When [Tom] Wolfe lets his own point of view peep through, it isn’t always pleasant to behold. His hatred for the high and vacuous celebrity culture is undisguised; his Olympian amusement at the nouveau riche has long been known. But what is surprising in his novel is to find him looking down his nose, as in the examples cited here, at the lower-middle class, or (as Marx neglected to call them) the schleppoisie.
My favorite memory of Ray came from a science fiction convention at the University of California at Riverside. Not the convention itself but trying to get to it. Ray was the keynote speaker. He asked if I would introduce him. The speech was scheduled in a huge building at the center of campus. But there was no direct way to get Ray’s wheelchair into the building. Every entrance had high steps designed for 18-year-old college students. Our faculty hosts eventually took us around back to the service entrance by the garbage dumpsters. I pushed Ray through a series of underground corridors until we got to a huge elevator, which had been designed to bring trolleys up from the food service kitchen.
We went up a floor or two, and a group of guys from the food service came in with their packed trolleys. They were all young Mexicans speaking Spanish. They noticed this old man in a wheelchair. The professors all froze up. They felt uncomfortable. But these were the sort of guys I grew up with. I turned to them and asked in my lousy Spanish if they knew who this man was. They shook their heads. Then I told them he was “el escritor famoso, Ray Bradbury.” My hosts looked at me as if I were crazy. But then the guys shouted, “Ray Bradbury!” Every one of them knew who he was. Then they crowded around to get his autograph….
The moment strikes me as the best measure of Bradbury’s fame. Can you imagine the same reaction, indeed any reaction, to Saul Bellow or John Updike? These immigrant workers, whom American intellectuals consider beyond the compass of literature — you know all the social, cultural, and racial barriers that exist — were part of Ray’s audience.
And Ray was delighted to meet them. He chuckled and signed napkins and order slips. He had a global audience. He spoke to people novelists don’t usually reach. That is something that we should honor. Bradbury had an imagination that invited people in.
Update: See KT’s comment for more glimpses of Bradbury.
In the minds of many, Kundera and his specific political and national context were bound inseparably together. And so, once he was no longer surrounded by the dissident’s aura, his meditations on life behind the Iron Curtain felt passé; a new regime, and a new set of global concerns, had taken over: “… when communism vanishes, Kundera’s insights into humans under communism lose immediacy, too,” wrote novelist Jane Smiley in 2006.
A lot can happen in a decade. Those certain that the situations in Kundera’s novels were unique to the Soviet era, and that they were thus shrinking in history’s rearview mirror, turned out to be mistaken. In 2016, an essay by philosopher Ryszard Legutko argued that EU-style neoliberalism had become an oppressive ideology like the communism he and others in the Polish Solidarity movement fought to overthrow. More recently, Rod Dreher draws on the experience of Christians under Soviet rule in Live Not by Lies, a handbook for Americans faced with soft totalitarianism. Kundera’s novels now seem less like reports on a bygone disaster, and more like crystal balls showing aspects of our own society, and foreshadowing what could happen if current trends accelerate.
I haven’t noticed any pigs on the wing, but Dennou Coil was finally licensed for the USA a few years ago, and Texas has frozen over. Now it looks like The Last Dangerous Visionsmay at last be published. We’ll see.
Crunchyroll has discontinued the obnoxious politicized ads that repelled me last spring, and merely dumb ads I can endure, so I am able to watch the occasional show now. The second season of laid-back Yuru Camp through the first six episodes is much like the first. Girls with hair in unnatural colors go camping, and that’s about it. The installments focusing on solitary, self-reliant Rin are a pleasure to watch. Nadeshiko is also pleasant to spend time with, but the other girls in the camping club quickly become annoying.
A moment from the third episode:
Is “loneliness” an accurate translation? “Solitude” or “isolation” would fit the context better, at least to me.
The distortions of extreme wide-angle lenses are sometimes tolerable in photographs but look weird in drawings.
