Archive for April, 2007

For the Birds

April 27, 2007

Always such a cornucopia of winged beasts out here. Seagulls, of course. And crows. But also lots of different ducks (Mallards, Harlequins, etc…), mergansers, grebes, herons, cormorants, oystercatchers and even the occasional Bald Eagle. Scarce by the seashore is the little songbird or humble sparrow. They’re a back east phenomena…Wandering the backroads of rural Ontario in Wordsworthian fashion on a sunny spring afternoon long ago, the sparrows seemed like feathered bundles of joy, prompting me to jot this down:

Sparrows

Sprites in airy glee
Wing’d zephyrs of energy
Flitting endlessly

Chillin’

April 25, 2007

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On French Beach. Stepping away from the keyboard for a spell…

Trick Ride

April 24, 2007

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Speaking of wasting aluminum and airport tarmacs. Found this image here.

The Most Mass-Produced Object in the World?…

April 24, 2007

…The Coca-Cola can. 4.5 billion produced every month. Our age of mass consumption has recently inspired some interesting imagery. All I can say is if you’re going to make that many aluminum cans, at least have the decency to put beer in them…

Deconstructing The Manchurian Candidate

April 23, 2007

Mentioned in a historical context before, it’s been a while since I’ve actually seen this amazing film. I’ve owned an unwrapped DVD copy for a couple of years, lugging it around without watching it like a dusty, aging tome…

Decided to “open” it last night. I found new charms that eluded initial viewings…Sure, the story is riveting and artfully produced, but it’s also beautifully written in spots (partly a testament to Richard Condon’s 1959 novel)…

So I’m presenting a few choice moments in the film posing as a Derridian deconstructionist exercise. Whatever…The scenes and lines stand alone (and Derrida is annoying):

Near the beginning of the film, the hopelessly mindfucked main character Sergeant Raymond Shaw returns home from Korea to a medal-of-honor-winner’s reception on an airport tarmac. He disembarks from the plane, saluted by a bevy of U.S. Army generals. Moving towards a waiting car, he’s approached candidly by one of them…

General: “Congratulations, son, how do you feel?”

Shaw: “Like Captian Idiot in Astounding Science comics.”

Later, the camera slowly pans across a pile of books being read by the tortured and complex Major Bennett Marco (played by Frank Sinatra). It’s a wonderfully synchronous combination of titles:

Disease in Horses

Ulysses (Joyce)

For Whom the Bell Tolls (Hemingway)

The Trial (Kafka)

Wall Street: Men and Money

Enemies of the State

The most curious character in the movie is the comically “manchurian” Dr. Yen Lo, who embodies evilly cold scientific malfeasance, but delivers it with a disturbingly cynical “sense of humor”. He introduces himself a few times as a representative of the Pavlov Institute and in one (quintessential) scene is giving a presentation in front of blown-up black and white posters of Stalin and Mao…

On his visit to the U.S., when the safe house operator (“comrade Zilkov”) tells him that the business front where they are keeping Shaw under observation is running at a profit, Dr. Lo replies, smilingly, to “beware,” for “the virus of capitalism is highly infectious.” Of Shaw, who lies dumbly in a hospital bed between them, catatonic and unresponsive, Lo says “his brain has not only been washed, as they say…It’s been dry-cleaned.” Yuk, yuk.

I always relished the line that triggered Shaw’s hypnotic state and eventually led to him doing “very bad things” — what one said to “open” the “mechanism”: “Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire.” I see it as an oblique commentary on atomization and individuality now…

One of the neatest pieces of writing in the film is uttered by a relatively minor character, a G-man psychiatrist of sorts, to suggest in a conversation with Marco that the trigger card for Shaw is likely a Queen (it is, in fact, the Queen of Diamonds), because of its association to his dark and distorted mother (chillingly played by Angela Lansbury):

“Human fish swimming at the bottom of the great ocean of atmosphere develop psychic injuries as they collide with one another — most mortal of all are those gotten from parent fish.”

Darwin and Freud mashed-up in a maelstrom.

Which summarizes this classic film, too.

N.B. There’s a very so-so remake of The Manchurian Candidate, which I like to pretend some studio executive had the good sense not to bother with. Alas…

We’re All Just Jousting With Windmills…

April 20, 2007

This just in: Apparently, our lives are constructed by narrative. As a fan of Chuck T and a historian, all I can say is…Who knew? Any more brilliant and up-to-date humanist conceits out there…Geez…Guess that’s what you get for teaching philosophy in Norway…

Monkey Puzzle Tree

April 20, 2007

Sitting in the sun yesterday afternoon. It was idyllic. The Olympics set against a crisp blue sky…The smell of fresh cut grass…But I wasn’t happy.

It was the meeting I’d just had. A job prospect. But it’s the usual story now — your work is really interesting, we’d love to have you…There’s some sessional work. Maybe. A part-time job. No, there’s no real office space. You’ve got ideas? Our curriculum is already well-defined…Like most programs that aren’t clearly geared to professional careers, we’re peripheral to the real economic engines of the institution. Education these days has got to be practical and applied…etc…etc…

So I sat afterwards, reading a book about brainwashing, under a “monkey tree”. It was originally know as a “monkey puzzle tree” (Araucaria araucana) because of its spiky, upturned branches.

Academia today feels like being a monkey in world full of these trees, I thought…

Eugenics Timeline

April 19, 2007

Found this interesting historical timeline of eugenics. It starts with Sparta (those guys again…) and ends with cloned sheep. Something ironic about that…

To associate the term “eugenics” with the ancient Greeks is a bit of a misnomer (even though the word comes from the Greek for “well-born”) — what Plato discusses in the Republic is more social control than eugenics. Actually, understood historically, it’s neither. Eugenics (as noted here) only has meaning in relation to the rise of modern, industrial nation-state structures. Without that framework, it couldn’t thrive. It is, after all, not clearly distinguishable from the 19th century institutionalization of madness and mental illness so scathingly criticized by Foucault and others…

Eugenics seems passe. This may not be so. In fact, eugenics is transforming rapidly (critics talk of “liberal eugenics”), and through its association with our (now daily) revolutions in genetic and reproductive technology, looms menacingly over our age. But we know better than all those people a hundred years ago, so it’s OK.

Besides, now we’re on the cusp of being able to clone Spartans. That’s great…Don’t you think?


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