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Saturday, November 23, 2002

TV Alert
Friedrich -- A few treats, plucked from the overgrown thicket that is next week's television schedule. Pierce Brosnan on Inside the Actor's Studio (Bravo, Sunday at 8 pm). The show's host, James Lipton, may be more than a little something to endure. But he also runs the only show on TV where performers regularly get a chance to speak at length about something they actually know about -- performing. Always iffy, but Brosnan, who's Irish, may prove to have the gift of gab. Battle Group: Spruance (History Channel, Sunday at 8 pm and midnight). A promising-sounding 2 hour documentary about a largely forgotten American Admiral who won at Midway and spearheaded many other battles in the Pacific. Lolita (TCM, Monday at 8 pm). If you can forget that it's an adaptation of the book, and can take it on its own terms instead -- something some people have a hard time doing -- it's a flakily brilliant, out-there comedy of lust and tackiness. Stanley Kubrick directs James Mason in one of his best performances, Peter Sellers, Shelly Winters and Sue Lyons. A word to Nabokov loyalists and sticklers: I've read the script that Nabokov wrote and Kubrick rejected. Kubrick was right to reject it -- it reads like a dream and provides almost nothing to film. The Horse's Mouth (IFC, Tuesday at 6 am). Alec Guinness as the roustabout bum-artist Gulley Jimson, in a more-than-decent adaptation of Joyce Cary's great lowdown comic novel. All too rarely seen, although IFC has been sneaking it into its schedule for a few weeks now. Classic Westerns directed by John Ford (TCM, from 8 pm Wednesday evening thru 6 am Thursday morning). You aren't a real film buff if you haven't watched John Ford's best. Here's your chance to earn those manly stripes: The Searchers (8 pm); My Darling Clementine (10 pm); Fort Apache (midnight); She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (2:15 am); Rio Grande (4 am). Each one a giant. An A&E Biography about Audrey Hepburn (A&E, Thursday at 8 pm and midnight). A ballet dancer and the daughter of a Dutch baroness, Hepburn was a bit player when she was spotted by the great French novelist Colette, and was cast in the Broadway adapation of "Gigi." She went on to become one of the key female icons of the post-WW2 years -- Winona Ryder as a physical type, for instance, is inconceivable without Audrey Hepburn. The Paleface (TCM, Friday morning at 2 am). When most people think of Bob Hope, they picture the stale old comic he became. As a young man, though, he had a naughty spark, and starred in many likable entertainments. This easygoing Western parody is one of them -- you can see why Hope was for many years one of the biggest stars in the world. Break out the VCR! Er, Tivo... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 23, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free reads -- Philosoblog and Glenn Frazier
Friedrich -- Jim Ryan is an interesting case -- a philosopher with a lot of respect (including philosophical respect) for common sense. At Philosoblog, here, he writes mini-essays on provocative topics. The exchanges in his comments are a special pleasure. Today's topic is "A Rough Topology of Right and Wrong." Sample passage: In many cases, one has a right to act in his own self-interest. Also, everyone has a duty to sacrifice his interests in order to help others in some cases. There is a restriction on harming; it is wrong to inflict harm in many cases. But, it is also wrong to allow harm in some cases. Finally, the degree of harm and self-interest at stake matters. And I just stumbled across this enlightening posting over at the always-interesting (here): a discussion of the differences between what he labels the radical liberal and the liberal conservative. Sample passage: The point is that it is very good to want to make life better for people, but it can't be done in ignorance to or without respect for the powerful world outside. The fundamentals of this world will not change, no matter our intentions. We have to go with what works. And that is the statement that so chills the romantic, the radical, the liberal. And for good reason: "what works" does not constitute a good enough criterion for how we decide to live our lives. The liberal heart insists on doing "what's right." What separates the liberal conservative from the radical liberal is the idea of a balance of tensions between the two. Exposure to the mainstream media can sometimes leave you wondering whether common sense, as well as horse-sense, have become things of the past. But blogdom seems to have given both a great new outlet. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 23, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friday, November 22, 2002

Free Reads -- De Palma
