Apr 062017
 

I was never tempted to watch Rogue One in the theatre and wasn’t sure I’d even watch it once it was available for rent. But then Tuesday night on a lark I did. Then last night, I watched it again.

This is the best Star Wars movie since the original trilogy. I actually don’t think there’s any competition for the spot. In fact, this may be the first good “movie as movie” in the series since The Empire Strikes Back.

What I admired most here was the way it breaks the stranglehold of the original story by imagining in a creative and compelling way a world that is larger than Luke, Lea, and Han. The familiar story is there, popping up again and again in visual references and narrative links. (My favourite was the initial shot of Felicity Jones that echoes a similar shot of Carrie Fisher in A New Hope.) But unlike in J. J. Abrams’s weak stab at the franchise, these references operate primarily as sign-posts indicating 1) that the familiar story is nearby; but 2) that the present story is decidedly not that familiar story.

I have no idea if the movie will stand up over time, but I think it is wonderfully effective variation on an established generic formation. And killing everyone off was brilliant and unexpected. Doing so declares bluntly that not all stories in this world have to be serial narratives.

 April 6, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: , , ,
Apr 012017
 

I stumbled upon this book seven or eight years ago in a used book store just down the street from the Stanley exit of Peel metro station in Montreal. I was writing my dissertation, and walking helped me sort out my ideas. Sometimes I wandered for hours.

That day the window display caught my eye, and I took a break to browse the bookstore’s shelves. When I saw this slim but enticingly named volume, I was curious what it was, picked it up and started to flip through it. Right away I saw Dillard compare a sentence to a worm inching forward in the darkness. Not long after I learned a manuscript left overnight was like a circus lion gone wild again. This was inventive wonderful stuff, and obviously I bought the book. Back home I read it through, felt recognized by it, and for the next few months kept it close at hand as I struggled to cobble together, for the first time, a book-length argument.

Last week while rearranging books in my library when I should have been working, I found myself standing and flipping through Dillard’s book again, and again I found myself amazed by what I read there. Seduced by passages that echoed in memory, I sat down and read it through for the first time in years, remembering those months spent writing as I did.

However my experience of the book this time around was more complicated than simple nostalgia. I was struck anew by how good Dillard is on writing and how good her writing itself is. But I was also surprised by how bad she seems to be on life and living. We’re all mysteries to each other, and I won’t pretend to know the terms of Dillard’s happiness. She certainly doesn’t need me to suggest how she should live. But I’m certain that how she lives would make me very unhappy if I imitated her.

There is a deeply religious sensibility in Dillard’s work that sits on its surface. But in this book, it seems cruelly monastic in ways that poison her conception of literary sensibility and literary pleasure. Beneath Dillard’s beautifully compact sentences are a hair shirt and tightly cinched belts of thorns, and her endurance of these pains feel competitive. The effect as a whole is ecstatic, apocalyptic and, somehow, inhumane.

Years ago, I needed desperately Dillard’s words about writing. I’m grateful she wrote them and grateful I found them. But the parts of the book I hadn’t gone back to over and over as I wrote and that, as a result, I hadn’t remembered, these parts have likely put me off this book for a long while.

 April 1, 2017  Book Logs Tagged with:
Apr 012017
 

Nussbaum offers an explanation and a defence of the contribution that imagination and emotion can make to public discourse. In doing so, she pushes back against a naive conception of rationality that demands abstract, coldly technocratic approaches to public policy and law.

When first written her book engaged with important debates raging on the public stage. But reading it now in the first months of Trump’s presidency and as Republicans and far-right ideologues work brazenly to make life worse for so many people, her optimism and her faith in humanism feels like a voice from another world.

Regarding the judiciary and justice system, Nussbaum’s specific topic, I came away convinced that Supreme Court confirmation hearings have become pointless because they ask the wrong questions. Who is this person? Where do they come from? What is their sensibility? These questions—which hint at what kind of judicious spectator the nominee might be—are what matter, not questions about legal principles that invite nothing but dissimulation and the repetition of carefully prepared platitudes.

I mentioned something like this before, but we’ve accepted a radically deconstructive historiography & textualism as the basis of our public discourse, and it’s shredding the political fabric of our society.

 April 1, 2017  Book Logs Tagged with: