Monday, November 28, 2005

the chicken, the pickle, the squid and the whale

We're all for cute nicknames here at This Critical Juncture. That's my new name for the collective mind meld that is me, my partner in crime aka Benjamin Greenfields, and the thrifiest girl in LA. Since these two influence my every thought and waking moment.

So we liked the recent film The Squid and the Whale, directed by Noah Baumbach (much mentioned here, as Ben harbors a romantic attachment based upon Baumbach's nonsensical New Yorker contributions) and produced by Wes Anderson. Bear in mind, we didn't like the Royal Tennenbaums because it was just too precious and aren't-we-special-and-clever. My dad thought that one of the track suit twins in that movie should have been a girl.

Actually, we were walking very briskly to the theater to see Good Night and Good Luck because I love fictional-historical bio-pics (though not documentaries, as you may know) but we were late and we knew it and when we got there we found that The Squid and The Whale was just starting. I think my partner in crime may have manipulated this whole thing.

And then together, on the way home, he drew me into an analysis of why it was a very good film.

To begin, we didn't find the dad as unsympathetic as some reviewers - a long sort of biographical thing on Baumbach Jr. and Baumbach Sr. in the Washington Post mentioned that the director's actual dad was a little sheepish about how pretentious and mean-spirited the dad character was. But we thought he was wounded and sweet, if exploitative and, indeed, undeniably pretentious.

And the film works well if you take the Walt (Chicken) and Bernard accusation against Mom seriously. She IS disillusioned by Bernard's waning literary success. He's just not as appealing and impressive as when they met. The scene where she articulates this is great, honest in the way the movie is so incredibly honest and vulnerable and revealing and OUCH.

So, then these are the romantic stakes of the film: How sexy is literary success? What happens when creativity is a commodity whose value can be exchanged for sex, love, care, loyalty?

Given these questions, the tastefully materialistic mi$e-en-$cene becomes incredibly meaningful. The Saabs, the neighborhoods, the houses, the furniture, the rugs, the books, the books, the books. If I saw this again I'd keep a tally of titles - a cute paperback of Elements of Style prominantly displayed, Bernard Malamud, and after that I lost track.

And the competitive talent show becomes a brilliant, pivotal moment - Walt wins $100 for playing a Pink Floyd song he pretends he wrote and starts to think he's hot shit. We liked the idea that he thinks he's hot shit because his trick exposed how wretched the idea of a competitive talent show is, but this motivation isn't explicit in the film. But that's cool.

My favorite scenes were the one-on-one scenes - Mom and Walt, Mom and Dad on the stoop, and Walt and his psychologist. Note: Psychologist is not white. Everyone else who speaks in the film is. I also thought Sophie was a great actor. Actually, all the kids were amazing actors and very beautiful with lovely voices.

Why all the plot and psychology analysis, ZP? Aren't you a film studies grad student? Well, it's that kind of movie. Pretty, and the group scenes often have a sense of visual and emotional chaos, but it's not the most visually experimental of films. To be honest, it includes a montage of views out a subway window. Enough said. But this is sort of intercut with the boys in the car making the same trip and, it seems, this is how they mostly travel. Actually, the in the car scenes are tense and claustrophobic and scary.

Based on (I assume) the visual style and the psychological themes, the Washington Post thing described the film as "realism" but I don't know. A morally loaded family story, set to plaintive music? Consider the following, from that same essay by Thomas Elsaesser I quoted last week. Melodrama, not realism, is

“icongraphically fixed by the claustrophobic atmosphere of the bourgeois home and/or the small-town setting, its emotional pattern is that of panic and latent hysteria, reinforced stylistically by a complex handling of space in interiors to the point where the world seems totally predetermined and pervaded by ‘meaning’ and interpretable signs” (183)

Granted, New York isn't a small town, but you can imagine that this little gentrifiying corner of Brooklyn is treated as such. And also,

"Melodramas often used middle-class American society, its iconography and the family experience [...] as their manifest 'material' , but 'displace' it into quite different patterns, juxtaposing stereotyped situations in strange configurations, provoking clashes and ruptures which not only open up new associations but also redistribute the emotional energies which suspense and tensions have accumulated, in disturbingly different directions. American movies, for example, often manipulate very shrewdly situations of extreme embarassment (a blocking of emotional energy) and acts or gestures of violence (direct or indirect release) in order to create patterns of aesthetic signficance [...] (from Movies and Methods,181)

Bingo! Genre! Melodrama!

