Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Throwing Up of Hands

Whelp, that's it for today. I've worked as long as I'm gonna work. I woke up at 9 today and set right off on heat stripping my back door so that I can repaint it so that I can put on a new storm door that the last big wind storm in March took off. Please note how all home improvement/maintenance tasks are interrelated with all others. Sequencing is important. Half measures, such as merely scraping the paint, generally only result in additional work, as the paint will do what this first picture shows within a year. Thus, a project I thought was done last summer still remains a project for this summer.
At any rate, around 3:30 this afternoon, I finally get close to being done. Since I've already got the original colors on the rest of the house, it was only a matter of seeing what the original owners put where. In getting down to the wood, it appears that the door was ochre with green trim, which I replicated:
I then came in, scrubbed down the bathroom which was covered with green and ochre paint, then had some tuna salad and cold water, then I deadheaded the peonies, during which task I called to inform the neighbor that her dog had escaped and was running amok in the neighborhood. I went back inside and wallowed about in Youtube for a while and, having done so, it appears my productive impulse has completely left me for the day.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Disaster Flicks: History Repeating

Netflix has brought another surprise, and therefore the potential for another roughly-written tangent. This time, it's the 1942 German movie Titanic. Precursor to the 1958 film A Night to Remember, and of course, that movie in which Celine Dion's heart will "go on." There's an obsession with what many still see as the worst maritime disaster in history. I remember, in Los Angeles, sneaking on board the Queen Mary after dark and roaming the decks. On the First Class deck were others within earshot who were legitimate guests in the onboard hotel. I ignored them at first, but then in listening, found that they were talking about the Queen Mary as if it was the Titanic, as if they had found themselves in a museum replica, or the ship itself as it was in the movie not yet released on video at the time: "Here's where they shot at each other as the water rose. Here are the staterooms where she must've slept."

Like Erin, I somehow am programmed to think that a new Netflix DVD is a "drop everything and watch this" priority, so I plugged it right in. As far as movies go, it isn't all that great, and it has less than sincere interest regarding period accuracy in costume or setting. The women's evening dresses look like they were from various contemporary productions of other movies--they certainly weren't what high society wore aboard ship in the years before the Great War. The set was improvised as well, with the location footage shot aboard a German liner, the Cap Arcona (below), the interior of which bears at best only the slightest suggestion of the Titanic's style. The movie shows its wartime politics fairly straightforwardly, pointing the finger of blame squarely at Bruce Ismay's--and especially British Business's--blind pursuit of money. The one German member of the crew (a fabrication) is the only person who realizes the corruption and appreciates the danger, but the wily Britons bring ethnicity and politics into the argument, quashing the officer's protests, saying that a German, obviously loyal above all to his own country, would do anything to keep Britain from breaking a transatlantic speed record. From that point, the rest can probably guess what happens. We all know about the shortsightedness regarding the lifeboats. There are moments that give one the suspicion that Cameron borrowed scenes from this film to add to his own--the raucous steerage dancing scene (here given a rather nipply treatment by a woman really named Jolly Maree in the credits), the intrigues and wranglings of the amazingly wealthy louts in First Class also get quite a bit of attention. There even is a scene where someone is locked in a room filling with water belowdecks which can't help but remind viewers of Cameron's movie. And there is a "blue diamond." But all of this falls away when one gets back to the ship used to shoot the scenes.
The Cap Arcona was a luxury liner that made the route to South America. By the time of the film's production, the ship had been sitting in Lubeck bay; the war made such a ship quite a target. For two years it had been a floating barracks, and Navy Kriegsmarine extras were used in the movie. As the war wore on, the ship became a part of the Final Solution, where thousands of prisoners from Neuengamme camp were marched to the ship and crammed on board. Lifeboats certainly were not a concern here, either. The British unwittingly contributed, spotting the ship on an air raid and not knowing who was aboard, bombed it. It burned and sank where it sat. For the Titanic, Leo DiCaprio represented one of the 1,502 dead. For the Cap Arcona, a smaller ship made to carry 1,300, no one's yet made the attempt to portray one of the over 5,000 who weren't rescued. In the movie, the ship goes down in miniature, the doll's house furniture swirling around the tiny stiff plastic potted palms. The footage has more screaming and chaos on deck than ever was reported by the Titanic's survivors; more a rehearsal of what would happen on that same deck less than three years later; the portrayal of a doomed ship on a doomed ship.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Memorial Day Weekend--A Gameplan

