Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Desperate Search: Counting

(PART VI.a)Today, I happened upon the last 2/3 of "(500) Days of Summer" whilst strolling around the dial.  My mother and I both got sucked in, and before I knew it we had arrived at Autumn. 

Fun people.  In many ways they seemed akin to many of my own dramatic life instances. 

Lovely experience.  And now a word from our sponsor:

Imagine you are preparing to make a speech.  Call it your personal 'last lecture'.  Due to the circumstances, you are dressed up nicer than you ever have been.  You rustle through a stack of colored coded index cards, trying to adjust the umpteen-million tabs into the right place before you begin your speech.  The podium you stand at is just a smidgeon too short, leaving you with an inner murmur of vulnerability.  Your body is nervous, as indicated by the sweat peeling off your brow, but in your mind you know this moment is yours.

Your audience is vast.  You count four upper decks, but you can't see how far back those sections travel; the nosebleeds and the vanishing point merge before you can realize the depth of the theater.  You feel a sudden slap of vertigo staring into that point of convergence. 

To snap back into action you adjust your vision to those seated most closely to your person.  The first two hundred feet long and wide are busy with round tables.  Each table sits eight people.  Waiters in three piece attire mull about pouring out bubbly to any glass half empty.  At the table nearest you on the left sit your parents -- it doesn't matter if they are alive or dead, good or bad, somehow they've made it, and you offered them the best seats in the house.  Around them are other family members; the most dear seated at this first table, and others in subsequent tables behind them.

To your right you notice Tom and Summer, turned and smiling politely up at you.  Summer sits next to her husband, though he is faced back trying to get a waiter's attention, so you can't quite make the shape of his face.  Tom, similarly, has brought with him the lovely Autumn.  Rumor has it that they'll be married in no time at all.  Filling out the other four seats at the table are the Guy and Girl from "Once" accompanied by their significant others.  'How sweet of them to make the flight out from Dublin,' you think.  They're good people.

Behind that table, we've got William Wallace in full blue-face paint, John McClain, bare-chested Conan the Barbarian, Alanis Morisette (for obvious reasons), and four iterations of Bruce Wayne.

                                                                                              On and on they go. 

A shout in German from the far right distracts your attention for a moment.  You spy Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Hannibal Lecter, Jeffrey Dahmer, Magneto, your fourth grade bully, and a whole host of other insiduous characters all smashed into one table.  There might be twenty in all crammed into that small table.  Upon closer inspection, it appears Hitler is raising all the bupkis on account of the waiters coming nowhere near said table.  You chuckle at the proposition of Hitler being denied champaign at a function such as this, although, you must admit to yourself, the man cleans up well. 

A set of eyes catches your breath.  Those lights lock in.  You're trapped already.  This is the table of lost loves.  The ones that got away from you -- all smirking about you.  They're a mix of lost lovers, wannabe lovers, and long gone best friends.  Their smiles deceive in such a way that even now you may fall victim to their eyes.  You can choose to read into those faces -- you can choose to see hope.  You know better.  You look away.

You set your eyes in line towards the table of enlightenment: Mr. Miyagi, Ghandi, President Roosevelt (the good one), Lincoln, your favorite professor, Atticus Finch, the dude from "Ikiru", and your second grade teacher. None of them have touched the champaign.

Beyond the tables are row after row after row.  There are thousands of them, rows.  Every row holds faces that have some sense of familiarity.  Before you walked up to the podium, you recall how your assistant (that annoying smiley guy from "30 Rock") informed you that every row held the faces you met that day.  That's why some rows are wider than others.  Every face you ever locked eyes on, every name you were ever introduced to -- they are all here.

Why the myriad?  Why the devastatingly huge crowd?  Why?

They are here to listen to you.  They are here to listen to you because you're the most interesting person in the world.  All their stories, all their sagas, all their journeys; they all lie secondary to your life. 

And so it is your time to speak.  There are nearly 7 billion people living in the world.  How many are here, at this place, listening to you now?  A hundred thousand, maybe?  Perhaps double that?  At most one million.  This, this room that is barely conceivable, it is but one star in a clear sky night.

