I mean, who ever wrote a better piece of really smart yet hard ass reportage than von Clausewitz' "The Campaign of 1812 in Russia"?--to say nothing of coming up with the best 'high serious' book title of all time: "On War"? (It sounds even better in German: "Vom Kriege".) Generals Clausewitz and Fuller: Military Intelligence Among my other literary discoveries was the British general J. F. C. Fuller (1876-1966). Although in military circles he is mostly famous for being an early theorist of armored warfare (whose ideas were, unfortunately, appreciated chiefly by the Germans between the wars), I read his books with glee because of the absolute directness with which he expressed his almost aphoristic opinions. Possibly as a result of having a military, rather than a literary, background, Fuller never wrote his way to his subject: having previously thought his material through to a conclusion, he generally starts right there: bang! Perhaps a few scattered quotes describing leading figures in the American Civil War, all derived from his 1932 book “Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship,” will convey the pungency of his prose: Lincoln…was a strategical visionary, that is to say he could often see what should be done without possessing an idea of how to do it… From the military point of view both men [Lincoln and Davis] were incapable in the extreme. Davis thought he understood war, Lincoln acted as if no one could understand it. …General Henry Wagner Halleck, a bookish type of man, stupid and jealous by nature, nicknamed “Old Brains,” and rightly called by W. E. Woodward “a large emptiness surrounded by an education.” “An army,” so said Napoleon, “marches upon its belly”; but Lee, though a saint, and because he was a saint, was no quartermaster. Jackson possessed that brutality essential in war; Lee did not. [Lee] could clasp the hand of a wounded enemy, whilst Jackson ground his teeth and murmured: “No quarter to the violators of our homes and firesides,” and when someone deplored the necessity of destroying so many brave men, he exclaimed, “No, shoot them all, I do not wish them to be brave.” With all his ability there was something repellent about Jackson… Throughout life Grant’s enemy was his inner self, an enigma he could not solve, something which always held him back…As long as he was conscious of himself he remained a child; but directly a turmoil arose which drowned this consciousness he became a Titan. If you’re interested, you can see a list of Fuller's works here. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 5, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Art in the Moonlight
Michael The NEA, after performing considerable analysis on the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) and longitudinal databases such as the Panel Study of Income Dynamics has come to the rather unsurprising conclusion that most “professional” artist are unable to make a financial go of it without holding down a second job. (You can read the entirety of their study, “More Than Once In A Blue Moon: Multiple Jobholdings By American Artists,” here.) Getting beyond the obvious, the NEA offers some interesting (if not terribly astonishing) observations. One is on the precariousness of artistic jobs: while noting that artist’s educational qualifications are more similar to professionals rather than to the general workforce, the NEA notes that artists appear to have unemployment rates that are twice as high as other professionals. Another is that art doesn’t pay particularly well: artists earn only 77 to 88 percent as much as the average of other professionals. Ancient Economic Symbol of the Arts As for the extent of moonlighting by artists, the NEA’s analysis indicate that at any given moment of time, around 14% of artists are holding down a second job, which is about 40% higher than other professionals. The study also reports the results of several work-related surveys of artists. A 1983 survey of artists in New England suggests that only 24 per cent could make a living working solely at their artistic job. A 1981 survey found that 61 per cent of performing artists held second, non-artistic jobs. Authors surveyed in 1986 suggested that 70 per cent required a second job to make ends meet. The figure in a 1993 survey of choreographers was 80 per cent. Interestingly, given many complaints about the lack of government support for the arts in the United States, other countries with more developed publicly funded arts programs report very similar results. Finland, for example, a country with strong government support for artists, shows high rates of multiple-jobholding, with only 21 per cent of fine artists able to make ends meet without an outside job (although performing artists in Finland needed less outside employment than Americans.) A 1998 survey of Dutch visual artists reported that more than one-third of their earnings came from teaching and more than one-quarter of their earnings came from non-arts work despite extensive support for artists by the Netherlands’ government. In a 1982 survey of Canadian authors, 63 per cent needed income from moonlighting. A 1988 survey of almost three-quarters of Australian artists held some other job in addition to their artistic work. A 1994-95 survey of British visual artists found that only 11 percent earned all their income from working as artists. What would an economist make of this? I can’t speak professionally, but it would appear that the demand for artistic careers among the workforce seems to easily outstrip the supply of paying work in these fields. Apparently, this is true not only in America but around the developed world. It would appear that the psychic rewards of a career in... posted by Friedrich at October 5, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, October 4, 2002