To strengthen this claim, I'd ask you to compare The Squid and the Whale to Meet Me in St. Louis, a musical and a melodrama about waning patriarchial power and where the family is going to live. I would especially compare little Pickle (Frank, top image, on the bottom) to the unsocialized child, played by Margaret O'Brien (left, duh) in Meet Me in St. Louis. Dad even mentions Truffaut's The Wild Child in a conversation with him, in the great tradition of unsocialized children (thanks Aaron for all your unsocialized child suggestions over the years). These are good scenes too, at the ping-pong table, a very competitive space, as I well know.

A breif summary of the two kids: Sings a Racist Song, Threatens the Neighbors, Fakes a Streetcar Accident, Demolishes Snow Family. Masturbates at School, Drinks Excessively, Plays Tennis, Uses Profanity. You match them up.

The photos I've chosen lead me to my final point, a question of misbehavior and gender. Given the emotional attention paid to Walt, Frank and Bernard, this might count as a masculine melodrama (note the boxing gloves and thanks to Rebecca, for introducing me to this idea oh so long ago) and, to some extent, it falls into the trap of making Mom and her sexuality the mysterious force that drives the narrative. But, on the other hand, it does pay a lot of attention to kids and their agenderousness, in a nice, sweet way.

Oh yeah, and Denby liked the movie too. It figures. Review was in Oct 24 Issue. He adds that it is funny and it is.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

i eat a boca burger

and find it worth talking about. i consider boca burgers (and garden burgers, which are slightly less disturbing) in the same class as vitamin pills and energy bars. fuel, but not food really. and, price-wise, they fall in with chicken, fish and green gourmet indian dinners, at the expensive end of our price/meal shopping list. we buy whichever is cheaper.

but every once in a while there are no leftovers and i want a hot, quick lunch.

today i sauteed mushrooms and onions in olive oil and melted some aging dry mozzerella on the burger. i ate this on a wheat roll, with fresh tomato and horseradish on one side, and the mushrooms, onions and cheese on the other, burger wedged in between. lots of salt and pepper.

and it was actually good.

i remember eating something that looked more like a garden burger years ago that tasted honestly like the chickpea from which it was made, sort of like a mild falafel. does anyone know what this product was or is . . . ?

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Monday, November 21, 2005

A Dana Girls Mystery

Just a little something that occured to me. For those not so much in the know, The Dana Girls was a Carolyn Keene mystery series that pre-dated Nancy Drew. The Dana Girls were twins.

Clever, no-nonense redheads are on the case.

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

nov 14 issue, pennsylvania party animals

For those of you wondering why I venture into murky political waters where I am so little knowledgable, I am responding to a prompt from Mantooth, who does such a fine job keeping me anti-Santorum-informed. Besides, it was in the New Yorker.

I've felt, since I began my life as a voter in the Philadelphia area, that I was voting in part of a big Democratic Party machine. My vote would be counted, and maybe, if I were lucky, more than once. This after (while) living in parts of the country where politics was crooked the other way, discouraging votes and voters in certain districts identified by race, and that sort of thing.

On a more legitimate note, when I lived in the Philadelphia area I was, given my aquaintances, aware of the fundraising, organising, voter registration, etc that made the Democratic party so strong in the region. It's a lot of work that can't be taken for granted and it isn't, sadly, inevitable that Pennsylvania is and always will vote Democrat. We've got to pay attention, or we'll wind up selling out like Ohio, letting ourselves vote against our interests.

So I enjoyed the kind of party politics as usual analysis offered by Peter Boyer in "The Right to Choose, Why the Democrats are moving toward compromise" in the November 14 issue of The New Yorker. And I liked the way this compromise of abortion rights, which is clearly a national trend for the Democratic party, was examined in the PA context, making Pennsylvania's old school party politics somewhat representative of a national tension.

