21 February 2008

Wednesday Night Notes

So, I haven't posted here in a while.  Part of the reason-- fatigue and general business-- is old and well-known, while the other is very much less so; lately I've been writing, if at all, on Facebook mainly because only my friends can read those entries, something that's increasingly important as I recall how easily people can misconstrue material, whether deliberately or accidentally.  Frankly, I'm just not sure I care much about blogging anymore.  After almost five years of it, I'm increasingly inclined to give up the pretense of maintaining a web-site, however nominal. 

That said,a few random notes on Life In General, collected for, well, no reason whatsoever:

  • I'm increasingly aware that my training-- or my experience, or whatever-- has made it almost impossible for me to be surprised by a movie anymore.  As I've noted elsewhere, some movies, trying to be cheeky or self-aware, indicate their own spoilers with ostensibly sneaky winks at the audience so they can justify their big surprises.  In The Usual Suspects, it was Kevin Spacey talking about the texture of his piss; in Lucky Number Slevin, it was Josh Hartnett's initial manifestation in nothing but a towel.  Today I was (finally) watching Brick, the high-school reinvention of Dashiell Hammett fiction with Joseph Gordon-Leavitt.  At one point in the early going, a young woman, I don't know the actress' name, appears at a party in a silk, Chinese-patterned gown, all eyes and would-be sophistication.  First thing I thought?  "It's Chinatown."  I knew right then who the real villain was going to be, and the movie didn't disappoint.  It's a good film, all in all, but directors really do need to be more careful about tipping their hands too early. 

    Similarly, in the remake of Sleuth with Michael Caine and Jude Law, as soon as I saw Law going into one his ambisexual cooing-poses, I knew exactly how the film was going to resolve, and it didn't disappoint, either, at least not in that context: the film itself is a depressing affair, given the immense talents involved (Caine, Law, Kenneth Branagh and Harold Pinter). I wonder if many other people suffer this sort of accidental prescience when they watch these sorts of movies.  Probably not.  By the way, Brick did one thing very, very smartly: conflating the Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and Wilmer the Gunsel (Elisha Cook, Jr.) characters from The Maltese Falcon into one figure.  It borders, in its allusive simplicity, on a masterstroke.
  • I have been rereading Conrad's Heart of Darkness for one of my courses, and am remembering what a genius Conrad was with language.  Sure, I have read it several times before, the last time maybe five years ago, but I think it's only with this reading that I'm truly savouring the language like fine whiskey.  There's not an ounce of sentimentality to it, and in a perversely mimetic way there's a sublime sense to which Marlow's narration resembles the mysterious undulations of sea-travel-- or, rather, river-travel.  I started teaching it last week-- on Valentine's Day, of course, my subtlety too smug by half-- but I think my first week on it, content-wise, was one of the best lectures I've given in recent years.  There's so much to say about that magnificently miniscule text, one hardly knows when to stop.  I am now teasing through a possible article on it in comparison with Graham Greene's revision of it in A Burnt-Out Case, though I'm dubious about when I'll ever have the time.  Greene once said that he had to stop reading Conrad for twenty years for fear he would "colonize [his] style," but I suspect A Burnt-Out Case was a much more studied response to Conrad than many of Greene's critics have previously realized, particularly in Greene's transformation of Conrad's persistent "uneasiness" into his (or his character Querry's) "discomfort."
  • The more time passes, the more I want to teach Shakespeare again.  I miss it, immensely.  I keep inserting bits of Shakie into my courses, usually to surprisingly good effect considering the courses themselves, but I want to be able to talk about literature passionately again.  My short story course, with its heavy emphasis on Modernist writing, tends to disallow that, simply because of the profoundly ironic nature of so much of it.  If I had my way, I'd establish myself as my own Shakespeare Department at Current Institution and build it from the ground up.
  • Considering both Conrad and Shakespeare, I was reminded of the simple fact-- and it is, despite what others may say-- that the two greatest periods for literature in English were the Renaissance and the Modern (1890-1945) Era.  The former's obvious, but why the latter?  And it occurred to me today that it was in the Modern Age that, for the first time, writers could discover one another without really meeting.  In previous decades and centuries, they would do so in centralized loci such as Paris or London; but with the technological advancements of the time, and the mass production of texts reaching new capabilities, authors could, with legitimate excitement and/or antagonism, respond to other authors, other movements, other concepts, without limitation.  Moreover, there were specific Modernist projects, goals, aims.  This thing we loosely call Post-Modernism, for whatever its other virtues, is pretty much toujours-deja cynical about Everything, so no wonder it (and its various subsequent posts) has failed to find its genuinely crystallizing voices. 
  • I'm increasingly aware that my students really don't think of me as a capital-T teacher.  I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing; I find it sometimes undermines the authority, but it underlines the credibility, especially as they don't put me into the pedestal-based camp.  It often seems I'm more like a residence don than a professor per se.  I'm glad in most ways that I'm seldom seen as the "typical" prof, but it also disaffords me of some of the aspects so crucial to the imperious assertion of control that's often necessary in managing & co-ordinating large groups.  It reminds me, though, of something I find fundamentally distressing, the extent to which most in my profession work upon assumed authority rather than earned authority. It remains to this day that students of mine from ten years ago still go out of their way to see me; somehow, that's more intensely meaningful than any course evaluation ever would be.

I don't know: that should probably just be my mantra henceforth:  I don't know.  Intelligence ultimately defeats itself, as does instinct.  One simply goes, and moves, like Marlow's steamer, through the stillness and the calamity.  One should be so zen-- and yet never tip one's hand.

28 January 2008

The Beale World

I have been reluctant to comment openly about the Democratic and Republican nomination campaigns for a number of reasons, not least of which is the interminable ramble already being given them by media outlets in the United States. CNN, with its self-proclaimed "Best Political Team on Television" (as the network incessantly reminds viewers), is by far the worst offender, jack-hammering away at the same events and issues with particularly pernicious vapidity, but it's no less guilty than the panoply of other outlets passing off pointlessly speculative political yammering as insightful documentation and analysis. The effects of all this prattle are two-fold, depending on one's response to it: either one becomes addicted to it, a junkie demanding one's daily fix, or one becomes inured to it, a cynic begging, pleading, for a reprieve from constant clamour. I'm convinced that if there is a Hell, at least one of its tortures is a steady stream of American political coverage, a kind of Promethean punishment for those unable to extract themselves from their couch-potato related sins. It'd be a Dantescan punishment by way of Paddy Chayefsky, but a Dantescan one nonetheless.

Yet, I think we may, finally, be entering the peace before the General Election storm. The worst of the acrimony and contempt seems finally to be petering out, and the results coming largely to naught. The Republicans seem to be inching closer to accepting John McCain as their date to the prom, hesitant as they may be about it, while the Clintonian implosion of the past few weeks has probably all but coronated Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee. Today's endorsement of Obama by Sen. Edward Kennedy may finally have tipped the scales in the latter: in a stunningly scrupulous rejection of self-interested slash-and-burn politics, Sen. Kennedy may well have directed Democrats away from immediate immolation. Make no mistake: this is a Good Thing. Democrats, like Hamlet, are usually their own worst enemies, destroying themselves rather than their opponents. In recent weeks, the Clintons all but discredited themselves from the running not so much by any particular action but by demonstrating the willingness to return the party to internecine warfare, and while that may have worked well enough in other circumstances, the current ones demand otherwise. People are mad as Hell about politics as usual, and they're not going to take it anymore.

But, I think, it's also about people being furious about the various forms of fury itself. One of the reasons Senator Clinton was given a reprieve by Democrats in New Hampshire and Nevada was the vulturous behaviour of media figures like Andrew Sullivan, whose insistently vituperative derangement about the Clintons was perhaps the best gift he could have given them. Sullivan, though by no means alone in his position, represents the kind of 90s vitriolic, visceral and counter-sensical monomania that fed American politics of the past fifteen years, and people have seen where such thinking has led them. The Clintons, similarly, represent the win-at-all-costs strategy, and they're being rejected, too, though it's probably crucial that Democrats are doing the rejection of them on their own terms, and not those of others. (The same is true of Romney, whose over-packaged "say anything" campaign is being received with relative ambivalence.) The media generally are being punished, too, with last-minute mind-changes and disingenuous self-reporting, it seems, designed to throw all of that polling, prognostication and general gotcha-ism into disrepute. The electorate seems to be asking, "You think you know what are issues are," before immediately answering with a stern, "No. No, you don't." There's a whole lot of whoop-ass to go round, and voters seem very much unafraid to dole it out. Howard Beale would be proud.

