David Foster Wallace on the passage of time:
Everything is on fire, slow fire.
The NYT's 6th Floor blog has posted a very good selection of excellent sentences. You'll have to read their selection for sentence of the month yourself but as a teaser here is something they include in the post (even though it's more than one sentence). It's by Flann O'Brien:
Misadventure fell on my misfortune, a further misadventure fell on that misadventure and before long the misadventures were falling thickly on the first misfortune and on myself. Then a shower of misfortunes fell on the misadventures, heavy misadventures fell on the misfortunes after that and finally one great brown misadventure came upon everything, quenching the light and stopping the course of life.
Misadventures and misfortunes have never sounded so joyful.
March 19, 2011 | Permalink
In 1964 his wife Mary died suddenly, on a family holiday, so Ballard raised their three children himself. To begin with he could only manage to do this by drinking a scotch every hour, starting at nine in the morning. It took him quite a while to push this back to six o'clock in the evening. I asked him was that difficult, and he said: "Difficult? It was like the Battle of Stalingrad."
July 15, 2010 | Permalink
From William Deresiewicz's review of The Pregnant Widow, by Martin Amis:
In his study of Nabokov, Michael Wood makes the useful heuristic distinction between style and what he calls “signature.” Signature announces the author’s presence. Style, Wood says, “is something more secretive... a reflection of luck or grace, or of a moment when signature overcomes or forgets itself.” With style, “we think about the writing before we think about who wrote it.” Well, Amis’s style, in his most characteristic works, as glorious as it often is, is all signature, is always signature. Signature is the whole point of it.
July 08, 2010 | Permalink
From a wonderful 1993 New Yorker profile of Ricky Jay, the great magician and scholar:
“A guy comes up and starts telling me he’s a fan,” he recalls. “I say thank you, that’s nice to hear. He says he used to see me perform in Boulder, Colorado. That’s nice, too, I say. Then he starts talking about this wonderful piece I did with a mechanical monkey—really one of the most bizarre routines I ever worked out—and I thank him, and he says, ‘Yeah, I get a tremendous response when I do that. Audiences just love it.’ And I say, ‘Let me ask you something. Suppose I invite you over to my house for dinner. We have a pleasant meal, we talk about magic, it’s an enjoyable evening. Then, as you’re about to leave, you walk into my living room and you pick up my television and walk out with it. You steal my television set. Would you do that?’ He says, ‘Of course not.’ And I say, ‘But you already did.’ He says, ‘What are you talking about?’ I say, ‘You stole my television!’ He says, ‘How can you say that? I’ve never even been to your house.’
February 19, 2010 | Permalink
In an interview with Prospect, Martin Amis explains why he doesn't have any time for J.M Coetzee - he has no sense of humour:
Dryden said, literature is instruction and delight, and there are people who think that if they’re not getting delight then they are getting a lot of instruction, when in fact they’re not getting that either. But it has a sort of of gloomy constituency. If there is no pleasure transmitted then I’m not interested. I mean, look at them all: Dickens, George Eliot, Jane Austen, Smollet, Fielding, they’re all funny. All the good ones are funny. Richardson isn’t, and he’s no good. Dostoyevsky is funny: The Double is a scream. Tolstoy is funny by being just so wonderfully true and pure. Gogol, funny. Flaubert, funny. Dickens. All the good ones are funny... You will get these people who are felt to be educational, even though, as Clive James said, a sense of humour is common sense dancing. Those who haven’t got it, a sense of humour, shouldn’t be trusted with anything. You’re amazed they can get across the road.
February 01, 2010 | Permalink
Although writers like Cervantes and Daniel Defoe are often given credit, it was, of course, JS Bach who invented the modern novel, in 1741.
Here is Glenn Gould talking about why, having recorded one landmark version of the Goldberg Variations, he went back and did another one. Then he plays the thing itself. Sublime. Terrible posture though.
January 11, 2010 | Permalink
There are many lustrous gems embedded in this gorgeous essay by Martin Amis on Vladimir Nabokov, including the first three sentences...
Language leads a double life – and so does the novelist. You chat with family and friends, you attend to your correspondence, you consult menus and shopping lists, you observe road signs (LOOK LEFT), and so on. Then you enter your study, where language exists in quite another form – as the stuff of patterned artifice.
At 600 pages, two or three times Nabokov's usual fighting-weight, the novel (Ada) is what homicide detectives call "a burster". It is a waterlogged corpse at the stage of maximal bloat.
