Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Cynic Librarian

has the first edition of the Kierkegaard Carnival up at his site, which you can find by clicking on the title link above. Who knows where it all leads? Many thanks to those who took part, and to the Cynic Librarian for putting it all together.


December, 1 2006 at Shallots Bar and Bistro
2525 fourth ave, belltown, seattle, Washington 98101
No cover!

"Weather Underground and Onset Art presents:

Going into our third “ARTIFAKT” art show we will be showcasing even more genres of art and as you can see there will be a lot more artists. We will be showing everything from photography to abstract to urban. For those that were down at the last two shows you know the vibe was thick and the art was good. Every show is better than the last.For those that didn't get a chance to come down - check us out you won't be disappointed. Most if not all art will be for sale... The venue can easily hold 250+ people and has hundreds of feet of wall space with 30+ feet tall walls. We are going to be bringing in A LOT of art work so come down and check it out... This will make for the PERFECT pre-funk to any Friday night activities you might have!! PLUS FREE PASSES TO BODYROCK ($10 Value) @ Element -332 5th Ave North"

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Notes On Fassbinder's The Third Generation

Somehow I missed this when it first came out on DVD in July. How could this happen, since I check the Fassbinder section every time I walk into Scarecrow? I'll preface my very few remarks by referring to Jim Clark's review, which, as usual, is amazingly thorough. I'm not sure what this guy's day job is, but he sure has done some great work writing about movies in his spare time. I enjoyed reading his commentary on the movie more than I enjoyed watching the movie itself, which probably means I should go back and watch it again. Before I do, here are my first impressions.

There is Fassbinder's stated aim, which I'd read before but here quote from Jim:
When an interviewer asked Fassbinder about the storyline, his response was surprising: "On the one hand an industrialist [Lurz], on the other a policeman [Inspector Gast]. Together they decide to form a terrorist cell, the first man because it'll be useful for his business ventures, the second to justify his repressive activities. [The thesis is] very simple: nowadays it's capitalism that brings forth terrorism, to boost itself and strengthen its system of hegemony."
Perhaps I'm thinking too much of the terrorism of today, and I don't know much more about terrorism in Germany after WWII except what I've read in Jim's review, but Fassbinder's idea seems to me patently absurd. It's simple, it might be dramatically compelling, and it has a touch of that whole snake-swallowing-its-own-tail thing, but I think it's a bit much for anyone besides the biggest bug-eyed conspiracy theorist to swallow. Which isn't to say that there isn't plenty of corruption in corporate offices and police departments, or that examples can't be found of collaboration between the two. But to expand this to a generalized observation that "nowadays it's capitalism that brings forth terrorism, to boost itself and strengthen its system of hegemony" is pretty far fetched.

Unless I'm mistaken, this is all the further fetched given Jim's description of the terrorist event referred to by Fassbinder in the title sequence: the RAF's (Rote Armee Fraktion) kidnapping and murder of wealthy industrialist and former Nazi Hanns Martin Schleyer. Another account of these events can be found here. Even if Schleyer were an evil capitalist, let alone a Nazi, no one claims that he engineered his own kidnapping and murder. Very generally speaking, I think an argument can be made for a kind of interdependence between leftist and rightward politics, or that some form of capitalism may lead to totalitarianism through the machinations of a cravenly opportunistic legal community. But something that too few people understand is that the Nazis were National Socialists, which is to say that for all their fetishes for guns and leather, they were left wing. And if there is some connection to be made between Schleyer and the Lurz character's involvement with the terrorist goons in the movie it's that they were all leftist, whether they alligned themselves with Nazi or Communist ideology.

Much of the film verges on chaos. Perhaps this is part of Fassbinder's strategy. Chaos, moral and political and whatever other form you please, is certainly a subject played up in the movie, but there's no question that some of it is the result of the amazing speed at which Fassbinder, Inc. worked. Sure, I'd rather watch Third Generation than just about anything playing at the multplexes these days, but it isn't a masterpiece by Fassbinder's standards, most of which were produced at an equally hectic pace, The layered aural experience that was so interesting in 13 Moons is so constant here that it seems more like undifferentiated noise. Which may have been the intention, but it doesn't make for a compelling movie. It suppose it's interesting to write (and read) about in retrospect (pace Mr. Clark), but that doesn't mean it's fun to hear. One exception: Peer Raben's electronic music, as it was in 13 Moons, is weirdly enjoyable, and perhaps even matches the material better than it did in 13 Moons.

Visually, there is some amazing photography here, and Jim breaks a number of shots down very well indeed. But much of the picture seemed to me uneven. There are the mirrors, the cramped spaces, the views from and of skyscrapers. But there are also angles from above and below that seem out of place, even when they're striking. One example would be the view from the upper floor in the Gast home, another would be Paul photographed from below. The sequence of von Stein cutting a hole through a paper wall in a Japanese restaurant and remaining unnoticed was tough to swallow, and two of the violent death scenes are pretty implausable. Maybe not as implausable as von Trotta's suicide in The American Soldier, but that was the most ridiculous death scene in the history of the dramatic arts. Of course, I hardly know how I'd react while being riddled with bullets in the middle of eating a California roll, laying flowers on the grave of my beloved, or stabbing myself in the gut - but still.

