a suburban tragedy

I might have mentioned before that I don’t believe in spoilers. As a matter of fact I sometimes read the last pages of a novel first just to see what to expect. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been able to read detective novels, I simply don’t care who did it, I’m more interested in the criminal’s every day life, how they like their coffee and what they think about in a crowded bus (well, this part isn’t very hard to imagine). After watching Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road twice, I decided to give the book a try too. There’s nothing more thrilling for me than a psychological suicidal drama; the more depressing and hopeless and with a more predictable ending, the better. I guess it’s a cathartic thing, like the effects of a Greek tragedy. You watch somebody suffer, identify with them, with their terrible trials and tribulations and somehow get purified in the process and can get back to your own (possibly troubled) life with a clearer head and a slightly braver heart.

At first glance the ancient Greek hero’s tragedy seems a great deal more purposeful and dignified, it’s all in the name of an ideal, a tradition or duty, or it’s a punishment for hubris. A housewife depressed in her spotless suburban home seems far removed from any such thing. Still, hers is also a tragedy of hubris, it is the tragedy of the modern man that tries to live up to his or her own illusions of what life is supposed to be like and never giving up on the dream that life holds extraordinary promises. April, one of the main characters, is the tragic heroine of this novel, who wants to live up to the dreams of her youth and cannot conform to a numb suburban life, but, like Jay Gatsby before her, she is chasing an illusion and dies a ridiculously unheroic (to say the least) death, doing that. Not incidentally she bears the name of what T.S. Eliot called “the cruelest month”. She is beautiful and smells like fresh lemons and, like the month she is named after, she both represents and reminds all the other characters of their youthful aspirations, of the promises of life that remained unfulfilled as they all settled for the comfort of routine and the ordinary. Her presence both stirs them back to life at times, for brief interludes, and painfully reveals to them their failure, mediocrity and weakness. Like any tragic figure she has to die consumed by her own impossible dream, letting the rest of the characters continue on with life as we all know it. Her death is both painful and a relief to them. There’s a beautiful scene after her death when their family friend (with whom April has had a brief affair) looks at his wife who wears a torn bathrobe, has tangled hair and smells like cooking and, comparing her to the beautiful April, he is no longer struck by her ordinariness in a negative way, but sees it as a metaphor for the life that goes on and is thankful for what he has previously perceived as something negative.

There’s something beautifully old-fashioned about this drama; I guess the irony of post-modernity has made us less sensitive to the modernist tragedy of mediocrity and it’s harder to take it so seriously. There’s almost a vintage allure to the image of the suicidal housewife; they don’t make housewives like that anymore…

extremely long and incredibly boring

I both hated and loved Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I loved it for its experimental typography, moments of humor and for the story of the grandparents and hated it for its sappiness, idealized characters, overly done gimmicks  and the pointless ending. The movie takes the worst parts of the book and adds some more hollywoodish bad stuff to it, creating a concoction that can be hard to bear. If you’ve read the book you’ll probably get angry at the ridiculousness of the adaptation and if you haven’t, you’ll probably fall asleep after shedding a tear or two. Either way, you’ll probably have to pinch yourself hard to be able to stand the two hour long cinematic trauma orgy, like the main character repeatedly does in the movie. The only thing that kept me going was waiting for the moment when the old guy played by Max von Sydow would start talking and tell the kid in a Darth Vader-like voice with a German accent: “Oskar, I am your grandfather.” Yeah, that never happened.

