The Frozen Windmill Sings with Voices Buried in Ash

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1-chernobylchr

My personal Chernobyl tragedy was seeing something fun in the whole mess.

Like many young men of this generation I received the Modern Warfare Games for a Christmas present and spent most of the morning beating the campaign mode.  I won’t try to lie and say that I was repulsed at the piss-poor narrative, or nauseated by the fact that all of the villains in the story tended to be either black, Latino, or Russians.  The fact of the matter was the game was fun to play because it was just a fun story and a wild ride that, in hindsight, becomes more and more ridiculous once you got into the whole Ghosts storyline.DJ-SGtgVAAA6eAX.jpg-large

In the first game however there was one mission where the player has to play as a young Price, the grisly, no-nonsense, bearded patriarch of the series who’s always speaking about Pripyat with a cigar between his teeth.  I’m tempted to say that the whole game series was perhaps a homage to The A-Team, but at least in that show there was a black character who wasn’t a nameless bullet sponge.  The mission is to assassinate a terrorist leader who is setting up an arms deal in the ruined city of Pripyat, the now iconic city (it’s the Ferris wheel) that suffered the worst of the nuclear fallout falling the explosions of the reactor in Chernobyl.  Whether it’s hiding from an entire squadron of Russian troops in your ghillie suit, fighting off wild dogs that will literally eat you, or else blowing off Zakiev’s entire arm, the mission is fun. But what is arguably the “coolest” part is the fact that you get to run around the abandoned city and see how much emptiness there is apart from the wild savagery.

This is the tragedy that would be followed up just a few years later by the film The cheraChernobyl Diaries.  The narrative of that particular film is that a group of young tourists interested in an “adventure” hire a guide to walk them through the city of Pripyat, and because it’s a horror story the group is attacked by humanoid mutants.  The implication is of course that these were once citizens of the city who were twisted and mutated into monsters by the radiation of the surrounding territory.  If this sounds like the stuff of bad “othering” the reader is correct, but the truly worst offense of the film is the fact that this is just a blatant rip-off of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes.  If you’re going to tell a story about humanoid monsters who became such because of radiation at least pay some lip-service to the man who helped establish the American horror genre.

Or at the very least have the good grace to hire Michael Berryman for a goddamn cameo.

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These opening examples however serve a real purpose because hopefully the reader can see there’s something about the Chernobyl tragedy that has captured the imagination of humanity.  Chernobyl has become not just a noun, but almost an adjective for everything that could possibly go wrong or be wrong.  To put it another way, Chernobyl is 71NMoBUJn3Lsynonymous with the word “fuck-up.”

It’s for this tragedy that when I saw a copy of Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster at Barnes & Noble I picked it up, mildly curious as to what it was about.

Obviously, I have trouble reading subtitles.

I wish I could say this book came recommended to me either by friends, teachers, co-workers, or even Goodreads, but it didn’t.  I was just casually browsing the history section after one of my Coffee with Jammer sessions and was captured by the cover.  I like books that are black and white, and when I saw the gold “Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature” I knew I had to read it.

Svetlana Alexievich, the author, went to Belaruse and Russian to discuss in person the many individuals who were impacted by the tragedy, along with a few government workers who have either repented their pathetic handling of the situation.   Alexievich doesn’t proselytize, nor does she offer up her own assessment.  alexievich-xlargeInstead her mission is purely interviewing the people and recording their exact impressions, thoughts, reflections, and experiences with Chernobyl.  Rather than reporting the facts and figures and digging through government files, Alexievich provides an important cultural document.  The voices and testimonies of the victims of tragedy are always the most important and books like Maus by Art Spiegelman are a reminder of this.  Voices from Chernobyl humanizes the tragedy because the reader is able to see real people’s tragedies rather than cartoon impressions.

The reader who picks up Voices from Chernobyl should be prepared because the book is written as a series of personal testimonies and as such most of them are tragedies, one of which remains the most distinct in my memory.  It’s the story a mother who gives birth to a child after the explosion:

My little daughter—she’s different.  She’s not like the others.  She’s going to grow up and ask me: “Why aren’t I like the others?”367125_xlarge

When she was born, she wasn’t a baby, she was a little sack, sewed up everywhere, no a single opening, just the eyes.  The medical card says: “Girl, born with multiple complex pathologies: aplasia of the anus, aplasia of the vagina, aplasia of the left kidney.”  That how it sounds in medical talk, but more simply: no pee-pee, no butt, one kidney.  On the second day I watched her get operated on, on the second day of her life.  She opened her eyes and smiled, and I thought she was about to start crying.  But, God, she smiled

The ones like her don’t live, they die right away.  But she didn’t die, because I loved her.  (81).

I left out the quote where the mother informs Alexievich that she has to physically push the waste out of her daughter because of this condition.  I left it out because this grotesque reality is everything and more that is the cultural horror that is the Chernobyl disaster and also out of a personal sense of ethics.  There’s already enough of a “freak-show” atmosphere with Chernobyl, and this mother and child’s troubles are only a minor part of the larger problem.Chernobyl

Of course, the pro-longed exposure to radiation was going to create visible distortions in the population in terms of genetics.  I recognize that not every reader is thoroughly versed in the specific details concerning how radiation affects genes, but I can rely on the fact that most readers will understand that the invisible rays that emanate from nuclear reactors and waste can create horrors like giant ants, lizards, and of course a praying mantis.  And if the reader is a person like me, they surely realize that such developments, though tragic, will lead to awesome badass monsters like Deathclaws or Mireulek Queens which will have to be killed with miniguns that shoot flaming bullets while also wearing suits of power armor decorated with the Nuka-Cola logo.

The monster movie connection aside though what’s important about this passage is that while it seems common knowledge that radiation can create havoc with a person’s genes and body, this information was largely repressed by the Russian government and returning to the same mother the most pernicious element of the disaster takes shape:1*73drmsn9LOtieJa3y-kfTg

She doesn’t understand yet, but someday she’ll ask us: why isn’t she like everyone else?  Why can’t she love a man?  Why can’t she have babies?  Why won’t what happens to butterflies happen to her?  What happens to birds?  To everyone but her?  I wanted—I should have been able to prove—so that—I wanted to get papers—so that she’s know—when she grew up—it wasn’t our fault, my husband and I, it wasn’t our love that was at fault.  [Tries again not to cry]  I fought for four years—with the doctors, the bureaucrats—I knocked on the doors of important people.  It took me four years to finally get a paper from the doctors that confirmed the connection between ionized radiation (in small doses) and her terrible condition.  They refused me for four years, they kept telling me: “Your child is the victim of a congenital handicap.”  What congenital handicap?  She’s a victim of Chernobyl!  (83).

A similar event takes place just two pages down:

Here’s what I remember.  In the first days after the accident, all the books at the library about radiation, about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even about X-rays, disappeared.  Some people said it was an order from above, so that people wouldn’t panic.  There was even a joke that if Chernobyl had blown up near the Papuans, the whole world would be frightened, but not the Papuans.  There were no medical bulletins, no information.  (85).

The great philosopher G.I. Joe used to elocute so confidently after the kids would say “And now I know” that “Knowing is half the battle.”  I also distinctly remember Saturday Morning Cartoons when School House Rock would proudly declare that “Knowledge is chernobyl-26-anos-depois-01Power” thus introducing millions of young kids to a quote that, some would argue, was once attributed to Francis Bacon.  Cartoons and sixteenth century writers aside however I go back to these two accurate platitudes because as always there’s truth beneath the cliché.  Knowledge is the way to combat ignorance, and knowledge is always going to ensure that individual people will be able to overcome challenges.  Likewise if a populace is educated about the events and details of a disaster they’ll be able to make an informed decision about whether or not those in power are accurately and correctly responding to said disaster.

It’s disgraceful that a mother in such a position would have to fight for four years just to get a doctor to acknowledge the possibility that her pregnancy had been corrupted due to radiation poisoning.  Likewise it’s horrific that a government would intentionally remove books from libraries simply to ensure that no one could question whether or not it was handling the events of such a catastrophe properly.6459949_orig

The latter point is especially revolting to me largely because I work in a library and understand that removing books is one of the most obvious and cruel means of censorship.

Voices from Chernobyl is as much a criticism of the government of Russia at the time as it is an opportunity for survivors to tell their story about the tragedy.  In the historical context all of this desire for secrecy makes sense.  Mikhail Gorbachev had come to power as the Premier of the Soviet Union and was pushing for reforms in the country in his desire for perestroika.  If the reader is unfamiliar with this concept it was a political philosophy introduced during the eighties to try and allow more market opportunities within the Soviet Union and also allow more independence to the nations that were under the control of the Soviet Union at that time.  Some have argued that this policy hurt the U.S.S.R. more than it helped, and in fact there is some debate as to whether or not it actually caused the downfall of the Soviet Union.  Whatever the case there was a desire on the part of the Soviet government to appear strong and unified less the United States, the central philosophic and economic rival of the U.S.S.R, use the disaster as a way of showing their superiority.  Pride is unfortunately the downfall of many great peoples and countries, and so the Chernobyl disaster remained hidden and mismanaged largely because the 1026445721Russians did not want to appear weak.

The attempt to silence voices will always reek of political corruption, but coming to the end of my reflections on this book I still stand where I did originally in the position that Voices from Chernobyl serves a far more important function than simply revealing a cover-up.  The books means to humanize a people who have been dehumanized because the fault of those above them.

Alexievich records many voices and individual people who suffered, or knew people who suffered from the disaster, and the common sentiment that runs through all of these testimonies is that after the disaster the people that lived in or around the site of the explosion have become a sort of “other.”  Historians, journalists, and tourists to this day come through hoping to catch some sight of the lingering damage, and the people who have to try and make a life in this space are looked on in a kind of sick wonder mixed with pity.A Greenpeace activist carries several of 3000 wooden crosses.

Voices from Chernobyl offers a different and far more valuable look at how the people of Russian and Belaruse were impacted by this disaster.  These stories and testimonies offer a wide range of personality types that are times sympathetic and sometimes infuriating.  These are people, not cartoon characters.  And as the reader listens to these stories they will hopefully recognize not only something of themselves in these people, but more importantly they’ll discover some empathy.  And that is key.  It’s easy for human beings, for the sake of comfort, to ignore tragedy for fear they might somehow be implicated in such a travesty, or else that they may become unhappy from listening to someone else’s tragedy.  However Alexievich’s book is in the tradition of demonstrating that listening to the voices of victims, even at its most horrific, is the way humanity learns from the mistakes of the past.

A nuclear explosion is the stuff of nightmares, but it can’t drown out the voices that linger through the fallout and remind us that some have endured.

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*Writer’s Note*

All quotes from Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster were taken from the Picador paperback edition.

 

**Writer’s Note**

I’ve provided a few links below to articles about Alexievich and Voices from Chernobyl.

https://www.theparisreview.org/letters-essays/5447/voices-from-chernobyl-svetlana-alexievich

http://www.npr.org/2006/04/21/5355810/voices-of-chernobyl-survivors-stories

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/svetlana-alexievichs-deserved-nobel-win

https://www.npr.org/2016/04/26/475773250/reuters-reporter-explores-life-in-chernobyl-30-years-after-nuclear-disaster

https://www.npr.org/2015/10/10/447202281/abandoned-but-no-wasteland-chernobyl-offers-animals-room-to-thrive

 

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Kubrick’s Lolita, Or The Lingering Corruption of the Lollipop-Lolita Part 4

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“How did they ever make a movie out of Lolita?” is a sentence I despise, largely because I didn’t think of it first.  I know it’s petty, but being a writer and being likeable is difficult enough, that’s why I suspect most of us try and begin our essays and novels with catching, opening lines that invite our reader to give a shit.  And so when one of us comes up with a catchy line that nobody can forget it tends to leave us bitter and grumbling in front of our word processors.book-cover-lolita1

My regular reader will no doubt have observed that I’ve been going through a dedicated Lolita phase.  After finishing the novel again recently I’ve decided to sit down and really dig into the material of the book, of the writer Nabokov, and of the various books and art products that have emerged since the publication of the book.  Having written now about the novel, and the novella precursor, it seemed only appropriate to tackle the 1962 film by Stanley Kubrick given the fact that it’s this film which has partly helped the Lolita phenomenon become what it was and is.

I honestly can’t remember what my earliest experience with the film actually was, though I’m almost positive that it had to be TCM.  My parents were good to me in the fact that they almost always had either TCM or TV Land playing on the television, that is when I wasn’t being a little tyrant and demanding the right to watch Freakazoid and Loony Tunes.  I consider Robert Osbourne a kind of third parent because he introduced me to people such as Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor, Sydney Poitier, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, and of course John Wayne.  This education of yester-year’s cinema eventually became a boon to me as I could relate and communicate with older people who had grown up watching such movies and programming, and it taught me the language of films and film history as well.  My first impression of Lolita then, was one of the “commercials” that ran between the films and Osborne’s intros, and of course it began with that line that I both despise and adore.

It wasn’t long thereafter that I eventually saw the film, though I did make sure that I had read the novel first.  I’d like to say that the film’s content made a distinct impression on me and that I became aware of the brilliance of the film, and of course of it’s director Stanley Kubrick, but I was a teenage boy.  I was far more interested in memorizing every episode of Family Guy and every line of Pulp Fiction.giphy

I recently bought Lolita on Blue-ray and watched it again and my impression of the film has changed dramatically because, much like the novel, Stanley Kubrick’s movie is one long fascination with a disturbing idea which Christopher Hitchens noted in his essay Vladimir Nabokov: Hurricane Lolita:

The most unsettling suggestion of all must be the latent idea that nymphetomania is, as well as a form of sex, a form of love.  (76).

This observation is absolutely everything when approaching Lolita, whether it’s the novel or the film, though it’s especially important when tackling the film because the way Kubrick directs the picture is as a traditional Hollywood love story.  Throughout the film Lolita and Humbert Humbert interact, not as a young girl and a fully grown man, but almost as emotional equals.MV5BMTY5NTAwMjU0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTIwNjIwMjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1264,1000_AL_

Throughout the film Delores Haze, who is oddly enough never referred to as Delores but always as Lolita, is presented a precocious teenager girl, but also as a mature individual with her own will and idea of who and what she is.  When Humbert and Lolita arrive at the hotel where the first rape actually takes place, Kubrick plays the dynamic of the two not as a hungry, perverted man lusting after a child, but as Lolita seducing Humbert:

Lolita Haze: Why don’t we play a game?

Humbert Humbert: A game? Come on. No, you get on to room service at once.

Lolita Haze: No, really. I learned some real good games in camp. One in “particularly” was fun.lolita2-hula-hoop

Humbert Humbert: Well, why don’t you describe this one in “particularly” good game?

Lolita Haze: Well, I played it with Charlie.

Humbert Humbert: Charlie? Who’s he?

Lolita Haze: Charlie? He’s that guy you met in the office.

Humbert Humbert: You mean that boy? You and he?

Lolita Haze: Yeah. You sure you can’t guess what game I’m talking about?

Humbert Humbert: I’m not a very good guesser.2534

Lolita Haze: [whispers in his ear and giggles]

Humbert Humbert: I don’t know what game you played.

Lolita Haze: [whispers in his ear again] You mean you never played that game when you were a kid?

Humbert Humbert: No.

Lolita Haze: Alrighty then…

There’s also an earlier scene shortly after Humbert picks Lolita up from the summer camp, brilliantly called “Camp Climax for Girls.”  As they’re driving Humbert attempts small talk and Lolita speaks with him seductively.

Humbert Humbert: You know, I’ve missed you terribly.

Lolita Haze: I haven’t missed you. In fact, I’ve been revoltingly unfaithful to you.

Humbert Humbert: Oh?8d706bdbbd71d96cb0383013bcebe0c1

Lolita Haze: But it doesn’t matter a bit, because you’ve stopped caring anyway.

Humbert Humbert: What makes you say I’ve stopped caring for you?

Lolita Haze: Well, you haven’t even kissed me yet, have you?

And looking near the end of the picture when Lolita is pregnant and living with a sweet but simple man named Dick, she offers Humbert a kind of apology for her “roaming” from him physically.

Lolita Haze: [Trying to console Humbert] I’m really sorry that I cheated so much. But I guess that’s just the way things are.Lolita-Kubrick-2011

If the reader is somewhat sickened by these passages it’s just a sign that they recognize how bizarre, and in fact how disturbing this presentation actually is.  It’s not uncommon for young women to develop crushes on older men during puberty, but this has more to do with emotional and sexual development.  Such crushes and infatuations are early attempts to understand attraction and to experiment and play with it so that, when they are more mature, they can actually act on their feelings.

Kubrick might be faulted or criticized for presenting Lolita as an emotionally mature young woman who openly and freely engages in a relationship with an older man who’s clearly using her, but as I watched the film again I realized that in fact, much like Nabokov himself who manipulated his reader through prose, Kubrick is using the MV5BMjRkZDA4ZGYtMzdlNS00OTc2LThhYWEtMDUyYjI1NWNiODBhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjgyNjk3MzE@._V1_language of cinema to imply perversion without ever outright showing it.

