pseudopodium
Downhill
. . .

Kubrick, Critic

(Written for The Valve)

The first time I watch a Stanley Kubrick movie, I'm thrilled by its ambition and clarity.

The second time, the anticipated moments of humor, beauty, and shock re-arrive precisely in order, but thinner, like an anecdote that's outlived the memory it tells. Actors who'd conveyed life in other roles are played like tokens. My laughter and startles are a bit forced, as though I'm trying to put a lecturer at ease.

The third time, after the first ten minutes or so, there's no more movie. Just an idea I already know.

Only two Kubrick movies have interested me past that point. Both are literary adaptations, and in both, the ideas are formal. I watch them as literary analysis. With a 100-to-1 shooting ratio.

+ + +

"How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?"

Well, Lolita is a story of European guile in crass America. To make a highbrow book of it, European artist Nabokov told it guilefully. To make a commercial movie of it, American "they" told it crassly. In Nabokov's medium, Humbert Humbert takes advantage of a decadent tradition of ambiguously angst-riven confession. In Kubrick's medium Hollywood film, c. 1960 if you wanted to show middle-aged men lusting after girls, you made a leering sex comedy. And so that's the movie Kubrick made: The Twelve-Year Itch.

The logic is undeniable and, for me, anyway, irresistable. And James Mason makes an ideally sophisticated Tom Ewell, although Sue Lyon seems better suited to play the good-humored attractive wife than the drool-bespattered fantasy. (Tuesday Weld turned the role down after playing a similar part in a less prestigious movie and before playing similar parts in less prestigious movies.).

The problem is that Kubrick, as heir to Stroheim's flesh-loathing joylessness, isn't good at sex comedy. Even within the esoteric sub-sub-genre of leer noir, Lolita was bettered by Billy Wilder's Kiss Me, Stupid.

Maybe if they'd gotten Tony Randall for Clare Quilty?

+ + +

What most rewards me with pleasure viewing after viewing is Barry Lyndon.

I realize this reaction isn't universally shared. It's not, however, unique. I've watched the movie with others who've enjoyed it I even remember one very successful pan-and-scanned commercially interrupted viewing on late-night television. And maybe it's helpful to see it in such irreverent circumstances: I laugh pretty much all the way through, but acolytes seem to find (or seek and not find) a different experience the fresco series of sadness described by Mark Crispin Miller.

Although I admire Miller's argument, do I really care about Barry's sad fate? Or the sad fates of all who surround him?

Of course not. It's a Kubrick movie. I don't care about these characters any more than I cared about the fates of the Haze females, or HAL's or Alex's victims, or all life on Earth. And, in this case at least, Kubrick's coldness is no betrayal of his source material.

William Makepeace Thackeray attempted at least four simultaneous goals in The Luck [or Memoirs] of Barry Lyndon, Esq.:

This was an extraordinarily ambitious combination for a second novel. It was also kind of a mess.

In place of Thackeray's stew, being more a pastry chef, Kubrick neatly separated each ingredient and layered them in a tidy pattern.

First, to resolve the mix of fictional conventions, his movie splits down the middle. Its first half, naturally enough, is assigned the eighteenth-century: painlessly ironic misadventures of a young man, fairly good-hearted but amoral and far from bright, attractive through sheer boisterous health. This picaresque story ends in the hero's ascension to landed prosperity and a good marriage.

After an intermission, we enter the nineteenth-century: domestic melodrama, the horrors of class mobility, cross-generational tensions building and snapping, tragic accident, and villainy brought down, with lingering regret.

The problematically unreliable narrator was resolved by relocating out-of-character quotes from Barry into the omniscient third-person voice of Vanity Fair or Trollope's novels. The feeling of unreliablity was maintained by persistent discords between the dismissive tone of the "author" and the evidence of screen and soundtrack.

