Two odd essays, from 1919, the year of Demian, are interesting re the roots of what we’ve come to call fascism.
I’ve copied the first here — on the Brothers Karamazov.
Two odd essays, from 1919, the year of Demian, are interesting re the roots of what we’ve come to call fascism.
I’ve copied the first here — on the Brothers Karamazov.
Last year Minka Prolic, in whose home I stayed during wartime visits to Sarajevo, passed away.
Here then is some old journalism — Two Trips to Sarajevo — about private life in the city under siege, focused on Minka, her husband Hazim, their son Haris, and their extended family.
Comments about the stories and photos may be placed here below.
Many photos — enriched with comments from Sarajevans — may also be found on my Facebook page, in an album open to the public, whether Fbook members or no. Search there for William Ney, New York, N.Y., with education refs at CUNY Graduate School and St John’s College.
The characters in the Coen brothers film are geared to work against both the Old Testament bleakness of the novel and the Waynesian joie de vivre of the first film.
Mattie in the film, at fourteen, is a relentless robotic harridan-to-be, expressing thru caricature the bleak worldview that Stanley Fish here extracts from the novel and offers as the spiritual key to the new film.
Mattie’s been trained as a bookkeepper and, we find, knows nothing about life and justice on the great frontier. Most comico-tragically, she badgers the tumbleweeds of the prairie with threats or promises of treatment by her lawyer. Finally poor Ned shuts her up, for us all, by responding that what he needs is a “good JUDGE” — yearning, it seems, for the Good News god and His mercy as deadly accidents set in train by Mattie’s thirst for revenge snake about his neck like a noose.
Cogburn steadily provides the antidote of worldly experience to Mattie’s booklearning and naive rationalism. Eg, he instructs and insists that Ned Chaney hung in Texas for shooting a senator is as good as Arkansas for shooting Mattie’s pa — and that the financial benefits of the former settle the case. Let’s be reasonable.
The only bit of this Cogburn we see in Mattie is when she goes a bit soft on LaBoeuf, who, at the extreme from her take-no-prisoners egomania, espouses the chivalrous naivete of the Cavalier society that settled Texas. Cogburn, in between, does his best to moderate the romance, but Mattie’s headstrong stone-hearted quest for vengeance must leave Quixote in the dust. “Ever stalwart,” he sadly affirms, too late to be heard, as she rides into the sunset in search of her devil.
A quarter century thence, at film’s end, we see that Mattie’s blindered pursuit of her ideal brought her to a barren life. She is, at 40, an echo of Miss Gulch — from The Wizard of the Oz — an irredeemable witch peculiar to the frontier who demonstrates no more curiosity or compassion for things human than she did at fourteen. She strides through the colorful marvels of a city and a circus without a sidelong glance, and her very last line is an imperious insult — “Keep your seat, trash!” — to an old man who failed to rise in her bristling presence.
The film’s coda, then, cements the notion (which sprouted for me about halfway thru) that the last thing one must do with this story is respect the barbaric worldview of its motor-mouthed bookkeeping upstart protagonist.
Naturally, then, one looks elsewhere — to Jeff Bridge’s Cogburn, who shares the joy of John Wayne’s but whose every decision is shot through by social psychology, and who recognizes a good deal of himself in all the bad guys: “I know him!” he keeps moaning to Mattie as the hapless of the earth wander into his crosshairs.
In short: The last thing I see in this Cogburn is the amoral gunslinging paraclete that Stanley Fish is at such pains to paint.
Affinities between the Old Testament and the amoral Predeterminism of certain Christian schools are oft remarked. And it’s a familiar turn in American letters to use the Old Testament to gloss the New World.
Alfred Kazin was a master of this, and his essays on Lincoln — whom he finds caught between the South’s fundamental sin and the relentless paracletes of Abolition — are among the assessments of the American character that I treasure.