And yet, for all that anger, for all that a-pox-on-all-your-houses kind of fury, the voters in both parties seem to be leaning toward the figures who represent at least some kind of integrity and some kind of trans-party appeal. McCain is about the only Republican candidate with a chance of winning Democratic voters, while Obama is the only Democratic one capable of doing the reverse. Neither are ideal candidates, but they serve in counter-point to one another, with McCain the voice of experience and Obama the voice of youth (I will not say "hope," a word now largely bereft of meaning in this context). All those of ideas of political predestination that once surrounded Clinton and Giuliani are on the verge of being relegated to the historical junk-heap, and all the political calculus that had become conventional wisdom in recent years is already there. It's as if voters have become cynical about-- wait for it-- cynicism and they're responding in kind, as well they should. It has been a long time in the coming, and while this could, admittedly, be premature, it's almost cause for-- dare one say?-- hope.

22 January 2008

Nodding Off

Just a few short notes, writing from one campus before I set out for another, on the Academy Award nominations announced today:

  • Conspicuously missing:  Marisa Tomei for Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, Donald Pinsent for Away from Her and Max von Sydow for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  When will the academy stop ignoring Max?  He's the Joseph Cotten of foreign films: in every bloody classic there is, or so it seems, and he's usually tremendous; and yet, nary a nomination.  C'mon-- he's Max von fucking goddamn Sydow!  He had two scenes in that movie, and yet every critic I've read felt compelled to remark on his brilliance in them.  Maybe the power of you-know-who compelled them.
  • Pleasant surprises:  Ruby Dee and Hal Holbrook, for American Gangster and Into The Wild, two performers capable of changing an entire movie with a single scene.  For Mr. Holbrook, it's about bloody time.  Hal might actually win it: in a year when it looks like non-American talent will win big, his nomination will allow the academy to assert its appreciation of home-born legends.
  • Foregone conclusions:  I think the top acting honours are set in stone.  It'll be Julie Christie and Daniel Day-Lewis.  Do any of the other nominees in either categorty even stand a chance?  The academy is dying to reward Julie Christie, as well it should.  Her performance is absolutely heart-breaking.  Also look for Tilda Swinton to grab the award for Michael Clayton; it'll probably be the acknowledgement the academy gives for not being able to reward it in other categories.
  • Insult to injury:  after being robbed last year, and maintaining the longest losing streak in Oscar history, you'd think the Academy would have had the grace to toss Peter O'Toole a nod for Ratatouille.  The poor bastard just can't catch a break.  He should have won for Venus, just as he should have won for Lawrence of Arabia -- wait for it-- forty-five years ago. 
  • Look for No Country For Old Men to win Best Picture.  I'd be shocked-- shocked, I tell you-- if it didn't.  Why?  Because it doesn't deserve to.  Consider it the Coens' version of The Departed.  Best Picture is always about cultural cachet, and No Country has it in spades right now.
  • Striking the Match:  Will the writer's strike end in time for the ceremony?  Count on it.  There's just too much money involved in the Oscars for everyone to let it continue and disrupt the grand tradition. 

So there we are.  Dispute as you will.  Must to campus number two.  It's going to be a  long bloody day.

04 January 2008

Collective Commentaries

One of the odder things about the English language is the panoply of words that act as collective nouns.  Some are still in common use-- a litter of puppies, a range of mountains, a bed of flowers, a class of students, a crowd of people-- and some are just odd enough that some remember them just for their oddness, like a murder of crows.  How some of them came to be, or how they're ever used, is curious and often fun stuff; sometimes, however, they're just outright funny, especially when they've obviously been adapted to contemporary purposes.  Here are a few samples from academic contexts:

  • A group of academics is called a faculty; 
  • A group of Assistant Professors is a clamber;
  • A group of Associate Professors is a tenure;
  • A group of Full Professors is an entropy or an entrenchment.