academic rock’n’roll

I’m not sure I trust Terry Eagleton, but I do like him. You gotta love a self-proclaimed Marxist that defends religion; there’s something in this combination that is so contradictory that it might actually produce something honest. On the other hand, the missionary “new atheism” of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (whom Eagleton groups together under the nickname Ditchkins) has always smelled a bit funny if you ask me. I’m not a believer, but their dismissal of religion has seemed to me as dogmatic as the subject of their rebuttal. And, to over simplify it, that’s pretty much the main point of Eagleton’s critique in his lectures, published under the title Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate. He points out the incongruity and inaccuracy of their criticism of religion and the fact that they are just trying to replace one ideology with another, which, incidentally, functions quite similarly. The most spectacular part of these lectures is his reading of the bible, which he calls conventional, but which points out the radicalism and revolutionary content to be found particularly in the New Testament, embodied in the figure of Jesus who appears to be a radical socialist, semi-anarchist in his portrayal. He does not defend any religious denomination or current church of any kind, quite the contrary, he emphasizes their role in corrupting the message of the bible. All in all it’s a fascinating take on religion and understanding of freedom and human limitations that he expands upon and his lecture like style is extremely charismatic and often tongue in cheek. It made want to read the bible again (completely this time) and make up my own opinion about this Jesus guy and the role of religion; unlike the works of Ditchkins, which have made me suspicious of the term atheist and afraid to call myself one.

An article about the Eagleton-Ditchkins debate here and an interview with the man here

the cat in an empty room

I guess it’s not bad to be remembered in the sometimes poetically exhaustive words of Wikipedia, as someone who “compared Joseph Stalin to the abominable snowman. She also wrote about onions, cats in empty apartments and old fans in museums.”

I’m not much of a poetry reader, but Wislawa Szymborska’s always seemed to me as familiar as tiny epiphanies I’ve had and then immediately forgotten. Her words carry that same cryptic clarity as Emily Dickinson’s and the same touching way of dealing with the tragic, but denying  it tragicness (yes, I know this word doesn’t exist, but I think it should).

Wislawa Szymborska

A Little on the Soul

Periodically one has a soul.

Nobody has it all the time

and forever.

Day after day

year after year

can pass without it.

Sometimes only in rapture

and in fears of childhood

it dwells within longer.

Sometimes only in the astonishment,

that we have become old.

It rarely assists us

in strenuous pursuits,

such as moving furniture,

carrying suitcases

or tromping through a road in tight shoes.

While filling in forms

and chopping meat

it usually takes the day off.

In a thousand of our conversations

it participates in one,

and not even necessarily in one,

preferring silence.

When our bodies start aching more and more,

it silently leaves the ward.

It’s funny:

it doesn’t see us immediately in a crowd,

it sickens at our attempts at mere advantage

and the shrill clamor of business.

Joy and sorrow

are not all that different to it.

Only in the combination of them

does it stand up.

We can rely on it,

when we are certain of nothing,

and when everything seizes us.

It doesn’t say where it comes from

and when it will disappear next,

but it clearly awaits such questions.

It looks like,

as much as we need it,

also it

needs us for something too.

And a poem-like excerpt from her Nobel speech:

“I sometimes dream of situations that can’t possibly come true. I audaciously imagine, for example, that I get a chance to chat with the Ecclesiastes, the author of that moving lament on the vanity of all human endeavors. I would bow very deeply before him, because he is, after all, one of the greatest poets, for me at least. That done, I would grab his hand. “‘There’s nothing new under the sun’: that’s what you wrote, Ecclesiastes. But you yourself were born new under the sun. And the poem you created is also new under the sun, since no one wrote it down before you. And all your readers are also new under the sun, since those who lived before you couldn’t read your poem. And that cypress that you’re sitting under hasn’t been growing since the dawn of time. It came into being by way of another cypress similar to yours, but not exactly the same. And Ecclesiastes, I’d also like to ask you what new thing under the sun you’re planning to work on now? A further supplement to the thoughts you’ve already expressed? Or maybe you’re tempted to contradict some of them now? In your earlier work you mentioned joy – so what if it’s fleeting? So maybe your new-under-the-sun poem will be about joy? Have you taken notes yet, do you have drafts? I doubt you’ll say, ‘I’ve written everything down, I’ve got nothing left to add.’ There’s no poet in the world who can say this, least of all a great poet like yourself.””

the future is weird

I want to hate Miranda with her theatrical weirdness and hipster clothes, I want to yell at her “man, put yourself together, get a decent fuckin’ haircut and some normal clothes so I can enjoy your damn movies” (and she actually does for half of the movie). She manages to capture things that preoccupy me and are so real and poignant, but I can’t concentrate on that because of her damned ridiculous cutesy weirdness. If I manage not to get pissed off and continue on, I’m always surprised and she manages to provoke questions, epiphanies and emotions that haunt me for days. I’m trying to look at her differently and think of her need to put her filmic persona in the movie as something similar to Charlie Chaplin or Woody Allen, but maybe because she’s a woman her self-irony sometimes strikes me more as ridiculous rather than comedic, narcissistic rather than brave. I’m still trying to figure out what it is about her that bugs me and so many other people I know and how much of it has to with my own fear of ridicule more than with her.