I'm still trying to make up my mind about other aspects of the film. The characters Petra (Margit Carstensen) and Hilde (Bulle Ogier) are shown flirting near the beginning of the movie, but not much comes of it after that. Hilde comically becomes domesticated in short order by the head terrorist, Paul (Raúl Gimenez), while Petra leaves her husband for reasons that seem pretty dubious. Is anything to be made of this? Or should we just accept that life gets pretty weird sometimes, and often seems cruelly ironic. Well, maybe that is enough. What about Lilo Pompeit's character? Made up like a doll ... perhaps she's a puppet of Inspector Gast. And how does Susanne come to have an affair with her father-in-law? What are we to make of the connection between Volker Spengler's character and Lurz? How does von Stein manage to catch on to what's really going on? Does his infatuation with Bakunin mark him as a hero, or an idealistic idiot, or both? It's a tangled web he weaves, but maybe it's just enough to show how everybody in this terrorist cell is utterly clueless and dysfunctional. Well, not quite dysfunctional - they did manage to kill some people.

The viciousness and cruelty of terrorism is pretty easy to see - just turn on the news, and many characters in The Third Generatiion are shown doing just that. And as Mr. Clark writes, Volker Schlöndorff had already made The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum from Heinrich Böll's recent novel (Walker Percy alert: Böll was a one of his favorite German authors, along with Peter Handke), which gave us a psychological portrait of a young woman caught up in events in a way that's hard to determine her culpability, if not her boyfriend's. So why not make a movie about what complete idiots terrorists are? They have know idea what they're talking about when they mindlessly quote Schopenhauer, nor are they aware that they really are clowns, even when they dress up as clowns for the kidnapping. Complete, utter fools. Which German terrorists in the 1970's may well have been. And perhaps all terrorists are, in a way that goes beyond the tired description of "darkly comic".

But they weren't just fools. Nor are the terrorists of today. It's true that there's something vaguely comical about the ineptitude of Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, but that's only because he was inept and his attempt to bring down an airliner was itself brought down by a stewardess or two (sorry, flight attendant). Is there something funny about Mohammed Atta? Somehow that doesn't compute.

There's an awful lot of quotation going on in this movie. Graffiti on bathroom stalls is quoted at the beginning of each section. The terrorists spout Schopenhauer. Fassbinder quotes Chancellor Schmidt. The terrorists play keep-away with a book by Mikhail Bakunin, reading from it each time they go to make the next toss. Here are some Bakunin quotes, supplied by Jim: "I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation." Well, okay. And then "the idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind." Well, as an enemy of Marx perhaps he ought to be a friend, but is he? Bakunin works in this movie a little like Artaud worked in Satan's Brew. Maybe I should write "is worked", and maybe not quite as well. It occurs to me that Fassbinder was full of a lot of other people's ideas, and perhaps he is making the cinematic equivalent of a "novel of ideas". Which may be why it's more fun to read and write about this movie than to watch it. At least the first time.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Blaise Says

It is not good to be too free. It is not good to have everything one wants.

How You Found Quotidian Quintilian XVII

71.206.51, roughly in the vicinity of St. Louis Missouri, is evidently gathering bloggers' opinions on Ronald Dworkin's Artificial Happiness. He found mine in yesterday's bit on Oliver's article in the New Atlantis. Although it seems he took zero intersest, as he bounced out of here after less than a second. Which seems to be the general pattern here.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Jeffrey Oliver on The Myth of Thomas Szasz

This is a very fine article in The New Atlantis on the too little-known renegade psychiatrist who has inveighed against the excesses of the therapeutic culture for the last 40 years. He's generally thought to have turned into a crank a long time ago, but maybe that's better than being a quack. Richard John Neuhaus' bit in First Things includes a nice summary, in addition to a few other interesting items. A quotation from the quotation:
For Szasz, the extreme induced by his war against psychiatry was both equal and opposite to that of his profession. When psychiatry failed to shut Szasz up, it went about forgetting him. When Szasz failed to persuade his peers, he seemed to devote his career to enraging them. In 1963, shortly after the crisis at SUNY, Szasz wrote: ‘To maintain that a social institution suffers from certain “abuses” is to imply that it has certain other desirable or good uses. . . . My thesis is quite different: Simply put, it is that there are, and can be, no abuses of Institutional Psychiatry, because Institutional Psychiatry is, itself, an abuse.’ By the 1970s he was comparing psychiatrists to witch hunters. By the 1980s it was slave owners and Nazis. While such extreme rhetoric made Szasz a public figure for a while, his polemical excess eventually ensured his professional obscurity.

“Yet we are also right to give the earlier Szasz his due. ‘Quite probably,’ wrote Edwin Schur in The Atlantic Monthly in the 1960s, ‘he has done more than any other man to alert the American public to the potential dangers of an excessively psychiatrized society.’ . . . Perhaps the most remarkable tribute, however, came in 1989, when an ailing Karl Menninger, the long-time patriarch of American psychiatry, wrote Szasz the following:

“I am holding your new book, Insanity: The Idea and Its Consequences, in my hands. I read part of it yesterday and I have also read reviews of it. I think I know what it says but I did enjoy hearing it said again. I think I understand better what has disturbed you these years and, in fact, it disturbs me, too, now. We don’t like the situation that prevails whereby a fellow human being is put aside, outcast as it were, ignored, labeled and said to be “sick in his mind.” . . .

