Friday, September 28, 2007

Off to Japan

Well, I'm off to Japan for the next couple weeks to visit a friend and be a tourist. Very exciting! There might be a few posts while I'm gone. If, for example, I'm sitting around an airport with nothing to do and free wireless. But barring that, you'll probably be able to hear a pin drop here for the next couple weeks. When I return I'll catch up on what I did this past week (while too stressed and busy to blog) and no doubt post endlessly about my trip.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Can I cry now?

So I leave for Japan on Saturday, which means I've got to tie up loose ends and get stuff done at work before my two week vacation. So ideally, I'd have a nice slow week during which I can do this. But no. Instead I get the busiest week I've had in months. I'm going to have to work late every day this week. Unless I can haul myself out of bed early instead. Which I am going to attempt, I think.

I've been so busy tackling my desk full of last minute projects and rushes--seriously, my entire desk looked like that section pictured to the left today--that I haven't had a chance to do the longterm projects I also need to get done. I used to be a much better multi-tasker than I am now. I'm out of practice. Oh well, I suppose I'll have to buckle down and really get work done for the next few days. I did get my desk half cleared and do one of my major projects by the time I left work tonight.

None of this would be a problem if it weren't for the fact that I'm totally unprepared for my trip. I need to do laundry and pack and buy some little gifts for the people I'm staying with. And on Thursday and Friday evening I'm going to Fall for Dance, because god forbid I not jam that into my schedule. Really I brought all this upon myself. Maybe I can get some shopping done during my lunch hour.

These things always work out in the end, and I'm sure everything will be fine. I just needed to have my little meltdown anyway.

Monday, September 24, 2007

In Which I Prepare to Play Fantasy Hockey

When I first heard about fantasy sports a few years ago, I scoffed. How silly, I thought. And yet here I am, a part of the IPB SuperLeague (which is, of course, way cooler than the IPB AmazingLeague) and totally excited about it. The Rabid Chinchillas are going to kick ass! Maybe.
This is our mascot.

The key to this league is that as a fan of an Eastern Conference hockey team, I could only draft players from the Western Conference. About which I know very little. Naturally, as draft time approached, I grew nervous. We were doing an autodraft, so what if I'd failed to exclude all the Eastern players (this did in fact happen), what if I drafted a shitty team, or worse, an ugly team? If you don't care about the players they might as well be decent to look at. Anyway, I've now drafted, and we'll have to see how things shake out. But here's my team (for now):

Pavel Datsyuk: Clearly not going to help me much in the PIM category (even I know he's a Lady Byng winner), but should put up points and have a lovely +/-. Is possessed of an extraordinarily triangular head and should really consider a new haircut that would hide this. When wearing a helmet, however, this is less obvious.

Andy McDonald: Without looking too closely at any stats, I'm a bit concerned that he relied too heavily on the indecisive (and far more attractive) Selanne. Fingers crossed that he can put up points independently. Appears to have either the world's smallest head, but it could just be a massive neck.

Henrik Zetterberg: Like Datsyuk, should be good for points and +/-. Would be quite attractive if it looked like he bathed on a regular basis.

Alexander Frolov: Until now, I didn't know anything about him except for the fact that he's one of those up-and-coming young Kings players. But I just looked at an unofficial fansite and apparently his favorite novel is Dostoevsky's The Idiot and his favorite play is Hairspray. Literature and musicals? Awesome. And he's adorable. I think Frolov has excellent potential as a favorite Western Conference player.
Seriously, how cute is he? And a reader!

Milan Hejduk: I know I've heard of him, but I sure don't know anything about him.

Martin Havlat: Ok, so since he used to be in the Eastern Conference. If he stays relatively healthy and refrains from kicking people, I'll be a happy camper. Like Zetterberg, is good-looking when he appears to have bathed.

Nicklas Lidstrom: The official captain of the Rabid Chinchillas. He's not particularly rabid-seeming as far as players go, but he does seem somewhat chinchilla-esque. I love him, he's great, etc.
See? He bears a distinct resemblance to the team mascot.

John-Michael Liles: Who? Looking at his roster photo, he has a very all-American look. And he seems to put up points fairly consistently. I'm sure he'll be just fine.

