“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, April 07, 2007

what is that noise of creeping and crawling in the family vault

It is difficult for us in such a short space of time to get together all the reflections which a work of this nature naturally gives birth to; we can only lament here publicly on the kind of frenzy which seems to agitate these turbulent spirits that the love of liberty and independence carries into excesses, and which makes them envision happiness in the subversion of all rules, of all principles, and in the destruction even of those laws that up to now have been the security of the proprieties not only of the family, but of the person and even of the sovereign

--- The warrant [arrêt] for the pamphlet, the Inconveniencies of feudal rights by Pierre Francois Boncerf, which was burned in Paris in 1776. Boncerf was a lawyer, the clerk of the great physiocrat, Turgot, and his pamphlet was directed against serfdom on economic grounds – a small moment in the Great Transformation of the European economy.

LI feels like we have distinctly advanced on this whole subversive festuche and debauch we’ve got going. It is definitely a step forward to look at it in terms of insiders and outsiders, as per our last post on the subject, even though subversion doesn’t originally – that is, when the word starts appearing in the sixteenth century - locate the inverting force it denotes. What we are looking for is the souterrain of history in which a word finds its connotative field. Criticism is a sport like vampire hunting, one has to be willing to get down in the vaults, open up boxes that have been closed for centuries, breathe a miasmatic air.

So we see how subversion is used in a judicial sense by the police in the year Adam Smith wrote the Declaration of Independence. Or something like that. Like the wind that ‘subverted’ John Evelyn’s trees in the late seventeen hundreds, Boncerf’s pamphlet aims at knocking down a system of proprieties. However, if we look at who Boncerf is, we get the picture of the semi-insider, a lawyer, Turgot’s secretary, a made young man. Boncerf, it turns out, is one of the physiocrats who, far from trying to subvert the public order, is a reformer intent on saving it. In his view, serfdom is an economic offense, just as liberty is about property – not the proprieties that bind it in. The insider/outsider is of a type that requires the most delicate handling. A type that the guardians of public order have to be especially vigilant about. Subversion often acts anonymously, it often acts secretly – or at least these are the connotations to which it is destined as it goes down the surveillance track. As it appears in legal documents and reports, as it functions in the courtroom and the newspapers. And as subversion, by being secret, can infiltrate the inside, the public order itself, as it steals the codes, the plans, the blueprints, the information, as it deforms the tramsmission of orders, spreads rumors, gossips, blackmails, then it has to be adapted to staying inside by the various devices used by the covert - becoming invisible, planting bugs, spying through keyholes, etc. The association with secrecy is formed in the police file, but it soon has a natural existence outside of the police file. So the question is: if the spirit of subversion makes the hop into the arts, will it use its history? Will it lay low, will it disguise itself?

Let’s now jump ahead to another subversive scene. This is from the report filed by Billaud-Varennes in 1794 to the Convention, on “the necessity of promoting the love of civic virtue by public celebrations…” Public celebrations – not least, executions – have certainly been promoted by the Jacobins. But 1794 is a reaction to the terror. So Billaud-Varennes looks back:

“We must confess that the delirium that took possession of some actors was shared by the authorities as well.

They had ordered the disappearance from all the old plays of the noble titles, to be replaced by the title of citizen; so well that in the place of duc, marquis, count or baron, one substituted the word citizen without even bothering with whether the change violated the rime or measure of the verse. The actors of the theater of the Republic avoided, as much as they could, these gross inconveniences, in making a little less ridiculous changes; but they were obliged to sacrifice all theatrical illusion for fear of losing an eye or an ear from ignorant sans-culottes, and one saw Greeks and Romans, Venetians, Gaulois appear on the stage with the national colors; the women themselves were not exempt from this absurd subjection, and Phedre did not declare her flame for Hippolyte but with a chest ornamented with a large tricolor cocard. But the spirit of subversion did not limit itself to revolutionizing the theatrical costume; one attacked the masterpieces. Even those tragedies that breathed the most ardent love of liberty and the strongest hatred for despotism were obliged to pass by a purifying scrutiny, and only obtained their certificate of civism after one had taken away some hundreds of lines, which were not apropos. How to suffer, for instance, that the death of Cesear was soiled by the counter-revolutionary discourse of that moderate, Anthony?”