You have to adore the progression.  Some other related collectives:  a oversight of deans; an essence of existentialists; a lack of principals (savour the irony); a brood of researchers;  a drowse of underachievers; a leap of overachievers; and, of course, there's a nullity of nihilists (say that ten times fast).  Even the student year-levels have their own collectives:  a plenitude of freshmen, a platitude of sophomores, a gratitude of juniors and an attitude of seniors; better yet, there are also fortitudes of graduate students and doggednesses of doctoral candidates all working on their angsts of dissertations.  Lovely when language offers its implicit commentaries, non?  Frankly, I think a group of doctoral candidates should be a delay or an insecurity; even a poverty would do.

Some other choice examples, even though surely the catch of collective nouns is language at its most sly:

  • an ingratitude of children
  • a rash of dermatologists
  • a guess of diagnosticians
  • a gross of farts
  • a conjunction of grammarians
  • a smear of gynecologists
  • a thicket of idiots
  • a spread of nymphomaniacs
  • a tenet of palindromes (clever indeed)
  • a babel (or a babble) of words

Many of these were surely invented only recently, of course, but one has to admire the elegance of them.  You can read amusedly through some sites through the link above.  Reminds me, though, that I'll have to pick up James Lipton's An Exaltation of Larks (yes, that James Lipton), which seems to have been the source for many of the above.  Makes me wonder what a group of partial-load professors would be.  A posse?  A parade?  A temper?

28 December 2007

After Christmas and Disclaiming Care

So Christmas has finally come and gone, and with it the end of first term at New Institution.  My workload has briefly subsided, but the post-class period demanded a mad dash of more than 80 hours of marking in a week and in many ways I'm still recovering from it.  Come January, I'll have six courses, up from five this term, which augurs for a repeat of the end of term insanity unless I can figure out a way to coordinate a more professor-friendly calendar rather than the student-friendly one I ran with this time.  Is that selfish?  Probably, but it's a necessary selfishness, I fear.  That means, though, that I'm going to have to be something of a so-called "hard-ass" next term.  I'm sure that'll thrill my future charges.

Onto another matter.  Now and then, something happens culturally that makes me feel very much like an odd man out, particularly when critical and general responses are largely laudatory while mine is ambivalent or worse.  Such is the case of No Country For Old Men, a movie I find myself unable to like.  Certainly, there are many admirable things about it, including the performances, the cinematography and the direction.  In many ways, it's a study in stillness and silence which surely makes the interruptions of violence seem far more brutal than they otherwise might be.  It's also perhaps the most genuinely nihilistic film I've seen in years, even outpacing the dark-comic-cum-revenge-tragic Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

So, what's missing, or what am I missing?  There's something passionless about the whole project, something too artificial by half, that I find too distancing, and consequently dull, as the vastness of it all seems to choke off any capacities for empathetic or visceral response.  There's nothing purgative about the movie, which I suspect is supposed to be the point, but it ends up short-circuiting anything emotive or ostensibly "satisfying," using that word in the largest dramaturgical sense rather than the colloquial one.  As a meditation on violence and chance, it works, I guess, but only in the sense that A History of Violence did, another film whose praise I did not understand and thought inexplicably effusive.  Everything is treated with a kind of clinical coolness that's supposed to be intellectual or at least objective, but the result is counter-intuitive and anti-climactic.  Yes, that's probably a mimesis of the film's nihilism, but it renders the film little more than a mental exercise, and irresolute and intractable one at that.  That's probably why the film ends with Tommy Lee Jones describing a dream, as if provoking us to decipher the dream when it's probably just a disconcerting koan.  Violence is swift, arbitrary, discordant, beyond the limited methods of rational understanding; it just happens, both within and beyond the pale, as incidental as a mosquito bite.  No wonder the withered "hero" of the piece (Jones) is so ineffectual; he's supposed to be, lest the film suggest that violence can be countenanced or confronted.  It just simply is, and we're left to respond to it with the troubled indifference that the Jones character does.  The film's violence is the stuff of waking nightmare, and just as preventable.  And yet, like a nightmare, the film is visually vivid but oddly alienating.  I reached the end of it wondering, beyond the intellectual circularity (to say nothing of defeatism) of it all, why I should care.  That's the problem with the film, and nihilism generally; they both have only themselves as their own rewards.  It's a peculiarly tepid reminder that nihilo ex nihilo, nothing comes from nothing.