And countless others, some from Amis himself, others on loan from his subject, like the extraordinary passage Amis chooses to close the piece:
From Lolita, as the fateful cohabitation begins (nous connûmes, a Flaubertian intonation, means "we came to know"):
"Nous connûmes the various types of motor court operators, the reformed criminal, the retired teacher, and the business flop, among the males; and the motherly, pseudo-ladylike and madamic variants among the females. And sometimes trains would cry in the monstrously hot and humid night with heartrending and ominous plangency, mingling power and hysteria in one desperate scream."
November 14, 2009 | Permalink
From the book I'm currently reading: Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia, by John Dickie:
Judge Falcone once compared entering the mafia to being a convert to a religion: "You never stop being a priest. Or a mafioso." The parallels do not end there, largely because many "men of honour" (mafiosi) are believers. Catania boss Nitto Santapaola had an altar and a little chapel constructed in his villa; he also once had four kids garrotted and thrown in a well for mugging his mother.
November 07, 2009 | Permalink
In the mid-nineteenth century a Londoner called John Leighton published a scheme to divide London in a number of hexagonals, a plan aimed at preventing cab drivers from taking advantage of London's chaotic complexity to overcharge their passengers. This is as far as it got, obviously.
Visit Strange Maps for the full explanation and a larger image.
(Cross-posted on Marbury)
October 30, 2009 | Permalink
From The End of the Affair, Graham Greene:
The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity.
October 07, 2009 | Permalink
Vladimir Nabokov and Lionel Trilling discuss "Lolita".
I like how VN is engaged and polite - and brilliantly articulate - but also mildly uncomfortable, constantly rearranging himself on the sofa, like a teenager willing to chat to the grown-ups but keen to get away to play with his mates. I also like the smoking.
September 14, 2009 | Permalink
From an interview with the great evolutionary biologist, Robert Trivers (speaking about his beloved mentor Bill Drury):
"Bill and I were walking in the woods one day, and I told him that my first breakdown had been so painful that I had resolved that if I ever felt another one coming on, I would kill myself. Lately, however, I had changed my mind, and drawn up a list of 10 people I would kill first in that event. I wanted to know if this was going forwards or backwards. He thought for a while, then he said 'Can I add three names to that list?'. That was his only comment."
June 23, 2009 | Permalink
From The Guardian's interview with Clive James:
"As the great philosopher Martina Navratilova once said, it doesn't really matter how well you're playing when you're playing well, what matters is how well you're playing when you're playing badly. You've got to have a standard you can hit. The real fun starts when you get above that - but that's beyond your control. Still is. And I've been doing this a long, long time."
James's writing career began in earnest in 1972 as a television critic for the Observer, where he says he soon became unpopular for writing his reviews at great pace in an open-plan office, laughing out loud at his own jokes. Has it got easier or harder over the years? "Well, Thomas Mann, he said - and this is great, this is writing - he said a writer is someone for whom writing is harder than it is for other people. That line is perfect in every way. Not only is it perfectly written, but it's absolutely true."
May 25, 2009 | Permalink
April 09, 2009 | Permalink
There's a very long, wonderfully written and fascinating profile of Ian McEwan in the current New Yorker (you have to register to read it online). The writer of the piece, Daniel Zalewski, was able to spend a lot of time with McEwan and get a real feel for the man, his extraordinary brain, and the rhythms of his life. He also had access to all McEwan's friends, and there are many rumbustious and funny interventions from Hitchens, Amis, Raine, et al (one of the amusing if uncomfortable things about the profile is that they all confide, independently of each other, that McEwan isn't actually a great novelist - men are such bitches...). Anyway, my favourite Amis remark from the piece is an aside, and not about McEwan at all, though it's made at McEwan's sixtieth birthday party:
"I'd like to have a Mutton Dressed As Lamb party. Everyone has to come in old clothing, haunting their old bodies."
What a brilliant idea.
February 21, 2009 | Permalink
This week I went to Kings Place, the new concert venue in Kings Cross (it shares a building with The Guardian), to watch the pianist Jean-Bernard Pommier give a masterclass in Beethoven sonatas to a couple of conservatoire students.
It was fascinating. Pommier is comfortably plump, avuncular, and witty. He speaks excellent English with a pronounced French accent. He spent a few minutes asking each student about her (both were female) life, where she was from, when she first started to learn, how many hours she practices, where she studies, and so on. In part this was to put her at ease, but he seemed to be probing for more too, as if making a quick diagnosis of the person's musical soul.