This solution kept Barry's character inarticulate and opaque, well within the scope of Thackeray's original blundering creep (or Ryan O'Neal's acting), and able to inhabit both halves of Kubrick's new scheme without dissonance. The new narrator was similarly at home, perhaps a bit more detached and worldly in the first half and a bit more censorious in the second.

Other techniques help bind the two halves. Kubrick's slow zoom-outs begin scenes as formally as the chapter titles and introductory paragraphs which were common to both centuries. Natural lighting, location shooting, and period costumes push material reality forward, while the meticulous care lavished on them reinforce the abstraction of pre-naturalistic style. As with Barry's character, so with others: Kubrick tones down Thackeray's vicious caricatures (which, photographed directly, might give us something more like Fellini's Satyricon or Welles's Don Quixote than like Richardson's Tom Jones) and adds flaws to Thackeray's more admirable (but almost blank) figures, resulting in fairly even affect.

The result, I admit, is cold and schematic but also intellectually engaging and very funny. It even induces, yes, a pleasant melancholy.

Not directly, though; not through parodic extravagances such as The Death of Little Bryan, with its "sad music" (that one piece of sad music, used whenever "sad music"'s needed), its angelic pain-free child, and its bravely tear-choking parents. That scene is pure clip art, like the Spooky House, Soul-Shattering Perversity, and Horrors of War sequences in other Kubrick movies.

No, the sadness is one uniquely suited to Kubrick's abilities. It's the sadness of distance. The distance between these dehumanized figures, each forever their own framed portrait, nailed to the wall, untouched and untouching. The distance between them and us, separated by time and telling. The implied identity with ourselves, and our own distances.

Even the voiceover dies as we watch, and a printed epilogue emphasizes the point:

It was in the reign of George the III that the above named personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.

"... and [to complete the quote] do not the Sunday papers and the courts of law supply us every week with more novel and interesting slander?"

. . .

Against the Millennium

I've recently seen a few online academic leftists

(I hate calling them leftists. It's not like they have anything to do with the pragmatic, boring, and downright disgusting work of American politics. Better to describe them as millenarians. It's like reading Pat Robertson, except that Pat Robertson actually wields power.)

I've recently seen a few online academic millenarians attack "liberals" (or, better yet, "right-wing liberals") for having brought us, well, everything that the Reagan and Bush administrations brought America.

It seems to me that the only way liberals can be held responsible for Bush initiatives is by not having prevented them. On which academic millenarians haven't scored well either.

* * *

The public intellectual can sometimes be effective when brought to bear on particular issues and policies. But that role ranges between absurd and dangerous when we judge entire forms of government. An "honest outsider" wouldn't have a high-risk bet on the game.

Of course, since Žižek was born and raised in Tito's Yugoslavia, his celebration of Lenin is about as "outside" as an American liberal celebrating the New Deal.

* * *

Yes, liberal democracy works for class mobility, and yes, that weakens class struggle. But, given the relative powers of the upper class and the lower class, you'd have to be either insane or rich to think class struggle is a good fight to bet on. The big rock candy mountain generally turns out to be rat excrement. The most successful revolution of the twentieth century was the one Franco raised against the Spanish Republic.

* * *

Democracy's inherently divisive power can balance the inherently coalescing power of wealth only so long as other forces stay unaligned. What typically seems to wreck the balance (other than invasion) is religious or nationalist mania whipped up by a good propaganda network. But in a secular capitalist democracy the balance is always in question.

It's easy to see why those of us with a taste for absolutes and verities lose our patience. The promise of liberal democracy hasn't been and never can be fulfilled. That's because all it promises is to maintain tension. Any fulfillment must be tactical and temporary for the simple reason that politics won't go away.

I admit that sometimes, in some places, even that much faith seems misplaced.

But anyone capable of swallowing Lacan has lost all right to skepticism.

* * *

Anyway, Žižek's not into fantasizing revolution for social equity. He's into it because it lets him be simultaneously naughty and puritanical. Here, he plays Uncle Joe to the simple serfs of America, with many spankings in store for nubile pop stars.