Because the film premiered in 1962, Kubrick was still working with the censorships and sensibilities of film companies at that time.  This can be fun for the reader intellectually if they pay attention because in one scene Charlotte Haze, while showing Humbert about the house, actually flushes a toilet.  When the reader remembers that, until the movie Psycho premiered just two years before this film, a director could neither flush nor even show a toilet on camera.  There’s a feeling while watching such a small act that Kubrick is beginning the small subversions that would eventually allow film makers more freedom.  But of course past the toilet flush there is the now iconic garden scene in which Humbert Humbert actually sees Lolita out and about and sun bathing.

I remarked to my sister how well this scene is done while we were watching it, because Kubrick is smart enough to leave Lolita, played by a then sixteen year old Sue Lyon asLolita Gif the center of the everything.  The viewer first sees Lolita from the back, sunbathing and wearing nothing but a large feathery hat, dark sunglasses, and a pink bikini (the film is black and white but some color photographs exist revealing the outfits actual color).  The shot shifts from behind Lolita to Humbert’s shocked and obviously aroused expression before going back to Lolita and from there Kubrick works his ability as a director.  Charlotte Haze describes the garden while the viewer is left to “gaze” upon Lolita.  Lolita herself looks up from her book, stares at the viewer, slowly removes her sunglasses, and offers up a look that hints at curiosity and mild erotic interest, meanwhile she never steps out of her pose.  The scene lingers and the viewer becomes aware that they are not looking at a young girl who is beginning to, if I can kubrickborrow the botanical term, “blossom” into womanhood.  In fact they are looking at Humbert’s desire, for the lingering shot and her entire suggested sexuality is entirely Humbert’s imagining.  And so the so the viewer is invited to participate in Humbert’s erotic fascination with Lolita, looking at her body and wondering to themselves if this gaze that is centered on her isn’t just implied, but something that is actually erotic.

Naturally, when you’re a teenage boy the same age as Sue Lyons was when she made the movie, the eroticism doesn’t feel weird at all because you’re the same age.  11-lolitaIt’s just crush.  As I age however, I notice more and more that whatever initial erotic feelings I had at this image feels creepier and creepier.  It’s now at a point where I can remember being young and attracted to girls that age, but I refuse to acknowledge any kind of erotic fascination with the image.  That’s all a fancy-pants way of saying that when I watched Lolita again I felt absolutely repulsed at the erotic suggestion.

But that recognition was enough for me to recognize that Kubrick was purposefully playing up that angle.

Much like the actual novel Lolita, Kubrick tries to make the story feel like a love story to show that, beneath the surface of a supposed love story there is in fact nothing but sexual corruption.  This is easily apparent in the various little moments of the story, and one of the best elements is the afore mentioned “Camp Climax for Girls.”  2048f8fa60d2449bf773d5581d3ef7fe--lolita--james-masonThe reader actually gets a moment when Humbert is surrounded by young women, many of them wearing swim-suits, and the viewer is left watching the image of all these young girls displaying their bodies.  The shot works because the viewer is invited to consider the sexual nature of all these girls, but at the same time is reminded that, because of Humbert’s presence that this erotic display really isn’t one.  It’s just girls being girls.  Likewise later on in the film Delores Haze participates in a play by the corrupt playwright Clare Quilty.  The “play,” when the viewer actually sees it, is in fact a kind of fertility display and this lets the reader observe the sexual undercurrent running throughout.Lolita soda

But Quilty himself needs to be addressed because he is arguably the most incredible part of the movie, largely because he is played by the chameleon Peter Sellers.  Sellers presents Quilty as this aloof yet wacky man who is sexually corrupt and, if I can borrow an old expression, “queer as a three dollar bill.”

As a queer man I should probably be offended by the implied idea that Quilty is queer, but if the reader actually observes Quilty it becomes clear that the man isn’t part of the LGBT community.  Quilty is just a sexual pervert.  Before Humbert and Lolita arrive at the hotel the reader is given a small scene in which Quilty and his partner, a largely silent asian woman, are conversing with a bellhop named Swine:

Clare Quilty: She’s a yellow belt. I’m a green belt. That’s the way nature made it. What happens is, she throws me all over the place.lolita-peter-sellers

Swine: She throws you all over the place?

Clare Quilty: Yes. What she does, she gets me in a, sort of, thing called a sweeping ankle throw. She sweeps my ankles away from under me. I go down with one helluva bang.

Swine: Doesn’t it hurt?

Clare Quilty: Well, I sort of lay there in pain, but I love it. I really love it. I lay there hovering between consciousness and unconsciousness. It’s really the greatest.

This would be strange enough were it not a later scene when Quilty so obviously attempts to get Humbert to let him see Lolita.111812311_o

Humbert Humbert: Well, it’s nothing, but… she had an accident.

Clare Quilty: Oh gee, she had an accident? That’s really terrible, I mean, fancy a fellow’s wife having… a normal guy having… his wife having an accident like that. W-what happened to her?

Humbert Humbert: Er, she was hit by a car.

Clare Quilty: Gee, no wonder she’s not here. Gee, you must feel pretty bad about it. W-w-w-w-when uh eh w-what’s happening, is she coming out later or something?

Humbert Humbert: Well, that was the understanding.lo_397

Clare Quilty: What, in an ambulance? Hahahaha! Gee, I’m sorry, I-I-I-shouldn’t say that; I get sorta carried away, you know, being so normal and everything.

It’s easy to read this passage and observe that Quilty is a strange man, but it’s in Seller’s performance of Quilty as a bumbling, queer sort of man that the viewer is able to really feel the corrupt sexual nature.  Sellers is the key to the movie Lolita, because while James Mason plays Humbert as a dominating, sexual deviant, Kubrick plays him up as a man in love, while Quilty is simply a sexual predator.  In this way the suggestion of Nymphetomania as a form of love is progressed because Humbert becomes not a corrupt man, but just a man who loses his love to a man “more” perverted than himself.  Lolita herself acknowledges and confirms this for the reader during the final scene in which Humbert discusses with her how she left him:

Humbert Humbert: [Referring to Quilty] What happened to this Oriental-minded genius? When you left the hospital, where did he take you?lolita-escaped

Lolita Haze: To New Mexico.

Humbert Humbert: Whereabouts in New Mexico?

Lolita Haze: To a dude ranch near Santa Fe. The only problem with it was he had such a bunch of weird friends staying there.

Humbert Humbert: What kind of “weird” friends?

Lolita Haze: Weird! Painters, nudists, writers, weightlifters… But I figured I could take anything for a couple of weeks.

This final reveal is a bit of strange experience because, when Lolita finally divulges this, many of the suspicions are confirmed and Quilty becomes the monster of the film, rather than Humbert himself.  At least that is the perception that I ended the film with 001-lolita-theredlistafter watching it again.  And of course, that reaction troubled me immensely because it neglects the reality that Humbert Humbert is a pedophile who seduced Lolita’s mother so that he could get closer to Lolita so that he could ultimately rape her.

I’ve addressed in my previous Lolita essays that Humbert Humbert writes the entire narrative of Lolita, leaving the poor Delores Haze in a position where her story is told without her consent or input.  The film offers something different than this vision, and while Lolita does seem to have some kind of agency in the film, it’s important to remember that Kubrick, as a director, was always concerned about the narrative structure of films and how the images crafted his visions.7e6d899d49fd6f4f22276d5c573c625b--vladimir-nabokov-vintage-photographs

At first glance Lolita appears to be a love story, but a closer examination reveals a troublesome story about a man manipulating a young woman who is still trying to figure out who she is and what she wants.  Lolita is never given any kind of freedom to determine who she is, and while on the surface she seems to be inviting Humbert and Quilty to engage with her sexually, this still is undercut by the reality that she’s a young teenage girl who’s barely figured out her sexuality, let alone her actual personality.

Lolita is a story about the troublesome surface and reality of sexuality in America during the early 1960s.  And Kubrick is successful in constantly pointing out that sexuality was always hiding beneath the surface of everything.  Under the veneer of the gardens and suburban homes there was a lurking sexuality that was at times troublesome and even corrosive.  Children were vulnerable to predators, and because the narrative of sex was something that was still taboo, even when it was out in plain sight, what was obvious couldn’t be actually said aloud.

Lolita as a film is a story about the constant suggestion and implication that is hidden beneath what is actually said and done.  In this way the film offers a beautiful way of storytelling because, unlike prose, more viewers will recognize the leering gaze as Lolita Haze lays in the backyard.  They’ll recognize what’s being suggested is the idea that Lolita is a sexual object, and, hopefully, they’ll recognize that it isn’t their suggestion but in fact the suggestion of a corrupt man who’s writing her story right out of her control.

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*Writer’s Note*

All quotes taken from the film Lolita were provided by IMDb.

