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Film review: Danton outgrosses Robespierre

Preface: As I've said, oldie writing will be dusted off and plunked blogside (at least at first; new stuff should gradually overtake i...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Deconstructing deconstruction

Oh yeah, this baby is going to be FUN! Just you wait! =]

Damn! People are actually visiting the blog! Gotta get this show on the road... =[

Thursday, October 18, 2012

_The Sand Pebbles_ As a Recurring Absence

Glossy magazines, unlike underground comix, continue to thrive. And so, lacking a venue that carries the latest Crumb cartoons, I find myself at Safeway surveying the magazines. And lacking anything else new and noteworthy, I find myself eyeing the military titles. Are there more than before? Or is this just another of the countless areas I can't keep track of?
    One grabs my eye

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Summary: Dylan's Basement-borrowings from Shakespeare

Judging from my finds so far, Bob Dylan had a pretty definite "let's paraphrase Shakespeare crazily" program in mind on the Basement Tapes. Condensed results to date, from around the blog here, and from my haphazard Twitter and Facebook posts:

"Odds and Ends" -- from Troilus and Cressida (tent scene)
"Crash on the Levee" -- from Hamlet (Prince Hamlet versus mom and Ophelia)
 "Please Mrs Henry"-- from Henry IV, Part 1 (Falstaff freestyled; from Merry Wives too??)
 "Tiny Montgomery"-- from Timon of Athens (title, etc)*
"Apple Suckling Tree" -- from Taming of the Shrew (Bartholomew, seven years)
"Wheels on Fire" -- Othello (title/scholarly tome) (May 22, 2013: woops! Nope!*****)
"Lo and Behold" -- Antony and Cleopatra (mound! 30 BC! etc)**
"Million Dollar Bash" -- Midsummer Night's Dream?? (title, later: or general overview??)***
"Going to Acapulco" -- As You Like It (Arden is "big places" etc)...
"You Ain't Going Nowhere" -- A Winter's Tale (cold weather, "railings" pun, aged bride coming, etc)
"Yea, Heavy and a Bottle of Bread" -- Measure for Measure (bread, smell, general dissipation--it's maybe the most complicated yet!)****
"Open the door, Homer" -- Richard II, bit o' King Lear too?? (man...)
"Mighty Quinn" -- Richard III, (far more clearcut, thankfully)
"I'm Not There"-- Romeo and Juliet, ("gone" from dead Romeo, e.g. scene V iii)
"Tears of Rage" -- King Lear ("rake your name in sand"?)
"I Shall Be Released" Richard II("light" from west to east, Mowbray "framed" etc.)(June 1; excuse slowness)

Man, gotta sort all this stuff out... if you're really interested, imaginary reader, snout around the blog etc. for the tedious details, or ask me...

*Just on a hunch, from Dylan's "gas that dog" I checked "dog" in the Shakespeare Concordance. Slight surprise: Timon of Athens has more uses of the word "dog" (14) than any other play, and 13 of the 14 instances have the same cadence as Dylan's usage; only "unpeaceable dog" doesn't. Check the others if thou doubtest:

** (Oct. 11) Put some of the evidence/argument on youtube (of all places) with a little swipe at the adjoining Alan J. Weberman uber-sophistry. Heh. =]
(Oct. 21) Put a load of detailed additions onto Twitter; keywords: hook, vacant seat/vacancy, shame, name, hat/helmet. Really, this is about the most open-and-shut case of borrowing in all the songs.

*** (Oct. 11) Okay, a little searching of my e-self TOTALLY drew a blank. Is my e-face red? But hey, check THIS possibility for the mysterious "cheeks in a chunk"
A fairly direct hit methinks, although I don't think the whole song "reduces" to Henry VI. More like the song is some sort of bizarre pan-Shakespeare fanfare, possibly directed like a bullet at Weberman ("Along came Jones and emptied the trash"). In fact it is easy to imagine Dylan writing the tune and muttering under his breath, "Interpret THIS, you dumb bastard."
Dec. 23 postscript: a little research suggests Dylan didn't know Weberman until a year or two later. Damn!--and the line seemed like such a perfect reference too (now about the Lieber and Stoller possibilities...). But still: I now HAVE figured out exactly WHO the Shakespearean "big dumb blonde with her wheel gorged/in the gorge" is. Oh yes! Beg me to tell you, o whizbot following this blog! =]
Oct 21, 2013 The "wrist" is easy to find in Hamlet...
         *         *         *         *
Okay, I'll try to be organized and make this post Clearinghouse Central for all the emerging Dylan-Shakespeare stuff (and date each item) as I dig it up. We're still only at the tip of the iceberg, I'm guessing... and never mind that this mixaphor implies digging the water around an iceberg, dammit. =]

*         *         *         *

**** This song ("Yea, Heavy") submits well to word-checking on the Shakespeare concordance (trouts, catch, etc.) but I'm also picking up distinct echoes of Love's Labor Lost in the song (e.g. pipe). Hm--"the comic book in me" might be two? Nice joke. But alas, while I've read Measure for Measure (big help) I'm unfamiliar with Love's Labors Lost...

*****Proof it pays to be thorough: further dips into the concordance (favors, unpack) hit Titus Andronicus and Hamlet respectively, and as I've possibly mentioned elsewhere (others Dylanologists have too) The Wheel of Fire is a prominent study of Shakespearean tragedy, therefore the song is quite arguably a tragic mishmash. Yeah, THERE is a great two-word blurb, eh?--tragic mishmash. Parallelly (is that a word?) "Yea, Heavy and a Bottle of Bread" may be a general mishmash of the comedies? Onward to the tedious research.

June 14, 2013 Initial indications: "Long-Distance Operator" rooted in Cymbeline (operate, thousands) and Minstrel Boy" in Love's Labor Lost (coin, twelve, roll and the suggestion of "toil"), Romeo and Juliet (minstrel in a money context), and Rape of Lucrece (?--Mocking-bird). Needs some work and nailing-down, but really, who has the time... and my initial ridiculous guess was "Twelve forward gears" MIGHT be a reference to sonnet-structure. And/or the song is about John Lennon. File all that under "a headful of ideas that are..."

circa Oct 7, 2013 (check Twitter @frameofmind...) "Don't Ya Tell Henry" taps Henry V (and makes a sort of surreal "sense" or two of "Apple's got your fly!"

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What's the big idea?

The problem isn't easy to put into words, although Rushdie's "God-shaped hole" may be a convenient shorthand. Remember shorthand? Or longhand? Reading the fresh obituary of R. B. Greaves today, it occurs to me that in his oldies hit song "Take a Letter, Maria" his "good secretary" likely took the fateful letter in shorthand, although, being 1969, she may have had a dictaphone or something more advanced.

Details. The quaintness of the technology, however, pales next to a certain political incorrectness in the song, namely the singer's suspiciously quick turnaround (as the systems-analysts call it) from the cheating wife to the charming co-worker. What?--no time to grieve the loss of your helpmeet and/or wax existential on the dissolution of holy matrimony? (editorial note: my computer's spellchuck accepts "turnaround" but not "helpmeet"--the times they are a-changing, and not necessarily for the better.

And who is to say that the wife was merely a slut as the song insinuates? Perhaps she had been abused (a feminist or four might argue) or her complacent hubby had begun to take things for granted? Again, who is to say that the secretary would automatically accept the singer's climactic dinner invitation and supply him with a happy ending? She may have filed a sexual-harassment claim instead. Ah, competing narratives. Where do they all come from? All the hidden subtexts, where do they all belong?

"Supposing truth to be a woman..."

Really, we could begin almost anywhere in the ubiquitous media, e.g. yesterday's Globe and Mail repeatedly pushed my buttons--e.g. their alert journalist who raised "problematic feminist ramifications" (LOVE those polysyllables!) in the current-craze Shades of Grey novels. But I have the uneasy feeling I've been picking on the old Mop and Pail a little too much recently, so I pull a random National Post from the heap instead, knowing from experience I can find a Swiss-cheese of God-holes there too, in support of my theme.

July 26, 2012: The smiling face of Clara Hughes is splashed across the front page, dominating the top half...

         *         *         *         *

Whaaaaaaat?! ANOTHER incomplete teaser??? Yep, stay tuned, folks.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Choose sides! Choose sides! (Iraq 2003)

Another oldie-essay, written in 2003 about the time the U.S. military was reaching Baghdad. The Globe and Mail Book section at the time had a regular feature called "Three for Thought" wherein freelance writers would recommend three books on a subject. Margaret Atwood had already done a war-related piece, but I found it a bit tepid, and her three books academic and uninspiring, so I set myself the task of cobbling together something a bit more galvanic. Something to commemorate great war-literature. Something to get my moribund writing career restarted.

The following was what I (typically) wasted too much time composing. I mailed in and waited. Nada. Not even a "sorry but it doesn't meet our needs" letter. Well, what the hell. One for the alumni of Hard Knocks College. But it may still have some residual relevance as an Iran conflict looms, so here it is:

         *         *         *
(Once again, gotta find the lamentable thing. Hey, I'm beyond embarrassment...)

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Question for Robbie Robertson

So, if you are a devotee of the Basement Tapes, and are following my Dylan-Shakespeare thing (you are, right?--closely, minutely and obsessively, right?) perhaps this question may have occurred to you too: when Dylan on the "Crash on the Levee" sings:

"Swamp's gonna rise, no boat's gonna row,
You can train on down to William's Point..."

...is Robbie Robertson behind him aware that they are doing a Shakespeare mash-up? (or "surrealization" as I called it). Or is he just thinking, "Well, well, another screwball Dylan tune, pass the doob... man!... hee hee!"

One tantalizing bit of evidence on the Tapes album indicates Robertson is thinking SOMETHING about the screwiness, else why would he sing, on his own song "Yazoo Street Scandal":

"Sweet William said, with a drunken head,
If I had a boat, I'd help you float..."

Unless you argue that the entire album is just 100% surreal nonsense with an Americana flavor (a tenable thesis, I must admit, with a rueful chuckle) Robertson must be either a) aware that Dylan is reconfiguring Hamlet, or b) groping at Dylan's meaning and riffing around with it. Offhand I'd guess Robertson DOESN'T see the Hamlet connection, but I bet he is smart enough to be puzzling about incongruities like:

"King for king, queen for queen,
Gonna be the meanest flood anybody's seen..."


         *         *         *         *

Sept 30 footnote: FINALLY scouted the lyrics online; here are two results:



Man oh man oh man.