These are the conditions right now here and in central Alaska. The Wichita temperature is even more impressive in centigrade: -26°. This is the coldest moment here since February 6, 1982, when the temperature hit -20°F.
Update: It got down to -16°F for a little while. Now it’s a relatively pleasant -6°.
It is no coincidence that, as our culture has become stupider, it has also become noisier. Here’s an 1851 essay by Schopenhauer. He focuses on the wanton cracking of whips; I wonder what he would have said about subwoofers.
Kant wrote a treatise on The Vital Powers. I should prefer to write a dirge for them. The superabundant display of vitality, which takes the form of knocking, hammering, and tumbling things about, has proved a daily torment to me all my life long. There are people, it is true — nay, a great many people — who smile at such things, because they are not sensitive to noise; but they are just the very people who are also not sensitive to argument, or thought, or poetry, or art, in a word, to any kind of intellectual influence. The reason of it is that the tissue of their brains is of a very rough and coarse quality. On the other hand, noise is a torture to intellectual people. In the biographies of almost all great writers, or wherever else their personal utterances are recorded, I find complaints about it; in the case of Kant, for instance, Goethe, Lichtenberg, Jean Paul; and if it should happen that any writer has omitted to express himself on the matter, it is only for want of an opportunity.
However off-beat the interpretation or craftsmanship, the Abruzzo portrayal is as innocent of blasphemy as a Lego Nativity. It is the departure from expectation—from the protocols of established iconography—that offends critics. Falsely accused of irreverence, its installation in St. Peter’s Square insinuates an intention that the project never held….
Agreed, Abruzzo’s Nativity was unsuited for solemn display in the Vatican. Both site and timing were malapropos. Nevertheless, all the artillery fired at it should have been aimed more accurately.
People called this a “David versus Goliath” type situation, which for me conjures up the image of a middle schooler vs. a linebacker. But in terms of weight class, this is more like a regular-sized dude versus Godzilla. Maybe David didn’t totally kill Goliath today, but given the extreme size differential I think cutting Goliath in half is pretty damned impressive.
It’s February 2, on which day bloggers present favorite poems if they remember to. Since twenty-first century culture is permeated with malignant nonsense, it is appropriate to post some benign nonsense as an antidote. Here is the White Knight’s song from Through the Looking-Glass, first read by Sir John Gielgud, and then set to music by Gryphon.
I’ve been thinking about why I like these old movies so much and now I realize it’s because they aren’t hectoring me. Today’s movies remind me of what Hepburn’s character is at the beginning of the film: preachy, humorless, ridiculous, and barren. Even Frozen 2, whose biggest audience is aged 3, reads like a syllabus in a course titled “The Evils of Whiteness and Colonialism” at some rich-kid college.
Oh, I hate “high-brow” movies. The pretentiousness makes me vomit. A movie should do nothing but entertain.
And so I propose the FRAUDULUM. It is the smallest unit of fraud. I define it to be the amount of fraud that is taking place when a husband tells his wife that the pants do not make her ass look fat. When you call a company and their recorded message tells you “Your call is very important to us,” that is 2 or 3 fraudulum. When the gas company calls and you tell them the check is in the mail, that is a dozen fraudulum. A dozen dozen fraudulum is a gross fraudulum, and that’s when a politician tells you “I feel your pain.”
(The proper response to anyone who says “I feel your pain” is “Hand me a baseball bat and I’ll validate your feelings.”)
The fact that our gal Flannery is repeatedly castigated and critiqued for “racism” when….hoo boy ….have you read Hemingway lately?
Let me put it this way. I would have no problem teaching any work of O’Connor – even a story with a title like “The Artificial Nigger” to any group of students, while I would give serious pause to teaching something like The Killers or The Battler.