 

**Writer’s Note**

It’s actually pretty difficult to find ANY video bloggers who have attempted to analyze to explore the film.  However I did find two people on YouTube who seemed up to the challenge.  If the reader would like they can follow the link below to the videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IpBNS5kksE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hdj0dKrKnUw

I’ve also found a brief video that is a three minute interview with Suellyn Lyon, the main star of the film, about the actual movie:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bHz-N6bJ3I

 

***Writer’s Note***

The life story of Sue Lyon is not particularly pleasant, and Kubrick’s film is largely the reason for it.  I suppose that’s why I wanted to end on a positive note, and so I found two pictures of Lyon and Kubrick rehearsing lines and seeming to enjoy themselves.  A lovely reminder that beneath the “sexual icon,” there was a young woman wanting to become an actress and working with one of the greatest directors of all time.

#11—What House Would Let Me In?

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Don’t think you’re having all the fun

You know me I hate everyone

—Wish, Nine Inch Nails

While I was reading the first chapter of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book, We Were Eight Years in Power, I was struck by a passage.  This isn’t an uncommon occurrence, in fact every one of the books in my home bear little pencil marked circles and stars where I’ve found a paragraph or sentence that feels important.  For whatever reason this passage headshots_1507036441820.0though hit my gut and I had to write something about it.  He was introducing an article he had written for The Atlantic, This is How the White Man Won, and discussing the idea of black discourse and because I lack his ability with words I’ll just quote him directly:

The tradition of black writing is necessarily dyspeptic, necessarily resilient.  The tradition was the house in which I wanted to live, and if my residency must be fixed to a certain point in time, I suppose fixing it here, with the publication of this piece, is as good as anywhere.  I characterize this as an “attempt” because I felt myself trying to write a feeling, something dreamlike and intangible that lived on my head, and in my head is where at least half of it remained.  And there were other challenges, more tangible, that were not met.  (11).043ae515574393.56293c0e32d45

This idea of writers creating a “house,” or inhabiting one that is defined by their writing, is a fascinating one to me, though I note immediately that it’s not terribly novel.  C.S. Lewis described Christianity as a house establishing his “Hall metaphor,” and I often heard professors and lecturers describe the halls of academia as “houses.”  The “House metaphor” in fact is a cultural cliche in some respect, but I’ll give Coates a pass on this because I like the man.  I love his writing because even in cliches he manages to make them feel new and dynamic.  His words aren’t just empty shapes designed to take up space and fill a writing queue, rather their honest expressions of his his heart, what he’s feeling and thinking, and trying to communicate his experience honestly to other people.  This is why I his words always hit me the way they do.

I also partly want to be him, or at least have some modicum of the level of success he enjoys.  Not the fame.  Fuck fame.  I’ll take the money though.

I’m stuck on the house metaphor because having recently published a novel (self-published, but hey I got something) I wonder what kind of “House” would take me in.  Writers are part of the society and culture that they publish in, and thus they are stuck in the company they keep.  This is not that far from real life.  If a man spends his days surrounded by drunks and losers it’s likely society will look at him, even if he’s the CEO of a Fortune Five Hundred company, as a bum.  Likewise if a man is wearing a suit and surrounded by stock brokers he’s likely to be thought of as a Wall Street Executive, even if he’s just some dude who wanted to dress nicely that day on the way to the bridge where he blows homeless people for money.  As my wife is fond of reminding me every time I tell her I want to get a Cookie Monster tattoo, we live in a superficial society that only looks at exterior details.Cover ammazon

I look back to the idea of the “writer’s house” and again ask the question: What kind of house would let me in?

Horror, Adventure, Romance, Mystery, Literary Fiction, Indie, Experimental, LGBTQ, all of these I believe would reject me outright because my novel Swanky Panky’s Crazy Wisdom $3.95, while it contains some facet of every one of these genres, does not conform to any of them.  There are plenty of horrific elements in the book ranging from the death of children to outright sexual assault, and while these elements exist they do not act in the traditional mode of horror.  Whatever grotesque or horrifying elements my readers will find it is usually employed to be funny in some sort of sick or twisted way.  Black humor involving dead babies, I realize, is not everyone’s cup of tea, but some dead baby jokes are just wretched and therefore worth a pity laugh.  I’m not trying to frighten or depress my reader, and so horror slams it’s doors shut.

The novel is about a young man named Elvis who is waiting on a date and so maybe Adventure and romance could be a way to classify it.  But there a problem appears djangounchainedbecause his date arrives late and by the time she does he’s already found somebody new, a black male boxer named Atlas.  A date, and discovering one’s sexuality is technically an adventure, however the regular reader of adventure writers such as Clive Custler are sure to be disappointed and would immediately want a refund.

Mystery is a bust because nobody dies, and Swanky Panky being the character that he is he would probably just inform my reader who did the murder and how and why in the first five pages before offering them a half-assed blow-job and a pirated copy of David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day.  The only mystery that wold exist is how he managed to get them to buy a book that is so obviously a copy of the Pickwick Papers Porn Parody.  So Mystery’s out.blade4

Literary Fiction is tricky territory because that’s the one I aspired to.  I purposefully wrote my book thinking, hoping, someone would find my work literary, whatever that term actually means, and in the tradition of someone like Joseph Heller, Voltaire, or Pynchon…even though I’ve never actually read any Pynchon.  The “Literary” genre is the only one I could ever actually use to describe my work which I recognize is a problem because my novel contains a passage in which Dostoyevsky is described as “The Greatest Hater in the World” and then dies beside a nameless river in Russia (Google was broken that day apparently) in a cardboard box eating cheese.  Literary feels right.  But much like my desire to have a threesome with Anderson Cooper and Michael Fassbender, my dreams are not meant to be.  The “Literary” class of writers would look at my grammar and spacing errors and laugh me right out the door.kiss-gal-gadot-kate

Now as for LGBTQ I might have a solid case here.  I’m bisexual, I prefer the term Queer personally, so this shouldn’t be a problem.  The main character Elvis discovers, by the end of the book, that he is bisexual and the entire creative locus of the book tends to be sexuality.  However a problem emerges quickly as I’m sure the reader who’s actually read my book (and hopefully paid for it) will recognize.  Everyone in my book is a slut.  This would not appear to be much of a problem at first, however it’s important to recognize that the queer community at large has struggled with the inward and outward perception that they are nothing but RF - ToF 013promiscuous hump-bots designed only to fuck and suck and hump and fuck until the day they die.  I’ve written a novel that ends with a four page (I wrote it so I should know) interracial same-sex sex scene, and spends the previous 200 page span sporadically exploring a wide-variety of sexual appetites.

This leads me to conclude that I’m a slut and that he LGBTQ community is sure to ask me for my gun and my badge.

The final “Houses” would be the Indie and Experimental genre, however before I could knock on the door, the community at large informed me that the genre had decided I wasn’t a right fit and decided that they would instead write 1000 page novels about alienation and sexual exploration with their sisters complete with footnotes written only in barcodes that have to be interpreted with an app that’s only available through Android.  They also found out that I like Apple products and have therefore dubbed me a MacFreak, as if that’s some sort of insult, and have listed me as a, to quote the kid’s these days, “Poseur.”Swanky Panky

Swanky Panky’s Crazy Wisdom, $3.95 leaves me, upon reflection, seemingly without a house.  At first.  After a careful analysis of my situation I’ve discovered that I have established a house of my own creation.  And of course because I’m a writer I have to describe my house as is judged by my body of work.  I hope the reader enjoys:

