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Archives for July 2008

Dear Fellowship of Southern Writers,

I would totally pay money for a print of this photo. Thank you.

Mr. Godsbody (aka Mr. November)

Baby Steps

Joan-of-Arc McCain does her popular “drunken sailor” routine. Or is it “Baby Frankenstein”?

Darkest line from Dark Knight.

“Sometimes, the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes, people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”
– Jim Gordon

The obvious implication being, the truth will not reward your faith. What you believe is a lie.

Six quirks.

Karen tagged me. Here are the rules:

6 Rules:
1. Link the person(s) who tagged you
2. Mention the rules on your blog
3. Tell about 6 unspectacular quirks of yours
4. Tag 6 fellow bloggers by linking them
5. Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger’s blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged
6. Wait and see how far it spreads.

1. I “smoke” my pen cap. I started in college, in order to keep from taking up smoking, which was rather popular among my friends and acquaintances.

2. Sometimes when I’m concentrating, I stick the tip of my tongue out the side of my mouth – just like Charlie Brown used to do when he wrote his Pen Pal!

3. I pitch fiction projects and write for a newspaper, in spite of the obvious futility of both pursuits.

4. I am, despite all evidence to the contrary, ridiculously vain about eyewear, and get the itch to buy new frames about every two years.

5. I love Open Houses.

6. Despite all my efforts to quit, I continue to blog.

I’ll tag the first six poor souls who read this and have blogs themselves.

What Color is Your Anxiety? Bright Orange.

With apologies to T.S. Eliot, it should read:

“I will show you fear in a handful of Cheetos.”

KSRK: Exiles

The folks at Inside Catholic did such a superb job of presenting their discussion of Ron Hansen’s Exiles that I find myself at a loss for what I could add that would be of much value. Matthew Lickona, Amy Welborn, Bishop Daniel Flores and Joseph O’Brien squeezed a heck of a lot of good juice out of the book–and I’m not saying there’s not plenty more we could wring out of it–but maybe it’s enough to just head on over there and pay some close attention to their fine work.

I like the concentric circles of cooperative literary workmanship going on here: Hopkins working on the nuns’ tale; Hansen joining him in the effort while also working out the parallels with Hopkins’ own life’s saga; Lickona & Co. digging in to bring them all further out into the light. It reminds me of the communion of saints and how we are all fellow workers in the vineyard across time.

Well, OK, I’ll try to squish a couple of grapes and do my part.

I laid the book down a week or two ago and haven’t cracked it open since and now I’m sitting in the dark on our back patio typing this on a wireless laptop, smoking a cigar, drinking a glass of wine, our new puppy, Noam, lying at my feet chomping (pun intended) on something, probably one of Tink’s favorite toys. The book is resting on the table nearby but if I want to consult it I’ll have to either get a flashlight or jump around in front of the motion-detecting light above our garage, neither of which is beneath my dignity but I also have an ice pack on my knee because I went for a run about an hour ago and it started to hurt at about mile three. (The puppy just scurried off into the darkness beyond the garage as if in pursuit of a varmint of some kind, hopefully not a skunk.) So I’ll just wing it without reference to the text, like they do in many of the graduate seminars I’ve ever attended.

First of all, I’d like to say that ….

[We interrupt this blog entry to go to the grocery store, which I just remembered I promised Mrs. McCain I’d do, to get some milk, baby formula, and bananas. Sorry for the inconvenience. To be continued.]

How to Install a Toilet Paper Roll



Teeth Marks II

From Pajiba’s review of Teeth:

“It’s not that mixing genres is inherently bad, it’s that Lichtenstein seems to be mashing them up simply because he doesn’t know quite what else to do. Dawn’s first ‘attack’ scene is a horror show mined for dark comedy, and the next image is of a dazed and confused Dawn wearing her ‘Warning: Sex Changes Everything’ T-shirt. Had Lichtenstein played the visual gag down, or at least given it more than 15 seconds to come up, it would have come across as the kind of satirical irony he seems to take it for, and not the head-slapping moment of cuteness that it actually is. Lichtenstein’s haphazard shifts from one genre to the next, instead of making the film feel unclassifiable, actually wind up harming the central narrative and robbing it of some of its weight.”