I know how altogether RIDICULOUS it is to even ATTEMPT an analysis of these wacky lyrics, but let's try to reduce the murk just a little. First comes determining just what the lyrics ARE. Note the disagreements between the two transcripts (e.g. I dibs "Eliza" rather than "Delilah") and, heck even where the two sources agree I'm inclined to raise question-flags. For example, is it really "widow"??--my ears have heard "winner" all these decades, and "winner" gives a nice Civil-War flavor to the nasty laugh at Cotton King. On the other hand, this is mighty intuitive, and anything but conclusive.

Now look at the line that BOTH obviously struggle to hear: "Think what you want/"Take once for all" respectively. After about 10 listens each to the Basement Tapes version and the Big Pink outtake (very similar) I'd say the actual line is "Cain't want the war" but I'll admit that the vocals are strained and I'm groping. Nor is the context much help.

     *       *       *
(just a little more to wrap up this inconclusive turkey...)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Journalese. Again. Laughter permitted.

In the wake of my Lougheed eulogy, where I smirk slightly at the Edmonton Sun for calling our exalted late premier "a driving force" behind the Canadian Constitution's notwithstanding clause (LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE NOTWITHSTANDING CLAUSE!!!) and the tangential question of exactly how many driving forces (of the Lougheedian thrusting variety) produced our monumental legal technicality, I pick up today's Globe and Mail, and here on B1 of the Business section is an article on "The oil sands' day of reckoning" (da dum!) (c'mon Gropers and Flailers, you can call them "tar sands"--no hard feelings) displaying a similar rhetorical flourish and the same murkiness of the quantitative: "...at the Joslyn project 90 minutes northwest of Fort McMurray, French giant Total SA is clearing the way for a new $8-billion mine that is a major backbone of the next chapter in the oil sands."

Okay, exactly how MANY backbones (major or minor) does Alberta's bitumonstrosity have?? Or, um, would it be "the next chapter" that has one of those major backbones? I'm so confuzzled...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Shakespeare's poem "The Phoenix and the Turtle(dove)"

Where to start this? Maybe with my 2005 Shadowplay review:


As noted there, the portion of the review devoted to this mysterious Shakespeare poem was deliberately left groping, tentative and incomplete, even incorrect in a few spots--due to my stubborn determination to show how a critic works (fumblingly when the job is demanding).

My hope at the time was to spark a debate on the poem (whose deeper meaning, in any case, was but a small part of Lady Asquith's book and her Catholic argument) whereupon I would launch into the battle-fray my troops of evidence held in reserve. Alas, nothing of the sort happened. I merely scared and/or appalled the editor who commissioned the review, and it never saw day. Again, no reaction whatsoever greeted the review's subsequent appearance on Facebook, or its enbalming (twice) here on the blog.

Still, the poem remains an enigma, and my oversize ego demands an airing for my stillborn theory that "The Phoenix and the Turtle" is a slam at both Protestant and Catholic, a theory deserving either validation or refutation. I've had it up to HERE ***chops flattened hand across forehead*** with the damn Shakespeare-world, where scholars lurch around like retarded sleepwalkers determining nothing much at all, except that their bloated brains are filled with far too much post-structuralism and other pompous theory.

The case of Melvyn Levental's excellent "Cressida at the Tailhook Convention" being totally ignored since 1997 (maybe changing now in 2015?) is my favorite abomination to drag before an audience in this regard (and I've done so once or twice on Twitter, with predictable non-results). Levental's article comes very close to solving the problem-play Troilus and Cressida, and yet although the play is frequently an object of study, and there are other scholars who concur at least partly with Levental's argument vindicating Lady Cressida (as being NOT a slut; another gang of scholars, including Lady Asquith, insistently insists she is).

Neither side has addressed Levental's reasoning or its implications. Hello? There must be at least a hundred Shakespeare specialists in the English faculties of the Western world, including at least three who have edited new editions of Troilus and Cressida since Leventhal's piece appeared in the Shakespeare Newsletter--what in hell have they been doing for 15 years besides mumbling semi-intelligibly about Foucault and Derrida??!

(Pause for your blogger to blow off a little steam-pressure)

So the question that has dogged me for seven years is: how, how, HOW does one penetrate the moribund minds of the assembled professors? (and all the ordinary folks who are routinely dosed with Shakespeare, nearly always with the pedantic assistance of these same Fluellens). More than once I've tweeted another heresy of mine--that Prince Hamlet is a vicious schmuck and Shakespeare designed him thus--only to get zero response. Well, maybe everyone is too busy staring stupidly at all the bang-pow in Hollywood's latest action flick (Judge Dredd? Resident Evil?) And maybe the best way to make my simple solutions to Shakespeare HEARD is to raise a comparable media-ruckus, eh? (and yes, I know "simple solutions" has a comic double-meaning; do YOU know why the simple lunkhead Ajax is one of the heroes of Troilus and Cressida?--hey, unless you follow my Twitter feed, you encountered this pro-Ajax heresy here first!)

And, um, since it was a print-media journalist who inadvertently provided the clue that "the sole Arabian tree" in "The Phoenix and the Turtle" is in fact the frankincense tree, let's start with just print-media exposure. The broadcast folks with their cameras and microphones can scramble comically to catch up...

***To be continued, as usual. Still lining up my ducks***

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Peter Lougheed, poetically

My sense of humor is acting up again as I read the Edmonton Sun obit-editorial: "Lougheed left lasting legacy."

Okay, this might be Semantics 101, but "lasting legacy" is a redundancy, right? If it doesn't last, you can hardly call it a legacy, right? A short-lived legacy would be ridiculous, right?

To put it plainly, the headline (like many a headline) is pure poetics, as much as would be, say, "Peter packed a pipeline of high-priced petroleum." Moreover, let me suggest that any enduring Lougheed imprint, including the 41 years of solid Tory majorities in Alberta, has proved somewhat thin and evaporative so far.

On the radio yesterday, they played a clip where Lougheed himself stated he thought his biggest bequeathal was the Canadian Constitution. But even if Lougheed was the sole architect of its ultimate-fudge, Great Canadian Compromise "notwithstanding clause" (largely a sop to Quebec, which largely snubbed it; the exuberant Sun editorialist says "Lougheed was a driving force behind the formula"--okay, how MANY driving-forces exactly conjured up that cute legalism??) you could hardly call our vaunted uberlaw a shining monument upon the planet (although I've encountered at least one rhapsodic attempt in that direction, citing the world's rookie democrats, who allegedly prefer it to the stale-dated U.S. Constitution. Amid such hosannas, dare I suggest that our constitution is just a blob of plasticine to be shaped by over-eager judges?)

Both the Sun and the radio station also mentioned Lougheed's heroic attempts to diversify Alberta's economy. Alas, neither source bothered to support the assertion with statistics, which probably show our economy growing more oil-centred than ever during his 1971 to 1985 reign and subsequently, as various attempts to "green" our energy hit the cost-wall (e.g. ethanol and the current drought in the U.S.) Alas, fossil fuels remain the cheapest way to power humanity's somewhat comic hurrying and scurrying, and this massive economic fact steam-rollered Alberta as much as anybody, Lougheed or no Lougheed.

By happenstance I know a large corporate furniture-maker of the Lougheed era, who along with other Alberta manufacturers met with the Premier back in the day, to talk about some sort of support for secondary industry, and who came away notably bitter at getting nothing worth mentioning (the furniture corporation eventually went under). Admittedly this is anecdotal evidence, and maybe we should all be harumphing about bootstraps, but really, if you are going to say Lougheed did anything about diversifying the economy aside from uttering platitudes, please provide some evidence in that direction. Or get a speechwriter to pump up the iconography with Lougheed's role in our triumphant agricultural switch from wheat to canola or something.

To tell the truth, it is difficult to find ANYTHING to say about Lougheed beyond his personal charm (although I suspect a certain Mr. Sindlinger may chip away at even that). There was plenty of evidence of that charisma yesterday--Albertans phoning in to the radio shows to hymn Lougheed's photographic memory of them and their kids, etc. By coincidence I even snagged a broadcast-media guy in my taxi, with a story of himself and his cameraman attending some political event back in the Lougheed era, and the cameraman getting into the long receiving-line twice to shake hands with Lougheed. The second time the cameraman arrived, Lougheed said "Hey, I already shook your hand!" or something like that. Quite funny, but my passenger was clearly won over by the encounter.

Heck, I could probably add my own story: the 100th-anniversary dinner for alumni of the University of Alberta student newspaper the Gateway, less than two years ago. Lougheed was Sports Editor on the Gateway circa 1950, and was arguably the most illustrious graduate of our esteemed rag (even ahead of blink-and-miss-him Prime Minister Joe Clark) and had plenty of excuses for not going to the soiree, starting with the triviality of our student publication and finishing with age and infirmity (he and an accompanying ex-cabinet minister rather shocked me with their appearance, but I'm getting rather worn around the edges myself, so maybe I shouldn't talk).

But there amid all us freaks and non-entities (hey!--there's the shaggy cartoonist who draws Bob the Angry Flower!)  Lougheed gamely appeared, and made a passable speech about the importance of education, and ways of financing upgrades to Highway 63, and a few other things. Our late-70s/early-80s contingent (one of whom was even then helping compile a potted-obituary for Lougheed for a major daily) sat very close to the ex-Premier's head-table, and I furtively watched him, hoping he didn't recognize me, nor recall that I once wrote a slashing column in the Gateway on his lousy English, and then compounded the offense by reducing it to a joke later when he was being touted for the federal Conservative leadership (check also my dismantling of Barbara Amiel in the latter column. Ah, the fun times of yore). I had to restrain the urge to go over and apologize, muttering something like ""Hey, all politicians have lousy English, it was nothing personal, guy." He would undoubtedly have accepted that with his usual patrician grace and aplomb, no?

Even Don Iveson, current member of Edmonton City Council, who introduced Lougheed to the assembled alumni, intimating gingerly that he (Iveson) had some differences of ideological nicety, seemed rather abashed by Lougheed's presence--matching the across-the-board tributes that have poured forth since Thursday, which clearly transcend mere speaking-well-of-the-dead. Just what Lougheed represented, however, remains a bit of an enigma. Maybe it was primarily the banal fights over Alberta's oil wealth, which, although Lougheed probably lost (cue: indignation over NEP) he at least fought the good fight. Or maybe he earned a stalemate: maybe some of Alberta's natural-resources "lottery ticket" is still Alberta's thanks to him; maybe the Trans-Canada Gimmes didn't get it all.

And he had a tall-in-the-saddle yet modest style (much ballyhooed by the effusive Rex Murphy in today's National Post) which not only impressed people like my father (also born in 1928) but got him plastered onto the cover of Saturday Night as the iconic face on our Rockies. What more could a legend want? Actual notable accomplishments maybe? I recall my razor-sharp journalism teacher shrugging off Lougheed as "a Mannix man" (a comment that baffled me at the time; what did the TV show have to do with Lougheed, I naively wondered) but this was 1973, very early in Lougheed's career.

