Dog's Dinner

"You're not loved because you're lovable, you're lovable 'cause you're loved."

Saturday, April 30, 2005

If Moon Was Cookie

Have you heard the latest? They're taking the cookie, or is it the monster, out of Cookie Monster. This column, though problematic in predictable ways, lays out some reasonable arguments for letting Cookie be Cookie. But one point that isn't made is how nobody ever worried about the effects on children of Cookie's less than perfect diction and grammar-- perhaps not the best example for our kids either, when all is said and done. Of course in a way it's reassuring that no schoolmarm scold has gone throwing the dictionary (or a very basic manual of English grammar) at Cookie. We can all agree that Cookie's idiosyncratic use of language is part of his charm. But, as Goldberg implies, so is his addiction!
What's next? Shall we put Falstaff on apple juice (OK, that's what the actor would drink anyway, but you get my point) in any production that might have youthful spectators, in order to finally end the scourge of drunk driving (and beer bellies)? From FDR's elegant cigarette holder to Cookie's reverie about the moon (if I'm not mistaken, he was glad it wasn't a cookie, because then he would have to eat it and couldn't look at it anymore), much that was grand in American culture was not supposed to be a model for ordinary people like you and me. It just made life more interesting, colorful and watchable. But times change, so Goodbye, Cookie. Ave atque vale.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Housekeeping Inquiry

I'm not sure Tim is the ideal person to ask about this, but I thought at least some readers of this blog might have suggestions: I am very happily living, for the first time time, in my own rented apartment. Although I try quite conscientiously to keep it neat, my efforts are often amateurish and ineffectual. In particular, I face the following conundrum. When hair, muck, and other detritus collect in the bathtub, I am likely to clean them up with a sponge, then rinse the sponge out in the sink. But what I am to do when they collect in the bathroom sink? I could clean it out with a sponge and then rinse out the sponge in the bathtub, but that would just create a vicious circle. Basically I end up washing everything down the drain, but I'm afraid it will get clogged up. Advice?

Monday, April 18, 2005

Linguist Trap Ahead

I guess there's nothing like studying a foreign language, and having to practice every day, constantly making outrageous goofs and blunders, to drive home the point that nobody sees the world quite as you do.

Of course one could take comfort in the fact that there are native speakers of one's own language, but in fact the presumption is false, as the following story illustrates.*

So I've labored for months under the assumption that the Polish word that sounds like "eventually," i.e. "ewentualne," means something similar. In fact it's something quite different, more along the lines of "if possible" or "if necessary" and is most often used by waiters, shopkeepers and landlords to string customers along with a lot of Brooklyn bridges and paper moons, without committing to anything definite. Thank goodness I studied French years ago, otherwise a similar nonsense would have occurred with the word that sounds like "actually" and means "currently."

But even when I understand the meaning of words, I tend to project my own immediate, visceral reaction onto them, often wrongly. A cheap way to buy DVDs in Poland is when they come as a bonus extra with a magazine-- if you don't want to buy the magazine you can wait and buy them from dealers on the street later, either way it's cheap. A lot of them have an inscription in big letters: "WERSJA Z LEKTOREM," i.e. "NARRATED VERSION" with the Polish narrator who monotonously reads all the translated parts. For me this always jumped out as a WARNING, i.e. Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here. But it turns out it's actually supposed to be (gulp) an ENTICEMENT to buy the damn thing. Because these "readers," these "lecturers" (a good word for them, since they usually have a condescending, soporific tone, like your stereotypical lecturer) are an expensive and coveted luxury for Poles. Can you imagine? The only reason that foreign movies in theaters here almost always are subtitled is that nobody has the cash for a "reader." Well, all I can say is FANK GAWD FER VAT!!! Happily, it turns out more often than not you can switch the droner off and opt for subtitles instead. :) :) :)

* I'm not big on jokes, but I do also like this one: A brother and sister are sitting, facing one another, on a train. It pulls into a station, and each eagerly gazes out of the window to find out where they are. ‘Look!’ says the boy, ‘We’re at Ladies!’ ‘Idiot!’ replies his sister, ‘can’t you see we’re at Gentlemen!’

Turner's cataracts, Brando's pauses, Jean-Luc's drunken jump cuts: so what?

At a dinner party in New York some years ago I listened on and off as a gentleman of some stature in the world of New York publishing and journalism told a nice lady about how Joseph Mallard William Turner suffered from terrible cataracts in his later years, when he was painting his most abstract-looking sunsets: hence the abstraction. Somehow a reminiscence of this came up in a conversation with Small Man while we were visiting Krakow recently-- I think it was on the day of his departure, when we were looking at a Turneresque landscape in the Cloth Hall Gallery of Polish 19th century art-- and we both agreed that in fact, such knowledge doesn't really add to (or detract from) one's appreciation of the pictures. Does its dissemination in fact cater to a certain know-nothing anti-artistic mindset? Possibly. Sort of reminds me of an alleged sicko I once knew in Boulder who pored over a biography of Nabokov I had (a gift from my father) in a vain search for evidence of Nabokov having been some kind of pervert, since VN was famous for writing child pornography (except not really). But more importantly, what we call "abstract" may well be, for the artist, "representative," or even "photographic realism," even without the benefit of cataracts. A brilliant Hmong guy named Lin with whom I took several French lit. classes at the U. of Colorado once made the point that physics and biology are myths, just like the epic of Gilgamesh or the tales of the Greek gods, since a myth is the most accurate and meaningful explanation people have yet come up with for how the world works and what it's all about. By the same token, Monet or Whistler's (or Rothko or Miro's) non-cataract-induced reveries and even Warhol's purple Marilyns are no less "representative" than Poussin's Serment des Horace, or anything by Turner, or the photographs of Diane Arbus or Robert Frank, bizarre and surreal as they often are. In any case the fact that an ordinary person without cataracts can perceive what Turner apparently more or less photographically reproduced is documented in Wilde's excellent dialogue, "The Decay of Lying," where one of the characters complains how he recently watched a sunset over the Thames and realized it was just a "bad Turner."

If there be "commentary tracks of the damned" (the onion has a weekly feature so called), then the commentary track on the Superman DVD is surely in the ninth circle. About fifty percent of it consists of director Richard Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz (who wrote a lot of the script, apparently) either repeating the characters' dialogue to each other or patting each other and themselves, and others, on the back ("That was such a great cast" is heard several times). But there are some interesting technical revelations and gossip. One gem (probably already known to many, but I either didn't know or forgot) is that Brando, who as everybody knows was paid more money for his brief appearance than anybody in film history before that, hates memorizing lines so much that if he's not allowed to improvise he has his lines written on various props that are off-camera while he's speaking so he can read off them. And in fact, Mankiewicz explains, some of those poignant or otherwise powerful Brando pauses that made him famous are actually the result of him looking for the text or not quite making it out at first. This is cynical know-nothing talk on the level of "money for nothing and the chicks for free." If the pauses didn't actually mean anything, they wouldn't be famous, and Brando's farcical struggle with the props is an immaterial coincidence.

A friend once mentioned that the jazzy jump-cuts in Jean-Luc Godard's A bout de souffle (Breathless) are an accident of history: the story (which I must confess I don't really believe, while I do believe the above stories about Brando & Turner) goes that the film was much longer, perhaps almost four hours long, but "the studio" (was there a full-on studio involved?) commissioned a re-edit and Godard re-edited in a drunken, jokey rage, giving the fat cats the black&white finger. So are we supposed to wait with baited breath for the emergence of a Director's Cut DVD? Lament its impossibility? Laugh at his drunken, accidental genius? What?

Somehow it's more interesting for me to hear that, for example, Peter Lorre was largely stoned on opium during the making of The Secret Agent-- some dialogue was improvised, but that's not the point. The point is that Lorre would have been just as bizarre without the opium-- kind of like Dennis Hopper snorting truckloads of coke on the set of Apocalypse Now, it's a moot point, but it gives you some sense of the atmosphere of those artistic processes.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Nice Dream

I dreamt that somebody sold me a Volvo four-seater for ten zloty-- about three dollars. And many friends and family members came by to see it.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Ourself and Each Other

What was it Springer used to say? "Be good to yourself. And each other"? or was it "yourselves and each other?" Haven't watched the show for a while. But as a teacher of English in Poland I've been pretty firm about correcting the use of "self" to mean "other," as in "The Poles and Russians have had a difficult history, but now they get along with themselves." In Polish, as in Russian, the same reflexive verb form can be used for mutual (now that's another can of worms, perhaps, but not here where I'm just using it to mean "shared") and reflexive (or, if you like, "self-reflexive") actions and feelings, although in both languages one can always use a stronger form (involving the word or particle "Sam," as in "SAM. I. AM") to indicate reflexivity. In English, however, it's always been my feeling that the "themselves" (or "your/ourselves") and "each other" are two different things. I'd be curious to know, when Jesus commanded the disciples to "Love one another," did he really mean "Love yourselves"? (Small Man, get on the case.)

Or is it the same thing? The other day I bought a cheap DVD for my new computer, just something to bicycle to, "The Skulls," a total piece of crap, not good enough to be called "shlock," a film which riffs feebly on the aura of devilment surrounding Yale's Skull and Bones society... towards the end, when it became clear that there was a sort of gang war going on within the society, the twerpy protagonist explained, "It's a war between Skulls, where they kill themselves..." clearly meaning not mass suicide but mutual warfare. Have you ever heard such a thing? The question is not rhetorical. I'm beginning to slide into the descriptive camp, and if you can find another example of such usage I'd be innerested. Or is it just another example of general decline? I know we're all one, but isn't it pretty to think otherwise?