Marek Zidlicky: Again, who? Beyond that, his facial hair in his roster photo leaves something to be desired.

TBD: I somehow got Poti, but had to ditch him because he's in the Eastern Conference.

Nikolai Khabibulin: If he could magically have a great year, I would appreciate it. He's very Russian looking. In that kind of scary way.

Manny Legace: All I ask is that he doesn't make any comments about how he feels like killing himself this year.

On the bench I have Brad Boyes, David Vyborny, Tomas Holmstrom, and Fredrik Norrena. The only one I know anything about is Boyes. Hopefully he regains his '05-'06 form. He's potentially useful.

In conclusion, my team looks pretty decent (I think, anyway) and isn't nearly as ugly as it could be. Now, to see if I can make my team better by replacing some of these guys. Tomorrow, perhaps.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Before I start talking about this movie I have one thing to say: If you are tall and you wear a hat in a movie theater that makes you even taller you, my friend, are a douche. Thank you.

To a certain extent The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford seems to be one of those movies that people either love or hate. As far as I can tell critics either think it's a failure or they think it's a near-masterpiece. I'd say it's rather closer to the latter.

The critics who dislike it say that it can be boring and filled with lacunae where nothing happens. Some said the same about the beginning of Brokeback Mountain. I understand where they're coming from with this, but I didn't see it then and I don't see it now. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times writes, "Partisans will argue that without the leisurely tedium of 'Assassination's' first two hours this involvement would not have happened, but that is the voice of excess speaking." I wouldn't argue that at all. I would argue that in the beauty of the setting, the stillness and wide open space that is juxtaposed with violence and fear, there is no tedium to begin with.

Other criticisms include hard to follow accents (they weren't), bad acting (inexplicable, but then it's the resolutely anti-intellectual New York Post), pretension (true, in rare parts), and imbalance (also true--the beginning could have been shorter and the ending longer).

There does seem to be general agreement that the cinematography is beautiful. And that is very, very true. I could just watch this movie, with no sound, no plot, just the gorgeous scenery. The snow and hard ground, the clouds rolling across a giant sky, the grain blowing in the wind, the smallness of humans and civilization in this vast and harsh landscape. It's a setting that is quintessentially American, and also what I assume Kant would have described as the "terrifying sublime," provoking not only pleasure but also fear, or a sense of dread and melancholy.

The homosocial nature of much of the film is also quintessentially American. Women are generally unimportant and marginalized in the making of American mythology. It is therefore appropriate that the movie is centered upon the relationships between men. There are women present at times, yes, but as in Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn, these women are largely a footnote in the story. Everything that really matters in the movie can be seen in the brilliant assassination scene. Three men in a room, a reflection, an acknowledgment of inevitability, the ties that bind these men together.

Ford wants to be James's sidekick. He desperately wants his friendship and approval--in one scene he painfully elaborates on the similarities between James and himself. Even if James wanted such a relationship with the fawning and unlikeable Ford--and occasionally, as when he presents him with a new gun, he seems to--he's too unstable to sustain it. Thus thwarted desire and disappointment are molded into anger and resentment. It's the dark side of a relationship you see again and again in literature, movies, and perhaps most particularly, comic books, which share many features with the Western.

The reviewer in the New Jersey Star-Ledger writes, "Ford was dumb enough to confuse fame with infamy. He couldn't figure out shooting an unarmed murderer in the back only made the murderer a hero." I don't see that as the point of the movie, nor do I think that shooting James in the back made Ford dumb. And I don't think that most twenty-year-olds, no matter how smart, would have made that distinction, particularly in the rather less pop-culture-and-celebrity saturated 19th century. The movie is a commentary on fame, certainly, but I don't think it's a commentary on Ford's stupidity. Fame would be far less pernicious if it were merely the creation of stupid young people.