But Mr Fish, falling short of Kazin, offers an impoverished reading of the new film, whether out of doctrine (his distinctive nihilism) or innocently, as it were, I don’t know. What seems clear is that the Coen brothers set out to Deconstruct the novel’s heroine, as a spiritually barren witch — and it’s odd that Perfesser Fish of all people would not notice.
By film’s end I even wonder if she was telling the truth about her devil Ned Chaney.
However that may be, it’s odd to find her, twenty-five years later, venerating Cogburn’s memory and yet so unchanged, so blindly made of stone after all these years. T’would seem that authentic veneration might have tenderized her hide a hair. Perhaps we are to sense that subterranean guilt, for having dragged Cogburn and the rest into her hell, is the real reason she transports his grave to the barren hilltop where her parents lie.
In any case, I mourn for this Cogburn as he tries to rest in peace with Mattie Gulch’s blank stare and recitations from the Bible falling upon his bones.
Nice bit from the brit Prospect:
Let me eblaborate if I may:
Does the technological civilization need books?
Modernity and the novel were coeval. (Hamlet was the first novel, I like to say.)
What happens to that civilization when the novel is cut off like a dead limb?
Will it still be able to walk and talk? Will it go mad?
The 21st century in America so far suggests no, no and yes.
Recollections and thoughts about the new film HOWL are on the way.
Meanwhile peeps can comment on the man and the poem and the movie — and a very local interview from 1988 — here below.
Curious George Goes to the War
I donâ€™t want the war
Donâ€™t want the war I
Want the war I know
The war I know what
War I know what wars
I know what wars are
Know what wars are like.
I know the destruction and
Know the destruction and death
The destruction and death that
Destruction and death that comes
And death that comes with
Death that comes with them.
I am the one who
Am the one who has
The one who has to
One who has to comfort
Who has to comfort mothers
Has to comfort mothers and
To comfort mothers and widows
Comfort mothers and widows of
Mothers and widows of thee
And widows of the dead.
Of course for us that
Course for us that would
For us that would be
Us that would be the
That would be the best
Would be the best solution.
Besides it would save us
It would save us fifty
Would save us fifty billion.
Warhol was able to collapse
Was able to collapse high
Able to collapse high serious
To collapse high serious art
Collapse high serious art and
High serious art and low
Serious art and low pop
Art and low pop culture
And low pop culture making
Low pop culture making the
Pop culture making the art
Culture making the art of
Making the art of painting
The art of painting into
Art of painting into a
Of painting into a part
Painting into a part of
Into a part of pop
A part of pop culture
Part of pop culture he’s
Of pop culture he’s an
Pop culture he’s an incredible
Culture he’s an incredible genius
He’s an incredible genius but
An incredible genius but he’s
Incredible genius but he’s the
Genius but he’s the devil.
For Shri Hariji, Who Said It
Whether you believe or not
Think as if you do
Stop the blind effort
Ask yourself what you need
Success as the moment
Is not in your interest
Turn to silence, nothingness
Where you are
Is where you have to be
Know, you are not wise
This is difficult
Grasp your folly
And you grasp yourself
What you have eaten
Is merely unripe fruit
So, now, learn to fast
Do without, be absent
Keep the eyes closed
Keep the mind steady
What you will see
You will also understand
No visions, except in darkness
Listen to the voice
That is not your own
Then move again
Without remorse or guilt
Love is more concerned
About your fate
Than you have ever been
That is why you have survived
Express your gratitude
By giving what you have to give
You may get nothing in return
And bear your restlessness with grace
Latter-Day Psalms, 1982
Came across this while spring cleaning, and the author of a deeply felt piece on the state of student-body politics therein suggested scanning was in order.
Here are legible scans. (Enlarge once they open in yer browser.) Eight pages cover to cover.
When things get too confused on the screen, go to paper.