Remember, you are the one they want to hear.  You are, apparently, worthy of being listened to.

You rustle through your index cards one more time before disregarding them. They are worthless at times as momentous as this.  One should not rely on cards when caught up in such a situation.

It's time to talk. Your mind buzzes.  All you can manage to think is, 'thereissomuchthereissomuch...'

You adjust your stance.

You clear your throat.


Friday, July 16, 2010


The ultimate aim of all love affairs ... is more important than all other aims in man's life; and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it.
Arthur Schopenhauer
(David Foster Wallace)

I am reading a novel.  An opus.

The novel is entitled Infinite Jest by the late David Foster Wallace.  I don't know much about the life or times of the man Wallace, but it is bitingly clear to me 500 pages into his 1100 page magnum composition that his mind belongs on the echelon of the genius.  Somewhere in the midst of the words on the various pages is a plot line involving a film that is so entertaining that it kills.  The viewer will never stop watching it.  They will loop it and loop it ad infinitum until death arises from within.  One scene spins a story about scientists discovering a product that is so stimulating, that if a rat has a choice between a button that injects them with this stimulant, and another button which will feed them, the rats choose the button which gives them the stimulus every moment.  They never choose the food.  They starve.  Even if the stimulant is taken away, the rats continue to search for it, pushing anything and everything that remotely resembles a button.  Just for the hope.  Until death.

David Foster Wallace, writer, genius, died on September 12th, 2008, by way of suicide.  He will likely be known forever as the auteur behind Infinite Jest.

Enter Inception - 2010.

The first thing we must recall when recollecting this piece of work, is that bellowing low pitch horn. Can you hear it yet?  It is like some hellish alarm clock for the resurrection from the deep of some long forgotten Nephilim of old.  Remember it, and let it bounce from one side of the skull to the other.  Over and over it reverberates.  Let it roll.  Over and over.

 (The man himself - Christopher Nolan)

Where did Christopher Nolan, the auteur of Inception, last leave us?  If I may: He left us pondering the notion of overcoming the generally banal and limited aspects of reality by contriving manipulative situations that give birth to myth.  Since he made Memento (my recollection of Following is too slight to make any comment on its philosophical worldview), Nolan has begun to tinker with the beginnings of a search for something that can be attained beyond nihilism.

I maintain that nihilism is not a livable philosophy.  It cannot be lived through.  One is forced to off oneself, or find a 'believable' rabbit-hole to climb through.  Finally, with the birth of Inception, Nolan has set the table.  I am right.  Clearly.  Hop, hop, hop we go -- to another realm to stow.

What makes Inception different than Nolan's previous outings: the starting world.  It appears to me that Inception begins with nihilism as the status quo.  We are deeply enmeshed within the dream world as the first fruits of escapism from the very getgo of motion.  Remember back to The Prestige, as the final lay-out reveals that the world is solid and hard.  We have to be birthed into skeptical thoughts.  In movie lore the extraordinary is presumed, and so Mr. Nolan has had to breastfeed his gnawing audience into stoic adolescence.

(such stern resignation - Arthur Schopenhauer)  

And if Inception begins with this unbeliefism, where does it find its end?  

This: the good doctor leaves us with a choice (is it his own choice as well?).  We can accept the lack of.........  crap, I forgot to add this thought.

This thought: the nihilist German philosopher (or do we just call him a skeptic?) Schopenhauer, concluded that man's desires will never be fully met.  He established that our wills, those very things that drive us towards specific goals, will not be fulfilled.  In other words, holy moments, transcendent times, and divine serendipities aren't real.  At best we are deluding ourselves when we claim contentment.  At worst we are simply lying.

 (classic 'Bard')

Back to the this: "To be or not to be, that is the question".  Nolan echoes Shakespeare.  One option is to invent through creative means some way to prove Schopenhauer wrong.  We can be, and be in such a way that we disprove Schopenhauer's position.  We can be in order to have the holy moment.  We can be, in order to live for the ecstatic transcendence of something totally other.  Or, we can die.

