. . . 2000-07-10 . . . The Hotsy Totsy Club
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Responses welcomed

At this point in the year 2000 the only thing about Bob Dylan that means anything to me is that he titled his crummy 1970 collection of mostly-cover-tunes Self-Portrait.

. . . 2000-07-11

Christina La Sala sends this Word of the Day:


[Biblio- book + Greek taphos burial]

A person who caches or hoards books.

She adds: "I like the transition from burial to digging a hole and hiding something." Me, I like the morbid shadow it casts over "bookworms," the way it inverts the whole "words outlast the pyramids" thing -- the Egyptian mood in general, really -- and how neatly it accessorizes our "Scrooge McClock" entry.

. . . 2000-07-12

My Book, Beth! Hotsy Totsy favorite daughter Beth Rust reflects on the Word of the Yesterday:

If I merge it with the concept of "forensic taphonomy" I come up with "bibliotaphonomist" - one who studies caches of buried books, with an eye to figuring out how they get buried and what happens to them after that:
"I know that annotated 'Dracula' is in here somewhere - but it can't be in the pile topped by the third 'Harry Potter' book because that's the pile I moved from the living room in March, and I saw 'Dracula' after that, so... Maybe it's in that big heap of books that the cats knocked off the shelves while hunting for that snake."

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Weblog hero David Chess is kind enough to suggest another example of loglike fictionlike pageslike:

If you don't mind sex, there's "Parents Strongly Cautioned" at "http://pastca.pitas.com/". He seems to be out for the rest of the month, but his previous months are well worth reading IMHO. No cheap porn (usually!) and very weblog-style (in some sense).
PaStCa is indeed a cheering concoction -- how is it that porn is able to incorporate parody so easily without disintegrating into farce? maybe because love is funny ha-ha as well as strange? -- but its serialized morsels are a bit more self-contained than whatever vague yearnings trouble my virginal dreams....

. . . 2000-07-14

And the Words of the Day just keep on comin', as Damian Murphy provides us with a rare example of oeonotaphonomy, as well as a promising suggestion for how to impress a girl:
Speaking of rather eccentric fascinations with buried items, a friend recently came up with the idea that he bury a number of bottles of very good wine in various locations about the city or the edges thereof. Some time later, when he intends to impress a girl for example, he can dig the bottles up, making no mention of the fact that it was him that buried the thing on the spot before.
Seriously Carol!
M. K. Brown, from Twisted Sisters

. . . 2000-07-15

Our Motto

The moonlit deck that slowly rose and fell before me, the silence and the restless waves and clouds, and the solemn circle of the horizon -- everything gave me the nice, exciting feeling of being terribly important and terribly small at the same time (perhaps, however, more the former).
-- Moominpappa's Memoirs by Tove Jansson

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The reigning mistress of the cartoony cartoon, Nina Paley, finally has a website with an extensive archive. No matter how cranky her scripts, Paley's bendy bouncy lines imbue anything they surround with Funny! -- even a syndicated cat-and-dog strip.

On the far scratchy end of the spectrum, you probably don't need me to tell you this, but the best thing that Salon's ever done or ever will do is to publish Lynda Barry's utterly gorgeous "One Hundred Demons" in color more lustrous than paper can afford.

. . . 2000-07-16

If you can't say something enough, don't say anything at all.

. . . 2000-07-18

Movie Comment: Boy! What a Girl

As Juliet Clark points out, it's a rare putting-on-a-show musical comedy that could boast of such intimate acquaintance with desperate golddigging (although if Orson Welles had directed a musical comedy...): Given their strictly limited set of venues, race movie producers had to scramble even more than the Poverty Row studios, and this was one of their last gasps.

Slam's high note Like many a last gasp before and after, Boy! What a Girl bet on sheer quality being enough to change the world and save the day. (As we in the software industry know, that trick never works.) Its pressbook boasted that "the production cost of the picture is at least four times that spent on any all-Negro feature to date" (meaning, apparently, about $50,000), and predicted that "an all-Negro motion picture can be produced to play any theater in the country and not merely confined to the some 600 odd playhouses that cater strictly to an all-Negro audience."

They managed the sheer (very sheer) quality. Of the race movies I've seen, Two-Gun Man from Harlem and The Duke Is Tops were kind of fun, the others have been "of historical interest," but Boy! What a Girl is just plain (very plain) good: consistently knee-slapping farce (no one's ever come up with a silly French name to beat "Gaston de la Quatrième de la Douzième de la Pousse-café"), consistently professional acting, music (led by "Slam" Stewart) excellent enough to help us overlook the not-so-consistent lip-synching, and some of the dirtiest jitterbugging ever put on film. Even the familiar ugly-guy-in-drag shtick worked: unlike, say, Jack Lemmon, "Madame Deborah" gave forth with so much personality that you could really believe the marriage proposals.

