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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...

Sunday, October 5, 2014

"Is he crazy?"--a covert answer, and close but no cigar

    Clawing through the high stack of current newspapers, I randomly pull a September 14 Edmonton Sun--and accidentally stumble on a feature by Michael Platt of the Calgary Sun, headlined:


The editor in me cringes at the awkwardness of the double-stack (especially the split "Franklin pioneer" which is somewhat vague to begin with), but the story it tells (yes, online too) is a fascinating tale of dullards thinking inside the rut, until after a century and a half a sharp mind o'erleaps the mucky track and rolls to proper conclusions. I would headline it:


John Rae in fact was the seaman who in 1854 discovered some remains of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage, including evidence of cannibalism among the desperate Franklin crew before they perished; and also the final link of the Northwest Passage, the Rae Channel, which Amundsen used (with full credit to Rae) in his pioneering voyage through the Passage in 1903-4.
    All of which is interesting in itself, as are the literary heroics of Ken McGoogan in telling the whole tangled tale in a number of books (he also spoke at the laying of a ledger-stone to Rae in Westminster Abbey).
   But for me the punchline is the 150-year delay in recognition--a classic case of shoot-the-messenger. Because Rae had concluded and reported cannibalism, he was rendered persona non grata and shunned. No one likes to hear horrific things (unless the horror is safely contained in Hollywood claptrap).
    This verity strikes close to home, as it may help explain a curious puzzle in my Bob Dylan research. If, as I concluded in my investigation into Dylan's wholesale expropriation of Shakespeare for the Basement Tapes, Dylan has effectively solved the "Hamlet problem" which has dogged scholars for centuries, why did he plant the solution with extreme obscurity in his song "Crash on the Levee"? (aka "Down in the Flood"). Couldn't he just have, um, written a letter to the editor of the Shakespeare Quarterly or something?
    In theory, he could have. Except that would be obtuse and boring. And Dylan is dealing with (and is probably fully aware that he is dealing with) a double-horror: first, the appalling news that Prince Hamlet is not a tragic hero but a vicious schmuck, a prince who is not just "melancholy mad" (with the emphasis on the melancholy, please) but actually crazy. It is a helluva jolt when one discovers this, and it is notable that almost all the scholars pussy-footing around the fact--and there have been quite a few--tend to avoid the conclusion or gloss over the evidence supporting it--wherein the second horror, that our critic-psychologists "who prophesize with the pen" have been routinely diagnosing Lord Lunatic as merely... stressed-out? For 400+ years. Has our western brain-trust really been so dense and derelict for all these centuries??
    With the exception of a handful of critics, yes. And even these few approach and circle the question most gingerly, never quite uttering the unthinkable. Perhaps the most notable of these hesitants is T. S. Eliot, who wrote a famous-in-academe essay on Hamlet (my most recent rediscovery of it came in a criticism textbook) wherein he lists the numerous ways in which the play Just. Doesn't. Add. Up.
    Included is the perennial question of "what's bugging the Prince of Denmark?" (if you have the time and a weird sense of humor, check every scholarly explanation of why Hamlet kills Polonius, sight unseen). At the end of the essay Eliot tosses up his hands, supposing it is just Shakespeare being his usual sui generis self, breaking all the rules for tragedy, God knows why. But still basically composing a tragedy. Go figure.
    To give a modicum of credit, Eliot clearly had good intuitive suspicions, even if they never found footing. My own literary lion, H. L. Mencken also had a few stray remarks about Hamlet, if not an entire essay; in one of them he flatly calls Prince Hamlet a "sophomore" which may be the lowest estimation of Hammie's character I've ever encountered. Clearly he had suspicions too. Maybe the two had even read Voltaire, who entertained some of the earliest and most extensive hunches about Hamlet not being quite on the level. (In his memoir My Life As Author and Editor, Mencken describes a casual meeting with Eliot where the two discussed the technicalities of their respective magazines; we can only speculate what they might have accomplished if they had butted heads about Hamlet instead).
    In any case it is easy to imagine Bob Dylan sitting dismayed at his ugly discovery and mulling how to handle it (he mentions the Hamlet-problem glancingly in his book Tarantula) until finally deciding to deflect the rotten Dane into another of his opaque cryptogram-songs.
    Yep, who needs the headache of sorting out the details of Shakespeare's closet-satire, and answering the yowls of the dull academics?-- leave THAT noise to posterity. Most astute.
    And in another century or so Will and Bob, those two sly speakers of the unspeakable, may get rehabilitated enough to get ledger-stones in Westminster Abbey too.

    PS: The title of this post comes from an very sharp English professor, who asked "Is he crazy?" as the very first comment on teaching the play to us. She asked the question as intently as if it really mattered, and it does.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ask Bob: Is there something to "Nothing to It"?

The little critic-inside-the-critic sneers and taunts me:
    "So, how is the big Bob Dylan project going?"
    "Lousy. Beyond rotten. Don't ask."
    So my little critic just sits there, head tilted, with a patient smirk, expectant and waiting. Her usual pose. Me, I'm off to the English Language & Usage/ Stack Exchange, a newly discovered website where it is possible to waste hours and days exploring the nooks and crannies of the lingo we speak, earning points, badges and other rewards while possibly improving the expression of it. For merely knowing the word "moocher" indeed, I have piled up points and badges galore. Gotta love success, even the somewhat nebulous cyber-Pavlovian kind.
    But in the back of my distracted mind remains that inner critic and the Dylan-problem. Part of me says just ditch it. Abandon the intractable knot. Bequeath the headache to the grandchildren...
    My cute inner critic, however, readily pops by and starts asking pointed questions. "So, a quitter, eh?
    Well, not quite. While waiting for some sort of brainstorm on publishing my heap of Dylan-research I can still add to it. And the Basement Tapes lyric-trove, happily, has expanded with a whole album of new songs released in late 2014 with lyrics written by Dylan during the 1967 Basement Tapes period, and performed by Elvis Costello &Co. Are they too Shakespeare-based? Seems so, here's Macbeth, signifying "Nothing to It" (and that IS a dagger you see before you at about 1:47 of the video which is also the video-illo as you first encounter it on YouTube; cute, Bob, very cute). "Married to my Hack" clearly derives from All Is True aka Henry VIII. Already mentioned these two roots in detail on Twitter to dead silence and, I'm guessing, utter incomprehension. Initial indications too are that "When I Get My Hands on You" is derived from all the detached hands in the revenge-saturated Titus Andronicus--although maybe I'll let someone else do all the word-by-word, concept-by-concept, pun-by-pun analysis for me. Getting sort of weary of it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A perky new motto for the former City of Champions

The vexatious question is officially back--a City of Edmonton councillor having plunked the issue onto the Council agenda once more: what should the city's slogan be?
    Earlier bouts of our slogan-disease didn't go over well, inevitably returning to the dismal fact that our Great Sports Heritage, which circa 1980 sprouted the "City of Champions" boast, and eventually signs re-boasting the slogan at the city's seven gates, had now passed into the custody of teams, especially the Oilers, that majorly sucked. What to do?
   So the brows around town gnawed at the dilemma. To no end, unless you count snarkfests as accomplishments. Some of the suggestions put forth as replacement-slogans, indeed were masterpieces of satire or basic bile...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Okay, let's put on those rose-colored gasses

Having some fun with Idealists & Co.

    Okay, let's put on those rose-colored glasses!

It is most pleasing when several of the ideas bouncing around my brain converge on one spot. Doesn't happen often enough, in fact, but this morning I grab a newspaper from atop one of those heaps that should have been tossed into the blue-bag long, long ago.
    It is the Feb 2, 2013 Globe and Mail, and the headline is "HAVE WOMEN SOLVED 'THE PROBLEM WITH NO NAME'? THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE AT 50"
    Perhaps it is justthe incurable smartass in me, but I almost automatically think, what if men solved the problem in 1986, and the women just didn't notice?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

We're Gonna Whip Your Ass! (the great Canadian reality show)

Alternate title or subtitle of the show: Who Wants to be a Solomonaire?
    Like many of my better ideas (should I put irony-quotes around the "better"?) this one comes to me as I emerge from deep sleep and the grotesque empire of dreams. I forget most of the details of this dream--my dreams tend to disappear on waking, no matter how hard I try to remember them) on this occasion one item remains in my consciousness: my undergoing a particularly curious and horrific type of torture (at whose hands I have no idea) and the simultaneous panicky thought that I should NEVER tell anyone what this torture method is, lest some clever sadist out there might see it and use it.
   The rest of the dream evaporates as my waking thoughts assemble, but the analytic thought then occurs that this weird dream is some sort of wacky offshoot of a large buffet supper and the last bit of reading I did before bedtime, a quick, superficial glance at a profile of Jason Kenney in the latest issue of Walrus magazine (cover-headline: "And you think Harper is right wing: The ascent of Jason Kenney")
   Amid all this, the daily domestic agenda comes pelting in (jeez, how long since I've watered the plants...) intermixed with an almost automatic elaboration (not sure what else to call it) of a Walrus call-out (large-type thing) that the magazine's layout crew used to relieve the long grey story--a call-out restating, "Still Kenney's balancing act has come at a cost: increasingly, this country has seen its international image tarred with a mean streak."--into some extrapolations of the whole tough-on-crime tenet (over which the article vigorously wrings its semantic hands) into some thoughts about how the dramatic structure of civil and criminal trials might be improved by turning a few of them into reality shows. Details of how this would work, e.g.lawyers showboating extravagently, and the vast audience voting on the verdict and sentence, cascade into my brain remarkably fast.
    But also another panicky thought intrudes, that I won't get the details threshed out in the hour or so before the dog must be walked, or I'll get sidelined on social-media as I too often do ...

Judge Judy...

...todays G&Mail India election p.1 too...

Monday, March 17, 2014

The future of the lingo (unto and through a bad review)

There's nothing like the juxtaposition of a pair of news items to get a train of thought clacking along. Going through a stack of 2009 newspapers (don't ask) and the weekend (March 15) Globe and Mail, for instance yields an unlikely symbiosis...

Will I ever get time enough or organized enough to finish any of these larval posts? Stay t... hey, where are you going? Come back!!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Fleeting thoughts on war, guilt, groupthink and "coming to terms with"

Having actually managed to get up at 4 a.m. I can enjoy a leisurely breakfast, made enjoyable, I hope by finally getting to read Saturday's National Post, only two days late.
    As an addicted newspaper reader (three subscriptions) I should know better--reading the news just entangless you hopelessly and uselessly in world affairs--reaally, what damned bit of difference would one more drop of commentary in the vast ocean of punditry make?--while personal jobs from taxi-driving to house-renos lag. This day is no different: reams of stuff about the start of Winter Olympics (from wireless-safety to Putin's prospects), another molestation charge against Woody Allen, Conrad Black harumphing about the economic non-recovery, Robert Fulford contemplating Japan and its recurring Yasukuni furore...
    But the first thing that really grabs me is a letter to the editor about Mackenzie King's racism...

yet, yet another ongoing...