And I thought the article was well-written. I kind of liked the melodrama moments, like, when abortion-restricting, and thus shunned, "Casey and his family, consigned to seats in the far reaches of Madison Square Garden, declined to join in [singing Circle of Friends at the 1992 Democratic National Convention][and ...] Casey turned to his wife, Ellen, and said, 'Let's remember this moment. One day, it's all going to come back around.'" (53) Echoes of evil laughter.

Or, alternately, when pro-choice Dem candidate, running for senator against batshitcrazydangerous Santorum, Barbara Hafer is squeezed, "When Casey [also running for the seat, and getting better numbers] made it clear that he didn't want a primary fight, against Hafer or anyone else, Rendell asked Hafer to withdraw. 'The Governor called and said, 'Look, Bob wants to do this, and I'm being called by Chuck Schumer,'' Hafer says. 'I guess Bobby Casey just had more gravitas than I did.' Hafer withdrew from the race March 4th, and Casey announced his candidacy." (54) Classic.

And all I can I hope for is that this kind of political manipulation implies pressure on Casey not to vote for anti-choice judges. Boyer suggests the same, when he quotes Schumer's promise, "There's no worry on judges, and judges is the whole ball of wax." (54) Keep repeating that to yourself, if it makes you feel better.

Of course it is cheap to abandon (or "compromise" on) the abortion issue, or "women voters" (if you think abortion is a women's issue) but the New Yorker makes it clear that this is a national dump, and when Boyer recalls that a month after losing the election, Kerry was telling progressive activist groups that it was time to "rethink" abortion (54) my stomach just turns with the thought of the repercussions for men, women and children of this kind of knee-jerk finger pointing.

Boyer also develops an interesting argument, when, in a startling but melodramatically appropriate plot twist, he reveals that pro-choice Hafer was a Republican for 30 years, and a Republican candiate for Gov. So why should she get Democratic party support? What about labor, health care, energy policy, education? Unless the Democratic party is defined solely, or even predominantly, by it's pro-choice constituency. What if she's not "really" a Democrat? What on earth does this question mean or imply?

Well, Boyer, in his rather shallow analysis of Cambria county Democrats, suggest that there are huntin', anti-abortion, labor-union Democrats in the woods of Pennsylvania and that these are a constituency that the Democrats "really" need. I'll buy that. I've lived here, I can vouch for the existence of such a group (well, maybe not exactly as described, but if you live in PA you know what he means) and their historical contributions to the Democratic party in PA have not been slight. And I've been consistantly, and pleasantly, surprised by how consistantly Democratic, despite being essentially conservative, so much of Pennsylvania seems to be, or vote anyway. So if old school party politics, ie, dangerous compromises, are what makes PA vote Democrat, so be it.

At least for now. Now, the compromises are worth it. Why? Because we've got an admin endorsing torture to pursue a self-interested energy scam. And they were so trying to pull a short term health care and drug company scam too, which is a domestic issue related, tangentially at least, to birth control and access to medical care, basic medical information and affordable prescription drugs.

Finally, in one last apology for this "compromise," Boyer tells us that "Casey promised to buck Church teaching on contraceptives and support birth-control programs" (60). On Boyer's apologies, and, I'm afraid, my own:

Now, I've got precious little "respect for fetal life" (58) and I see that as a contradiction in terms, ie, fetal and life. Where did the NYer find this phrase? Boyer's using it, and, indeed his whole argument, is couched in language that feels comfortable with "compromise" on a personal moral level. Good for him. But it isn't a personal choice when we don't have it, now is it? But, to consider Mantooth's prompt further, that is why I for one read the NYer so I can get a feel for what middle of the road liberals are telling themselves. I'm not comfortable with restricting abortion on a personal or moral level.

But I beleive that old school Democratic party concern for national health policy, when paired with support for birth-control programs and education, would better serve poor women and families than holding out for an ideal version of abortion access. God knows, I beleive abortion makes families stronger (My personal pro-choice slogan is "Parents have abortions too") and I don't want to allow abortion restrictions to increase, but again, I guess, in the end, I agree with Boyer that the "compromise" might be worth it right now.