Today, Szasz lives alone in a suburb of Syracuse where he continues to write. He has already published one new book this year—“My Madness Saved Me”: The Madness and Marriage of Virginia Woolf—and he recently finished a draft of yet another critical history of his profession. If the trend continues, the books will be read by few and endorsed by almost none. After forty years of comparing psychiatrists to the scum of the earth, Szasz now stands as one of the biggest obstacles to his own ideas. It is simply too easy to dismiss him as an axe-grinding zealot, a ‘musician who does not like music,’ as one critic put it. ‘The atheist who cannot stop speaking about God.’ But perhaps a new generation of critics will arise—aware of psychiatry’s achievements but also its limits, leading us not to extremes but to a much-needed reformation of psychiatry from within, and a much-needed de-medicalization of human life in the culture as a whole.
The entire article by Oliver is well worth reading, and on the whole I think his take on the way our society views mental illness is more balanced than that of Dworkin's Artificial Happiness, which I was reading and excerpting here and there and a few weeks ago.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

From Violence and the Sacred

Girard closes Chapter One with comments on the efforts of religious thinkers to witness to evil. I don't have much in the way of questions about this, but it's a great conclusion well worth quoting.
Even the wildest aberrations of religious thought still manage to bear witness to the fact that evil and the violent measures taken to combat evil are essentially the same. At times violence appears to man in its most terrifying aspect, wantonly sowing chaos and destruction; at other times it appears in the guise of the peacemaker, graciously distributing the fruits of sacrifice.

The secret of the dual nature of violence still eludes men. Beneficial violence must be carefully distinguished from harmful violence, and the former contunually promoted at the expense of the latter. Ritual is nothing more than the regular exercise of "good" violence. As we have remarked, if sacrifcial violence is to be effective it must resemble the nonsacrificial variety as closely as possible. That is why some rites may seem to us nothing more than senseless inversions of prohibited acts. For instance, in some societies menstrual blood is regarded as a beneficial substance when employed in certain rites but retains its baleful character in other contexts.

The two-in-one nature of blood - that is, of violence - is strikingly illustrated in Euripides' Ion. The Athenian queen, Creusa, plots to do away with the hero by means of an exotic talisman: two drops of blood from the deadly Gorgon. One drop is a deadly poison, the other a miraculous healing agent. The queen's old slave asks her the origin of the substance:
Creusa When the fatal blow was struck a drop spurted from the hollow vein.
Slave How was it used? What are its properties?
Creusa It wards off all sickness and nourishes life.
Slave And the other drop?
Creusa It kills. It is made from the Gorgon's venemous serpents.
Slave Do you carry them mixed together or separate?
Creusa Are good and evil to be mixed together? Separate, of course.
Nothing could seem more alike than two drops of blood, yet in this case nothing could be more different. It is only too easy to blend them together and produce a substance that would efface all distinction between the pure and impure. Then the difference between "good" and "bad" violence would be eliminated as well. As long as purity and impurity remain distinct, even the worst pollution can be washed away; but once they are allowed to mingle, purification is no longer possible.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


to everybody over at Korrektiv!

Friday, November 24, 2006

St. Colman of Cloyne

St. Colman of Cloyne was born in Munster, Ireland, son of Lenin. He became a poet and later, royal bard at Cashel. He was baptized by St. Brendan when he was fifty years old with the name Colman. He was ordained, and was reputed to be St. Columba's teacher. He became the first bishop of Cloyne, of which he is patron, in eastern Cork.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Turkey Day!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

From René Girard's Violence and the Sacred

The demands of regular employment are unfortunately keeping me from reading Girard as regularly as I would like, much less posting my favorite passages here. In any case, I'm proceeding as best I can, quoting here again from Chapter One. Before I do, I have to say that my own personal bugaboo, the the issue that keeps nagging at me when religion is regarded from a naturalist perspective, is how religion is supposed to deal with natural phenomena themselves. If religion is a natural phenomenon, how can it be expected to deal with more powerful natural phenomena? In short, how can a prayer (prayer that is merely an instance of natural phenomena) quell an earthquake? Girard takes up the issue in the first chapter:
Inevitably the moment comes when violence can only be countered by more violence. Whether we fail or succeed in our effort to subdue it, the real victor is always violence itself. The mimetic attributes of violence are extraordinary - sometimes direct and positive, at other times indirect and negative. The more men strive to curb their violent impulses, the more these impulses seem to prosper. The very weapons used to combat violence are turned against their users. Violence is like a raging fire that feeds on the very objects intended to smother its flames.

The metaphor of fire could well give way to metaphors of tempest, flood, earthquake. Like the plague, the resemblance violence bears to these natural cataclysms is not limited to the realm of poetic imagery. In acknowledging that fact, however, we do not mean to endorse the theory that sees in the sacred a simple transfiguration of natural phenomena.

The sacred consists of all those forces whose dominance over man increases or seems to increase in proportion to man's effort to master them. Tempests, forest fires, and plagues, among other phenomena, may be classified as sacred. Far outranking these, however, though in a far less obvious manner, stands human violence - violence seen as something exterior to man and henceforth as a part of all the other outside forces that threaten mankind. Violence is the heart and secret soul of the sacred. (31)
My difficulty with the end of the second paragraph is that although "we do not mean to endorse the theory that sees in the sacred a simple transfiguration of natural phenomena", many people do. In fact, isn't that exactly what people expect of the sacred? Not just another form of natural phenomena, but in fact some form of supernatural phenomena? And I'm not sure why this transfiguration would have to be 'simple'.

My difficulty with the third paragraph is that while 'primitive' man may have seen the escalation of collective violence as something outside themselves, and for perfectly good reasons, we moderns do not. Are we wrong? Does Girard's theory rest on this distinction? It seems to me that it does.