Free Reads -- Funniest Jokes
Friedrich -- Dr. Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire has been collecting jokes for over a year, and asking people to rate how funny the jokes are. The results of his study are now in. You can sample jokes and find out about results here. Sample passage: Top joke in Belgium: Why do ducks have webbed feet? To stamp out fires. Why do elephants have flat feet? To stamp out burning ducks. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Hugh Grant
Friedrich -- I'm not much of a fan of Hugh Grant as a movie performer. About half of what he does makes me giggle, but then he repeats it, and then does so again. As an actor, he doesn't seem very resourceful. Hugh Grant the public personality amuses me no end. He's foxy, vain and funny -- his specialty: being so-modest-he's-showing-off, or so-vain-he's-cute, and sometimes both at the same time. In person, he displays all the virtuosity he doesn't have when he's on screen. Did you ever catch him on "Inside the Actor's Studio"? A hilarious hour -- Grant is amazingly quickwitted and droll despite the best efforts of the show's ineffably worshipful and somber host, James Lipton. Lipton keeps trying to snake a tongue up Grant's ass, and Grant keeps dodging nimbly away, cracking jokes as he does so. The public Grant comes across well in newspaper interviews too. Amy Raphael talks to him for the Observer, here. Sample passage: I cut my hair once to get out of floppy-hair mode and it didn't work. I looked like a lesbian. I really did - I've got that kind of face. I looked like a slightly cross lady golfer. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Amiri Baraka re-redux
Friedrich -- Thanks for pointing out the latest development in the Amiri Baraka anti-Semitic-poetry saga. It highlights, or at least gives me the chance to highlight, a dilemma lefties are forever walking into. Here’s how it goes: Given that lefties are compulsively, dogmatically anti-authority and pro-underdog (and ignoring for the moment their strategy of being pro-underdog as a way of claiming authority) ... What happens when the underdog turns against the lefties? In this case, when the angry and (supposedly) oppressed black poet attacks the Jews? Well, what happens, as you point out, is that the lefties (in this case, the Times) come out in support of the (in this case, stupid and anti-Semitic) underdog. Hey, let’s reward the underdog for attacking us; let’s congratulate ourselves on our noble devotion to the cause of underdogs everywhere; and let’s demonize those who would stand up for themselves in the face of attack. It’s a pattern that shows up over and over again. *I remember the upper-middle-class (and rich) parents who gave their rebellious, spiteful, angry hippie children credit cards. *There was the case of a lefty woman judge in NYC who was on trial for something. Her daughter was called to testify against her, and did so devastatingly. Afterwards, the lefty judge was seen telling her daughter how well she’d done. *These days, it’s striking to observe the Jewish intellectuals (Sontag, Chomsky) who demonstrate sympathy for Islamic fanatics. Do lefties ever notice how often they fall into this trap? Do they even experience it as a trap? Are they proud of the way even direct assault can’t shake their “commitment”? As someone from a smalltown Republican background, I stare at this kind of behavior utterly amazed. People in Republican small towns have their own quirks, lord knows, but I never encountered this particular kind of through-the-looking-glass, no-end-to-it neuroticism until I started moving in fancier -- more academic, leftier, more moneyed -- circles. Did you see this kind of acting-out much before arriving at our Lousy Ivy College? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

DVD Journal: "The Business of Strangers"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- The Wife and I watched "The Business of Strangers" last night. Did you notice it when it had its brief theatrical release a while back? Not many people did, but it's now available on DVD, and is worth catching up with. It's a movie version of what we who have attended too much theater call a "two-hander," ie., a piece that focuses on two characters, who claw at each other till one or both of them bursts, and some kind of something ("the truth", usually -- yawn) is revealed. Channing, Stiles Here, Julia Stiles plays an entitled X'er with a grudge, and Stockard Channing a Boomer corporate dragon-lady. They meet, they drink, they fight, they drink some more, they fight some more, now they're really getting down to it, the tension mounts.... I used to hate this kind of theater; it struck me as a lame excuse for an evening out. A two-hander is usually just a "confrontation" scene tricked out to play-length, and often doesn't offer a lot beyond mind-fucky actor games. I've grown more tolerant of the genre over time. A two-hander can function as an effective showpiece for performers as well as a vehicle for sociological observation. And because two-handers are usually cheap to produce, troupes presenting them often have the freedom to get loosey-goosey, and to take the kind of artistic risks you don't often see in more expensive works. A friend who saw "The Company of Strangers" in a theater told me that on the big screen the film didn't offer enough. On DVD, and to us, it seemed to offer plenty. Patrick Stettner, the writer/director, nurses his idea along more than effectively, and he frames it with some apt visuals. This is the modern-day corporate warrior's environment, sleek, hushed and abstract, a stainless-and-cyber cage, all hotels, airline terminals, conference rooms, and suitcases on rollers. He's getting us to see the two women as gladiators in a glittering cage, and he's focusing on their flesh and their feelings. He's also focusing the movie on the characters, and on the actress's performances, which are both spectacular. Stiles pushes the young woman's self-centeredness, and her humorlessly angry scorn and greed -- her Xer "attitude" -- a step beyond what's usual; the young woman's a familiar bratty type, but there's something mysterious about this particular brat. Stockard Channing nails the Boomer exec good. She's a role model and a success; she's also a wreck who has no life. She's been on the forefront of a revolution, she's proved herself at work, she's defied all expectations -- and yet is only now waking up to the fact that, after all, a job is only a job. Channing's got all that going on in every step she takes: the weariness and pride, the battle-hardened swagger and the crumpled-up lost little girl. A fab performance. Channing and Stiles kick out the jams So the movie has psychological and sociological validity, a little something in the... posted by Michael at October 4, 2002 | perma-link | (2) comments

Amiri Baraka redux
Michael The NY Times today addresses the controversy that has erupted over a poem read at a festival by the New Jersey state poet laureate Amiri Baraka (the former LeRoi Jones) entitled “Somebody Blew Up America.” In it Mr. Baraka asserted that 4000 Israeli (read Jewish) workers at the World Trade Center were told to stay home that day and laments that Israel’s Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, stayed away. New Jersey Governor James McGreevey attempted to fire Baraka and, finding out that he can’t do that, insisted he resign; Mr. Baraka refused. From the Times’ Olympian heights it comments: The poem’s mix of disenfranchised rage and appalling falsehood, and the controversy they have generated, are the hallmark of Mr. Baraka’s career. When you name a man known for ferocious political opinions as your poet laureate, you had better be prepared for poems that offend. But any notion that Mr. Baraka’s offensiveness should be a reason to fire or silence him is itself offensive. Mr. Baraka is not the state’s spokesman. He is a poet and he was chosen, at least partly, because of the way he seeks to give voice to the minority community. Like Mr. Baraka, that community can often be angry. Allowing him the freedom to express that anger seems part of the point of the exercise. Apparently the Times’ logic here is that Mr. Baraka, as a member of an ‘often angry’ minority group, has been elevated above (or sunk below) such concepts as telling the truth and as such no attempt should be made by the State of New Jersey to insist on responsible behavior. Well, I’m waiting for the Times to be similarly gracious when Idaho appoints a White Supremacist poet laureate. Heck, the Aryan Nation is pretty damn angry, demonstrably a minority (even in Coeur d'Alene Idaho) and I bet those guys could string together a rhyme or two—oops, I forgot, we can’t call them that anymore. As I recall, a jury in February 2001 awarded $6.3 million (and rights to the Aryan Nation name) to a woman and her son who were attacked by Aryan Nation guards outside the white supremacist group's north Idaho headquarters. I believe the theory was that the Aryan Nation’s leader Richard Butler and the group were negligent in the selection, training and supervision of the security guards. Somehow, though, an award of $6.3 million seems kind of high for negligence; it almost looks like the Idaho jury was trying to send the group a message about their evil doctrines. Maybe somebody should consider suing the State of New Jersey for negligence in appointing Mr.Baraka. Baraka and Butler--Brothers Under the Skin? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 4, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, October 3, 2002

Free Reads -- Self-Esteem
Friedrich -- Has a major social turning point arrived? Is the insane vogue for "self-esteem" finally over? Erica Goode in the New York Times reports that research has begun to show that elevating self-esteem cures little, here. Sample passage: "D" students, it turns out, think as highly of themselves as valedictorians, and serial rapists are no more likely to ooze with insecurities than doctors or bank managers. At the same time, high self-esteem, studies show, offers no immunity against bad behavior....Some people with high self-regard are actually more likely to lash out aggressively when criticized than those with low-self esteem. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 3, 2002 | perma-link | (2) comments