Inception offers that choice, and I do believe it is a very real choice, that suicide is a possible answer to the riddle.  If only we knew what the answer to the riddle was solving.

I suspect that Nolan is a prophet of our general cultural consciousness.  We will turn our eyes in the coming years ever more to the limitlessness of the human mind.

It's all so exciting.  God have mercy on us.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I Can Only Remember So Much

Although I have little doubt that I would recollect "Where the Wild Things Are" as a grand experience even if I hadn't grown up with the images ingrained in my mind from early childhood goodnight readings, I must admit that my memory most likely sweetened the whole endeavor for me.  And that's all just a-okay to me.  Nostalgia plays such a large, yet unspoken role in the film, that my having old memories of the story by Maurice Sendak only adds a bittersweet aroma to the film that is oh-so-pungent in the happiest sense of the word.

But let us acknowledge the elephant in the room that is nostalgia, and leave it be.  Can we do that?  I think there's a more pressing matter at hand.

Before Max Records visits the kingdom of the Wild Things, he bites his mother.  I'm sure he doesn't know why he did it, that is to say, he can't explain it, the things he does.  Perhaps we get a bit of insight much later when the strange KW tells Max, "Don't go. I'll eat you up; I love you so." ...Frustrated oral fixations as a means of expressing angry love.

There's an undercurrent to Max's action on the beastly island.  While he's governing over the lot of melancholic monstrosities, he's sorting through his own identity.  And the predominant inquiry is indeed: 'am I a good guy, or a bad guy?'

---Am I good or bad? ---

I recall the first time I discovered the invention of lying.  I was of course, as a youngster, taught to tell the truth, but through a series of 1 + 2 = 3esque experiments, I was able to surmise that if bad things happened, lying was the best way to avoid punishment and humiliation.  I reflect back upon those years and wonder if I realized how evil I was aspiring to be.  On the tail of lying came the more subtle, and in many ways more venomous application of manipulation.

Once, I wanted a Sega Gamegear.  This was overwhelmingly enticing to me because the Gamegear had the promise of color on its screen.  My measly Nintendo Gameboy expressed itself in just boring old black-and-white.  So, I did what any boy would do, and asked my mother for the upgraded handheldic device.  She reasonably told me that as long as I had a functional Gameboy, no Gamegear would be making the rounds in the Stack household.  The next day I filled the sink with water, and the poor Gameboy just-so-happened to find itself submerged in said sink.  The result was a broken device.  I looked like the sad victim.  Whence my next birthday rolled around, I was filled with glee as I unwrapped my brand new Sega Gamegear.  Manipulation of environment was the key to the game.

Every happy boy plays Cops vs. Robbers, Cowboys vs Indians, Superheroes vs. Villains, or just plain old Good Guy against Bad Guy.  At a young age, we are taught (and learn) that there are good people and bad people.  And ever so slowly, as the selfish lies mount up, we must wonder to ourselves, 'am I really a good guy?'

Max is a good guy.  We know this because he leaves his beloved Wild Thing World to return to the embrace of his mother.  Did you catch how worried she was?  She needed Max to return home.  That's was the good guy thing to do.  And with this resolution, Max finally crowned with his true banner of goodness, the movie concludes.

For me, the question of goodness was much more murkier.  The lies continued into adolescence.  And then came the awful guilt of being raised in a Christian household, but having deep yearnings to have sex with pretty much any female thing that I could see, hear, or smell (I didn't really get the opportunity to touch or taste, being a rather shy and geekish 13something).  Where did these despicable inclinations come from?  Perhaps I was pre-ordained to be a bad guy.  After all, there have to be bad guys -- without them, there's no way to know who the good guys are.

Now things are much easier to discern.  A fair understanding of Christian theology has sufficiently informed me that we are all bad dudes, but get to be rescued from our own malevolent anti-virtues, because we choose to stick by the side of the one real Superman that lived... but boy, I wish I could remember what it felt like, when every moment predicted your future.  What was it like to always be at the threshold of good and evil... between being just a Wild Thing or becoming a real monster?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Momentarily Definitive Coen List: #4

 Shtetl Husband: What a marvel... what a marvel.