Friedrich -- Like his work or not, Brian De Palma (who talks to Michael Sragow in a good interview for the Baltimore Sun here), has always been one of brainiest and most articulate of recent American film directors -- as well as one of the few who, even after becoming a filmmaker, has remained a real film buff. (Surprisingly rare, this.) Sample passage: From [Welles] you learn how to use a group of actors, how to move them around in a certain location and frame them with the camera. The big problem is that you no longer can get American actors who can move they way they do in Welles' films. Very few film actors in America have real stage training any more - they're used to walking around in a two-shot and having a Steadicam trail behind them. The good thing about Femme Fatale is that actors in France, like actors in London, are always on stage when they're not in movies. Remember in the old days, when all the major actors pooh-poohed going to Hollywood? All the great roles for actors are still in the theater - they're certainly not in movies. The new generation of movie actors can't do anything because they have no stage movement or voice training. Welles could come up with fabulous moves because he had this whole stage-trained troupe - he could order them to go anywhere and they could do anything. It hadn't occurred to me that one of the reasons De Palma was able to do the extreme and stylish visual things he did in "Femme Fatale" was that many of his actors had a highly-trained ability to maneuver around physically. Dodge those cameras, kids! Among the professional reviewers of the film that I've looked at online, Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader (here), Armond White in New York Paper (here), and Sragow in the Baltimore Sun (here) strike me as most on-the-money -- which of course means that they seem to have watched and enjoyed the same movie I did (here). For a similar view that reaches different conclusions, try reading Felix Salmon's posting about the film (here). The Femme Fatale Eyes of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos Sample Rosenbaum passage: What matters isn't plot details, much less character or motivation. It's the visual rhymes ... and other kinds of abstract visual patterns that hype up various incidents ... Because we're persuaded by De Palma's baroque stylistics, we're bound to see his characters as somewhat dehumanized. De Palma isn't so much eliminating motivations as minimizing and mocking them. Sample White passage: Reading the plot is less important than considering the title, which is the film’s theme. With his unfettered camera movements that evoke one’s dreaming, De Palma employs the essence of cinema (picture-making) so that a viewer is enraptured by his visual intelligence: every sequence probes sexist female iconography for the soul it represents. Sample Sragow passage: The whole movie gets its charge from a jaw-dropping blend of sensuality and calculation. De Palma... posted by Michael at November 22, 2002 | perma-link | (4) comments

Free Reads -- Sullivan on media bias
Friedrich -- Andrew Sullivan has written a subtle yet levelheaded and enjoyable piece about media bias for the Times of London, readable here. Sample passage: Bias is inevitable in any grown-up journalist's work. You can try to be balanced (and you're a better journalist if you try) - but even in your choice of topics, selection of guests, presentation of facts, you inevitably show your hand. And a grown-up journalist admits this. Then we can all get on with the task of assessing, discussing, and debating the issues involved. This isn't to say journalism should degenerate into simple propaganda or outright advocacy, at least not in the presentation of news rather than opinion. Trying to present many sides of an issue is a mark of an honest journalist or reporter. And maintaining a distinction between news and opinion is also the mark of an honest editor. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 22, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

The Politics of the NEA, Part I
Michael In my never-ending series on American culture I thought it was finally time to get around to the NEA. The story of this august institution begins at the end of the 1950s. The social prestige of the arts had reached a new high in American life. Around the country, cultural events formed a new platform on which the affluent and socially ambitious could court distinction. While John Kennedy (like most of his colleagues in the Senate) had never been known as a friend of the arts, he had noticed that the arts constituency was growing and it included many powerful figures: bankers, lawyers and doctors, university presidents and newspaper publishers. After his election, Kennedy carefully used high culture to brand his administration as aristocratic and forward-looking. Fear of Rocky: Motivation for the NEA The political question of government support for the arts, however, really became a hot-button issue when New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller (considered Kennedy’s most likely challenger in the 1964 election) upped the ante by establishing a state arts council in 1960—the first in the nation. In doing so Rockefeller rallied both liberal Democrats and ultraconservative Republicans, as well as such powerful labor unions as the American Federation of Musicians, Actors’ Equity, and organized stagehands, electricians and carpenters around the bounty of public arts funding. Sensing a threat, Kennedy moved to enhance his own cultural profile. He sent Arthur Goldberg, his labor secretary, to New York to get headlines by mediating a strike at the Metropolitan Opera. Kennedy also proposed a National Culture Center for Washington, D.C. and appointed a prominent group of artists to its advisory board. Although Kennedy supported establishing an agency for federal funding of the arts, he was assassinated before this was