As poet, publisher & old friend David Abel, long gone from New York, breezes thru this weekend with a reading on Sunday the 27th at the Zinc Bar, I find myself reading TUNC by Lawrence Durrell from 1958 …
A pheasant stuffed with nominal chestnuts, a fatty wine disbursed among fake barrels in a London cellar — Poggio’s, where people go to watch each other watch each other. I had been trying to explain the workings of Abel — no, you cannot have a computer with balls; but the illusion of a proximate intuition is startling. Like a buggerish astrology only more real, more concrete; better than crystal ball or divining rod.
“Here we have lying about us in our infancy” (they clear their throats loudly) “a whole culture tied to a stake, whipped blind, torn apart by mastiffs. Grrrr! And here we are, three men in black overcoats, ravens of ill omen in an oak tree.” I gave a couple of tremendous growls. Heads turned toward us in meek but startled fashion.
“You are still drunk, Felix.” This is Nash.
“No, but people as destinies are by now almost mathematically predictable. Ask Abel.”
“You interest me strangely,” said Vibart dozing off for a second. Emboldened Charlock continued.
“I call it pogonometry. It is deduction based on the pogon [then in Greek], a word which does not exist. It is the smallest conceivable unit of meaning in speech; a million pogons make up the millioneth part of a phoneme. Give Abel a sigh or the birth cry of a baby and he can tell you everything.”
The great WWA has just posted his letters from the Civil War years, gathered with responses.
It’s a wonder to appreciate his prosaic mind and voice.
And the colloquies with poetry editors are hilarious, to wit:
Jan. 20, ’60.
Mr. House inform’d me that you accepted, and would publish, my “Bardic Symbols.” If so, would you, as soon as convenient, have it put in type, and send me the proof?
About the two lines:
(See from my dead lips the ooze exuding at last!
See the prismatic colors glistening and rolling!)
I have in view, from them, an effect in the piece which I clearly feel, but cannot as clearly define. Though I should prefer them in, still, as I told Mr. House, I agree that you may omit them, if you decidedly wish to.
Portland av. near Myrtle | Brooklyn, N. Y.
Friend and poet Michael Gushue reports this alleged lost scene from the Citizen Kane script:
Kane stands with his butler/factotum, Raymond in the family tomb. His only son, Charles Foster Kane II, is dead at the age of 31. The year is 1938, and workmen are setting a slab on the grave.
After they leave, Kane looks at the simple inscriptions on the crypts of his father, mother and son.
Above the blank space reserved for him, is an inscription on an ornate, ancient wall imported from Persia.
Kane translates for Raymond (bored and couldn’t care less):
The drunkenness of youth
Has passed like a fever
And yet I saw many things
Seeing my glory in the days of my glory
I thought my power eternal
And the days of my life
Fixed surely in the years
But a whisper came to me
From Him who dies not
I called my tributary kings together
And those who were proud rulers under me
I opened the boxes of my treasure to them, saying
“Take hills of gold, mountains of silver
And give me one more day upon the earth”
But they stood silent
Looking upon the ground
So that I died
And Death came to sit upon my throne
O sons of men
You see a stranger upon the road
You call to him and he does not stop
He is your life
Walking towards time
Hurrying to meet the kings of India and China
O sons of men
You are caught in the web of the world
And the spider
Nothing waits behind it
Where are the men with towering hopes?
They have changed places with owls
Owls who lived in tombs
And now inhabit a palace
We live in affluence
And are blind to where we are
Our concerns and feuds
Fill our time every day
You must ask yourself
What is the worth?
It has begun.
What the Dice Man has joined may none put asunder.
If your brakes don’t work, smile as you go under.
What’s he building in there?
This is actually a conversion of a screenplay, the antepenultimate, my fifth, from 2005, into a novel. Thought about doing it before. Now it seems to have gone and …
The opening paragraph seems to be:
In June 2004, after five Medecins Sans Frontieres were found murdered in the middle of nowhere in Afghanistan, Aaron called, for the first time since coming to New York with Maya. Long out of touch had been the pattern of a friendship born and first aborted in Texas, then again at Duke, before settling down to disjointed maturity during years of criss-crossing work overseas. Since the rebirth of History the routine had been that to meet for coffee one went to Baghdad or Bosnia or Berlin.