But, of course, they lost the day. Even with cool white guy Gene Krupa making a cameo appearance, there was no way for a "race movie" to achieve crossover success in 1947: you can't reach the audience if the theaters won't show you, and that would've required the cooperation of major studios and their distribution channels. Instead of triumphantly launching a new business model, Boy! What a Girl signalled the end of an old one: in just two years, Hollywood began to loosen up a bit on its "servants and singers only, and make sure the singers can be cut" rule, and, unable to compete with the application of big money to limited visibility, the production of race movies ceased.

Though their timing may have been bad, the movie-makers' instincts were vindicated some years later when their show's leading lady was called out of retirement for a genuine (and typically compromised) crossover success.

. . . 2000-07-20

Proving again that it's the teller that makes the story, one of my favorite storytellers, Martha Soukup, is telling a story I didn't think I had the slightest interest in. Thus I favorably notice Salon twice in one week. Is this what mellowing feels like?

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These United States

Late last night, I went to a by-invitation-only barbecue presided over by President Clinton. Looking trimly professional in his apron and chef's hat, the President disarmed me by handing over a large envelope containing the proof sheets of a new book by Alice Jardine and then graciously offered to introduce me to a guest with shared interests. On the back of the menu was a collection of invitation requests that had been sent by email to the White House, along with the President's responses. I only remember this bit of geek humor:

Dear Mr. President:

I'm actually a long zero!


Dear 0,

I guess I'll have to take your word on that!

Best wishes,

. . . 2000-07-21

"The more likely truth is that, by the time he was halfway through Ulysses, Joyce's mind was too far gone to be anywhere near capable of moral judgement - or, indeed, much else." -- Conrad Jameson
You poor poet, you!
Wow, that takes me back... the last time anyone came up with the "James Joyce was just psychotic" theory was probably William Empson fifty years ago....

Nostalgia isn't all that attracts me to this buffoonery. There's my ongoing holy war against journalism (that is, slanderous lies) and biography (that is, self-righteous gossip) to consider: The only way to pull such a delusion over one's readers' eyes is through deliberate obfuscation and deliberate plays on presumed ignorance.

For instance by claiming that a conspiracy of "the so-called New Critics" was responsible for inflating Crazy Jamie's reputation when in fact Empson was entirely typical of the New Critics in his dislike for Joyce. It wasn't academics and critics and journalists but writers and artists and amateurs who stoked the pre-1970 Joyce industrial forges.

".... he emerges as a man of great causes, an anti-colonialist, a pacifist and a feminist who, in Bloom, heralds the new womanly man. As it turned out, none of the things that either set of critics had said about Joyce was true...."
"As it turns out," it's demonstratedly true that Joyce was, albeit passively, a pacifist (and a socialist as well, though the New Statesman seems leery of that awful label) and an anti-colonialist and an anti-anti-Semite (not to be confused with a non-anti-Semite; that category didn't exist at the time): he said so quite openly, and others said it, whether insultingly or approvingly, about him. The "feminist" label I'll grant would be a stretch, but in typical journalistic "I don't need a man, I've got straw, thank you" fashion, Conrad Jameson ignores the hostile reception that Joyce has therefore received from many feminists. (I should know; I've argued with 'em.) What he was not was a propagandist, which is what's driven many a propagandistic writer to fury.

Anyway, the writer's job is precisely to seem better and wiser and wittier than the writer is. When the writer doesn't succeed -- when the writer is, say, Oliver St. John Gogarty -- the writer will be remembered as a character rather than a writer. (And despite Jameson's calumny, characters are the ones who're sustained through imitation and emulation rather than the comparatively depressing and colorless writers: emulating the writers would be too much work for the payback.) If Joyce's writing can convince anyone that he was a feminist, it's as much to his writing's credit as it is to Shakespeare's when readers convince themselves that Shakespeare must've been a lawyer or a doctor or a Duke of Earl. "Mme. Bovary, c'est moi" is a boast, not a confession.

Jameson's least mendacious attack on Joyce is purely personal and based on a very slim selection from Joyce's private letters and biography. There's no point in taking a defensive stand on that slim selection: a careful pinching out of details from anyone's private life (much less a writer's, since anyone who decides to write instead of taking a sensible job has got to be more than half crazy to begin with) would make them sound committable. (Yes, even George Bernard Shaw. Even, I suppose, the swollen parasite at hand.)