My House is a house that’s falling apart and stained with piss and it’s name is Mudd.  A falling-down-house1writer jerks off into his hand before wiping his ass with said hand and sticking his butt cheeks together.  It’s a house with water damage that smells like rotting balls and slow death.  People fuck beside corpses and what’s worse they don’t bother to push aside the pizza boxes that are crawling with maggots.  A lunatic with a Traumatic Brain Injury tells me he smells the dragon’s farts before eating the first ten pages of his manuscript.  It’s a shame.  It was the best work he’d accomplished or would accomplish in his short carear.  The few women in the place are either nymphomaniacs, which, apparently discredits them though I don’t know why, or else they are transgender lesbians who write acoustic power ballads about their growing breasts before they eat the strings of their guitars.  Dildos are a common sight.  I would prefer them to be blue because 7062bc6b032d0aa4e8114ee3b1e61ac6--creepy-pics-macabre-artthere’s something about blue dildoes that is inspiring, but these are just purple like all the others.  Boring, veiny rods designed only to push and stretch pussies wide and apart and leave you feeling hollow and almost all of them are spoken for.  They have name tags attached reading: Mary, Jessica, Issa, Breanna, Brittany, Derek, and Jo.  Jo’s the slut, but her poetry is electric sex-fantastic so everyone gives her a pass.  There’s a hole in the floor.  Something’s living in it.  It has two eyes on one side of it’s face and it’s skin is scaly and light brown, almost egg-shell.  We toss it bits of meat from time to time, otherwise it roams the house sucking our blood at night through the underside of our knee-caps.  Everyday bills come threatening foreclosure but we know that nobody’s coming.  The house reeks of too much shit.  No bank would dare send someone to collect our bills lest they lose a valuable employee or an expendable asset.  So the bills stack high, stained first with the various first lines of novels that no one will read.  Then these too disappear until there’s DSC_0166
nothing left but dirty smudges and green mushrooms that dig through the masses of letters and we have to try and ignore another smell.  Everyone sleeps on a single mattress, but there’s no sex.  No orgies or casual circle-jerk sessions with obligatory yet awkward eye-contact.  Everybody just lies butt to crotch to butt to crotch hoping somebody would die or get a publishing deal so that there would be a little less stale, homoerotic tension and we could get some goddamn sleep.  There’s some sort of green molds that grows in our mouths.  We’re not sure what it is but it moves if you try to rip it out.  Eric has discovered that the only way to actually kill the mold, which yes is parasitic and occasionally catches 53b3e0f199064b92549a761034286ddd--extreme-makeover-seattleradio transmissions from the CIA Frank Sinatra A capella group, is to go ass-to-mouth.  The sensation of tasting your partner’s asshole is not a pleasant sensation, but the mold dies quickly and one is left to enjoy one’s oral freedom before the taste of ass attacks with a vengeance.  There’s a toilet…I don’t want to say anymore.  There’s a pool in the backyard.  It’s filled with piss and baking powder and there’s something living inside of it.  It has scales, but then it also has these massive blue lobster claws and orange eyes that follow you.  We don’t swim anymore.  When we tried the piss turned out to be acidic and turned our skin purple before the thing, whatever the fuck it is, started tickling our feet with it’s tentacle mouth-appendages.  We found out later that nasty stagnant poolthat’s how it sucks blood from us.  So, like I said, we don’t swim.  On the wall someone’s smeared the words, “why?” in feces.  We’re not sure why, we just, we’re just…not sure.  Everyone discusses their novels.  They discuss what inspired them.  Where they wrote it.  What type of computer they use for their writing.  How much weed they smoked, or didn’t, during the original drafting, but no one can answer a simple question: why did they write in the first place?  Anyone who dares open an honest dialogue about creativity is forced to sleep with Stephanie the lesbian vampire who lives in the attic and insists on sharing cute pictures of her cats until the body eventually shuts itself down out of a feeling of self-preservation.  On my way out to work a scorpion stings my foot and for the rest of the day I have to drain the puss into a waste basket.  And when I come home, another floor has imploded and no one has bothered to fix it.Jammer Writing

My house is a house that no one would really want to spend time in, because it’s a house that nobody knows or understands or comprehends or appreciates.  It’s a house that demands apathy for self-preservation.

Yet as I write, my book has at least one review on Amazon and GoodReads, and I’m having an actual book signing at a library.  And I’m already working on my next novel.

My house is a house that smells like ass and is falling apart.  But it’s mine damn it, and it’s home.

Book Cover

 

 

 

*Writer’s Note*

If the reader is interested in reading my book, they can follow the links found under the “Books by Jammer” link at the top of the page, or else they can follow the links I’ve provided here in this bottom of this essay.

Self promotion isn’t my strong suit, but hey, if you’ve got something then don’t hide it.  Thanks for reading:

https://www.createspace.com/7348074

https://www.amazon.com/Swanky-Pankys-Crazy-Wisdom-3-95/dp/1548860573

It Explains So Much…

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David Bowie Made Me Gay

It Explains So Much…

15 December 2017

On the Discovering the Reality that Christmas is really the Orwellian Nightmare

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white
Bing Crosby does not at first summon up images of North Korea.  At least not for me.  He summons up images of Rosemary Clooney because, ever since my family started watching White Christmas at least three times a week every week during the Christmas holidays, I’ve discovered that I have an ceaseless and unashamed crush on the woman.  I think it’s her smile, honestly, but before I become superficial to my regular reader, it’s important to remember that I fell in love with her voice first.  Still despite my never-ending adoration of Clooney and Crosby, and especially Danny Kay, I have a conflict because it’s very quickly returning to the most dreaded holiday of the year.WhiteChristmas

I truly hate Christmas.  The only upside to the holiday is that I get to listen to my Seth McFarlane Christmas Album and watch White Christmas, which, as I addressed before, I really only enjoy because of Rosemary Clooney.  Apart from these small pleasures the entire holiday can go eat a bag of dicks.

Before the reader assumes anything, no, I never had a bad Christmas and that’s why I wrote this article, though I will admit, I never do seem to get exactly what I want for Christmas.

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I’m sure the reader has their response aimed and ready though.  But what about the giving and receiving of presents?  What about all the wonderful amazing food that you get to eat?  What about spending time with your family?  And what about getting a few paid days off from work when you get to do nothing but sit around, read books, watch movies, play video games, and get sick on chocloate?  To this last counter-argument I don’t really have a solid defense because who doesn’t love a day off from work?strand-hotel-christmas-1

Regardless of these points, I still really despise Christmas, because the holiday does something to people that is at times frustrating to the point of being irredeemably monstrous.  The roads become congested with grumpy, frivolous people who forget how stop-lights work, the stores become crowded with people who are driven purely to buy and consume objects and be dicks to people who work in retail.  And of course one has to listen to bloated gases that pass themselves off as human beings who complain about the so-called “war on Christmas.”  Beneath all of this however is this compulsion to “create” Christmas as an idea, an atmosphere, and an ideology unto itself and there’s something about this collective, cultural “push” that is unnerving.

It’s for this reason that I look to Christopher Hitchens.7345631

As of late my reading habits have shifted and so along with at least one novel, one graphic novel, one work of non-fiction, and at least one 1000 page tome, I’ve tried to add one collection of works to my reading list.  This can include collections of poetry or essays, and a few months back I decided to splurge on myself and buy Hitchens’s book And Yet….  The book appears to be the last collection of essays Hitchens wrote before he died, and I’m steadily buying up every book, pamphlet, and biography the man wrote so that I can have a Hitchens library.  I read the essays, one a day, and near the start there was one that leapt at me because the title was simply Bah, Humbug.  Hitchens reminded me why he was my hero by just reading the opening lines:BlackFriday

I used to harbor the quiet but fierce ambition to write just one definitive, annihilating anti-Christmas column and then find and editor significantly indulgent to run it every December.  My model was the Thanksgiving pastiche knocked off by Art Buchwald several decades ago and recycled annually in a serious ongoing test of reader tolerance.  But I have slowly come to appreciate that this hope was in vain.  The thing must be done annually and afresh.  (87).

I had a similar intention once, back when I believed my writing was good enough to get syndicated in a periodical of note, that maybe I would write one “fuck Christmas” essay that would be great enough, or insightful enough, or at the very least funny enough to be published year by year.  I’ve slept since then and recognized that few people will ever give enough of a shred of a shit about me or my work, and so even if I could write such an essay, it will have to be written here.  Looking at Hitchens’s opening though I recognize a similar feeling of defeat because Christmas is very much like a Hydra: xmass-treeeven if one does manage to sever one head, two or three more will burst from the stump.  The endless call to gaiety, selflessness, and rampant greedy consumerism simply has a better PR firm than I do and so I recognize that, even I did manage to write something great about how much Christmas sucks there is too much cultural capital behind it to permanently quash it.

I secretly suspect that I am a hipster because I find myself hating much more than I love but that’s getting off point.

Hitchens’s small article (916 words, I counted) is like reading my own thoughts at times, because along with the criticism of the supposed “religious” aspects of Christmas, Bah Humbug is really a stern criticism of the compulsion towards merriness and cheer.  There is a collected push against individuals during the Christmas season to be happy, to see in all the rush to buy and spend and receive a terrific sense of merriment and happiness.  This of course belies the very point that when someone else is telling you to be happy that’s almost certain to do anything but Charles_Dickens-A_Christmas_Carol-Title_page-First_edition_1843make you happy.  And in fact, if this isn’t too much of a push, the entire rhetoric of Christmas borders on some sort of sick consumerism based totalitarianism.

Hitchens notes this as he further decries the holiday:

This was a useful demonstration of what I have always hated about the month of December: the atmosphere of a one-party state.  On all media and in all newspapers, endlesss invocations of the same repetitive theme.  In all public placer, from train stations to department stores, an instant din of identical propaganda and identical music.  The collectivization of gaiety and the compulsory infliction of joy.  Time wasted on foolishness at one’s children’s schools.  Vapid ecumenical messages from the president, who has more pressing things to do and who is constitutionally required to avoid any religious endorsements.  (88).