That, or perhaps:
He would miss his turn.
And so on to the end.
If we shall suppose that writing lengthy bits that no one shall ever read is one of those offenses which, in the providence of Dog, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both Yea and Ney this terrible task as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living Dog always ascribe to Him?
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of lore may speedily pass away.
Yet, if Dog wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the pen man’s sore head and hands and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the quill shall be paid by another drawn by the horde, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “The judgments of the lord are true and righteous altogether.”
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as Dog gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
President Sarkozy of France proposes to move the body from Lourmain, the little town where Camus tried to live and work in peace during his last decade, in the south, to the Pantheon in Paris. The notion seems to have caused a nasty stir.
Four half-hour chats — from 1980 with Dick Cavett.
A fine heart and mind. And interesting times.
He talks remarkably of his father, a coal miner. And of alcohol and his saving-grace wife, Susan.
The four clips, linked here, are from the NY Times site, where Cavett has a column:
Part One. Wales. His father the coal miner.
Part Two. Growing up poor & orphaned but happy. Stumbling into acting & catching the bug. Laurence Olivier. John Gielgud.
Part Three. Garbo. His journals. Writers. Bogart & Bacall & John Huston. Spencer Tracy. Hubris. Elizabeth Taylor. His own films. The Bogey stories are fun.
Part Four. Demon Rum. His wife Susan. A taste of Camelot.
And throughout: the slings and arrows of acting and life and other arts, from one who learned most of what he knows out of school.
Bravo, PBS. And Mr Cavett, who fields a number of short-hoppers with thoughtful aplomb. Noticed him about town some months ago, looking spry.
Camelot on Broadway, with Julie Andrews, 1960-61
Alan Jay Lerner and director Moss Hart adapted Camelot from T.H. White’s rejuvenation of the King Arthur legend, The Once and Future King. Frederick Loewe came grudgingly aboard to write the music.
Burton and Julie Andrews were the original headliners, the latter as Guineviere, fresh from her smash in My Fair Lady, also by Lerner and Loewe. Robert Goulet got his first break as lovelorn Lancelot. Broadway’s advance-sales records were broken.
The show had been five hours plus in out-of-town trials, with Loewe and Hart seriously ill and Lerner suffering marriage trauma. The latter in later years was keen to credit Burton’s “faith and geniality” for holding the production together.
It opened on Broadway in early December 1960. Senator Kennedy had defeated Vice President Nixon four weeks earlier.
Twenty years later, it’s between performances of a Camelot revival at Lincoln Center that Burton sits with Cavett. Exhausting exercise, at age 55.
Weeks later Burton had radical back surgery. The pain or a certain constriction can be seen in his eyes.
Night of the Iguana, with Sue Lyon, 1964
Talking at frank length about alcohol, Burton credits his wife Susan with likely saving his life.
Four years later he was dead. At 59.
I remember my mother grieving a bit, not for having lost a star, but something closer to the bone, bearing on early deaths of her oldest brother and father, the latter whom, like Burton, died in his 50s of a brain hemorrage.
With Liz Taylor
Life in bloom.
He met Elizabeth Taylor in 1963, while filming Cleopatra, at the time the most expensive film in history.
They were married twice, from March 1964 to July 1976, taking sixteen months off in June 1974.
Was it Nixon’s resignation …?
It’s generally thought that they acted out private life, with encouragement from Mike Nicholls, as Leonard and Virginia Woolf.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 1966
Six years after the last divorce, he speaks of Taylor as a good friend.
And argues she was a great screen actress, underrated because of beauty, but due for rediscovery and immortality.
Asking about his diaries, Cavett suggests that Burton is in essence a writer.
The actor allows he’s had ten or so extracts from his journals published — but merely in places that pay well. Ladies Home Journal. Cosmopolitan.
Then offers that he admires writers above all other “craftsmen,” and prefers their company, among artistic types, finding painters “inarticulate” and actors wont to tell stories rather than converse.