accomplished. In the months that followed, it became clear even to anxious observers that however little Lyndon Johnson knew or cared about the arts, he was just as determined as Kennedy to woo the arts constituency, and was better at getting legislation passed. Johnson propelled a languishing arts bill through Congress. Although Congressional hearings focused on the problems of individual artists, it was actually a coalition of major arts institutions, New York City’s congressional delegation, the American Federation of Musicians, Actors’ Equity, the Motion Picture Association, and John D. Rockefeller III (puppet-master of Lincoln Center), that helped Johnson put the heat on recalcitrant legislators. On September 16, 1965, the House and Senate agreed on legislation establishing the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. There was a significant gap in the legislation, however: to wit, what was the National Endowment of the Arts supposed to do? To what purpose was it to spend the $2.5 million allocated to it the first year? The congressional committee reviewing the bill affirmed that the endowments’ principal objective was …the encouragement of free inquiry and expression…conformity for its own sake is not to be encouraged…no preference should be given to any particular style or school of thought or expression. Nor... posted by Friedrich at November 22, 2002 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friedrich -- Remember my small campaign to avoid using the word "liberal" to describe leftists (who, in my experience, are anything but liberal)? Let's call them "leftists" instead. Well, I've got another one to propose. "Modern art," "modern architecture," "modern poetry" ... Hmmmm. That word "modern" is a problem. Why? Because it does several things that demand to be untangled. I'm proposing (and hereby resolving, if only for myself) using the word "modernist" instead of "modern" in these cases. Why? Because so-called "modern art" is really nothing but one strain and tradition in recent and contemporary art. Many different kinds of art have been produced in recent years, and are being produced now -- marine watercolors, for instance, and paintings-on-black-velvet, and surfboard decoration, and cowboy art. Some of it's good, and many of the artists producing this kind of work have their talents and skills. Yet they aren't taken seriously, or (often) even thought of as doing real art. Why not? Well, partly because the "modern art" (and "postmodern art") mafia makes the claim that the only real art of our time is art done in their own particular "modern" or "postmodern" tradition. The terminology allows them to look down their noses at all the other art that's being produced, and even to dismiss it as not-art. Because painters of hunting scenes, for instance, aren't grappling with the "formal issues" supposedly demanded by the nature of our time (said nature as defined, of course, by members of the "modern" mafia), they aren't serious, they aren't deep -- they aren't really doing art with a capital A. Why let them get away with this? One way, I propose, of combating the tyrrany of the modern-postmodern mafia is to insist on referring to their art tradition as "modernist" and "post-modernist." If we do so, we'll succeed in implying that their tradition is simply one of many. We'll undermine their claims to be the ultimate authority on things artistic. An example: "modern architecture" -- what a brilliant p-r victory to have claimed that name. It has many people believing that the only legitimate new (or newish) architecture -- the only buildings that qualify as architecture -- are shiney, abstract things (or, these days, jagged and bewildering things). Yet most people don't like these buildings, and many many other kinds of buildings are being built -- and, of course, not considered to be legitimate architecture by the mafia. Call the mafia's work "modernist architecture" (or "postmodernist architecture") instead, and it's clear that there are alternatives. "No, dear, I'm not in the mood for postmodernist, I'd prefer something a little more Adirondack cabin-ish instead." Using modernist instead of modern will open up minds, if only in a small way. Besides, I'm offended from a purely language-buff point of view. Any art produced now is modern art by definition. Anything built now is modern architecture. Any poem written today is modern poetry. None of them, though, have to be modernist. Which style to use (let alone... posted by Michael at November 22, 2002 | perma-link | (22) comments

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Free Reads -- Walter Williams
Friedrich -- Walter Williams, one of my favorite columnists, delivers another punchy piece of down-to-earth, rock-solid commonsense, readable here. Sample passage: It's clear sailing if you argue that the high crime rate is caused by poverty and discrimination, and the way to get rid of crime is to eliminate these root causes. But there's a problem with that theory. It doesn't explain why black communities were far safer in earlier times, such as in the '20s, '30s and '40s, at a time of far greater poverty and discrimination, and fewer opportunities. Crime imposes devastating economic and personal costs on many black neighborhoods, but it's not a civil rights problem. The high crime rate represents political choices made by black politicians, civil rights organizations and many black citizens to tolerate criminals. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Nicole Kidman