It was about not long after this passage that I realized that Hitchens was leading up to something, something that he did not push, likely because he knew it was a stretch and thought experiments can be rather dreadful to read.  Christopher Hitchens was not one to hold anything back, in fact his reputation as a writer was built on the idea that nothing was sacred, in the most literal sense.  Still, after reading the essay I couldn’t shake off the idea that Christmas had a smacking of something totalitarian and of course Hitchens makes this point beautifully:1482200235-0

And yet none of this party-line unanimity is enough for the party’s true hard-liners.  The slogans must be exactly right.  No “Happy Holidays” or even “Cool Yule” or a cheery Dickensian “Compliments of the season.”  No, all banners and chants must be specifically designated in honor of the birth of the Dear Leader and the authority of the Great Leader.  By chance, the New York Times on December 19 ran a story about the difficulties encountered by Christian missionaries working among North Korean defectors, including a certain Mr. Park.  On missionary was quoted as saying ruefully that “he knew he had now won over Mr. Park.  He knew that Christianity reminded Mr. Park, as well as other defectors, of ‘North Korean ideology.”  An interesting admission, if a bit of a stretch.  Let’s just say that the birth of the Dear Leader is indeed celebrated as a miraculous one—accompanied, among other things, by heavy portents  and by birds singing in Korean—and that compulsory worship and compulsory adoration can indeed become a touch wearying to the spirit.  (88-9).

I can anticipate my reader’s reaction before I can continue.  Are you seriously about to suggest that the Christmas celebration that takes place in the United States is anything remotely akin to the political dictatorship of North Korea?

Sure.  Why the fuck not?

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Now obviously the actual physical atrocities, torture, rape, and persistent abuse is nothing akin to the institution of Christmas, that would be, as Hitch pointed out, a bit of a stretch.  My effort then is not to compare the compulsion to celebrate Christmas the same thing as the compulsion to respect the authority of Kim Jong-Un, rather it’s my concern to just try a thought experiment about whether Christmas has some level of totalitarian sentiment to it.  The purpose of these essays was to explore my thoughts 101227orwells1984about various works of literature and cultural achievements and public rhetoric, and as of this writing I can’t shake a question that, until recently I haven’t had the language for: Is Christmas the Orwellian nightmare?

The Orwellian Nightmare is a concept that I suspect most people would recognize but would probably be unable to accurately describe it.  It is a condition in which the government exudes inexorable powers over the individuals and citizens of the state.  It is a power structure however that surpasses the mere outward political landscape and digs deeper, sinking into the meat and bones of a person’s consciousness until a person is aware of the government at all times, especially in the home.  An individual living in the Orwellian nightmare is surrounded by propaganda manifesting in the form of advertisements, music, television, radio, films, and public demonstrations which not only promote the party in power, but in fact uses these mediums as extensions of the state to propel the idea that the state is the ultimate benevolent and necessary force.  The George Orwellindividual is compelled to celebrate the dominant party, and is encouraged and often culled into the habit of accepting their own dominations, eventually buying into the suggestion that welcoming and empowering the dominant power is not only personally advantageous, it’s their own idea.  The state becomes this ever-present reality that brings one comfort, even when it is leaving one emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually dominated.

The Orwellian nightmare is a direct reference to one of my favorite writers, who also just happens to be the favorite writer of Christopher Hitchens the one who got me started on this train of thought in the first place, George Orwell.  In life George Orwell did not achieve a tremendous literary fame, and despite the popular understanding the man in fact wrote several novels and essays that are still regarded as literarily significant.  However it was his novels Animal Farm and 1984 which helped Orwell in the popular 41E9Z5XaHcLconsciousness, and even before John Hurt played Winston Smith, the latter novel had effectively established Dystopia as, not just a literary genre that would eventually get subsumed and then corrupted to the point of irrelevance by bad YA writers, a creative outlet that had lasting relevance to human society.

Looking at one passage in particular of 1984 I’m sure of my hypothesis that Christmas is some kind of Orwellian Nightmare, because I just observe too many parallels.  If the reader has never read the novel, the book takes place in the distant future of 1984 (funny how the future’s always several years in the past) where England has become a totalitarian dictatorship headed by a shadowy leader known only ever as Big Brother.  The citizens of England are required in their places of work to attend something referred to as a “Two Minute Hate.”  After that I’ll have to allow an unfortunately long quote by Orwell to speak for itself:bigbrother

In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening bleating voice that came from the screen.  The little sandy-haired woman had turned bright pink, and her mouth was opening and shutting like that of a landed  sh. Even O’Brien’s heavy face was  flushed. He was sitting very straight in his chair, his powerful chest swelling and quivering as though he were standing up to the assault of a wave.  e dark-haired girl behind Winston had begun crying out ‘Swine! Swine! Swine!’ and suddenly she picked up a heavy Newspeak dictionary and  flung it at the screen. It struck Goldstein’s nose and bounced off ; the voice continued inexorably. In a lucid moment Winston found that he was shouting with the others and kicking his heel violently against the rung of his chair.  The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretense was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge- hammer, seemed to  flow through the whole group of people rehost-2016-11-4-b19cc29c-d231-48e9-9cc2-8f450b76b48dlike an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.  Thus, at one moment Winston’s hatred was not turned against Goldstein at all, but, on the contrary, against Big Brother, the Party, and the Thought Police; and at such moments his heart went out to the lonely, derided heretic on the screen, sole guardian of truth and sanity in a world of lies. And yet the very next instant he was at one with the people about him, and all that was said of Goldstein seemed to him to be true. At those moments his secret loathing of Big Brother changed into adoration, and Big Brother seemed to tower up, an invincible, fearless protector, standing like a rock against the hordes of Asia, and Goldstein, in spite of his isolation, his helplessness, and the doubt that hung about his very existence, seemed like some sinister enchanter, capable by the mere power of his voice of wrecking the structure of civilization.  (100-101).1984_still

The Two Minute hate is the only real evidence I really need here because anyone who has been forced to go Christmas Shopping during late December recognizing this exact level of torment.  There is never a parking space at the mall, and if there is it is ultimately a handicapped space and one finds oneself hating the handicapped for having that sticker in the first place and it doesn’t matter anyway because there’s always an able-bodied person who parks there anyway.  The crowds of the open markets and the endless lines that one is forced to slog through are filled with individual people who have been brought to these retail outlets by the promises that “giving is the real Christmas gift,” and so brought by the prospect of a moment on Christmas morning in which their loved ones will enjoy their gifts they endure a sea of grumpy angry people who often look like they just smelled the inside of a homeless man’s boxer shorts.  This agony is punctuated by this year’s female “country” pop-star’s rendition of “White Christmas” which again, let’s be real here, Rosemary Clooney rocked decades ago, why are we microwaving a turd when there’s gold recorded already?

96dcd6dbbdee3c0e4e50e79cfdf87a61

But the sensation of Christmas shopping has been better documented by countless writers before me. In fact it’s almost become kitsche to be the person who says they hate Christmas, which is fucked in its own way, because then the people who love Christmas have their “Grinch” or “Scrooge” in which to further develop their mythos.

There’s nothing original about looking at the capitalism and the discomfort of Christmas and the violence it brings out in people.  There is something however to the idea that people actually like this tradition of pain and dissatisfaction.  1475165054-christmas-shoppingPeople like, in fact they love, the stress and torture and annoyance and atmospheric pressure that is the Christmas holidays because it’s a chance to surrender their will.

By the end of 1984 Winston Smith has been psychologically broken by the torture of the state, and the closing lines, “He loved Big Brother”(370) reveal a man who is absolutely broken by the system which has infected every level of his consciousness.

At work I have a co-worker who comes in, sits down, works on the December Events handouts, and begins to hum Christmas jingles like Jingle Bells, Noel, and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.  Hearing the melodies my mind summoned the songs and before I knew it I was singing along under my breath, and not but a few moments later I began singing the song out loud infecting another co-worker who became exasperated with me for “putting that song in her head.”  There was a small joy in recognizing that I had passed along my compulsion to her, that I could share in someone else’s joyous misery.  I love that sensation the way I love having the song “Sisters” and “Snow” stuck in my head.

Big Brother may be a jolly, bearded man wearing a red suit, but at the end of the day they both have an incredible PR team.

Santa-Claus-carrying-sack-of-gifts

 

 

*Writer’s Note*

All quotes taken from Bah, Humbug came from the hardback first edition Simon & Schuster And Yet…: Essays.  All quotes taken from 1984 were taken from the Hardback Houghton Mifflin Harcourt copy of Animal Farm and 1984.