The implication, I now suppose, was that Lougheed was just a corporate lubricant, a mere business tool--criticisms common enough from leftward. Perhaps his eminence was even a mere optical illusion produced by high oil prices, as our Gateway editorial cartoonist Gerard Kennedy ("Pasken") later suggested. Aside from building Alberta's economy to some degree (I'd argue other business leaders deserve as much or more credit, as do OPEC gougers) what did Lougheed REALLY DO? Racking my brain for anything, I find... not much.

I recall from somewhere that his first act as premier in 1971 was to repeal the Socreds' eugenics/sterilization legislation, which shows some intelligence and gumption, but I'd be hard-pressed to find a second instance as admirable. Today's Globe and Mail obituary cites 20 pieces of legislation that Lougheed's PCs introduced even in opposition, but neglects to state whether they were passed, or even what the 20 bills specifically or generally dealt with. Nor was Lougheed very leaderly when the Keegstra affair erupted (although commenting on a case before the courts is rarely a good idea). Nor did he tamp down western separatists with any special alacrity. But maybe he was just coolly and passively acknowledging the deep Zen truth that all things must pass. Who knows...

Aside from that? Well, I have an excuse for resuscting "Kubla Pete"--a poem named after him and published in the Gateway. Actually, despite the title it was more about certain high-octane leftists in the Students Union than about Lougheed.

But, punchline: in the dirty business of politics Lougheed maybe did emerge (thrusting!) (sorry) a bit cleaner than most. Maybe his relative cleanliness was due to nothing more than a certain cool, lawyerly dignity of his. Still, having that quality of character reminds us how scarce a commodity it is in politics anywhere.

As to the gang of professors who named him the best Canadian Premier of the last 40 years--ha ha! But really--what (besides unintentional comedy) did you expect from professors?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

We need culture... WHY exactly?

Dedicated readers of this blog (I'm joking of course) may recall, a few posts ago, my sneering at the almighty dollar-standard that bestrides the arts, my snorting at the media coverage that treats culture as just another economic activity, needing continued growth, providing important jobs, yadda yadda, etc.

Obviously my sarcasm needs to be cranked up a notch or four because, lo and behold, here is more of the same in the Globe and Mail Sept. 4 under the headline "Canada must refuel for cultural creativity."

Yep, you could recycle this cliche endlessly, and you do... you do...

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Been Down So Long, it Looks Like Newspapers to Me

I'm driving into the mall parking-lot a little after 3 a.m. when I see the drunk stumbling along ahead of me. I slow down to avoid approaching him, then turn right, to the spot under the parkade where the crew is milling about, arranging and loading..

*ongoing as usual*

Cyberspace Oddity; Holes in the Holy

It wasn't really necessary, but I googled "Shakespeare and Christianity" and was amused to see the first entry arguing for a connection, the second against this, the third by Aldous Huxley (!) and Wikipedia hemming and hawing at fourth. Not that I can add much to the general conclusions, despite my finding a great heap of previously undetected Christian references in Shakespeare, particularly in Troilus and Cressida (a 1609 play containing a most curious allusion to a "creative addition" to the 1611 King James Bible, among other Christian things). No, Shakespeare's religion, like his politics, remains an enigma to unriddle.

      *     *     *     *
But of course I had to check the Aldous Huxley, and I'm happy to say it jives with my impression of Shakespeare as deeply steeped in a sense of religiosity, often expressed via the Christianity that was his milieu (and what do you bet it was precisely this religious feeling that captured Bob Dylan?) Nevertheless, I must quibble with one of Huxley's examples, the report of Falstaff's death by Mistress Quickly, from Henry V. As Huxley quotes it:

HOSTESS: Nay, sure, he's not in hell: he's in Arthur's bosom, if ever man went to Arthur's bosom. 'A made a finer end, and went away, an it had been any christom child; 'a parted ev'n just between twelve and one, ev'n at the turning o' th' tide: for after I saw him fumble with the sheets and play with flowers, and smile upon his fingers' ends, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and 'a babbled of green fields. "How now, Sir John!" quoth I, "what, man! be o'good cheer." So 'a cried out "God, God, God!" three or four times. Now I, to comfort him, bid him 'a should not think of God; I hoped there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet.

This has two errors: first it isn't a plural "fingers' ends" but a singular "finger's end" as the 1623 Folio has it; no trivial matter, for it (and Abraham's/Arthur's bosom) mark an allusion to the biblical story of Lazarus and Dives, an allusion that greatly clarifies the parallel relationship between Falstaff and King Henry, and ultimately condemns King Henry. But that is a longer story with much additional evidence.
   The second error is not quite so serious, indeed it's merely a repeat of the standard (for three centuries) emendation of the Folio's clearly incorrect "his nose was as sharp as a pen, and a table of green fields" (sic) to the intelligible "babbled of green fields." Again, however, the "table" marks a biblical allusion, and it can be retained by recreating the correct text as "and 'a talked of a table of green fields" (my reconstruction, ahem!)
   But maybe the most important thing here is truly masterful way Shakespeare accentuates pathos with a touch of humor. A great soul indeed.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

So far ahead of his time he's lurking in ours

It's a pretty rare day I don't think about H. L. Mencken at least ten times.

And here is Dan Gardner of the Ottawa Citizen, Sept 3, starting a column on presidential aspirant Mr. Romney by citing the "dour" satirist of yore. Dour??
   And yet, I've heard Mencken called "bilious" too, an even more tone-deaf assessment. Is this the same Mencken who publicly regretted not calling his second and third volumes of memoirs Happy Days II and Happy Days III to match the first title? (yes, LONG before the TV show, you ahistoric moron). Is this the 67-year-old summing up his life at an age when bitterness is almost automatic, who states:

(Chrestomathy quote: "I have little call to join the race of viewers-with-alarm" etc./approx.... damn but I hate research... and of course my copy of the Mencken Chrestomathy  has disappeared into the office uber-mess...)

(Yep, another teaser for an item for sale. Sorry! Stay tuned!)  =]

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

GROM&LA Ch. 8: The limits to buzz-fuzz

Folks who can briskly dispose of their newspapers and magazines are surely smarter than me. As I sit surrounded by heaps of them, wondering what to do with the massive clog, the feeling of stupidity can be intense and paralyzing.
   To a self-styled down-to-earth realist like myself (is "delusional realist" an oxymoron?) the practical answer should be simple enough: transform news events into my own writing and make a decent dollar peddling the scintillating critical thoughts. And then heave the damn wads of paper into the blue-box.
   That's the theory; in practice the wads just pile up (remarkably fast, as I have three newspaper subscriptions) and I just sit, altogether flummoxed as to which topic to tackle and what to say. Truly stumped, in spite of being a trained and experienced writer.
   The main problem is simply the sheer quantity of events that happen in our eventful world, and pile up on the inked page every day. Gun crime, climate-change, a festering civil war in Syria, the astounding incomes of dead celebrities, the Quebec election (gosh--which way will the herd of voters stampede this time?), the dwindling shock-and-awe of television crime-shows (or can viewer-dupes be endlessly wowed by the endlessly cloned Hollywood crazy?), Conrad Black's status as ex-Canuck ex-con, the festering smart-phone wars, the boomer-demographic (that's me) starting to hit retirement age and the health system, the festering jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Julian Assange prosecution cum soap-opera cum witch-hunt, the festering recession, the festering finances of magazines and newspapers, now (suddenly) the #Eastwooding mega-trend (give it a week or two, then check how fast the e-sites vanish), the festering U.S. election (gosh--which way...?), the festering issue of religion in public schools, dozens of festering Hollywood scandals, the festering explosion of comic-books (is "festering explosion" an oxymoron?--or just a mixaphor?), the festering European debt-crisis, the festering social-media...
   Yep, the human comedy has expanded exponentially since Dante's time, and how in hell can one person cover it all?
   Well, actually hundreds of professional pundits already do, and millions of blog-flogging amateurs and in-betweeners, venting at almost every facet of it, often in a manner so vehement it piles comedy upon comedy. Pick a topic as obscure as you will, and the web-search will still turn up five or ten sites covering it, like stink on a skunk. Pick a topic that's popular and you could spend the rest of your life just browsing.
   And yet, paradoxically...

   (Cliff-hanger!! Hm, and maybe for sale; let's just leave this baby hanging...)
Thread: what exactly does an intellectual DO?--and how language helps and hinders, with the usual tedious examples

Punchline: There never is or will be a good time to start anything. Don't overthink it all, just gird up ye olde loins and jump into the fray.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Short note to Russian Visitors and/or Porn Freaks

As I noted on Facebook, one of the charms of the Culture Monitor blog is that Google supplies data on visitors to the site. Admittedly my blatherpatch has a nearly nonexistent readership, as befits an inconsequential clown like myself, but a few visitors do drift by, and the question nagging me is--WHY?

   An easy default answer is that they are topic-hunting, and something in their search-terms directs them to my "labels" as Google Blogger calls them. Moreover, such an explanation strokes the ego, because it tells me people are actually interested in my ideas about art,conservatism, culture, Bob Dylan, Shakespeare, Mr. Ignatieff and his striking resemblance to Shemp Stooge, or whatever.

   Alas, the statistics seem to undercut this. For one thing, no one ever leaves a comment, good, bad or indifferent, and that's a rather dismaying statistic. For another, most of my visitors seem to be... Russian? Yep. The U.S. has been ahead occasionally in the numbers game, but Russia is never far behind (my fellow Canadians are always a distant third) and for the last week or so Russkies have have been out-visiting the Yanks about 2:1.

   A pleasant, idealistic theory would be that the Russians are interested in my review of the film Danton since, really, there is nothing else hereabouts of any special interest to them. No Pushkin. No Pussy Riot. But the Danton review hasn't popped up in the statistics, and the blog-leading Dylan-Shakespeare items are only getting one or two visits per day. What are the other four or five Russians per day looking at?? (actually, a burst of 11 or 12 today).

  A disturbing possibility reared its head when I finally decided to investigate my Blogger listings of "Traffic Sources" that seem to be mysteriously directing people my way. Clicking on the main one, which seems to be generating 90% of all my traffic, and whose name suggests something film-related, I was shocked to discover (luckily I don't have a heart condition!) it is a hardcore porn site! Whaaaat?!

Further investigation revealed that this film site nestles here in two versions: the short version which is some sort of legitimate film-selling site, and a long version with the word "redirect" in it, leading to the porn site. To make a long story short, my fragile ego must now contend with the possibility that 90% of my tiny trickle of traffic is merely landing here at the Monitor accidentally, as a side effect of, um, shaky-handed uni-coital button-clicking.