But anyway, The Future is probably the best film about the state of this generation that I’ve seen so far. And yet I’m somehow ashamed to admit it. It’s weird, sometimes funny, but mostly sad in a very strange way, not in the heroic tragic way, not in the suicidal way, but in an accepting and very nihilistic way. The image of a couple, each with their own laptop in from of them, physically near to one another, but mentally in parallel worlds, is like looking in a mirror reflecting my own life and its strangeness. The TV as a means of brainwashing is already a cliché, but we are still discovering what it means to spend half of your life in front of a computer, connected to the world. With the TV you had limited access to some channels you could choose from, but with the internet you have access to unlimited information, entertainment, shopping, the lives of others, dating, anything really, it’s like a portal to infinity. This flood of information is the power of the internet both in a positive and in a negative way, it democratizes information but it also causes a paralysis of the spirit and of initiative. It’s easy to see the internet as an immensely positive invention, our access to knowledge is so easy and immediate. Still, whenever my old father asks me how exactly the internet works, I find that I cannot explain, which creeps me out somehow as it shows me that unlimited access to information creates a lot more guilt with regard to the things that you do not know, or as Miranda July’s character says in the film, one day you realize that you are so far behind with the news that it makes no sense even trying to keep up.

Then there is our generation’s relationship to time. I found myself often talking to my friends recently about how time seems to just speed by us and that strange feeling of seeing days, months, years go by without even noticing and what’s worse without really doing anything, growing up, creating something, becoming wiser in any way. The other big elephant in the room is the strange uniformization of the bullshit-apple-“think different” generation, which made us all believe we are unique and special and potentially great artists of some kind. And what happened with the internet is that you realize there are billions of people just as special as you are.

If you want to kill a great idea that passed through your mind, well all you have to do is google it and realize it’s out there already. Someone said that this is a generation of designers, not of artists and somehow consumer culture is bringing art into our mundane life in a way that kills its aura. You get a Picasso printed table cloth and everyone is writing their life stories on blogs, everyone’s a photographer, a singer, or an artist of some sort and if they put it up on the internet they get an audience. A panda sneezing got millions of views and that’s not even the worst thing out there, heck, I might have been responsible for at least 5 of those views.

I was always against elitism in art, but lately I find myself craving those old elitist days, when art was something you felt privileged to have access to, not something you can download in 30 seconds and then forget all about in the next 30 seconds, and when you had to find more elaborate ways to express your opinions about someone’s creation than a thumb up or down. There’s something about this new power of the masses that makes me feel powerless. The same as the character in the movie that sets herself the task of creating 30 dances in 30 days, but ends up paralyzed in front of her laptop watching youtube videos of other women doing the same thing. Well, she’s the artsy contemporary ballet type and they’re more the pole dancing, hip-hop types, but the distinction becomes irrelevant when they are competing for views on youtube.

But the film is not just about these cultural issues; there are also the essential questions about what it means to be human, the constraints, but also the comforts of civilization, human relationships and the point of it all, living while being conscious that we are gliding away towards death every day, the things we put ourselves through in order to fulfill our idea of ourselves only to be bitterly disappointed, the numbness of daily routine and the trap of thinking we can escape it, the desire to feel alive and important, living in a time when we know we are at the end of our rope in so many ways, living with no higher outer guidance and this vague dictum of fulfilling ourselves. All these big questions are raised through the most mundane scenes possible, with nothing noble or dramatic about them. In fact it’s all anti-dramatic. Just like life, perhaps even a bit more ridiculous.  And that cat talking so poetically about time, entrapment, civilization, love and death is the clearest example of the ridiculousness of her genius; we’re all that cat: taken from the wild put in our cages where it’s nice and warm and it’s no longer all about survival, we can rejoice, we get love, but also a hightened self awareness and a tragic sense of the passage of time.

