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“personally, i always preferred lipton’s”

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I promised the Voice That Whispers in My Ear at Night (hereafter VinE – I mean for this post and future posts) that I would a) read for two hours then b) write not-blogposts for an hour or two. Ooops! I will make it up by posting something serious and potentially work-facilitating.

I’m the comments to my post on macroeconomic microfictions / fiction in the aggregate, Dave suggests (if I have it right) that I work from individual focus toward panoptic aggregation via a terminal wide-angle shot, one that reveals that the selfsame story is going on for a whole bunch of people at the very same time. I could do this, and will do I’m sure, but let me show you something that I think about, unreconstructed modernist that I am.

Some of you, I know, won’t like this clip, but allow it me it as it shows something relatively quickly and clearly.

(Now: if you have 15 minutes, watch the whole thing. If you have 8 minutes or so, you’ll be ok. Watch the first 8 minutes and you’ll figure out the trick if you’re paying close attention. If you only have 4 minutes, just watch the first 2 and the last 2 minutes, you’ll still get the point…)

So it’s Anthony Minghella’s 2000 version of Beckett’s 1963 Play. I happen to think it’s pretty fantastic. OK, Minghella’s bit is OK, but the play itself is head-slammingly perfect. And I actually really like the performance by the britishy superstars involved.

Let me just say it again. I absolutely love every single thing about this play. If you’re looking for me, where my heart lies aesthetically, this is a fairly good crystallization in 15 minutes. I’ll say why, I hope, in the course of writing this post and answering Dave’s comment.

Just to keep things simple, let’s talk about Minghella’s version, as it is a bit different from the scripted version of the play. And in fact, his variations speak to exactly the question that I’m trying to get at in writing this. (Oof. Right there, all of a sudden, this fell into being something that I should write for real, not for blog. Did you see that? Started sounding like someone who actually writes about drama….)

Now, Beckett / Minghella’s Play drives at the generic from two different angles, in two different ways. The first way is the Minghella addition. Those panning shots that reveal, most strikingly at the end, that we’re in some sort of place where everybody is chattering on in just the same way, perhaps about exactly the same sort of thing, except, we are led to imagine, in their own way. Same yet different. What other sort of story do we expect these other urn-dwellers would tell?

(This runs a bit far from Beckett’s script, which does call for a chorus, but it seems to be a chorus composed of the three characters – the two women and the man – themselves. They are to speak a sort of barely discernable scattershot redux of their previous language. But, no, in Beckett’s version, there are no other urns, no other urn dwellers, there is no whole world or hell of similarity in difference… Minghella’s retraction of the camera to see all these others is his own addition to the work….)

I think Minghella’s tactic actually does work, if cheaply, but works only as an underscoring of what we already should know from what we’ve seen of the three characters themselves and their words. And here is where we find the second, and ultimately more satisfying, mode of rendering the generic available here.

For it is the story itself that we’re bound up in here – this tawdry, ultimately boring story of some sort of utterly predictable love triangle, and the emotional atmospherics that are concomitant with it – that is the first and best vehicle of the genericness of the play. People, Beckett seems to say, get caught up in these things, the things spur endless amounts of chattering solipsism, we cannot stop spitefully talking about them, about ourselves, even if there is no one left to listen, nobody who would possibly stay to listen to what we have to say. The amazing false profundities on display, the cliche takeaway – Adulterers, take heed: never admit! – already tell us all we need to know, before the pan, before the wide shot, about the play’s take on the ostensible subject matter at hand.

The formal devices of the play and the stage-directions work to intensify this effect. First, and most obviously, there’s the fact that the play turns at midpoint only to repeat itself in its entirety, which brings a hellishness to bear that preempts Minghella’s setting of his film version in the place that Clov can see out the windows in Endgame. Whatever individual interest, whatever romantic frisson, is left after the first go-round is decisively killed off when we hear the same damn thing again in full. And the mode of delivery indicated by the directions (and, I think, impeccably followed by Thomas, Stevenson, and Rickman in this version,) only make things worse…. that is to say better.

Faces impassive throughout. Voices toneless except where an expression is indicated.

Rapid tempo throughout.

It’s all fast and underbreath – the voice of neurosis, or of prayer said rote in order to finish quickly and get on to something else. Thy kingdomcome, thy willbedone, on earthasitisinheaven. The impassivity of the speakers signals that the words, the words that press up for no interlocutor,  press up to be said because they, situationally, have to be said, the situation requires their saying. So florid, so ostensibly full of emotion and relevance, uttering them (and that’s what they’re doing here – uttering) undercuts them, leaves them as all too human psychopathology, the stuff you say when your mind is out of your control because you’re caught in an altogether familar situation.

Ack. I need to get to sleep! But for now, let’s just put it this way. The panning move on Minghella’s part would be worthless, a false suggestion of true genericity, if not for all the steps that Beckett’s already taken to make sure that the foregrounded stuff is what it is, is generic. The pan, the wide shot, forces the point – but one should only force (right, VinE?) what’s ready and appropriate to be forced. This is the capacity that I’m looking to develop – the widening out works, but only when there’s generic ready there for the widening. Or in fact, as with Minghella’s version, the widening shot works mostly – only – when it’s there to reindicate, to underscore, to clarify, to intensify. We can see all the other cars in the parking lot, in other words, but that only does what I want it to do once it’s clear that the foreground story is, in a sense, the story of behind all the other cars in the parking lot. I have no problem tipping my hand, but I want to be sure first that I have a hand worthy of being tipped.

