. . . 2001-02-18 . . . The Hotsy Totsy Club
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Everyday tragedies

From the Bruno's Weekly contributors' notes of April 22, 1916, editor Guido Bruno:

Djuna Barnes, who designed the front cover this week, retired to a sedate and quite private life. After a rather exciting career of a few years of newspaper work (drawing and writing) she decided to do some real work unhampered by editorial influences. A series of war pictures and among these her uncanny gripping "The Bullet," are not only the work of a promising artist, but one of one who started really to fulfill promises.

As well as in drawing and painting she has a style of her own in her literary adventures. Her poems and her short stories cannot possibly be called otherwise but adventures. She feels the rhythm of her inspiration and she struggles along as good as she can to make us feel it too. Her inspiration is flirting constantly with her creative desires. But Djuna Barnes is a bad match-maker. The little things in life make for tragedies. Spelling, punctuation, syntax, lack of concentration, are such little things. They are everyday tragedies in Djuna's life.

. . . 2001-02-25

42, cont.

Kebbie bucks us up with this explanation for our incessant use of the idiotoral we:

Don't think of yourself as fortytwo. Think of yourself as three fourteen year olds.
That also explains why we have such a hard time getting anything done. In fact, it explains everything, except possibly the chilblains.

+ + +

When I find myself in times of trouble, David Auerbach comes to me, speaking words of wisdom:

.... I think the myth of far eastern Zen-like acceptance of tragedy doesn't go much further than the generally tragedy-free nobility and samurai stories. I'd say that aestheticized horror requires an aesthetic, and when you don't have the luxury for one, we all tend to fall back on more impulsive/survival resources. As a corrolary, if the aesthetic layer here is/used to be primarily linguistic, I think you can figure on a panic when things get so bad that the protective layer of language is stripped away.

The eastern/western argument is supposedly (misquoting Raymond Smullyan here): East: "You will not know peace until you shed yourself of anxieties." West: "But you don't understand, anxieties have survival value!" How inner peace can be balanced with admitted repression (the sort of thing that leads people to run rampant with back-hoes in nightclubs) is something I don't understand. If Confucianism and ancestral reverence were not hand-picked to keep the plebes in their place (as Russian Orthodoxy was), they at least have done a pretty good job of it.

And speaking of the inner peace of the nobles, one of my friends pointed me to "Give All," by the usually reasonable antidisestablishmentarianist James Wood. The key paragraph is the one beginning "But soon Atlas's narrative curdles" halfway through. It's not just that Wood hews to a ludicrously outdated view of writer-as-seer, but that he claims for the elite cadre of writers a moral privilege usually reserved for people like Jesus and Mohammed. He winds up making Bellow sound like Jack Chick; his tools of horror are deployed for self-flagellation as well as moral instruction, but he's still got the answers. Which is why everyone's making such a fuss over Don DeLillo's latest tract. I can't speak as much for poetry, other than to say that the hermeticism of its more academic branches aligns them with survivalists and private militias. Suddenly the fate of Yukio Mishima makes perfect sense: bad writer, lots of repression, failed military coup.

Still, I think Musil hits it on the head: "X, instead of being a good family magazine hack, has become a bad Expressionist. He appeals to Man, God, the Spirit, Goodness, Chaos; and out of such big words he squeezes his sophisticated sentences. He could not possibly do so, were he to imagine the totality of their meaning, or at least grasp their utter unimaginability... he had not learned how to think based on the experience of his own imagination, but rather, with the aid of borrowed terms." (Again the language-as-protective-barrier theme.)

. . . 2001-02-26

"They say he's a genius. I say he's from Chicago. Saul Bellow! Huh." -- Lou Reed on Nelson Algren

Whether we're talking mainstream poetry (as in the New Criterion) or mainstream fiction (as in the New Republic), it can be embarrassingly hard to describe just what offends you in a piece of art as long as you remain entrenched in the offensive assumptions behind that art.

The reason James Wood was able to make such a hash of Saul Bellow's dopey biographer is that Saul Bellow's dopey biographer made such a muddle of attacking Saul Bellow. Since I dislike Saul Bellow -- not as much as I dislike his dopey biographer and not as much as I dislike Robert Hass, but enough to get by -- my own interest in all this is as a cautionary tale: If you can't stand the smell, get to a different kitchen.

If I felt like revisiting the awful smells, my nose might wrinkle first at Wood's persistent equation of Saul Bellow's "exuberance of detail" with James Joyce. Joyce's "high style," like all his styles, was used structurally -- and it was used rarely after Portrait of the Artist. (Probably where Joyce comes closest to all-out Bellowing is in the Giacomo, an unpublished notebook impossible to confuse with a Joyce novel, much less with a mainstream novel.) In mainstream literary fiction, on the other hand, the structural place of "style" is to cover the burnt bits, and Bellow's slather looks like he's trying to build a meringue from Crisco icing. (This is where I start to think of Restoration "heroic drama" and Romantic "poetic tragedy": If the greatest things in theater are noble soul-stirring quotes from Shakespeare, then the best way to write a play is to restrict yourself to noble soul-stirring quotes, right?)