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Are you a Nicole Kidman fan? I am. She has pretty much everything I want from a star, even if minus much of the acting talent. She has beauty (although in her case I'd say that she has extreme prettiness more than beauty, if by beauty you mean, as I do, something idiosyncratic, poetic, and mysterious), daring, a love of hurling herself into things emotionally and physically, an entertaining (in her case, apparently unguarded and engaging) public persona, an eagerness to play the game. All that, a star marriage and divorce, unfair rumors, and terrific luck, too. I smile when I encounter her; I'm glad to see her; I'm amused by the roles she takes and the directions she steers her career in; I'm involved (in a semi-camp way) with her personal travails. Plus she once told British GQ that she enjoys "going commando," by which she apparently means that she sometimes doesn't wear underpants. Heaven-sent, yet going commando Acting talent? Well.... enough. She was genuinely good in "To Die For," but have any of her other performances shown much range or skill? Yet I don't mind, and don't see why I should, even if I wouldn't want her to be much less talented than she is. She is a funny case, though, because in so many ways she seems pure actress. She likes making daring choices ("Eyes Wide Shut," etc), she's full of enthusiasm, and she seems to think like an actress about the people she wants to work with and chances she wants to take. But that just reminds me of how little a role acting talent per se really plays in stardom. I still get annoyed by people who run down the likes of Julia Roberts on the basis of her not being a very good actress. I'm not a huge Julia fan, and I don't by any means think she's the most gifted actress around. But she's obviously a very good and effective star. Mixing up acting talent with star power is one of those elementary mistakes people make when talking about performers. Star power is one of those things: a person who has it is simply somebody many people really, truly enjoy watching, and who crowds will go out of their way to watch. (Additional skills and talents are a bonus.) Who can explain it? For me, for instance, Miranda Otto and Minnie Driver both qualify as stars -- I love following both of them too. Yet neither one seems to have worked for the general public -- and, in Minnie's case particularly, it ain't for lack of trying. One more reason not to hire me as a movie executive, I suppose. This also reminds me of one of those elementary things. It came to me some years ago, as I was learning my way around the arts. I got to know some actors who, lord knows, were nothing if not actors; self-absorbed, overemotional, vain, transparent, silly, charming. At... posted by Michael at November 21, 2002 | perma-link | (8) comments

Aesthetics & Automobiles
Michael Knowing your interest in the aesthetics of everyday life, I thought of you when I read a story in the New York Times of November 21, “BMW Design Chief Sees Art on Wheels; Some Just See Ugly.” (You can read it here.) Apparently Christopher E. Bangle, BMW's chief designer, wants each BMW to be a conversation piece known as much for design as precision engineering. Where BMW's [once] looked very much alike, he is trying to make each model different — some with bulging back ends, some with unusually reflective surfaces and sharp curves, and some, like the Mini, just plain small. According to the story, automotive market researcher Chris Cedergren thinks BMW is smart to adopt this approach: "It moves away from everyone else and differentiates the brand," he said. "It makes a statement. The more you can get the consumer to be one with that vehicle and really link their emotion to that vehicle, that will translate into a situation where the consumer will say, `I want it.' " "What Chris Bangle is doing is reading that into the marketplace, and, rightly so, developing vehicles that go after individual emotions," he added. While there has been considerable criticism of the revised styling of the 7 Series—in the interests of full disclosure, I’m not crazy about it—the article notes that Mr. Bangle’s overall strategy is proving quite successful. Sales of the new 7 Series — BMW's most expensive line of cars, starting at about $70,000 — have increased 45 percent this year. Mr. Bangle is particularly fired up about BMW's new Z4, which he claims represents an aesthetic leap in car design, analogous to the shift in Greek sculpture that occurred when sculptors discovered the power of draping cloth on nude figures to infuse them with an illusion of motion. BMW's Z4: Aesthetic Leap? I've never seen this car in person, so it's a little hard to evaluate this claim, but it would be nice if Detroit’s automakers, who once seemed to have some insight into car design, took Mr. Bangle's philosophy a bit more seriously. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at November 21, 2002 | perma-link | (7) comments

Free reads -- black velvet