the power of power-point

Time is not on our side, sneaking up on us and grinding away our souls and bodies. “Time’s a goon” says one of the characters in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, one of the best reads I’ve had in a long time. Encompassing past, present and future, a whole lot of nostalgia and innumerable character points of view, the novel is a self-declared proustian endeavor for the 21st century. Since I’ve never really managed to warm up to Mr. Proust, I’ll have to take Egan’s word for it, but it did give me renewed bouts of shame for not having read the frenchie classic and maybe even the push to do so during up-coming long cold winter nights.

Aside from the nostalgia and the all encompassing theme of the past’s shadows over the present, there is little else of the self-absorbed proustian streak. It’s a novel about no one in particular, but about many characters whose paths cross more or less delicately: a kleptomaniac redhead, a punk-rock producer, a bunch of punk teenagers, children, spouses and lovers of other characters, friends, a late blooming, recluse guitar-player, a middle-aged art professor, a suicidal unrequited lover, a PR specialist with a ruined reputation and so on. The time frame is scrambled and ranging from sometime in the late 70s to 2020. This all sounds pretentious and complicated, but it somehow falls effortlessly into place. Despite the obviously experimental prose, it has a surprisingly classical old-fashioned tinge to it. It may be because of the whole nostalgia permeating it. It’s like Proust for the digital age. I’m getting the feeling that the sex drugs and rock’n’roll self-destructive thing is becoming vintage material for this squeaky clean, technologically savvy and paradoxically eco conscious, slow food cooking, domestic new generation and the novel definitely carries some sort of heroin nostalgia.

Some may find it tiring that each chapter starts from an entirely new perspective that one needs to get accustomed with, but the effort pays off in the end as you start to see the fine lines tying all of them together. They are all almost poetic and despite their shortness, you get a deep insight into each character and an uncanny sense of how the passage of time is altering them. My favorite chapter belongs to a former teen-age guitar-prodigy, now toothless recovering heroin addict turned bum, who spends his time fishing in New York and one day brings a big catch to his now big shot producer former childhood friend, leaving a big stinky fish wrapped up in newspaper on his fancy desk in  an equally fancy skyscraper office building. It plays beautifully with the ambiguities of success and how sometimes reaching rock bottom is not very different from achieving what society would refer to as success. And how success is always tinted by the fear that you are nonetheless always one step away from hitting rock bottom. There is also a touching chapter written in power-point slides, not my favorite, but definitely an achievement keeping up with the connection between the passage of time and ever changing media theme, in an eloquent way. It got me looking back at my own life and what the passage of time has done to it and I found myself already missing the characters while I was done with the last pages.

f&*% the anxiety of influence

The fear of plagiarism can be a paralyzing thing and not to mention pointless. It’s like being afraid of the air you breathe. Of course I’m not talking about the word for word type, that’s a crime, but about the unconscious one, about those ideas that are in the air sometimes and they come to more people at once and about things going on around us that enter our subconscious. You can’t prevent being influenced by everything around you. We are all the unique combination of different influences. Lolita was a story told by an obscure German guy, but who cares about that. What matters is that Nabokov wrote it the way he did after absorbing countless influences, among which the story written by the German guy. The anxiety of influence can become the ecstasy of influence according to Jonathan Lethem and this amazing article, it’s just a matter of the manner in which you look at things.

And an ecstatic cover:

post in grup

Noroc cu oameni care mai incita la posturi, in grup de data asta, ca alfel eu nu mai prea dau pe aici.

Si inca un semn ca tre’ sa-l citesc pe Michel Houellebecq asta desi am impresia tot mai pregnanta ca n-o sa-mi placa. Am vazut filmu’ cu particulele elementare parca si am facut cadou si cartea cuiva frantzuzit, se pune?