But the idea of such a revisit fills me with inertia. (An irritable inertia, admittedly.) It's like a couple of years back when I got a chance to contribute to an art project about male heterosexuality, and got very interested in the idea because male heterosexuality is so unexamined and undertheorized, and I made lots of notes and rearranged them and stuff, trying to stumble into an organizing principle, and finally decided that all of my feelings and thoughts could be summed up far too effectively in the single sentence: "Heterosexual men seem funny at first but then they get boring."

The Hotsy Totsy Club doesn't need any stupid old organizing principles, though, so, in honor of President George W. Bush, I think I'll dump more of those notes in here and see what develops.

. . . 2001-02-27

Society News

Undoubtedly the cultural highlight of the evening (on this side of the International Date Line, anyway) came with hostess Judith-Number-One's improvised viola da gamba accompaniment to Mr. Tod Browning's The Unknown. Had some clodhopper not trodden on her bowing foot, she might have gone on to score Mr. Browning's tribute to the last days of disco, Les Freaks.

+ + +

You Can Tell Time But You Can't Tell It Much

It's very annoying that whoever invented the 12-hour clock decided that there should be two separate wraparound points. If you have an increasing numeric sequence (9 PM, 10 PM, 11 PM...) and then go back to the beginning of the sequence, distinguishing it with a new suffix (1 AM, 2 AM, 3 AM...), wouldn't it have been more sensible to change the suffix at the point that the sequence is reset (11 PM, 12 PM, 1 AM), rather than leaping dramatically from 11 PM all the way across the intervening AMs to 12 AM and then leaping all the way back across them again to 1 AM? So I wish I could believe the Useless-InfoMaster. But I can't, because there's no worming around 12:01 AM.

. . . 2001-03-05


Cheese Slicer as Wallace Cats as Nancy Bubbles as Cholly Kokonino

. . . 2001-03-06

Blood red.

Blood orange.

. . . 2001-03-09

 Cholly on Software pointless software management

Eminem on Software  

Teambuilding with IRC.

You may not not think that macho locker room posturing is all that attractive, but it sure beats computer geeks pretending that they're posturing in a locker room. Not to mention computer geeks pretending that they're Amos and Andy posturing in a locker room.

Watching skinny baldhead rich white kids cavort like so many demisemipint versions of Tarantino and Eminem makes one reflect on the plight of Special Ed teachers when Jerry Lewis was at his peak.

+ + +

The disappearance of Stanley Kwan's Actress continues apace. Having had its time in international film festivals and American rep houses, Kwan's 150-minute masterpiece has been pulled completely out of distribution by the Chinese company that holds US rights. The studio's 120-minute "normalized" version, released commercially in HK theaters and on videotape (and soon DVD) as Centre Stage, is now the only one available in America, although the distributors have taken care to increase consumer befuddlement by repackaging that film as The Actress.

Ruan Ling-Yu died 67 years ago yesterday. According to Kwan's film, she had been scheduled to give a talk on International Women's Day to some students. "Nothing matters."

. . . 2001-03-10

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  try {
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Zeke Manners & His Gang

Leo Ezekiel Mannes, a native Californian, became Zeke Craddock of The Beverly Hillbillies before moving to New York to become Zeke Manners, The Jewish Hillbilly.

His songs were covered by the Andrews Sisters, Hank Williams, the Byrds, Robert Byrd, and broke up the Calvanes.

He worked as a radio DJ, hosted television shows like "Rhythm & Happies," appeared in his nephew's movie Lost in America, and, of course, contributed to the "Beverly Hillbillies" soundtrack.

"At Mr. Manners's request, he was buried 'as a hillbilly.' He wore a baseball cap celebrating the Spice Girls, red suspenders and purple glasses from a 99-cent store. A cigar was in his pocket."

Zeke Manners

. . . 2001-03-11

Dyin' Dame   Movie Comment: Boy Meets Girl

Solicitudicide. Still playing doctor, but with a Hippocratic Oath and lots of malpractice. Compulsive observation followed by convulsive embrace. Fatal to one, guess which? Here, let me drape those muddy railroad tracks with my jacket. They say they want to help, but that would reduce the attraction; thus the usual one shove forward, two yanks back. Spreading handfuls of shredded paper to comfort the coals. It's an old story: the crime of Orpheus was making sure Eurydice was really OK. Holly Martins just wants to help, Available Ferguson just wants to help (the nun just wants to help: "I thought I heard voices"), this ugly little creep just wants to help.... "I try to find a girl."

+ + +

Movie Comment: Neil LaBute of Salt Lake City, UT, & Harmony Korine of Bolinas, CA

Why is it that wake-up calls to America always happen at 3 AM with lots of heavy breathing?