After listening to them play, he spent much time getting the students to think more rhythmically, to listen to a silent metronome, and then - only then - to move around inside the beat according to the music. He encouraged them to let their feelings about the music sing out to the audience; the key difference between the technically proficient player and the concert performer being the ability to communicate emotion. Both students were, as you'd expect, masters of the keyboard. But you only had to hear Pommier play the shortest of passages himself to understand the difference between that and a master of music.
(The video above shows Pommier picking out the right Steinway pianos for the hall. KP is clearly well-endowed with funds because they decided to buy six of the best rather than one Steinway for the main performances and a few lesser beasts for the others, which is what most venues have to do.)
January 31, 2009 | Permalink
I recently found myself competing with a friend over who could name the most animal adjectives (the 'ine' ones, although as you can see they're not all 'ine'). I'm not sure why. Anyway, I'm grateful to have stumbled across this comprehensive list from an interesting piece about the influence of Latin on English:
ant/formicid, bee/apian, bird/avian, crow/corvine, songbird/oniscine, cod/gadoid, carp/cyprine, fish/piscine, gull/laridine, wasp/vespine, butterfly/papilionaceous, worm/vermian, spider/arachnidan, snake/anguine, turtle/testudinian, cat/feline, rabbit/cunicular, hare/leporine, dog/canine, deer/cervine, reindeer/rangiferine, fox/vulpine, wolf/lupine, goat/caprine, sheep/ovine, swan/cygnean, duck/anatine, starling/sturnine, goose/anserine, mongoose/herpestine, grouse/tetraonine, ostrich/struthionine, horse/equine, chicken/gallinaceous, cattle/bovine, pig/porcine, agouti/dasyproctine, whale/cetacean, kangaroo/macropine, ape/simian, frog/batrachian, bear/ursine, man/human or hominid (gender specific: man/masculine, woman/feminine)
I used to wonder if snake went with "supine". But apparently not. The actual snake adjective is lovely.
There is one animal whose absence from this list is rather glaring, of course.
December 27, 2008 | Permalink
I like this, from Hugh Trevor-Roper's classic The Last Days of Hitler, for its insight and its wit:
It was the spectacle, the imaginary contemplation of rivers of human blood that inspired him, not the thought of victory and its practical use... "If I can send the flower of the German nation into the hell of war, without the smallest pity for the spilling of precious German blood, then surely I have a right to remove millions of an inferior race that breeds like vermin!" Without the smallest pity... As a logical syllogism, the proposition is perhaps defective; but as a psychological illustration it needs no improvement.
October 29, 2008 | Permalink
This is one of my favourite TV things ever: Will Self on Room 101. Self is on fire, and far better than the programme deserves. He is darkly funny, hyper-articulate, lugubrious and scathing, a font of the surreal and mind-bendingly arcane. Merton - so used to possessing the most creative and sharpest wit of anyone in the room - becomes visibly unnerved as the programme progresses, unwilling to just cede the show to his guest, but unsure quite how to assert his authority in the face of this torrent of verbal invention. In the end he's reduced to a kind of mildly peevish poking.
Self's description of the ideal airport has stayed with me in particular.
September 21, 2008 | Permalink
Last week I was lucky enough to see Tom Waits do his strange and lovely thing, in Dublin, where he played a couple of gigs in his Glitter and Doom tour.
It was brilliant. Part blues, part vaudeville, part Coney Island freak show. He played for two and a half hours. It didn't get boring. In fact it was crucial that the show was that long: his world is so strange that you need to be drawn into it, half-willing, half-afraid. There were a few too many of his deranged Weill-like stompers for my liking, and much of the time he sounded as if he was barking rather than singing. But that voice isn't an accident (though he can make it sound like a car crash), it's a finely calibrated instrument, and when he uses it to move you, as he did during a session at the piano, you don't stand a chance. If his voice was a film it would be The Elephant Man; nobody walks the line between the grotesque and the beautiful like Waits. During a hair-tingling rendition of Tom Traubert's Blues, he sounded 200 years old, wasted and wounded, aching with regret and anguish. Other highlights, for me, included Cold, Cold Ground, and an encore of Time, for which I was right at the front, gazing up in wonder at the commitment of the man to his songs and his singing.