Anyway, a post that is not likely to come – as it’s a part of my book that I will dutifully revise MTWTF this summer, has to do with the initial and literal announcement of the generic as the principal issue of what will become modernism at the start of Madame Bovary. This bit, and sorry for the French, but it’s untranslatable, sets it out in writing:

Nous avions l’habitude, en entrant en classe, de jeter nos casquettes par terre, afin d’avoir ensuite nos mains plus libres; il fallait, dès le seuil de la porte, les lancer sous le banc, de façon à frapper contre la muraille en faisant beaucoup de poussière; c’était là le genre.

Now remember, the word genre has a triple meaning in French. Here it’s “the way things are done,” but of course it also means literary genre. Further, it also means gender. But that’s another story altogether, he whispers to the VinE, whom he hopes is pleased that he didn’t totally fuck his night, even if he didn’t quite do what he had promised her he would….

Written by adswithoutproducts

February 17, 2009 at 1:42 am

Posted in beckett, flaubert, generic, genre

le degré zéro de l’europe

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I am lucky enough to have travelled lots in my life, and because I’m so lucky, I am unlucky enough to be getting a little jaded with the whole affair. Especially now that it takes 1.51 minutes to get into the thick of what used to thrill me the most, and what used to take 7+ hours of flying, jet lag, airport transfers, etc.

I have my own subscription to the International Herald Tribune now. It comes in through my mail slot at an hour that is either very very late or very very early, depending on whether I’m sleeping or working at the time. (If you want, roll to the ten minute mark of this… Unfortunately, that’s not who brings my copy…) I read it on the Underground on the way to work each day. We used to devour it, each and every word, on trains and in train stations. We’d split it into parts to share. Now, some days, and despite its cost, it goes  unread alogether.

So I have developed a resistance. It was bound to happen, and again, it is in a sense a luxury to have such a problem. The only thing that does the trick now is the taste of a sort of abstract and unmarked europeaness. I visited one of the cities that does not make the guidebooks last weekend – we were visiting a friend who was there for a month. Population about 250,000 – not far off the city that I left behind in the US to move over here.

There is almost nothing of note to see in this city. A new Calatrava train station that’s quite wonderful, but not yet open. Everything else, from what I can tell, in the tourism line are only regional curiosities – unremarkable cathedrals, an enormous staircase up the side of a hill, some lovely bridges over a lovely river. Even the public art, the statues, seem to be drawn from a catalogue of generic statuary – the sort of works that a computer would pick if it were decorating a town of this size.

All that said, I loved it. I loved the flat fronted, 1960s apartment buildings everywhere. I asked my host if the district I was in was heavily damaged during the war, either of the wars. But it wasn’t – it was just empty and then filled. We ate breakfast at the same cafe each day, and ordered the same set order. There were chain stores, but unremarkable ones – mostly midmarket eurobrands that I’ve never visited. There was a bus system, and a Füssgänger Zone, and an aquarium. There weren’t many banks, and supermarkets were hard to find. In general, in cities like this one, I find it amazing how little retail there is in the residential districts. People must walk downtown for nearly everything. Park with a playground by the river, a few semi-trendy restaurants (“you can go to this one in the capital too!”)

Everything at once ancient and modern, fixed and modular. People rode bicycles, drunks sat on benches with cans of local beer. The last night, we kept the kids out too late at a cafe and they were rowdy, and we bothered a middle-aged guy, fat and with a nicely trimmed beard, who was reading a journal called Critique while he sipped a beer and wrote notes in his notebook. We were a little drunk and we wanted to say, but look, we do what you do, but in the metropole. Cut us some slack. There were brothels by the train stations, and I looked but I couldn’t see them on the way back.

Of course some of the facination comes of a crusty europhilia that every american has and sophisticated ones try to lose. Cute cafe – what a breakfast, with the hock of bread and confitture and, mmm, wonderful little cheeses and butter and some coldcuts of meat (we are near germany, aren’t we?) But there is also something a little more interesting than that – something that falls under that fascinating word fadeur that so preoccupied Barthes – and preoccupies me now. There are lots of ways to come at the issue – the most direct route would be to think about middleway social democracy, the cold war, what to do with the Calatrava train station, and the like. But for now I wish that I could spend not a life but a few years there, and if I did, I would wander thinking what is the minimal action? Shall I take a bus? Shall I take my daughter to the park? I should eat something simple and drink something nice, but in real moderation. I must live within bounds, aim for nothing more, because my life should match its environment. I shall read Critique at the cafe and write in my notebook and try not to glare at the tourists and their noisy children, but I will glare anyway, just once or twice. And you see, you see, it would be unsustainable. It would miss the point. I am where I belong, unfortunately, fortunately. London, perhaps, is suiting me all too well.

There were old people, and not all that many young people now that I think of it.  There wasn’t an art museum, I don’t think – at least not that I saw. It was hard to buy a Herald Tribune, but easy to get the British papers, which was fine, really. There was however a tourist, taking notes in his notebook, thinking the phrase le degré zéro de l’europe over and over and over again. But he did not take photographs, only looked.

(NB: I borrowed this person‘s photos for this piece…. They are truly lovely… I will start carrying a camera someday, but I really do prefer to use the images that others have taken, for reasons that I think are relatively implicit in the piece itself…)

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 30, 2008 at 10:33 am

Posted in europe, generic, simplicity

city as satire

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NYT on a new and enormous Koolhaas project in Dubai.
(We’re all going to have to start thinking and talking about Dubai one of these days, aren’t we?) Apparently, though we don’t have all that much to work on and Ouroussoff gives us very little, this is meant to be something like an materialization of the “generic city” idea from Koolhaas’s S/M/L/XL.

I know I have a lot to say about this “generic city” business, which is a concept as complex and ambiguous as the ad without products (whatever that is…) and in perhaps just the same ways. But my copy of S/M/L/XL is in storage and won’t be available to me till I move into my fractional piece of this not-quite-generic place where I am now. Soon enough…

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March 6, 2008 at 12:29 pm