In the wake of my first experience with “A Serious Man”, I was possessed with such a rapturous yearning to assess the essence of the Coen mantra that I began this list.  What resulted was a half-assed countdown that devolved into oblivion with much haste.  And so I never came to contemplate in writing this bizarre melo-dramatic-dark-comedy-mystery.  But the day has come, my friends, for I have now revisited this super serious enigma.  

Dr. Larry Gopnik is a fine fellow, a physicist seeking tenure with two (mostly petulant) children, a wife, a neck-pussing live-in brother, and a mysteriously attractive neighbor who has a tendency towards smoking pot and sunbathing topless.  For obvious reasons, Larry's world is knowable, and therefore pleasant.  

Then bad things happen to Larry.  Bad things.  For starters, Larry's wife leaves him for a stooge.  Later the stooge dies.  Other things happen too.  But none of this is very important.

What is important, is that you, "Let it breathe."  After all, "...this is an incredible bottle. This is not Mogen David. This is... a wine, Larry. A Bordeaux."  Do you yet understand? 

Larry wants to know why.  Why are these things happening?  Perhaps Larry's Korean student, Clive, has the most accurate answer for him.  Unfortunately Larry doesn't hear it, or at very most, Larry doesn't intake it.  When told that actions have consequences, the frustrated student responds, "Yes, often."

If our work only often has direct responses, then Newton's laws of thermodynamics are not laws at all; they are only tendencies.  Every action often has an equal and opposite reaction.

The opening lines of the film are the words, "A marvel, a marvel."  Why do the Coen Brothers begin their film with such a situation?   I would venture to guess that these words are part one of a two part answer.

The resolution of the film occurs as Larry's son gets a visit with the wise old Rabbi, the very man that Larry has hopelessly pursued the council of.  With this old man lies all the hope that we can summon.  When he finally does speak, what at first sounds like rubbish is indeed intoxicated with an aura of understanding.  The rabbi quotes a rock band that the young son has been listening to -- furthermore, he gives the boy back his confiscated walkman, and leaves him only with the happy slogan, "Be a good boy."

The world is a marvel and our response to its perplexity should simply be to be good.  That's it.  That is all that Larry should worry his little head about --- and perhaps he should consider the parking lot too, if he wishes (but even that too, is really just an illustration of how the world is a marvel).

Sister Aloysius: You just want things to be resolved so you can have simplicity back.

At the end of the day, I think the embrace and intention of "A Serious Man" is humble.  Though its title mocks the concept of a far reaching ideology, its framework (Judaism) rectifies the arm's length.  Larry Gopnik thinks he needs to understand the full character of God to understand what should become of his life, but his encounters with rabbis and townspeople slowly emphasize the truth that he need not understand really any of the big 'T' truth in order to live well.  In fact he is taught that the less you deal, the happier you can be.  After all, sometimes actions have no consequences at all.  

We could end our discussion now.  We could call it quits.   

But is it fair to leave the Coen's off the hook?  It is so easy to say that life is 'a marvel', and that nothing really can be made of it beside black-and-white morality and aesthetically pleasing parking lots.  But if all things are in a state of flux, and every action doesn't have an equal and opposite reaction, then one cannot know anything.  The cat is indeed both dead and alive.  And if this is so, can you really persecute the man who killed the cat?  He may have killed the cat, but it's still purring underneath that box.  

These issues of uncertainty are at the core of the film "Doubt".  This is why the 'Sisters of Charity' at the film's inner-city school can't sleep at night.  They are plagued by the ravages of uncertainty, as they try to be 'good girls'.

"A Serious Man" is seriously unfair.  It tells me to be good in an entirely ambiguous world.  How?  Tell me how.  Do I stab the dybbuk, or leave him be?  

I can't be a good boy.  It's impossible under this lens.  All I can do is marvel.  Marvel all day.  But that's just boring and dumb.  I'd rather not be able to sleep at night.

Larry Gopnik: The Uncertainty Principle. It proves we can't ever really know... what's going on. So it shouldn't bother you. Not being able to figure anything out. Although you will be responsible for this on the mid-term.