I'm in Splice writing about how cinema is the medium of ephemerality. Things mentioned: Roundhay Garden Scene, Mitch Hedberg, snuff films, Don DeLillo, The Animistic Apparatus, film screenings for non-humans, Jack Kerouac, Craig T. Nelson falling asleep in a recliner. Hope you enjoy:
The metaphysics of the void aside, film has other, more literal, associations with death. James Dean’s corpse. JFK in Dallas. The Zapruder Film locked in a Life magazine vault. Snuff films. Secret erotica filmed in Hitler’s bunker days before his suicide. The hanging in the back of the set in The Wizard of Oz. Canned laughter from old sitcoms of audiences who are all dead. All ghosts. A lot of these associations are mixed with doses of urban myth—no one died on the set of The Wizard of Oz —but illustrate our ongoing if sometimes suppressed affiliation of cinema with death. Don DeLillo says, “Film is more than the twentieth-century art. It’s another part of the twentieth-century mind. It’s the world seen from inside. We’ve come to a certain point in the history of film. If a thing can be filmed, the film is implied in the thing itself.”
DeLillo is right, but what does his statement mean for the 21st-century? If film was the medium through which people last century experienced reality, that burden now falls on the Internet. Our anxieties about death, erotic fantasies, consumption and entertainment have all been digitized and uploaded to the cloud. Liberated of the great weight of all of our cultural effluvia, finally free to be itself in a more distilled or purified way, what will film become? How will film live out its long afterlife?
My very dear friend Tyler Malone in The Hedgehog Review:
"If America is continually rewriting itself, moving toward some better unification of its manifold parts while simultaneously acknowledging the inability to achieve such a union, then clearly the task of the Great American Novel must be to mirror this process of creating an ever more perfect union.
Indeed, the real problem with the Great American Novel may be with the article we use to introduce it. Rather than the, might the more democratic article a reflect more truly the connection with our deepest myth? There’s no shame in hoping to read or attempting to write a novel whose “wood could only be American.” The shame is in not realizing that the Great American Novel is being constantly rewritten, one over the other over the other, the lineaments of the earlier versions still discernable in the newer ones—a palimpsest destiny rather than a manifest one."
A review from John Gray in The New Statesman:
"A person whose identity is an artefact of how others perceive them displays an odd kind of authenticity. If Genet’s nature was an inverted replica of the values of the society he so fiercely rejected, in what sense was his individuality his own? But the paradox that what is regarded as authentic may in fact be thoroughly derivative does not only apply to Genet. It is even more striking when the pursuit of personal authenticity becomes a mass lifestyle. Genet formed his individuality by interiorising the perceptions of society and identifying authenticity with the transgression of social norms. But when society regards authenticity as the supreme human value, what do transgression and authenticity actually mean?"
Much is made of '77 and '72 as the Dead at their "best", but I prefer the Dead when they're most themselves - sloppy, loose, and alternating between rakish goofiness and maudlin sentimentality. '71 is good for that. So is '80. But the Dead in 1978 were an entirely unique beast. Correcting, perhaps overcorrecting, from the previous years' reliability, the lows were lower and the highs were higher. What they gave up in certainty they made up for intensity. I believe the Dead played two shows in Nashville that year, and both of them were barn burners. According to Merriam-Webster, "The 'Barnburners' were one of two competing factions in the New York State Democratic Party in the middle of the 19th century. The name was an allusion to the story of an old Dutchman who relieved himself of rats by burning his barns which they infested." An apt metaphor for what the way the Dead occasionally razed their own sound:
I reviewed James Hankins' Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy for The Washington Examiner. Still behind a paywall for the moment, but, you can always subscribe or check back later:
"Hankins, an intellectual historian and Harvard professor whose main focus is on the Italian Renaissance, has written a book that is not only the fruit of a long and accomplished career but that also offers a rich and deep perspective on two time periods simultaneously: the Italian Renaissance and our own. Which is another way of saying that Virtue Politics gives readers a cleareyed account of how the most creative minds of the Italian Renaissance addressed the permanent problems of human nature, virtue, tyranny, and political decay."
Very excited to have this essay on The Gruen Effect, synthetic eternities, and the redemption of time published in Notre Dame's Church Life Journal:
What else is the Gruen Effect but the creation of a “bad infinity”? Even more than blocking out the external elements, the duration-less experience is meant to block out the truth of death through the simulation of eternity. As the shopping mall experiences its own physical death in America, the “bad infinity” of the Gruen Effect has become digitized. It is, of course, the experience of being online, or what anachronistically was once called “surfing the web.” There is as much or more Utopian hope in the promise of becoming an uploaded consciousness as there ever was in being a pure consumer denuded of the vagaries of the physical world.
Think here of “San Junipero”, the lone episode of the show Black Mirror to unironically interpret the use of high technology to “positive” ends: the consciousnesses of two lovers are uploaded to a simulation of a city which perpetually exists in 1987 and, it is insinuated, live happily ever after. The song “Heaven is a Place on Earth” plays—on the nose, but appropriate. But what anemic imagination would conceive of eternity as simply one night in 1987 forever? Or, at least for as long as the servers which create the illusion are functional? Han again writes that “there is a rush from one present to the next and an aging without growing old. Finally, one perishes in non-time.” In “San Junipero” there is no hope for salvation and no death to give life coherence. It is just a flat non-life within the duration-less loop of a counterfeit eternity. Empty time which cannot be remembered or redeemed.
Yes, Advent is a time of asceticism. The latter originally meant “training.” The liturgical color violet should remind us of that, but also the practice of our Orthodox brethren to fast during this time. When we practice asceticism we stop treating things as ends for us and begin to accept God’s order again. We retrain ourselves, so to say; fasting is just one aspect of that retraining. True asceticism is a tool to prepare ourselves, to be open to receive the Word Incarnate, and goes beyond a mere giving up of some objects (alcohol, chocolate, etc.) but aims to recalibrate our entire focus towards reality. It aims at changing our desire, to turn it away from selfishness and toward the attitude of acknowledging God’s order, receiving it in obedience.
Wisely, the mystics remind us that such phases of giving up things are to be interrupted by phases of fulfillment, of action, like our breathing is a harmony of inhaling and exhaling. When we inhale, we fill our lungs with the oxygen we need. For that purpose, however, we have to be open: If our airways are blocked, we cannot inhale. We cannot do so in a vacuum, either, and the world around us is just that: an empty place that cannot (ful)fill us. Inhaling, however, is rather passive; we are filled with something. Asceticism works a bit like this. It removes blockages and directs us to sources of fresh air. It prepares us to be (ful)filled. Only when we exhale do we become truly active. We use the air stored in us to speak, to sing, for bodily action—we express ourselves. We come to ourselves and to the mystery of our own being, God, and meet him in our soul.
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