Begs the Question
Friedrich -- It’s the rare language-usage error that makes me emerge from my usual apathetic shell, but this one does: the epidemic misuse of the phrase “begs the question.” I almost never see it used properly these days. Writers -- and, perhaps worse, their editors and copy editors -- seem to think “begs the question” means “provokes us to ask,” or “makes me wonder,” or something close to that. An example is in today's Wall Street Journal. Michael Judge, in an opinion piece about Amiri Baraka’s loathesome WTC poem, writes that “New Jersey’s previous poet laureate, Gerald Stern, recently told the New York Times he was ‘shocked at the stupidity of Somebody Blew Up America,' saying ‘Lies never serve good, and there was hate in it.’ Which begs the question: was there no hate in Mr. Baraka’s earlier work?” No, no, no, no! What “begs the question” in fact means is “to assume the truth of an argument or proposition to be proved, without arguing it” (thank you, Oxford desktop dictionary). The statement “We’re going to publicize the hell out of this excellent blog,” for instance, begs the question of whether or not this blog really is excellent. A not-bad way of understanding this meaning is: You beg a question when you skip over a matter that’s disputable. The question begged isn't what the statement makes you think or wonder, but is instead the matter that’s skipped over. And here I withdraw back into my shell, there to await the arrival of the real language buffs, who’ll finetune and/or correct me. As well they should: in order to thrive, language (like a city) needs policing. The superego has its functions too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 3, 2002 | perma-link | (8) comments

Not a Critic
Friedrich -- After a few recent visits with bright, talented friends who are critics, it occurs to me why I’m not one. (Putting aside all questions of my gifts and credentials, or lack thereof, of course.) Critics, generally speaking, care about their opinions. I mean, really care. Do they want to impose their opinions, and see them prevail? I don’t know. But at the very least, most of the critics I’ve known want their opinion to be out there in public, playing a role (the bigger the better) in forming “the general consensus.” My opinion just isn't that important to me, and I have a hard time seeing why it should be of much importance to anyone else. (“Opinions are like assholes...”, etc.) The real critic seems to feel that the world needs to know his opinion. Me, I’m grateful to have a few people in my life willing to put up with me, let alone my no doubt tiresome opinionating. The “general consensus”? It gets on fine without input from me. And then it gets revised anyway. So why waste the energy? For me, an opinion is a small part of a much larger package of responses: feelings, reflections, musings, thoughts, observations, bodily sensations. And lord knows I do love exploring reactions, other people's as much as my own. But that's one of art's functions, to give us excuses to muck voluptuously about in this make-believe-but-oh-so-real way. Comparing notes=bliss. Fighting over opinions? Arguing about whose is right? Thanks, but I’ll pass. How do you experience your own opinions? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 3, 2002 | perma-link | (2) comments

