Today’s quote

F.L. Lucas, via Joseph Epstein:

I have come passionately to prefer sense to sensibility, and even cynics (if one must have either) to rhapsodists and rapturists. . . . I can only ­suggest that humanity seems throughout its history to have suffered far worse from mental intoxications and fanaticisms than from any rare excess of sober reason.

Bonus quote:

I sometimes wonder if there have not been two great disasters in the history of modern letters: the first when literature began to be a full-time profession, with writers like Dryden and Lesage, instead of remaining a by-product of more sanely active lives; the second, when the criticism of literature became likewise a profession, and a livelihood for professors.

Odds and ends, mostly odd

Today’s useful term: “counter-Renaissance.” E.g.,

The Nazi leader who described the National Socialist revolution as a counter-Renaissance spoke more truly than he probably knew. It was a decisive step in the destruction of that civilization which modern man had built up from the age of the Renaissance….

—F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom.

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J Greely:

… for all the (mostly true) complaints about how horribly misogynist the Gor novels were, the core audience was female. The local bookstore clerks who more-or-less adopted me in the late Seventies often laughed about how women would come up to the counter with a Gor novel artfully concealed in the middle of their purchases.

I tried reading one of Norman’s novels once but gave up half-way through. He didn’t like women and had no understanding of them. Or so I thought — apparently he understood some well enough.

***

Greely found a little game:

“List 5 famous people you’ve either met or have been within a few feet of, but ONE is a lie. Then let your friends guess which one they think is a lie.”

Let’s play.

1. Wendy Whelan

2. Phil Keaggy

3. William F. Buckley, Jr.

4. R.A. Lafferty

5. James Lee Burke

(Don’t recognize all the names? All are legendary in their fields, though those fields might be ballet or music, rather than sports or television.)

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Damn

Charles G. Hill, perspicacious observer, superior wit, and brony, passed away last September. Although his death was not unexpected, it was a bitter loss. However, we did have over twenty years’ worth of commentary at his website to peruse at our leisure. Or so I thought, until just now when I clicked on the link to Dustbury and saw the above.

Hopefully, Hill’s writing is archived somewhere, and perhaps someone will do for him what J Greely and Pixy Misa did for Steven Den Beste.

Update: Greely found that at least part of Dustbury is available from the WayBack Machine.

Tenderized

Princess Mononoke wasn’t quite what Disney expected:

Disney executives like Michael O. Johnson, the president of Walt Disney International, had only seen Castle in the Sky, My Neighbour Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, and were expecting similar child-friendly films when they took on Ghibli’s world distribution. Johnson was hence entertainingly horrified when he visited the Tokyo office and saw clips of the film in production, including a graphic moment of decapitation, and the heroine wiping blood around her mouth. Johnson begged Suzuki to change it, pleading that his own head would roll unless he could deliver something more sedate: “Do we have to have the arms and heads flying off? Isn’t there something softer in the film? Romance maybe? Can’t I get a nice romantic scene, you know, between the hero and heroine? Maybe a kiss or something?” The final cut of the trailer included a shot of the wolf-girl San feeding Prince Ashitaka a piece of meat, mouth-to-mouth. Johnson went away delighted, and nobody corrected him when he thought he’d just witnessed a tender kiss.

A glimpse of Miyazaki:

In the midst of all of this, surrounded by toadies and flunkies, duelling cockswans and shouty executives, Hayao Miyazaki sends back his drink at a restaurant, telling the waiter that it is not the forty-year-old port that he ordered. The waiter insists that it is, but Miyazaki sticks to his guns, until a sheepish manager admits that they had, indeed, tried to fob him off with a cheaper variety. He remains the only one who is true of heart, in a Sea of Corruption.

So…

… what happened yesterday?

Where were all the April 1 posts? I had planned to update my list of relevant posts elsewhere as I found them throughout the day, but I only came across three more1, not enough to make the effort worthwhile2. Why weren’t there more? Are writers too intimidated by America’s Newspaper of Record to invent their own news? Have we passed the Neuman Singularity3, when the world becomes absurd faster than it can be satirized? Is humor just not funny anymore?

Miscellany

I can believe that a man can fly. I can believe that a copper-powered spaceship can travel vastly faster than the speed of light. But I simply cannot believe that any superheroine, no matter how impressive she looks in superspandex, can run or fight effectively while wearing high heels.

(Via Jagi at John C. Wright’s place.)

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Useful terms

Cognivirus, as in “In other news, in the latest debate Joe Biden has pledged to beat SARS and Bernie Sanders is leading the fight against Ebola. Apparently Joe’s cognivirus is contagious.”

Unglican Church [of Rome], Catholicism as misunderstood by the creators of Japanese animation. (Do not confuse with the American Catholic Patriotic Association.)