What is worse, the CSIS agents watching me (hey, I'm a paranoiac, I assume such things) have probably concluded I'm a hardcore perv myself. After all, I clicked on that porn site a second time, just to make sure my first hit hadn't been accidental. Roll over, Pete Townshend.

Postscript (August 27)
Was rather surprised to see that this post disappeared from the blog for a few days. Somehow, tweaking it a little after first posting it, I saved it as a "draft" and thereby withdrew it from circulation. Didn't even notice this disappearance until I did a further investigation on the mysterious sites that direct visitors here, including one that is now providing as many vict... er, customers as the porn site. What might this NEW burgeoning provider be? As it turns out, a multi-site which "breaks down" into both a cooking-recipe site and a dating site: and a third site billed as:

Find Top Girl Sites

Looking for Girl? Search for it with Findiest!

YOU tell me what it is, I'm scared to look.

Part 2.1 Dylan-Shakespeare: Adding Fool to the Firesign

Yes, I do love Firesign Theatre; I'm not a Dylan monomaniac! But when I stumbled upon this cute item, a found-poem by one of the Firesign guys...


...the natural-born opportunist in me just HAD to turn it to advantage in my flaky-obsessive drive to prove DYLAN PLAGIARIZED SHAKESPEARE!!! Excuse the media sensationalism there, but really, what does a guy have to DO to be taken seriously?

Anyway, here is my self-serving reply to the found-poem:

Found poems can be great fun. Bet you were absolutely splitting your gut at how tender and sensitive this one turned out! Hee hee! I recall another such creature from the 90s from our University of Alberta student literary inconsequence called "Subliminal Racism in Websters"  which was simply four or five two-word lines consisting of the two-word index-headings from the Dictionary, Hilarious as heck when the right adjective coincided with the right identifiable group (and of course it had built-in alliteration). Okay, maybe not quite as funny as your "What Makes America Great?" schtick ("Ask the cop in the woodpile!")
   In fact I was so inspired by this sophomore exercise (not yours), that I composed a found poem myself, consisting of various commercial signs I drove by in my taxi, all tailored to resemble Zen profundity or something (title: "Wisdom Along the Way'). Great fun, but a bit laborious in the filtration and arrangement end.
   But hey, my intent here isn't to tell you how much I've loved you guys over the years (y'know, in a non-carnal sense). It's to plug my own crackpot theory that Bob Dylan derived much or most of those screwball _Basement Tapes_ songs from Shakespeare, of all sources. Seriously!--check the blog! Okay, maybe some water-pipe filtration was involved in Dylan's writing too. Not that my theory is so important, I'm just trying to achieve recognition as the biggest flake in western civilization since Alan J. Weberman!
   Keep up the shoes for industry, guys! Love ya! Non-carnally!

PS: I'm gonna play your _Shakespeare's Lost Comedie_ LP backwards too, and see if it adds any evidence! Yes I can!

      *    *    *

Whoa!--an actually COMPLETED blog-post! How often does THAT happen? No, wait, I can make this baby incomplete too, by promising to dredge up those two found-poems mentioned. Heck, it's been a while since I posted/re-published a golden oldie...

And in this pigsty of an office I could be digging for years...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Part 2: Tying up 300 or so Dylan-Shakespeare loose ends...

There was some urgency in finishing that last post (actually, being an endless revisionist, like Mr. Dylan himself, I may tweak it a teensy bit yet). But after almost four days I wanted badly to "make it a wrap" of the basic argument. And tackle some of the bulking backlog here, like the "Glossy Magazines" autopsy.
   Alas, readers must be aware that the post leaves a lot of questions dangling, like--how far did Dylan go in tapping Shakespeare? Was it a one-play-per-song program in Dylan's mind? Were Band members in on the joke? (for it does strike me as a joker-thing to do, on one level a prank that his nemesis, Mr. Jones-Weberman would utterly fail to find when he emptied the trash). Again, are there some songs (besides the Band's) that were NOT "keyed" to Shakespeare? (at first glance "Going to Acapulco" and "Tiny Montgomery"--personal favorites by the way--do NOT seem to contain anything Shakespearean, but then again the Shakespeare-keyed songs are very low-key, and I haven't read every Shakespeare play, so who knows what a heavier scrutiny of the other songs might reveal).
   But in addition to this, I had questions of my own, some of them arising from my adventures as a student of Shakespeare, and finding that the Bard did a great number of sneaking "stealth allusions" that bear some resemblance to Dylan's covert operations. Is there then some sort of primal (or sophisticated) artistic method at work between the two word-slingers?...

(Aug 27) Again, the little hint of Othello at the end of the the last post really needs expansion, for it isn't as offhand or joke-y as I perhaps made it look. Being a Shakespeare semi-pro I know the The Wheel of Fire is a reputed book of Shakespeare criticism, and not unrelated to the Bob Dylan song. Check this:


Little wonder Dylan in the recent Rolling Stone is emphasizing Shakespeare so much. But the whole Shakespeare-in-Dylan thing is a HUGE row to hoe. It'd be easer if Dylan just came out and admitted his roots, but I suppose it might be futile to peevishly beg him "Let us not talk falsely now"..

(Sept. 2) On third thought, maybe let's just leave the dangling questions dangling for now. The big ones require too much reading and research (hey, Timon of Athens could parallel "Tiny Montgomery" maybe?--or Midsummer Night's Dream parallel "Million Dollar Bash"?), the small ones will resolve themselves in due course (e.g. "you can rock this joint" paralleling "the time is out of joint" in Hamlet/"Levee" which popped unannounced into my brain two days ago, but merely another smidgen in the evidence-heap and very little by itself).

And ultimately this whole mess of correlations, while fascinating, proves not much except that Dylan is a most playful lover of Shakespeare, and fails to stay away from pranks. I can almost hear Dylan responding with dry sarcasm, "Yeah, so I used some Shakespeare. So what?"

Unlike Alan J. Weberman, I find no program or agenda, artistic or political, in the sneaky source-usage. Unlike Shakespeare, Dylan does not employ stealth-allusions as a cohesive structure of meaning (unless you expand "structure of meaning" to include impressionistic goofs), which makes Shakespeare's coy references to the Bible, and to medieval mystery and morality plays far more important.

Ergo: back to the big Shakespeare job for the moment.

(Sept. 8-9) Easier said than done!--my brain just lingers on this, as you can tell from my Twitter feed. Yes, preliminary indications do link "You Ain't Going Nowhere" with The Winter's Tale. "Tomorrow's the day my bride's gonna come" sure seems to hint of Hermione's return, eh?

Aaaand, spent most of the 8th doing a quick scan of the entire play (jeez, really CAN'T afford all that time) to find matches with the official Dylan lyrics. Found LOTS:
-The blustery weather that starts the song matches the weather when baby Perdita is abandoned. (Act III scene iii)
-No frozen railings in Shakespeare, but the abandonment follows the scene (Act III scene ii) where Leontes finally (a bit late) stops railing about Hermione's alleged adultery, and repents. Who loves puns more? Bob or Will? I ask you!
-"Get your mind off wintertime..." Hope THAT needs no explanation...
-"I don't care how many letters they sent"--Leontes's refusal to believe the oracle's letter (same scene as when his railing finally freezes).
-"Pick up your money"--Autolycus pick-pocketing (IV, ii)
-"...a gun that shoots/ Tailgates and substitutes"--Leontes jealousy and rage at Polixenes for, um, tailgating his wife (allegedly) as a "substitute" husband.
-"Strap yourself to the tree with roots"--"The root of his opinion, which is rotten/ As ever oak or stone was sound." (II, iii, 88-9)
-"Genghis Khan/ He could not keep/ All his kings/ Supplied with sleep"--Hermione is daughter of the King of Russia. Add Polixenes and Leontes and that is three kings, possibly all subject to the great Khan in the romance-world of Shakespeare and/or the scramble-y brain of Dylan. A stretch? Maybe. But consider that The Winter's Tale starts with Polixenes proposing curious "sleepy drinks" (I, i, 14) to Leontes as a substitute for returning Leontes's extravagent hospitality (which Polixenes can't afford to equal). Consider also "It is required/ You do awake your faith" in the climactic scene where the "statue" of Hermione comes to life.
-"Oo-ee, ride me high" suggests both the  pastoral dancing, where the three peasant dancers "by their own report, sir, hath danced before the king; and not the worst of the three but jumps twelve foot and a half by th' squire" (IV, iv, 330-2)--but also the play's constant contrast between low-class and high-class society, innocent enough on the surface, although this critic has been trained to keep a sharp eye on Shakespeare's deadpan.

The alternative, I suppose is that Dylan is just conjuring up his song out of pure-poetic wackiness (and possibly chemical assistance) but I prefer a little method in Dylan's's madness. He is more educated than he lets on, and the coincidences seem a little to numerous to be mere accidents. Still, there are a few remaining lyrics that seem determinedly inexplicable. But only a few--despite all the music and instruments in the play I STILL haven't located a darn flute. Ditto an "easy chair" although that might just be a throne, eh?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Part 1: A Long Note on Bob Dylan, Shakespeare and References

The mark of of good poetry is that it sinks its hooks into your brain and refuses to let go.
   A few weeks ago I downloaded The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan and the Band, and one morning, even before I had listened to more than a song or two, a curious couplet from one of the others, not heard for perhaps 20 years or more, popped unannounced into my mind:
            You can train on down to William's Point
            You can bust your feet, you can rock this joint...

It required a few seconds of thought before I pinpointed the song as "Crash on the Levee" but it was the "William's Point" that really grabbed my attention. William's Point??
   Well, maybe it's nothing; geographic references are frequent enough in popular music (and maybe more so in roots-y music). Think of "The Wabash Cannonball" or "Route 66" or "Green River." Or Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" (ever notice that it translates cleanly as "faith"?) Or "Yazoo Street Scandal" on the roots-y Basement Tapes itself.
   Perhaps it is just the long years snouting out sneaky references in Shakespeare, but something in me (a paranoid tendency, perhaps?) suggested that "William's Point" might actually be a reference to The Bard. Was I turning into Alan J. Weberman??
   But no, the idea isn't totally preposterous. Even Shakespeare himself turns nearly every usage of "will" into a personal pun, and wordplay is surely a prime tactic of Dylan and poets in general. Moreover, Dylan, like every literary spirit from Dryden and Goethe to Orwell and Firesign Theatre shows an abiding interest in Shakespeare. Note:

            Shakespeare he's in the alley, with his pointed shoes and his bells,
            Speaking to some French girl, who says she knows me well,
            And me, I'd send a message to find out if she's talked,
            But the Post Office has been stolen, and the mailbox is locked...

