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Two Short Poems on Political Philosophy

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For Principalities and Powers
Only a devil could—gleeful—scrawl so bleak
a speculum principium of pure realpolitik.

Kingdoms of Darkness
Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, named
for an unspecified thalassic
monster, is a political science classic
which can itself be blamed,
at least partly, for the miserable fates
of several European states.

Stalin and Urine

In his new novel, The Festival of Ignorance, Milan Kundera has a character named Charles tell a story about one of Stalin’s closest comrades, Mikhail Kalinin, whose name was later bequeathed to the Prussian city of Königsberg (famous for the Bridge Problem devised by Immanuel Kant, who lived there in what were surely happier times).

“To this day all of Russia recalls a great ceremony to inaugurate an opera house in some city in Ukraine, during which Kalinin was giving a long, solemn speech. He had to break off every two minutes and, each time, as he left the rostrum, the orchestra would strike up some folk music, and lovely blond Ukrainian ballerinas would leap onto the stage and begin dancing. Each time he returned to the dais Kalinin was greeted with great applause; when he left again, the applause was still louder, to greet the advent of the blond ballerinas——and as his goings and comings grew more frequent, the applause grew longer and stronger, more heartfelt, so that the official celebration s=was transformed into a joyful mad orgiastic riot whose like the Soviet state had never seen or known.

“But alas, between times when Kalinin was back in the little group of his comrades, no one was interested in applauding his urine. Stalin would recite his anecdotes, and Kalinin was too disciplined to gather the courage to annoy him by his goings and comings from the toilet. The more so since, as he talked, Stalin would fix his gaze on Kalinin’s face growing paler and paler and tensing into a grimace. That would incite Stalin to slow his storytelling further, to insert new descriptions and digressions, and to drag out the climax till suddenly the contorted face before him would relax, the grimace vanished, the expression grew calm, and the head was wreathed in an aureole of peace; only then, knowing that Kalinin had once again lost his great struggle, Stalin would move swiftly to the denouement, rise from the table and, with a bright, friendly smile, bring the meeting to an end. All the other men would stand too, and stare cruelly at their comrade, who positioned himself behind the table, or behind a chair, to hide his wet trousers.”

from The Festival of Ignorance by Milan Kundera, pp 26-27

I was taken by Kundera’s descriptions of Stalin, here and throughout the novel, that I checked a new biography of the dictator by Oleg V. Khlevniuk to find out if this or any of the other anecdotes Kundera offers are true. I didn’t find the answer to that particular question (although Khlevniuk’s book is excellent—I was riveted for three or four days), but I did come across this story about some of Stalin’s final hours:

The bodyguard entered Stalin’s apartments with the packet of mail and started looking for him. After walking through several rooms, he finally found the vozhd [Вождь; Russian for “Leader”] in the small dining room. The sight must have been extremely disturbing. Stalin was lying helpless on the floor, which was wet beneath him. This last point is important not for reasons of schadenfreude or as an evocative detail but because it affected subsequent events. It appeared to the bodyguard that Stalin was unable to speak, but he did make a small hand gesture, beckoning him to approach. The bodyguard summoned his colleagues, who helped him lift Stalin onto the couch. They then rushed to telephone their immediate superior, State Security Minister Semen Ignatiev. According to the bodyguards’ later accounts, Ignatiev refused to make any decisions and told them to call members of the top leadership: Beria and Malenkov.

Perhaps out of fear, or perhaps out of unspoken ambivalence toward his recovery, Stalin’s comrades rejected the idea that they were facing a medical emergency. After Malenkov and Beria checked on the vozhd and found him sleeping, they proceeded to dismiss what the bodyguards had told them about his symptoms. Had he really had some sort of fit? The bodyguards were not doctors. Their imaginations could have been playing tricks on them. His colleagues probably also remembered that Stalin had recently accused his own doctors of being murderers. Who would take responsibility for call a doctor (or summoning a murderer, as the vozhd might see it) unless he were absolutely sure one was needed? A simple need for emergency medical care was transformed into a multidimensional political problem.

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator, by Oleg V Khlevniuk

I Don’t Wanna Go to Mass

Something Potter came up with after his daughter said she didn’t want to go to mass. Apparently he was trying to one-up her in the anti-mass department.

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Ein Heldenleben, by Richard Strauss

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

As Strauss himself wrote, “”It is entitled ‘A Hero’s Life,’ and while it has no funeral march, it does have lots of horns, horns being quite the thing to express heroism. Thanks to the healthy country air, my sketch has progressed well and I hope to finish by New Year’s Day.”

