Sunday, June 27, 2021
Friday, June 25, 2021
Thursday, June 24, 2021
I often refer to myself as a Cassandra. The term is generally meant to be a person who takes a dark view of things, someone who expects the worst. I may have been giving myself too much credit.
The original Cassandra was a woman in Greek mythology. She found great favor, as Earth women often did, with the God Apollo, and he rewarded her with the gift of prophecy. As the story goes, she cheated on Apollo, and as punishment for her infidelity he left her with the gift of prophecy but made it so that no one ever believed her. He must have really liked the woman. I would expect an egotist like Apollo to dish out a more severe punishment than that.
As a result, being “a Cassandra” doesn't mean that you're constantly being a buzz-kill by bringing bad news. Whatever news you're bringing, bad or good, no one is going to believe you.
Another God-infected person from very roughly the same period in history is the Jewish prophet Jeremiah. He was alive during the seventh and sixth centuries before the modern era. “A Jeremiah” is a person who is very pessimistic, who is always saying that something terrible is going to happen. Jeremiah was famous for taking a dark view of the present and tending to foresee terrible calamities in the future.
The sources that I checked were silent concerning Jeremiah's lifetime batting average, but he did often hit awful predictions out of the park. Like predicting the Babylonian captivity, and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. And, like I said, he was consistently negative in his outlook.
My big Oxford makes very slight difference between the two as terms applied to people today. A Cassandra is “a person who prophesies disaster,” while a Jeremiah is “a person who complains continually and foretells disaster.”
The notes do include mention of the the fact that the important aspect of Cassandra's fate was that she was disbelieved. It seems odd, therefore, to define the condition as consistently negative. For writers of dictionaries, usage trumps historical accuracy.
There are no real notes for a Jeremiah, only that the etymology is the Jewish scriptures. I like that they add “complains continually.” This too was probably added to the meaning by usage over the centuries.
I am sufficiently negative to wear either description, but I'm leaning towards accepting the title of Jeremiah because of the complaining. Oye, vey ist mir, can I complain!
Friday, June 11, 2021
Thursday, June 10, 2021
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
Haruki Murakami has been a favorite author of mine for more than ten years. I've read almost all of his work, at least almost all of it that has been translated into English. I haven't found any of it difficult, although some people complain. There are often parallel stories, and many of his novels and stories include magical realism. In truth, any author that we could name would leave some people to complain. Readers bring different agendas to the process. Anyway, I love Murakami.
There remained one prominent novel that I had not read: 1Q84 (2009, English translation Knopf, 2011). It was the shear enormity of it that drove me off. The book comes to about 1,000 pages. I finally decided to take the plunge recently after spending months reading, more like studying, a couple of huge history books. I was reading both of those for the second time, because they were so dense with details and they involved fascinating subject matter. After that, I thought that I was ready for a big dose of fiction. Time to tackle 1Q84. I'm very glad that I did.
I just now came across a passage that could have been written as a warning to Americans, especially this year. This is an adult man describing the plot of 1984 (George Orwell, 1949) to a precocious teenage girl:
"They rewrite history.
"Robbing people of their actual history is the same as robbing them of part of themselves. It's a crime. Our memory is made up of our individual memories and our collective memories. The two are intimately linked. And history is our collective memory. If our collective memory is taken from us—is rewritten—we lose the ability to sustain our true selves.” (Quotation marks in the original. This is that rare bird, a Japanese novel written in the third-person.)
Isn't this exactly what our, what shall I call them, our leaders, are doing to us now? And haven't they been doing it to us for some time? They are rewriting history.
There is a powerful movement alive now in America to whitewash Slavery in its entirety. The 1619 Project is condemned as a hoax. They are trying to rewrite that history. “Americans were kind to their slaves!” “The slaves were happy!” “Slavery was not going to last more than another ten years anyway!” “The Civil War (aka, the War of Northern Aggression) had nothing to do with slavery.” Those are lies, and they are revisionist history at its most insidious.
No one recalls being taught in school that America flat-out stole half of Mexico by force of arms. Having trouble remembering about that one? The Marines remember it well. “From the halls of Montezuma . . .” Google “map mexico 1830.” Then Google “the mexican american war.” That was 1846 to 1848, and we stole all of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Nevada, and parts of the states of Utah, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma. There are many examples of our bloody history that we prefer to ignore now, or to lie them away altogether.
Young people today have no idea that fairly recently everyone was entitled to free health insurance with almost every job; that all health care was non-profit, including health insurance; that every state had universities that were either free or ridiculously cheap; that rents and food were cheap; that jobs were easily available.
Republicans are the chief offenders here, but everyone with any power or authority in America is involved. That insurrectionist invasion of the Capitol Building in January either did not happen, or they were just a bunch of tourists. Rewriting history, to cheat us of our collective memory, to deny us the basic facts about our own individual and collective pasts, has become one of the main tools in the ongoing effort to remove any semblance of democracy from American life and replace it with some kind of authoritarian oligarchy wearing a democracy mask.
Sunday, June 6, 2021
Forgive me for being coy about my opinion of the sentence in the post several down from this one. Perhaps I was being too cautious. One still retains the freedom to criticize art of all kinds. Just the other day, a close friend of mine expressed the opinion that Charlie Kaufman should never be allowed to make another movie. He felt this way after having viewed “I'm Thinking of Ending Things” (Netflix, 2020). He said a few things that were much stronger than that, in fact.
I told him honestly that I had loved the movie, and that I had effortlessly followed its narrative premise from the beginning. (I believe that the movie is easier to follow for people who are deeply depressed.) I told my friend that he was entitled to his opinion, but to remember that critical opinion is often way off the mark. “Critics also hated Van Gogh's work,” I said. At that, my friend blew up! “I hate Van Gogh too!” That cleared it all up for me. Such matters are personal; they are not to be interpreted as offensive; we are free to hold and express our own artistic opinions.
I feel empowered, therefore, to go ahead and declare my true feelings about the sentence that began, “Rheinhardt shuddered awake...” That is one of the worst sentences that I have ever read.
What a relief to get that off my chest! Now I believe that I owe you an example of a great sentence:
“As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment.”
Followed by, “And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.”
That's two great sentences.
Writing like this, I will admit, exceeds the bounds of mere utility and brushes up against the edges of style. It is taken from “Of Mice and Men” (1937), by John Steinbeck. Style in fiction writing is like makeup on an already attractive woman. A little bit may add to the general effect, but too much, as in the Reinhardt sentence, is a must to avoid.
The “moment” referred to by Steinbeck encompassed a particularly shocking act. We all know from experience that moments of intense emotion do affect the passage of time, as though they required the prolongation of time to better enhance our formation of memories.
Steinbeck's description of such moments is sheer poetry.
I was looking back over the blog today and I was reminded that many of the songs that I have shared over the years have been taken down. You should bear in mind that although that post is no longer a simple click away, that song has almost certainly been reposted many times. You can look it up, and it will probably be easy to find.
I love these songs that I share. They make me happy. I long to share that happiness with my readers.
Music is one of the few things that make life worthwhile.
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Europeans used to make fun of Americans for our habits of censorship. "So, you give our movies an X rating for one brief scene of a bare female breast, but you give your own films G ratings even if they are full of murder by firearms."
We're still at it. YouTube is full these days of videos with extremely dubious political messages. Then there are the numerous videos of drunken Russians playing Car-Tag. Guys running their Hayabusas at 170 mph on public highways, including one where the guy crashes ON CAMERA. But God forbid the Creature from the Black Lagoon says, dare I say it, "CURSE THIS GUY!" and, "AND CURSE THIS ACCURSED BIRD TOO!"
We live with these things: 1) Creeping fascism is catching up to us; 2) people are choosing what gender they want to be (from a new list of about twenty-five genders); and, 3) hell, people are "choosing their own pronouns." But a few big, funny "fuck this things!" in a row and it's Katy, bar the door! We're cool with the white supremacy shit, but a couple of simple "fuck this fucking things" is too much to bear!
It's enough to make a grown man sick.