I hope we'll renew the pro-choice fight when we have the freedom to do so. (I know, I know, this is so defeatist, but don't get me started on the possiblity for an opposition party in the two-party system, about which I know even less.)

Finally, folks are always saying things like "most Americans favor legal abortions" and I beleive this. And I think that most American's should be able to feel comfortable admitting this. But, in the end, abortion may just be an issue that is ideologically batted about by right wing extremists, but remains marginally available thanks to left wing vigilance. But it's not accessible now, and it hasn't been and won't be until we address the real discrepencies in how and where and why and when poor Americans are excluded from health care and health care information.

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Monday, November 14, 2005

all consuming, librarything

In my sidebar, down at the bottom, you'll notice two new widgets - All Consuming and LibraryThing.

I'm going to try to use All Consuming to keep track of the films I see. I like the brief "entry" field for quick notes on what I thought while watching . . . The films I've got listed now I've seen since I started the blog this summer. Maybe I'll go back and list every film I've ever seen. Or maybe that's ridiculous. I like this better than IMDB "my movies" feature (categories are less easy to use than tags and you can't share your IMDB "my movies" with everyone in the world) and better than Netflix (also private, but I like the recommendation feature there).

I'm pretty sure I'm going to become a member-for-life. I like the semi-public nature of the members' libraries - I can find other members with overlapping libraries. So that is sort of like getting recommendations. I don't know how long a review I can enter for each book . . . but this seems a little like Endnote. It won't make me footnotes for my diss, but it's easier to use.

Does anyone know of better cataloging tools before I get too committed?

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nov 14 issue, anthony lane's hindsight

I don't think The New Yorker reviewed Spellbound (2002) the documentary about kids going to the national spelling bee that was nominated for an Oscar in 2003.

But in his review of the current film also about spelling bees (!!??) Bee Season, Anthony Lane says something like, "It was 'Spellbound,' the 2002 documentary about spelling bees, that set the standard for anybody wishing to approach the angular packages of spectacles, orthodontic braces, giant craniums, and even bigger ears - in short, children - who triumph in this unusual field. What that movie grasped was that these prodigies are randomly scattered across state, class and ethnic lines, and that to listen to their aspirations, or their techniques for word-hoarding, is a joyous exercise in human curiosity." (102)

I liked Spellbound, which is odd, because I dislike documentaries, and I dislike documentaries because I hate the exploitative and condescending conventions they have historically used to address their subjects (from Nanook to almost anything by Errol Morris to Bus 174). You'd think these would be even more pronounced in a doc about children, and often they are. And then on top of that I hate the guilty self-reflexive conventions employed to allay this problem. But I liked Spellbound.

And I think I liked it because to some extent, it was a documentary about exhibitionists. There are other recent good ones (Derrida, Fog of War, The Cruise, The Kid Stays in the Picture) too. When the subject is a celebrity of sorts, or at least a good performer, the filmmakers and film are forced to treat the subject as such, and often acknowledge the subject as such, and the tone of the whole film changes . . .

But this is just another classic example of New Yorker cluelessness. Why didn't they, couldn't they, tell us about the wonderful film Spellbound when it came out? It is so clearly a small, important documentary, and a good one but no, they have to write snide reviews of popular drivel rather than good, strong, critical reviews of good, strong, critical film. Anyone can write snide reviews.

Granted I'm not sure they could put this down, on Richard Gere in Bee Season, "given that his sole means of signaling brain activity is to go very still and shut his eyes, the world of academia may not be his patch."

In my personal life I've taken to accusing nitwits of my acquaintance of being "half-educated" - this means well-read or widely traveled or engaged or whatever, but not critical of that which they've read, seen or participated in. And I think this goes for this lost soul, or at least the Godard lovin' reviewer s/he dreams of. As if what we need is more connoisseurs.

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Friday, November 11, 2005

reasons #58-60 to consider leaving Pittsburgh

Reason #58: The Fox Chapel Area High School Halloween Costume and Class-Consciousness Controversy. The comments are an ongoing saga of poor spelling and name-calling. Thanks to Bernstein, and to Pittsburgh Dish for covering this so well, and responding so well to the wretched comments. Reading the comments, I feel guilty for blogging semi-anonymously and for my sloppy punctuation. But that is the least of their offenses. And I know obnoxious high schoolers are not unique to the Pittsburgh area.

