May 31, 2005

Compare and Contrast

Compare and contrast:
"It seems years since you held the baby / while I wrecked the bedroom"

"'No reason to get excited,' the thief, he kindly spoke / 'There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke'"
Dylan always was the dean of high school poetry. Unsubtle sprawling tangles of overheated folk imagery, a circus of high school characters, Jokers, Thieves, one-eyed midgets, geeks, smug knowing references, hectoring adolescent wordplay, in-group in-jokes, leaden symbolism (you just know he couldn't have written the first set of lyrics above). The illusion of depth through prolixity or obscurity (no wonder he's popular with the Baby Boomers).

May 28, 2005

The Interegnum

I can't help thinking that in a few years we'll look back to this time as the Interim, the time between 9/11 and the clampdown, the time before the Emergency that sends us all into self-protective authoritarianism and paranoia.

But will we be allowed to look back? The worst sorts of Utopias have no past.

May 24, 2005

A Context Of No Context

"But Texans, inhabiting what McMurtry has called a 'context of no context', were just as likely to accept one cheesy concept as another. [...] Eventually, of course, Texans became curious about our origins, only to find that what we had mistaken for history was really only marketing." (Benjamin Moser reviewing Larry McMurtry in the NYRB, 27/5/04 (again)).

At least those hapless Texans (supposedly) discovered the deception; in California, it's marketing all the way down. Here all history is simply just another species of marketing. In a self-absorbed world fixated on gloriously-faked authenticity (remember that here "historical authenticity" means "as it should have been", or "bearing some resemblance to, but much shinier, safer, and cleaner than the original"), why should one expect it to be anything different? In a California infested with exclusive gated housing developments with names like "Emeryville Commons" -- in a part of the world that not only never had commons, but that is actively hostile to the idea of commons -- what else would you expect? History as "commons", probably.

(C.f. "One difference between the West and the South, I came to realize in 1970, was this: in the South they remained convinced that they had bloodied their land with history. In California, we did not believe that history could bloody the land, or even touch it." -- Joan Didion in "Where I Was From").

(Part of California).

May 23, 2005

J. Orbison LeGrande III

American names fascinated me as a kid. Growing up in UnAmerica, I was always asking the grownups about them. Was there really someone called "Ephraim Zimbalist Jr."? Did Americans actually have such inherently-funny surnames as "Sporkin"? Was "McGeorge Bundy" his full name -- or was it (much more plausibly) something like "Jim McGeorge-Bundy", and everyone left his first name off because he was so important or something (could anyone possibly have "McGeorge" as a first name?). Were there really Americans blasphemous enough to name their sons "Jesus"? Why did so many American men think so highly of themselves that they named their kids after themselves (all those Juniors or Thirds, etc.)? Why did so many American male names start with an initial, like "J. Paul Getty"? Why were there so many Americans called "Earl" or "Duke" or "King" -- who were they trying to fool?! Were there really American men called "Lyn" or "Marion"? Why was "Reid" or "Reed" a first name in America?

(Later, after moving here, the questions became a little more pointed. Did any Americans actually think that "Latasha" or "DeWayne" were truly African names? (Yes, they did). Did anyone here really think that the Irish Caitlin they'd named their kid after actually pronounced it "Kate-Lyn"? (Yes, pretty much everyone did). Did anyone really believe "Colin" was pronounced "Kohlin"? (Yes, as we all discovered, they did). Did Americans really pronounce "McLaughlin" as "Mac Lofflin"? (Yes, most of them did, and they'd correct you if you used the Scottish pronunciation, even if you were talking about a Scot). Did Americans really believe that "Kevin" was pronounced "Keevin", or "Cecil" "See-sill"? (Yes, quite a few did). Did they really think that that good old English name "Burrell" was pronounced "Buh-RELL" in England? (Yes, of course they did; ditto with "Devon" (Duh-VON) and "Tyrell" (Ti-RELL)).

So years ago when it came time to adopt a new pseudonym for use in America, I wanted to find a name that would blend in or be canonical here in the same way that Jimmy Little does and is in Australia. It didn't take long: J. Orbison LeGrande III. It's got it all -- I've been using it ever since...

May 19, 2005

What Have You Got?

Is there anything more deeply conventional than self-proclaimed transgressiveness? (And is there a word that unwittingly signals the presence of leaden, obvious, witless ineffectual reactionary academic posturing better than "transgressive"?)

(Yes, the Wikipedia article is a clever joke -- well, it made me laugh -- and out of date, but it cuts pretty close to the bone...).

May 16, 2005

Pot, Kettle

"The conservative and formal charges are just that, charges -- not criticism or scholarship, but Marxist policing of a dissident writer. Our cultural world in Australia is almost totally Marxist, the New Left Version, and in that world charges don't have to have any merit. They carry code, and warn off defenders, and that's all they have to do." -- That masterful old codger Les Murray tries to pull one over the rubes at The Paris Review (Nr. 173).

Whew... anyone got a code book?

May 14, 2005

Universal Regard

"The Vietnam War is universally regarded as a disaster for what it did to the American and Vietnamese peoples." -- Stephen J Morris in a recent Sunday NYT Op Ed piece ("The War We Could Have Won" -- an article characteristically full of breathlessly strung-together non sequiturs).

No. While the war was certainly a disaster for what happened to Vietnam and its peoples during it, I think that for most UnAmericans, it doesn't look to have been quite the same sort of -- or level of -- disaster for what happened to the US and its peoples. To keep fatuously equating the suffering of Vietnam and the US during the war (a war in which the US had only a sideline role for a significant time) is a real insult to almost everyone concerned (even the French, who might have something to say about the Vietnam War as well).