What’s the difference? Well, if you are agonizing over whether or not O’Connor was racist, you should take a look at those two stories, compare and contrast. In Hemingway, his narrators regularly describe and characterize Black characters by the n-word, and describe their characteristics in those terms – as qualities or quirks specific to Black people – but not called Black. In O’Connor, her characters may think racist thoughts and treat Black people poorly…because that’s what those characters would do. And racist characters are there, not just because they were in her world and she was committed to accuracy, but because they are, and are ultimately understood as, one more specimen of that thing called Pride.
It doesn’t make it super-easy to have students encounter these words and descriptions and views, but at least in O’Connor they are presented as expressions of specific characters living in a specific place. Hemingway, being a bit more abstracted from time and place in many of his stories, has his mostly objective narrators describe Black characters in racist, stereotypical terms.
In O’Connor’s world, racism exists in the world, but it is obviously a damaged part of a fallen world. In Hemingway, racist attitudes are just The Way It Is, no problem, no argument, no tension.
The world finally accepted that there are more than 400 genders, and that all of these have been persecuted throughout history. Even the ones we invented last week.
Intersectional feminism triumphed over transphobia. All of a sudden, major companies were using phrases such as “menstruators”, “vulva owners” and “people with a cervix”. All of which is far more respectful to women: or, as I like to call them, bipedal gestation units.
Gee, what a thrill it’s been. Not every generation has the privilege of living the prologue to a dystopian novel.
A year ago, I didn’t think I could possibly ever have a lower opinion of the intelligentsia; I was wrong. To all the petty tyrants and their toadies, all the experts, all the journalists and pundits, all the criminals in office, all the profiteering oligarchs, all the sanctimonious scolds and everyone else who has made this such a remarkable year, I have one thing to say: go to hell.
Enough of that. On to the stuff that mattered in 2020.
The non-classical album I found most interesting this year was Atomic Ape’s Swarm (2014). The tunes range from quasi-surf to near-Klezmer, plus a quirky Django Reinhardt cover; if I had to name a genre, it would be the conveniently vague “cinematic.”
Gryphon’s Reinvention (2018) was a pleasant surprise but ultimately a disappointment. Three of the original quartet reformed a few years ago and drafted another trio of musicians to fill out the ensemble. However, the missing fourth member, Richard Harvey, was the best composer of the bunch, and he is missed. Reinvention is pleasant music, nicely arranged and well-performed, but the melodies don’t remain in my ears after listening. There’s nothing comparable to “Midnight Mushrumps,” “Estampie” or “Ethelion.”
Otherwise, I mostly listened to classical keyboard music: Bach’s forty-eight, Beethoven’s thirty-two, Alkan, Debussy, Szymanowski and Scott Joplin.
There was no Winfield this year, and no concerts worth attending in the area. There were frequent outdoor luncheon performances of lukewarm jazz during the warmer part of the year at the coffeehouse on the corner, which I did not appreciate.
I didn’t watch anything released this year, and watched very little overall. I did sample several episodes of Irresponsible Captain Tylor, which I’d been meaning to investigate for years. Amiable flake Justy Ueki Tylor joins the space force seeking the easy life, and through a bizarre sequence of events gets command of a battleship. It’s not clear whether he’s a genius or an idiot (probably the latter), but he survives and prospers by being luckier than Milfeulle Sakuraba. It’s a funny show, but Tylor remains a flake, and I lost interest.
Here are some Christmas carols that might not be over-familiar. The tunes are mostly Czech and Bohemian, plus a couple Polish and Hungarian. Ideally, I should wait until December 25 before posting them, but by then most people will be tired of Christmas music.
Quem Pastores Laudavere
Nesem Van Noviny
Menyböl ar Angyal
Dziasiaj w Betlejem
Pochvalen Bud’, Jezis Kristus
For the morbidly curious: The fiddle is the budget version of Embertone’s Joshua Bell Violin, and the harp is Modartt’s Concert Harp. For what I paid for it (I got it on sale for half-price), the fiddle’s pretty good, but it’s a bit awkward to work with and it’s sometimes difficult to get the sounds I want. I’m looking at this alternative, but that will have to wait until I can budget it.