Hey, I got a sample population for you, Slavoj, 'cause those Kansas proles are my people. (Well, Missouri. Next best thing. My mother worked for Ashcroft's campaign.) All my high school friends whether skeptic, undecided, closeted, Republican, Nazi, Democrat, or just scared have been born again. (Not that things seem to be going better for them second time round.)

And you know what? They'd hate you worse'n I do.

Responses

Grrr. My Grranddad's middle name was 'Kansas'. For reals. Here's S.Z. on Abu Ghraib: "the Iraqi prisoners were effectively being initiated into American culture" also "You can find similar photographs in the US press whenever an initiation rite goes wrong in an army unit or on a high school campus" - Rush Limbaugh for bookworms.

My own dislike for Žižek is moderated by his open fraudulence. As he explains in the link above and here, when he got a chance to play an effective role in politics, rather than attacking the "liberal-democratic hegemony", he helped found the Liberal Democratic Party. And when he got a chance to try out the claims of Lacanian analysis, he wasted his therapy on hoaxing his analyst.

That doesn't mean I've grown exactly fond of him. As a hoaxer, he'll never reach the sublimity of Duchamp or Buñuel. With his steady stipend and his rotation of wife-tenders and his millenarian admirers, he's got a comfy shtick and he's shtuck there. And don't get your hopes up when people praise his prose style. They mean it's lively compared to other Leninist Lacanians.

But such naked craving for attention is more embarrassing than hateful. (I hope.) Worse are the fool's zanies, making moon-eyes at his "playful" "trickster" antics while swearing by the patent medicine.

DID IT FLY?
Like much of academia, the fondness for Zizek is cultish. It's only his appearance in mags like In These Times (to wildly negative reviews) that seems to make liberals nervous. The troublesome thing is not what he says so much that seemingly intelligent people buy into it. But then again, why should that surprise me?

Mitsu Hadeishi writes:

It seems to me that Zizek suffers from a tendency towards what I would call a sort of intellectual inconsistency --- on the one hand, the whole point of postmodernism is to critique the notion of a totalizing (and totalitarian) single world view --- and Zizek is consistent in the sense that he criticizes Stalinism for this --- he does seem to have such a fondness for socialism not so much as a totalizing system but as a symbol of attempts to help the working class that he constantly attempts to use postmodern insights to prop up arguments in favor of state intervention on behalf of workers, a fondness which is perhaps a bit irrational. I don't, however, think it is accurate to accuse him of "millenarianism" --- such a concept is actually thoroughly unpostmodern, it is precisely opposed to pretty much everything that any postmodern thinker ought to take seriously. In fact, I see Zizek rejecting this totalizing impulse quite thoroughly when he discusses Stalinism, which he sees as a degeneration of socialism. However, still does seem to be guilty of a certain irrational bias in that his articles often seem to be aimed at the "goal" of a sort of postmodern version of socialism though I haven't seen a clear picture of what this would mean in practice.

As far as I can tell, he does criticize Lenin on postmodern grounds for making a couple of key mistakes: the most egregious of which is his conflation of a supposedly objective necessity (the criticizers of the revolution are objectively opposing the advance of social justice, and thus ought to be shot) with a radical subjectivism (*I* have decided that these ideas are opposing social justice). He rightly says this sort of totalitarian impulse is based on a fallacy (I noticed in researching this, however, that Lenin in fact said these words two years after the Bolsheviks had abolished the firing squads, so he was clearly speaking metaphorically, at the time.)

He is really, it seems to me, simply being sort of impish in his use of Lenin, here, because he's not actually suggesting a return to Lenin, but simply a resurrection of a simple notion, which is that choice is not merely choice between two alternatives within a single framework, but rather also includes choices between frameworks. His use of Lenin is meant to be provocative, but hardly serious in the sense that it seems pretty obvious he doesn't mean a literal return to Lenin, merely a resurrection of that aspect of his thought which happens to coincide with something that isn't entirely crazy.