Yep, the big early summer weekend and I'm planning on--actually planning--on getting some reading done. And reviews. I should probably write some reviews. I have 14 CDs of Joseph Haydn to review. I'm ass-deep in Haydn. I've even taken to ransacking J-Stor for articles that talk about his works. The trouble with writing reviews about Haydn (or Beethoven, or, especially, Mozart) is that there is little new that one can write about such people. Not being a music major, I have little to add regarding structure and counterpoint. For scores of the works performed, I went to the Purdue Library (where, unlike at the Indianapolis Library, which has a larger collection of orchestral scores, I dont' currently owe fines--thus the reason I end up buying books rather than checking them out), and found that they not only have the collected works of Haydn in hardcover, they have two different editions of the collected works of Haydn. I opted for the bigger-format edition, a couple of volumes of the Soviet issue of Shostakovich's symphonies for another review of a two-piano reduction of Shosty's 10th and 15th symphonies (the 15th being the basis for a poem written earlier this school year), and remembered that, during my Modernist Poetry class, I had been meaning to ask the professor about Modernist prose, namely Dorothy Richardson. Since no one reads Richardson's massive novel Pilgrimage and since I'd been wanting to read it for some time, I thought I'd look up the call number. I was in luck--the whole novel, in four volumes, was sitting in HSSE library. I walk to the area. In the whole practically empty library, someone is in the aisle. I scan through the call numbers. The one person is standing right in front of the Dorothy Richardson, no doubt looking for something else. Check that. She's looking at the frayed 1930s volumes of Pilgrimage. I introduce myself, feeling like I'm in some sort of cheap opening half hour of a romantic comedy film. Hi, you're reading Richardson too? Really? All the volumes? What are the chances of that? No one reads Richardson anymore. She wasn't sure if she needed to read everything. I had some at home. She had directed reading over the summer and for Fall semester, toward a thesis. She was pretty lucky--five minutes later and I'd have left with everything she needed.
I'm presently finding myself reading, then, two massive multi-volume novels this summer for no real reason than the fact that they're there--Jules Romains' Men of Good Will and the aforementioned Pilgrimage. I keep thinking that perhaps I should read something else, but that is what seems to have swum to the surface of the pile of books to read. The Romains seems to just go on without getting anywhere other than showing how even the most disparate lives intersect in some way, but that is something I already knew. I'll read through the climax of the series, Verdun, which is a good number of pages from where I am. So, to recap, this weekend will be Haydn, yardwork, and Big Novels of Some Obscurity.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Urban Archaeology--A Crap Photo Essay

Well, the car is on the blink, folks, which means I'm down to my bike until they get the car fixed, which evidently will be a bit longer, but more on that later.
I thought I would take advantage of the weather and the opportunity to flee the never-ending yardwork to take a morning bikeride through town. I brought along my camera. I've been interested in something I refer to as urban archaeology. The pothole that reveals the gleam of an Interurban rail, the trajectory far in from the street and parallel with the wall of a low brick house, which, now that one has the clue of the rail, reveals itself to be an old Interurban depot. Things like that.
Abandoned schools bug me, and there are quite a few of them in Indianapolis. Were quite a few of them in Indianapolis. 3 years ago there were four schools within a mile of my house. Now there are two. The brick that edges my walks is all from demolished schools. I find these buildings a metaphor for a current state of mind that I might go into later on. At any rate, in earlier times, there once was a town named Flackville. The town is no longer, and its main survivor, the school above, is not going to be around for much longer either. Situated on a busy street, it still has a higher profile than its neighbors, a decaying strip mall and an old bank-branch-turned-porn-shop.