That's "Memphis Blues Again" from Blonde on Blonde, a mere year before the Basement Tapes were recorded.

Or how about this contemporaneous apostrophe to someone (a thin person?) from Tarantula:

(Sorry, still rummaging for the damn book, and its pointed reference to the formidable puzzle of Hamlet) (Aug. 18)... okay (Aug. 20) here it is in all its loopy glory, like the H. L. Mencken joke about poetry being maybe just "prose sawed into lengths" (ha ha--but maybe widen your computer window to not scrunch the lengths):

  i'm not saying that books are
  good or bad, but i dont think
  youve ever had the chance to find
  out for yourself what theyre all
  about--okay, so you used to get B's
  in the ivanhoe tests & A minuses
  in the silas marners .  .  . then you
  wonder why you flunked the hamlet
  exams--yeah well thats because one
  hoe & one lass do not make a spear--
  the same way two wrongs do not make
  a throng--now that youve been thru
  life, why dont you try again .  .  . you
  could start with a telephone book--
  wonder woman--or perhaps catcher in
  the rye--theyre all the same & everybody
  has their hats on backwards thru the
  stories            (1966; Penguin 1977, p70-1)

Whew!--SpellChuck doesn't like THAT! In any case, behind the potluck poetics (okaaaay,  SpellChuck, poetics IS a word, dammit) Dylan clearly recognizes that Hamlet is a problem-play, and a much-gnawed-upon bone of the scholars. In fact, I read somehere recently that Dylan in his heyday was a remarkably dedicated library-goer, and the literate quality of his poetry makes this fairly evident. I also recall reading Joseph Conrad's novel Victory back in the 70s and suddenly realizing, "Hey, this is the same Pedro as Dylan put in "Tombstone Blues"--albeit Conrad's Pedro doesn't have "a fantastic collection of stamps to win friends and influence his uncle."

But of course the acid test of any possible allusion is context. Unfortunately, "Crash on the Levee" is, at first listening, little more than a funky, drunken, semi-literate hillbilly harangue--like most of the Basement Tapes!--the singer remonstrating with his "mama" about some unspecified catastrophe that is splitting them up ("There's a crash on the levee, and mama you been refused." Again: "It's sugar for sugar, salt for salt/ If you go down in the flood it's gonna be your fault").

   In short, lots of suggestive symbolism, but little in the way of a narrative thread or logical structure. It's as disjointed as anything in Dylan's uber-scrambled oeuvre. Still, something in the general oddness of "Swamp's gonna rise, no boats gonna row" suggests Ophelia's death to me. Okay, that's a bit of a stretch, but what the hell meaneth "It's king for king, queen for queen/ Gonna be the meanest flood anybody's seen"? Monarchs on a levee??? Huh?? But the non-sequitur could be a hint at the murderous succession of kings in Hamlet, and the supposed selfishness of Hamlet's mother the queen...

But as I'm mulling this, other Shakespearean items in the Basement Tapes occur to me. Most obviously "Tears of Rage" and its "What dear daughter 'neath the sun would treat her father so?/ To wait upon him hand and foot, yet always answer no." The suggestion of Cordelia and King Lear is so strong I almost knew the Google results before searching the names. But the overall drift of "Tears of Rage"?--note the general puzzlement of all concerned with yet another Dylan hodge-podge, and the analysts' freewheeling projection of various meanings onto the mess.

Cocking my head at the tenuous but almost tangible Hamlet connection in "Crash on the Levee" it registers that the song is almost the shortest on the Basement Tapes at a miniscule 2:04, and I glumly regret that Dylan didn't add another verse or two to this sketchy and skeletal "situation" (if you can call it that; more like a mere glimmer of a situation) so the song would make a little SENSE. Idly I note that only the rocking opener  "Odds and Ends" is shorter at a microscopic 1:47... "You promised you'd love me, but what do I see?/ Just you coming spilling juice over me..."
   Hm. Now I'm connecting Shakespeare again, thinking of Troilus and Cressida, Cressida's love vow, and Troilus's fury at the end, when he imagines he sees her break the promise. This faint but distinct parallel is like the parallel of  "Crash on the Levee" to Hamlet. And note the ODD way that "Odds and Ends" starts: "I stand in awe..... "
   Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! (five bells, like on old news-wire teletypes, when the president is assassinated!)
   Okay, checking the exact lyrics via Google (back in the old not-so-hi-fi LP days I thought "Odds and Ends" began "I stand in the hall...") I hit a few bullseyes. For starters, Dylan has changed the lyrics slightly, in an altogether REVEALING way. YouTube gives both versions together; I cut+paste them:

I plan it all and I take my place (I stand in awe and I shake my face)
You break your promise all over the place
You promised to love me, but what do I see
Just you comin' and spillin' juice over me
Odds and ends, odds and ends
Lost time is not found again

Now, you take your file and you bend my head
I never can remember anything that you said
You promised to love me, but what do I know
You're always spillin' juice on me like you got someplace to go
Odds and ends, odds and ends
Lost time is not found again

Now, I've had enough, my box is clean
You know what I'm sayin' and you know what I mean
From now on you'd best get on someone else
While you're doin' it, keep that juice to yourself
Odds and ends, odds and ends
Lost time is not found again.

Well the fingerprints of Troilus and Cressida are ALL OVER this! The oddity I was about to mention was "shake my face"--doing duty as half-a-hint of Shakespeare and a vivid description of Troilus's final rage. But the changed lyric (presumably by Dylan, since it graces his site) is almost better. "Take my place" is CLEARLY Troilus sneaking into place in the tent scene (V ii) to eavesdrop on Cressida and Diomedes, where Troilus first is awestruck at her seeming infidelity with her "guardian" Diomedes, and then infuriated at Diomedes and the Greeks, even to the point of wildly stabbing with his sword at the distant Greek tents ("I'll through and through you!")

Again, the "Odds and Ends" song-title, and the truly WEIRD bit about taking a file and bending his head remarkably echoes Cressida fending off Menelaus's attempt at a kiss in the smoochfest of the "arrival" scene (IV v):

Menelaus: I'll have my kiss, sir. Lady, by your leave.

Cressida: In kissing, do you render or receive?

Patroclus: Both take and give.

Cressida:                                  I'll make my match to live,
   The kiss you take is better than you give:
   Therefore no kiss.

Menelaus: I'll give you boot; I'll give you three for one.

Cressida: You are an odd man; give even or give none.

Menelaus: An odd man, lady? Every man is odd.

Cressida: No, Paris is not, for you know 'tis true
   That you are odd and he is even with you.

Menelaus: You fillip me o' the head.              (fillip: tap)

Cressida:                                         No, I'll be sworn.

Ulysses: It were no match, your nail against his horn...

Then there is "like you got somewhere to go" which also has a clear referent in the play... ah, let's save it.

[Sept. 9: Cressida: I have a kind of self resides with you/ But an unkind self, that itself will leave/ To be another's fool. I would be gone." (III, ii, 140-2)]

But the disappointing thing is that as far as Dylan parallels the play, he seems to take Troilus's position on Cressida's "infidelity" while my Twitter stance from the start has been to take "sluttish" Cressida's side, and view her forlorn flirt (yes forlorn--me and Melvyn Levental against all the acadummies and the world!) as constituting a very sly optical illusion perpetrated on the audience--law-students, possibly--by a sly Shakespeare, almost as a perception-test.

Ditto for taking Hamlet's point-of-view in "Crash on the Levee" where Dylan-Hamlet coldly rages at his "mama" (i.e. both Ophelia and his "incestuous" mother). As I've also said on Twitter (perhaps to the point of irritation) Prince Hamlet is "a vicious schmuck"--and as with Troilus, his stupid, hot-headed denunciation of his girlfriend supplies the incriminating act.

But that's another long story, and this post is growing carcinogenically super-sized already. Suffice it for here, there's a lot of Shakespeare in the Basement Tapes (hey, how about "Please Mrs. Henry" as a funky-surreal Americana distortion of Falstaff in the tavern with Prince Hal, reversing roles, Hal playing Hal's father ("Please Mrs. Henry, won't you take me to your dad?") Hey, just a theory...

And doesn't "Wheels On Fire" FEEL Shakespearean?--in an ominous, fate-made-visible sort of way? But I can't sense WHICH play is being referenced, unless it's Othello. Hey, YOU tell me what "I was going to confiscate your lace/ And tie it up in a sailor's knot" means! Nothing at all? Just a reefer-madness vision you say?


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dumbocracy and the English Language

Bad writing is so commonplace in my life that I usually just shrug it off. Most of my reading, after all, is journalism, i.e. items generally cranked out under heavy deadline pressure by lightly-educated mediocrities, who get precious little incentive to do better, whether in cash, esprit de corps, or editorial whip-cracking.
   Nor are winged words exactly flying from the keyboards of other writers today. From ivory-tower theorists (yawn) to corporate shills (shaddup!) to best-selling fictioneers (good luck abolishing reality, dreamers), the vast herd seems to lumber along in linguistic lockstep, stoically and unheroically, as if they were all ordinary shmoes and workaday wage-slaves trudging down some well-worn path to wherever. Only their degree of trite expression differs.  If one or two among them do manage to transcend the banal norm, it is only because they were bitten by a radioactive poet and/or have a freakish amount of fire in the belly. The rest are just marking time. But hey, what were you expecting?C'est la vie.
   And yet, and yet. Despite taking the chattering classes with the above grain of salt, on many a not-so-rare occasion some extra-horrible specimen of mangled language smacks me upside the head. and my sang-froid dissolves as I mutter dark profanities about morons and the goddamn pathetic education system.
   The impetus for my latest outburst is, unsurprisingly, some newsprint from the heaps, specifically...

Composus interruptus again...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

This Is Still the Culture Monitor! Really!!

Spruced up the blog (first time in years) and being the cyber-retard I am, seem to have quite obliterated the "Culture Monitor" title... beyond resurrection? How do I manage to do these things?! Damn!
   Anyway, the title may return eventually. Or maybe not. In the meantime, you can also thrill to my whining and bellyaching on Twitter:


Oh, and did I mention that Prince Hamlet is a vicious schmuck? And Shakespeare deliberately constructed him that way? Yep, put THAT in your monarchist pipe and smoke it! =]

Friday, August 10, 2012

It's astrophysics vs medieval drama! And the winner is... the disintegrating parchments, by a furlong!!