Reason #59: The McCarthy-esque Witch Hunt held at Pitt. Though this, too, I think is a national problem - the conservative students at the university (not nearby) where I teach were taking names and numbers recently. They must have all gotten some sort of directive from right-wing HQ. And this is obviously a state-wide thing. Thanks to Michael Berube, at Penn State, for alerting me. No thanks to bloggers in the Pittsburgh area for not alerting me. Did I miss something?

Reason #60: I take shit like this so personally. Yes, it's a New Yorker cartoon.

And I thought it was such a beautiful place to avoid a crassly consumptive lifestyle while enjoying fairly good urban infrastructure and ruminating on the violence of capitalism and post-industrialization. Ah well. My mistake.

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NYRB nov 17 Mendelsohn corrects Denby

On reviews of the film Capote, and, if you read far enough, on Scorsese's No Direction Home.

Daniel Mendelsohn in his review of Capote took issue with Denby's criticism of the film's portrayal of Truman Capote's alcoholism.

Denby, "the filmmakers' suggestion that Capote never recovered from the death of Perry Smith or from the success of In Cold Blood, strikes me as doubly sentimental. Capote was ultimately done in by alcohol."

Mendelsohn, after a detailed narrative of the events, "it does not seem at all sentimental to see the cause of his decline in the experiences that were forced on him by the writing of In Cold Blood. 'Something happened,' and that something wasn't merely the killings themselves, but the terrible five-year wait and what it meant: that the success of the book that he always knew would be his greatest acheivement depended, in the end, on the deaths of two men, one of whom eerily resembled himself. Alcoholism was just the proximate cause [ . . . ] (22)

Alcoholism killed Capote the way eating dinner with your family raises your SAT scores. Sort of.

I loved Mendelsohn's review. I haven't seen the film yet (I always take forever to see anything, I have an anticipation addiction) but I certainly will now. I especially liked the part where he says that he kept thinking the film was black and white when it wasn't (23). Though this might be because the film In Cold Blood is black and white. I should re-watch that. And the paradox of writerly silence (23). Why not? Writing can be silent. Reading can be silent. One thing that's not often silent, not these days, is film.

In other media news, we inherited a huge flat screen TV. I find the picture digital-y, and I think its the low quality of our DVD player. But the sound is amazing. I am no longer watching film, I'm listening to it. For example, I listened to parts of No Direction Home. I get really worked up and angry about biogrpahy, celebrity and the narrating of history (but you know this) and this was no exception. I resented Dylan's retreat from activist to artist. Or maybe I just resented the film telling the story that way. Such a boring old dominant narrative. I'm going to re-watch Don't Look Back too.

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nov 7 new yorker: MacFarquhar's buried gem

The article on Ashbery was long, and only some parts of it held my interest. But I will always respect MacFarquhar for this:

On Ashbery's mother: "But she had, he says, 'the terrible strength of the weak' - a phrase he knows he read somewhere but can't place. (It's the way Scarlett describes Melanie in 'Gone with the Wind.')" (93)

She may have only had to google a few words to find this out, but it rocks. Ashbery's not so old that he can't place most of the allusions he makes - he remembers de Quincy on spring (92). But he forgets this one. He'd like to forget the very bad, very racist, very popular novels US literature has produced and canonized, just as it has produced him, lovely Mr. Ashbery. But they can stick . . . and Gone with the Wind will always be lurking in and around Ashbery's thoughts and feelings. Once it is written it is written, and if it is read it is read, and we are left to face the consequences.

Of course you could argue that it is a sentiment more broadly known and expressed and Margaret Mitchell picked it up somewhere else and so did Ashbery . . . and the way MacFarquhar phrases her aside allows for this. Smart, sneaky, great.

And I liked the all Ashbery poetry. Better than last month's "Fog Spirits/On Halloween" a poem about, of course, the poet's daughter on Halloween. I kid you not. I am categorically against poetry about one's own children. Would the NYer publish people's photos of their children? I would hope not. Get a blog, people!