Free Reads -- P.D. James
Friedrich -- Have you read the British mystery-and-detective novelist P.D. James? She has tons of fans. I've read a few of her books, and was very impressed. She does a more convincing version of the well-upholstered, realistic novel of social observation than any contemporary literary writer I know of. In other words, if you want a traditional, 19th-century-style novel-reading experience, salted with serious moral questions and concerns, but you want it set in the modern world, I don't know how you can do better than P.D. James. If I'm not really a fan, it's only because I don't really have a taste for that kind of fiction, alas. But she's as smart and talented as can be. The Smithsonian Associates offers a wonderful, free audio talk by James here. Robert McCrum of the Observer talks to James about murder, God, the artificiality of fiction and much else, here. Sample passage: Murder is the unique crime; it's the only one for which we can never make reparation to the victim. We feel that the murderer steps over an invisible line which divides him or her forever from the rest of us. It is an astonishing act and we regard it with horrified fascination. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 3, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Magazine Culture
Michael 2Blowhards has scored another triumph of investigative reporting. Owing to a wrongly directed fax, we’ve got the behind-the-scenes scoop on Lewis Lapham’s latest screed: Lewis H. Lapham Editor, Harper’s Magazine Darling Lewis, I just read your fabulous essay, “The Road to Babylon—Searching for targets in Iraq.” Loved it, simply loved it! As usual, you’re just too good for the American public! However, a few words of advice if you want to get it published someplace other than, well, you know, Harper’s. Not that there is anything wrong with Harper’s, darling, you know I read it cover to cover each month, but remember how the magazine world snickers when you write the lead article in a magazine that you edit. I mean, even Tina Brown never did that! And, as long as I’m being terribly frank, you need to do something about the circulation of Harper’s—more people would read your work if you published it in the Piscataway Penny Saver! So, while I would never dare to edit you from the purely artistic point of view, I jotted a few notes of some eensy-weensy things you might want to do if you’re serious about getting published in a magazine with a real subscriber base for a change: 1)Try getting to the point a tad quicker. You’re saying the invasion of Iraq is a bad idea, but you’re 900 words into your piece before you mention the first actual reason it’s bad. 2)Lose the extended comparison with the Athenian invasion of Sicily. I mean, people might get confused and remember Patton’s invasion of Sicily—which went rather well, you recall, during World War II. And it pushes your word total to over 3,500 words—in other magazines, darling, they have advertising and have to watch how long their articles are! Really! 3) You don’t provide much substance on many of your main points. You describe Bush’s invasion plan as being “[a]gainst every precedent in international law, in violation of the United Nations Charter, and without consent of the American Congress.” I mean, we’ve all read lots of op-ed pieces that don’t agree with you, darling, and I think you’re going to have argue these points a bit, don’t you? 4) Some of your arguments, are, well—I don’t know how else to put this, darling—a bit shrill. I think you might want to rethink the sentences starting: Even if one discounts the devastation of Baghdad as a minor and scarcely noticeable loss, what is to prevent the conflagration likely to erupt in the nearby countries of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran once the U.S. Air Force has lit up the entire Muslim world with the putrifying fires of civil and religious war? Who prevents Ariel Sharon from upgrading with nuclear weapons the Israeli program of ‘preemptive assassination,’ and, in the relatively sizable footprint of an oil price marked up to $50 or $70 a barrel, what happens to the economies of London, Paris and New York? 5) You might be a bit less personal... posted by Friedrich at October 3, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, October 2, 2002

Best of the Blogs?
Michael I wonder if one could put together a magazine (ezine?) based on the "Best of the Blogosphere." It would certainly be more interesting than Harper's or the Atlantic Monthly. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 2, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Pauline Kael
Friedrich -- The jazz critic Francis Davis talked with Pauline Kael shortly before she died. A version of that q&a was published online by The New Yorker (no longer available). Now Davis has brought out a more complete version of the interview in the form of a small book, "Afterglow," buyable at Amazon here. Very sweet Amazon reader reviews, by the way. An "intellectual biography" of Kael is being prepared by the editor Susie Linfield, who writes an attack on "Afterglow" for the LA Times, here. (Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily, here, for the link.) Sample passage (from Linfield): Kael, like her predecessors Gilbert Seldes and James Agee, loathed the pretensions of middlebrow culture and dug the spunky, demotic aspect of American life and culture. But she never mistook trash for art; never thought it elitist (or unimportant) to distinguish the two; never put forth that there was any connection, organic or otherwise, between the widely accepted and the good. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 2, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- WTC Architecture
Friedrich -- Catesby Leigh in the New York Post argues that the planners and agencies responsible for rebuilding the site of the World Trade Centers are on entirely the wrong track, here. Sample passage: The announcement of the competition back in August made no bones about it: Hostility to tradition was a plus. It placed "risk-taking" - defined as "not accepting received wisdom but starting with fundamentals to go beyond easy and safe solutions" - at the top of the list of qualifications. Yet that "received wisdom" has shaped Gotham's noblest vistas. One traditionalist proposal for the site can be seen here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 2, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

TV Alert
Friedrich -- Wednesday, 10-02 * At 8 pm, A&E runs a "Biography" episode on the British comedian Benny Hill. Americans tend to think of Brits as uptight and proper, yet upperclass Brits can be perverse and decadent, British theater people, as I've been told by actor friends, are uninhibited even by theater-people standards, and the Brit tradition of working-class, music-hall bawdiness is a long one. Benny Hill showed us what that tradition was like. * At 10 pm TCM broadcasts "What Price Hollywood." Directed by George Cukor and starring Constance Bennett, it's "A Star is Born" minus the music, and the first time that material was put on screen. Thursday, 10-3 * At 4:30 pm, the E! channel's "True Hollywood Story" is about the movie "Jaws." A good episode, partly because "Jaws" really did change Hollywood history, establishing the tradition of the "summer action blockbuster." * At 8 pm, on TCM, a trim little horror picture, "The Spiral Staircase," directed by the underappreciated Robert Siodmak. Sunday, 10-6 * At 8 pm (and again at 11 pm) E! broadcasts a "True Hollywood Story" about Marlon Brando. * At 8 pm, Sissy Spacek is interviewed on Bravo's "Inside the Actor's Studio." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 2, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