Throughout, comments about acting and the business focus on scripts and mention authors.
Post mortem, a book was carved out of his journals, and published to rave reviews.
Seems the thinking man’s world found itself shocked to find he was not a gigolo.
He speaks of his father, Richard Jenkins, as a genius coal miner. The stories are laced with alcohol and affection.
But elsewhere he spoke of the man’s violence. And when the father died in 1957, his namesake son, 32 and famous, did not attend the funeral.
His mother had died when he was two, giving birth to her thirteenth child at age 44. He says he has no memories.
At some point the state made master Richard Jenkins a ward of Philip Burton, one of his schoolteachers and a scholar of the theater. The lad’s passion for rugby was channeled elsewhere.
â€śI would rather have played for Wales at Cardiff Arms Park than Hamlet at the Old Vic,â€ť the actor later said. (So reports biographer Melvyn Bragg.)
It’s curious that he speaks at such length about his father with Cavett, yet so briefly — but with honor — of Philip Burton, whom he reports alive and well and living in Key West.
The Longest Day
The photo at the very top here is also from The Longest Day, where Burton stands out — in a huge top-drawer Hollywood ensemble, and among the work-hard-play-hard Yank soldiery — as a quiet, hard-drinking RAF pilot on the verge of losing his nerve.
One imagines he cherished the role, having served in the RAF for three years during the war.
He came home intending to return to Oxford, but found the town so crowded at that moment with veterans that his chances to make the rugby squad were deemed poor.
So, instead, with Philip Burton’s aid and comfort, he answered an ad for an acting job …
His last film was magnificent: Michael Radford’s 1984, shot in the spring of Orwell’s year.
John Hurt was an obvious and indeed perfect Winston.
Less than obvious was Burton as O’Brien, the Ministry of Truth officer who watches then arrests Winston, methodically interrogates and breaks him, then washes his brain. A fierce minimalist perfect performance.
He died months later. August 5.
The 1984 now seems a bookend to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, from John le Carre’s breakthrough book. Another great minimalist characterization in an important film about secret police.
The cold spy, with celestial Claire Bloom. 1965
I hadn’t realized, knowing only his post 50s films, that Burton’s roots were so wide and deep in the English theater
More than once he tells Cavett that he doesn’t watch movies at all, work aside, and suspects only ten or twelve of his 60 or so are worth preserving from fire.
His Hamlet here, in New York, in 1964 was much remarked upon.
There’s a filmed rehearsal run-through available on CD, which became the basis, two summers ago, of a revival extravaganza on a big screen in Central Park (if memory serves) and then the Public Theater.
I missed it. But do have the CD, which is always a bit disappointing, because the actor is indeed running through the text.
Watching the erstwhile rising rugby star run, however, one can imagine the fearsome athletic power he brought to the role. An Achilles of a Hamlet.
Able to snap Claudius’s neck with a hand.
Burton speaks highly of Gielgud, who directed him in Hamlet but also later remarked that Burton was, indeed, too rough for the role. Meaning, perhaps, nothing more, or less, than that he was a Welshman.
Toward the end of their chat, Cavett notes that his (Cavett’s) wife had performed with Burton years before in Munich.
The actor responds with a taste of Hamlet’s second soliloquoy in German.
The passing of Paul Newman a year ago left me feeling similarly bereaved.
Is it only in context — contrasted with the luminaries and prospects of our day — that Burton seems so remarkable here, chatting with an urbane fellow traveler of the cosmopolis, as Reagan’s presidency, which just a few months before had seemed as always a ludicrous long-shot, so lugubriously dawned?
February 8, 1966
Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment
That was known as Camelot
The Camelot company did an original cast album in 1961. Burton refers to the lovely royalties with a smile, and replies to Cavett’s request for a piece of his quality by noting that viewers may yet buy the record.
The music had caught on inside the Kennedy White House. Mr Richard Burton had been invited to dinner.
And after the state murder, Camelot inspired Jackie to compare her husband’s administration to the court of young Arthur, who after innocently pulling a sword from a stone had found himself king, and gone on, legend goes, to do noble things.
February 6, 1968: Bobby, Liz, Richard and Ethel.
Four months later a dream fully died.
JFK, incoming, was not much like Arthur: His progress to the White House was long planned and well contrived, and he’d been working in town, in Congress, for twelve years already, and had been raised in a family that traded at the highest levels.
Nevertheless, his odyssey once arrived at the big house was indeed that of an Arthurian ingenue, quick on his feet, able to sniff rats, and change course, intent on nobler things.
Burton was banned from the BBC for speaking of Churchill as a mass-murderer and quasi-fascistic racist in his conduct of the war.
He spoke of himself as a socialist, life long, and his pride in honest labor is the steady note in the tales he tells Cavett of his father, and the sisters who raised him, and his six brothers all of whom went to the mines.
Yet to avoid the King’s tax man, the escape artist resided in Switzerland, from the 50s onward.
And is buried there, in Celigny, on the shores of icy majestic Lake Geneva.
A friend, recently recapping my second novel on Facebook, impuned the character of its catalyst, that gentle lady.
Her honor at the stake, I saw no choice but to tarry long enough to explain the curious circumstances of her last night on earth.
Here then, a quick synopsis, for posterity.
Sergei. The narrator. Born 1922 in the Volga Hills, veteran of the war, prominent scientist â€” but banished to Bohemia for being a pain in the butt during the 60s. There to teach chemistry. Our hero. He limps.
And encounters a local woman, his age, late one night while brooding about town. This is Prague 1986, as Chernobyl is about to blow. Earlier that evening his younger Czech girlfriend had laughed away his marriage proposal.
The new woman — who would certainly bristle to be called a prostitute — squires him about as the night lengthens, testing various hotspots.
He deflects her questions by telling her he’s a philosopher — but she is careful to introduce him as her “American philosopher friend” to avoid having doors slammed in their faces, the sad Russians being generally despised in the Bohemian underground.
Later, finally back at her place, she expires during misfortunate attempts at love making. The circumstances are obscure, but our narrator protests his innocence. To some ears, perhaps, persuasively.
The next day the papers call it murder most foul — and blame it on an American Philosopher who will soon be apprehended.
But sooner than later a clever policeman catches the true scent. And so the game’s afoot.
The Prague Surrealists, among whom Segei these many years has found what little comfort he can in that baroque backwater of a burg, are of course no help. The twittering fools.
Nor are the guardians of the Soviet embassy, who discover, upon answering his knock, that Sergei’s knowledge of certain weapon systems is entirely obsolete. And so set him free. So to speak.
But perhaps his great friend, Ludek, urologist to the nomenclatura of the Castle, psychotherapist to their children, well connected to be sure â€” But Sergei daresn’t confess. Such a sordid affair …
And then finds that Ludek has invited to the weekly Surrealist group session a pushy American Philospher. ?!? Just happened to be passing thru town.
Well. Circumstances, of course, compel all. In the end Sergei has no choice but to flee to Berlin, helter skelter, where, who knows, things may work out.
Thus his memoir: MY ESCAPE TO THE WEST.
Something to chew on came my way at lunch circa 2006:
Time is Precious. But Truth is More Precious than Time.
The Man’s too much …
Aw hell …
I began this darn script on August 18, 2006. Day 22 !!!
Tonight, after many developments, drafts, distractions, derailments and deaths, including baby steps toward a low-budget production and Wall Street blowing its brains out …
Tonight it seems perfected: properly abandoned.
On Day 1,184. Good dog almighty …
The prior six scripts received no more than four months of attention. But this, the trouble and time of a novel.
A toast is in order. Let’s see …
Well, modest — but tasty: the superbly bitter Rye Pale Ale that Michelob has put out to compete with all the artsy crafty beers.
Tomorrow back to business.
And, in the evening, perhaps, a bit of wild Decompression.