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Monday, November 07, 2005

thai cuisine, bloomfield

Although I've mentioned elsewhere that this place is (or was) going through a mediocre phase, we went this weekend anyway. Just to check. And I thoroughly enjoyed my winter curry. The food reminds me of My Thai, in Philly, which I always liked. The curry contained an orange squash with a stronger flavor and deeper color than any of the acorn squash I've bought locally, and it was cooked with the skin on and the skin was dark and super tender and edible and totally suffused with the spicy milky coconut goodness of the sauce. I wonder what kind of squash it was? Any thoughts? I've already pestered Haverchuk with this question . . . FYI Pittsburghers, it's the more sitdown Thai place on Liberty Ave, further up the hill, not the more take-out place, further down.

Of course the meal wasn't entirely perfect. A waiter was emphatically trying to persuade a pair of diners that they should call 911 and report the license plate numbers of people in their neighborhood that they suspected of "dealing drugs." I'm not into no snitching, but this seemed a little fascist-vigilante, given the circumstances. Thai Cuisine is still a place where you cannot avoid hearing the conversations of those around you, alas. My Thai in Philly does not have this problem. In fact, it has a very sound absorbent decor.

We've made the acorn squash lasagna again. Now with a handful of toasted walnuts thrown into the food processor and no honey, as my squash seemed more flavorful this time around. Good call. Also, with a little less parmigiano reggiano and Barilla lasagna noodles instead of DeCecco. Not so smart. Where parmigiano reggiano is concerned, less is not more. And DeCecco lasagna noodles are still the best. Barilla shredded while boiling and turned grey while baking.

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new yorker cartoon anti-caption contest

I really hope this guy does this each week. I loved both the range of responses and how repetitive they were too. Thanks to emdashes for passing on the link. Here's the link - I have to wait a sec once it reaches his homepage but then the caption content entries scrolls into view. Some of the captions try to invoke an aural experience, which is very un-New Yorker cartoon, but very comic book. You know. Like, POW! The cartoon pictures a monster truck parked on a stage in the middle of a small chamber music group or something. Chairs and music stands are crushed under its wheels and a few musicians are standing about looking at the truck curiously. One man addresses an unseen person in the audiance . . .

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

oct 31 issue: in defense of Oliver Sacks

Some disability studies writers think of Sacks as exploitative and sensationalizing. Maybe. There's an essay out there that compares him to P.T. Barnum. Fair enough. But I like the fact that he makes an honest attempt to bring together medical and cultural discourses. The brief histories of disease (or disease concepts) that he often gives are great, including the history he gives of aphasia in this issue of the New Yorker.

In the case of Patricia H. (I think of him as more like Freud than Barnum, in his style and his habit of identification with the patients and his sense of humor) he comes right out and says "She was lucky [ . . . ] that her daughters fought so hard from the beginning to keep her engaged and active, and were able to afford extra aides and therapists . . " (53) This in a long string of privileges Patricia H. enjoyed. Uncharacteristic of the New Yorker to be so blunt about money, and uncharacteristic of someone within health science to be so blunt too. Aphasia is different if you're rich.

But I think the hidden modernist agenda of this issue of the New Yorker is actually here, in Sack's fascination with aphasia. This expressive speechlessness is explored as a medical condition here, and as a literary convention, in Packard's characterization of the "terse eloquence" (82) of Hemingway, and Gopnik's essay on Homer and his "richly laconic"* aesthetic. We'll call it silent modernism. Granted, that might mean that Sacks (or the New Yorker) does make these disabled figures exotic, but as long as we can watch it happen from a critical position . . . Sacks work perhaps exposes more than it obscures.

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oct 31 issue: "overheard at the new yorker" part 2

Gopnik: You know that modernism stuff they were talking about earlier? Are there any, you know, more American modernists?

Packer: Well, yes, Hemingway is often considered an American modernist writer.

Gopnik: Hemingway, yeah. Didn't he, like, shoot and go outdoors too?

Packer: Indeed, he visited Key West for fishing and other exotic locales for sport hunting.