More anon.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Blaise Says

Justice without force is powerless; force without justice is tyrannical.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Claim Jumpers

When I first heard that for my birthday my family was taking me to a new restaurant called CLAMjumpers, I was more excited than I've been since I don't remember when. I'd never heard of clams that jump, of course, and trying to imagine how an ordinary bi-valve leaps out of the sand just hurt my head, but I then I just took it on faith that these were some pretty special shellfish indeed. So imagine my surprise when, after driving around Tukwila for an hour in search of the place, I find myself parked in front of what looks like an Oklahoma ranch house designed by Victor Gruen himself.

And now, after looking up the website for the link provided above, I have to say I'm suspicious of any restaurant that has an "Enhanced Flash Site Requiring Flash Player 7". Just give me a menu, dammit. With clams on it. Still, it was a wonderful time, and eating bass in a steakhouse has a special delight all its own. It really was quite good. My thanks to the entire family.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Casino Royale

The marquee of the Neptune Theater reads "Where art thou, Brosnan?", but I actually liked Daniel Craig more than Brosnan. More Connery and less Moore. Although I've liked Brosnan in other things, like that remake of the Steve McQueen movie, so maybe it had more to do with the movies themselves and things like that awful sequence in the ice palace. This was definitely the best Bond movie I've seen in a while. And Eva Green is absolutely stunning.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Hard Light

New work by Robert Hardgrave and Warren Dykeman is being shown from November 10 until December 2, 2006 at the BLVD Art Gallery at 2316 Second Avenue in Seattle. Robert Hardgrave in particular is an artist well worth keeping track of, in my humble opinion. The material is obviously pretty disorienting at first, but the talent behind it is unmistakable. And a lot of hard work, I'd guess. You can see more of his work at his website here. I think my favorite is "Braindriver"; third group down, seventh from the left.

Friday, November 17, 2006

St. Gregory Thaumaturgus

Gregory was of a distinguished pagan family. He was born at Neocaesarea, Pontus, and studied law there. About 233, he and his brother, Athenodorus, accompanied his sister, who was joining her husband in Caesarea, Palestine, while they continued on to Beirut to continue their law studies. They met Origen and instead of going to Beirut, entered his school at Caesarea, studied theology, were converted to Christianity by Origen, and became his disciples. Gregory returned to Neocaesarea about 238, intending to practice law, but was elected bishop by the seventeen Christians of the city. It soon became apparent that he was gifted with remarkable powers. He preached eloquently, made so many converts he was able to build a church, and soon was so reknowned for his miracles that he was surnamed Thaumaturgus (the wonderworker). He was a much-sought-after arbiter for his wisdom and legal knowledge and ability, advised his flock to go into hiding when Decius' persecution of the Christians broke out in 250, and fled to the desert with his deacon. On his return, he ministered to his flock when plague struck his See and when the Goths devastated Pontus, 252-254, which he described in his "Canonical Letter." He participated in the synod of Antioch, 264-265, against Samosata, and fought sabellianism and Tritheism. It is reported that at his death at Neocaesarea, only seventeen unbelievers were left in the city. He is invoked against floods and earthquakes (at one time he reportedly stopped the flooding Lycus, and at another, he moved a mountain). According to Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Thaumaturgus experienced a vision of Our Lady, the first such recorded vision. He wrote a panegyric to Origen, a treatise on the Creed, and a dissertation addressed to Theopompus; St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote a panegyric to Gregory Thaumaturgus. (

Thursday, November 16, 2006

At least my fly is zipped up

Here's what turned up in the comment box on Mark Shea's blog:
Is it wrong and petty of me to point out that Korrektiv should not be talking about Duals with Satan, unless he means that there are two of them?


I make many spelling errors myself, Lord knows, especially in the blogging world--but its like talking to someone with a bit of spinach stuck between his teeth. You'd like to be intellectually engaged in the serious topic of Biblical scholarship, but, there's that green scrap when he smiles.
Ouch! He is me. Whoops! There I go again: should be "He is I". One week it's a long, gray hair growing out of my right nostril, the next it's a green scrap of spinach in my teeth.

For the record, I appreciate the original correction. It was sloppy of me, and might even lead someone to a gnostic interpretation of the whole episode. And come to think of it, maybe even the word "duels" isn't really an intellectually engaging way of discussing a serious topic of biblical scholarship. But yeah, I think it's kind of petty to bring it up on someone else's blog. And I think the question at the beginning shows I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Karakkaze yarô

Afraid to Die is a surprisingly good Yakuza movie starring the Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima in his first of five film roles. The cinematography is excellent, and the story of a gangster released from prison who must either kill or be killed has enough twists and turns to keep it interesting. There's an incredible nightclub scene that has a showgirl singing about long, thick bananas; I'm not sure how that one made it past the censors in 1960, but now it's just plain hilarious. Mishima is very good as a kind of darker, Japanese version of James Dean.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On Pasolini's Accattone

In English, The Scrounger, and in any language it's a very good movie, the first directed by Pasolini. Franco Citti, who would later appear in The Godfather, plays Vittorio, aka Accattone, who hangs out with friends at cafes and lives off whatever his girlfriend, Maddalena, can earn as a prostitute. Which makes him a pimp, a name he loathes, preferring the less reprobative "Accattone". Life gets complicated for Accatone when Maddalena is beat up by a band of thugs and then, on top of that, perjures herself by blaming the wrong guys. After trying to patch things up with the former Mrs. Accatone without success, he stumbles onto Stella, a young woman trying to lead a good life. Accatone himself tries to lead a better life by getting a real job, but finds it much more difficult than even he would have thought. Accatone seems to me the essence of realist cinema, or neo-realist, or whatever it's called, and although it's not a masterpiece on the level of some of the other Pasolini movies I've seen recently, it is multo, multo bene and you should watch it, too.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Blaise Says

When we see a natural style, we are astonished and charmed; for we expected to see an author, and we find a person.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Excerpt from René Girard's Violence and the Sacred

I'm rereading Girard's 1972 classic work, in many ways the foundation for much of his later work (his earlier books were literary criticism on novelists), just to be sure I know what I'm talking about when I pull out his name during cocktail parties and obsessive blog posts about Pasolini.