War Poetry redux
Friedrich -- Sweet of you to think of me as 2blowhards' resident "poetry expert," but if I am indeed that then 2blowhards, not to mention poetry, is in pretty bad shape. I see that Penguin publishes an anthology of First World War poetry, buyable here. There's always Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" to be savored, readable for free (bless the Web) here. But, like you, I don't know of much poetry that came out of later wars. I trust you'll be doing the necessary research, and getting back to us with the results and your conclusions? I've got a lousier-than-most, English-major background in American and British poetry, and a slightly better, almost-majored-in-French education in French poetry. These days, I read poetry spottily and quirkily. (These days, doing anything systematically seems out of my reach.) I notice that I go through phases, intense but always short, of falling in love with Asian poetry. Do you plunge in to the poetry world from time to time? I occasionally surface with a find, a recent one of which is Wendy Cope. Her name will come as no surprise to Brits, droves of whom have been reading her for years. But many Americans who might enjoy her are probably unaware of her work, which is modest, impish, accessible, and touching: "minor," but in the best possible sense. (Possible forthcoming blog posting: "the major pleasures of minor art.") Wendy Cope Her most well-known book is "Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis," and if you get a kick out of that title, you'll probably get a kick out of her poetry. The Observer runs an enjoyable interview with her here. Sample passage: I began writing just after I started living on my own for the first time. I didn't have anyone at home to talk to. That was important. In recent years, I thought, well now I have got someone at home to talk to maybe I won't write any more. But I'm still writing. I discovered a few years ago that I generally enjoy listening to poetry (on audiobook, mostly) more than reading it. The BBC runs a good page devoted to poets reading their work here. If you scroll down a bit, you'll find Wendy Cope reading "Men and their Boring Arguments." You'll find a recording of Tennyson reading "The Charge of the Light Brigade" too, amazingly enough. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 2, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, October 1, 2002

If I Were an Editor 10 redux
Michael Where do you get off asserting modern artists come from money? Eager to refute this outrageous claim, I visited an Internet site with a large number of biographies of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists, There it took me only a few moments to assemble the following data on their social origins: Frederic Bazille was born in 1841 to a wealthy family of wine producers near Montpellier. [Bonnard] began law studies c. 1885, but abandoned them in 1888 to work for a year at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and at the Académie Julian…In 1889, after he had sold a champagne poster design, his father allowed him to begin serious training. Born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania to a prominent Pittsburgh family, [Mary Cassat] traveled extensively through Europe with her parents and siblings while a child. Cézanne was born in the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence, January 19, 1839, the son of a wealthy banker. …In 1886…he inherited his father's wealth and finally, at the age of 47, became financially independent… Degas was born into a well-to-do banking family on July 19, 1834, in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec was born in Albi into one of the oldest aristocratic families [in France]. Manet was born in Paris on January 23, 1832, the son of a high government official. To avoid studying law, as his father wished, he went to sea. He then studied in Paris under the academic French painter Thomas Couture and visited Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands to study the paintings of the old masters. Berthe Morisot was born in Bourges, France into a family of wealth and culture. Her father was a high ranking civil servant. She was Fragonard's great-grand daughter. Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) …was born in St. Thomas in the West Indies, where his father was a prosperous merchant. Georges-Pierre Seurat was born in Paris on 2 December 1859, the son of comfortably-off parents…Seurat's relative financial ease meant that he was unused to dealing with potential clients… Signac …decided to become an artist, his prosperous shopkeeping family giving him financial independence. Well, I hope this small study disabuses you of any idea that independent means and advanced art are in any way linked! Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 1, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

War Poetry
Michael As we are perhaps on the brink of military activity, I found myself wanting to know more about war poetry. In leafing through a collection of “modern” poetry, roughly 1855 to 1970, I noticed that the poetry that explicitly discussed war was chiefly a product of the First World War. You know, straightforward stuff like Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth”: What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. Wilfred Owen, 1893-1918 There appeared to be one World War II poem by F. T. Prince, “Soldiers Bathing” but it was pretty elliptical on the war part. Last year, when I read a new translation of the Illiad, I remember being stunned at the immediacy of the images of death and slaughter, of soldiers running, scouting, thrusting, stabbing, dying—it seemed the poetic forebearer for the first ten minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.” Since Western poetry seems to have originated on the battlefield, so to speak, one assumes that there is poetry from the Civil War, the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam. As our blog’s resident expert on poetry, do you have any suggestions for where one can learn more? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 1, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