More miles on, I coasted through the quiet neighborhoods, most of the residents having gone to work. Indianapolis used to have its ethnic districts, evidenced by a few churches tucked away in between the houses, including this one. The original cornerstone showed, in weathered Gothic letters, that this building was originally a German Reformed Church, as one can tell from the architecture and the script of the year it was built, carved above the door.
Not far away was, evidently, the Slovenian part of town, complete with its own community center. Not far away was a quite impressive church and, across the street, an unused school building, with Slovenian folk motifs patterned in the brick and the terracotta.

I hit the Canal on my way back downtown and would have gotten some pretty good shots if I actually was able to understand my camera. In spite of me, I got a couple of hazy shots. All told, I covered 30 miles on the bike, and am already walking like an octogenarian. I'd do more yardwork tomorrow, but I'm gonna go to the Museum instead.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Brain Stem Death Test

Ever have those moments when there isn't a single thought in your head? When the best things you can come up with are half-baked at best? When your state of mind could best be summed up as "clotted"? I'm finding that yard work is good for those times. I've spent the past three days increasing my chances of basal cell carcinoma while digging up the insidious root system that my evil mutant devil-spawn of a lawn has decided to extend across the flowerbeds. But today it's cold and rainy. The flowerbeds are a pile of muck. I'll try to read, but more likely will end up spending hours watching Match Game 76 or the Gong Show on YouTube, both of which I vaguely remembered watching as a kid. Back then, I remember Chuck Barriss being funny, rather than shitfaced as these vids show. Either way, the results were occasionally brilliant.

I'll work on further cerebration later this week. Wish me luck.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Muddling Through, or The Man without Qualities in the light of current events

I will do my best not to re-reread Robert Musil's enormous beast of a novel (amounting to over 1700 pages), but having leafed through it in search of something that might be relevant to the Roubaud novel, I've found that practically each chapter in Musil contains enough ideas to spawn a novel of its own. While I waited for the bus, rode on the bus, and sat in the frigid breakrooms of the grey glass box I worked in, I read these characters' fascinating conversations. No one around me seemed to be having such conversations. Talk was of tax reporting or legal documentation or how best to reissue checks to shareholders. As if that was the most important thing to talk about. This in their free time. The office-dwellers became cardboard cutouts as opposed to a character who:
"gave his thoughts an even more general and impersonal form by setting the relationship that exists between the demands "Do!" and "Don't!" in the place of good and evil. For as long as a particular morality is in the ascendant--and this is just as valid for the spirit of "Love thy neighbor" as it is for a horde of Vandals--"Don't!" is still only the negative and natural corollary of "Do!" Doing and leaving undone are red hot, and the flaws they contain don't count because they are the flaws of heroes and martyrs. In this condition good and evil are identical with the happiness and unhappiness of the whole person. But as soon as the contested system has achieved dominance and spread itself out, and its fulfillment no longer faces any special hurdles, the relationship between imperative and taboo perforce passes through a decisive phase where duty is not born anew and alive each day but is leached and drained and cut up into ifs and buts, ready to serve all sorts of uses. Here a process begins, in the further course of which virtue and vice, because of their common root in the same rules, laws, exceptions, and limitations, come to look more and more alike, until that curious and ultimately unbearable self-contradiction arises which was Ulrich's point of departure: namely, that the distinction between good and evil loses all meaning when weighed against the pleasure of a pure, deep, spontaneous mode of action, a pleasure that can leap like a spark from permissible as well as from forbidden activities."
As an aside here, I find this rather interesting in light of the last election where the current administration used as a selling point their clear course of action as opposed to the Democrats indecisiveness. Action is, above all, the important thing. In the book, certain intellectuals and aristocracy in Austria decide on something called the Parallel Campaign, whose slogan is "Action!" The reader, not the characters, knows that WWI is looming.

"Ulrich stubbornly expanded on his point: 'What one needs in life is merely the conviction that one's business is doing better than one's neighbor's [...] --everything that can assure a person that he is in no way unusual but that in this way of being in no way unusual he will not so easily find his equal!'
Walter had not yet sat down again. He was full of unrest. Triumph. 'Do you realize what you're talking about?' he shouted. 'Muddling through! You're simply an Austrian, and you're expounding the Austrian national philosophy of muddling through!'
'That may not be as bad as you think,' Ulrich replied. 'A passionate longing for keenness and precision or beauty, may very well bring one to prefer muddling through to all those exertions in the modern spirit. I congratulate you on having discovered Austria's world mission.'"