August 07, 2008 | Permalink
I've always insisted on having a nap after lunch, and I inherited this from my father. And one time I said to him, "You know, you've done awfully well in the world. What do you attribute it to?" And he said, "Well, what drove me on to be my own boss was that the thing that I wanted most was to be able to have a nap every day after lunch." And I thought, What an extraordinary impulse to drive a man on! But it did, and he always had a twenty-minute sleep after lunch. And I'm the same. I think it is very important. If you will not permit yourself to be driven and flogged through life, you'll probably enjoy it more.
Quoted in Creativity, Csikszentmihalyi.
July 06, 2008 | Permalink
A fascinating list of the most untranslatable foreign words. In first place:
ilunga [Tshiluba word for a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time; to tolerate it a second time; but never a third time. Note: Tshiluba is a Bantu language spoken in south-eastern Congo, and Zaire]
The same post includes a list of the most untranslatable English words. It includes two words that mean a load of old nonsense.
July 04, 2008 | Permalink
Mark Vernon gives a lucid exposition of Erich Fromm's distinction between falling in love and standing in love:
When you stand in love, though, you want your partner to be faithful to you not because you cannot be alone but because it represents to you the faithfulness that must exist between all human beings who are to relate well to each other. In other words, it is not an exclusive possessiveness but an expression of an inclusive love for all humankind, potentially at least. Thus, the nicest people to know who are in love with each other are those who make you feel part of their love, whose love generates a welcoming home, brings out the best in you and so on. They have learnt the art of love with each other and it results in generating love that they have for others.
Another feature of this love as an art is that it makes it essentially an act of will, of decision to commit my life to that of one other person. Hence the faithfulness again. This feels completely the opposite of love when it is understood as spontaneous, emotional and sudden. Also, it suggests that to love someone is not just to have a strong feeling. You may often have no strong feelings at all some of the time when you stand in love. Rather, love is better understood as a judgment or a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for your promise to love someone. For a feeling comes and goes. You cannot promise that.
May 10, 2008 | Permalink
The BBC has just released the recording of an interview conducted with Evelyn Waugh in 1953:
On his family, Waugh says: "Thank God they don't live with me, except on holidays. They're most of them at school ... I don't see a great deal of them except in the holidays." Asked "do you play much with your children when they're young?" Waugh replies: "Not when they're infantile. When they get to the age of clear speech and clearness of reason I associate with them, I wouldn't say play with them. I don't bounce balls with them or stand on my head or carry them about on my shoulders or anything."
April 15, 2008 | Permalink
linda grant on going to see Tom Stoppard speak at a recent literary festival:
He brilliantly described the process of writing as going to bed at night thinking that your day's work was 'really okay' then waking the next morning, re-reading it, and discovering that 'the Polish au pair has re-written it in the night.
April 10, 2008 | Permalink
nothing ennobles a human being so much as keeping a secret. It gives a man's whole life meaning, though one that it has only for him. It saves him from every vain regard for his environment; sufficient unto himself, he rests blessed in his secret - we can almost say that, even if his secret were the most sinister.
i found this quote, which is from Kierkegaard, on my friend's blog. It ought to be the epigraph to a novel. Perhaps her's.
i have joined a dvd club in order to start filling the many gaps in my cinematic database. Badlands arrived last week. It is a strange and mysterious and oddly beautiful film, about a young couple from Nebraska who go on a killing spree. Like Bonnie and Clyde, but nothing like it.
it was directed by terence malick, who, in a heroic act of self-editing, has made only three films in thirty-five years. At least two of them, including this one, are considered stone-cold classics. (imagine if everyone was forced to abide by the same talent-to-production ratio). Malick has never done an interview, and makes no public appearances. There are no photographs of him.
The fascinating and surprisingly moving featurette that accompanies the film on DVD has interviews with the stars (Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek), plus the editor and the cinematographer, but not Malick (it is titled 'The Absence Of Malick'). The film, Malick's first, was made for next-to-nothing, with all the participants working for a fraction of their usual rate. They did this because they loved the script, and because they believed in Malick.