TV Alert
Friedrich -- The usual thing to do about TV is complain about the amount of crap that's on. Me, I'm amazed and overwhelmed by the amount of good stuff that's there to be found. It does take some digging to find what's worthwhile. But if you're handy with TV schedules, VCRs and Tivos, you can always have yourself something more-than-decent to watch. The Wife and I, for instance, both picky TV-watchers, have nonetheless accumulated a couple of shelves full of promising videotaped shows and movies. They sit there ready to be enjoyed at any time, and entirely at our convenience. I have to admit that I'm more of a fiend than most for combing through TV schedules -- and the Wife claims (jokingly, I hope) that setting the VCR is one of my few true talents. But, hey, that means I've got something to contribute! So with this posting I'm kicking off TV Alert, an occasional new 2blowhards service, pointing out TV programming it'd be a shame to let slip by. Tonight at 8 pm EST, on Turner Classic Movies: "The Tramp and the Dictator," an hour-long documentary that compares the lives of Adolf Hitler and Charlie Chaplin. Sounds a little iffy to me, but the man behind the documentary is Kevin Brownlow, one of the classiest of movie historians. Following the documentary, TCM (at 9 pm) broadcasts Chaplin's satirical attack on Hitler, "The Great Dictator" (and then re-broadcasts "The Tramp and the Dictator" at 11:30 pm). Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 1, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

If I Were an Editor 10
Friedrich -- Many thanks for your enlightening treatises about Shakespeare’s London and Mozart’s Vienna. The topic of money, business and art is usually taken on in such unhelpful ways: a big deal here, a betrayal there. Who cares? What I want to know is: how does this weirdo arts economy work? If I were an editor, I’d kick off coverage by commissioning a piece on the theme of “Trust Funds and Modern Art.” In my art-history explorations, I’ve been amazed by how many of the “radical” artists of the past were independently wealthy (or managed to marry someone rich). “Independently wealthy”: what an adorably genteel way of saying “rich enough to not have to work.” And in my explorations of today’s art-and-lit worlds, I’ve been just as amazed by how many current avant-garde types have enough money not to have to work for a living. The rest of us need to figure out some way to get by financially, which usually means either choosing to apply our talents in some business context (visually talented gal finds work as graphic designer) or by working at some job (word processor, teacher) we hope will be tolerable in order to support the art activities (painting, poetry) we care about more. If you take the first option, you wind up doing "commercial art," which isn't considered to be "real art"; if you take the second option, your art is in constant danger of becoming “just a hobby.” It sometimes seems like (a few exceptions allowed for) only the rich get to be "real artists," doesn't it? So why do we pay attention? It's not as though they need more luck and attention than they already have. The way family money has supported and fostered the avant-garde; avant-garde-ism as a function of the posture-striking of bohemian rich kids – yet more things they didn’t tell us about at our Lousy Ivy College. What was the student population like, money-and-statuswise, during your time at art school? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 1, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, September 30, 2002