Jeez, with a title as spiffy as that, I don't have to write an article too, do I?
   I do?
   Oh, okay. Back in 1999 I finished my English degree with a course in Medieval and Tudor Drama. In the class was one Wolfgang (real name) who--surprise!--had dropped out of Physics seeking... something that seemed to be missing in Science.
   Medieval drama being thoroughly soaked in Christianity, an almost pre-fab punchline on science and religion is available, but nope, THAT long-running battle is not where I'm going with this (and I caught only a passing comment from Wolfgang, not his entire rationale). No, Christianity will survive (or not) without any helpful cheerleading by your blogger.
   Oddly enough for an English course, I seem to recall there was no final paper required, although I wrote one optionally, having taken the course with the clear idea of looking for influences of medieval drama on Shakespeare, and making discoveries that validated my hunch, electrifyingly.
  Wolfgang, however, went the "project" route, investigating the curious staging of that magnum opus of medieval morality plays: The Castle of Perseverance. This epic-length play was elaborately staged "in the round"--as depicted in a rudimentary drawing that prefaces the only known copy of the play, the Macro manuscript (remember, this is pre-Gutenberg), a basic description which Wolfgang took, along with the speculation of scholars, to produce, on his laptop, a modestly life-like, computer-generated visualization of Perseverance being staged
   Laptops were rare in 1999, and graphics-programs fairly primitive, but Wolfgang somehow managed to produce a series of views of the ring and the towers and the peasantry amid the spectacle, which wowed the class and made the thing come alive...

   *   *  *   *

Yeah, a "work in progress" like most of the other recent posts.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Productivity, Efficiency and Dreaming in Technicolor

The morning dog-walk is a refreshing exercise--getting away from the stuffy house and chores, abandoning (briefly) the mind-boggling backlog of reading-material, flushing out the lungs, recalibrating the brain, and doing nothing newsworthy or contributory to the GDP. Beyond the primal pleasure of the act of walking, and giving the frisky mutt a bathroom break (scoop!) and letting her lunge at cats and sniff at anything and everything and God knows what, we have no agenda or obligation at all.
   But the city, of course, impinges on aforesaid brain. I idly recheck familiar houses, note old paint and new vinyl siding, survey the degree of rust on cars, scan weed-to-grass ratio, scout irregularities in the sidewalk and pavement, estimate the droppings of litterbuggor canadensis (vast), gauge the possibility that a passing female may be a hooker (and contributing to the GDP, unlike my lackadaisical self) assessing that possibility with an almost-unconscious set of criteria ranging from skinniness to motility...
   The morning I began this essay, I was spurred by a jarring disconnect between my easygoing routine (and a familiar sight on the stroll; more on that in a moment) and an earlier radio-report of someone, possibly Prime Minister Harper or Finance Minister Flaherty, urging Canadians to be more productive so we can be competitive in the global marketplace (stop them if you've heard this one).
   So, um, not that we should go back to building log-cabins, trading furs and eating pemmican, but... exactly HOW productive do we need to be? $3,000 per capita more? $10,000 per capita? Maybe 2.3% more productive than the Chinese in their less-suicidal factories??
   Increased productivity always SOUNDS good, in an abstract, editorial sort of way, which is why our beloved suits chant the mantra, I suppose. And if you add the imploring faces of some Third World... sorry, developing-world victims (or local street-people) to kick-start the mantra, you may even feel some of the urgency that our ever-alarmist politicians and business-suits strive to promote.
   But let me flip the mantra around, for a little Nietzschean perspectivism: if we (and by "we" I mean residents of the industrialized West) are so productive and efficient that we need maybe only 7% of our workforce to produce our basic food, clothing and shelter needs, what do we do with the remaining 93% of the, um, loiterers?
   A few, of course will be needed for "management"...

    *    *    *
in progress (allegedly)

Of Shakespeare, capitalism and shower-curtains

The donut-shop clerk asked if I wanted a free coffee.

Um, thanks--but what for?

Answer: delivering a box with a plausible amount on the meter. Other cabbies doing such trips, he said, used tricks to boost the price, e.g. loops through the parking lot.

I left, pondering my flip-the-flange-and-win cup. Ah to nab a big cash prize!

Maybe after nine years (15 now) there would be time to finish the damn Shakespeare book. An edition of his obscure play Troilus and Cressida, if you must know. Only the greatest detective-story never told.

The odds of a cup win? Never mind. Less delusively, I’d give my kingdom for a publishing contract. But no, Shakespeare is the fiefdom and closed-shop of professors. No sane publisher wants any part of a goofy-cabbie edition...
    *   *   *

Okay, this one is for sale by my mercenary self, and therefore will not be plastered here in its entirety until it has been published for money, or I have  failed thereat.

What the heck, here's another excerpt from the  long-winded thing:

...Or what of taxi-driving, an enterprise fraught with economic peculiarities like restrictive licensing, fixed pricing, and a hooker who gets in and says, “”Hi. I’m just in from Vancouver and I don't have a driver yet...”

Awkwardest. Silence. Ever.

How do I tell the hooker I am married with three kids, and quite as boring as a softwood-lumber editorial? And to think it was a journalism teacher of yore who suggested hack-driving as a dose of realism. But my farcical and unprofitable writing career since j-school now sits in dusty file-folders of a projected memoir. ... Mulling the failure, I catch the stray regret that probably crosses the mind of every media fossil at some point: “Man, I coulda been a VP Marketing with a six-digit income. Or a fridge-magnet magnate. Instead of being a two-bit contender, which is what I am. And what the hell happened to Alan Fotheringham anyway?...

That's it. But you DO want to know the significance of the exploding Zamboni in solving a curious scientific quasi-puzzle,  don't you? Yes you do! =]

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

That 2005 _Shadowplay_ Review

This hapless dissection lingered unremarked in one of the many Facebook SHAKESPEARE pages as late as Nov. 2011 (where I posted it circa 2008, just to prove that social-media doesn't make a damn bit of difference in anything). But now my post seems to have become victim of an eCleanup or an iCleansing or some such scrubbing of the circuitry. Gone. So here is the mainstream-media "suppressed" (okay, basically the editor that commissioned it got cold feet) quasi-published monstrosity again, just for the record:

 Author wanders from the sublime to the ridiculous

   Was the Sphinx of Avon... Catholic? Puritan? Or what?

Clare Asquith
Public Affairs, $37.95

Review by

The passerby’s t-shirt is white, but darkly states: “Humpty was pushed.” I laugh, for all conspiracy theories are humdingers, from Keegstra’s Illuminati to the DaVinci Code piffle to John Ralston Saul’s Voltaire-bastardized intelligentsia.

But of all the paranoid mysteries, none surpasses the chronic question of Shakespeare’s true beliefs. Herewith, another agenda-hunter, reviving the century-old theory of his Catholicism. A tough one to prove, as Reformation zealots suppressed English Catholics, often with sickening ferocity. Evidence is thus mostly in textual intimations, the fodder of looney conjecture.

Having spent a few years poking at the religious enigma, I came to Shadowplay armed. Is Shakespeare’s bird-fable poem “The Phoenix and the Turtle” here? Yes, naturally, since recent studies plausibly make it a stealthy elegy to a dead Anglo-Catholic couple, one executed.

But Asquith skimps on details of this nice sleuth job. If only she had trimmed her 2,000 repetitions of “Old Church good, Reformation bad” she could have provided better insight into a sphinx-poem that retains some mystery.

For instance, one of its lines, “grace in all simplicity,”is almost a Puritan slap at ornate Catholic ceremony. What’s with that? Asquith quotes the line and its neighbors, intuiting, “Shakespeare is here confronting for the first time the possibility that the spirit of the Catholic resistance would be extinguished”

A mighty conjectural leap! The line, “Truth and beauty buried be” is her only visible evidence. But now another possibility jolts me: this line’s double meaning is imperative: Shakespeare is quietly telling Truth (scripture-based Protestantism) and Beauty (ceremonial Catholicism) to “buried be” (i.e. bury their differences?--and in the poem’s final triad, pray for the dead, whether “true or fair”–a very significant “or” methinks).

Such analysis follows Asquith’s two critical methods of choice, testing the Bard’s writing with a keyword-code (e.g. “beauty,” “fair” and “gazer” indicating Catholic), and assuming “allegory” in his plays (i.e. veiled parallels behind stories and characters). But while these tools do resolve some cryptic bits, as a panacea they fail.

Her attempt to make Julius Caesar a Christ-figure in a play promoting papal authority, for instance, is a knee-slapper. Proud Caesar equals humble foot-washing Jesus?? Well, you see, Caesar’s 23 reported wounds are upped to 33, the years Jesus lived. Shakespeare prankish, maybe? Nah.

Still, hidden meanings have a respectable vintage. As scholar David Bevington notes, Elizabethans generally assumed that plays commented sneakily on current events, and often they did. But 19th-century poet Swinburne illustrated the downside, lampooning the habit of finding Robert Cecil, sly fixer for Elizabeth I, everywhere in the plays, arguing Juliet was a Cecil-figure, the sheer ludicrousness of this being proof of Shakespeare’s masterful concealment.

But Asquith’s pratfalls into “Fluellenism” (a term honoring the bonehead academic in Henry V who made dubious parallels an art) are balanced by pause-giving items: the details of an Anglo-Catholic execution in the “dovehouse”aside in Romeo and Juliet, Catholic Viscountess Montague lurking in A Winter’s Tale; and above all, many a perplexity cleared up by keyword coding, particularly in the Sonnets and early plays.

But Asquith uses her tools clumsily. She detects wavering Catholic Lord Strange in Sonnet 89, for instance, but doesn’t connect the persecuted “gazers” in Sonnet 96. She virtually ignores Protestant hero Falstaff (as does last year’s pro-Catholic tome The Secret Shakespeare).

Worse, twisting Hamlet to fit Catholic allegory reveals a gap in her references: Shakespeare’s Christian Dimension (1994, ed. Battenhouse). Its critics painstakingly delineate Hamlet not as her tragic hero but a vicious schmuck (and when will stage productions move beyond costuming atrocities to reflect such advances in understanding?)

The flaws will leave Shadowplay beneath most scholars, while its esoteric topic sinks it for most general readers. Still, for noting that poet Edmund Spenser was once banished to Ireland for calling Cecil’s father William a fox (a link to Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, where sly Ulysses --say his name backwards-- is called a “dog-fox”), for this gift I give Asquith my own discovery: Shakespeare’s stealthy references to the morality plays in the Macro manuscript, a medieval relic likely rescued by Catholics. All these connections clearly show Shakespeare’s familiarity with what Orwell called “ecclesiastic Trotskyism.”

But was he thus Catholic? Or Puritan?--as Rev. T. Carter suggests, finding that Shakespeare’s father helped remove Catholic images from Stratford’s church, and was listed as a Puritan recusant by church-establishment spies.