Friedrich -- Have you stumbled across this? An article in The Age by Pat Sheil about Edgar Leeteg, apparently the father of that great art form, paintings-of-Tahitian-girls-on-black-velvet. You can read it here. Leeteg was known as "The American Gauguin" Sample passage: When he received a letter from a friend living in Tahiti ... he stole a fistful of brushes from work, filled a dozen jars with paint and hightailed it to the south seas ... He eked out a living doing odd jobs. He also started painting the local girls and selling the results to sailors for a few dollars apiece. A self-confessed "gin-soaked dopehead", Leeteg was having a hard time of it. Link via Out of Lascaux, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 21, 2002 | perma-link | (12) comments

Google Searches
Friedrich -- I can't explain why, but the Google searches that have led websurfers to our blog haven't been as outrageous as they once were. Are we falling down on the job? Although there have been a few gems, among them: +Batman +porn +little +girl +slave +hunting +erotica +pregnant +women +smoking +pot And I sometimes think my web-surfing interests are kinky! The two topics we've raised that have brought in the most traffic (and that, amazingly enough, continue to bring it in) have been Jenna Jameson and science-fiction. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Note to all bloggers: you want to drive up your traffic? Write a posting about Jenna Jameson and science fiction. I won't be held responsible for what visitors make of your site once they arrive, though. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

"Globalization" and Education
Michael As long as I'm on a roll about modern public-school education: what’s with the total indifference to geography? My kids go to what is widely considered the best public school system in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and even they just figured out that California isn’t its own country about a year ago. At college we used to conduct an experiment (after having too much to drink) at how well we could draw a map of the 48 continental states—quickly concluding that the map’s accuracy declined in proportion to our sobriety. I tried it out the other day on my kids, and for a horrified second or two thought I was going to have to take them to the hospital to get their stomach pumped. This is pretty much the reaction the National Geographic Society had after commissioning an international survey of geographic literacy. According to an A.P. story: The society survey found that only about one in seven -- 13 percent -- of Americans between the age of 18 and 24, the prime age for military warriors, could find Iraq. The score was the same for Iran, an Iraqi neighbor. So, you might say, that’s on the other side of the world. The more depressing news was that 70 percent cannot find New Jersey, 49 percent cannot find New York, and 11 percent cannot find the United States (hey, guys, a clue—that’s the part of the globe that you end up focusing on underneath the Universal Pictures logo at the movies.) "Someone once said that war is God's way of teaching geography, but today, apparently war or even the threat of war cannot adequately teach geography," John Fahey, president of the National Geographic Society, said. "More American young people can tell you where an island that the Survivor TV series came from is located than can identify Afghanistan or Iraq. Ironically a TV show seems more real or at least more meaningful interesting or relevant [than] reality." It occurred to me that all the controversy over “globalization” may not be because of the disruptive impact of international trade, but rather because it’s just dawning on a lot of people that they live on one. The most geographically literate country was Sweden, with an average of 40 correct answers out of 56, followed by Germany and Italy, each with 38. No country got an "A," which required an average scores of 42 correct answers or better. The U.S. got a “D”, with an average score of 23. As the alert correspondent who forwarded this to me points out: Notice the grading scale, which was apparently devised to keep the US from getting a failing grade: A (42/56=75%) D (23/56=41%) It’s a sad day when a whole country needs, er, grade inflation to get by. But I guess the education industry has a lot of experience with that. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at November 21, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Celebrity Smack Down
Michael As you know, one of our readers, Felix Salmon (not gregdotorg as I mistakenly mentioned when I first posted this story--sorry, Greg), in hotly defending the value of conceptual art, made a comparison between Robert Irwin and Thomas Cole, which he seemed to feel would favor Mr. Irwin: Do you really think that Thomas Cole would win a Celebrity Smack-down against Robert Irwin? The latter, just for starters, could easily lay claim to having a genuinely American vision, as opposed to simply taking Netherlandish lanscape painting, blowing it up a bit in size, and painting medium-sized mountains instead of fields with cows. Well, this got me to looking at both men’s works, something I hadn’t done for a few years—and along the way, I ran across some examples of their writings (the Internet is a wonder, ain’t it?) After studying these, I think any suggestion of a battle royale between Irwin and Cole is kind of misplaced. The two men seem more like artistic brothers (making allowance for the century and a half of artistic and intellectual evolution that separates them.) T. Cole, Schroon