But back to the original quote:
"Indeed, whoever takes an unbiased view is likely to find that the negative aspect of morality is more highly charged with this tension than the positive: While it seems relatively natural that certain actions called "bad" must not be allowed to happen, [...] the corresponding moral traditions, such as unlimited generosity in giving or the urge to mortify the flesh, have already almost entirely disappeared; and where they are still practiced they are practiced by fools, cranks, or bloodless prigs. In such a condition, where virtue is decrepit and moral conduct consists chiefly in the restraint of immoral conduct, it can easily happen that immoral conduct appears to be not only more spontaneous and vital than its opposite, but actually more moral, if one may use the term not in the sense of law and justice but with regard to whatever passion may still be aroused by matters of conscience. But could anything possibly be more perverse than to incline inwardly toward evil because, with all one has left of a soul, one is seeking good?"

Friday, May 11, 2007

Negative Space--a literary pensee (are there nonliterary Pensees?)

I've been reading a novel lately by Jacques Roubaud called The Great Fire of London, which is essentially a progressively-constructed novel about everything other than the Great Fire of London. It's essentially a novel about writing. Which reminds me, in a sort of way, of a draft I read in memoir class, wherein all but the main issue at hand was addressed in the narrative. It seems a rather tall order, but I think it would be a very interesting writing project to write about everything other than the idea at hand, wherein the work forms a sort of mold, surrounding a void that is the actual point of the work. The idea would be there, perfectly formed, only in what the work is not. It could even be a topical subject, such as a project that could illustrate the current political situation, wherein all is talked about in detail other than the elephant in the room. The musical group Elbow have already done such a thing with the cover art for one of their recent slew of releases...though I can only find the positive space version of their cover art. The negative space is available in tiny form a third of the way down on this page, for the fugitive motel release.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


The sidewalks are quiet...

The Mall is quiet...

The classrooms are chilly, yet sadly empty.

The Undergrads have all left...

..which means of course that West Lafayette turns back into a rather pleasant, sleepy smallish town full of bad Chinese buffets and pizza joints in need of delivery drivers.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Turn Down the Fun.

Ah, parties, they bring out the best in brilliant graduate students. The following smattering of photos is from the first annual Cuatro de Mayo party held on the Blomenberg urban estate. Dan came just as things were starting to get out of hand and was able to keep things reined in as the sole representative of restraint and poise. If one couldn't tell from his demeanor, the shirt makes it plain. Wherever fun appeared to be getting to a point where it might break the bounds of proper decorum and gravitas, he was there. I was rather preoccupied, but I do recall that he held forth in the book nook, perusing my copy of Everybody's Book of Epitaphs. Reports indicate he may have even worked at inciting a hymn sing later on in the evening.

As you can see, he had his hands full. Tadd wanted to help with the grilling. Here, the Mickey Mouse beach shovel makes another appearance from February. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed.

As night deepened, various denizens of the dark appeared.

Candles burned on the porch, silent movies played in the bedroom, cheeseballs and lemon bars were obliterated in the dining room, and the living room held all those who couldn't fit in on the "stage," as Dan named it. As you can see, he kept things at quite a reasonable level of jollity.

I'm glad so many of you were able to come down to Indy!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Feist--its at least a couple of words in one.

Earlier, a related post from another person in the Purdue program had mentioned Feist as an up and coming group.--they are that, and more importantly, they have this, and, more importantly, this. There is a certain sense of joy and cold interest in much of what they do which makes what they do damned interesting. It's something sadly missing from regular radio.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Music Music Music

I've mentioned to some that I might start putting more music stuff on this blog (and no, the Kylie post is not a hint of things to come), and I certainly will have ample material for such meanderings. Not only have I gotten the latest shipment of discs from Musicweb (which brings the number of discs I have for review up to, oh, something like 842), I also went crazy in the Jazz section of Half Price Books and now have a stack of Ellington and Django, and upon my return home yesterday, I found another package from Brian Burtt, who sent me no fewer than five symphonies' worth of CDs, plus a lute disc and a piano concerto! I'm going to try to get on the stick and send him some things in return.

So, I'm adding some music links to the web as part of my program of avoiding cleaning the house. One of my favorite sites on Soviet composers is devoted primarily to Shostakovich, but also gives some great information on a number of Soviet-era composers, including Myaskovsky and one of my faves, Alfred Schnittke. In looking around (I've not been there in a while), I was thrilled to find one of my reviews has shown up there from Musicweb. Which reminds me, I really need to start working on writing more. Busy busy busy.

I just googled myself (I think that's against the law in some states) and found out I've been translated into Latvian! Who knew.

Opportunism and Currying Favor

Now, not that anyone's been taking notice, but just in case you thought for a moment that Kylie Minogue hasn't been actively currying to the Gay disco scene's favor, I thought I'd check in with ya all.... I remembered seeing this vid in Berlin, just before breakfast, and it made me giggle. Not that I'm getting much into this sort of music, but, Kylie and Daft Punk were a big part of my last time in Germany. Not to mention, Kylie, in her big video, drove a rare car that my Dad had for a short while back in 1979-1980--my younger brother loved it more than I but the DeThomaso Pantera was a big part of our lives back in West Branch Iowa, back when "my Sharona" was a big hit. Erik and I hung out on the roof of the tin shed outside of where Dad worked on this car and others as he cussed. It's where we got our colorful language. Yes, the car we had was canary yellow, too. We drove it from Iowa to Nebraska for sale. It was late winter early spring. I remember it well... My sister and brother had most of the quality time in the sports car (and the subsequent lateral G's) as we drove down I-80. I was in the car rather seldom. It had a black interior, if I'm not mistaken. La La La...I just can't get you outta my head..Yep I'm old. It turns out that the costumes for the big vid are straight from 1920s Soviet expressionist stage costume trends, though I can't immediately find the links... My disco? uh...really? Maybe I'm just a big redneck, but I had no idea that support was so desperately needed. I rememberbeing inBerlin, waking up after too much beer, trying to get up for my next museum trip, blinking, and seeing this vid on the tv...She gets points for the french narration, but, computer]generated semaphores? Top hats? Wha? And discos need you? I mean , really--don't bars make money hand over fist? And how should I interpret the stars-and-stripes spandex? This modern world always throws something in to mess me up... Oh, here it is. This will mess most people up...Kylie, and George Michael? Twins??????

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

And then the end of the first chapter...

So, today, after furious grading and bookkeeping, I have finished all requirements for Purdue for the Spring semester. Now I have two days to clean the house for the upcoming GradPad GradStudent Cuatro de Mayo Party at my house. Charcoal must be gotten. Ditto vodka. I've got bigband and 80s for the playlist. A lovely butting of stylistic heads.

In other news, I have bought the latest Michael Chabon book, which is quite good, from various reports. I haven't read Cavalier and Clay (yes yes, I've lived under a rock for the last decade reading German fiction, so sue me...), so this'll be my entree to the writing of Chabon. Judging from the barely contained freakout of the fiction writers at the news that Chabon will be reading at Purdue next year, I assume he's a pretty damned good writer. I'll admit I was sold on the book (again a possibly painful admission) by the snappy cover art, by none other than Will Staehle, who has done some pretty impressive stuff for McSweeney's, which is a pretty damned impressive literary journal that all who love reading new stuff should read. The "Volumes held in a cover by magnets" issue was a must-have. Who else would publish a collection of Oulipian stuff in English translation? I mean really.
I'm in sensory overload mode. I've just finished a third of my MFA, I've got my house to clean and revamp for an upcoming party, I've got much, much much stuff to read this summer, and I've got a blue million recordings to listen to. Oh, yes, and I've got to write. and garden. and ride my bike more often. I';m sure this will all start coming together in the next couple of weeks. The woodwork, the windows, the painting, the plumbing, the car, the novel, the memoir, the poetry manuscript, the becoming a premier classical recording reviewer, etc. All a matter of time. Sure. And all from my front porch. It could happen. I'll put some water on for coffee.