I realize I'm nearly alone in this response.  No Country for Old Men (its title torn from Yeats) feels too much like a crossword puzzle or a sudoku, admirably constructed to be sure but manifestly trivial; it resolves itself rhetorically, pointlessly, a resolution for resolution's sake; it is the sum of its parts and nothing more.  It's thoughtful but not insightful, and because of its mimetic approach to its central themes, too aloof to be involving and too significant to be finally substantial.  There's a scene near the end where one of the characters, I won't say who, is encouraged to call head or tails on a coin flip to determine his or her fate.  The character's refusal to do so is supposed to suggest a refusal to play by the fatalistic rules of the villain's game.  Ultimately, however, the character seems to reflect the Coen brothers' abnegation of the rules of their own cinematic game, and while that's laudable, even admirable in a way, it's probably also why the film is so staunchly unsatisfying.  It invests our time and offers nothing afterward, perhaps like life itself, and while I suspect that's supposed to be disquieting, it's just barren and dyspeptic, offering experience but disavowing meaning.  Maybe that's what's most profoundly unsatisfying about the movie: it's all unjust just-ness, just a darker version of Fargo, or a less gripping version of Blood Simple; it's all just a moody parable, a stilted and relentlessly ambivalent allegory of nothing signifying nothing.   It all just is-- passionless, pointless and surprisingly painless.   And if the film doesn't care, why should we?  Or maybe it's just a coolness which I can neither countenance nor confront, except as an intellectual exercise, passionlessly, pointless and, yes, painlessly.  It's all too easy when one simply doesn't care.

17 December 2007

Now, Then and the Half-Poetic Shrug

It's all too tempting to use this space to rant about the insanity of things: the lunacy of trying to mark piles and piles of assignments in a fruitfly's lifetime, the impossible me-me-me-ness of (certain) students who think one has nothing to do but tend to them, the crests of snow that will surely bollix up the traffic in these parts for days; all too tempting to resort to the cyberspace equivalent of a primal scream only thinly-disguised as either a screed or a jeremiad. Let's just say that with the end of term, the dramatic entry of winter, and the drudgerous demands of the "holidays" (yeah, right...), there's just too damned much going on to begin whining. If I did, I'd never stop.

Unfortunately, I can't say I have much of interest to report. It looks like I'm going to have at least six courses come January, though I suspect at least two and maybe three of them will be smaller classes (he writes with fingers crossed, which, he assures you, is a feat in itself). As I understand it, there are even possibilities for more, not that I want them, but I guess the demand is there and I haven't entirely farked up my current lot of students (though a little bit is, in fact, required by law). It's a little surprising, really; I had been told to expect a decrease in workload. So much for that, I guess. I'm really looking forward to one of the courses, though; it should be fun.

And, I guess there's one other bit of "news," such as it is: I lost my hat. I'm not sure how I feel about that, as there are various connexions to it to incur something very near ambivalence, but that fedora had become, over too many years, something like a Dr J trademark with so many of its indicative, and sometimes ironic, characteristics. But it's gone now, almost certainly for good, and I can't help but wonder if that marks the end—or the beginning—of an age. Times, like old loves and former selves, pass away into accident and circumstance, for good or for ill, and it's too easy, like complaining, to fuss too much about them. Best, I think, just to shrug them all away. And yet, maybe that's a problem for all of us, how easily we shrug things all away. After all, those easy answers, they're so tempting, aren't they? Because all of life's sensible answers, right or wrong, are always too temptingly easy, or too easily tempting, by half.

27 November 2007

Another Fry Up

So you can share my addiction: herewith the YouTube links for the most recent episode of QI:  part one, part two and part three.  It's a pip.  If you don't end up hooked on the show, you're a stronger soul than I.  (Careful, NSFW due to bits of naughty language.)