Gopnik: And wasn't he involved in some war somewhere?

Packer: The Spanish Civil War, you mean?

Gopnik: Wow! What a coincidence!

This because Hemingway figures not only in Packer's essay, which I like, but for no reason at all in Gopnik's, on Winslow Homer, "His haunts, and his attitudes, uncannily anticipate Hemingway's [ . . . ] The dignity of the hunt, the beauty of fatality, the mystical (or mystified) relationship of hunter and prey: all these things which one associates with Hemingway's stoical vision are part of Homer's too. Like Hemingway's, Homer's view of life was decided by his experience of war, and he was drawn ambivalently to the elemental physical pleasures both as an escape from the horror of human conflict and as a kind of poetic symbol of it." (72)

Again, I feel these gentlemen need to broaden their frame of reference.

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oct 31 issue: Gopnik repeats himself

I love it when anyone takes a chance on writing about realism, but Adam Gopnik's essay on Winslow Homer is a little too formulaic . . .

Homer's "easy, unexcitable" relationship to lithography is "a bit like a contemporary artist as much at home with CGI as with a pencil." (68) Gopnik is speculating wildly in two very different historical contexts here . . . he's already admitted that Homer hated working at a lithographer and contemporary artistic practice is often just as emotionally charged when it comes to CGI and pencils . . . though I'm more familiar with the anti-Luddite side of that debate and it sounds like Homer should rightly be placed in the more traditional position of his time.

In the following paragraph, another ahistorical comparsion; during the Civil War Homer worked "as an illustrator for Harper's Weekly, the Life of its day." (68) So Harper's Weekly was to the Civil War as Life was to - what? When was Life relevant and for whom? Maybe most New Yorker readers know this, and I can take a good guess, but this isn't very illuminating.

In the very next sentence, "He was, from the first a plainspoken man who felt at home with soldiers and their officers - the model of an embedded journalist." (68) Another glib comparsion from one historical moment to another. This one doesn't work for me either. Gopnik's assuming something about what readers know and believe about embedded journalists.

And in the next paragraph, on the woodcut "A Sharpshooter," The image was meant to convey the same emotions we might feel looking at machine gunners feeding belts of bullets into their guns: an image of a cold blooded dealer of mechanized death." (69) Hm, is that what we feel looking at machine gunners? Which gunners? When? Where? Yet another. Rather than being persuasive (of what?) the effect is repetitive.

And you know what else is repetitive? Gopnik's use of the word "mechanized" and its variations. "He went to work in Boston as an apprentice lithographer, learning the basics of mechanical reproduction, and though he seems to have hated the drudgery and sheer mechanical insistence of it, he ended up with an easy, unexcitable sense of the translation and the transmission between painting and printing [ . . . see above]" (68)

The first use of "mechanical" sounds like a passing reference to Benjamin. A little off with the dates, but if he'd actually completed the thought Gopnik would have been forced to tell us how he was using the word. The second use of the word, in the same sentence, just repeats a word that doesn't quite mean anything yet.

The third appearance of the word is cited above in "machine gunners," clear enough, but then repeated vaguely in "mechanized death." The again in the same paragraph "the mechanization of war has unhorsed one of the four." (69) I'm still wondering just what he's talking about . . .

Now, frankly, the rest of the article isn't that bad. I like the use of the Henry James research (and the French stuff and the Japanese stuff), all of which puts things in a very specific time and place historically and aesthetically. And I like the rhetoric of "feeling . . . instantly conveyed . . . by the same cunning of emotion produced by compressing the signs of it" (70) and "an art so richly laconic" (70)*. And I think he gives fine descriptions of the paintings themselves, for the most part, and I agree that "Fox Hunt" at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art is amazing.

But then, one last lame ahistorical flying leap, the hunter in "Right and Left" is obscured by his shotgun blast "as phantasmal as one of the 'hidden' figures in the Zapruder film." All I have to say on that one is, ug.

There's a method to this madness, Gopnik wants to argue that Homer's realism is that of a journalist in a big US journalism trajectory. But its too tidy, and to make this argument, you've got to make some pretty facile historical comparisons. So why do it?

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