Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Comedy is Hard...

... and perhaps undervalued? Julian Gough makes an argument in Prospect magazine that this is why contemporary novels are less fun. The Greeks thought comedy (the gods' view of life) was superior to tragedy (the merely human). As for me, I'll throw my lot in with us humans.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Caleb Carr: "Life in the Double Lightning Bolts"

TMP received this note from occasional contributor Caleb Carr, in response to Gunter Grass’s wartime memoir, excerpted in this week’s “New Yorker” magazine. He writes:

It bears repeating that the unit Grass joined, 10th SS Panzer, was one of the most vicious at that time, responsible for some of the most serious war crimes at the end of the conflict. There's almost no way that he could himself have played no part in those crimes. Important mostly because of what it tells us about so much of the elder German intellectual leadership today, and the underpinnings of its anti-U.S. moral posturing.

First, as to the facts of Grass' case: 10th SS Panzer Division and its sister, the 9th, were called into being toward the end of the war as prime examples of desperation units. The average age of their troops was reportedly eighteen, but it was well-known that many were a good deal younger, and some were quite a bit older. Their first task, significantly, was to try to plug the proliferating leaks on the Eastern front. Now, a word about the Eastern front: Especially toward the end of the war, the German practice of shipping all "undesirables," i.e. nearly all indigenous peoples and certainly all Jews, gypsies, Poles, and anyone displaying personal "imperfections" back to Germany for slave labor was increasingly giving way to the practice of executing such people in larger and larger numbers on the spot. As Anthony Beevor makes irrefutably clear in his masterful study of "Stalingrad," there was NO German soldier -- regular army, SS, Waffen SS, whatever -- who did not or could not know about all these programs, no matter how hard he tried, and no German officer who did not know of the details. Therefore, to assert that Grass could have been involved in action on the Eastern front, especially in a Waffen SS division, yet simply have been a dutiful soldier ignorant of what was going on around him... It doesn't work. You would have a much harder time making that case for someone working in Abu Ghraib and not knowing what Lynndie England and her boyfriend(s) were up to; and, as some of you have so indignantly pointed out, that case can't be made, either.

But let's say that Grass joined 10th SS Panzer later, after it returned to Germany; it was then involved in the follow-up offensive to the Battle of the Bulge, "Nordwind," during which it came under the PERSONAL command of Heinrich Himmler. If anyone is in any doubt as to what that means in practical terms, let's just say that on at least one occasion a surrounded American armored unit was driven to any and every extreme to avoid massacre -- the same kind of massacre that Waffen SS troops had committed at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge. No one familiar with the Waffen SS will be surprised by any of this; it is only the worst kind of Nazi freaks and biker morons that keep the imagery and "romance" of the fighting arm of Himmler's private army alive; for the rest of us, the mere fact that Grass chose to join ANY unit of the Waffen SS is sufficient to nullify any social commentary he may have chosen to make during the rest of his life, UNLESS he had chosen to admit his past FIRST.

An entire generation of now-senior German intellectuals have, to a very large extent, ignored their own history (whether during the war or after it, when their mistreatment of Muslims created the problems that Europe is now faced with) while focusing on every misdeed of the United. In truth, the German intelligentsia since the war, as Grass has revealed, have practiced the same techniques that their nation perfected before and during the war.

-- C.C.

Garden of Eden, in Alicante, Spain

... as recounted variously, a link to come, "Garden of Eden" begins shooting next week in Alicante, Spain. Huzzah. John Irvin directing, handsome Jack Huston as David Bourne, Caterina Murino as Marita, and Mena Suvari as Catherine. As far as I'm concerned Mena Suvari can do anything and anything and anything.

Garden of Eden, found in Alicante, Spain

Production of film adaptation of Hemingway's "Garden of Eden" begins next Monday,in Alicante, Spain. As recounted variously last week, posts to come, John Irvin directing Jack Huston, Mena Suvari, Caterina Murino, Carmen Maura, Matthew Modine...

Series #22 (white) by Page Starzinger

Oil and gesso on canvas Robert Ryman, 2004


As if it were still the 17th century, when conscious
just entered the English language, meaning secret and shameful:


the whitewash of brushstrokes over black. It was like erasing
to put white over it, Ryman says, but gives no hint of what—


everything we have words for is dead.
No wonder, Nietzche said, I forget; so it repeats, like a series


of couplets: In Hebrew darkness is not unrelated to childlessness.
Being 47, unmarried, without children and in love with men who don’t


is not a choice. It’s a compulsion. Last night I dreamt that I was a little
dressed in white, running behind a boy, down a dirt road,


searching for a home, and because we couldn’t tell which was best
we stopped at any house. It was owned by a blind man.


In Jane Eyre, it is after Rochester is blind in a fire that burns his house
to the ground
that he is finally free to marry Jane. And in the paintings,


what is present is what matters. And what is present
is not white paint, but paint that reflects white,


a lightwave, a stream of minute packets of energy photons.

first appeared in Colorado Review, Spring 2007
republished with author's permission. posted to TMP by Jeannie Vanasco

a peek back at Avenue A

This post has been moved to HERE.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Caleb Carr on Bernard Lewis's "Was Osama Right?"

Caleb Carr sent TMP this missive responding Bernard Lewis's "Was Osama Right?" in last week's Wall Street Journal:

Lewis's piece is, unfortunately, a further demonstration that he has lost the laser-sighting he had before, during, and after 9/11; and he's lost it, as have so many, because of a genuine, deep, and almost unbelievable unwillingness to comprehend the complexity and importance of Iraqi Shi'ite politics.

But first off, the piece is an extraordinarily narrow view of the problem, in terms of American society. It is true that the American reaction to the Al Qaeda threat has not yet been deep or broad enough; but that has nothing to do with any inherent weakness on the part of the American people. As I'm often told by people in my impoverished corner of upstate New York State, which gives more than its fair share of troops to the cause, the population of America is still ready to be fully mobilized and to pay any price required -- if the reasons behind both can be adequately and respectfully explained by the administration. That's been problem number one since 9/12. In the vacuum left by that absence, the division of America, regionally and economically, as well as between military and non-military classes, has been the principal operating influence: 9/11 hit a narrow slice of America, in all of this categories; and it may well be that it will take a "major event" that kills thousands of Americans from all walks of life to inspire a modern Pearl Harbor-type response -- remember that the sailors and soldiers at Pearl did come from just such a broad cross-section of America, which was why that attack was felt so hard. It appears that AQ is busily preparing just such an event; the Las Vegas New Year's Eve plot (both Richard Clarke and I had already picked Vegas as the city most at risk, during this phase, although that's likely now shifted, obviously).

Whether they can pull it off depends on several things, all in the balance:

1) Will we allow the Iraqi Shi'ites to finally exterminate everyone even disposed to support Al Qaeda in their country, since AQI and their affiliates are the main force of the insurgency now? "Extermination" may sound a strong word; given what their own language toward the Shi'ia is, given their continued propensity toward what is as close to genocide (NOT "execution styled killings") that they can manage, the Sunni and particularly Al Qaeda extremists have earned it. Furthermore, will we finally abandon Maliki's corrupt government for the true Shi'ite power, the Sistani-Hakim axis, and believe that Muqtada's followers are once again pulling back at their bidding?

2) Is all of this activity being coordinated with/by Ryan Crocker, and is he coordinating with Rice's negotiations with Iran? This would seem a no-brainer, but as we have learned, there's no such thing, in this administration.

3) Will Musharraf survive and get the final upper hand on the ISI, or will he get himself killed/leave Pakistan first? And, if the latter, will AQ get their nuclear device from that source (which is a FAR greater and more imminent danger than a nuclear Iran) in the short or the long run? Will NATO not only meet but increase its commitment to Afghanistan, which is at a critical pass (and which only the Brits and the Dutch seem to take in any way seriously)?

These are the questions upon which the struggle depends on, now; not issues of "American weakness." That IS an issue; but one of rather subordinate importance. The American public is in a state of very profound confusion that the anti-war groups and Congress are choosing to read as blanket opposition to the war; yet reactions to Congress indicate that Americans are looking for solutions, not unqualified withdrawal.

- c.c.

Samuel Beckett's only love poem

why not merely the despaired of
occation of

is it not better abort than be barren

the hours after you are gone are so leaden
they will always start dragging too soon
the grapples clawing blindly the bed of want
bringing up the bones the old loves
sockets filled once with eyes like yours
all always is it better too soon than never
the black want splashing their faces
saying again nine days never floated the loved
nor nine months
nor nine lives
saying again if you do not teach me I shall not learn
saying again there is a last
even of last times
last times of begging
last times of loving
of knowing not knowing pretending
a last even of last times of saying
if you do not love me I shall not be loved
if I do not love you I shall not love

the churn of stale words in the heart again
love love lovethud of the old plunger
pestling the unalterable
whey of words

terrified again
of not loving
of loving and not you
of being loved and not by you
of knowing not knowing pretending

I and all the others that will love you
if they love you
unless they love you

Sunday, May 13, 2007

That Sounds like Zombie #1 from THE BRAIN EATERS

Something struck me as eerie about Jonathan Lethem's recent New Yorker short story, "Lucky Alan." The character Sigismund Blondy, when he speaks, sounds an awful lot like Hampton Fancher, the actor ("The Brain Eaters" of 1958, etc...) and screenwriter ("Blade Runner," etc...).

I suspect this is no coincidence.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

A Moon for the Misbegotten

... the Old Vic's production of "Moon," which premiere I reviewed last fall in London, has transferred to NYC. O'Neill's play is "news that stays news," so I'm reprinting here...

A Moon for the Misbegotten
Old Vic, London

After stumbling badly with a dire production of “Resurrection Blues,” and closing the theater for the summer, Kevin Spacey and the Old Vic have returned with a magnificent, powerful production of a touchstone of American theater--Eugene O’Neill’s last play, “A Moon for the Misbegotten.” The play, intimate and accessible yet three hours long, is all too little seen (its last major production was more than twenty years ago). Critically it’s been overshadowed by the playwright’s towering masterpiece, “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” to which it serves as a kind of coda. This production, in the hands of artists most devoted to O’Neill--Spacey, the shatteringly-talented and earthy actress Eve Best, and Howard Davies directing--is simply a triumph. These hours at Old Vic were among the shortest I’ve spent in the theater.
Josie Hogan (Best), a full-figured and “real” woman, with a quick tongue and ruined reputation, lives on a ramshackle Connecticut farm with her ducking-and-diving father Phil Hogan (played by the Irish film and theater star Colm Meaney).
They rent their patch, the only home Josie’s ever known, from Jim, a member of the disintegrating Tyrone family seen in “Long Day’s Journey.” A third-rate actor who long ago buried his dreams, Jim now evades his grief with bourbon at the local hotel and with his mad dashes toward the bright lights in New York.
This is a genre-shifting play, beginning as hard-working Josie takes her pleasure in slapstick pranks at the expense of a local millionaire, her own father, and their friend Jim, who hides his self-loathing under his own good-natured high-jinks. In a mortgage melodrama subplot, Josie’s father, fearing Jim will sell out their homestead, schemes to put one over on him. This plan is knocked sideways, when during Jim and Josie’s long night’s journey… of talking, drinking, and carnal wrestling, and delicate caressing… toward day, and something like love, he reveals to her a searing pain at being unable to love without destroying, as well as his humiliation over a betrayal of his dead mother. Josie has her own, more surprising secret that Jim had already perceived. As Josie and Jim begin reluctantly to expose to each other the terrible pain of living a constant lie, the play transforms during these mesmerizing performances into a display of raw emotion and naked humanity. Miraculously, as the morning dawns, O’Neill, writing with the lightest touch, draws these two back into their own skins, with an air of grace still lingering about the stage. The last words spoken by Spacey’s Jim, and the last words O’Neill was ever to write for the stage, reflect what each has allowed the other to give themselves: “forgiveness and peace.”
Two points might give theater-goers pause… first, the Irish accents of the Hogans, Josie and Phil; in fact, O’Neill had insisted in the play’s first production that Irish actors should play the roles of these characters who would have been recent immigrants. Second, the high-plains-inflected music of Dominic Muldowney, reminiscent of Ry Cooder, sounds very odd for the play’s New England setting.
A deep bow, nonetheless, toward Davies, whose Almeida production of O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh first brought Spacey to the London stage, and who directed Best in “Mourning Becomes Electra” at the National, winning her the 2003 Critic’s Circle Best Actor Award. Their performances are likely to be award-winning again.

--James Scott Linville