The whole team knew they were on to something special. Sheen talks about how, the day after he'd been awarded the role, he was driving down a Californian highway listening to Dylan's Desolation Row when he started weeping for joy and had to pull over. He was absolutely certain this film was going to be a classic.
what makes the film special? It's not that easy to enjoy - though it is beautiful to look at. The imagery is consistently ravishing. What's most striking about the film is its mystery. It refuses to offer obvious psychological or sociological explanations for the actions of its characters, which makes it almost unique for Hollywood movies on similar subjects. We don't learn about Sheen's childhood. He is not obviously oppressed by society. He's just a guy. Quite a nice guy. Who starts shooting people. The copy on the poster captures the film's tone well. Malick - a wide reader in philosophy, including Wittgenstein and Heidegger - just isn't interested in explanations for extreme behaviour, or for anything, as this reviewer notes:
Malick's films are not interested in “how the world is,” or what happens to be true, but in “that it is,” the uncanny (and tragic and wondrous and humbling) fact of its very existence (which is to say, they are not trying to say something at all).
which can be baffling. Until you start seeing things his way, and you start to admire the humility of his vision.
Malick appears in the film himself. Sheen and Spacek have taken over the mansion of a rich man, at gunpoint, and are using as a rest stop on their journey. A friend of the owner turns up on the doorstep. Sheen opens the door, and explains that the owner has flu. The man (Malick) is slightly bemused, accepts his explanation, toddles off. Now, we know from the featurette that Malick hadn't planned his own appearance. He thought he was standing in and that they'd reshoot later with an actor. But Sheen - much to Malick's displeasure - refused to shoot the scene with anyone but Malick. So, it was an accident, but it's a nice metaphor for Malick's approach. He doesn't attempt to get inside these people's heads. He's a curious, somewhat bemused, spectator.
One final thing. The movie's editor, in the featurette, says something wonderful about the film, something I hadn't noticed. He points out how Malick will often cut away from the central action in a scene to an object or person that is seemingly irrelevant. It is Malick's way, he said, of reminding us that even when extraordinary, terrible things are happening, life goes on elsewhere. In the final scene of the movie, a handcuffed Sheen is taken into an airplane in order to be flown to prison (and ultimately to his execution). As we we're watching the plane take off, with its already notorious mass-murderer inside, there is a brief shot of a postman with a bag of mail, walking dully along, oblivious to what's happening a few feet away.
"we hold these truths to be self-evident..." is the ringing phrase that opens the most famous sentence in the American Declaration of Independence. I have long loved the story behind it; it's the supreme example of good editing, and just a lesson in good writing. This is from Walter Isaacson's biography of Franklin:
on June 21, after he had finished a draft and incorporated some changes from Adams, Jefferson had a copy delivered to Franklin...
Franklin made only a few small changes, but one of them was resounding. Using heavy backslashes, he crossed out the last three words of Jefferson’s phrase, "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable" and changed it to read: "We hold these truths to be self-evident."
genius. By sweeping away those big, windy adjectives ('sacred and undeniable') and replacing them with the unadorned simplicity of 'self-evident', Franklin makes the phrase, and the sentence, a hundred times more powerful. But there's a deeper point, too, that I hadn't heard before. Isaacson tells us about the philosophical outlook underlying Franklin's modification:
the concept of "self-evident" truths came...from the scientific determinism of Isaac Newton and the analytic empiricism of Franklin’s close friend David Hume. Hume had distinguished between "synthetic" truths that describe matters of fact (such as "London is bigger than Philadelphia" ) and "analytic" truths that are self-evident by virtue of reason and definition. ("The angles of a triangle equal 180 degrees" or "All bachelors are unmarried." ) When he chose the word "sacred," Jefferson had suggested intentionally or unintentionally that the principle in question—the equality of men and their endowment by their creator with inalienable rights—was an assertion of religion. By changing it to "self-evident," Franklin made it an assertion of rationality.
January 27, 2008 | Permalink
the good news is it’s a spectacular country. We’ve been around for 230 years in spite of human nature, because that’s what the Constitution is all about. It’s saying, of course everyone’s gonna try and take control. Of course they’re gonna subvert every law that’s supposed to keep them in line. Of course the president is gonna want to be imperial, of course Congress is gonna want to become obstructionist, of course the judges are gonna be activist. Duh. They figured this out in 1787 and drew up a few sheets of paper that have kept the country in line. It’s a great place to live.
January 20, 2008 | Permalink
whoever was lucky enough to catch this performance by a youngish Bruce Springsteen on the streets of Copenhagen (and how many people carried cine-cameras around in those days?) has probably long cherished the film they made, and gathered around the TV with friends and family and steaming mugs of glogg to watch it on countless hushed occasions (that's if they're actually Danish. Or if they're not but they just have a thing for glogg). But now we can all see it:
and whilst we're doing spellbinding...