Also, finally picked up Fry's The Stars' Tennis Balls, which I had been trying to locate for some time.  You have to love his bio from it: 

Stephen Fry was born in the twentieth century and will die in the twenty-first.  In the course of writing six books he has drunk four hundred and twelve thousand cups of coffee, smoked one a half million cigarettes and worn out nineteen pairs of trousers.  He has no birth sign.

The novel's a variation on The Count of Monte Cristo, though its title is torn from Webster's The Duchess of Malfi.  Can't wait until I can actually take the time to read it. 

25 November 2007

A Little Note For Now

Consider this an update more in theory than in fact.  As ever of late, I'm whelmed by marking that seems only to worsen with each passing week; in the past week alone, I've probably been grading assignments for thirty to forty hours entirely exclusive of my normal teaching duties and (worse inevitably following worse) making all kinds of extra-curricular meetings for students who didn't, or couldn't be bothered to, signup to discuss coursework in normal times.  Let's just say it's exhausting and leave it at that. 

In the interim, until I can actually think about a real entry, herewith a few short takes:

  • Finally watched, in bits and pieces, the Guy Pearce film of The Count of Monte Cristo, which is a travesty of a film for anyone that knows the Dumas novel.  While it's nothing new for Hollywood to revamp a tale for its own purposes, the unmitigated evisceration of Dumas' plot, right down to excluding major characters and excoriating all of the issues of mercy so key to the novel, is utterly unpardonable.  More sadly, though, it reminded me of how long it has been since I read anything for pleasure; seems like an eternity. 
  • Though I can't feign much interest in the technological material, I discovered to my great joy that Stephen Fry-- the actor, director, novelist, comedian and general polymath-- has a blog.  I was particularly impressed by his discussion (a "blessay," as he calls it) of the global warming debate, partially by way of Pascal's Wager before he rightly rejects Pascal's practical cynicism.  It's long, and perhaps too dense and tangential for most, but it's a terrific read, especially if you know Fry's voice and can it hear it in your head as the words roll by; he and Lewis Black are the only comedians capable of regularly turning material into virtuoso comic arias.
  • Speaking of Stephen Fry, unfortunately we in North America are not privy to most of his television projects as they inexplicably don't get aired over here.  Blessed be, then, YouTube, which offers most of the episodes of his brilliant series QI, a rare programme that's both delightfully informative and deliciously funny.  I highly recommend going over to YouTube and entering "QI Fry" as your search terms and savouring the results.  I also managed to purchase Fry's Bright Young Things last week, his film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies; it's quite good, though the last sections drag a bit.  Watch it if you can find it, though the latter will certainly be more difficult than the former.
  • Can you tell I'm procrastinating from marking?  I thought so.
  • Have been trying with some of my classes in recent weeks to add some oddities to add some spice to the duller lessons of grammar & writing.  Did some lectures on the history of the word "word," contranyms, and the counter-instinctive nature of prose, as opposed to the instinctual nature of poetry (with the primary unit of logic for the former being the sentence, but the latter being the line).  One wonders, however, how much any of this takes in convincing my young charges to thing more actively about language.  It has, at least, to be more interesting than the myriad rules for comma usage.  *shrug*

Okay, I've obliged this blog long enough for now.  Marking beckons like an angry shrew, so I'd best attend its call.  Until later, probably much later,

the increasingly recondite, scattered and almost completely exasperated Dr J

20 November 2007

Bloody Brilliant

Although I should note that XP never, ever rebooted so quickly before.  And Vista, well Vista, the less I say about that intrusive piece of fecund technology the better (lest Microflaccid decide to make any George Lucas-like "improvements")....

link via Clevergirl, with thanks.

15 November 2007

She's Baaaaaack....

And this time, she's got company.  Gawd help the Internets-- and all of us.  ;-)

(Historical side-note: It was Christie and RK that were primarily responsible for kicking this blog into existence so many years ago, way back when I actually thought I would maintain it diligently.  Anyway, now you know whom to blame.)

Spending all day marking & trying to figure out how to handle a new transit strike that promises to start very soon.  Life, ain't she grand?  Pffft.

11 November 2007

Jesus H. Kristeva

Sorry, everyone, but I haven't had any time whatsoever in the past-- has it really been?-- two months to write.  Such is life at New Institution, alas.  That's also unlikely to change anytime soon, unfortunately. 

I was reminded tonight, though, of an old "issue" for (inter-)textualists, the one commonly called Tommy Westphall Syndrome.  (Make sure you read the "external links" at the bottom.)  Given the spectacularly, to say nothing of circularly, onanistic nature of such thinking, I was reminded that the Westphall Syndrome is probably the best example in the past thirty years of a broad cultural koan, and a ludicrously over-considered one at that.  Two other thoughts occurred to me.  One:  that this "riddle," if it deserves to be called that, reminds me of the episode of Frasier in which the good shrink, bored at work, subconsciously manufactures for himself a dream that's psychologically indecipherable just for the challenge.  The other, of course, was much cheekier, and speaks to the absurdity of the riddling itself:  that the pontificators should be well and gladly pleased that St. Elsewhere never crossed over with Newhart.  Then whose dream would television be?  Or would all dreams be collective after all?  In which case, not only would the world, and all its fictional worlds, be dreams within dreams, but shared ones to boot?  In which case, we'd have gone beyond Kristevan incredulities and landed somewhere in Jung's town.  How's that for an imponderable ponderable? 

11 September 2007

Wow. Just Wow.

Someone clearly needs a life--- and a little disassociation therapy.  And probably a island's worth of sedation.  (Link courtesy Christie.)  Warning:  prepare your pity sacks!  Or at least you vomit bags.

Apologies for the lack of posting lately:  life is nuts-to-the-wall insane, and I'm spending much too much of my time either in transit or in recuperation.  As Danny Glover famously put it, "I'm too old for this...."

01 September 2007

God Help Us All

Just when you thought television couldn't get any worse....  At least it won't feature Ben Mulroney.

Under The Fold

Subtext?  SUBTEXT?!?!  We don't need no stinkin' subtext.... 

(Key quote:  "This is hurting...."  Indeed.)

31 August 2007

And Turn Away Thy Face

Now this is what you call "dramatic irony." 

27 August 2007

Brief Update

Hard as it is to believe, the NSG Doc has finally caught up with the times.  Well, kinda.  I'm writing this entry from my long-wanted but only recently-acquired laptop.  It's a neat little system, with a great display and a nifty design.  It is, however, causing me to install all the programmes I use on a regular basis, and I'm having to deal with the various frustrations caused by Microsoft Vista.  I can certainly see why people aren't enamored with it.  It's slow, bloated and irksome, especially when it nags you about every single task you attempt.  I'd remove it, but something tells me that'd be more hassle than it'd be worth.  Otherwise, though, I love the new system and I can only imagine how much commuting time won't be going to waste anymore. 

BTW, thanks to those of you who sent kind wishes regarding yesterday.  They were much appreciated.  Perhaps more later.  Cheers.

At Long Last

And it's about effing time .... 

22 August 2007

Logical Positivism

Wow, it has been a long time since I updated here:  have been crazy-busy lately with various things (writing, editing, reviewing medical briefs slightly larger than Montana) and desperately pretending that it isn't really August.  I am in the slow process of setting up at New Institution which, it turns out, is much more complicated than it used to be: contractual stuff, net access, voice mail, the whole drill.  (I shudder to think how exasperating it'll be checking voice mail on even a semi-regular basis; email alone has become a chore.)  I'm also trying to figure out the eventual purchase of a laptop, which is an odd thing since I've been using the same desktop since Clinton left office.  As I'm planning to continue my freelance work, I'm going to need one with all the work I'll have to do.  Turns out I'll also have to use a laptop in my teaching, which I've never had to do before.  It feels like I'm being dragged into contemporaneity, and in my experience that usually means more work rather than less.  C'est la vie. 

I've also learned that one of the things I'm going to have to teach is the tired chestnut of the five-paragraph essay.  Surely you all know the structure.  It's also one I used to rail against in class, as many of you also know (probably too well).  That structure, in the hands of some genuinely awful teachers, has probably been responsible for some of the most turgid and thoughtless essay-writing I've had to endure because so many people think in rubrics rather than argumentative or analytical logic.  No religious man I, suddenly I'm praying I can impart the fundamentals without accidentally becoming part of the problem-- specifically, contributing to the breeding or enabling of Baaaaaad Writing.  The structure works as a teaching device because it's simple and memorable; but as an organizing principle, it's often woefully misleading and functionally impractical.  When I taught first-year courses at Place Of Which I Do Not Speak, one of the first things I used to do was demolish that model.  Now I have to promote it.   I'm sure several of you are laughing your butts off as a result.