Anyway, the murderer was a hero before his death. The appeal of Jesse James wasn't that he was shot in the back--he was famous long before that--but that he was, in many ways, a quintessential American hero. In Studies in Classic American Literature D.H. Lawrence wrote about the, "myth of the essential white America." Lawrence's understanding of America was far different then the story we tell ourselves. He wrote, "the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted." Lawrence understood that we don't make heroes or myths out of kindness or gentleness or love. That America's great literature revolves around blood and violence and horror. The character of Jesse James, prone to rages and violence, paranoid, cruel, yet still a family man who loves his children, is exactly the sort we love and mythologize. It's not a tragedy that James was shot in the back. It's not a tragedy that he dies. He's an unstable murderer. And yet, in the context of American culture James can be nothing other than a hero and a legend.

The movie isn't perfect, and it isn't a masterpiece, but it is a psychologically acute, literate, and evocative exploration of fame--the way in which it poisons those who worship it and destroys those who have it--that speaks directly to our obsessive fascinations. In it's authentic depiction of the West, built through the slow accumulation of layers of detail, it taps into something quintessentially American, which has always struck me as the raison d’être of the Western.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

San Gennaro

The 80th Annual San Gennaro festival is going on right now, which is something I always manage to get to for an evening. There's always something to see, from the clown dumping booth, to carnival games, to the man walking around with his birds and snakes, and his counterpart, the man walking around with a cat sitting contentedly on his head.

The real draw though, is the food. All the Italian restaurants in Little Italy set up outdoor tables under an awning and there are food booths selling mostly a mix of Italian and fair food. The street smells like Italian sausage and zeppole, but there's also mozzarepas and and cannoli and seafood, and countless other things. You can feel your arteries clogging just looking at it all, but it certainly looks and smells delicious.

Today was also the day of the Procession, in which they carry a statue of San Gennaro through the street and a band (or two) plays.
It feels almost old world compared to the mix of tacky (yet fun) that makes up the rest of the festival. Even though I've been going to the festival for years, I'd never actuallly been there on the night of the procession before. History was one of my majors in college, and I remember learning about these things, which are a very old tradition, in a class I took on the middle ages, so it was neat to see. As far as I know it's the only religious aspect of what is purportedly a religious festival, and I can't say it seems particularly holy. Then again, I can't say that I particularly care about holiness, so that wasn't really a problem for me. Or, seemingly, for anyone else there.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Seagull

I've been quiet here this week, I know. It hasn't been intentional. Just busy, shockingly enough. And not, for the most part, with stuff that makes for interesting posts. Unless you really want to read about my doing dishes and going to the bank? No? Didn't think so. Which is fine by me, because I sure as hell don't want to write about it.

I went out to Brooklyn to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform The Seagull at the BAM Harvey Theater. I'd been there once before, to see Play Without Words, and I like the theater for it's peeling paint and feeling of semi-genteel disrepair. It feels very typically Brooklyn to me. Less enjoyable are the stools one sits on in the balcony. They do have footrests, and they're fine generally, but when you're watching a long play like The Seagull they quickly grow uncomfortable.

I almost never get out to Brooklyn so I really don't know my way around. I was feeling pretty good though, because the BAM website gives very specific directions (bless them) and I'd written those directions down. Then I miscalculated the number of stops it was to the Atlantic station, became absorbed in my book, and missed my stop. And in that part of Brooklyn there's a whole lot of space between stops on the D line. So it took me forever to get there, when it really shouldn't have taken long at all. Oh well.

The only version of The Seagull I'd seen before was "inspired by" the Chekhov play and retitled Drowning Crow. As I recall, it followed the plot pretty precisely, but was set in South Carolina's Gullah Islands and explored the African-American experience. Stripped of the humor and pathos, complexity and nuance, beauty and poetry, that Chekhov imbued the play with, as it was, the story itself isn't necessarily something anyone would want to watch. In short, it was awful.

So I was excited to see the RSC do it. I know they're not slavish followers of the text, afraid to put their own interpretation on things--the only previous time I saw them, they were doing a very interesting version of Hamlet--but I figured they also wouldn't be trying to reinvent the wheel. And, while this production of The Seagull is played for laughs a little too often to match the platonic ideal of the play that I have in my head, it was certainly a great deal closer.

The acting was excellent, as could be expected. I also kept getting distracted by the costumes. Not that they were anything special, just that I really like the clothing from that era. It was also interesting to see the different audience reactions to the play. On one side of me I had a guy who was so engrossed that he was watching with his mouth hanging open, and spent the intermission talking animatedly about the play to the woman who was there with him. On the other side I had three people who left during the intermission. I was tired and uncomfortable which made me less attentive than I might otherwise have been, but over all I'm glad I went.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Rather grim morning...

...but then today is always filled with rather self-indulgent rehashing, opportunistic maneuvering on the part of politicians, and various other consequences. Anyway, I've got nothing eloquent to say, but back in June The New York Review of Books published a review of Don DeLillo's Falling Man that, in speaking of the failure of the arts to address the tragedy in a meaningful way, also contained a better tribute to the victims and acknowledgment of the horror than most of what we'll hear today.
The hallmark of those novelists who have tried to write about the attacks is a sort of austere plangency—or a quivering bathos—that has been in evidence almost from the moment the planes hit. Those authors who published journalistic accounts immediately after the event failed to see how their metaphors fell dead from their mouths before the astonishing live pictures. It did not help us to be told by imaginative writers that the second plane was like someone posting a letter. No, it wasn't. It was like a passenger jet crashing into an office building. It gave us nothing to be told that the South Tower came down like an elevator at full speed. No, it didn't. It collapsed like a building that could no longer hold itself up.

Metaphor failed to do anything but make one feel that those keen to deploy it had not been watching enough television. After the "nonfiction novel," after the New Journalism, after several decades in which some of America's most vivid writing about real events was seen to be in thrall to the techniques of novelists, September 11 offered a few hours when American novelists could only sit at home while journalism taught them fierce lessons in multivocality, point of view, the structure of plot, interior monologue, the pressure of history, the force of silence, and the uncanny. Actuality showed its own naked art that day.

We cannot create, through fiction, anything so sad as the reality. Nor, more often than not, can we face the reality that is so much more devastating than that which fiction can provide.
DeLillo's novel was inspired by a photograph of a real person—most agree that he is Jonathan Briley, who seemed at a certain point in his descent from the North Tower to plummet straight, upside down, one leg bent, his shirt flying off in the ferocious breeze, his head scorched, "The Falling Man" whose image became a token of horror and a mass-media legend. And the things pertaining to his image are what interest Don DeLillo. Yet the person inside the legend was a man from Mount Vernon who worked in the North Tower restaurant, Windows on the World. He was flesh and blood, not just an idea. He was born on March 5, 1958. He was six feet five. His father was a preacher. He suffered from asthma and had a wife called Hilary. He died sixty-five minutes twenty seconds after Mohamed Atta, and is currently awaiting a writer sufficiently uncoerced by the politics of art to tell his story.
But it is not only our writers that have failed the victims. Or, for that matter, us. And their crime is less than that of our government, our media, and ourselves, because we have allowed a tragedy to snowball. There are now many more victims of September 11th than the people who died that day.

How wretched.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Key

I've been quiet this week. It's because I've been doing nothing but paying veterinary bills. Well, that's not strictly true, of course, but I've been doing nothing interesting and I did have to cart Pyramus off to the vet for his annual FELV vaccine + liver and kidney value check. The good news is that except for the FIV, heart murmur, asthma, and luxating patellas he's totally healthy. Heh.

Went to that monthly book discussion thing that I go to today. We were finishing up the segment on post-war Japanese literature with Junichiro Tanizaki's The Key. Rather bleak book, really. Not that I was expecting it to be cheery.

The story is told through the diaries of a husband and wife in the final months of their marriage. As their sex life takes on new and increasingly risqué/socially inappropriate dimensions, they each suspect that the other is reading their diary. In this way the diaries acquires a double purpose; they are both a form of self-expression and a means of communication. As such, they demonstrate that communication--that act we so love to idealize--is not always desirable or beneficial.

Over the course of the book the wife, a traditional Japanese woman, becomes freer in her actions and more sexually liberated. After a lifetime of repressing her emotions, she begins to face them and take action--if in a fairly passive way--to get what she wants. From a "modern" perspective, this is the sort of thing that one wants to embrace, a woman throwing off the chains of the patriarchy to find herself, etc., etc. Within the context of the book, however, this is impossible. Sexual drive leads to, or stems from, depravity, and when the husband and wife embrace this aspect of their character, they behave in a despicable and manipulative manner. The supposed liberation of the wife can lead only to the destruction of their life together.