(i like her nervousness, knock knees and all...but watch out for the dark and Sykes-like ogre who sweeps her away at the end)
January 16, 2008 | Permalink
anne applebaum argues that Obama's blackness, far from being an insurmountable hurdle to being elected President, is actually an advantage. She makes the interesting point that Obama's colour is in intrinsic visual signifier of change in a year when everyone is looking for change. Hillary can make all the arguments she wants about experience being necessary to produce real change - but hey, there's a black guy on stage.
UPDATE: so it seems there are also advantages to being a woman. Like you can cry on TV and people say 'Aw, I think I'm gonna vote for that nice lady' instead of 'What a wuss'.
OK, Barack just called for some advice. Here's what I told him:
Barack, losing New Hampshire could be the making of you. I think you always suspected, somewhere in the back of your mind, that there was something ethereal about all this adulation, and that the heaviness of this year's politics had not melted away forever. Well, better that the bubble bursts now than on February 5th.
so now you're just a man again, which is just how you like it. Let the American people take a really good look at you, and compare you to your opponent, and make up their minds without an overheated media trying to push them in one direction or the other. Your message of change is still the right one. But now the man behind that message needs to be fleshed out. You should focus your efforts in the coming weeks on telling people about what you've done to create positive change in people's lives. Show them the man on Chicago's South Side who regained his self-respect thanks to the work you did as a community activist. Show them the mom who kept her kids as a result of your work as a civil rights lawyer. Show the people whose lives were transformed by the legislation you passed in the state and federal senates. The voters fall in love with your message when they hear it. Now they want to be convinced you're the man that can deliver on it.
January 10, 2008 | Permalink
i stumbled across this familiar ad the other day, and it got me thinking about how the meaning of an image can change over time.
the original photograph, of course, was created by John and Yoko for the sleeve of the first album they recorded together. The album's full title was Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins. The idea was that John and Yoko would chronicle their lives together on a series of recordings, this being the first. Thankfully it also turned out to be the last.
The 'music' - a collage of random sound effects and bodily noises - was always of less interest than the image. The photographs (the image above is one of a pair, the other being a full-frontal) were taken in Ringo's basement in Montague Square by John himself, using delayed a shutter-release. He was too embarrassed, somewhat ironically, to have anyone else take them.
the other Beatles took their time about approving the release of the album on their label, with Paul in particular being opposed to the proposed sleeve, although he ended up contributing a bizarre quote used on the album's cover: 'When two great saints meet it is a humbling experience. The long battles to prove he was a saint." The sardonic (Lennonesque?) tone is a surprise, coming from Paul (it might have been better without the second sentence, which sounds incomplete and makes the whole quote look like something he scribbled down when stoned or drunk, which is not out of the question). That John used it might be interpreted as evidence of a residual if fast-fading ability to laugh at himself, or perhaps as an obscure 'fuck you' to McCartney. The album was eventually released, at the record company's insistence, in a brown paper bag.
the image, shocking at the time, has been rendered so innocuous by the passing of time that it is now judged fit for a mainstream booze brand to shift vodka with. Arguably, then, it achieved what it set out to do: it helped to liberate us from archaic taboos (though we might wonder, as we survey our pornified popular culture, whether or not we've merely swapped prudery for prurience).
but if the image is no longer transgressive in the way it was in 1968, it hasn't lost its power to shock. It just shocks in a different way - in a way that reflects a new taboo. Look at that pallid flesh, untanned and untoned. The pudgy folds, the nobbly legs. Normal bodies, in other words, willingly exposed to the world. It wouldn't be allowed today.
December 19, 2007 | Permalink
there are many things to savour in this exquisitely uncomfortable 1971 interview with Richard Nixon, who evidently felt the same way about Christmas I do. Among them:
- the grim determination with which he sets about describing Christmas as a 'rich and happy day', even though he can clearly feel the blood freezing in his veins as he does so.
- the way he leaps at the subject of 'trains', hoping it will whistle him away from the horror of the conversation at hand. His speech speeds up, he begins to babble, and you sense him clinging on to the topic for dear life (the editor cuts it short, so we'll never know how far this diversion took him).
- the relief with which he falls on his dogs, getting down to their level and obviously hoping he can stay there and never have to return to this conversation or any other human interaction ever again.
- the final moments, particularly the gloom with which Nixon intones his hope that 'it's a happy time out there for everybody', and the anguished sigh that meets his interviewer's wishes of good fortune. Dead air fills the studio. Even Mrs Nixon steps away from him, as if his misery might be toxic.
December 11, 2007 | Permalink