So, yeah, there's a lot cooking these days with only more to come.  I can't promise, alas, a return to form in re blogging any time soon.  It's that time of year when I normally become most elusive (and, if caught, surly).  It came to my attention, however, that this year-- for the first time-- I will officially be twice as old as most of my students.  Twice.  As they say, if I were a horse, they'd have shot me by now.  How's that for logical positivism?

09 August 2007

Delays and Dissonances

Sheesh: lately it seems every time I go to update this blasted blog, I feel I should apologize; same, in fact, for finally answering any of the emails that have gathered like moss recently. With things being the way they have been, combined with a general distaste for writing, I must have seemed at best erratic and at worst rude. My apologies. And, I should add, my thanks to those who've expressed congratulations and such, even if I haven't gotten around to thanking everyone individually.

Just some random bits and pieces for your consideration:

  • Watching The Simpsons Movie, I was struck by one sight gag that has to be one of the most insightful observations I've seen in a long, long while. At one point, as a giant dome is falling upon Springfield and the direness of the town's predicament becomes apparent, the movie cuts to a shot of the town church and Moe's Tavern. The denizens of each stare up into the sky, panic, and run into the opposite building: the drunks to church, the religious to darkened stools. Ah, truth in satire. When the shit hits the fan, the familiar crutch just won't do. Bloody brilliant.
  • Ironic moment pending: Occurred to me the other day what a joy it would be to fly-on-the-wall when Nelly Furtado's daughter becomes an out-of-control teenager. The precocious But Mom!s would be priceless. *snicker*
  • Ever like ships in the night, it seems that just as I'm about start working in the same city as Zelda, she's off to another city. The story of our lives: always in the same area, never in the same place at the same time....
  • Since being sheared like a New Zealand lamb, I've been inundated with "Oh-my-God-you-look" [insert number here between 19 and 22, with or without a colourful expletive]. Sure, it's all supposed to be complimentary & all that, and I'm equally sure most of the remarking is exaggerated. It reminds me, though, why I started growing in beards all those years ago; one tires of the "do you have ID" and effusive darlingism. There's something desperately wrong with the world when people start calling me "cute." *Shiver* Especially when I know it's meant in the Gary Coleman sort of way. Ugh. Talk about your cognitive dissonances; it's like describing Burgess Meredith as "cuddly." Or Trouble, pictured at right doing his best impression of a possum, as "ambitious." (Old Cat's Book of Practical Possums, anyone?)

Oh well. It's August, that most dread-inducing month. It's enough to drive a man to drink--- even more than usual. Then again, I like my crutches tried and true.

06 August 2007

Kinda Sorta

Yes, yes, yes:  I have been delinquent in updating this blog, so my apologies to those of you who keep checking it so inexplicably dutifully.  Have been asea in issues and paperwork, and generally exhausted, but I have finally (and surely temporarily) alighted from the waves long enough to catch my breath.  And yes, as Zozo tweaked in one of her comments, there is a bit of a change for the Ole Doc, as he will be assuming a new position shortly at a local institution.  (As opposed to my last institution, the position for which I was constantly forced to assume zoologically constituted "presenting.")  But good news in my own regard has been so rare, that every little bit counts. 

So, there you have it.  Kinda sorta.  Discretion, better part, you know the drill.  But now you know.  Kinda sorta. ;-)

02 August 2007

Scum and Villainy

You must be cautious.

And yes, he does do a better job than Ewan.

25 July 2007

From There To Where?

Something to remember from Alan Watts, with a little help from Stone & Parker. Key words: "And it was a hoax...." Yup.

One of the ironies, of course, is that if you study (say) Tom Eliot or Wallace Stevens, you need to know this sort of thinking intimately. Then they tell you to-- what?-- go do this and then this and then that. Oh, and that too. No wonder so many of us, to steal Mr. Yeats' image, cannot tell the dancer from the dance.