The problem I have, of course, with Zizek here, is that I don't know if he really has an understanding of economics. The basic idea that one ought to question whether or not one has the best set of choices rather than merely questioning one choice or the other --- this is obviously a valid point. Zizek is not arguing in favor of a suppression of alternate points of view; he's rather arguing in favor of the increase in the number of points of view, to re-include some now semi-discredited notions of socialism as an ideal. However, I think Zizek probably doesn't really understand the central problem with state intervention, which isn't that there is a problem with trying to help the lower classes but rather simply with the notion of centralized bureaucratic decision-making, which is, ironically, the same problem with overly powerful corporate concentrations of capital.

I agree with your general critique of him, however, in that I happen to believe the function of politics ought not to be the creation of an ideal state, but rather merely the prevention of the devolvement into a disaster. Thus, to me, Democrats v Republicans are a real choice: a choice between a relatively stable society which remains somewhat unfair and a society headed for doom. In this sense Zizek and other similar intellectuals miss the point in a sort of ivory tower idealism. Nevertheless what they're saying I don't think is quite as crazy as it is being made out to be by some. It seems to me Zizek's essential point is framed correctly (i.e., that one ought to question the choices as well as question the choice) --- I just think he nevertheless overromanticizes socialist impulses as the alternative (as well as overromanticizing the possibility of an idealized state).

My outbursts were far from clear on this score, but by "academic millenarians," I meant the American citers of Žižek rather than Žižek himself.

. . .

Straight "A"s in Love

(Written for The Valve)

From "Representing Isabel Paterson" by Stephen Cox:

While I was writing about Paterson, academic friends asked me, "What thesis do you want to prove?" I learned to answer, "None." A thesis is expected to be "cutting-edge," but I didn't want to cut anything. I wanted access to the longest circuit of books and ideas. I began to think that we might learn more about literature if we spent less time using literature to prove a point.

Of course, you may have a real point to prove. But if your list of Works Cited is generated only by the recent history of theoretical debate, then you're short-circuiting your access to everything else, even if your thesis is meant to assert "the pleasure of the text." Theories of representation stop being helpful at the point where the tools start choosing the work to be done. If you read only what's amenable to your theory, or embarrassing to someone else's, you may be reading such a narrow range of literature that your theory is, basically, just representing itself an obvious short circuit. You need to do more browsing in the stacks. I should have been enjoying the exquisite realism of Ruth Suckow's stories long before I encountered her in Paterson's columns, but as a professional student of literature I was no longer aimlessly browsing, as I was when I found Never Ask the End on my parents' bookshelf. I entered the library already knowing what to look for. And too often I was simply looking for a fight with someone else's theory. That's what my professional position encouraged me to do. But a walk through the neighborhood is generally more informative than a police report.

These reflections led me to notice that although our job as teachers and writers is to represent books and authors in some way, nowhere in the MLA Job List does one find "a wide acquaintance with literature" stated as a qualification. Yet even Pound, blessed and cursed with a highly individual point of view, whispered to the shade of Walt Whitman, "I have detested you long enough /...Let there be commerce between us". Paterson would have liked the word commerce. People engage in commerce to find new pleasures, not to obliterate the strange and unpredictable sources of pleasure.

I nod, smugly. (And lately I need all the smugness I can get.) Yes, I know this one. Academic practice is not precisely at one with either the practice of criticism or the practice of reading. Oversensitive, maybe, to that discrepancy, unlike my fellow Valvists, I never considered pursuing literature through the classroom.

To be fair, though, neither is writing criticism precisely at one with pleasurable reading. Many books leave me with nothing to say but "Give this a chance," just like normal folks do.

Criticism is an individual's response to an artifact, yes. It's also part of a conversation between an individual and an artifact. And here's the rubbed-raw patch it's also part of a conversation between individuals.