If the reader is at all interested in reading the essay Bah, Humbug I’ve provided a link below to the original article.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2005/12/bah_humbug.html

 

**Writer’s Note**

While writing this essay I listened to Rosemary Clooney sing Christmas songs to try and “put me in the mood.”  While it was somewhat successful I fear I may have pushed 96dcd6dbbdee3c0e4e50e79cfdf87a61myself a little too far in order to get in the necessary frame of mind to write this peice.  Still, the essay is done and I got the chance to remember why I love Rosemary Clooney’s voice.  If the reader would like to have some background music as they follow the relentless beat of Big Brother’s Capitalistit enterprise, or if they just want a great Christmas record to put on I would definitely recommend this link.  Enjoy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97xyTviQLq0

 

***Writer’s Note***

For the record there are plenty, PLENTY, of great YA writers.  They just don’t either get the press they deserve, or else you simply fade out when your friend tries to tell you that they finished a beautiful YA novel.  You might have taken the time to at least give the book Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz but instead you politely nodded and thought that your friend was a loser even though she actually had a point and you missed the opportunity to read a beautiful story about two young men falling in love, while one struggles with his individual personal identity and perception of his masculinity.  Instead you got drunk and binge watched Riverdale which is just a cheap knock off of Twin Peaks.  You judgmental tool…Merry Christmas.

 

****Writer’s Note To the Reader Who Doesn’t Appreciate the Writer’s Morbid Sense of Humor****

It’s satire for fucks sake.  Get the joke or fuck off.

A Modest Display of ButtCheek

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Cruising the Movies

A Modest Display of Buttcheek

9 December 2017

Concerning Tolkien…& his Critics

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I have a friend at the library who enjoys checking me out.  She loves it largely because it affords her an opportunity to make fun of me, while also envying the amount of reading I get done.

tolkien_photo_h-mIt’s not secret to the reader that I have started working at the Tyler Public Library, and in fact it’s getting close on being one year in total working there.  Already the staff have welcomed me into the odd little family and some have even noted that it wouldn’t be any fun at the library if I ever left.  I honestly don’t believe that at all, but it’s nice feeling like you belong somewhere.  Apart from the wonderful social environment that’s steadily building up my sense-of-self day-by-day, working at the library is also a chance to check out enormous stacks of books.  There isn’t a day I’ve worked where I haven’t come home with at least one book, and even on days when I return three or four I’m sure to leave with five more.  Sometimes these books are ones I’ve simply checked out, other times it’s one that I have bought in the ongoing library sale.

Whatever the case this constant bibliophilia has exposed me to many wonderful books that I never would have found on my own, which is the reason why it’s so surprising that the most recent development has been my rediscovery of Tolkien.

Witch KingLike many people of my generation I was coming into puberty about the time the Harry Potter series were being published, but in 2001 my world changed when The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was released.  Hastings was still around at the time, and so video rentals, a.k.a. VHS rentals were still a viable means of seeing films.  My dad checked the movie out and actually had to convince me that the movie was worth my time.  I remember groaning and sighing, and in fact while watching the film I bemoaned the time length of the movie right before the battle at Amon Hen.

The credits rolled and I was done.  I knew that I had to learn more about this universe.

RingstrilogyposterI’d like to say that this meant reading the trilogy, The Hobbit again, and then the numerous companion mythologies and etymologies that Tolkien had spent a lifetime working on, but in fact I largely just consumed the movies and met my best friend Kevin who did nothing but talk about the films which was fine with me.

I did get around to reading Tolkien’s books, but in fact I only got as far as Book III, which is the end of the first half of the second book The Two Towers.  I had expected the books to be like the films which were beautiful character studies balanced by great action sequences.  What I got instead were long passages of scenery, references to a history and mythology I had no reference for, and an extensive study of linguistics as characters observed words, spoke in different tongues, and related the origin of such language.  Obviously I was disappointed, but I still loved this world and began to memorize the territories even starting a fantasy universe of my own with my friend Kevin that went nowhere.  xdSL9QWMaps and charts were constructed, characters were created, and an evil villain was established.  Kevin and I had created an entire universe which was obviously nothing more than a Tolkien reboot.

I don’t regret the time that was spent creating this world, I only wish I had actually written some of it down.  There might be a multi-million-dollar fantasy franchise stuffed in a cardboard box in my parent’s attic and I need to find it before Kevin realizes the same thing and screws me out of my share.

Tolkien has returned to me lately because I began an audio-lecture series after finishing Douglas Brinkley’s Cronkite, and my world has shifted dramatically.  Michael D.C. Drout’s lecture Of Sorcerer’s and Men: The Roots of Modern Fantasy Literature was a revelation to me because it not only altered my perception of the Lord of the Rings, but much like Poe is the previous year, I was remembered why I loved the man’s work in the first place.  Drout explored every facet of The Lord of the Rings and showed me that there was real literary art-magician-lord-of-the-rings-bilbo-rivendell-town-gandalf-lord-of-the-rings-valley-hobbies-gandalf-waterfalls-mountain-unexpected-journey-unexpected-journey-rockmerit to the series and the universe.  He argued that rather than just an allegory about war and industry and World War II, The Lord of the Rings was a book about language and the decency of common people.

This brings me back to my original point which is that my co-worker at the library, a lovely woman named Tinkerbelle, enjoys checking me out.  After I finished Drout’s lecture series and moved onto Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, I was a man possessed.  In-between the various patron needs and printing out another in a long line of classic art statues with the library’s 3-D Printer, I looked up every book available that was either about the life of Tolkien or else written about the man directly.  This led me, as soon as my shift ended, into an hour-long search as I scoured the library clean of every book.  I lumbered to the circulation desk with a stack that reached my chin and my friend Tink simply laughed before she oohed and awed at the long list of books.91khFawSYCL

Before I could even get to this stack however, the next day she found in the book sale a small paperback tome entitled The QPB Companion to The Lord of the Rings.  With yet another in a long line of giggles she handed me the book and let me disappear into the collection.

What’s fascinating about this book is the fact that so many of the authors who contributed to it seemed to have very little clue about what was the best way to critically approach The Lord of the Rings.  Whether it was Ursula LeGuin, Issac Asimov, Harold Bloom, Janet Smith, or Edmund Wilson none of the critics in this small book could ever come to a firm conclusion about what Tolkien was actually trying to accomplish.  Many are left puzzled to the man’s lack of modernity in his prose, and some are even more baffled still by the final conclusions of The Lord of the Rings.

I should clarify though before I continue because not everyone is so perplexed.  In fact Edmund Wilson in his famous essay Oo, Those Awful Orcs makes his critical assessment of the books quite clear:tumblr_mgb28c2sn01r39i1to1_500

It is indeed the tale of a quest, but, to the reviewer, an extremely unrewarding one.  The hero has no serious temptations; is lured by no insidious enchantments, perplexed by few problems.  What we get is a simple confrontation—in more or less the traditional terms of British melodrama—of the Forces of Evil with the Forces of Good, the remote alien villain with the plucky little home-grown hero.  There are streaks of imagination: the ancient tree-spirits, the Ents, wth their deep eyes, twiggy beards, rumbly voices; the Elves, whose nobility and beauty is elusive and not quite human.  But even these are rather clumsily handled.  There is never much development in the episodes; you simply go on getting more of the same thing.  Dr. Tolkien has little skill at narrative and no instinct for literary form.  (40).333e0b1a0abf77b3bdae369318532e69844e3282_hq

Wilson finally cuts the bull and lays out his honest opinion in the final paragraphs saying:

The answer is, I believe, that certain people—especially, perhaps, in Britain, have a lifelong appetite for juvenile trash.  (42).

Besides these words in my little paperback book are written in pencil, “Thems fightin’ words bub!”  Perhaps I grew up with too much Loony Tunes, but had anyone spoken so contemptuously about Tolkien or Lord of the Rings when I was a teenager I probably would have screamed at them with the same implication.  Still despite the tone Edmund Wilson’s essay does have a point.  And I begrudgingly acknowledge most of the criticism.tumblr_opxtci9mHA1siv1sto7_r1_400

The Lord of the Rings is many things, but complex in the way a novel by Nabakov is complex is most certainly not the case.  Half the time I can’t tell the difference between Merry and Pippin, and in fact Sam and Frodo are at times near indistinguishable.  There are long passages about the beauty of Middle Earth but it never feels like the characters are becoming deeper as individuals.  They simply are and react to their world, never pausing much for introspection.

Wilson’s critique is severe, perhaps legendary in Tolkien criticism, but I found that Harold Bloom offered much the same sentiment, though in softened tones.harold-bloom

[Roger] Sale accurately observes that the trilogy purports to be a quest but actually is a descent into hell.  Whether a visionary descent into hell can be rendered persuasively in language that is acutely self-conscious, even arch, seems to me a hard question.  I am fond of The Hobbit, which is rarely pretentious, but The Lord of the Rings seems to me inflated, over-written, tendentious, and moralistic in the extreme.  Is it not a giant Period Piece?  (53).