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Weblog of the Plague Years II

William M. Briggs, Statistician to the Stars!:

Incidentally, anybody remember how news media make their money and politicians win their support? Clicks, eyeballs, followers. The more freakish the headline or pronouncement, the bigger the profit the larger the following. Now, honestly, do you think any editor or politician has succumbed to the temptation to exaggerate the coronavirus threat?

and

If you think the politics now is bad, wait until this is over. The blamestorming and trophy-giving will be truly nauseating.

Severian:

What happens when the final tallies are made, and we realize that more people died from the associated stupidity (e.g. diabetics not being able to get their insulin due to supply chain disruptions) than were killed by the Wuhan Flu? The Media is responsible for all that, and when people are feeling the very real pain of a major global economic depression, they’re going to remember it.

Wheels of Ire

The Maximum Leader proposes a game. “Assume the former/late Presidents of the United States were alive and in their retirement after leaving office, but living in 2020. What vehicle do you think they would drive?” For instance, Andrew Jackson:

If your Maximum Leader was choosing the “non-farm” vehicle for Jackson it would be a 1968 Chevy Camaro SS. Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure why, but he can imagine Jackson in a blue ‘68 Camaro wearing a leather jacket, mirrored shades, and cruising the streets of Nashville looking to beat the crap out of someone.

I’d play along, but I don’t know cars very well.

Postcard from 1862

Joseph Blackburne:

This is the first game I ever played with Professor Anderssen, the greatest German player, and at that time in the zenith of his fame. For a novice to offer so brilliant an expert the Muzio was like Ivanhoe challenging Bois-Gilbert in the lists at Ashby, but we were nothing if not daring in those days, and the cautious modern safety-loving youth of today had not yet been evolved.

Outwardly respectable

It’s February 2 today, when the students at the University of Dallas traditionally drink beer in the chilly drizzle at Forker Field (do they still do that?), and when bloggers post favorite poems if they remember to. So, here’s “Macavity, the Mystery Cat,” which I recited to my bored and fidgety classmates at grade school #4.

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air—
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!

Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square—
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!

He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair—
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair—
But it’s useless to investigate—Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
‘It must have been Macavity!’—but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place—MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

In a comment on a recent post, Fillyjonk mentioned that there were plans to give Cats a traditionally-animated movie version, with Steven Spielberg at the helm. While I would have preferred that Lloyd Webber et al had left Eliot’s poems alone, this probably would have been preferable to the recent movie. If nothing else, the sketches of Macavity more closely approximate my mental image of the feline Moriarty than the thug of the stage version.

Before anime

My Crunchyroll subscription lapsed a month ago. I’m pretty much done with anime, though I’ll probably always retain some interest. Possibly someone might like to read about my experiences and thoughts, so I’ll write a few summary posts, starting with some pre-history.

I quit watching television when I realized that I could accurately predict the events of an action/adventure/spy show from the first five minutes. This was ‘way back in prehistoric times, when there were only three channels.1 The rest of the family remained addicts, and there was usually a television on in the house at all waking hours and halfway through the night.2 I typically spent my evenings alone in my room, reading, while my parents sat in front of the television.

Movies were a novelty in the small city where I spent the largest portion of my childhood. There was one theater, with just one screen, and one drive-in. You had little choice in what to watch. Consequently, I saw few movies when I was young, and those were mostly thrillers at the drive-in, when my parents tossed me in the back of the car expecting me to sleep while they watched. I had insomnia even then, but I usually found the films more annoying than interesting. (I had nightmares about crop-dusting airplanes after they saw North by Northwest.) Later on in other places we lived, there were multiple theaters available, often with several screens. Unfortunately, movie-going was a family activity, and by then I had had enough of family. With a few exceptions (the Marx Brothers, Ealing Studios comedies, Ray Harryhausen), I never learned to like movies much.

There were a couple of items that presaged my interest in Japanese animation.

First were Saturday morning cartoons. Back in ancient times when I still watched television, my friends and I woke up at dawn on Saturdays and turned the television on, even though at that hour stations just broadcast test patterns, so that we would not miss anything once the programs started. Eventually our parents would wake up and throw us out of the house, but not before we had watched several hours of animation.

Cartoons fell into three classes. The least interesting were the innumerable Hanna-Barbera productions and similar. Yogi Bear, Quick-Draw McGraw, Top Cat, etc., they were all just mere entertainment: formulaic, cheap-looking and bland. They were better than a test pattern, but not by much.

Vastly better were the old Warner Brothers cartoons. These were superior in every respect to HB productions: voice acting, character design, art, animation, music, and particularly the writing. Bugs Bunny was far more vivid and alive than Yogi Bear could ever be. Bugs made me a Raymond Scott fan, too, though I didn’t know that at the time.