An educational institution must lay particular emphasis on that final aspect if it's to avoid fraudulence. But the rules by which one joins a conversation no interrupting; engage the established context; don't mix diction levels oppose the pleasures of the surprising artifact. We enthusiasts deservedly have a poor reputation in polite society.

Rather than attempting to reform the academy, it may be wiser for the weary academic to borrow a concept from a different set of vilified maladepts and gafiate.

(But don't expect relief in the corporate world. A similar ambiguity poisons "commerce".)

Responses

Don't tease the cobra libre:

this is good, ray, but, ahem, the first link requires journal access

Yep. That's probably going to be happening more with the Valvestuff. I should make those links a different color or something.

Anyway, I tried to quote the oomphy part. The only other things I noted were the Isabel Paterson novels that sounded most interesting: The Golden Vanity, The Shadow Riders, and The Magpie's Nest.

. . .

Advertisement

For my rubber check, the best pure poetry to be found in the Peter Bells of Wordsworth, Shelley, and Reynolds is the latter's

X.
He is rurally related;
Peter Bell hath country cousins,
(He had once a worthy mother)
Bells and Peters by the dozens,
But Peter Bell he hath no brother.
XI.
Not a brother owneth he,
Peter Bell he hath no brother,
His mother had no other son,
No other son e’er call’d her mother;
Peter Bell hath brother none.

More parody: two songs by Phoebe Cary, and the acidulously Keatsian "Ode on a Jar of Pickles".

In other news of Repression, this piercing cry from W. N. P. Barbellion:

Zoology is all I want. Why wonít Life leave me alone?

Responses

Re Phoebe: As Archer Taylor put it, The evening is the time to braise the day.

. . .

"Why do men [sic] halt between two opinions, and expect histological impossibilities?"

My recent outburst prompted the outburst below, recieved under the above title. I just hope Clifford D. Simak felt this proud when he read Fire the Bastards!

I'm tempted to have it carved on my tombstone. But, considering the financial burden that would put on my heirs (drat this Estate Tax!), I'll probably stick with my original choice of epitaph: "STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!"

Waitamminit, you don't name (or link) names, so I'm not sure of this; but --you're mad at teachers who accuse, say, the Clinton administration of being responsible for proto-bushian injustices so you point out Zizek's absurdity and threaten him with the disgruntlement of a mob of lumpen Christians? Not that there's anything wrong with your view of SZ --I especially liked the wordsalad he produces in the interview to which you linked, and it was indeed impossible for those who only intended to establish their state capitalism to rely on the revolutionary mobilization of the people (most effective revolution, though? by what criteria?)-- but something in the chain of argument reminded me of FrontPageMag's Derrida obit, and the longstanding canard that materialism by itself would reduce ideas to mere passive accompaniments of economic activity. There is a whole universe of meaning to be rescued and redefined: maybe it's just not a good time of year to level accusations against "academics." It *is* important, Ray, to remember that positive motivation to do something is aroused by the expectancy that one's behavior will be followed by positive consequences. Consider not just two prosodically similar statements, but *three*:

"None of that in Kubrick, who manipulates his films like a chess player, who makes an operational scenario of history."

"The destruction of craftsmanship during the period of the rise of scientific management did not go unnoticed by the workers."

"Understandably, hostile or uncooperative witnesses seldom grasped the nature of the hearings they were so forcibly attending."

I mean, it turned out to be advantageous for Kerensky, but at what price? Tom Frank is essentially trying to figure out how the Right's propaganda machine works, right? And had his book been universally ignored, they might have resented every blasphemous word of it. Does that, in your eyes, make him a class traitor by reminding him of your Bryn Mawr profs? These habits of life are of too pervading a character to be ascribed to the influence of a late or brief discipline. I lack the confidence to charge this danger equally to every part of the discourse; I no longer know what objects and ends are in my field of awareness. But surely your Missourian cohort would be equally unhappy with Chip, whose wound has closed up, for his elitism. Signs carrying social information vary as to reliability. Is it beyond your credence that there are teachers (and remember that SZ is not one) who provide political educations, who raise students' consciousness sufficiently to change their lives, and who still don't let the DLC off the hook, and remain appalled by Angela Davis' support for Clinton, or by Carter's having opened up the WH to the bornagainers' leaders? What then do you think of Riesman's view that there's such a thing as a "national character"? I dread hearing you say that the argument for child labor followed the same line, when the Constitution Party presented it in early 2000.

