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Showing posts from March 12, 2017

some notes about grandstanders and Emily Nussbaum

I like a grandstanding critic. Sometimes. In the postwar era, there were a number of grandstanders. Pauline Kael, though, stood out. A grandstanding critic is one who, while specializing in some department of American flotsam and jetsam – rock n roll, movies, comic books, tv – finds broader and deeper applications for her appreciations and pans. The goal is to give a sense of How We Live Now. Of course, the we is the uppercrust, and that interested segment that forms a suburb of the uppercrust – academics, journalists, that lot. Currently, the heir to Kael at the New Yorker is certainly Emily Nussbaum, who “does” television. I’m tempted to play with that sentence, to bring out its erotic and pornographic double sense, the way Kael would play with innuendo in the titles of her books – I lost it at the Movies, and the like. It is not inappropriate. Movies, as Kael saw, were a promiscuous medium, the select site for the range of our (upper and lower-crust) libidinous projections. But t

dangerous tears

 One of the most cited witticisms of Oscar Wilde concerned the climactic sentimental scene in the Old Curiosity Shop when Little Nell dies.  Wilde said that  “one must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing”. The remark  became a sort of benchmark for the change from Victorian to modernist attitudes towards the presentation of sentiment.  Dickens readers in 1850, of course, felt differently about Little Nell.  There’s a famous story that a crowd in New York awaited the ship carrying the last bit of the serialisation of the Old Curiosity Shop demanding the fate of little Nell, and when they heard she died, they burst into mass tears. However, at some point in the 70s or 80s, I think, the tide began to run against Wilde’s attitude.  Little Nell again came into her own as the modernist anti-sentimentality itself became suspect, was uncovered as a sort of masculinist gesture meant to impose a bogus stoicism that made  a great show of covering wounds to t

Ode to melatonin

  Certain subjects fill me with a wild and passionate interest, even if I have no specialist insight into them. One is laterality – the literature of the left/right dichotomy is, to my mind, full of the kind of insight that one could spend a lifetime meditating upon. A genuine classic in this field, Chris McManus’s Right Hand, Left Hand, is the modern equivalent of the Anatomy of Melancholy – it starts off, unashamedly, galloping in all directions, and yet by the end, you have a strong sense of the wierdness of Left and Right in nature and culture. The other subject which always interests me is sleep. The anti-sleep bias that arose in the Enlightenment – the curtailment of our freedom to sleep, which parallels the development of industrial society, the curious yoking together of knowledge and waking – makes sleep a troubled locus in our badman times. In my opinion, Freudian theory is resisted as much because of its emphasis on sleep as for its emphasis on sex. Anti-Freudians commonly d