The best were the Jay Ward productions. Rocky and Bullwinkle looked even cheaper than Yogi Bear, but it didn’t matter. When the scripts were good, they were brilliant, and they were good more often than not.3 George of the Jungle was consistently good; Hoppity Hooper was downright trippy, as I recall (it’s hard to find; the episodes I’ve unearthed are decidedly eccentric, but I need to see more.) Although the shows were presented as kids’ entertainment, they were written for adults rather than dumbed down for dull children. Bullwinkle is one of the three great comic characters of the 20th century, along with Groucho Marx and Ignatius Reilly.

The other harbinger was Shounen Sarutobi Sasuke. This was the first animated Japanese movie to get a proper release in America, under the title Magic Boy. It turned up one Saturday afternoon at the kids’ matinee, and it blew away all the Disney movies I had ever seen. I thought it was the greatest movie ever made. I later saw Forbidden Planet, and that was the greatest movie ever made, and I eventually forgot Magic Boy.

Some years back, I tracked down a fansub of the movie. By every objective criterion it’s inferior to Disney products. But it had wildness and strangeness absent from its carefully-polished occidental counterparts, and it excited my imagination as no Disney movie ever had.

Books and music took the place of movies and television for me.

Half a lifetime later, I read a news article about a new children’s show being imported from Japan. It had something to do with girls who identified with the planets of the solar system and wore sailor suits. It sounded silly, but I was curious.

Several years after that, I read a review of an animated movie called Perfect Blue. It seemed worth seeing. Too bad it would never come to Wichita. Princess Mononoke looked interesting, too, but it also was unlikely ever to be shown here.

Not quite 20 years ago, a bodhran-playing friend turned out to have a DVD of Princess Mononoke. I asked to borrow it.

Update: I was annoyed to find that recent reissues of Rocky and Bullwinkle on DVD substituted different music for most of the openings and endings. Fortunately, you can find the correct music here. Pianists looking to enlarge their repertoire might consider assembling the incidental music to Dudley Do-Right into “silent movie” suite.

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Don’t hold your breath waiting for the next installment.

The year in review: arts and letters

Books I did not read in 2019

What did I read, listen to or watch during the past year? Let’s see….

Published, released or broadcast in 2019

• Books

Hellbender, by Frank J. Fleming — A very silly post-apocalyptic fantasy revolving around a mysterious cube on which are drawn bunnies. The characters are mostly flakes, and the story about “warfs” (war orphans) in the haphazardly totalitarian Confederacy of Astara after the Third Digital Rights War is too complicated to easily summarize. However, the author, friendly Frank Fleming 1, is clever and funny, and the book is always entertaining even at its most confusing. A representative paragraph:

“Donuts!” Lulu jumped up from the couch. “I always said one of these days you’d do something useful … or accidentally kill us all. And it was the former!”

• Movies

None.

• Music

There was Winfield in September, and a few concerts during my visit to St. Louis. If you’re ever in that area, see if Dave Black, Roger Netherton or Joey Koenig are playing anywhere.

• Television

American? Ha.

Japanese: The only show I watched all the way through was Endro. It’s featherweight fluff, but it was fun. I also managed to watch about half of the first season of the similarly light Iruma-kun, which is something like Hayate goes to Hells. I sampled most everything on Crunchyroll that wasn’t obviously drivel, but I didn’t get beyond the second episode of anything else.

Too often, watching anime felt like doing homework. My CR membership recently expired, and I doubt that I’ll renew it. This is the first time in several years that I didn’t order a Japanese calendar. I may write a few summary posts about Japanese animation (don’t hold your breath), but I’m pretty much done with the form.

So much for 2019.

So, what else did I read this year? Mostly old favorites: J.R.R. Tolkien, R.A. Lafferty, Gene Wolfe, Tim Powers, G.K. Chesterton, Tom Holt, Cordwainer Smith, etc.

New to me this year

The Elementary Particles, Michel Houellebecq — The token important book for the year. I was prompted to read it by the perspicacious, flaky Rod Dreher. Here’s Houellebecq on Lovecraft:

Lovecraft, for his part, knew he had nothing to do with this world. And at each turn he played a losing hand. In theory and in practice. He lost his childhood; he also lost his faith. The world sickened him and he saw no reason to believe that by looking at things better they might appear differently. He saw religions as so many sugar-coated illusions made obsolete by the progress of science. At times, when in an exceptionally good mood, he would speak of the enchanted circle of religious belief, but it was a circle from which he felt banished, anyway.

Few beings have ever been so impregnated, pierced to the core, by the conviction of the absolute futility of human aspiration. The universe is nothing but a furtive arrangement of elementary particles. A figure in transition toward chaos. That is what will finally prevail. The human race will disappear. Other races in turn will appear and disappear. The skies will be glacial and empty, traversed by the feeble light of half-dead stars. These too will disappear. Everything will disappear. And human actions are as free and as stripped of meaning as the unfettered movement of the elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, sentiments? Pure “Victorian fictions”. All that exists is egotism. Cold, intact and radiant.

Lovecraft wrote about unimaginable horrors; Houellebecq writes about human behavior. There is overlap. I might read Submission sometime, and that will be enough of Houellebecq.

Less important, but more enjoyable:

The Conan stories of Robert E. Howard — If all you know of Conan is Arnold Schwartzenegger and Frank Frazetta, you don’t know Conan. Dr. Mauser discovered Howard at about the same time I did and reacted similarly. See John C. Wright for extensive commentary.

The Moon Pool and The Metal Monster, A. Merritt — Science fiction from almost exactly a century ago, still quite readable, albeit a bit purplish in its prose. Blame Joseph Moore for piquing my curiousity.

A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs. I figured I ought to read something by Burroughs to see just how bad a writer he was, since people still read his books despite the contempt of the literati. Surprisingly, he’s not bad. He’s not Howard’s caliber, but he can tell a story.

Honor at Stake: A Catholic Action Horror Novel, Declan Finn — Blame Moore for this one also.

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain, Richard Roberts — Blame J Greely for drawing my attention to this. The daughter of superheroes discovers that her own wild talent makes her best-suited to be a mad scientist. It’s fluff, clever and entertaining. There are hints that the sequels could be darker.

… and that’s enough for 2019.

Miscellaneous artsy-type stuff

Many years ago, Daniel Pinkwater and Tony Auth colloborated on a newspaper cartoon, Norb. It did not catch on and disappeared without a trace. I recently stumbled over a collection of its Sunday strips, which you can view here (start with page one). It’s an absurd serial, somewhere between Terry and the Pirates and Firesign Theatre, but sillier.

Gahan Wilson, whose macabre cartoons were the best feature of many editions of National Lampoon, passed away last month. There’s a memorial here with a selection of his work. You can find much more online.

Robert Samuels’ analysis of a still life including a chessboard, carnations and a lute leads him to observe that

… both fields [chess and music] have become so professionalised that their function as social activities is easily lost or forgotten. In an age when my performance of a Bach Prelude and Fugue can be immediately compared by anyone with a mobile phone to that of András Schiff, and when my playing of a complex chess endgame can be immediately shown to be full of errors by chess software on that same mobile phone, we need (or at least I need) reminders that music and chess alike are ways of interacting with other people. They are, properly, the pursuits of friends. Our play is part of our human flourishing.

I came across a tribute to dancer Herman Cornejo, who amazed me as Puck in The Dream, Frederick Ashton’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This particular video is useful in that it slows the action down to show the viewer exactly what impossible things Cornejo is doing. It demonstrates that a good dancer is among the very best athletes of any kind.

(It also demonstrates how bizarre ballet can be. Many years ago my aunt was mortified at a performance of Le Spectre de la Rose when her then-boyfriend bellowed with laughter at the appearance of the “Rose.” I can’t say that I blame him.)

Continue reading “Miscellaneous artsy-type stuff”

Odder ends

Beware: the Social Justice Kittens have returned.

Perhaps you might prefer bears.

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I have a nice not-so-little steak thawing in the refrigerator at the moment. I don’t think I’ll mind missing the traditional turkey dinner tomorrow. Meanwhile, a certain Roman Catholic boy for art is celebrating the holiday in his own way.

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Miyazaki does Chesterton

Is Miyazaki’s vision fundamentally conservative? Perhaps.

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Being a major 20th-century American poet was a hazardous job — in one anthology on my shelves, of the forty poets included, three (Berryman, Plath, Sexton) and possibly a fourth (Jarrell) were suicides, for 10% fatality rate. Apparently, being a K-pop star is also a dangerous occupation.

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Addendum: Don’t read this out loud. (It is a good alternative to lorem ipsum, though.)

Sudden, violent comedy

Wonderduck points out that we’ve had Monty Python for fifty years now. I discovered them late. Their show didn’t arrive in Kansas until years after I quit watching teevee. It wasn’t until a friend handed me the scripts for the shows that I found that they were pretty good. Reading the scripts alone doesn’t give you a complete idea of what they were — “Ministry of Silly Walks” seems like a dumb little skit on paper, but John Cleese perambulating transforms it. However, the words to “The Spanish Inquisition,” “The Cheese Shop” and a good proportion of the other skits are funny on the page as well as in performance, and that is still largely how I know them.

Enjoy the Pythons now, because in the very near future the punchline to all jokes, not just “how many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?” will be “That’s not funny.”

(The title is from here.)