. . .

In Search of Beezark

Into Me and My Gal's 19 days of shooting and 79 minutes of footage Raoul Walsh and team crammed comedy, romance, suspense, melodrama, sex both obsessive and healthy, a mute quadraplegic war vet, a lot of drinking, a cafe straight out of Thimble Theater, and a startlingly ahead-of-its-time caper sequence, and still maintained a relaxed keep-the-cameras-rolling kind of mood.

But that's not the point. The point is that Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett keep using the word "beezark" (or "beezok") the same way they use "dope", as a roughneck endearment.

They really love that word. It's kind of infectious.

And, according to pre-Code ace Juliet Clark, in 1933's The Mayor of Hell, Jimmy Cagney addresses a reform school guard as "Ya screw... ya beezok" (or "beezark").

The "beezark" spelling is fairly well attested on the web:

It doesn't appear, however, in the OED or Webster's or the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, or in any of the several dozen reference works at UC Berkeley except one goddamned thesaurus where it's listed bare-assed as a "Term of disparagement", or in the archives of American Speech.

The last time I asked my readers for slang origins, it worked out pretty well. (I found the origin myself, but that's still pretty well.) This time the challenge is so great that I feel compelled to ask non-readers even. Any idea where this comes from?

Responses

beezark, n. : from the Old Norse 'baresark' or 'berserker'; one who is sufficiently incensed in battle to remove his upper garment (the sark or bearnie) and run amuck. Hence any lunatical or foolish fellow, ne'er-do-well, nincompoop or ragamuffin.

Thanks, Anon, our source for all good things. As a reader of Celtic and Icelandic sagas and a resident of Berkeley, that coincidence came to my mind as well. But "ber" to "bee" seemed a wide unattested leap to take across centuries of intervening North American immigrations, and so I didn't trust my instincts. Do you have a reason to? I'm just folk, and you know how people talk about folk etymology.

UPDATE: Language Hat, that wonderful wonderful Hat, to the rescue:

You may be having problems because you're spelling it "wrong" (though of course the spelling of slang terms isn't exactly set in stone); my reference books have it as "bezark." The Historical Dictionary of American Slang says:

bezark [orig. unkn.] an odd or contemptible man or woman. ca1925 in D. Runyon Poems for Men 15: This bezark... was once so quiet that we called him Silent Sam. 1929 in R.E. Howard Book 64: At this moment some bezark came barging up to our table and... leaned over and leered engagingly at my girl. Ibid. 78: Add to this the fact that he frequently shoved me against the wall, and you can get an idea what kind of a bezark I was fighting. 1932 AS (June) 329: Bezark -- a person [at Johns Hopkins Univ.]. 1942-49 Goldin et al. DAUL 259: Don't crack to that bezark (girl) of yours about touches (robberies).

(You can read an excerpt of the Robert E. Howard story here.)

And Cassell says:

bezark n. [1920s-40s] (US) an eccentric or unpleasant person. [? SE berserk]

I checked "beezark", I checked "beezok", I checked "bizok", but, dang, I must not have checked "bezark".

I mentioned this to one of your non-readers this afternoon, and he said they don't like it when you talk about them. He said they had a file, some charts, a graph or two. That it came up at meetings. And that's all he'd say about it.

How irksome.