Is that a smart way of saying that Teeth bites off more than it can chew?

Teeth Marks I

Got an email from the California Lawyer yesterday, in which he recounted stumbling across Teeth in Ye Olde Video Shoppe. He didn’t rent it, but he also couldn’t believe I hadn’t written about it.

Actually, I had – but for another blog, and the other blog ended up never running the posts. So now they’ve ended up on the ash-heap of Godsbody. The language gets a little blue. Reader discretion is advised.

Teeth (now in theaters!) tells the story of a Dawn, a high-school beauty who “works hard at suppressing her budding sexuality by being the local chastity group’s most active participant.” But when she becomes the victim of a sexual assault, she “discovers that she has a toothed vagina.” That’s right, she’s “a living example of the vagina dentata myth.” Fun!

But kids today, they don’t know from nothin’. So the film’s website features a helpful tutorial. Let’s fisk, shall we?

“Vagina dentata, the unconscious belief that a woman may eat or castrate her partner during intercourse — literally, the ‘toothed vagina’ — is a classic mythological symbol of men’s fear of sex.

[Well, which is it? Unconscious belief or mythological symbol? Do men unconsciously believe that women will castrate them during sex? Or does the toothed vagina stand for something else? Say, the power of sex? Or woman’s power over man in the sexual arena? (See also, p****whipped.) But let’s not quibble!]

It appears in the mythology of countless cultures and societies down through the years.

• One Native American myth states ‘A fish inhabits the vagina of the Terrible Mother; the hero is the man who overcomes the Terrible Mother, breaks the teeth out of her vagina, and so makes her into a woman.’

[Um, is this about the fear of sex, or about the fear of matriarchal domination? Never mind – next!]

• The Yanomamo said one of the first beings on earth was a woman whose vagina became a toothed mouth and bit off her consort’s penis.

[Which makes you wonder how we ever got the next beings on earth…]

• The more patriarchal the society, the more deeply rooted the fear seems to be. Men of Malekula, having overthrown their matriarchate, were haunted by a Yonic spirit called ‘that which draws us to It so that It may devour us.’

[There has got to be a Nine Inch Nails song in here somewhere…]

• Chinese patriarchs said women’s genitals were not only gateways to immortality but also “executioners of men.”

[Yeah, there’s pretty much no way to comment on this without crossing whatever lines there are left to cross…]

• Muslim aphorisms said: “Three things are insatiable: the desert, the grave, and a woman’s vulva.”

[You mean to say that all this time, porn has been telling the truth about women? That they really do live in a state of perpetual sexual desire? Muslims and porn: finding common ground at last.]

• Polynesians said the savior-god Maui tried to find eternal life by crawling into the mouth (or vagina) of his mother Hina, in effect trying to return to the womb of the Creatress; but she bit him in two and killed him.

[Again, is this fear of sex, or another way of saying that you can’t go home again? That Mommy’s vagina is not where you belong?]

Looking into, touching or entering the female orifice seems fraught with hidden fears, signified by the confusion of sex with death in overwhelming numbers of male minds and myths.

[Oh. I thought the confusion of sex and death came from ecstasy – ex-stasis, standing outside yourself, the ‘little death’ of orgasm. Turns out it was just our fear of caves.]

Since vulvas have labiae, “lips,” many men have believed that behind the lips lie teeth. Christian authorities of the middle ages taught that certain witches, with the help of the moon and magic spells, could grow fangs in their vaginas. They likened women’s genitals to the “yawning” mouth of hell. How’s that for romantic?”

[Almost as romantic as taking time out to unroll a condom over your engorged member! Seriously, though. I’m not about to mount a defense of medieval attitudes toward sex. (Heh, heh, he said, “mount.”) But I do think it worth noting that those “Christian authorities” viewed the fanged vagina as an aberration of nature – the purview of witches, who altered nature via magic. That’s a little different from simply regarding everyday, ordinary vaginas as “executioners of men.”]