Every Picture Tells a Story redux
Michael, I know, I know, I swore I would never look at another of Gil Elvgren’s paintings—they are simply too deeply felt, too eloquent on the human condition for a sensitive soul such as myself. But I couldn’t help it. Apparently, in art, all roads lead to Elvgren! I was minding my own business, leafing through a book I own, called “Art at the Turn of the Millenium.” (It’s one of those books you can tell is ultra-hip because it’s in both French and English—although, oddly, the editors are both German.) Suddenly, I came across some documentation of Vanessa Beecroft’s installation pieces. I got really excited because Ms. Beecroft’s work is totally cutting edge, in the sense that like most performance pieces you have to be there to really get it—the perfect mechanism for separating the hipsters who go to art openings from the unwashed masses who, er, don’t. Vanessa does Tokyo! I decided to research the insider line on Ms. Beecroft in case some sophisticate started throwing her name around at a party. On the website, which is apparently too hip even for capitalization, I found this penetrating commentary on one of her performance pieces: the one evening event (09.05.2000) is the first solo project by beecroft in the uk. it's art; it's fashion. it's good; it's bad. it's sexist; it's not. it's vanessa beecroft's performance art. the primary material in her work is the live figure, which remains ephemeral, separate and unmediated by any device we normally accept as artform, such as painting or photography. I don’t know about you, but I am just knocked out by any writer who can work ephemeral, separate and unmediated in one sentence—without even beginning it with a capital letter! I could tell I was out of my depth. I retreated back to my book “Art at the Turn of the Millenium,” pausing to marvel at the way it had a whole second title: “L’ART AU TOURNANT DE L’AN 2000.” There I picked up some more prosaic background info (in both English and French): Since the mid-1990s, Vanessa Beecroft has been parading before us a succession of scantily clad girls. Recently, they’ve been appearing with nothing on at all. In Beecroft’s performances and exhibition openings they silently take up their positions, moving very little, standing before the public like living pictures. Standing Like Living Pictures--Early Version, Late Version Before I could control myself, I remembered that Elvgren too had painted pictures of scantily-clad girls (and some apparently wearing nothing at all!) Was it possible that the Elvgren, uber-artist that he was, had successfully anticipated performance art 50 years or more in the future? I manfully suppressed the thought and went on: Wholly in keeping with the late 20th century happening culture, Beecroft is offering something that obviously cannot be conveyed through the media. And yet she is playing in her mind with the very images communicated by the media. Elvgren & Beecroft: Master & Disciple? This was simply too much. I... posted by Friedrich at September 30, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sunday, September 29, 2002

The Economics of Mozart
Michael Everyone knows the story of Mozart, the composer who was so childishly self-indulgent and self-destructive that, despite his immense gifts, he descended into poverty, illness and an early grave. After all, how could such a talent have failed to make a brilliant career in Vienna, the "Holy City" of music, except by self-sabotage? Actually, Mozart’s fate seems to have been more the result of the failings of late 18th century Viennese economy than any flaws of his personality. Vienna’s economy was quite simply based on being the capital of the Hapsburg Empire. Cash to sustain its opulence migrated to Vienna via imperial taxes and feudal rents from productive centers as far apart as Belgium, Italy, Poland and the Balkans. As Peter Hall puts it in “Cities in Civilization”: …Vienna thus remained essentially a capital of conspicuous consumption, not a center of production…The aristocracy enjoyed fabulous wealth…The professions and the services—medicine, law, education, entertainment and information—ministered to them, at adequate if not lavish terms. …Industry was small-scale, inefficient and badly paid…This was an extraordinarily backward city technologically and organizationally… Overall, in Vienna few lived well and the poor, who were the great majority, lived miserably. Imperial Vienna: Capital of Conspicuous Consumption In the early 18th Century, Hapsburg Emperor Charles VI recognized the Austrian empire’s economic backwardness as a strategic liability. When his daughter Maria Theresa came to the throne, she began administrative and economic reforms. These “reforms” did not entail any liberalization of the economy; rather, quite the contrary, they focused on creating a centralized bureaucracy directly responsible to the monarch. Maria Theresa’s political and economic model, in short, was not England but the France of Louis XIV. Maria Theresa’s reforms were continued after her death by her son Joseph during the 1780s—the decade of Mozart’s career in Vienna. While not very interested in private enterprise, the Hapsburgs were very supportive of music and had been for over a century. The houses of the great nobles imitated them in this. As a result, music throve in Vienna, and musicians could too--but only if they attracted patronage. Gluck, Haydn and Salieri spent most of their lives on either imperial or aristocratic salaries. Predictably, as far as the “business” of music went, Vienna remained rather backward. Peter Hall points out: Vienna was not the innovator [in the professionalization of classical music]: formal concerts…first developed in London in the 1720s and grew greatly in number between 1750 and 1790 …In Vienna concerts developed later, becoming frequent only in the 1780s…[Moreover, in Vienna] most concerts were developed by middle-class amateurs, ‘resembling the events of most provincial cities.’ Mozart arrived in Vienna in 1781, fleeing the stifling “security” of a poorly paying patronage job in Salzbourg, and looking to make good in the big city. The choice that greeted him was whether to chase the possibility of someday obtaining a secure paycheck as a patronage employee, or to pursue the immediate if limited opportunities in the local commercial music business. As Maynard Solomon points out... posted by Friedrich at September 29, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments