Jan 162016

FrozenFor a short while ten years maybe fifteen years ago, I watched most of the animated films that were released into cinemas. The visual possibilities of the form interested me, a bit of a revival of the musical seemed underway, and I was vaguely curious about what the stories we were telling children were about. By the time Frozen was released that time was long gone and the film registered for me as little more than the source for the flood of merchandise that young kids wore and carried happily on the street and that, yes, a few of my students carried (but only carried) much more discretely in our school.

Then this fall in Disney World with my nieces and nephews—a long story for later—I found myself sitting in a packed theater watching two actors, one playing a hysterical crypto-gay man, the other playing a hysterical crypto-lesbian woman. They gushed and sang their way through the story of Frozen, insisting they had seen it all first hand. By the time they were done (and the snow was falling from the ceiling of the theatre onto the kids, parents, and uncles seated below), I was overcome with a sense that Frozen might be one of the most genuinely beautiful movies for queer kids about queer childhood that I’d ever seen. Home later that week, I watched it through and was confirmed in my opinion.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting that the filmmakers set queer childhood as their narrative problem. It seems clear that they set out instead to make a mildly feminist film that avoided a whole host of obnoxious narrative tropes familiar from modern retellings of fairy tales and which relate to the damsel in distress and her charming prince. But in decentering and ironizing the heterosexual love story while simultaneously adhering to the generic norms of the movie musical, the film invites queer viewing. What’s more, far from offering stops or limits to such a viewing, the film stages numerous queer moments that facilitate and even encourage viewing the story as a queer coming of age tale.

Sistahs (and their GBF)

The Sisters (with Elsa in drag) … and their GBF.

What is the movie that results? A kid discovers they are different, at the urging of their parents hides that difference, and when they find themselves exposed, runs away. In a new place, they feel the freedom of living without a secret but are harassed still for their difference and, in working to survive, hurt people they love. In the end, the now young adult finds ways to establish honest relationships and a meaningful life that feels authentic to them and the people around them.

It is a fantasy, but a useful one that is concisely and powerfully presented (as a fairy tale should be). Best of all, it is wonderful.

Jan 162016

SelmaI loved that this movie showed that politics requires calculation and that it also showed both the cruelty and the sacrifice these calculations entail.

  •  January 16, 2016
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Jan 152016

Rodin 1

I first saw Rodin’s sculptures as a student when I travelled to Paris for the first time. Country mouse that I was, I was a bit intimidated by the city, by the famous museums, and rather than wander around the the Louvre or the d’Orsay stunned, I went instead to Pompidou (at least there I had some context) and the Rodin museum (because it was small). The Rodin felt like an introduction to what looking at art might be and I remember it as an essential moment in my education. Since then, I’ve seen other Rodin exhibits and have visited museums with large collections of pieces. Each time I do, I always remember (and feel a bit of nostalgia for) that summer in Paris.

Rodin 2So obviously when a large batch of Rodin sculptures came to Montreal as Métamorphoses. Dans le secret de l’atelier de Rodiny, I went to see them. And it proved to be a pretty impressive show. The emphasis was on the ways the artist fragmented forms and gestures in order to be able to use them in multiple works. At times, the curators arranged objects to highlight details, at others to present a project or process. It was all nicely done and I liked it a lot.

That said the crowds were madness. In room after room, I felt like art risked becoming blood sport.

The Age of Bronze

The Age of Bronze

Having survived the arena and now looking back, two works stood out. The first of these, The Age of Bronze, is a favorite of mine. There are copies at the National Gallery in Washington and in the National Gallery in Ottawa. Which means, thankfully, I get to see it more or less whenever I want.

What I like about it is the way it evokes Greek statuary with its graceful celebration of physical beauty but does so with a posture that is erotic enough to feel confrontational. It’s a work I look at and then realize after a few moments that I’m holding my breath. The second thing I like about it is that no matter how crowded the gallery, no one stops to stand in front of it. There is side-eye galore but people mostly rush by looking at the wall as if afraid to be caught staring. It’s great.

The second work that stands out was a sculpture set in front of a contemporary, photographic series that documents its unpacking after being shipped. One of these photographs hangs in the National Gallery in Washington, but seeing it alone is not the same as seeing the full sequence juxtaposed with the statue itself. Together, they suggest the unexpected delicacy and mobility of the bronze.

Rodin 4


Jan 152016

Internal Enemy CoverA history of the transformation of white American discourse on race.

In the years following the revolution public figures struggled to find ways to carry the ideal of equality to its natural end point without changing a way of life that depended upon the unpaid labor of black slaves. Yet, only a few decades later, many of these same figures were arguing for the necessary continuation of slavery. The book establishes the context for and explains the process by which this transformation occurs.

Reading it, I felt like I was watching the rhetorical foundations of American racism being built up.

  •  January 15, 2016
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Jan 032016

Tinderbox agents have queries. They also have actions. The first culls notes from a project, gathering up those that you want. The second makes changes both small and large to those same gathered notes. This combo makes agents a powerful tool.

I just did something stupid though.

I’ve built up a large TBX file that has entries for each of the books in my library as well as my book logs, various reading notes, subject bibliographies and it’s all cross-linked with teaching files that I keep in DevonThink. There’s a lot going on there.

Well, just back from vacation and apparently still suffering from a serious case of lazy-brain, I opened up the file and started fiddling with an agent that pulls together a extensive cross-section of notes and does a couple basic maintenance actions on them. While doing this, I wanted to look at a set of notes with a shared prototype for a minute and decided just to update the query on this agent rather than making a new one. Because I was there and lazy and, well, it made sense at the time.

The problem is I didn’t didn’t pay attention and updated the agent’s action not the query. That simple mistake turned a benign housekeeping agent into a radical revisionist. By pressing the tab-key to register what I thought was a new query, I set this agent loose to quickly and quietly gather up its huge, cross-section of notes and to change every single one of their prototypes. Worse, I watched it happen and thought: why are all my note’s badges changing like this? When what I’d done finally registered, my heart sank. Having an agent take lots of different things and make them all the same is easy. Having an agent distinguish between notes that are suddenly all the same and to make them different again is–if it is even possible–far beyond my capacities.

Fortunately, I only messed up prototypes. I have a lot of them in this project but not dozens and they aren’t complex. So after fifteen or twenty minutes of donkey work, all my notes’ prototypes are, I think, back to normal. Mostly. (Maybe.) In other words, things could have been much much worse.

Still this deserves a note to self: pay attention when fiddling with existing agents because they are powerful and things can go very very wrong.

  •  January 3, 2016
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