Mountain, Adirondacks,1838; R. Irwin, Double Diamond, 1997-8 A quote from Robert Irwin: If light is the medium and space is the medium, then, in a sense, the universe is a medium. I know the impracticality of it right now but when I say that the medium is the universe, that maybe the world is an art form, then the gardening of our universe or our consciousness would be the level of our art participation. A quote from Thomas Cole: [American scenery] is a subject that to every American ought to be of surpassing interest; for, whether he beholds the Hudson mingling waters with the Atlantic--explores the central wilds of this vast continent, or stands on the margin of the distant Oregon, he is still in the midst of American scenery--it is his own land; its beauty, its magnificence, its sublimity--all are his; and how undeserving of such a birthright, if he can turn towards it an unobserving eye, an unaffected heart! R. Irwin, Double Diamond, 1997-8; T. Cole, The Oxbow, 1836 The verdict in our celebrity smack down would appear--to me anyway--a draw, with both artists articulating an "genuinely American vision." Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at November 20, 2002 | perma-link | (6) comments

Free Reads -- Sullivan on Oakeshott
Friedrich -- I sometimes suspect that I'm evolving into little more than a public-relations agency for the philosopher Michael Oakeshott. So be it: there's been little in blogging that I've enjoyed more than learning that I've helped a few people give Oakeshott's writing a try. If you respond to Oakeshott as his fans do, reading him delivers something really cherishable -- an experience of esthetic rapture as well as an experience of political soundness. Some people seem to find that bewildering; me, I bliss out. The polemicist and blogging superstar Andrew Sullivan wrote his thesis on Oakeshott; I've been hoping to get a chance to read it someday. Until then, this will do very well, a recent lecture (followed by a q&a session) Sullivan gave to the American Enterprise Association on the topic of Oakeshott, the Skeptical Conservative, here. Sample passage: He loved the young. He loved their sense of endless possibility. He loved their sense of play. He just thought they should never be allowed anywhere near government. So, too, I think he would love American life and vibrancy and urgency, its experiments, its radicalism, its constant churning. He just wouldn't want to see it replicated in government. He said once, "I'm a conservative in government because I'm a radical in every other human activity. The only way in which we maximize the possibilities of human beings to invent themselves and reinvent themselves, pursue their own ideas and models and desires, is when we make sure the government is strong enough and firm enough to maintain a society which allows such freedom to exist. That requires sobriety, judgment, prudence." Like I say: bliss. (Link via Junius.) Best, Micheal Update: Andrew Sullivan emails that he's hoping to make his thesis on Oakeshott available sometime soon on the website of the Michael Oakeshott Association. I'll let readers know when that happens.... posted by Michael at November 20, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads—The Source of Consciousness
Michael In the Los Angeles Times of November 17, there is an interesting article on brain research—apparently my topic for the month—titled “Stalking the Rational Mind.” It describes how Francis Crick (who won the Nobel Prize for deciphering the structure of DNA 40 years ago) and his band of merry men at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies are pursuing the physical basis of consciousness. (In the invariable habit of scientists, they’ve given this physical mechanism its very own buzz word: the "neural correlate.") Raider of the Neural Correlate: Francis Crick One of the things that surprised me about the story is how literally Crick and his number one colleague, Caltech professor Christof Koch, take the idea that the neural correlate is a specific, identifiable mechanism: At one point, Crick and Koch speculated that the neural correlate of consciousness might be related to the synchronous firing of groups of neurons at about 40 hertz (40 times a second)…But Crick and Koch have more recently backed off some of their broader claims for that theory. Still, they are inclined to believe that the neural correlate is a discrete process in the brain, whether of neurons acting individually or in groups. "Francis and I believe [it] is probably something very specific," Koch says. "The biological model is very specific--so many things in biology are little machines." You can read the whole story, here. I have no idea if Crick and Koch have a clue as to the nature of consciousness, but I must say the whole thing is quite fascinating. Could you recommend any accounts of current day brain research for the general reader? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at November 20, 2002 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Change, Death and Pop Culture