But, except in the most blatant miscarriages of justice, commitment papers aren't signed based on selected details but on how one's life is viewed in the context of one's place and time. In Joyce's place and time he might not have been called cuddly but neither was he ever called psychotic. As Virginia Woolf proved, there are more direct routes to self-destruction than neglecting one's health; as T. S. Eliot proved, there are worse attitudes toward one's spouse than brusqueness; as Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound proved, doubts about the later Joyce are not necessarily proof of good politics and coherent writing. And (to veer back to slander and lies for a moment), Pound, Eliot, and Woolf didn't take issues with Joyce's "insanity" so much as with his lack of class.

. . . 2000-07-22

Man O'Sorrows The Fabulous Results of the Fabulous Caption Contest, with Thanks to All Our Fabulous Readers
  1. The Raw and the Cooked
  2. "I've tried glue, I've tried nails - nothing seems to keep me on that damn cross."
  3. "Will that woman ever pay me any attention?"
  4. "What a drag it is getting old...."
  5. "Man, they always guess which hand's got the quarter...."
  6. "911, my ass!"
  7. "I'm sure they said to meet at the middle cross...."

. . . 2000-07-24

Juliet Clark continues her multifacetidisciplinary study of movies and/or life with "The Real Glory: A Photographic Testament to the Irresistible Glamor of a Career in the Film Industry," a behind-the-scrim look at how the cultural sausage factory inspires its pigs.

. . . 2000-07-25

Lyrics server

When the eel treats your thigh
Like a big piece of pie
That's a moray.


Gilligan's Isle Zonked in a hotel room in Toronto last week, I decided that, having taken the effort to jam a folded-up newspaper into the television cabinet's door's hinge to keep it from swinging shut, I might as well watch the television. With no Black Classic Movies channel to distract me, I ended up tuning to "Survivor."

I'd vaguely pictured some cameras showing some people surviving on an island. Imagine my (or, indeed, your) shock on finding an elaborately artificial game show in which the "community" must eliminate one of its members each week until only one human (not counting the network spokesperson, well-fed and invulnerable in the great tradition of angelic/demonic messengers) is left sole owner of "A MILLION DOLLARS!"

This is no way to maintain a species. It's the same desperately misanthropic vision as in Joanna Russ's great novel, We Who Are About to..., except presented here, quite insanely, as some sort of model for "natural society." In real life, social success means to extend one's circle. Where else but in a television executive's mind could success be defined as reducing one's social circle to complete solitude?

In immaturity, that's where else. Children are powerless and power-hungry, and their ambitions are easily (and regularly, in most school systems) guided into the narrowest nastiest channels possible. That's one reason maturity seemed so attractive to me as a child: it seemed as if, unlike us, adults had the opportunity to be alone when they wanted to, to enjoy friendship without endless intrigue and struggle, and to leave the dodgeball mentality behind.

And I'm delighted to say that it's true! Being an adult is great! You do leave that mentality behind! What's odd -- well, "odd" is too unjudgmental a word -- is that so many inexplicably nostalgic adults seem bent on recreating it.

Don't you believe 'em, kids. Gym class isn't "like real life" unless you're a case of arrested pre-adolescent development, like some of my more severely rednecked relatives, or television executives, or the losers on this show (link via Twernt): Vampire Cowboys

"I think it's the best show out there," said Joel Klug, the salesman and health club business consultant kicked off the island in Episode 6. "Every part of America is on that show. It is us. Some people are going to band together. Some people will go on their own. Some people will have trouble stabbing other people in the back or fighting to win. It's every part of life."
"Think back to grade school," said Ramona Gray, the chemist who lasted only through Episode 4. "When you're playing kickball, picking teams, somebody always gets left out. Somebody's always going to get picked first. It happens every day to every one of us."

Illustrative samples plucked from J. R. Williams' BUMMER, originally published by Cat-Head Comics

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The Hero with a Thousand Pages

And a related note on Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren, courtesy of Michael Richard on the rec.arts.books newsgroup:

"I was just thinking this would make a great Survivor/BigBrother kind of tv show. Go rent out some burned out city like Grozny, or maybe get a better deal with Kisangani, stuff it full of cameras, and sell tickets to get inside."
Back in the late '70s, me and my college friends used to discuss our dream cast for a movie version of Dhalgren -- Donny Osmond as the Kid, Marie Osmond as Lanya, Mason Reese as Denny, Charles Nelson Reilly as Bunny, and Sammy Davis Jr. as George Harrison -- but I gotta admit, this miniseries idea beats it.
Mason Reese

... an' anotha thing ...... then again ...

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2000 Ray Davis.