Cobra Libre writes:

I don't actually have anything useful to add to "In Search of Beezark," but, by happy coincidence, my nighttime reading has recently taken a detour into Icelandic sagas, and so last night I opened up my new used copy of "Egil's Saga" to read:

"There was a man called Ulf Bjalfason. His mother was Hallbera, daughter of Ulf the Fearless, and she was the sister of Hallbjorn Half-Troll of Hrafnista, father of Ketil Trout. Ulf was so big and powerful that there was no one to match him. As a young man he used to go off on viking trips looking for plunder, and his partner in these was a man of good family called Berle-Kari, strong and full of courage. He was a berserk."

I'd like that last sentence on my tombstone, but I'm far too shy to run around amuck shirtless.

Me, I'd like the second sentence on my tombstone.

In fact, I'd like so many things on my tombstone, I may have to die more than once. Luckily, I'm a coward!

I happened to be re-reading 'The Thirteen Gun Salute' by Patick O'Brian just before checking in here, and there was an amusing (short) exchange between Jack and Stephen on the subject of 'running amock' 'or amuck?', Jack wonders; the subject comes up because of a couple of beserkers in Malaya who are, well, running amok, cutting people up. 'What a fellow you are, Stephen!' - Renfrew

UPDATE: In June 2005, the American Dialect Society Mailing List treated the subject. One poster noted many instances of "Bezark" as a surname. I'd noticed that myself, guessing that it's a corruption of the even more common family name "Bizok". And, as I had, he wondered whether the slang term might be a derogatory generalization. No evidence so far, though.

On firmer ground, Ben Zimmer moves the word's first printed attestation back to May 25, 1919:

"THE BUGS have no use for the beezark who carries a picture of himself in the back of his watch. It's a crippled loving cup that only has one handle." - "Two and Three: Putting the Next One Over" by Bugs Baer, Atlanta Constitution

Zimmer cited some more examples from Baer's column, and asked "Did Baer coin it, or just popularize it?"

UPDATE: A year later, and reader john l adds:

I stumbled across your reference to Thomas Thursday and the use of the word "beezark." Thursday used this term frequently in his humorous pulp stories. The first instance I know of occurs in "Missed in Missouri" (Top-Notch Magazine, May 15, 1920): "We put half of the side show on the bally doing all kinds of stunts, but didnít succeed in getting more than five beezarks to squander a dime." "Beezark" is one of many comic invectives he employed, e.g. yamneck, yapbean, dilbo, boobist, hickwah, etc. Thursday's publishing record is thin prior to 1920, but there's a remote chance he predates your 1919 refs, but it wouldn't be by much.

UPDATE 2010-10-21 : Terence O'Connell adds:

Another movie instance, which started my search: near the end of Sailorís Luck, a 1933 Raoul Walsh movie, James Dunn is quarreling with his girl friend Sally Eilers, whom he suspects of infidelity, and says something that sounds like "All you beezoks are alike."

UPDATE 2012-05-26 : Justin Patton adds (much to my embarrassment, since I bought the source text back in the 1980s):

Stumbled across “Beezark” in a Thimble Theater strip from October 12, 1929, and when looking it up online I found your site. Popeye and Castor Oyl are scammed into buying a “brass mine” in the Beezark Mountains, and then travel there to find that it doesn’t exist. The Beezark Mountains, or Beezark Center as it is later referred to over the next few months in the strip, are the primary location of the story arc that lasts until 1930, and are referenced several times. The residents of the Beezark area seem to be poor, naïve, farmers with large numbers or children, and many of them are represented sporting long beards and of advanced age (the police officer, fire chief, etc.). It seemed as though they might have been roughly based on residents of the Ozark Mountain area of the time.

October 12, 1929 – “Popeye and myself are going down to the Beezark Mountains and locate our brass mine.” – Castor Oyl

February 13, 1930 – “It happened about a month ago – I was strolling along the beach near Beezark Center in America.” – Fanny Foster

There are many other references between these two and afterwards, including a misspelling at one point of “Bezark”.

. . .