Strauss took what he could from his own heroes, Beethoven and Wagner, (the Eroica of the former, the anything of the latter) and used the sonata rondo form for this work: a loose structure of themes, variations, and leitmotifs. Who specifically was the hero? The critic Richard Freed wrote:

The music, though, points stubbornly to its own author as its subject, and Strauss did concede, after all, in a remark to the writer Romain Rolland, that he found himself “no less interesting than Napoleon,” and his gesture of conducting the premiere himself instead of leaving that honor to the respected dedicatee may well be viewed as further confirmation of the work’s self-congratulatory character.

The Wikipedia article, from which I’ve cribbed these notes, goes into further detail about the manner in which the piece dramatizes Strauss’ conflicts with the music critics of his day, as well as threading through the love story of himself and his wife, Pauline de Ahna.

And how did the critics of his day respond?

One of them called the piece “as revolting a picture of this revolting man as one might ever encounter”. Otto Floersheim wrote a damning review in the Musical Courier (April 19, 1899): “… alleged symphony … revolutionary in every sense of the word. The climax of everything that is ugly, cacophonous, blatant and erratic, the most perverse music I ever heard in all my life, is reached in the chapter ‘The Hero’s Battlefield.’ The man who wrote this outrageously hideous noise, no longer deserving of the word music, is either a lunatic, or he is rapidly approaching idiocy”.

So I’m sure there are those who might add that “the sensuous in its elemental originality” here is rather masturbatory than otherwise, Pauline or no Pauline. Inspiration be damned! The true artist works with whatever materials he has at hand.

Strauss later asked that the program be left out of the score, but of course we now understand how full of themselves writers, composers and artist really are … so here it is:

(1) “Der Held” (The Hero)
(2) “Des Helden Widersacher” (The Hero’s Adversaries)
(3) “Des Helden Gefährtin” (The Hero’s Companion)
(4) “Des Helden Walstatt” (The Hero at Battle)
(5) “Des Helden Friedenswerke” (The Hero’s Works of Peace)
(6) “Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung” (The Hero’s Retirement from this World and Consummation)

The Diocese of Dappled Things

Our-Lady-of-Guadalupe-shrine2

Came and went and I never even knew…

 

The secret of the secret of Joe Gould’s Secret

After reading this, I’m too sad and overwhelmed to really say much, except that it’s a great piece of work. Mitchell was one of my early writing heroes. Joe Gould’s Secret is probably his most famous story.

“Meo Tempore. Seventh Version. Volume II” also contains an essay written in Gould’s hand. It is titled “Insanity.” I peered at the page of white with veins of blue. And there I read, “If we could see ourselves as we really are, life would be insupportable.”

“Insanity is a topic of peculiar interest to me,” Gould explained. He had toured New York’s insane asylums as part of his eugenics training. He’d met a woman in a ward at Central Islip: sometimes she thought she was a cat, sometimes a mouse. “Is there really much difference between her and a sane person, after all?” Gould asked. “We all spend our lives chasing into darkness.”

Special reader’s bonus: Joe Gould and the Baroness

One Short Poem about a Painting

watteau-pelerinage-cythère-f

L’Embarquement pour Cythère (Louvre)
All the elements of a daydream of leisure
fill this fête galante painted by Watteau: sea, an
island, everything lush, and the favonian
spirit of pink cupids borne aloft by pleasure.

Today in Porn: Hugh Hefner Scrapbook Edition

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a woman in possession of a wealthy husband must be in want of a hobby. So how lucky is Crystal Hefner…

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 9.18.58 AM…a woman whose adoring hubby comes with a hobby built right in!

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And the best part is, there are lots and lots and lots of volumes to this particular “life scrapbook”:

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 8.02.44 PMI mean, the guy’s 89 years old, and has a penchant for photographs, so it’s not all that surprising. Her Saturdays are set from for the forseeable future! It’s not like like Hef is going anywhere soon – the guy looks great!

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(Unless, perchance, he gets one of his old airbrush masters to give his Instagram photos a little going-over.) Anyway, Scrapbook Saturdays are a chance for Hef to look back on his remarkable life as the man who created Playboy. For one thing, it afforded him the chance to associate with a great many luminaries. Here are just a few!

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Noted film director Roman Polanski!

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Noted comedian Bill Cosby!

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Noted film director and comedian Woody Allen!

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Noted President Jimmy Carter!

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Noted activist and Reverend Jesse Jackson!

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And of course, noted children’s poet Shel Silverstein. Playboy has always been kid-friendly:

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So many luminaries! It really makes you wonder about certain prejudiced Roman Catholics, doesn’t it?

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From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Thus Sprach Zarathustra, by Richard Strauss

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

Along with a few Beethoven symphonies, Handel’s Wassermusik and Messiah, and Pachabel’s Canon in D, Zarathustra is one of the most well known pieces of music ever written. So thank you, Stanley Kubrick, because it really is worth knowing, and by “knowing”, I mean the whole thing. The sunrise is awesome and beautiful, but it’s worth listening all the way to convalescense and night wandering. And spiritually speaking, it’s worth hearing Wagnerian exvess (Strauss is counted among the greatest conductors of Wagner who ever lived) brought to heel by Nietzschean megolamania (Strauss obviously a fan of the philosopher), and thus closing a chapter in the history of music, or simply history, period, in which a majority of Germans were drunk and distracted enough to immolate as many Jews as they could—Jews, the people who, spititually speaking, made the whole European project possible.

Good thing we’ve moved beyond all that, right?

Listen, and feel triumphant.

Einleitung, oder Sonnenaufgang (Introduction, or Sunrise)
Von den Hinterweltlern (Of Those in Backwaters)
Von der großen Sehnsucht (Of the Great Longing)
Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften (Of Joys and Passions)
Das Grablied (The Song of the Grave)
Von der Wissenschaft (Of Science and Learning)
Der Genesende (The Convalescent)
Das Tanzlied (The Dance Song)
Nachtwandlerlied (Song of the Night Wanderer)

See also: Eumir Deodato’s funky electronic version from 1972

On Clouds of Sils Maria

written and directed by Olivier Assayas, starring Juliet Binoche and Kristen Stewart.

A very good movie about an aging actress, Maria (Binoche), and her personal assistant, Val (Stewart), who have their ups and downs as Maria prepares for a stage role in a play she first performed in twenty years earlier. Then she played the conniving and even cruel young bitch, now she is to play the mature, knowing woman. It’s all seriously meta, but the problem is that Maria can’t quite see through to that, preferring to see both Val and Joanne (Chloë Grace Moretz) as the ingénue she can’t admit she might have been—something like Irene Papas as Elektra in the 1962 and then Klytaimnistra in the 1977.

The first thing that needs to be said is that Kristen Stewart gave an amazing performance, and though I doubt I’ve seen the films for which the other actresses were nominated nominated, she has to have deserved the César award that she won in France. See the movie just to see her. I’m not a Binoche-hater, but Stewart stole every scene they shared and then some. Not to give too much away, but when she’s not on the screen, the movie seems to go seriously wrong.

The second thing I’ll note is that is that the movie is built on a decent premise (the actress and her PA practicing for a play that pretty accurately depicts their current real-life circumstances), but still and all seems awfully obvious at times. I can’t help but wonder that it would have been helped along if there was just one line spoken by either actress acknowledging the strange roles which they find themselves playing. Would that have seemed to obvious? Maybe, but it’s so obvious already that by not mentioning the obvious parallels both women seem impossibly or at least unlike-ily unprepared for the problems they experience.

Another thing I’ll note is that Assayas has made decisions with his direction that are sometimes questionable, sometimes just plain lousy. The just plain lousy includes a driving scene (Kristen Stewart, through the Alps) in which time and travel are emphasized by means of double exposures alternating between close-ups of the driver and the car in a fog … the whole thing is right out of TV series episode from the 50s. Also not so hot are shots of some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, the Swiss Alps, included in a series of postcard-like profiles that seem completely listless. The best shots were borrowed, black and white archival footage from a documentary eighty or more years old.

Still another thing I’ll add is that there are more threads left hanging than I can see on my ten year old shirts. What happened to the actor with whom Maria first shared the stage years before? What about the piece of paper she handed him as he was stepping out of the limo? What about the wife of the deceased playwright? What exactly happened between Val and her boyfriend? At times it’s all fairly frustrating, but for all that I still enjoyed it, a lot. It might be the meta aspect of it all, even if I wasn’t sure what to make of it at the end, and it might have been the many good choices I think Assayas made (matter of fact portrayals of technology such as phones and ipods, as well as the new media, plenty of Girardian perspectives on desire, unfussy dissolves between scenes) … and of course that Stewart performance was just excellent. See it to see her, as well as a fine story and some tired old shots of the Alps.