Thursday, February 16, 2012

Resident Evil Attribution

The first 30 seconds of this trailer are actually interesting as an illustration of an infinite regress or mise-en-abyme of framed transnational big screen films within  films on hand held iPhones within films on big screen, etc.

My career resembles Battleship - Official Trailer [HD]

What's resemblance, you may ask?  No, it's not the beach scene even though my wife is super hot.  No, sad to say, but my career resembles the scene where the football player scores a touchdown partly because everyone else has been blown away as the football field was detonated.  Assuming I make it to retirement, (the end zone in the trailer), my job will be history (I will not be replaced).   I assume that I will still be standing and scoring even after all weapons have been fired by my admin.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Critics, Clerks, and Other Cryptkeepers

What are some of unconscious determinations of literary criticism?  Let's start with religion, the clerical origins of commentary on sacred texts and the secularization of these texts as memorials such as statues of the writer along with quotations as well as the tombs of the writer in sacred spaces like Poets' Corner in Westminister Abbey.  The literary text is metaphorically a crypt.  Some critics restrict themselves to diplomatic transcriptions, editions of the text the tremens in the crypt (otherwise known as an archive in the narrow sense of a named building with an address).  They may read the text aloud, as if it were liturgical.  Others may go further and paste to comment on a word or a line.  But these comments remain this side of interpretation.  To actually interrupt the text would be to endanger it.  It would be like grave robbing.  Priestly recitation and clerical commentary are both willing to be exceedingly boring because both forms of non-reading appear to save the text, keep it in stable condition though the life support of the critic.  Hence the fierce resistance to theory, to critical questions of any sort about the text's form.  The model critic is Borges' Pierre Menard (author of Don Quixote).  Criticism is simply a word by word, line by line transcription of the original.  Hence the tendency to demonize critics like Paul de Man.  You can't have a secular sacred text unless you have a demon who's trying to possess it.
  It is easy to dismiss this kind of childish, anti-intellectual clerical criticism, which demands a non-reading celebratory moment as closure--go in peace, via con Dios, my children. However, read as a reaction formation to unconscious forces, its often ugly kinds of resistance to reading can be made productive, can help us to understand something about the the uncanny relation between theology and demonology in literature.  Here is Zeitblom, the narrator of Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus: "I have already said that by its very nature theology tends--and under certain conditions must always tend--to
become demonology."  The tendency that is more than a tendency (and hence almost but not quite dialectical or dialogical) contaminates without collapsing opposite terms.   Mann writes similarly about German nationalism and the Enlightenment.  Mann's narrator is both biographer and critic of the main character, whose burial the narrator attends in the last two pages.  Clerks are right to think that reading is dangerous.  Attempts to sublimate or save what is buried can turn the dead into the undead and the worshippers into feeders off the corpse and drinkers of the blood of the living dead.  Reading with resistance has its own tropes--statues, marionettes, the reanimation of feet or hands, mutilations of the body.  There is no way to avoid a certain tendency in criticism.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Getting Used to Not Getting Used to Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain

All great literature invites and rewards close reading, but only Mann's The Magic Mountain tries to help you read it. Whereas literature generally resists reading, even close reading, Mann's narrator now and then explicates, or makes explicit something about its  form you may have already noticed if you were paying close formal attention.  I don't regard this as a failing of the novel, though at first I thought Mann was overdoing it a bit, providing a laughtrack of sorts telling the reader how to respond (literally "laugh").  In the idioms of the novel, reading is a matter of making its formal, as it were, "acquaintance" (169, 726, 728), (re)acclimating to it (7, 101, 134, 193, 124, 287, 460-62, 598), becoming aware of its modes of "formal address" (731), and "getting used to not not getting used to" (460, 560 461, 574, 689) it.  (All citations to John E. Woods translation, Everyman edition, 2005).  The narrator interrupts the third person narrative now and then (and the author once interrupts the narrator) to speak in the first person plural and make something explicit. For example, the narrator asks “Is it really necessary for us to spell out those private experiences, which both weighed down on Castorp’s days and gave them wings?” (167).  But this "explication" is, to imitate another of the novel's idioms, "a paradoxically unparadox" or "a unparadoxical paradox" (440, 466, 556, 644, 703, 707, 713, 733).  One can follow out  one if its various metaphors for  characters as well as for the novel itself: "blurred" time or personality or "tangle," to take two examples. The narrator's interruptions get looped back into the narrative.  More subtly, some sentences read like metacommentaries on the novel only to be absorbed back into it. Consider, example, this sentence: "In the framework of a week or larger units of time, however, there were certain recurring deviations that made their appearance little by little—one variation might appear, for instance, only after another had repeated itself” (124). One is tempted to classify Mann's style according to the distinctness of various kinds of repetition.  Some non-signifying repetitions might seem almost lazy.  The concierge is always the "limping" (731) concierge; Mynheer Peeperkorn's dimple is always "sybaritic"; Settembrini is always the "organ-grinder,"his manner of speakingalways Stemmbrini’s “graphic” (73, 116, 323, 388, 438, 422, 154, 330). Some repetitions seem like defects (see the bit on music p. 195 and 211—almost identical; or writing a letter on 221 and 223).  Sometimes plot incidents are recalled to the reader explicitly (as when Hans asks Clavdia for a pencil at the Mardi Gras as he had asked the student he had a crush on years earlier).  Other incidents are not (Hans stands over Peeperkorn's corpse in its bed (742) the way he stood over the teenage girl's corpse and the way he stood over his cousin's Joachim's corpse.  But the repetition goes unremarked upon by the narrator). Sometimes the plot makes two incidents parallel but without any comment from the  narrator.  For example, Peeperkorn's incomprehensible speech (Peeperkorn is compared to an orchestra conductor) is repeated literally at the waterfall when he his guest are all "deaf-mutes" (738) because they can't hear him over the thunder of the waterfall.  In both cases, Mann's descriptions of Peeperkorn are hilarious (653; 739-40).  Sometimes incidents seem like literalizations of the novel's departure from the Bildungsroman or adherence it (hard to decide which), as when Hans gets lost in the snowstorm and can make no progress, other as made "false progress," then discovers he has come full circle to the same hut, then cannot get in the hut because it is locked, then has an amazing dream turned nightmare from he has no "genuine awakening" but says three times he will remember it only to have the narrator end the subchapter ("Snow") by gently showing Hans forgetting: "He did justice to his supper. His dream was already beginning to fade. And by bedtime he was no longer sure what his thoughts were" (590).  The novel is strongest in the way it keeps redividing time and undoing hierarchies.  For example, Settembrini, who has been consistently paired and opposed to Nahpta and suddenly paired with Krowkowski, who has been paired similarly with Behrens; this new pairing is  then superimposed over Castorp's two grandfathers, 462. Other plot repetitions don't lend themselves to being read by the narrator, however, as when Nuhpta commits suicide (841), recalling Peeperkorn's suicide (742).  Ditto for Hans' dream returning in the very last sentences of the novel (853) or his singing the same verses from Schubert's Lindenbaum Leid from Die Winterreise he sang earlier in the novel as he engages in trench warfare near the very, very end. There's nothing compulsive about Mann's repetitions.  The narrator's gentle, expansive insistence on the indeterminacy of time ("visit" becomes "residency") and space (the Berghof becomes "home") and difficulty in deciding or resolving major questions, including whether Hans dies in the trenches or survives WWI,  all help you get used to not getting used to understanding the novel, even when the narrator talks explicitly about its theme (not narrating time but about narrating time) and then turns to a metaphor--a "stroll along the shore"--to develop it (641-49).