Je vous présente Houellebecq. Michel Houellebecq. Pentru ca l-a plictisit istoria din romanele lui Dumas dar i-au placut benzile desenate cu Pif. Pentru ca te pocneste in ochi cu adevaruri precum “people get married to have a personal life”. Pentru ca l-am iubit de la “Particulele elementare” pana azi, cand il savurez in dialog cu Bernard-Henri Levy, si am tresarit dureros a recunoastere citind “Extension du domaine de la lutte” taman cand lucram ca programator. Pentru impertinenta asumata si libertatea de a se contrazice, pentru ca se inchipuie romantic si se vrea iubit. Pentru ca e uman si inteligent si scrie bine.

[interviu houellebecq]

* * *


Tocmai mă bucuram că am un interviu cu Wagner, ba chiar unul publicat într-o carte cu ştaif, Wagner’s Meistersinger: Performance, History, Representation (editor Nicholas Vazsonyi). Unul din contributori, Peter Höying, reproduce o convorbire cu compozitorul, sub titlul http://worldwidewagner.richard.de: An Interview with the Composer Concerning History, Nation, and Die Meistersinger. Până la urmă se dovedeşte că discuţia e inventată, cu tot parfumul ei de verosimilitate (la un moment dat intervievatul se plânge chiar că e întrerupt). E frustrant de-a binelea – n-am găsit niciun interviu real cu Wagner şi nici nu am cum să-l întreb, direct, „e adevărat, maestre, că vă plăceau pilotele de puf şi hainele de catifea, după cum susţine Thomas Mann, un individ care s-a afirmat după moartea dumneavoastră?” Aşa că adresa de mai sus trebuie luată ca parte a glumei (să nu-i vină cuiva ideea să-o acceseze). Linkuri la interviuri adevărate n-am.

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bicicleta galbenă

Pentru că a scos din zona de confort atâţia mediocri dovediţi, dar ultra-prezenţi şi obositor de vizibili, spunând lucruri sincere într-o limbă ciudată & adâncă, de o rafinată simplitate. Şi pentru că, de fiecare dată când îi citesc interviurile, realizez cât de ipocrit/ipocriţi sunt/suntem în relaţie cu oameni pe care-i dispreţuim din rărunchi, dar le zâmbim strepezit – precum în viaţă, aşa şi pe bloguri. Da. Deci: Herta Müller.

[interviu herta müller]

* * *


când am dat de ’’Ziua independenţei’’ era o zi de iarnă mă învârteam aiurea printr-o librărie văzusem un film cu titlul ăsta mi-am zis băi frate ditamai romanul pentru un film cu extratereştri răi dar eram în mare mare eroare nici vorbă de aşa ceva m-am lămurit citind un interviu într-o revistă dăruită de o doamnă aşa am descoperit pe unul dintre cei mai puternici prozatori din toate timpurile Richard Ford iar ’’ziua independenţei’’ nu are nicio treabă cu filmul e un roman remarcabil, la fel e şi ’’Cronicarul sportiv’’ artă narativă pură glorioasă.

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milfUnde nu i-ar da dumnezeu un d-asta si lu’ Eugenia Voda!

* * *

Simona Radoi Bun, interviul ales de mine este cel facut de Eugen Istodor cu Cristi Borcea: [interviul] Interviu ales din motive obiective, cu mentiunea ca in ziua aparitiei m-a sunat un prieten, dinamovist, sa ma roage sa il felicit pe Eugen Istodor.

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S(f). Vasile Cititorule, ai conştiinţa împovãratã de atâta dialog cu Luciferii zilelor noastre? Ai cugetul nãclãit de atâta “culturã”? Alungã ACUM mirosurile neplãcute de pucioasã din viaţa ta de apoi!

Sigur aţi cãpãtat suficientã lecturã serioasã pentru azi, aşa cã uite un interviu cu tânãra speranţã a ligii terţe, Stelian “Maradona sixtinã” Baban.


