The Great Lakes Museum Tour

The Beav and I are heading out for a couple weeks of vacation.

We’re making a road trip and the plan is to circle down through the northern US hitting museums we want to see in cities like Cleveland, Toledo, Ann Arbor and Detroit. We’ll get home by looping back over Lake George and down through northern Ontario.

Until I’m back, there won’t be many new posts, but once I am, expect a fair amount of museum talk. Fair warning.


Robocop_2014_posterThis entirely competent and entirely boring film manages to surpass its source in not a single way. It has less narrative, less action, less intelligence and much, much less charm than the original. Even its special effects are less effective.

How is falling short so completely even possible?

I’ll never know because, even though the question genuinely fascinates me, the prospect of rewatching even brief moments of this boring boring boring film fills me with dread.

(…maybe this director is less crazy in the head then Paul Verhoeven?)

Tom à la ferme

tom a la fermeXavier Dolan‘s first stab at a popular genre is a domestic thriller with gestures (often musical) toward Hitchcock. The Beav and I saw it  a few weeks before Dolan’s latest film won the jury prize at Cannes.

Tom à la ferme moves away from the art-house, festival films he’s made before — J’ai tué ma méreLes Amours imaginaires, and Laurence Anyways — and is based on someone else’s work, so in many ways this is Dolan’s biggest experiment to date. It is also, to my eye, his least successful film. It doesn’t quite manage to “inhabit” the genre. And genre is a merciless thing.

Yet, there’s good stuff here. I liked the odd too-long scene in the bar when Dolan plays against his father and thought that the final chase through the woods hit the note of menace and sadness and frustration perfectly.

So I’m sticking to my guns: Dolan remains the most interesting filmmaker working in Quebec.

Wordsworth on the End of Term

.                      …I breath again;
Trances of thought and mountings of the mind
Come fast upon me: it is shaken off,
As by miraculous gift ’tis shaken off,
That burthen of my own unnatural self,
The heavy weight of many a weary day
Not mine, and such as were not made for me.
Long months of peace (if such bold word accord
With any promises of human life)
Long months of ease and undisturbed delight
are mine in prospect…

–William Wordsworth

Tech and Tenure

It’s been awhile since I made any political posts but this story about a California judge overturning the state’s tenure laws is troubling news.

In a lot of ways, this case just looks like old-school, conservative anti-unionism. But I see it through the lens of the ed tech tsunami crashing down on me at my school. This tech push is jargon laden and relatively thoughtless. It is also generally commercially driven: too often tech vendors aim to lock schools-as-markets into proprietary systems of instruction; or to install “free” systems that open student data up to some level of commercial access and use.

Teachers, because their primary obligation remains teaching, often push back by demanding that new tech also be better tech.

So when I read an article about some elementary, middle and high school students being used by a tech mogul’s activist group to eliminate teachers’ job security, I’m suspicious. Is this someone fighting for what they believe is best for students or is this someone with a commercial interest piggy-backing on an established anti-union politics that just happens to equate student success with at-will employment for the group best positioned to comment on the utility (or lack thereof) of the product they’re selling?

The whole thing looks like astroturf to me.

Snow Country

Snow CountryYasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time. The blurb and excerpted reviews kept referring to haiku (because he’s Japanese I guess) but this book is pure, undiluted melodrama.

A rich, sensitive, but ultimately limited man spends a final winter with his lover in a rural mountain town. They meet, say little, and slowly their relationship plays out to its inevitably tragic end.

The opening scene in which the protagonist stares at the passing landscape through a woman’s reflection in the train’s window sets the tone for what follows (and the content) beautifully and succinctly.

The long closing scene establishes a set of interlocking images that translates the human-scale tragedy of an unhappy woman’s death onto a cosmic scale: the sparks rising from a blaze mingle with the stars of the Milky Way, stars that seemed earlier to flow off of a dress, as below a women weeps for a fallen friend. And as the pathos reaches its peak, the novel ends.

Good stuff.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

The Temple of the Golden PavilionThis is the second book I’ve read by Mishima and it’s as dense and complex as the first. It’s also just as brutal and unpleasant: Mishima’s characters are instinctive intellectuals but they are also abject. What’s surprising here is that their obsessions develop into an extended and extremely discursive meditation on beauty.

Images of Beauty

The principal image of beauty and of the problems beauty creates is the Golden Temple. Over and over the pavilion and its grounds are described in long passages. Each passage is organized in roughly the same way and each focuses on similar details. The repetitions register the main character’s entrapment while the slight variations between them track his intellectual and emotional development.

Beauty is compared at various moments to a decayed tooth, a breast, a vagina, and a deranged man who must be taken seriously. This is only a partial list but it suggests the way the novel is continually grasping for some way of expressing the truth of beauty.

Temporal Beauty

Mishima’s book insists that art is order consciously imposed on a fecund world in an attempt to reveal its essence even if only for a moment. Music and flower arrangement are his exemplary arts. But in flower arrangement for example, when the arranging is done, the beauty achieved (“what people call art“) offers no consolation and does not last (cf. the temple reflected in a pool of water).

What the protagonist fears is that beauty as perfect and as eternal as that of the temple will cut him off from life completely. Worse he knows that no beauty is in fact eternal; however permanent it seems, beauty cannot last. The harmony will dissipate or crack and the world will come crashing in on him. Better, he thinks, to live without any beauty at all.

Mishima does not fear beauty’s collapse; he yearns for it and writes as if beauty is the cracks. Art is temporal rather than spatial, and his moments of beauty don’t read as narrative scenes and are beautiful precisely because they are broken off from their surroundings and inexplicable. The most emblematic of these involves a woman, seen from above, dripping breast milk into her departing lover’s tea.

Cruel Art

Mishima notes that a skilled hand is often cruel and approaches beauty unbound by morality, and many of the novel’s striking, essential moments are horrific or cruel. The brutal attack on the pregnant woman in the temple garden, for example, or perhaps more obviously, the brilliant final scene in which the centuries-old temple is burnt to the ground. Are these moments beautiful?

I think Mishima would say, “Yes. If you live and are not dead, then yes.” But I need to read more and more carefully to know for sure.

Making Hypertext

My big project this summer is to create a non-fiction hypertext. I have a subject. I have the material. I even have some initial ideas about form.

Obviously I’ll make the thing in Eastgate’s Tinderbox. I can’t imagine organizing multiple paths through my materials—some narrative, some analytic, some argumentative—without its maps, outlines, aliases, and everything else.

But I also have a worry: HTML is fundamental to Tinderbox and HTML export is carefully explained in the manual, but I’m intimidated. Once I’ve created the hypertext I will I be able to get it online?

“You’ll figure it out.”

That’s what I’m telling myself: “Make it now, and when it’s time, you’ll figure it out.” But it’s unsettling.

More news to come…