. . . 2001-03-12

Communication Is Fun
Night Train

It's easier to describe the twisted eyebeams than what they briefly tether, what it is and does when freed, when normalized. Fear of the solved equation. To the jerk-off nihilist, this is nowhere, imagination goes blank. Why the appeal of the crucified Aphrodite? To resolve the lie of possession -- entry followed by departure -- Garbo must remain unsatisfied with herself and forced to leave others.

. . . 2001-03-13

Science News

We're accustomed to the obscuring of cultural artifacts by commercial interests and the destruction of natural ecologies by commercial interests, but it's rare to find a story that combines both processes as well as this one, passed along by Californian Juliet Clark:

"We hope to work with many people in Calaveras County who have expressed to us they would like to have Mark Twain's frog come home," said Patricia Foulk of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

California once had millions of the frogs, but now only four places in the state are known to have more than 350, said Peter Galvin, a conservation biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Not everyone in Calaveras County is enamored of the red-legged frog, which has not been found in the county for years.

Since 1928, the bullfrog has taken center stage at the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee. Fair organizers and officials lobbied lawmakers over concerns that designating the county as a protected area for the red-legged frog would send the bullfrog packing and kill the event credited with bringing $1 million a year to the area.

"To establish red-legged frogs in the area they'd have to kill bullfrogs. That's tied to our economy," said Tim Shearer, city administrator for Angels Camp. "If they kill them, the frogs are not there for the tourists."

It's kinda like if Disney stocked Copenhagen harbor with non-dysfunctional merpeople or massacreed the Himalayan bear ("Does every character we do have to be that yellow?") for the benefit of the Phil Harris gray....

. . . 2001-03-16

A letter excerpt that I don't mind you guys seeing, about audiences mocking older movies

It's not like the struggle of quivering sensitivity against heartless philistines can be called new -- in 19th century fiction, for example, I remember accounts of the (slow but eventually successful) boosting of "primitive" Renaissance painting over "high" Renaissance painting -- but there does seem something extreme about the case of movies. Or maybe it's just that we love movies special?

There's the usual problem with any "popular genre" that postdates the creation of a "high mainstream," where the "popular" work is somehow supposed to speak immediately and directly to us, cooperating with all our current preconceptions like a perfect little gentleman's gentleman, or be dismissed as a laughable (or worse, dull) failure. We're familiar with that from science fiction, comics, and thrillers, and there are plenty of people who treat all of film the same way.

And there's the way that any photograph or film, no matter how staged, eventually becomes "documentary." For those who are more used to thinking art-historically, I guess the same is true of other forms. But it seems so clear with movies that these are images of real people (or at least made by real people) from a different time, and so there seems something even more heartbreaking about the refusal to enter into the world uniquely documented by that movie -- as if lifetimes were being thrown away instead of just a few weeks or months of work.

Not that any of this suffering seems called for when I don't like the movie myself.

You know the scene of Anna Karina watching The Passion of Joan of Arc in Vivre Sa Vie? I remember it with a long shot of all the people around her laughing, like a reverse of that Charles Addams cartoon. I guess that's more likely to happen to Godard's own films, though.


Another letter excerpt that I don't mind you guys seeing

I doubt that any attempt to mythologize "the old, accessible Hotsy Totsy Club" is going to succeed, but you did surprise me.

Communication Is Hard Oh, I've done super-impacted-babble before and I have every intention of doing it again. See, I have a problem with connectives and transitions. The problem is I hate them. I think in smaller units that, true, often go roughly in some sort of progression. But having to weave those small units into normal academically-acceptable debate-winning discursive prose always seems like an ugly chore -- an attitude that's pretty apparent in the awkwardness, artificiality, and lazy tic-iness of my connectives and transitions (beautifully caught by Geegaw's parody). My most satisfying fictional prose tended to be dialog or in-the-character's-voice subjectivity, and the critical prose I've been most satisfied with uses spatial positioning more than sensible argument.

It's like, there are proofs as written, and then there are proofs delivered by a lecturer, and the latter's sub-Platonic "and so we see"s and "therefore it is obvious is it not?"s just seem like padding. (One of my math professors dealt with the problem by feigning wide-eyed wonder and horror at each new step -- "Oh my gosh! Then that means..." and "But then look -- oh no!" -- which at least has novelty on its side.)

What I'd rather avoid in the future is doing it two days in a row. That was an unfortunate by-product of my "put the draft up and revise as needed" approach to Hotsy Totsy. After the first draft was posted, I wanted to add something to it. But these amoeba-like units tend to split once they've grown past a certain point, and this one split. I didn't feel right about separating the sibling parent-and-child so soon, and so I gave you a double dose. There was where I made my mistake. You shouldn't be sentimental about an amoeba.

Was ist der audience?

This reminds me of when Denis Leary riled Space Ghost:

SPACE GHOST: I know one or two guys who might disagree with you.
DENIS LEARY: Oh yeah? Like who?
DENIS LEARY: Okay, who else on the list?
I think I'll stick with that as an answer.

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

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2001 Ray Davis.