Girard identifies the sacrificial act as his primary subject and outlines his task on the first page by stating that mystery surrounds sacrifice for a number of reasons; one is its resemblance to criminal violence (so that its perpetrators would have a vested interest in mystifying its origins), and the other is that because it has been deemed an institution almost entirely symbolic, "it is a subject that lends itself to insubstantial theorizing." (VS 1) Hopefully what we are about to read here is more substantial theorizing.

He goes on to reference other authors (Storr, Lorenz) on the physiology and sociology of violence, and then give us what I think is one of the most important paragraphs in the first chapter:
Violence is frequently called irrational. It has its reasons, however, and can marshal some rather convincing ones when the need arises. Yet these reasons cannot be taken seriously, no matter how valid they may appear. Violence itself will discard them if the initial object remains persistently out of reach and continues to provoke hostility. When unappeased, violence seeks and always finds a surrogate victim. The creature that excited its fury is abruptly replaced by another, chosen only because it is vulnerable and close at hand.
His use of the word "creature" here is telling; violence is a phenomenon that is spread across the animal kingdom, and violence among men naturally has its roots in his biological beginnings.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

How You Found Quotidian Quintilian XVI

A Google search for "literary amimal sex stories" has apparently brought up my humble site as a source. I guess it might be my Notes on Pasolini's Porcile, although there's not much sex there. In any case I hope 24.226.10 from Oakville, Ontario found what he or she was looking for. Or maybe I don't.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

From the Music Video Archives

High, by the Cure, was on the 1992 album Wish. For my money (zilch, actually, having invested so many hours waiting in front of the television until this song finally came up again), this was one of the best music videos ever. The song is fantastic, and the cinematography with all those lush blues and golds in an overexposed skyscape is pretty breathtaking. Is that a gondola or a big chunk of some gothic cathedral? Was that a tongue that just came out of Robert Smith's mouth, or a snake? What's he doing on the kite?

when I see you sticky as lips/as licky as trips/I can't lick that far/but when you pout/the way you shout out loud/it makes me want to start/and when I see you happy as a girl/that swims in a world of magic show/it makes me bite my fingers through/to think I could've let you go

On this Veteran's Day

Thanks to my Dad, my step-Dad, my two uncles, and my grandfather for their service in uniform. To all veterans, actually: vobis gratias.

Friday, November 10, 2006

St. Leo the Great

St. Leo the Great was born in Tuscany. As deacon, he was dispatched to Gaul as a mediator by Emperor Valentinian III. He reigned as Pope between 440 and 461. He persuaded Emperor Valentinian to recognize the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in an edict in 445. The doctrine of the Incarnation was formed by him in a letter to the Patriarch of Constantinople, who had already condemned Eutyches. At the Council of Chalcedon this same letter was confirmed as the expression of Catholic Faith concerning the Person of Christ.

All secular historical treatises eulogize his efforts during the upheaval of the fifth century barbarian invasion. His encounter with Attila the Hun, at the very gates of Rome persuading him to turn back, remains a historical memorial to his great eloquence. When the Vandals under Genseric occupied the city of Rome, he persuaded the invaders to desist from pillaging the city and harming its inhabitants. He died in 461, leaving many letters and writings of great historical value. His feast day is November 10th.

On Bresson's Journal d'un curé de campagne

Diary of a Country Priestis a good movie. Maybe not a great one, as I was hoping, but a very solid adaptation of Bernanos' novel. Which is a great novel and although it isn't en vogue to say this (and maybe pointless to do so), I think the story is such that it leads to a complexity of thought and feeling that comes only with the courage to bring it in to being. As rushed as events seem to transpire in the film, and perhaps even in the novel, I think it's wrong to criticize the story as naive or somehow 'untrue' to life as more truly lived. This is probably a subject for another day as well. I would definitely recommend reading the book first.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

On Bergman's Jungfrukällan

The Virgin Spring in English. Another movie about sex, violence, loss and revenge set in the medieval era, this time in the northern Eden of 14th century Sweden. Maz von Sydow plays a father with two daughters, one a black haired pagan who at the beginning of the movie invokes the god Odin, the other a blond haired innocent whose kindness towards travelling swineherds leads to trouble. Cinematically this has to be one of the most beautiful films ever made. The cinematographer Sven Nykvist is a true master of the art; the black and white film has a silvery quality that is radiant. Girard could probably be brought to bear on the subject matter here as well, but that's a project for another day.

On Herzog's Stroszek

A German alcoholic named Bruno Stroszek is released from prison, meets up with an old friend, a prostitute played by Eva Mattes, and ekes out a living as a street musician. Although he's a street musician with a cool apartment and a baby grand piano he can play while Eva brings him drinks. They're harassed and beaten by a bunch of thugs so much that they decide to go seek their fortune with their friend Scheitz in Wisconsin. They move into a trailer home, drink a lot of beer, and eventually the trailer is repossessed. There's a pretty funny auction scene. Stroszek and Scheitz decide to rob a store; minutes later Scheitz is nabbed by the cops while Stroszek eludes capture in a convenience store. He takes off in a station wagon, then switches to a big blue truck. He eventually burns out the engine and leaves it running around in circles in a parking lot until it catches on fire. There's a weird scene in an arcade with dancing chickens, piano playing chickens, all of which seems to point back towards Bruno and the circle he seems to be going around and around in. The end of the movie shows him taking a chair lift up to the top of a mountain, where it's quite possible he shoots himself. There, now you don't have to watch it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Collected Notes on Pasolini's Porcile

A lot of people have been asking me about Pasolini's Pigsty, wondering whether I'm going to write a book about it, or at least a dissertation. No to both, sadly, but I've decided to list all of my blog posts here for easy perusal, and for all those internet searches on the subject in the years to come.

Initial Notes on Pasolini's Porcile

In which I attempt to lay out some of the problems and questions raised by the filmmaker in his minor masterpiece from 1969, and lay the groundwork for a viewing of the film with the help of Rene Girard's work The Violence and the Sacred.

Further Notes on Pasolini's Porcile

One uppity question about Pasolini's use of dogs in a crucial scene from Pigsty, followed by what I hope is not an overly labored attempt to see the film through that 'Girardian lens'. Plus a comment by one Mr. McCain, in which he wonders whether the saints should perhaps be brought to bear on this mighty struggle towards a true interpretation.

Still More Notes on Pasolini's Porcile

A quotation from Mr. Pasolini from 1967, two years prior to the making of Pigsty, in which he himself attempts to frame his life in terms of the question that has so beset men of every temperment in every age, and in the ages to come. Plus, what might well be a labored attempt to see the film through that Girardian lens. And what's more, a comment from Mr. Red Pants with referrals to several other films, particularly Hammer's Vampire Circus, which upon further reflection might prove to be a key to understanding that very curious nexus of Catholicism, Violence, and especially the semiotics of sarcophagy, drinking blood, and the portrayal of each in film. Curiously, nay, mysteriously, this post appeared on All Soul's Day, when perhaps such crucial questions about the key issues of our time (any time!) should be aired in full cognizance of their true context.

Last Notes on Pasolini's Porcile

In this fourth post I final undertake an interpretation of the other half of the film, the modern half, the three previous entries being devoted almost entirely to the pre-industrial sequences of the film. Two long soliloquies are excerpted here, studiously copied down by me, by hand, frame by frame, so that you may read them, said soliloquies being available nowhere else on the internet. Plus, at last, an attempt by me at explaining the title of the movie and its last chilling moments, with special attention paid towards an understanding of the sacred and profane as understood in Hebrew culture (that unique sociological entity which may truly said to be sub specie aeternitatis), an understanding which, I might add, I have to wonder whether Signor Pasolini himself would have been able to intuit but for the miracle of his art.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Blaise Says

In each action we must look beyond the action at our past, present, and future state, and at others whom it affects, and see the relations of all those things. And then we shall be very cautious.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Quotidian Quintilian Rerun: On The Brothers, by Frederick Barthelme

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Notes on Pasolini's Uccellacci e uccellini

Totò (Totò) and his son Ninetto (Ninetto Davoli) walk a long road for a business trip, and after stopping in a small town they meet a talking crow that echoes all kinds of leftist platitudes. He also tells them a story about two followers of St. Francis, and as he tells the story Totò and Ninetto are themselves transformed into these two monks (or perhaps the actors playing Totò and Ninetto double as the two monks). St. Francis orders the two to convert the Hawks and the Sparrows, and this they are able to do after a long and mighty effort by the older monk. They return to St. Francis, who responds in a way they hadn't expected. They go back out on the road, and then we are returned to the journey still travelled by the businessman, his son, and the talking crow (which makes a lot more sense after the Fransiscan interlude). Is the leftist commentary spoken by the crow supposed to be the fruits of the missionary work by the two monks? Or is it perhaps a contradiction of the earlier religious message? The movie is certainly vague enough for either interpretation.

The three have several more adventures, some of them fairly bawdy, some of them rather like religious fables themselves. Totò as a character is a perfect blend of Chaplin and Keaton, with a slightly sharper edge and good deal more lascivious. Ninetto is a bit of a mimbo, but perfect as a happy version of the prodigal son's brother. The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is the best I've heard in some time, whether it's the sixties rock and roll at the beginning or the organ playing in the background elsewhere. And I've never heard credits sung before, and it works extremely well here. For all the ideology spouted by the crow, a great deal of joy comes through in scene after scene of this minor masterpiece. Watch it as soon as you can.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Last Notes on Pasolini's Porcile

The other story in Pigsty revolves around Julian, the son of the wealthy German industrialist. It has a lot more dialogue, but that dialogue, and hence the sequence itself, is also a lot more boring. It's not just Herr Klotz's Hitler mustache that makes him a cliché; much of the conversation about the economics of post-war Germany between him and Herr Herdhitze has to be some of the cheapest satire around. The bourgeoisie are swine; capitalist pigs without an ounce of charm, discreet or otherwise. Is the movie really so lacking in subtlety? Well, perhaps not entirely. There is Julian, after all, about whom all the other characters in these scenes are at times obsessed. In conversation with Herdhitze, Klotz says about Julian:
My son was neither an obedient son nor disobedient. I and my Bertha have discussed this matter democratically. If he'd obeyed I'd have taken him under my wing… we'd have flown over Cologne's smokestacks of forges for buttons and cannons. But if he'd disobeyed me… I'd have crushed him. With a son not agreeing or disagreeing I could do nothing. God took care of it. What did he make of him? He wanted to do nothing and God let him die. He wanted to do something and God also let him live. Idleness, unemployment, exile: I don't know. Julian in his room there is an embalmed saint, neither dead nor alive. To our business!
After all the jabbering about politics and economics, I was somewhat awestruck at this monologue, with its insight into the living death that strikes so many young people in highly developed societies. Perhaps this was true even in Germany as it climbed out of the hell it made in the first half of the twentieth century.