For myself, the question is moot. Everything I have teased out of Shakespeare reveals an ecumenical above all, a conclusion that jolted home again when my headbanging against “The Phoenix and the Turtle” finally unriddled the poem’s subtext: that the horrific infighting between Protestant and Catholic destroys the loving essence of Christianity.

Check yourself if you doubt me. After 400 years Shakespeare still yields surprises.

Cabbie Jens Andersen devoutly wishes some publisher shared his fascination with the religious undertones of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.

   *   *   *
The review shows a few glitches, which I choose to leave in: e.g. the Catholic-theory is actually 200+ years old, and those "recent studies" cited were in fact a single Asquith paper (!) as I later discovered rummaging through my heap of scholarly bumf. Oh, and now I see that the review was already uploaded to my blog in 2008. So color me forgetful and red-faced. But hey, it remains cutting-edge. And note that I DELIBERATELY emphasized my clumsy, erratic groping in trying to solve the poem. I suspect most critics gnawing at a tough assignment work the same way, if they would dare admit it. =]

Monday, August 6, 2012

GRoM&LA Ch.7: Glossy magazines: The horror! The horror!

I mean, WHERE do they come from? It's as if they were a spreading cancer, sprouting from every newsstand, inserted into at least one newspaper every week, streaming to my office, settling into haphazard heaps, clogging the damn place: Avenue, Lifestyler, Nuvo, okanogan home, ecoliving, Rendez-vous en FranceBackbone... Vanity Fair?... Esquire...?
   Obviously any discussion of the slippery things must begin by boring everyone to death with Socratic definitions: what exactly IS a glossy magazine? All of them? Is it useful, perhaps do distinguish the freebies from those with a price-tag?
   Such a dichotomy may seem natural, but is easier in theory than practice ...

Uneasy thoughts on technology, teaching and yonder

The last time I saw him, a much-liked journalism teacher, was in late 1988 or early 1989. My wife and I were taking a bus to the doctor to check on the progress of the coming first baby, when--there he was, standing at the exit and about to get off.
   A double-take of eye-contact! And then, nothing. Awkwardness. It had been 15 years since college and a letter of reference from him, and we had not stayed in touch, nor had I any subsequent writing career worth mentioning, beyond a short stint at a student newspaper, years ago. What should I do or say? I only had a minute or so before he stepped off, and if memory serves, I managed nothing more than a confused expression and a trace of a hand-wave. Two or three more glances and he was gone.
   But he still pops into my brain occasionally, quoting Stephen Leacock's My Discovery of England (New Canadian Library N28), or stating "the future belongs not to those who are ready for it, but to those who actively plan it," or remarking that it was Henry George's analysis of land, not his Single Tax that made his reputation as an economist.
   It scarcely occurred to me in college that he was something of a renaissance dude, equally adept at quoting Major Barbara, authoring a report on electronic technologies in teaching, or characterizing our new Premier Lougheeed as "a Mannix man" (he wasn't referring to the TV show). But with the benefit of hindsight, and after years of dosing my naivete with wisdom from other sources, his intellectual stature becomes a bit clearer, along with inevitably, regrets at not having tapped him further for insights during my college years, nor staying in touch afterward...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Doing the connect-only-connect on iTunes

Ah yes: being a music-lover makes it MUCH too easy to waste time on iTunes, that Humongous Repository of the stuff. Grooving to a tune that you spent years scouring the record-bins to find, and bumped into quite by accident on the "Genius" sidebar (hello "A Girl Like You" by the Troggs). Finding a far cleaner version of a favorite song that you only had on a scratchy LP (hello "Well Well Well" by the Seekers). Finding splendid but obscure albums at all (hello the Holy Modal Rounders' Good Taste Is Timeless and Kinky Friedman's Sold American).

Saturday, August 4, 2012

GROM&LA Ch. 6 The sum of all shibboleths perhaps

Are we making progress here?
   The cautiously pessimistic professors, of course, deride, with barely-perceptible educated sneers, the very idea of progress. There is only political will, you understand, and text, and post-structuralism. and various other concepts, all of which will be on the test.
   I grab another clipping (at random, I swear--never underestimate the power of the stochastic). And it is... *drum roll*..."Sharpening sales skills for the holidays" (Edmonton Journal Dec. 18, 2010). Subhead: "Listen more, talk less..."
  Okay, let's just trash that crapola, and try the magic-stochastic thing again... *drum roll*... "Bell fined $1.3M for illegal calls" (Edmonton Journal Dec. 21, 2010). Well that's slightly better, but only slightly. And mostly for its tangential, ongoing comedy, the running-gag of the "Do Not Call List." Careful how much you sharpen those sales skills, ye corporate shills!
   In fact, this was the top story in the Business section that day, but having ripped out the entire page, I'm wondering if there wasn't some other item that caught my interest more...

*in progress

What climate-beast slouches toward Bethlehem?

Like many a neurotic, I follow the Arctic ice-cap's shrinkage with a certain anxiety...

GRoM&LA Ch.5 Still unplugging my carbon sink

The situation has only gotten worse...

(and this might be a quickie bulk-dump, if I ever get my act together--wait and see...)

Hey, are we immigrants great or what?

Ah!--now here is the June 2011 Walrus with a treatise on nouveau Canadians, adorned with a truly cute headline: "Arrival of the Fittest." Whoa!
   You can almost hear the right-flappers screeching, "You wouldn't DARE say Europeans are the fittest, would you? Would you?! You'd have a freaking CONNIPTION if we boosted western values, wouldn't you?!" Etc.
   Heck, les editors de Walrus may even have placed the allusive cherry atop the article with the mischievous intention of thus stirring up the animals. Such things do happn when the ideological undergarmets begin to knot...

So what in hell is conservatism?

Haul up any essay upon social issues nowadays and, whatever the topic--climate-change, culture-clashes, health-care or any election orgy past, present or future--you will see it almost inevitably (and usually quickly) descends into a shrill combat of left versus right. Some defective neural pattern in the human brain, it seems, hard-wires us to clatter along in the auto-default mode of Manicheism, black hats and white hats, good and evil, and the imagined road where not too far along awaits a glorious denouement with angels triumphant. Out of materials of melodrama are political careers and Hollywood millions built.
  Indeed, rummaging around for instances, I find two almost instantly in...

Friday, July 20, 2012

GRoM&LA Ch.4: Once More to the Mess (Sorry, E.B.)

The lake would have been much preferable. Fresh air, and the damn city forgotten for a few hours. But nope, here I am, plowing through the textual heaps again.
   The Nov. 3, 2011 National Post atop one pile, with a big full-page spread on the Shakespeare authorship thing. Not really my area (which is Shakespeare's religious ideas as structure and agenda) but authors Cushman and Kay are in fine form, thumping conspiracy theorists. Having just dipped into the Sonnets, I can add that Shakespeare himself sneers at noble titles. But hey, this could be just a VERY clever smoke-screen by Lord deVere or Lord Bacon, eh?
   In the same A-section: some jihadis have bombed a French satirical magazine. Clip, clip--to be added to a still unsorted batch of things on the Danish cartoon crisis and satire in general (don't ask about my filing system, please!) Also: front-page item on Israel planning to nuke Iran. Not exactly news, and  the story is long-developing (remember Krauthammer in [2006?] saying Israel and USA had maybe a year or two to decide?) It goes to the recycling bag.
   And again: Saskatchewan natives want their own provincial political party. Oy gevalt! But I suffer from an aboriginal issues fixation, and it gets clipped.

      *      *      *

July 23
Reality intervenes. And, to tell the truth it felt good to have spent a day mostly outside mowing the lawn. Downing a few raspberries. Bagging garbage. Doing tangible things. Fate, with all its dubious inscrutables has somehow made me an intellectual, but heavy thinking is such a dismal, abstract, futile business (not to mention over-populated) that my usual response is to avoid it. Again, no publication is likely to pay me to scatter these many-splendored maunderings across newsprint or the internet. So forgive me if my thoughts turn to carpentry and slapping together some shelves.
   But wait, here is Yann Martel, newly-arrived on Twitter! Saying... nothing? (later: seems to be a fake, or cyber-squatter or something). And here is today's (July 23) Globe and Mail with extensive in-house coverage of the Aurora massacre! (not just AP wire-copy as our local Edmonton Journal has, but an entire centre-spread). Once more your media junkie is suctioned away from real work.
   No surprise that the Mop and Pail's p.1 headline is "A top student, a 'weird' loner." You've heard this cliche before right? Oddly enough, it arrives as I drag a battered copy of Goldman's The Lives of John Lennon from a closet and find that Lennon was "a solo personality and a loner all his life" (p.86). Cue the "madness is allied to genius" trope.
   What I notice most, however is the  Globe's bad English. For instance this lede to the Obama sidebar: "Despair all around him, U.S. President Barack Obama offered hugs, tears and the nation's sympathy to survivors of the Colorado shooting rampage and to families whose loved ones were shot dead."
   Leaving aside the imprecision of "survivors" (versus wounded), and the odd suggestion that Obama is wrapped in despair, where did the writer FIND this "despair"? Grief, anguish, shock maybe, but despair means complete spiritual collapse. Where was that? Various reported reactions show people being largely defiant and tough-minded. Is Canada's national newspaper taking lessons from the overblown rhetoric of Maclean's magazine? Hm.
   Again, Obama might cite or invoke the nations sympathy, but can he "offer" it? Okay, maybe, debatably he can. But is he then the "national consoller (sic) in chief"? The mind boggles. Yet again, the mayhem-suspect was reported, by the Globe's entry-level philosophers, to be studying "the physical mechanics of the brain." Any Grade 11 Biology student would wince at that description, no?
   Flip the page and the headline is "The eruption of a new code of the street." An erupting code?? Don't ask. I'm off to saw lumber. The damn newspapers can wait.

      *      *      *


...or maybe offgoing...

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Big Picture

An odd fact which often pops into my head is that Ralph Waldo Emerson, before writing his celebrated and still-quoted batch of essays (which Nietzsche loved, but still sits on my shelves unread), sat down and drew up a list of all the topics he was about to discuss.
   I doubt anyone could do anything like that today. Or could they? In the eight generations since Ralph's day, the world has speeded up, peopled up, teched up, grown entire branches of communication-media, belched up incomprehensible amounts of new and old knowledge (as universal education and science ramped up), while technology freed most of us from grunt-labor so we could poke our noses inquisitively into every corner of existence), while simultaneously our overarching "belief-systems" (as sociology glibly calls them) have sputtered, sparked and smoked dramatically in response. What does today's burgeoning band of intellectuals, sitting down to their computer keyboards, have to say about all THAT? Anyone here with a neat list of topics they wish to share?
   Speaking as one who is as overstuffed as the next egghead, how about a loud, dismayed and overwhelmed, "Where will it all end?" No one who is paying attention, I trust, is surprised by doomsday cults, or fails to chuckle ruefully at them (assuming they have a functioning brain), but really, isn't it just a question of when, where and how? Or will we humans just keep steadily multiplying and producing and consuming. and occasionally admitting (resignedly) that, well, crap happens, until the next generation of producer-consumers comes surging along, world without end, amen?
   Nope, I fail to see any GOOD scenarios, although admittedly we seem to be muddling along adequately, for the moment, Even making progress in some areas, like disease-control and media-coverage of political butcheries. Still, I'll bet I share the anxiety of just about everybody, especially thinking folks, in succumbing to occasional worried speculation about a societal collapse of some kind, where not all our wisdom nor all our piety will be sufficient to halt the tumble.
   Just for posterity to laugh at, my money is on a combined war/disease/crop failure trifecta of calamities. Any one of these we could stagger through, but three combined might well send us back to coolie labor and what a straight-faced pedant would call "local government." Add a Hollywood-sized asteroid to the mix and the end-result might be what some alarmists call "the Stone Age" (but isn't it odd that they never specify Paleolithic or Neolithic?)
   Mind you, mind you... if such an Armageddon did transpire, I suppose I would be too busy scrabbling to learn hunter-gathering, and beating away competitors with a club, to check whether my dead-accurate prophecy improved my Klout rating, before my carefully-tended laptop-battery died.
   And so I brush aside any larger unease, assuming that civlization will keep on trucking, or huffing, or chuffing, or whatever quasi-metaphor best describes the motion of the Great Techno Structure as it lurches along. Today there is so much food that vast human resources must be diverted to fight obesity, tomorrow there will be algorithms and apps available to select the online dating service that is best suited to a person of your particular neuroses.
   But where to apply my own somewhat obsolete and humanist talents? What does an aging but still spry western secularist, soaked in Mencken and Shakespeare, pop music and journalism, sulfur dioxide and materialism, what should a civilizational byproduct like myself do in this vast bustling beehive? Reiterate the Golden Rule? Join Bahai? Vote NDP?
   By training (and now near-reflex) I am a writer, but considering the absolute
giga-torrent of writing that gushes into our world, I frequently wonder why. Maybe it is just sheer orneriness that keeps me going. And maybe this too is why I am a critic, as, flummoxed and irritated, I automatically lash back at the civilizational juggernaut that jostles me.
   Hey, it's a theory. And last I checked, theory-stocks are up across the market.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In passing... (testing, testing, flunking?)

There are days... there are DAYS... when a writer like myself wonders if all the concomitant crap, like trying to get this blog operational, is really worth it... *sigh*
   Hm! Now by some mysterious cyber-magic, and by the act of posting this little note I am able to FINALLY, 45 minutes later, edit previous posts!!... like the 2008 post where I promised to add a little "preview" of sorts: the Preface to my edition of  Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida... *wince*

Sunday, April 29, 2012

GRoM&LA Ch.3: Puzzles, Paradoxes and Paralyzers (and More Crap and Italics)

Once more into the heaps...   aaand here on page C3 of the Edmonton Journal, Jan. 5, 2010 is a story on the long-popular (as opposed to me) Steve Martin. God knows when or why I ripped it from the "A&E" section (that's Arts and Entertainment, fellow slowpoke). Perhaps I was in a hurry to do something else, and just tore it out to read later? Not that I'm especially interested in Steve Martin (although I share his parody-of-rationality humor and his love of the banjo, and may be a better player on one of these instruments). I remain curious as to whether he was once a member of the Left Banke, as my errant brain seems to recall. No answer in the paper-and-ink, but the mundane datum MIGHT be on Wikipedia... o-ho!...nope.. studied Philosophy, eh?...
   Or perhaps, rather, I was saving the smaller, adjacent story on North America's biggest concert tours of 2009 (yow! history in the made!), as it amplifies my plaintive whine that the stinking dollar-standard is creepingly becoming the criterion-of-choice in the arts. I've clipped many items on this subject and, interestingly, another pops out from the newspaper-heap almost magically: a National Post story from three days earlier (Jan. 2, 2010) about a stolen Degas painting. Sure enough, the short item's lede tells us it is "a valuable painting" and the third sentence gives us the exact value:  800,000 euros or $1.2-million (no indication if the Agence France-Presse figures are U.S. or Cdn, or whether the black market offers a discount).
   Oh yes: the painting is "a colorful image of singers performing on a theatre stage" if that matters. An estimated 70,000 people saw it before it was whisked away. That's about $19 of viewing-value per person! (aren't statistics illuminating?) No indication in the story as to whether potential viewers who missed the painting will be compensated for their loss.
   But getting back to the Steve Martin story, we could also treasure it for its proper use of italics in listing his book/album/movies. God bless an editor somewhere! As opposed to the online editor at the Library of Congress recently--check this:

Jeanne Guillemin, author of "American Anthrax: Fear, Crime and the Investigation of the Nation’s Deadliest Bioterrorist Attack" (2011), will discuss the case in a lecture at the Library of Congress at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 3, in the Mary Pickford Theater on the third floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C.

Yes, American Anthrax is a book, although working from the above you could mistake it for an old 45-single (of a very awkward tune).

What else?... okay, MUST go walk the dog again. This work-in-progress is now officially motionless. Publish-or-perish with this rickety old computer, I fear...

May 5.

Where to start? Where to restart?

   Maybe with the novel I have pulled off the shelf yesterday: Jan de Hartog's The Captain. One of the oldest items in the library, 3rd paperback printing 1968, probably read in '69 or '70 while I was in Senior High. Thinking vaguely about giving it to my son, now about the same age, and wondering how stupid an idea that might be. Wondering if the novel is really as good as I seem to remember, and why I remember so little of it (only that the convoy on the Murmansk run is pretty much obliterated by the Germans, as also happens in another novel on the subject, possibly by Alistair Maclean). Wondering if my purchase of the book ($.95!) was at the old Hurtig's bookstore at Jasper Ave-104 St (twice reborn, now Audrey's at Jasper-107St), or why I have troubled to box it and lug it through eight moves, and whether I'm now capable of selling it. Or dumpnating it to charity. Or whether it will gather dust on the shelf for another 20 or 30 years...
   Naturally such metaphysical questions are best pondered while re-reading the thing and assiduously avoiding urgent chores. Hm. The climactic obliteration sems a trifle melodramatic, especially the rescue of the oil-soaked sunken U-boat cook, but otherwise credible. Then I randomly dip into the middle, and ho!--what should be there but an interlude where the captain and ship are laid up in Halifax, whereupon a little satire of Canadian niceness (all the more credible for being inflicted by a Dutch author and U.S. publisher... who misspell Kenora as "Kinora"--tsk!) which develops into a larger satire on the stupidity of war and patriotism, and then some sex, as novels are wont to do. All unremembered. The sex is not indulgent. Somewhat wrily and ironically satirical in fact. Maybe I will give it to my son...
   None of this, of course, helps with the big office-cleanup.

   Truth be told, I have actually been to the Wee Book Inn BUYING a few books to further bollox the big mess: on a whimsical impulse, for instance, I snapped up a beautiful BBC hardback In Search of the Trojan War (only $10.99!) No real connection with my Troilus and Cressida research/obsession, although Shakespeare's play does get a few passing mentions. But again I am transported back to high school days, for we had an excellent Grade 10 Social Studies teacher (back when ancient history was still taught) and the names Schliemann and Hattusilis are familiar.

   Okay, snap out of it. There is logorhea to be removed, starting with a certain bundle of newspapers, and (I hope) a less lurching train of thought...

May 10

The "certain bundle" still waits, folded and patient. In the meantime I have managed to bag (for recycling) a few sections of newspapers replete with uninteresting items like the Jack Layton funeral, the 40th anniversary of the Alberta Tory dynasty, Hurricane Irene, new Canadian visa rules, "Wine, food and Junior Achievement," touring Ireland's backroads, Sean Penn's non-divorce, Cornelius Vanderbilt, a "Tournement of Vegetables"...

   Still, I fear the newspapers (three subscriptions plus the occasional Edmonton Sun) is ultimately jamming the basement far faster than I remove the residue. Even as I write this entry I'm clippping a few items. Hm, was the writing career of Reynolds Price less laughable than mine? And retrieving the discarded Layton section for a second look, I even find a Lorne Gunter column on Layton's final "Letter to Canadians" that I nearly missed (it mentions a person I've met in the flesh and, more importantly, touches on the constant problem of why a person even bothers to write, as does the review of Price's memoirs).

   But I've already written a why-I-write sort of essay about ten years ago (the newspaper I sent it to didn't bother to respond, nor did I have the heart to approach a second). And, really, there isn't much more to say about THAT, beyond a frank admission that one has made a great error in taking up the writerly profession.

   And now the second bundle of newspapers seems to be mislaid. Well, whatever. I can pull any other item from the paper dunes and extract the same lesson I had in mind when I started this wandering, maundering post: namely that too much knowledge of the seething mass of humanity pumped into one's brain will leave a wise and sensitive person paralyzed, flummoxed and wondering: what the hell is a wise and sensitive person really supposed to DO??

The item at random turns out to be a TVtimes/Edmonton Journal April 27, 2012 item "Keeping Cockburn Running"--for the documentary Bruce Cockburn--Pacing the Cage (note proper use of italics and quotation-marks). I read it with my mind making the the automatic critical notes: hm, the usual ginger and circumlocutory handling of religion, the main "hard news" being that Cockburn doesn't want to be mistaken as a "right-wing evangelical" (no surprise)... not much obvious relation to my own research into Shakespeare's handling of Christian ideas... the usual songs mentioned, although I miss "Tokyo"--my own personal favorite (although I scarcely know anything beyond the radio-fodder)... interesting that the English press wouldn't cover him at all because of the Christianity (compare Bob Dylan's coming-out)... the religious producer is VisionTV... hm, is Cockburn still into those ironic combat-outfits? (or is that an old photo?)... overall, article is exploitable for that "What's the Big Idea?" thing that's been shaping up in the old noggin...

Well, I missed seeing the show (who has time?) but for some stupid reason I dwell on the clipping, trying to gauge those sad basset-hound eyes; trying to think if there might be something to add to a jibe I published decades ago about his "tear-stained rocket-launcher" (yep, implicit indictment of ye olde meek-and-other-cheek); trying to overcome the trace of annoyance at Cockburn using the "pacing the cage" metaphor that, coincidentally, I liked enough to once employ in a short-story (unpublished); trying not to think about the time I'm wasting here, and the newspapers yet undumped...

   At this rate (one clipping a week) I'll still be shovelling paper come Judgement Day.