On The Dark Knight

I haven’t been to a movie in ages, but I went to the latest Batman movie this weekend and enjoyed it. As much as I liked comic books when I was a kid, I haven’t had a lot of enthusiasm for their latest incarnation on film. Batman Begins was a great improvement over all the Batman movies of the last 20 years or so, and The Dark Knight has even more to recommend it. Christian Bale is great as Bruce Wayne, and Heath Ledger is simply astounding as the Joker. I don’t know if it was Ledger’s intention to imitate Al Franken for the voice of the psychotic killer, but he makes for a disturbingly brilliant villain because of it. For example, imagine this as said by the Voice of Air America and improbable U.S. Senator:

Look what I have done to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple bullets. Nobody panics when the expected people get killed. Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds! Introduce a little anarchy, you upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I am an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos, Harvey? It’s fair.

And this:

Why don’t we cut you up into little pieces and feed you to your pooches? Hmm? Then we’ll see, how loyal, a hungry dog really is. It’s not about the money… it’s about… sending a message. Everything burns.

It certainly isn’t the first time the Villain is more interesting than the Hero. Consider Satan in Paradise Lost and Iago in Othello. What is it about evil that fascinates us so much?

Something to do with acknowledging truths that make us uncomfortable. There’s something uncanny about this version of dramatic irony, in which a villain has the ability to see the truth and express for us what the Hero is unable to recognize – especially about himself. In The Dark Knight there are a number of scenes that reveal the Joker as a sicko that can’t be intimidated because of his masochistic desire to be hurt, or even killed. Plotwise, this means that forces for good are destined to fail when confronted with an evil that uses a kind of amoral jujutsu on these forces to achieve its own ends. Batman beats the hell out of the Joker to find out where the good people Rachel and Harvey are hidden. The Joker says, laughing even as Batman slams his head against the wall:

You have nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength.

If Batman were paying attention to the clever insanity of the Joker, he’d understand that the Joker will give Batman what Batman wants only when Batman becomes complicit in giving the Joker what the Joker wants. And not quite unwittingly. Batman loses it, literally, and makes a pact with the Devil every time he does.

I’m sure the movie was made with a huge budget, and there’s a lot for the eyes to feast on: beautiful women, cool gadgets, exotic locales, big explosions. There are also big, unsubtle ideas: Hell abounds, both in the images onscreen and the script. The first part of this conversation is a version of one of Kierkegaard’s parables:

Alfred Pennyworth: When I was in Burma, a long time ago, my friends and I were working for the local Government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders, bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. We were asked to take care of the problem, so we started looking for the stones. But after six months, we couldn’t find anyone who had traded with him. One day I found a child playing with a ruby as big as a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing the stones away.

Bruce Wayne: Then why steal them?

Alfred Pennyworth: Because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

This doesn’t actually make as much sense as it should until later in the movie, when we hear the rest of what turns out to be a parable for Hell.

Bruce Wayne: That man in Burma, did you ever catch him?

Alfred Pennyworth: Oh yes.

Bruce Wayne: How?

Alfred Pennyworth: We burned the forest.

That man in Burma may have wanted to watch the world burn, but he wasn’t the one who actually torched it. It’s significant that Bruceman is being instructed by Alfred, since we’re stuck with that old problem of confronting Evil with measures that might themselves be evil. Gotham stands in for civilization itself, so corrupt that the good are forced to act more and more secretly – “close to the chest”, as they say a number of times in the movie. Help itself might be a form of complicity; complicity leads to Hell. It’s a hell of Manichean dualism, where Good is left in isolation with its opposite. As the Joker says:

This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won’t kill you, because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.

Yep. But how should we react when the truth is articulated by a self-proclaimed “agent of chaos”? It should give us pause. It should disturb us. Goodness goes on forever, intermittently overcome by evil, which intrigues us endlessly. Even in a rubber suit and a clown’s make-up.