Michael I was a bit surprised by the comments on my recent posting on Theodor Adorno; people who I know to be right wing wrote sympathetically of this avowed Marxist’s criticisms of popular culture. This got me to pondering some aspects of Mr. Adorno that I hadn’t included in my posting. (Hey, there’s a real space limit in blogging, okay?). In Adorno’s essay, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment As Mass Deception,”he sounds rather nostalgic when discussing the earlier, or, as he terms it, “liberal” phase of capitalism (i.e., prior to the rise of Big Business or “monopoly” capitalism.) Adorno presents Beethoven, despite his commercial success, as a genuine thinker because he didn’t ignore the conflict between moneymaking and art making: When mortally sick, Beethoven hurled away a novel by Sir Walter Scott with the cry: "Why, the fellow writes for money," and yet proved a most experienced and stubborn businessman in disposing of the last quartets, which were a most extreme renunciation of the market; he is the most outstanding example of the unity of those opposites, market and independence, in bourgeois art. Those who succumb to the ideology are precisely those who cover up the contradiction instead of taking it into the consciousness of their own production as Beethoven did: he went on to express in music his anger at losing a few pence, and derived the metaphysical Es Muss Sein (which attempts an aesthetic banishment of the pressure of the world by taking it into itself) from the housekeeper's demand for her monthly wages. Adorno also pines in a rather non-Marxist way for the “old fashioned” elements in German culture: The belief that the barbarity of the culture industry is a result of "cultural lag," of the fact that the American consciousness did not keep up with the growth of technology, is quite wrong. It was pre-Fascist Europe which did not keep up with the trend toward the culture monopoly. But it was this very lag which left intellect and creativity some degree of independence and enabled its last representatives to exist—however dismally. In Germany the failure of democratic control to permeate life had led to a paradoxical situation. Many things were exempt from the market mechanism which had invaded the Western countries. The German educational system, universities, theaters with artistic standards, great orchestras, and museums enjoyed protection. The political powers, state and municipalities, which had inherited such institutions from absolutism, had left them with a measure of the freedom from the forces of power which dominates the market, just as princes and feudal lords had done up to the nineteenth century. This strengthened art in this late phase against the verdict of supply and demand, and increased its resistance far beyond the actual degree of protection. Adorno’s comments here (which seem much more “genuine” expressions of his feelings than many of his rhetorically bombastic theoretical pronouncements) struck me as very similar to views expressed by a writer who might be thought of as his opposite number: Henry James.... posted by Friedrich at November 19, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, November 18, 2002

NYC Arts and Media on Film
Friedrich -- Just because my mind sometimes makes lists in the middle of the night, here’s a list of movies that accurately portray the NYC arts-and-media life. The Big Clock. First-rate murder noir, with Ray Milland and Charles Laughton, set in a magazine empire, cracklingly directed by John Farrow (Mia’s father). Sweet Smell of Success. Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster in a tense, flamboyant expressionistic cautionary fable about gossip and ambition, co-written by Clifford Odets, directed by Alexander Mackendrick. It helped establish one of the great movie looks – tabloid expressionism, via Weegee. All About Eve. Joseph Mankiewicz directs Bette Davis, George Sanders, and Anne Baxter in a behind-the-scenes Broadway-and-stardom catfight melodrama. Campily exaggerated perfection, the favorite movie of innumerable gay men. The Wife contends that George Sanders’ performance nails a certain kind of critic once and for all. The Fountainhead. Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal, from the Ayn Rand philosophical potboiler, lovingly over-directed by King Vidor. Way-over-the-top bliss about a my-way-or-the-highway architect who’s loved and hated by a real woman. Wait till you see Neal get excited about the way Coop handles a jackhammer. Youngblood Hawke. From a Herman Wouk blockbuster about an ambitious young novelist. A favorite of the Wife’s: “One of the movies that make you want to be a writer. It’s everything you want the NYC publishing life to be like – full of betrayals, penthouse parties and sleazy sex, little of which you actually encounter, unhappily. But I’m still looking!” The Martin Scorsese/Richard Price/Nick Nolte episode from the three-part film, New York Stories. Nolte’s a middle-aged Ab-Ex painter trying to rev himself up for his next show. The gallery opening is a little – OK, a lot – overblown, but the movie is sly and ironic in a way you don’t usually associate with Scorsese, and the downtown painting-scene details are as if out of a documentary. Six Degrees of Separation. Fred Schepisi directs a hyper-stylized version of John Guare’s play. Small-scale but panoramic tragicomic farce about race, art, class, money and fraudulence, with a great performance by Stockard Channing. If you want to see one movie that gets it all, this is it. Basquiat. Julian Schnabel as a painter is a buffoon, as far as I’m concerned. As a filmmaker, though, he’s a terrific talent. This moody biopic of the live-fast-die-young ‘80s art star Jean-Michel Basquiat is canny about the mix of opportunism and idealism that can be so bewildering in the arts. Schnabel is great too at evoking the druggy high that art, beauty and hanging out in the art world can give you. Full of amazing performances, with Jeffrey Wright especially amazing as Basquiat. Perfume. Half-improvised, Altmanesque look at the fashion and fashion-magazine industry, with a top-drawer cast (Rita Wilson is the standout as a magazine editor) and a chic look. Much better than Altman’s own “Pret a Porter,” and very true to the industry’s atmosphere of high-strung freneticism, sex, and terror. Released with no fanfare straight to video, it’s one of... posted by Michael at November 18, 2002 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Chaos of History: Art in 1910
Michael, In a previous posting, I mentioned how inspired I was by the book, “1900: Art at the Cross Roads,” by Robert Rosenblum, Mayanne Stevens and Ann Dumas. This volume catalogued a broad range of paintings and sculptures produced within a few years of 1900. I thought that looking at such broad “cross-sections” of art production was a way of providing a more enjoyable look at art history than the typical linear narratives or the “succession of isms” approach so beloved of textbooks. Given the limitations of space in a ‘blog posting, the only way I could think to utilize this idea was to pair paintings that had (1) either strikingly different formal approaches to a similar subject or (2) showed similar formal concerns being pursued by artists who aren't normally paired. So I put together the following as a mini-cross section of activity clustering around the year 1910. (All pictures are thumbnails; check 'em out at full size for maximum enjoyment.) Male Portrait P. Picasso, Portrait of AmbroiseVollard, 1910; A Zorn, Self Portrait, c. 1910 Female Nude R. Bereny, Reclining Nude, 1907; P. Picasso, The Dryad, 1908 Seaport Landscape G. Braque, Harbor in Normandy, 1909; M. Braun, Bay and City of San Diego, 1910 Figures in Action G. Bellows, Stag at Sharkey's, 1909; L. Corinth, Samson Blinded, 1912 Hope you like it, and maybe this will chip a few splinters off art-history’s shibboleths. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at November 17, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Brain Research
Michael I seem to have suddenly been reading a lot about scientific research that has implications for the arts. I suspect that people much hipper to the state of brain research than I are way ahead of me on this, but—vowing bravely to ignore the likelihood that I am about to re-announce the invention of the electric light bulb—let me share my tiny thoughts on these matters. The story that got me going on this was Sharon Begley’s “Science Journal” column in the November 15 Wall Street Journal. She describes the infant science of neuroeconomics, which studies functional magnetic resonance imaging scans of volunteers’ brains during economic experiments to see what is going on inside the old noggin. One conclusion the neuroeconomists seem to have established is that the anticipation of monetary rewards stimulates the same portions of the brain that fire up in anticipation of pleasurable food, sex or drugs. I assume it is legitimate to assume that the same mechanism is at work with other sources of aesthetic pleasure. If this is so, it may explain patterns of behavior one can observe in the arts. For example, according to Ms. Begley: The brain seizes on even the slimmest evidence of pattern. After only a couple of repetitions of some event, the anterior cingulate begins to fire in anticipation of another: as a result, we’re convinced that a stock that beat profit forecasts two quarters in a row will do it a third time. And if it doesn’t? Then neurons in emotion processing regions fire like crazy, generating a sense of anxiety and dread, researchers at the Duke University in Durham, N.C., report. Result: When a nice, reliable stock misses its earnings target by even a little, investors abandon ship in a fury. Often, the longer a stock has persisted, the worse the beating, because the longer a pattern has persisted the more alarmed the brain gets when [the pattern is] broken. This mechanism might explain why, only a decade or so after his death, the paintings of John Singer Sargent—for years one of the most fashionable painters in the world—could be had for only a few hundred dollars. He had been a highly "reliable” artist for 30 years, and yet, with the seismic shift in art world fashions of the 1920s, he became suddenly déclassé. Full of possibly the same anxiety and dread described by Ms. Begley, his collectors bailed out en masse. John Singer Sargent's "Nonchaloir" Suffering from Anxiety and Dread? Ms. Begley also lays out a mechanism that might make collectors or art buffs treasure the adventuresome and novel in art: The [brain’s] reward circuit runs on the neurochemical dopamine. We get a dopamine surge when we anticipate a niche, healthy 4% return on a money-market fund. But dopamine neurons get extra juiced when a long shot comes in—and the addictive nature of dopamine makes us willing to take financial risks for those long shots. Even the popular preference—easily observable at your local cineplex—for happy endings... posted by Friedrich at November 17, 2002 | perma-link | (5) comments