Entertainment – Margaret Barra – Imagining Hemingway’s Marriage – The Atlantic

This is really a movie about Martha Gellhorn. To paraphrase her: here, Hemingway is the footnote to her life.

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Nicole Kidman is an eminently capable actress; she seems to lose herself elegantly in this somewhat tainted, overly dramatic portrayal. Clive Owen's acting skills have always seemed to me the equal of those of Kidman's stature, so at the movie's outset the pair seemed well matched. However, as the war goes on between them – and around them – Owen is increasingly asked to play a supporting role to hers. I see it as  the mark of a confident actor that he was able to relegate Papa Hemingway to second chair – something that never seemed to happen in real life.

Still, for Hemingway aficionados and those happy to see Gellhorn in the limelight, it's a nice piece of fictionalized literary and journalistic history. 

Hemingway & Gellhorn

via www.theatlantic.com

Good-bye, Doc

In case you haven't heard it already, Arthel Lane Watson, known to millions of guitar players and roots music fans as Doc Watson, died today following a long illness. 

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image via rockymounttelegram.com

 

I won't attempt to re-write what's been written in the article linked below, nor to give "I remembers", but a few words in Doc's behalf are more than appropriate. We in today's world, thanks to perhaps over-examination by the various media, have erroneous views of both  politicians and musicians.

Politicians were made necessary by our collective need for government; hence we probably place our welfare too much in their hands. We trumpet them, we idolize and  damn near worship them as we project our material needs on them.

Musicians, though (again, thanks to the media), benefit from a much different form of idolizing: when we see a musician on stage, we are participating in one of several experiences with them. They may be gifting us with catharsis, i.e., their words or music or stage acts somehow manage to relieve our work or family stresses, our teen or adult or sexual angst, so that we go home in some way exorcised of those things.

Or such musicians, and here I'm thinking of the singer-songwriters, give us the sort of experience we might otherwise get from literature or art, in that they give us understanding. 

Others – and these are not few – people such as Yo Yo Ma, Liona Boyd, or my friend Ken Bonfield – ask us to learn the language of tone and rhythm as a way to join them in expressing human experience in that language. Thus, all of these give us emotional, mental, and even spiritual sustenance.

Doc Watson fit none to well in any of these categories. His life of music was one in which he chronicled the American experience as it came to him from tradition and history as bluegrass bled through and became country, from other musicians playing that hard-to-categorize genre called folk,all of which taken together, assayed America as well or better than anything Mark Twain ever wrote. 

We overuse the word hero today, I think, and I believe any ordinary soldier or fireman or policeman or ordinary citizen who has experienced an extraordinary moment, would agree. Doc Watson, however, is a hero in the most real sense: he has held a mirror to us of these United States, reflecting not merely our faults or our virtues, but the totality, the mind-boggling complexity of what we are. For this, we should drop to our knees for a moment and thank him.

Doc Watson

A’ Pilgriming We Will Go

The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer – The General Prologue

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image via cathedral-enterprises.co.uk


I’ve probably grown overly ambitious, but I’ve decided to read the Canterbury Tales and to post on them piecemeal here. Mine is the Penguin Classics version, and it’s written in our modern equivalent of Middle English. This is the poetry of that age, and is written in almost perfect (as near as I can tell at this early point) iambic pentameter, the rhyming scheme in what eventually came to be called doublets, i.e., each succeeding pair of lines ends in a rhyme. There are no stanzas; instead, the text goes on continuously without the breaks we normally see in modern poetry.

This first segment on the Tales sets up the rest: Chaucer, in  his own voice, supposedly, has a dry wit and an acerbic view of his fellow pilgrims. His is part of a group traveling from Southwark to Canterbury. In the Middle Ages, it was a more than common sight to see such groups of pilgrims traveling to the various holy sites, each site supposedly home to relics considered sacred to these early Christians. As they travel, to pass the time, they regale themselves with tales – some possibly true-to-life, other considerably wild.

It doesn’t seem proper to list Chaucer’s fellow pilgrims; each will have the author’s spotlight on him/her as the group travels. So I won’t waste words on that here. From this initial reading, it’s evident that German and French – and to some degree Latin, have made their way into the Middle English tongue. Each section is well annotated, but some expressions and words are far from modern English usage.

 

My rating: 15 of 20 stars

 

 

 

Aliens In War

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image via en.wikipedi.org

 

George Lucas' Red Tails

The Missus and I decided to catch this flick on cable tonight via a four-dollar-off coupon – not that this was the reason we chose to see the movie. We're both fans of George Lucas cinema, and, well, serendipity carried the night.  

If I hadn't known of Lucas' involvement, I would certainly have guessed it; the movie is heavy on flying, pilot camaraderie, patriotic schmaltz, and a little light in the character department. Something like Star Wars guys flying USAAF P-51s. The movie has been panned on many fronts; still, Lucas knows how to appeal to your movie-going viscera. 

For those who have been living under a rock, the movie is about the Tuskeegee Airmen – a group of black WWII pilots, trained to fly in combat – all this in the midst of the pre- and post-WWII worldwide eugenics movement. Of course, these airmen were discriminated against. Of course, they prevailed in their mission to fight for their country. The stuff of all rah rah war movies made in the U.S.

What's significant about this movie on this subject is two-fold:

  • first, it was made with a near-total black cast. 
  • Second, Lucas and his crew seemed to feel no need to make it as a "black" movie. That it was made as a wide-appeal, commercial venture demonstrates Hollywood's realization that there was no need for a "race" movie on this topic, while portraying with social adeptness what it might have been like to fly as black, alienated but dedicated Americans against the Wehrmacht.

This movie, as a social mirror, tells us we've come a long way in the U.S. in ameliorating discrimination, but that the shadows of discrimination remain all too hauntingly with us.

Channeling The Past

I've just finished writing a scene for my medieval historical novel – a scene I'd been dreading. It has to do with a famed debate between two philosopher/thinkers, and nothing much had been written about the debate in history's annals.

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image via pen.org

 

This has come up before – whether in memoir or in a full-tilt novel such as this – and I found I had to resort to what's worked in the past. Rather than try to devise the debate scene's dialogue analytically, based on hours of probably unrewarding research, I allowed my mind to go blank and, well, I just wrote. The validity in this is that the specifics of this ancient debate are said to be stored in the collective unconscious Jung identified and, while I might not get to the details of the debate by working in this manner, I can get to the sense of it – with what few clues I gain from history as a catalyst.

How do I know that I'm not fooling myself? You can never be sure, but the more comfortable I am with what I've written as I go through subsequent edits, the more sure I am that the scene works, and supplements the clues that history gave me.

 

Drowning In Too Many Realities

2012-06

Harper's Magazine – June 2012

Yep. I knew it was just an anomaly. Harper's may have a boring, harum-scarum issue once in a while, but it never lasts. The June 2012 issue is one of those you wait for, its pieces set forth with an almost poetic sensibility. No? Then let me tell you how it impresses me in that way (and I'll just hit the high points):

It seems a set of metaphorical bookends sandwiching a pair of curt, literary broadsides on the derangement of western culture. The issue begins on the left (yes, I mean that metaphorically) with an essay by Barbara Ehrenreich on humanity's history of deifying animals, even during the two millennia of monotheism. Is this to say that animals and humans enjoy some spiritual link? Or is it that we seem to be awash in our human abilities and are seeking solace in the evolutionary past? Ehrenreich doesn't say,but she does seem to ask the question.

Then there's another essay (more of a screed, actually), "Wild Things," by David Samuels, in which he takes major zoos to task for their seemingly benign creation of zoo-scapes imitative of the animals' natural habitats. What's wrong with this, you ask? Samuels seems to feel that this assuages our guilt for destroying the natural habitats we imitate for the animals we hold captive.

And on the right we have the other bookend: a review by Andrew Bacevich of Robert Kagan's book, "The World America Made." Bacevich sees the Pax Americana view of the world as tripe, i.e., that the rationalizations made since WWII of an America spreading its exceptionalism (by definition, how can that be so?) via capitalistic emissaries and backed up by guns have re-created the world in America's image. That this hasn't happened, in fact that these efforts have impoverished the nation and alienated us from the rest of the world, seems fairly clear to all but those like Kagan who, as Bacevich puts it, "traffic in knowingness as opposed to actual knowledge."

And what lies between these bookends? First, a memoir, "My Old Man," by Clancy Martin of his father who, in the throes of a schizophrenic nature, smoked pot, preyed on women (and family) and absolved his sins via Eastern spirituality. And then a short story – "Fun Won," by Karl Taro Greenfeld, that begins as sillily as a college writing class project, in which yet another father bequeaths a pot smoking habit to his kids. But there's a subtlety here – these kids, coming of age in the nineties and deep in a sensory embrace, morph as you turn the page and blink into money- and status-mongers.

So what's behind the June edition's rather obvious editorial posture? I think it's a growing realization by these writers (and Harper's editors) that we've reached a stage of civilization in which we're less and less able to discern reality. When we can't intellectualize this cognitive dissonance, we attempt to strangle it with smoke, blow, and sex. Neil Young once termed this as being victims of our senses, but that's only half of it. Well on our way to surrounding ourselves with a virtual reality in which we can have it any way we like it, we seem bent on drowing what's left of our innate human reality in the equally ephemeral world of materialism, money, and status. This in turn yields Citizens United, the Tea Party, and banking gone bonkers.