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puπla diletantă

mișel houellebecq îmbracă straie de gogâie într-un monolog de oferit drept exemplu pentru interviuri. din sutele de clipuri cu acest superstar dubios ăsta pare a fi un bun start în a-l cunoaște pe musiu, pentru că în ciuda aparențelor excentricitatea insăși – de altfel caracterizantă pentru mișel – se ascunde parcă timorată sub patul acelui hotel din la fel de dubiosul frankfurt.

[alt interviu houellebecq]

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TuPac Cianur

Eu când aud de gonzo, mă gândesc la filmele porno în care actorul o face și pe regizorul, dar și pe cameramanul aruncându-și în centrul atenției șomâlca după care este avidă cucoana din film. Hunter Thompson este un gagiu care pare-se a oficializat gonzo-ul în activitatea jurnalistică, adică și-a pus la bătaie șomâlca, unii au sărit pe ea, iar apoi a scris despre eveniment. Este cam ceea ce retarzii ăia de la Can Can fac când se pun de-a curmezișul drumului ca să nu treacă Mihaela cu Dany, fac poze multe și le vând apoi ca eveniment exemplar de conduită retardă a unei Dive. Thompson a fost un drogat, bețiv, cu afinități gay – a făcut-o pe peștele (vezi poza) pentru niște băieței și a mai produs și câteva pornoace d’alea. Îl admir pe omul ăsta pentru că este schizofrenic de primul grad. Am ales două bucăți de interviu, unul dat în Vanity Fair (1994), pe modelul oracol de școală primară și un altul apărut un an mai târziu, când se pregătea debarcarea lui Clinton la Casa Albă. Nu peste foarte mulți ani, se sinucidea. Treaba se împuțea – nu cu lumea, ci mai ales cu el.

[interviu thompson]

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[interviul] acest interviu ne ofera o recomandare esentiala. ne arata, de asemenea, ca nu e totul pierdut daca nu o urmam.

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fiction addiction

Nu prea ma omor dupa interviuri pentru ca de multe ori cei care pun intrebarile ma scot din minti ducand discutia in directii irelevante. Exista evident si exceptii, intervievatori care stiu cu cine au de-a face si ce vor sa scoata de la subiect sau subiecti care intorc intrebarile proaste si vorbesc despre ce vor ei calcandu-si respectuos in picioare intervievatorul. Un interviu pe care il recitesc din cand in cand e unul cu William Faulkner pentru ca e incredibil de bogat in ciuda intrebarilor cliseistice. Pe langa filosofia lui de golan zen, ca nu stiu cum altfel sa o rezum, care ma da gata de fiecare data, interviul are raspunsuri la multe intrebari pe care mi le puneam citindu-l: [interviul] Si pentru ca Faulkner mi se pare mult mai golan in realitate decat mi l-am imaginat citindu-i romanele, William S. Burroughs care e cel mai mare golan in scris ma surprinde de fiecare data in interviuri prin calm, coerenta si costumul respectabil: [interviul]

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bătrânul safo

Nouă ne place atunci când sud-americanii încearcă să definească literatura, i.e., încearcă să traseze o linie între realism și fantastic. Și după aia încep să vorbească așa serios despre cărțile lor, despre ce-nseamnă să fii scriitor, cu un aer de sfârșeală. Cu alte cuvinte, ne-am gândit la acest interviu cu Roberto Bolano, pentru că are straniul obicei de a retracta tot ce spune.
[interviu bolano]

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chestii livrești

pentru că este posibil ca Marcel Proust să rămână în memoria oamenilor mai mult după acest chestionar-oracol decât pentru ciclul romanesc În căutarea timpului pierdut, aleg acest “interviu” pentru tema propusă. deci, chestionarul pe care Proust l-a completat la 20 de ani. [chestionarul/interviul lui proust]

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interviul ăsta cu woody allen e ca un film perfect de woody allen, e tot miezul lui woody allen acolo, e material dens, e absurdul lui de anii ’60-’70 pe care nu l-a mai regăsit deloc de atâta timp încoace și ne face o mare bucurie să-l revizităm acu în aceste vremuri triste, post-midnight pariziene. (e-n 4 părți, serviți cât aveți poftă și nici nu vă sfiiți!)