“Our lives are filled with performances that have been so woven into our daily routine that the artificial and performative aspect has slipped into invisibility. PowerPoint presentations are a kind of theater, a kind of augmented stand-up. Too often it’s a boring and tedious genre, and audiences are subjected to the bad as well as the good. Failing to acknowledge that these are performances is to assume that anyone could and should be able to do it. You wouldn’t expect anyone who can simply sing to get up on stage, so why expect everyone with a laptop to be competent in this new theatrical form? Performers try harder.”—David Byrne, How Music Works
“It still feels wrong to travel, to cover the eight hundred miles to my family in that two-hour plane ride, as if the land beneath me—between us—didn’t matter. As if the terrain weren’t an obstacle, weren’t even real, my plane window a TV screen. In a plane, we gloss over the landscape like aloof gods who don’t even believe in the existence of their own creations.”—Jill Sisson Quinn, “The Myth of Home,” Ecotone 15 (2013)
“I noticed it first in class," he said. "You say ‘this’ instead of ‘that’; ‘this cream,’ not ‘that cream.’ The line people draw between the things they consider *this* and the things they consider *that* is the perimeter of their sphere of intimacy. You see? Everything inside is *this*; everything inside is close, is intimate. Since you pointed at the cream and it is farther from you than I am, ‘this’ suggests that I am among the things you consider close to you. I’m flattered," he said, and handed me the creamer, which was, like him, sweating. What an idea — that with a few words you could catch another person in a little grammatical clutch, arrange the objects of the world such that they bordered the two of you.”—Rebecca Lee, “The Banks of the Vistula.”
“Of course," he explained with a weary smile, "as long as you can tot up your daily bag in the trenches it’s a sort of satisfaction—though I don’t quite know why; anyhow, you’re so dead-beat at night that no dreams come. But lying here staring at the ceiling one goes through the whole business once an hour, at the least: the attack, the slaughter, the ruins … and worse … Haven’t I seen and heard things enough on *this* side to know what’s been happening on the other? Don’t try to sugar the dose. I *like* it bitter.”—Edith Wharton, “Coming Home.”
“This is the curious abyss that divides the closest kin, that the tender curiosity appropriate to lovers is inappropriate, here, where the bond is involuntary, so that the most important things stay undiscovered.”—Angela Carter, “Sugar Daddy.”
I wasn’t trying to play beautiful music, I was confronting my audience with the awful, visceral sound of what we all knew was the single absolute of our frail existence—one day an aeroplane would carry the bomb that would destroy us all in a flash. It could happen at any time…
On stage I stood on the tips of my toes, arms outstretched, swooping like a plane. As I raised the stuttering guitar above my head, I felt I was holding up the bloodied standard of endless centuries of mindless war. Explosions. Trenches. Bodies. The eerie screaming of the wind. I had made my choice, for now. It would be music.
“Somewhere right around here, Luther remembered, if you went farther up the path behind the picnic tables, you would stumble across a pyramid of built-up stones left behind by some crazy old beard-faced poet back when Oakland was nothing but a slough and a stables and a cowboy hotel. In school they came here on field trips, checking out the poet’s little white farmhouse, a big lumpy statue of him riding on a Mongoloid-looking horse. A pyramid of stone and, farther back, a stone platform the man had built, intending it to be used for his funeral pyre. Out here in the hot sun, day after day, the man piling up rocks like lines in one of his boring poems. Dreaming, the whole time he was stacking those rocks, about how all those olden-time gangsters of Oakland, those whoring, robbing, land-grabbing Indian killers, opium addicts and loot seekers down there in the flatlands, how some fine night they were going to look up here at this green slope and marvel at the spectacle of a burning poet. Nothing ever came of that plan, far as Luther could recall. But then that was the general tendency of plans.”—Michael Chabon, Telegraph Avenue
“He is impulsive and has read Neruda since he was thirteen. Something like that warps you, inevitably. Here, we don’t read poetry and we are not romantic. It makes things easier for everybody involved.”—Daniel Alarcon, “Nancy.”
“A couple of times I’ve watched that documentary on Woodstock that Scorsese edited. Behind all the fluff that makes you cringe, there were these shots of three quarters of a million people sitting there on their tarps in the mud and whatever. There’s not a single cell phone being held up. There’s not one person taking a selfie. No one’s streaming Richie Havens playing “Freedom.” They’re just there. They’re there because they have to be because the technology hasn’t been invented, obviously. But at the same time, I can’t help but think you couldn’t have that moment or any number of moments again, because we’d be 20 percent there and 80 percent somewhere else.”—Mark Slouka, interviewed by Jill Owens for Powells.com
“In 2000 [George] Kuh and his staff [at Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Planning and Research] launched what was dubbed the National Survey of Student Engagement. Research indicated that “engagement” could be reliably measured by surveying students themselves. So instead of being sent to college presidents, provosts, and admissions offices, NSSE is distributed to students. Part of the survey is devoted simply to finding out how often students perform certain tasks. NSSE asks how often students write papers and how long those papers are, so the answers reflect not only the overall amount that students are writing but also whether teachers at a school tend to assign one big paper at the end of a course or a series of shorter papers spread throughout the semester. It asks students how often they talk with faculty members inside and outside of class, and about what (grades? assignments? career plans?). And, yes, it asks how often students read books—not only for class but also “for personal enjoyment or academic enrichment.”—
Nicholas Confessore, “What Makes a College Good?”, The Atlantic, November 2003.