I didn’t expect Bloom to respect the novel series given his reputation.  Shakespeare is god in the Bloom universe, and despite near ravenous appreciation of Tolkien even I have to admit that compared to the Bard the “Old Professor” (Tolkien Fans charming nick-name for the author) simply doesn’t match up.  At least, dear reader, in terms of prose.  What facts-one-ring-lord-of-the-rings-780x438_rev1I’ll hold against Bloom is that he doesn’t even try to critique Tolkien in any kind of meaningful way and even he acknowledges it citing a passage “pretty much at random” (54).  The small two page critique that Bloom offers reveals a great apathy  on the man’s part and so the conviction of his criticism is weak.

Then again he’s Harold Bloom and I’m some dude with a blog and a self-published book so perhaps the scales will tip in his favor.

The tone of contempt for Tolkien almost made me drop The QPB Companion for fear that the book would be nothing but people offering fault, and at first Ursula K. LeGuin leguin_ursula_kseemed to offer the same.  Anyone who has never heard of this author has cheated themselves for Le Guin, much like George R.R. Martin, manages to be a kind of successor to Tolkien in terms of building the Fantasy and Science fiction genre into the power house that it is.  For my own part I prefer LeGuin as an essayist and in her contribution to the collection, The Staring Eye, she manages to convey the lasting importance of Tolkien’s work.

She begins by describing how the books came into her life and why she initially distrusted them.  She notes later after remarking that reading the books aloud to her children is her third time with the series that she’s recognized the power of the Eye that was staring at her on the cover.

Yet I believe that my hesitation, my instructive distrust of those three volumes in the university Library, was well founded.  To put it in the book’s own terms: something of great inherent power, even if wholly good in itself, may work the-lord-of-the-rings-original-animated-classic-remastered-deluxe-edition-20100406040315385_640w1destruction if used in ignorance, or at the wrong time time.  One must be ready; one must be strong enough.  (44).

This is most certainly the case and most likely why I didn’t finish the trilogy and had to bear, as Hamlet put it, the “whips and scorns” of my friends who actually had.  It’s not that the Trilogy is impossible to read, in fact compared to books like Ulysses and Absalom, Absalom the book is practically Curious George.  What I suspect LeGuin is trying to communicate to her reader is that the enormity of Tolkien’s works can be daunting to one individual reader and some may not have the courage or strength of will to complete it.the_argonath___lord_of_the_rings_tcg_by_jcbarquet-d84gqh8

This has become largely apparent to me as I’ve begun to dig deeper into the meat of The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien himself because what is constantly being reminded to me is that Tolkien was a linguist and a philologist.  Unfortunately the nature of this beautiful profession has changed and so it’s important to realize that by Philologist I mean someone who studies the history and nature of language.  Absolutely everything in The Lord of the Rings goes back to language, and while I plan to write about this at length at a later date, I think it’s important for the reader to understand just how layered everything in The Lord of the Rings is in terms of Linguistics.f011b11d79fa4422fde0eacc5edf5839--digital-illustration-digital-art

In the aforementioned stack of books that I checked out from the library is a book entitled J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by T.A. Shippey.  This book is one of the many canonical books concerning Tolkien and his universe, so much so that even people like Harold Bloom have to acknowledge it’s critical significance to Tolkien Studies.  While reading through it, and waiting for an order of tacos at Fuzzys, I happened upon one passage that demonstrates clearly the amount of philology going into just the word Baggins:

Later on, in The Lord of the Rings, it will be disclosed that the road Bilbo’s hole is on is called Bag-End: very appropriate for someone called Baggins, perhaps, but an odd name for a road.  And yet in a sense a very familiar one.  As part of the ongoing and French-oriented snobbery of English society in Tolkien’s day (and later), municipal councils were (and still are) in the habit of indicating a street with an outlet such as ‘cul-de-sac’.  This is French of course, for ‘bag end’, though the French actually callunola-compagnia-dellanello-disegnata-dai-f-lli-hildebrandt such a thing an impasse, while the native English is ‘dead-end’.  ‘Cul-de-sac’ is a silly phrase and it is the Baggin’s Family credit that they will not use it.  (10).

It’s no small wonder that if this level of attention was paid simply to a name then of course it would take at least 17 years for Tolkien to finally release The Lord of the Rings.  The book series is constantly introducing new characters and territories that each have their own unique names which are born from the mythology which is born in the Philological studies that Tolkien worked on, both creatively and professionally.

Words are the basis of this universe and so critics looking for anything akin to Freudianism and Marxism were doomed to failure.  And thus the critics turned to allegory.614690

Le Guin acknowledges this and notes that this avenue of critics is perhaps most responsible for the revulsion of Tolkien.  She writes:

It is no small wonder that so many people are bored by, or detest The Lord of the Rings.  For one thing, there was the faddism of a few years ago—Go, Go, Gandalf—enough to turn anybody against it.  Judged by any of the Seven Types of Ambiguity that haunt the groves of Academe, it is totally inadequate.  For those who seek allegory it must be maddening.  (It must be an allegory!  Of course Frodo is Christ!—Or is Gollum Christ?)  (45).81+F-D9huqL._SY500_

This last portion is unbearable to read, not because I’m an atheist, but because I grew up in the church and attended a private Christian school.  I remember the teachers, priests, coaches, principles, and at times even my own English teachers of whom I had absolute trust, shoveling at me that The Lord of the Rings was one big metaphor for Jesus.  I’m not arguing that the material isn’t there.  Tolkien was a lifelong Catholic, so much so that he was offended when the church dropped the Latin mass.  There’s stories of the Old Professor standing up during the English mass and calling out the original Latin much to the pain and embarrassment of his family who had to bear his philological and religious devotion.  This old narrative interpretation is painful though because of its predictability.  Whenever and wherever there is a sacrifice made Christians attack the body of the work, performing surgery to cut out that ounce of Christian sentiment or interpretation to ensure that they “have always been around.”lord-of-the-rings-greatest-moments

The allegory is a great means of criticism, but LeGuin clearly isn’t satisfied by this interpretation and neither am I.  The problem with allegory is that it’s simple.  A stands for [Symbol 1] and B stands for [Reference 13], and in such a dynamic the critics is not so much a thinker and philosopher, but instead a child connecting dots to the right cultural reference.

Le Guin offers the reader something far more profound at the end of The Staring Eye, as she notes that Tolkien is elusive to critics and that in itself is a kind of artistic legacy:

Those who fault Tolkien on the Problem of Evil are usually those who have an answer to the Problem of Evil—which he did not.  What kind of answer, after all, is it to drop a magic ring into an imaginary volcano?  No ideologues, not even religious ones, are going to be happy with Tolkien, unless they manage albert-edwards-the-fed-has-allowed-an-orc-like-monster-to-incubate-hatch-and-emerge-into-the-sunlight-snarling-and-ready-to-do-battle.jpgit by misreading him.  For, like all great artists, he escapes ideology by being too quick for its nets, too complex for its grand simplicities, too fantastic for its rationality, too real for its generalizations.  They will no more keep Tolkien labeled and pickled in a bottle than they will Beowulf, or the Elder Edda, or The Odyssey.  (46).

Despite my training in graduate school, this final absence of solid critical foundation leaves me with some hope.  I’ve struggled since I started The Fellowship of the Ring to find any kind of solid critical lens from which to understand Tolkien’s aesthetic.  And as I read deeper into the man and his work this absence is not becoming distressing, in fact it’s encouraging.  This sense of opportunity is what informs my reading of Tolkien and I see a new range of possibility for the reader of Tolkien.

The QPB Companion is not going to be a book that lasts into the future, but this was never in fact about one single volume.  Rather this is about the critics of Tolkien who have, as I’ve read them, misunderstood or simply missed Tolkien’s creative goals.  d7f3a84000d935abcc56e1bdf2a064d5The critics continue to this day to dismiss Tolkien, and while there is some artistic elitism in this behavior, my assessment is that most of the critics of Tolkien are simply caught up in the tradition of theoretical framework.

In literary criticism there is a mode which pushes analysis, and by extension the critic, to write their assessment of a work based upon their training.  The problem with Tolkien then is that much of his work escapes most contemporary critics because far too many of them are looking for Post-Modern explanations or else allegory.

Tolkien requires something more.  The critics who have mattered then tend to be writers themselves.  Tolkien as a writer, and The Lord of the Rings as a series, is an exploration of language and myth, and it is run by rules of behavior that contemporary literature simply doesn’t.the_eye_of_sauron_by_stirzocular-d86f0oo

This is not a critical manifesto, nor do I make a grand declaration for a new mode of critical theory.  I simply speak as a writer and as a reader.  Tolkien’s work attempts to explore a different territory of literature, where word and deed are ends unto themselves, and the depth of character comes from action rather than introspection.  This won’t suit many sensibilities, but the continued success of Tolkien has demonstrated that, even if critics snap harshly at Tolkien’s “deplorable cultus,” most of them won’t care anyway.

Hobbit Holes and Nazgul promise endless opportunities for adventure and analysis, and at least one second breakfast with bacon and tomatoes.

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