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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...

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...