The Perfecting of a Love

(Written for The Valve)

Not many people share my interest in the contingency of canons and the fluidity of genres, but nearly everyone enjoys seeing bad reviews of (now) acknowledged "masterpieces". Either you get the warm satisfaction of mocking the (now) powerless for their stupidity, or you get the warm satisfaction of shared iconoclasm.

I'm not knocking the simple pleasures of the snide especially when the reviewers survive to eat and regurgitate their words, like those movie critics who slammed Psycho, within a decade had it on their Tip-Top 100 lists, and continued slamming newer misanthropic thrillers using the exact same series of tuts. (Reading the below, can you truly picture Anthony West's strictures on "good writing" having let, say, the "Cyclops" chapter of Ulysses pass?)

But the unprescient review is a multi-purpose tool. For example, it could remind bookbloggers and other suckers at journalistic teats that solid food's to be found elsewhere. With the light of (now) conventional opinion tucked under a critic's chin and nose, our characteristic blemishes stand out like our bluffing deployment of "in fact" and "the fact is", or our tendency to indict originality as a failed attempt at imitation: we grab at the first resemblance we can imagine, 'cause that's our job, and then find fault with the likeness.

And anachronistic harshness sometimes recovers some of the strangeness of the work itself, its indigestible singularity. On the scraped surface, recrystalization; through hostile eyes, a renewal of love.

Robert Musil's work reached respectability by the usual route. Rare blips of publicity during his lifetime; a small but insistent cult bringing him back into print, and then into circulation; a slow siege of the establishment and a slow capitulation, fading into decades of scattered sniping and griping.... The bumper crop of bad reviews comes mid-summer, after the cultists toss their earliest missiles, when sneers are broadened at the expense of those misguided enthusiasts, "we regret to say however" and so forth, sending the insurrection underground again till the harvest....

The most startling American response to the first translations of Musil may have been Newsweek's, June 8, 1953, where, under the heading "Confident Novelist", a confident reviewer told readers:

Actually, Musil was an almost intolerably bad writer. But he had scientific training and, as a result, became a sort of jet-powered literary no-good....

But the meatiest was Anthony West's in The New Yorker, July 25, 1953, subtitled "Out of Nowhere", where "nowhere" presumably meant the Austro-Hungarian empire. Break open the barbeque sauce:

... There is not the slightest reason for comparing it to the work of either Joyce or Proust. It belongs, in fact, to an earlier literary epoch, and it is the work of an imitator and not an innovator. "The Man Without Qualities" is modeled, not far short of plagiarism, on a group of Anatole France's novels, of which "The Wicker-Work Woman" and "The Amethyst Ring" are perhaps best known. They describe the adverntures of a M. Bergeret on the fringes of the Dreyfus case and of the secular political maneuvers of the various candidates seeking appointment to the vacant bishopric of Tourcoing.... [Other unconvincing similarities are listed.]

It was bold of Musil to attempt to tell such a large story, but in literature mere good intentions are worth nothing. The fact is that Musil was not much of a writer. The non-functioning simile, in which things that have no similarities are compared, is a sure sign of bad writing, and Musil goes as far with it as it is possible to go: [Several damning examples are given. Many more could be.]

His arrogance enabled him to botch even the almost foolproof technique he borrowed from France; he continually elbows his characters off the page, and nearly every chapter of his novel reveals a diagonal drift away from fiction into philosophic essay writing. [...] Even allowing for the translators, who are capable of devising "seated, lolling cows in the field, gazing towards the dawn," it must be said that the great Musil revival will not do, that there is no spark of of vitality in his work to keep it from its well-deserved obscurity.

And from a long way off as children say of their poor meatball that it was lost when somebody sneezed, or of science: That's so gay I see and know the image of my love.

Responses

philosophical ESSAY WRITING?! oh NO!!!!

It's all right, it was all a bad dream, go back to sleep....

And from a long way off this reader sees and knows the image of my feet:

Well then there now

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .