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Month: July 2008

The Choice

The Choice

I watched Doctor Zhivago tonight. Keira Knightley as Lara. Hans Matheson as Yuri Zhivago. It’s a well done TV miniseries from 2002. Moving, especially at the end. It’s not David Lean. But it works in its own way. Expanded, because of the extra time. And updated to allow for more modern depictions of the love affair.

Many things jumped out at me. But especially this: brief, ecstatic joy in the middle of a sea of sorrow. The embrace of that joy. Being consumed by it, perhaps because it is so brief. As is life. Especially life in the middle of revolution and civil war.

Some might respond: all life is brief. Yes. True. But in relative terms, which is all we really know, it is shorter and has fewer moments of joy in the midst of violence–violence surrounding you, taking away your loved ones, your friends, your freedom. And those brief moments are all the sweeter because of that contrast. … Click to continue . . .

The Helplessness of a Child

The Helplessness of a Child

The Third of May, by Francisco de Goya. 1814
The Third of May, by Francisco de Goya. 1814

I had several eureka moments when I was a kid, regarding organized religion. These led to various breakaways and new directions, which I developed as I aged. No straight lines to some predetermined goal, to be sure. No easy paths to easy answers. There were always surprises and readjustments, new realizations of past errors, and new understandings of previous ignorance regarding this or that view held by others. And I tried to remain humble in the face of the mystery of why religions developed as they did and why they are so important to so many.

 

I was reminded of one of those moments recently when I heard a song about the helplessness of a child, his call for help, his plea. It made me think about how natural it is for humans to look outside themselves for answers, for protection, for sustenance, for guidance. Natural. We are born in an … Click to continue . . .

Break on Through!

Break on Through!

(For Roy)

 

I always find it interesting to discover mergings, connections, and cross-fertilization across the arts. Fusions, juxtaposition, new combinations. And one of the most interesting of these, for me, is when Rock stars are influenced heavily by great novelists, poets and philosophers. Especially if the range is wide, and influence is not just on the surface. One such case was Jim Morrison of The Doors.

Morrison lived the life of a nomad, growing up with a father in the military who eventually became an admiral. They moved frequently. Perhaps that nomadic existence pushed Morrison into the philosophy of Nietzsche, another wanderer, and into the poetry of Rimbaud, who may have set records along those lines.

Morrison was an alumnus of UCLA, completing his degree in Film. Antonin Artaud (1896-1948), the actor, poet and dramatist, was an early influence. Morrison and his bandmates (including Ray Manzarek, a fellow UCLA student) got the name for their band from William … Click to continue . . .

The Many Little Earthquakes of Tori Amos

The Many Little Earthquakes of Tori Amos

Tori Amos is one of my favorite Alt-rock divas. Of course, the word “diva” doesn’t really fit her. In our pop culture, it has too many negative overtones to apply to such a refreshingly eccentric woman. It has too many negative undertones to apply to a tremendously creative artist who constantly evolves, sheds old skin for new, and never seems afraid. Of anything.

I’ve been a big fan since 1992 when her second album came out. One listen to her Little Earthquakes and I could tell that she was “for real” and uniquely capable of merging classical piano, deeply emotional and personal songwriting, with ethereal harmonies and moving melodies. It also helped that she was a hometown girl in a sense. She spent much of her youth in Maryland, as did I.

Tori Amos was the youngest person ever admitted to the Peabody Conservatory of Music, at age five. She won a full scholarship which lasted until she was eleven, … Click to continue . . .

The New Atlantis

The New Atlantis

The Shepherds of Arcadia, by Nicolas Poussin. 1630s.
The Shepherds of Arcadia, by Nicolas Poussin. 1630s.

When a society is wealthy, it takes on new responsibilities. New possibilities and opportunities open up for it. It has the potential to increase its own wealth and well-being many times over, if it just thinks ahead of itself and its own instant gratification. If it just thinks ahead of itself and its desire for personal gratification. If it just thinks ahead of now.

If the people of this wealthy society unite in common cause, they can do things that are impossible alone. They can do things that are impossible for individuals alone. They can even do things that are impossible for large institutions alone, or groups of those institutions. If the entire society gathers, unites, and agrees to work together, it can do things that have never been done.

At the same time, if a society chooses not to unite, it can fall back in time. It can lose its wealth … Click to continue . . .

Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Pramoedya Ananta Toer

 It’s not often that a great writer’s life is more interesting in some ways than his books. But that’s the case with Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Born on the island of Java in 1925, Toer lived through several revolutions and national rebellions, participated in a few himself, and was imprisoned both by the Dutch colonial government and then later by the Suharto regime.

While in jail during his first imprisonment in 1947-49, he wrote his first novel, The Fugitive. During his second imprisonment, this time by the Suharto regime in 1965, he accomplished something even more amazing. Denied pen and paper, he managed to construct a tetralogy, recite it to his fellow prisoners, and eventually get it down on paper and published after his release in 1979.

Toer said in an interview:

“Before I got permission, I had to do it behind their backs. For a long time, I was not permitted to write, so I had

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Rothko’s Paradox

Rothko’s Paradox

Mark Rothko, Untitled, c. 1950/ 1952, Oil on canvas. The Tate Modern Museum, London
Mark Rothko, Untitled, c. 1950/ 1952, Oil on canvas. The Tate Modern Museum, London

 All art is paradox. But Rothko, perhaps more than any other modern painter, embraced the paradox and threw it profoundly in our faces.

The canvas is flat. You can’t enter it. You can’t go through it, if it’s hanging on the wall. At least without injury and perhaps a heavy bill from the gallery. But Rothko continuously tells the audience to do just that. Embrace the painting, enter it, walk into it, let it engulf you and torture you and shake you. Shake the core of you. He wants the painting to be a plane and an entrance way in the same bright moment. Flat and omnipresent. Pressed against the wall as it surrounds you. And he wants you to accept the paradox and reject it long enough to succumb.

 

“We favor the simple expression of complex thought. We are for the large shape because

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The Seven Madmen

The Seven Madmen

Roberto Arlt
Roberto Arlt

Roberto Arlt was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1900. His parents were German immigrants and German was the language spoken at home. They were poor. Long term formal education was pretty much out of the question, so Roberto took to the streets at an early age and learned there and in the library. He read a lot of Russian literature, especially Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. I can see Raskolnikov in his books, and Dostoevsky hovering over them, though Arlt puts less anger and despair on the page. Ezra Pound would have said of Arlt, if he had known him, that he modernized himself.

It was also the case that he made his own way in society with little help, working hard at an early age, writing for newspapers, later joining the military, and then taking odd jobs here and there until his career in journalism started paying some dividends. He truly did come up the hard way and … Click to continue . . .