Archive for March, 2011

Making The Picture Clearer

Posted just because I think this is one of the most creative melanges of music, words, and imagery that I’ve stumbled across over on YouTube in quite some time. And Clem Kadiddlehopper II lets it through, too. For now, anyway. : /

Orwell Slags Shaw

Forgive me for not writing for so long, but I have been as usual submerged with work & in the intervals trying to break the back of my garden.

Have you seen any more of your friends who worship Bernard Shaw? Tell them that Shaw is Carlyle & water, that he ought to have been a Quaker (cocoa and commercial dishonesty), that he has squandered what talents he may have had back in the ’80s in inventing metaphysical reasons for behaving like a scoundrel, that he suffers from an inferiority complex towards Shakespeare, & that he is the critic, cultured critic that Samuel Butler prayed to be delivered from. Say that Shaw’s best work was one or two early novels & one or two criticisms he wrote for the Saturday Review when Harris was editor, & that since then it has got steadily worse until its only function is to console fat women who yearn to be highbrows. Say also that he has slandered Ibsen in a way that must make poor old I turn in his grave. Also that Shaw cribbed the plot of Pygmalion from Smollett & afterwards wrote somewhere or other that Smollett is unreadable.

—George Orwell, letter to Brenda Salkeld, March 1933

Good News

Adesina and the babalawo were now settling the fee for the consultation. The babalawo wanted a lot: five hundred pounds, a thousand dollars. Adesina, used to this kind of outrage, remained calm, and began to beat him down. He settled in the end for something much smaller.

I now had to ask my question.

I had it ready. I asked, “Will my daughter get married?”

The babalawo was thrown by the question. He said, “I thought only black people had such problems.”

But he was willing to give an opinion. He lifted the dirty exercise book and showed what it covered. Sixteen cowry shells; two tiny gourds tied together with a piece of string, the gourds not much bigger than marbles. The cowry shells had been much handled. I had known cowry shells to be grey, brown in the interstices in the middle, and dirty-looking; but these shells, from the handling they had received, were very smooth and wonderfully white.

He passed the shells to me, saying, “Blow on them, give your name, and throw them on the table.”

I did as he asked. He took up the tiny gourds and muttered some incantation. After a while the gourds began to swing from side to side. That meant no. If the gourds had swung out and then back, it would have meant yes.

The babalawo said, “The girl is not going to get married. You have many enemies. To break their spells we will have to do many rituals. They will cost money, but the girl will get married.”

Everyone in the room was quite excited. Adesina, his brother, the guide: the babalawo had them all in the palm of his hand.

I said, “But what he’s told me is good. I don’t want the girl to get married.”

—V.S. Naipaul, The Masque Of Africa

Despertar Al Alba

In the cosmology of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the “Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything” is, as determined by a computer that devotes more than 7 million years to the task, the number 42.

The computer then informs its programmers that the precise nature of the ultimate question, however, is still unknown. At the urging of the agitated programmers, the computer then agrees to construct an even more sophisticated computer, subsequently known as Earth, which, after 10 million years or so, will come up with this question, to which the answer is 42.

Unfortunately, the Earth is destroyed by Vogon workmen, constructing a new Hyperspace Bypass, about five minutes before the question is due to arrive.

Douglas Adams, who came up with this delightful puckish nonsense, always vowed that there was nothing special about his selection of the number 42 as the “Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.” He consistently maintained variations around the claim that he decided the Ultimate Answer “should be something that made no sense whatsoever—a number, and a mundane one at that,” that he lit upon 42 “at random,” and that 42 is “a completely ordinary number, a number not just divisible by two but also six and seven . . . the sort of number that you could without any fear introduce to your parents.”

But you know: he could be lying. Because it is a fact that brains lie all the time, and Adams was, so far as is known, an Earth creature, and one with a brain. So even if he was not consciously lying, his brain could have been lying to him.

I’m pretty sure now that this is the case—that Adams, or his brain, knew what the number 42 represented, and employed it as The Answer intentionally. I believe this because of what I’ve found in The White Goddess.


The Sermon At The Stelae

“When I was preparing to be whatever it is I’ve become I was sent to work in a hospital. Comfort the dying. I remember the mortuary there—it was very Victorian. Neo-Renaissance. In the foyer there was an inscription in Latin. ‘Let smiles cease,’ it said, ‘let laughter flee. This is the place where the dead help the living.'”

The older man in the group got to his feet muttering.

“Bummer!” he shouted at Egan. His heavy face grew red with anger; he raised cupped hands to amplify his voice, and screamed. “Bummer!”

“I’ll describe a picture to you,” Egan told his congregation. “I’m sure you’re familiar with it. A group of men are standing over a pile of corpses. They’re smiling and they have guns. Some of them have tied handkerchiefs across their faces but not to give themselves the raffish air of banditti—because of the smell.”

The priest wiped his mouth with his sleeve and took a cautious step forward. “That’s the big picture, children. That’s how it is now. That’s why you see that picture every week in all the magazines. You know—there are variations, the people, and the uniforms come in different colors, but it’s always the same picture.”

Around them the silences and the darkness deepened. Ramon nuts pattered to the ground through a web of leafy branches, making a sound like soft rain.

“Now why,” Egan asked, “are we made to see this picture week after week until it’s imprinted on the backs of our eyes and we have it before us dreaming and waking?”

No one answered him.

“Will these dead help the living?” he asked. “Are we to seek the living among the dead? What does it mean?”


Save Spike Lee

I am worried about Spike Lee.

It is well-known that Lee has a serious basketball jones; he is wholly unable to restrain himself from attending more New York Knicks games than is even humanly possible. Now, it is probable that Lee’s uncommon devotion to the sport helped spark his best film, He Got Game. And it is further true that almost every American male suffers from some sort of sports disability; I myself am not immune. But I have long suspected that Lee’s fixation is something that is edging—or maybe galloping—into 12-step territory.

And now, today, we are presented with photographic evidence that Lee’s Knicks addiction has progressed to the point where he is no longer competent to dress himself like a sane human being. Pictured there to the right is Lee with Something on his head. This is a Something that he has taken to wearing when attending Knicks games. What is this Something? No one knows. But it is so totally and completely Wrong that there really aren’t any words for it.

Can’t someone help him? We need this man. Anyone who can craft movie moments like those below, we need.

Jesus Has A Bad Day

It was as though they were sluggish oxen who refused to move. The world was a cart to which they were yoked; Jesus goaded them on, and they shifted under the yoke but did not budge. Looking at them, Jesus felt drained of all his strength. The road from earth to heaven was a long one, and there they were, motionless.

—Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ

When I Worked

March 2011
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