So many Americans seem determined to cast the US as the victim of the Vietnam War. But the war (or at least that part where the US did play a significant role) wasn't something that just happened to the US, or an act of God that overtook wiser political imperatives, or that somehow just sucked a reluctant US in from its usual splendid isolation -- it was something the US as a country (but not necessarily US people individually) brought upon itself. The War wasn't an active player, a character, a thing with its own motives or forces that did all this bad stuff to an innocent America (or Vietnam). You can argue one way or another (or many different ways) about whether the US was justified in participating in the war in the ways it did or not (and I -- surprise, surprise! -- tend to believe things are more complex than usually credited), but it's not easily arguable that the US was a victim of anything much more than its own hubris and political culture in this case.

It wasn't the Vietnam War that was the disaster here for what it did to America -- it was America.

May 11, 2005

The Faust Within

The danger's not that we make Faustian bargains with technology -- it's that technology forces us to make Faustian bargains with ourselves. Technology amplifies and implements our impulses, it doesn't create them -- to increasingly destructive and oppressive effect...

May 08, 2005

Hired Help

I'm a photographer by trade nowadays (but it's hardly the only thing I do for a living). I sometimes freelance for a few local rags, and got a few of my photos into a couple of glossies this month. Typically, I'm going to have to buy copies of the magazine to see the results -- no comps for me, I'm just the photographer with a tiny byline.

I recently (re)visited Mountain Light Gallery in the Owens Valley -- Galen Rowell was a friend of a friend of a friend, and although his stuff isn't really my cup of tea, it's always worth looking at in person. I'm a photographer, so I'm not his target market (I'd say rich and aspiring-to-be-rich people up from LA visiting Mammoth ski resort would be a large slice of his target audience, at least by the look of the prices and the way the images are printed and framed). Like most photographers, I can't possibly afford to buy photos. The gallery attendant / sales person there was amused when I said this, but it's true -- I live in an old factory surrounded by industrial decay and can barely make the rent, how could I afford to buy what I sell?

May 04, 2005

Like Roy Jenkins

Watching from this distance as Tony Blair stumps around (in one of the few British national elections I won't be voting in...), I can't help agreeing with Roy Jenkins that Blair is a conviction politician rather than the empty vacuous spun smile he's so often portrayed as being (pace the Eye's delicious Vicar of Albion caricature).

The point, though, is that Blair's strong convictions are (religiously) moral rather than ideological (not that ideology can't be rooted in morality). But in a country like Britain where we're almost all secular to the point of being quite uncomfortable with religious display or ideas, and where historically we're much more used to ideological conviction, a leader who has strong moral convictions will probably always come across as sanctimonious at best, and emptily hypocritical at worst -- and will often seem to have no convictions at all.

But they're there, just unrecognisable to most of us. We British hoi polloi generally understand and recognise idological motivation, but have little empathy with the religious version, if we recognise it at all. People genuinely can't believe that Blair may sincerely hold some of his beliefs, mainly because to do so requires a certain religious mindset that just doesn't exist any more in most parts of British society. For me, though, I think that with Blair -- as with Thatcher, tellingly enough -- it's actually hard to conceive of him being able to think of himself as essentially wrong on any big issue. That's conviction politics.

Out here in the US where people seem more at home with the religious version, or at least more familiar with it (it's difficult to avoid in a country as religious as the US...), Blair seems part of a much more familiar phenomenon (if a rather more thoughtful and liberal version). Perhaps that's one of the less-discussed reasons why in Britain Blair is so often tarred with the brush of being an American-style politican....

May 03, 2005

John Brown's Body

"What makes [John Brown] a typically American idealist is not his lust for killing -- he was eager to avoid murder if he could -- but his indifference to human life lost on the way to his ideal." -- Adam Gopnik reviewing David Reynolds's "John Brown, Abolitionist", in a recent New Yorker.

But what's typically (or exclusively) American about that? Isn't that almost the definition of idealism, regardless of whether it's in America or some place less plagued by the ideal of America (like, say Britain...) -- and isn't idealism orthogonal to that lust for killing? Are Western UnAmerican idealists generally more prone to blood lust than their American counterparts? (Think: "Manifest Destiny"...).

But for me, what is a case of typical American idealism here is Gopnik's belief that such bloodlustless idealism -- supposedly shorn of the murderousness typical of UnAmerican idealism -- is somehow essentially American. Gopnik seems to have fallen (again) for the ideal of American exceptionalism here...

May 01, 2005

Introspection

After a year of Tight Sainthood's existence, according to my access logs the most popular search term that gets people to this site through Google, MSN, and Yahoo is "pudenda", leading to this older article (which is also, not concidentally, by far the most-accessed article on Tight Sainthood). Amazingly, if you Google the entire web for the term "pudenda", that article is the sixth highest link on the list (at least as of today) -- i.e. it ranks higher than the original mass-media Grauniad article it's based on. Which means quite a few people now have explicit links to the Tight Sainthood article. Hmmm. They can't all be interested in Boudicca....

The second most popular search term that ends up here is "flying cars", leading to this article with a throw-away reference to the Moller flying car, which has already drawn one of the Mollerite masses to comment explicitly (and many more to comment via email, usually vituperatively). The Mollerites sometimes seem to have more in common with the Millerites than either group would probably like (note: I have a US pilot license. I'd love to have something like the Moller flying car, but I've been hearing it's just around the corner now for 25 years; when I can buy one for, say, the same price I can buy a new C172, I'll start being interested...).

No other search terms come within an order of magnitude of those two. I'm not sure what all this says about Tight Sainthood or its readership...


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