This makes the book itself an interesting contradiction. On the one hand, its explicit discussion of sex and desire would certainly have made it scandalous in the Japan of 1956. On the other hand, it seems to me a distinctly conservative book, filled with anxiety about Westernization, which is so often associated with modernization. I wouldn't want to reduce the book to that diametric comparison. It's a complex and confusing and fascinating exploration of a relationship in a state of flux. There is a far greater number of questions than answers in The Key.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


I got to go to a clothing exhibition today for a couture line called Celestino. If there was a Web site I'd link you to it, but there doesn't appear to be. It was very interesting, which goes to show that it's good to have friends who are a) cooler than you and b) in fields that have interesting things like this going on. Apparently an exhibition just means that the clothes are on mannequins instead of on models who walk down a runway. I didn't even know they did this (unsurprising since I know virtually nothing about fashion). Kind of nice, actually, since it gives you plenty of time to look at the clothes. Like an art gallery for clothing. While the experience itself was fun, what made it even better was that the clothes were gorgeous.

It seemed OK to take pictures, and I took a few with my cell to show my roommate, so I've posted a couple little ones here so that you can get an idea of just how nice the clothing was. Unfortunately, because they're just crappy cell phone pictures that aren't even really in focus, you won't see how detailed and well made they are. Hopefully doing this is alright, because I wouldn't want to do something that's not alright, but I felt silly nattering on about clothes without being able to show people what I was talking about. Suffice it to say, while you can tell that it's pretty clothing even in my poor pictures, this stuff is far lovelier in reality than it looks here.

If I could afford to spend $2000-$3000 on a dress (which I so so so cannot), this is totally the sort of clothing I'd want to wear.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Price of Books

There's an interesting series on about the price of literary fiction and the format in which it is published. Go here to read: Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3. Although I work in publishing, my department isn't involved in decisions like this. That's decided before we even hear about the book. So I generally only learn about these things in a scattershot manner.

Personally, I don't really like to read hardcover books because I like to always carry a book with me, and hardcovers are a bit awkward, no? But I love hardcover books despite that. I love the way they look on a shelf and the way that they feel in your hand. They have a weight and solidity that paperbacks just don't have. A truly well-designed hardcover can be a thing of beauty in a way that's much harder to achieve with trade paperback and, as far as I'm concerned, just not doable in mass market. I don't think all books should come out in hardcover by any means, but I'm certainly glad some do.

What's more, as one of the interviewees points out, books just aren't that expensive compared to the other things we buy to entertain us and enrich our lives. A movie in Manhattan costs like $11 and most of them are crap. Compared to that books are a bargain...even if most of them are crap as well. I mean movies only last 1.5-3 hours (generally) and then if you want to see them again you have to pay all over again. That sucks.

My take: if you don't want to pay for a hardcover you can a) go to a library or b) take pleasure in the anticipation of waiting for it to be published in paperback. Are those options really so bad?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Death at a Funeral and other assorted things

OK, honestly, I don't know how people go out and do things with other people every day and don't go batshit crazy. Granted a lot of my "out with other people" this past week was "out with family" which is particularly craziness inducing, but I kind of just want to hide in my apartment for the foreseeable future--except for tomorrow when I'm meeting Kir and Jenny after work--and pretend people don't exist.

Also, I just shelled over money for rent, a massive vet visit, and some other things and am feeling rather poor. So clearly what I need is retail therapy? Not so much--and I'm not a happy shopper anyway--but I do need to go shopping for some nice fall/winter work clothes in the next week or so.

Anyway, yesterday my aunt and I went to see Death at a Funeral based on my grandmother's enthusiastic recommendation. It often seems to me that my grandmother likes much more than she dislikes, so it might have occurred to us that this was a mistake, but naturally we failed to consider that.

It's one of those comedies that relies on everyone running about acting like complete idiots. If even one or two people behaved as though they had a brain in their head there would be no movie because the conflict would simply be solved. And I hate movies like that. I just don't understand the justification for choosing stupidity over good plotting. So while there were funny moments, it was more often painful. Rather glad I'm not the one who paid for it.