Friday, December 21, 2007

The Good Ole Days/ Academic Dystopia

Came across this a while back (I forget where now):

"But authoritarian control over colleges and universities is more often exerted by conservative presidents. In 1991, four former Hillsdale College professors, all members of the conservative National Association of Scholars, criticized the small college and its president, George Roche. They wrote: "For years the Hillsdale administration has neglected its academic program to pay for 'outreach' activities designed to promote Dr. Roche, maintained a curriculum that requires no appreciable knowledge of Western culture, and used every possible means including dismissals and threats of lawsuits, to silence dissent of any kind among faculty and students." (Academic Questions, Fall 1991) They noted that in 1986, "the administration began to attack the student newspaper, the Collegian, for its disagreements with college policies, threatening lawsuits and other reprisals against the student staff and any faculty who defended it." The editor of the Collegian was forced by the administration to resign, and the rest of the student staff resigned in protest."

I was writing for the Collegian at the time of the controversy (1986, my sophomore year). In fact, I wrote a piece expressing solidarity with 2 of my poli sci profs, which was critical of the administration, especially after one of the profs (Dr. Hancock, my advisor and a simply wonderful man) decided to leave Hillsdale because of the shenanigans explained above. Behold, the next year some of my merit scholarships were mysteriously cancelled without explanation. One of the lower level hacks in the personnel dept. went so far as to suggest I transfer since the financial hardship would be too difficult; I chose to take out bigger loans. Why I wanted to stay at Hillsdale is now unclear to me. I think it was that I was commited--the political whirlwind was intense (and as a poli sci student, it took on larger dimensions), I had close friendships, I felt comfortably trapped in a degree I couldn't imagine finishing elsewhere. But most of all respect for my professors knew no bounds. Looking back I see it was a moment in American history in microcosm where the shift from conservatives who believed in freedom were killed off by neo-conservative cynicism. One could say it was always "bad" conservativism underneath it all--pro-tradition (judeo christian, greco-roman), anti-left, pro-capitalism. Yes, that's true, but there were some who taught me to think critically, to value learning for its own sake, to question historical limits, to love philosophical ideas and to see that love as a political act. They might have been conservatives, but they taught me to be a radical. Finally, I believe that's why they were targeted, shunned, ex-communicated. It taught me a lesson: politics takes place on many levels the repercussions of which are often difficult to delineate, and institutions of learning, like any other place, are important sites of struggle. Perhaps it prepared me for being a grad student, or professional academic. We shall see.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Hearing Trumpet

Reading Carrington feels like for the first time it's been so long. So wonderful. This passage is a remarkable interlude (and reminds me of Carla's work);

"Force of habit rather than my own capacity carried me
home and sat me down in the back yard. Strangely
enough I was in England and it was Sunday afternoon. I
was sitting with a book on a stone seat under a lilac
bush. Close by a clump of rosemary saturated the air
with perfume. They were playing tennis nearby, the
clump clump of the rackets and balls was quite
audible. This was the sunken Dutch garden, why Dutch I
wonder? The roses? the geometrical flower beds? or
perhaps because it is sunken? The church bells
ringing, that is the Protestant church, have we had
tea yet? (cucumber sandwiches, seed cake and rock
buns) Yes, tea must be over.
My long dark hair is soft like cat's fur, I am
beautiful. This is quite a shock becuase I have just
realized that I am beautiful and there is something
that I must do about it, but what? Beauty is a
responsibility like anything else, beautiful women
have special lives like prime ministers but that is
not what I really want, there must be something
else... The book. Now I can see it, the tales of Hans
Christian Anderson, the Snow Queen.
The Snow Queen, Lapland. Little Kay doing
multiplication problems in the icy castle.
Now I can see that I was also given a mathematical
problem which I cannot solve although I seem to have
been trying for many years. I am not really here in
England in this scented garden although it does not
disappear as it nearly always does, I am inventing all
this and it is about to disappear, but it does not.
Feeling strong and happy is very dangerous, something horrible is about to happen and I must find the solution quickly.
All the things I love are going to disintegrate and there is nothing I can do about it unless I can solve the Snow Queen's problem. She is the Sphinx of the North with crackling white fur and her tears rattle like hail on the strange diagrams drawn at her feet. Somewhere, sometime, I must have betrayed the Snow Queen, for surely by now I should know?
The young man wearing white flannels has come to ask me something, am I going to play tennis? well I am not really very good you know, that is why I prefer to read a book. No , not an intellectual book, just fairy tales. Fairy tales at your age?
Why not? What is age anyway? Something you don't understand, My Love.
The woods are full of wild anemones now, shall we go? no Darling. I didn't say wild enemas. I said wild anemones, flowers, hundreds and thousands of wild flowers all over the ground under the trees all the way up to the gazebo. They have no smell but they have a presence just like perfume and quite as obsessive, I shall remember them all my life.
Are you going somewhere Darling?
Yes, going to the woods.
Then why do you say you will remember them all your life?
Because you are a part of their memory and you are going to disappear, the anemones are going to bloom eternally, we are not.
Darling stop being philosophical it doesn't suit you, it makes our nose red.
Since I have discovered that I am really beautiful I don't care about having a red nose it is such a beautiful shape.
You are hatefully vain.
No Darling, not really because I have a frightful foreboding that it will disappear before I know what to do with it. I am so horribly afraid I don't have time to enjoy being vain.
You are a depressive maniac and I would be bored stiff if you were not so pretty.
Nobody could ever be bored with me I have too much soul.
Far too much, but lots of body too, thank Heavens. The green and the gold light in the woods look at the green ferns. They say witches make magic with fern seeds, they are hermaphrodites.
The witches?
No the ferns. Somebody brought that colossal bluish fir tree from Canada, it cost millions and millions, how silly to bring a tree from America. Don't you hate America?
No, why should I hate America, I've never been there, they are frightfully civilized.
Well I hate America because I know that once you get in you can never get out and you go on crying all your life for the anemones you will never see again.
Perhaps America is covered head to foot with wildflowers, mostly anemones of course.
I know it is not.
How can you possibly know that?
Not the part of America I am thinking about. They have other sorts of plans, and dust. Dust, dust. Probably a few palm trees and cowboys galloping hither and thither on cows.
They ride horses.
Well horses. Does it matter when you are so sick to get home again that you wouldn't notice if they were riding cockroaches?
Well you don't have to go to America, so cheer up.
Don't I? Who knows, something tells me that I am going to see a lot of America and I am going to be very sad there unless a miracle happens.
Miracles, witches, fairy tales, grow up Darling!
You may not believe in magic but something very strange is happening at this very moment. Your head has dissolved into thin air and I can see the rhododendrons through your stomach. It's not that you are dead or anything dramatic like that, it is simply that you are fading away and I can't even remember your name. I remember your white flannels better than I can remember you. I remember all the things I felt about the white flannels but whoever made them walk about has totally disappeared.
So you remember me as a pink linen dress with no sleeves and my face is confused with dozens of other faces, I have no name either. So why so much fuss about individuality?
I thought I heard the Snow Queen laugh, she seldom laughs."

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

Occurred to me after seeing "I'm Not There" and even more so after a fellow student recommended listening to Todd Haynes's interview on Fresh Air that the following, written by me age 16, was my youthful attempt to think about regret, opportunity, identity, etc. (In its original format, it's handwritten. It was an asignment from a psychology class, which asked that we complete the trite saying: "If I had my life to life over again" within a triangle for some quasi-poetic reason, I suppose.) It always makes me a little sad when I read it both because it's so very trite, and because I know I really meant it -- and maybe still do. (I've tried to reproduce the way the triangle made the lines break):

I had
my life to
live over again
I'd be more under-
standing when it
comes to other people.
I would try to give more
of myself instead of always
holding back. I would enjoy
the present and stop worrying
about the future. I'd laugh more
and cry less. I'd have more confidence
in myself. I'd play more and work less, I'd
try things that I probably won't succeed at.
I'd be myself and not care what other people think of me.
I'd wear weird clothes and say weird things. I would read more
poetry. I'd gather leaves in the fall and make snowmen in the winter.
I'd live a thousand lives instead of just one.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Politics of Performance/ I"I'm Not There"

Saw Todd Haynes's "I'm Not There" last night. Just stunning. Too rich to even adequately address its many dimensions and evocations, so any discussion of it will necessarily leave something out/feel inadequate. But I think I can fairly say this: it is, above all, " about" performance--on a number of levels, which means the meaning of performance itself is at issue. In what way performance and Dylan, performing Dylan, Dylan as performer, are unpacked and fragmented and stitched together through the various narratives and the characters is a complicated question, and I don't really have the capacity to deal with it adequately (I need to see it again to do that any real justice). Yet I think I can at least say that the various dynamics and themes that circle around and through the film: identity/authenticity/politics/cultural, temporal, musical, and visual frames as they overlap or are mutually structured can be seen through the prism of performativity. (I'll have to define the term at some point, I know.)

For example, as you're experiencing "Dylan" being performed and are constantly aware of the shifts in names, locations, genders, time periods, etc., the differing acting styles become ever more apparent and you start to perhaps unconsciously think: is this particular performance any "good" or "right" or close to the "original; What is this performative moment going to teach us or give us in terms of our desire to know (more than the performer) Dylan? What does it even mean to expect that a performance is "adequate"? So Christian Bale pulls off his strikingly tongue in cheek, ironic, funny yet somehow, at the same time, totally moving and endearing performances as both early folkie and as sad Christian preacher Dylan (the latter complete with bad polyester suit and queer molded jewfro) precisely because he makes you aware of it *as* his performance of Dylan's performances and of what perhaps Dylan himself might have thought a musician should sound or look or feel or be or believe (and he gives you this layering even tho he doesn't have a direct line in the entire movie, I don't think. It's all musical performances.) It's like the movie "performs" a Bulterian "citation-chain" of musical performance and characterological references, which is totally dizzying and amazing and I actually would have like to have seen more Bale and a tad less Blanchett because his work was equally as fascinating and evocative and has gotten far less attention by the media than it deserves. Yes, Blanchett was fantastic, but it did seem to be a concession to popular audiences that her section dominates most of the latter half of the film. (As a side note, one thing the film's definitely fascinated with in the Blanchett section is Dylan's hair--it's practically a character in its own right as Haynes does a spot on directorial appropriation or "performance" or citation of Pennebaker's Don't Look Back, when Dylan was, indeed, really a hottie. The main reason I've seen that film like 20 times. Tho I was a little pissed that Haynes didn't take the opportunity to do something w/ the Dylan/Baez dynamic in that part).

So, yeah, If you start to compare the acting performances you get a range--naturalistic, you might call it, from Heath Ledger (and Charlotte Gainsbourg); campy and ironic yet completely driven in Bale; method channeling to the nth degree in Blanchett; sincere and goofily sweet in Gere. And then there's the guy who played the Rimbaud character and the young black kid who plays Woody Guthrie/Dylan, or even Julianne Moore's performance, which, like Bale's, is both a weirdly spot on and a campy spoof of an older Joan Baez, and which is so doubly, delightfully mean-spirited. And then some of the time we get "failed" or surface-y attempts at sticking to character or a tendency to ham it up a bit with the over-dramatic, corny acting style-- kind of like in the tradition of Warhol's "bad acting" movies--and at other times we get acting at its most depth oriented. "Acting the part" of Dylan takes on so many dimensions and performance itself becomes so unstable that, at various moments, whether Dylan is either truly "not there" (Gere and Ledger) or so hyper-present it verges on uncanny (Blanchett), or so silly it's laughable (Bale), performance as identity is taken to a whole other level of complexity. (I would expect if I were reading this that Judith Butler was going to come up at some point, right? Sorry tho-- sadly or thankfully, depending on how you feel--no Butler quotes will be forthcoming....)

Next I want to talk about the politics of anachronisms in queer cinema, the film's musical/visual language, and directing as a kind of homage-like appropriational performance. More later... maybe....

Here's Haynes on Blanchett "channeling" Dylan an her embodied approach and Dylan's own "adrogyny":

Monday, December 03, 2007

This Weekend at Mocad

"Friday & Saturday, December 7 and 8

Friday, December 7
8 pm doors, all ages
$16 admission
Tony Conrad will perform live in collaboration with M.V. Carbon (formerly of Chicago's Metalux) along with internationally acclaimed, Dearborn-based, ambient "space rock" minimalists, Windy & Carl, and Detroit/Ann Arbor-based, international compositional-noise-rock icons Wolf Eyes.

Saturday, December 8 at 7 pm
2.5 hour program
$9 admission

Tony Conrad will screen and discuss a 2.5-hour retrospective program of his films.

$23 advance tickets for both weekend events available until November 30th through the MOCAD website, at the MOCAD bookstore, and at Stormy Records (Dearborn). After November 30th tickets will only be for sale at the MOCAD bookstore or at the door on the night of the event. Online sales are will call only.

TONY CONRAD (b. 1941) is the quintessential cult figure; resident outsider; rebel angel; Tony Conrad's got the kind of immaculate credibility that can't be bought and can't be sold -- and how else, otherwise, could he have persevered? Rumbling under the cultural radar since the Kennedy Era, Conrad is at once first cause and last laugh, a covert operative who can stand as a primary influence over succeeding generations." --(from the Mocad website)

I can't wait!!!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Thin Man

Oh boy, it's always a good night when this movie's on. I adore Myrna Loy.

quote for the day

"Acquaintance with the details of fact is always reckoned, along with their reduction to system, as an indispensable mark of mental greatness." --William James