The spirit of subversion in this moment was, indeed, the public order. The opposite of the secret is the bacchanal. The policeman's nightmare. It spreads, it infiltrates, the audience and the stage. One wonders about the aesthetic effect of this on the spectators – surely the prehistory of the absurd, of the revolts of the modernists, the dadaists, surrealists, etc, the whole dwindling tradition, has too much ignored performance? Because theater is live, and dies, the influence of performance on writers and artists before the movies is, LI thinks, probably very underestimated. The idea of putting on, say, Cid, with the substitution of “citizen” for any of the monikers of the nobility in the play, really makes it a wholly other play. The noble spirit of the classic plays is, for the contemporary spectator, wholly theatrical and make believe anyway, but this is the moment, in 1793, that made that presupposition possible – that in a sense cuts us off from classical theater forever.

It is time, I think, to jumpcut to Delacroix, Champfleury, Baudelaire, the Exhibition Universelle, and the phrase, “Le beau est toujours bizarre”.


northanger said...

The Winslow Boy, another good law movie.

roger said...

North! This is easter - escape day, not day in court day! We learn, today, that death is not the end, that no rule is universal, that in every house there's a mousehole, every tire has a leak, every star has an icy core, and contradiction is the very brain of things!
So, here's my escape youtubing experience for you. Happy Escape day!

roger said...

Okay, some great escape movies:
1. I was a fugitive from a chain gang
2. Papillon
3. oh, damn, the subjective cinema one with Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart and Agnes Moorehead.
4. Night and the City
Okay, your move.

northanger said...

i'm not giving up on The Law so easily! i shall try the...

AQ434 = PSYCHOANALYTICAL GAMBIT = LAWYERLY QUOTATIONS (from the University of Texas at Austin).

<a href=""></a>

<a href="URL">LINKY TEXT</a>

roger said...

Oh, North, you shouldn't have! Giving me Linky Text for an Easter present!

It is so complicated!

So, this is obviously gonna be a double track kinda thread, with you emphasizing the catching and the trying, and me the running away and the great escaping - and you got to admit, the Ascension was probably the greatest escape. Jesus was lucky that Steve McQueen wasn't around, or I doubt he would have got that part.

I've never seen a good film version of the Count of Monte Cristo - obviously, after Luke, the best escape story ever. Les Miserables is, I suppose, up there.
Hey, I forgot Cool Hand Luke!

And also, it looks like the director of I am a fugitive from a chain gang also directed wizard of oz. But escape is now escaping me as a viable category.

However, I'm throwing in White Heat my favorite Cagney film of all time. I do love Codey, although it was sorta cold of him to order the murder of one of his gang members. The perils of leading a gang! a lesson for us all.

With, of course, this immortal dialogue:
"Made it, Ma! Top of the world!
With defiance, he dies in the tremendous 'white heat' explosion - a mushroom cloud, apocalyptic-style blast that shakes the earth."
Followed by the cop chorus:

"Evans: Cody Jarrett.
Fallon: He finally got to the top of the world. And it blew right up in his face."

northanger said...

your very first linky {crying} {sobbing} i'm so {choked up} proud!

northanger said...

steve mcqueen. whoa. rwoar! damn, i forgot to grab my Le Mans poster from my dorm room closet. damn squared.

ok, great war movies! The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, Mrs. Miniver, Henry V (Olivier & Branagh), Black Narcissus...

i'm all for cutting & running actually. ok, cut & run movies! um, Nuns on the Run, Sister Act...

northanger said...

best thing about Count of Monte Cristo? the sandwich!

roger said...

Don't mock on Great Escape day!

northanger said...

dear brother, if thou canst mocketh on the day of great escape thou canst escape the great mock!

roger said...

Nobody escapes the great mock forever. Look at poor old Jim Cagney, returning the fire of the dirty coppers. At least, though, you can go out with a blaze of glory!

northanger said...

thou ist an ballsey blasphemer! get thee behind me satanic sacrilege... The Great Mock is absolute!

roger said...

Here's the trailer.

northanger said...

like, {snapping gum} it's the greatest escape clause ever!

roger said...

oops. That didn't work. This
link will, or I'm shottin' the lot of ya!

northanger said...

i remember the greatest escape movie! Some Like It Hot.

patrick said...

'In Harm's Way' is good, too, y'all. I think was made as sort of vague sequel to 'Longest Day', which I didn't see till recently. Pat Neal terrific in former. Sweet Brandon De Wilde and Jill Haworth adorable too, and one died and the other suffered career homicide on B'way (but she had been good, I swear, because I saw her in 'Cabaret'.)

Happy Easter, dears.

patrick said...

'Some Like It Hot' is the greatest film ever made, because of when Marilyn sings 'Runnin' Wild' in the train. Fuckin' genius, that broad.

patrick said...

I like 'Papillon' too. I need to see 'fugitive from chain gang' because such a great title. It's probably better than 'Maadchen in Uniform'. Some German I knew said I was incapable of pronouncing 'maadchen' properly.

northanger said...










i look good in a mink coat honey

mmm, hmm. you look good in a shower curtain









northanger said...

happy escape day, Paddy!

patrick said...

Oh, my dear darling, that's the first time anybody did a reduction of a trailer in just words and I could actually hear it. I thoroughly dislike people putting down people like Virginia Mayo the way Ms. Sontag did, for snobbish persuasion purposes (doesn't make sense to compare Miss Mayo to Miss Garbo). This is America the Beautiful because of gals lookin' good in shower curtains.

patrick said...

I got to do nap, will catch y'all babes lat-uh...I've decided I am too weird, but that it's too late to do anything about it.

roger said...

Happy escape day, Patrick! I forgot about some like it hot. Huh, the only comic getaway movie I can think of ... doh, I forgot O Brother where art thou.

I wonder what Mailer says about some like it hot in Marilyn - which has some of my favorite over the top Mailer passages, and is particularly nasty to Arthur Miller.

northanger said...

surely & verily my brother paddy, you walk in the coronal nimbic indifference of ... The Great Escapable Mock.

northanger said...

i've got Mailer. i'll check.

northanger said...

Bonnie & Clyde!

northanger said...

Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.

Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.

northanger said...

The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid.

northanger said...

gotta go, happy egg.

patrick said...

roger--Mailer said it was definitely 'her best film'. I'd certainly agree. He details a lot of her by-then insanity on the set, with Tony Curtis being driven completely nuts and ending up referring to her as Hitler from workking on that chicken-leg scene.

Feel better after my nap, was fascinated by Escape Day, because on the street today I was in a terrible state, concentrating on all my faults and deciding that I was in a Prison of My Own Making (minimum security, but still....) However, now I am walking in the coronal nimbic indifference of the Great Escapable Mock, and it is My-T-Fine.

Mailer's book is typical of him, of course, in that you can always hear his privilege, but he makes good use of this by coming up with things nobody else thinks of. I have noticed this in his fiction as well. There's very good stuff in the 'Prince and the Showgirl' section too, and apropos of acting styles we were talking about recently. They were talking about English and American styles at the Ballet Forum during the Oscar period, and we discussed that section: It's worth a re-look, because he goes into Marilyn's Strasberg thing and how Olivier's English training had to somehow work with this. As with the Picasso book, Mailer tends to know everything there is. I don't get it. He is simply so intelligent it's blinding.

Amie said...

Bresson - Un Condamné à mort s'est échappé

roger said...

Patrick, It is hard to find a copy of Marilyn, you know. It seems to be the most stolen book from libraries.

You know, Marilyn would have been a good Belle Helene. Perhaps as good as Offenbach's first choice. They would have had to slightly dub, of course, but they did for my fair lady.

Amie, I have not seen that film. I'm such a bad cinephile wannabe! Sometimes I think I am never going to make it.

patrick said...

'It is hard to find a copy of Marilyn, you know. It seems to be the most stolen book from libraries.'

Yes, and when you do get one, someone has often razored a lot of the photos out. Same with the Picasso of Mailer: Recently, I had read it and wanted to show someone the plates of the Early Cubism and then those of the Synthetic Cubism that followed, and those last had been carefully sliced out too. In both cases, I have had to bring it to the attention of the library so that they throw those out and you can request another one if they have it.

I don't know 'La Belle Helene', which I'm shamefully admitting so that I will force myself to go and familiarize myself with it. I haven't gotten around to really concentrating on Offenbach. There's been tons of dubbing in films of musical comedies, of course, that's a big subject some of us musical comedy people talk about on the same forum a good bit: Marni Nixon dubbed not only A. Hepburn, but D. Kerr in 'King and I' and N. Wood in 'West Side Story'. The results were perfection with Kerr, and they rarely are; part of it has to do with Kerr being a more profound actress.

There are tons more examples of dubbing in musicals, but I don't think it's done in opera, where it's mainly about the singing anyway, and if a great singer is not the greatest actor, then that happens. It's easy to fantasize about Marilyn, though, in a lot of ways. I remember Mailer said that her marriage to Miller was 'the marriage of the great American mind to the great American body.' Incredibly vulgar and trashy, but marvelous anyway.

patrick said...

Re: Dubbing. I think there is none to speak of in any kind of stage musical production, now that I think of it. There is sometimes the 'pit singer' in a B'way show, who does high notes for onstage personnel who can't hit them, but I can't imagine that any stage musicals ever have substantial dubbing--which is one reason why B'way musicals rarely are better in the filmed version, which doesn't absolutely have to have a real singer. Most of the best film musicals have been made originally for the screen--'The Band Wagon', 'Singin' in the Rain', 'Yentl'--but I can think of only 'Oliver!' and a couple of others which are not severely compromised in the process of leaving the stage (there are those who'd disagree vehemently, of course--and it's a favourite topic among drunk show-tune fairies).

But dubbing could never take place in opera except in a freakish circumstance. Sorry to go on so about this, you just got me to thinking about it.

roger said...

Of course, Patrick, I wasn't thinking of live theater or Opera - although that was M.M.'s dearest desire, at one point. Her training was all in 'takes', though. The deal with Offenbach, as far as I can tell, is that nobody feels they owe him any respect - oftentimes, songs from one of his operattas will be jammed into another that a director wants to perform cause it sounds good, or the audience will recognize it. Rather scandalous, actually. So I figure la belle helene would have been put on in Guys and Dolls fashion in film - however, Helene is not a sex and the single girl ingenue, and it might have challenged Monroe. There wasn't any innocence there to play off of.

patrick said...

'The deal with Offenbach, as far as I can tell, is that nobody feels they owe him any respect - oftentimes, songs from one of his operattas will be jammed into another that a director wants to perform cause it sounds good, or the audience will recognize it.'

Maybe it's that that happens rather uniquely with Offenbach, but he's definitely respected in the real opera world, perhaps more in Europe though. Recently, some opera buffs at the forum were discussing pants-roles in opera, and one very knowledgeable person wrote what I thought was a ridiculous comment but she then clarified it, and knew about a number of these breeches-roles besides the most well-known one we were talking about, Strauss's 'Rosenkavalier'. There was one by Offenbach, as I remember it was called 'Nicklausse'. I think he is, then, rather operetta-like much of the time, which can be quite nice. It occurred to me that these things often get re-treated by now as some diluted stage thing, as with that Elton John 'Aida', which I ought to listen to since I'm forcing my way through these corporate horrors (yesterday I even got through 'Beauty and the Beast'; now that is PRO, because there is nothing I wanted to do less. Then there are the occasional surprises, like the incredible last Cy Coleman score for 'The Life' from 1997, one of the best scores in the last 40 years--this kind of thing just doesn't happen...) Anyway, your idea makes other things I haven't seen nor listened to, like 'La Boheme', which had some sort of Broadway treatment a few years ago. Most of these things I automatically tune out, but I am going to see if I can think of a single opera or serious operetta (as Offenbach would be) that can withstand this kind of reduction (I probably won't find it, being probably irreversibly prejudiced from the beginning.) Of course, dance takes classics from anywhere and rearranges them to suit its needs first, but in the hands of masters this is okay. B'way something different, they are trying to satisfy tourists, and now I think that Alan Mencken tin noise in my head was why I was so depressed on the street yesterday.

So don't know--sure, maybe. She would have been capable of many things, surely. I do believe someone said that her singing was occasionally dubbed a touch, as in 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes', but she was a wonderful singer in those parts (this always comes as a surprise to me when I hear how good it sounds, but it's perhaps loosely in the tradition of film-star singing like Mae West and Dietrich). I didn't know about her aspirations to the stage, but not surprised. Early on, Streisand wanted to do Shakespeare and opera too, and that would have been more in the realm of possibility; even she quickly found that boundaries are a lot stricter than we want to think.

patrick said...

Yes, indeed, it was the same Marni Nixon, who has recently been featured in some non-musical role, who did sing Monroe's high notes in 'Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend.' Otherwise, it's all her.

Thanks for the spinach--I'm now tolerating 'The Lion King' in the background.