Compare and contrast with Southern Utah University, where the Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Science “suggested” that I raise the overall grades of students in my freshman composition courses, and caved under the threat made by a student who failed the course to enlist her lawyer father in suing the university for a passing grade. The English Department of SUU includes in its faculty a poetry professor who achieved tenure with a self-published chapbook cited as a “publication” (and whose actual published work largely appears in church magazines), a former chair who has published bigoted denunciations of homosexuals and gay marriage in right-wing journals (This same chair accused me of telling my students that all of my colleagues in the department were “addicted to pornography,” a story he heard at his church.), and a tenure-track professor who assigns dioramas as final projects in upper-level literature courses. The motto of SUU, perhaps coincidentally, is “Learning Lives Forever.”
“It was October, the most beautiful month of the year, and even in the city tonight, and under a light rain, you could smell the burning—leaves, grass, the earth, everything golden burning up, surrendering before winter arrives.”—Rebecca Lee, “Bobcat.”
And what does the world see in this video? Where does the YouTube story begin? The world sees a black prisoner lying face-down, inert, helpless, racked with pain, struggling just to take the next breath, moaning in a way *urrrrrrrunh* no human being ever moaned before, under arrest at the mercy of two Cuban cops. One of them is mounted on the prisoner’s back, flashing a cruel thirty-two-tooth grin as he delights in the prospect of breaking his prisoner’s very neck with a full nelson. The other one is crouched barely two feet from him, ready to blow his brains out with a .44-caliber revolver. Both of them are humiliating their black prisoner, mocking his manhood, calling him a subhuman moron. Is there no limit to how abusive these two Cuban cops are willing to be toward a black man who, so far as the viewer knows, has done nothing? … And that is the way the YouTube version *begins* … and, very likely, ends.
No indication whatsoever of the life-or-death crisis that precipitated this vile “abuse,” not so much as a hint that this put-upon black man is in fact a powerful 250-pound young crack house thug, nothing to make it at all credible that he might have touched off the whole thing by wrapping his huge hands around the Sergeant’s neck, that he was within one second of murdering him by crushing his windpipe, that his life was saved only by the immediate reaction of Officer Camacho, who threw himself onto the brute’s back and, weighing only 160 pounds, clamped a couple of wrestling holds onto 275 pounds of crack house thug and rolled in the dirt and the dirtballs with him until the brute became utterly depleted in breath, power, willpower, heart, and manhood … and gave up … like a pussy. How could any man pretend not to realize that, faced with death, even a cop experiences an adrenal rush immensely more powerful than all chains of polite conversation and immediately seeks to smother his would-be killer with whatever vile revulsion comes surging up his brain stem from the deepest, darkest, most twisted bowels of hatred? How could any man, even the mildest and most sedentary, fail to understand?!
”—Tom Wolfe, Back to Blood. Set in Florida, no less.
“White supremacy has taught him that all people of color are threats irrespective of their behavior. Capitalism has taught him that, at all costs, his property can and must be protected. Patriarchy has taught him that his masculinity has to be proved by the willingness to conquer fear through aggression; that it would be unmanly to ask questions before taking action. Mass media then brings us the news of this in a newspeak manner that sounds almost jocular and celebratory, as though no tragedy has happened, as though the sacrifice of a young life was necessary to uphold property values and white patriarchal honor. Viewers are encouraged to feel sympathy for the white male home owner who made a mistake. The fact that this mistake led to the violent death of an innocent young man does not register; the narrative is worded in a manner that encourages viewers to identify with the one who made the mistake by doing what we are led to feel we might all do to “protect our property at all costs from any sense of perceived threat.” This is what the worship of death looks like.”—bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions, 2001.
“Just ‘cos I’m 40 doesn’t mean my life’s over. Fuck that. I like to go to the pub with my mates and have a drink, and sometimes you might have too many. Bring it on! I’m not going to sit at home watching ‘Midsomer Murders.’ Although I do like that programme.”—Liam Gallagher, interviewed by Pat Gilbert for Mojo, July 2013.
“No studio had been shrewder than Fox at working the Academy; using the large portion of the voting membership that it employed, the studio had muscled its way to Best Picture nominations for one borderline-or-worse movie after another, from “The Longest Day” to “Cleopatra” to “The Sand Pebbles.” The studio had no choice but to try again. In January and February , Fox booked sixteen straight nights of free “Doctor Dolittle” screenings at its theater on the lot, and promised dinner and champagne to any voter who showed up.”—
Mark Harris, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood.
Doctor Dolittle received nine nominations, including one for Best Picture.