The young woman, Ida, tries to escape this fate by her commitment to revolutionary politics, but Julian will have none of it because he is so focused on his inner life. He claims this inner life has claimed him, and yet he also seems chiefly concerned with a kind of egoistic pleasure taken from divorcing himself from the world around him.

Ida thinks he is succumbing to a form of paralysis that has grown out of his connection to his father. Julian is, in fact, eventually rendered immobile, bedridden with those inner obsessions, and when he is shown to have arisen from his sickbed he acknowledges that it was his relationship with his father that he was able to finally wake up. He then gives the following soliloquy, one of the stranger things I've heard in some time:
How strange and base my love is. I can't tell whom I love; it's of no interest. Never has an object of passion been so base. What matters are its pleasures. The profound deformation it causes in me is not desperation; if it were you'd have understood it… feeling disgust or compassion. Nothing is spent in my life. I say it without pride, stunned… with a scholar's objectivity. These pleasures are so beautiful, thrilling! Butt I can't dispel them, not even in thought. It's not something that happens with birth, with growing. There is nothing natural in it… hence I think of it always… the pleasure this love produces in me are… a grace that has struck me like the plague. Don't be amazed if with the anguish there is a constant, infinite gaiety. Should we be amazed at night by our horrible nightmares? They are the sincerity of my life. I've nothing else to combat reality with. I dreamed that I was on a dark road, full of puddles, among those puddles full of a light like the aurora borealis of the Siberian sunset, I was seeking something I can't remember, perhaps a toy. And there at the edge of the last puddle… a piglet. I approach to take him, touch him, and quickly he bites me, tears at four fingers, which were rubber. I walk around with these dangling fingers, distraught. A martyr's vocation? Who knows the truth of dreams, beyond that of making us eager for the truth?
Haunting. More than a little weird, although it gets even weirder. We are told by a group of peasants that Julian has walked into the pigsty, where we learn he has gone for refuge from human relationships, and has been (or perhaps has allowed himself to be) eaten alive. This obviously resonates with the end of the other sequence. It's all pretty messy: the description of events at the end, obviously, but also the ideological lectures, the dream narratives (as opposed to the dream landscapes of the 'primitive' sequence, and way characters seem to collide more than they interact.

Now, about that title. One possible interpretation I've been toying with is to think of the pigs in terms of their status in Judaic culture. In the movie Jews are alluded to only in the speech by Herr Klotz, but of course their very absence in post-war Germany is a kind of sign of the emptiness of the culture created in the wake of the war. What better sign to use for the decadence of the modern industrial state than the animal that best represents what isn't kosher? Of course Pasolini was a Marxist, and of course it's reflexively Marxist to refer to capitalists as "pigs", but I wonder if it doesn't go deeper than that here. Religion is as notably lacking at the modern German villa as it was present in the medieval town. All that remains are traces of a intense spiritual longing that is nourished only by an idle young man. The finger is pointed directly at the industrialists that profited during reconstruction just as they did during the war. And the spirituality that developed out of that culture is a food fit only for swine, anathema in the culture of the people who were all but wiped out of Hitler's Germany.

Friday, November 03, 2006

St. Martin de Porres

St. Martin de Porres was born at Lima, Peru, in 1579. His father was a Spanish gentleman and his mother a coloured freed-woman from Panama. At fifteen, he became a lay brother at the Dominican Friary at Lima and spent his whole life there-as a barber, farm laborer, almoner, and infirmarian among other things.

Martin had a great desire to go off to some foreign mission and thus earn the palm of martyrdom. However, since this was not possible, he made a martyr out of his body, devoting himself to ceaseless and severe penances. In turn, God endowed him with many graces and wondrous gifts, such as, aerial flights and bilocation.

St. Martin's love was all-embracing, shown equally to humans and to animals, including vermin, and he maintained a cats and dogs hospital at his sister's house. He also possessed spiritual wisdom, demonstrated in his solving his sister's marriage problems, raising a dowry for his niece inside of three day's time, and resolving theological problems for the learned of his Order and for bishops. A close friend of St. Rose of Lima, this saintly man died on November 3, 1639 and was canonized on May 6, 1962. (

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Still More Notes on Pasolini's Porcile

If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief. ~ Pier Paolo Pasolini

I wrote earlier that I didn't think Pasolini was "wrong", but that his vision is limited and perhaps backwards, and I'd like to expand on that a bit more. Picking up that Girardian lens again, I'd like to note that one of his observations is that understanding religious thought requires an empirical approach. From Violence and the Sacred:
In its simplest, perhaps most elementary form, religion manifests little curiosity about the origins of those terrible forces that visit their fury on mankind but seems to concentrate its attention on determining a regular sequential pattern that will enable man to anticipate these onslaughts and take measures against them.

Religious empiricism invariably leads to one conclusion: it is essential to keep as far away as possible from sacred things, always to avoid direct contact with them. Naturally, such thinking occasionally coincides with medical empiricism or with scientific empiricism in genteral. This is why some observers insist on regarding religious empiricism as a preliminary stage of science.
Much more could certainly be said on these subjects, as indeed Girard does in the book, but my concern here is with Pasolini, and the point I was making in the previous post is that the Catholic priests in Porcile seem to be sacralizing violence that will lead back to the cyclical pattern rather than taking measures agains future onslaughts. But of course we could easily find evidence to support Pasolini's vision: popes blessing armies, "believers" torturing "unbelievers", and just plain complicity with evil of all kinds. Certainly there has been a lot of research in this area, so I won't bother going into it here. In fact somewhere, or rather in several places Girard has remarked on "historical Christianity" (I think I have that right), in which a good number of confessors and professors of the Christian faith really don't understand the nature of God's gift to humanity, and in missing the point perpetuate the evil which they have been called to transcend, as Christ was able to transcend it.

It certainly shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody that many Christians don't live up to the name, and I think it surprises Christians least of all.

How is this important to understanding Porcile? Well, it's reasonable to see that Pasolini is offering us a view of "religion" in general, with no distinction between Christianity and paganism - Christianity being "religion" generally because it has, historically speaking, been the dominant religion. Indeed, if one accepts it as the one, true faith, I think one has to accept that even as one differentiates it from other faiths, there are plenty of well intentioned (if unreligiously minded) people who will naturally see the accrual of evils perpetuated in the name of all religions to the one religion that should be different. But it isn't always different. In short, I think Pasolini is giving us a version of the "historical Christianity" criticized by Girard, the Christianity of Constantine, the Borgias, Torquemada, all those German Catholics who turned their backs on the death camps, and all the Catholics who even now defend abortion, and so on to the end of time. If I have a problem with Pasolini's presentation, it's that he presents "historical Christianity" as a kind of myth, and we all know how myths are easily taken for truth.

Which is why Pasolini's vision seems to me limited. It's not wrong, because he really has hit on the truth about the uglier side of Christianity, and Catholicism in particular. And since perhaps the darkest theme in the film concerns the cannibalism practiced by the Young Warrior (of which he speaks in a mantra on the way to his death), it may even be that the priests are defending the people against the spread of a barbarism that they know is the exact opposite of true worship (the Eucharist is not a form of cannibalism). Certainly the irony of a cannibal being staked out on the ground to be devoured by wild boars (sorry, dogs) carries a sense of poetic justice: in the end he is eaten by what he regards as a second course, at best. What impresses the viewer is the extreme violence of the film, first perpetrated by the Young Warrior, and then by the society that must defend itself against him. Violence perpetrated by society might be necessary, but not in the way it is delivered here, and its justification is that it is blessed and overseen by the priests.

It's a curious form of nostalgia.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

St. Severinus

(c. 609) Benedictine monk and hermit. He lived at Tivoli, near Rome, and his relies are enshrined in that city.

St. Amabilis

(c. 475) Patron against fire and snakes. Amabilis served at the Clermont Cathedral and then Auvergne. He gained a reputation for holiness and effectiveness against fire and snakes.

Further Notes on Pasolini's Porcile

One observation about one of the final 'medieval' scenes is that it would have worked better thematically I think, if Pasolini had used wild boars instead of dogs. But he must have thought of that, so why didn't he?

Regarding a Girardian perspective on the film, it seems to me that the later sequences involving retribution between tribes and the punishment inflicted on the Young Warrior at the end look very much like ancient cultures as described by Girard. One of Girard's great insights, however, is that myths actually enable to societies to obfuscate the origins of the violence that threatens to tear them (and each other) apart. This is true in Pasolini's film only to the extent that film is itself a kind of myth, although the self-consciously unedited reel ends in the course of the movie might well be a way of practicing a kind of deflection. Even if this is true, it's a distinctly post-modern deflection of the film on its own status as 'film' (and myth) and not 'reality', rather than 'sacrificial appeasement' in place of 'violence against created beings' (which is my short version of Girard's theory of the origins of sacrifice).

Also, Girard writes (in chapter 1 of Violence and the Sacred) that the sacrificial victim is able to deflect violence because it/he/she is innocent rather than guilty, and the Young Warrior is certainly not innocent. I wrote the other day that if these were indeed rituals at the end of the movie, we would have a Girardian moment before Girard wrote his major work on the subject. I now think that even with certain ritualistic trappings and even 'blessed', what we are shown is a more extravagant perpetration of violence. From a Girardian perspective, Pasolini has merely shown us the bloody cycle that sacrifice and myth are meant to prevent.

Most importantly, the idea of Catholic priests blessing human sacrifice is offensive (from a Girardian perspective, not to mention the Catholic one) because in Christianity we have the anti-mythology that allows us to truly free ourselves from cyclical violence. Of course this is a film, and Pasolini is presenting a fiction about the violence that has certainly persisted in Christianity. While Girard acknowledges this persistence, he sees the possibility that a truer interpretation of the Gospels, or perhaps the Gospels more truly lived, offers us the freedom we are unable to attain on our own. Violence is the blood we have on our hands that we ourselves cannot remove. As I wrote, I think Girard is right, and I while I don't think Pasolini is 'wrong', I think his vision is limited, if not bass ackwards. And I still haven't gotten to the title. Stay tuned for Part III.