The exaggerated color of secrecy clinging to politics confirmed its resemblance to the business of romance; politics and love affairs were in fact as alike as peas in a pod.

–Yukio Mishima, After the Banquet

Only Lovers Left Alive

ONly Lovers Left AliveTwo hours of being cool and solitary, artistic and messy. I could watch Tilda Swinton read for hours. Really great beautiful night photography too.

The final scene is lit like a Hollywood movie and has a neon moon. It’s not the “diamond moon that makes music like a gong” because that’s their moon, the night people’s, not ours.

Throughout, the images rest upon the strong back of the soundtrack which fuses Detroit rock–noise and North African–lutes to create a near-perfect mood-piece.

Dracula Untold

Dracula UntoldAn awkward but not terrible movie that, like Maleficent, sets out to humanize an iconic villain. Dracula here is both a family man and a Leader®. In practical terms this means that he is the kind of guy who protects his wife and son by defeating the entire Turkish army through force of will and scrappiness. It also means that after defeating the devil himself he chooses to become a minion of evil because his dying wife is worried about their kid and wants him to become a vampire so that he can make sure he is ok.

But whatever. It was the weeks leading up to Halloween. I was teaching gothic fiction to my students in an 18th and 19th century novel class. And the mood was right. Right enough to push me to read a couple monster books in preparation for the season. So all’s good.

True Blood, season five

As per convention, I grabbed the next season of this show on a rainy day in the Fall at the end of a long week at work. I had no expectations and little hope that it would be any good, not after the disastrous fourth season. Boy was I wrong. It was fast, nimble and campy as hell. It may even have been better than season three, which is saying something.

So I’m back on the hook for the last two seasons.  Allan Ball is gone though, so I have no idea what to expect…

Survivor Redemption Island & South Pacific

I love Survivor and have been watching (without logging) past seasons that I haven’t seen before. At this point, I’ve seen all but a few of the early ones.

Most have been been pretty good, and as a rule, the show keeps getting better. Last year’s first “Blood v. Water” offered some of the most interesting television I’ve seen in years. The only season I’ve started but not watched through to the end was the abysmally bad “Guatemala.” An earlier favourite was “Gabon.”

Jeff Probts likes to call Survivor a “social experiment,” and he’s right, but what I’m most interested in is that it’s also a narrative experiment. How do you cull a story from a mass of footage shot in loosely structured but unscripted moments. This is not documentary. It can’t wander, can’t discover some quirky way to present its materials. Its end point is fixed. Together, the episodes must tell an evolving story that creates tension and misdirection and that establishes meaningful relationships which should not be simply hostile. These must lead to a satisfying conclusion that endorses the “winner” of the show as legitimate in some fashion.

Yet this clarity and focus has to be achieved using footage of participants who necessarily behave self-consiously within (and speak metacritically about) the narrative they expect they must be acting out. [note]I think it’s the strain of this reflexivity that creates the show’s sense of authenticity: most people can’t seem to maintain the mental and emotional effort this self-consciousness requires and wind up thrown back upon their fundamental resources of character. (Or perhaps, it’s the conflict between this reflexivity and the immediacy of the personal power struggles created by the voting structure that creates the unsustainable strain….) Whatever the case, the strain reads as authenticity.[/note] This situation is complicated by the phenomenon of “favourites”: players who return for multiple seasons, carrying a distinct persona with them that must be showcased and must evolve in an arc across seasons.

In a sense these are all simply variations on the question, how do you make sense of life using narrative. But that’s I guess my fascination: that question is fundamental, and this game-based show tackles it in an interesting, compelling way.

I hope they are archiving the unused footage because someday, someone is going to want to look at what the editors and producers were doing.


Blessed Insomnia

I woke up insanely early this morning, mind racing. Couldn’t get back to sleep. I hate it when that happens. Because, now what?

Recently I’d read “Note-taking Jujitsu, Or How I Make Sense of What I Read” & had wondered if the instructions there for getting highlights and notes off a Kindle could work for me. Could I get mine into Tinderbox in a usable form?

Why not try that now? It’s dark outside. That might help.

One prototype and forty-five minutes later, 1400 notes are organized into 35 containers, one per book.


I stopped using my kindle more than a year ago because I couldn’t really use any of the notes that I made on it. Now it looks like I can. And that it’s easy…

Alas it is still dark outside. Now what?

When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples.

–Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat”

After the Banquet

After the BanquetThe first books I read by Yukio Mishima—Confessions of a Mask and The Temple of the Golden Pavilion—were dense and alienating. They grappled with ideas and were beautifully written, but they were run through by currents of misanthropy as well, which made them difficult to stomach. Something in them attracted me though, and so, when I stumbled upon a cache of his books this summer in a used bookstore in Cleveland, I felt like I’d found a gold mine and grabbed them.

After the Banquet is the first of these I’ve read, and it’s nothing like the other two books, not least because it’s protagonist is a successful woman in her late sixties rather than a young man. This woman is an incredible character, smart, clever, and energetic, and it’s hard not to admire and fall in love with her.

The novel’s story is organized by her late-in-life romance and marriage to a retired government minister in his early seventies, but its content is about this elderly man’s half-hearted bid to be elected mayor of Tokyo. He’s no good at electoral politics and has no clear sense of why he should be mayor, but his wife has drive, a fierce intelligence and a natural talent for campaigning. Also she’s rich (with money she earned from a business she created).

As the novel follows her efforts to elect her husband (he’s a socialist in a city controlled by a conservative political machine), Mishima explores the relationship between politics and land, culture and and landscape, and the signs used to signal and shape the nationalism that remains in post-war Japan. (When I began reading Orhan Pamuk’s Snow recently, I thought of this book.)

The novel draws on melodramatic form and tells the story of a woman who suffers at the hands of powerful men. So perhaps inevitably, its political narrative offers a scene for examining the political and economic position of women. And here the novel is moving and sympathetic in the way the novels I read earlier weren’t. Mishma had less compassion in those works for characters that seemed to stand in partially for himself.

Mishima really is worth reading.