You stand there, braced. Cloud shadows race over the buff rock stacks as a projected film, casting a queasy, mottled ground rash. The air hisses and it is no local breeze but the great harsh sweep of wind from the turning of the earth. The wild country – indigo jags of mountain, grassy plain everlasting, tumbled stones like falling cities, the flaring roll of sky – provokes a spiritual shudder. It is like a deep note that cannot be heard but is felt, it is like a claw in the gut.
Dangerous and indifferent ground: against its fixed mass the tragedies of people count for nothing although the signs of misadventure are everywhere. No past slaughter nor cruelty, no accident nor murder that occurs on the little ranches or at the isolate crossroads with their bare populations of three or seventeen, or in the reckless trailer courts of mining towns delays the flood of morning light. Fences, cattle, roads, refineries, mines, gravel pits, traffic lights, grafitti’d celebration of athletic victory on bridge overpass, crust of blood on the Wal-Mart loading dock, the sun-faded wreaths of plastic flowers marking death on the highway are ephemeral. Other cultures have camped here a while and disappeared. Only earth and sky matter. Only the endlessly repeated flood of morning light. You begin to see that God does not owe us much beyond that.
”—Annie Proulx, “People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water.”
“The fact that a gay guy painted the Sistine ceiling is not nearly as dumbfounding as the papacy’s protection of pederasts in spite of their official attitude toward such “objectionable” practices—one of which ought to be the ceiling itself, for if anything is unnatural, for them, genius is.”—William H. Gass, “The Literary Miracle,” acceptance speech for the 2007 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism.
“At night I feel her panting in her sleep. Her paws twitter as she runs toward or away from an image in her dream. Sometimes she wakes me up with her quiet dream-yelp and I watch her ride out the nightmare and break free of it on her own. She is always confused when she first wakes up. As she reenters the world, the light in her eyes is dull and demented. She sniffs the bed, gets a drink of water, and shakes it off. When she returns to the bed, she brings her nose close to my mouth and sniffs the particular fragrance of my breath. Okay, she decides, it’s *you*. Satisfied, she turns around and curls up in my arms, pushing herself against my body so that every inch of her spine is touching me. She licks my hands and returns to the even breath of sleep. I don’t need to know what she dreams of. It is what everyone dreams of: being helpless, being chased, losing a loved one, getting lost. Relics of her traumatic past mingle with common details of the present day—squirrels and broomsticks, her mother and me.”—Domenica Ruta, With or Without You.
“I don’t remember many of the details now. But that can happen to any memory, toxic or not. If you can remember anything, it’s already wrong. The image or event has changed, just as you have—minutely, chemically, through the passage of time between then and now. Something happens to you, and then it’s gone. It becomes a memory that becomes shrapnel. Shards of experience still hot with life singe the brain wherever they happen to get embedded. Sometimes I swear I can feel the precise location of my memories like warm, tingling splinters under my scalp. Pictures with no sound, feelings with no pictures, the lost and found, mostly lost.”—Domenica Ruta, With or Without You.
“[Elvis] was the only male performer I have ever seen to whom I responded sexually; it wasn’t real arousal, rather an erection of the heart. When I looked at him I went mad with desire and envy and worship and self-projection. I mean, Mick Jagger, whom I saw as far back as 1964 and twice in ‘65, never even came close.”—Lester Bangs, “Where Were You When Elvis Died?”, The Village Voice, 29 August 1977.
A student asked me to list my favorite movies of all time. I ended up making a list of movies I will watch anytime and a list of movies I think everyone should see in their lifetime. Here is the first list, in no particular order (an asterisk indicates a movie that invariably evokes tears):
Close Encounters of the Third Kind* The Empire Strikes Back The Darjeeling Limited* Henry V (Kenneth Branagh version)* Chinatown Apollo 13* The Right Stuff* 2001: A Space Odyssey*
There are probably others, but these are the first that came to mind.
“American history reveals that periods of fundamental reform are typically triggered by one or more of the following: a major war; a large-scale shift from one industrial era to another; extreme levels of economic inequality; a dramatic change in the composition of the political parties. On the rare occasions when these forces coincide, they fundamentally transform society. That is what happened when Reconstruction coincided with the dawn of the first industrial revolution; it is also what happened when the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression coincided with the beginning of the second industrial revolution. All the requisite ingredients for change are now coming together again, at the onset of the post-industrial age. If patterns hold, our nation’s next major reinvention cannot be far away.”—Ted Halstead, “The American Paradox,” The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2003.
“I don’t have any problem with altering the human form. We do it all the time. It is only our Judeo-Christian conservatism that makes us think this is wrong. Who here doesn’t try to send their children to the best schools, in the hopes of altering them? Who here objects to a Palm Pilot, a thing we clasp to our bodies, with which we receive rapid electronic signals? Who here doesn’t surround themselves with a metal shell and travel at death-defying speeds? We have always altered ourselves, for beauty or for power, and so long as we are not causing harm what makes us think we should stop?”—Dr. Joe Rosen, plastic surgeon at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, qtd. in Lauren Slater, “Dr. Daedalus: A Radical Plastic Surgeon Wants to Give You Wings,” Harper’s Magazine, July 2001.