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Summer Reading Club: The Master and Margarita

Who wants to read Mikhail Bulgakov’s legendary satire The Master and Margarita? Once again, the Summer Reading Club (we always already have matching satin jackets) is taking on a tome or two. Read the Burgin-O’Connor translation along on this schedule:

Sunday, June 14th, chs. I-IV, pp. 1-45
Sunday the 21th, V-XVI, pp.45-153
Sunday the 28th, big push, XVII-XXVI, pp.154-280
then the last fifty pages, either for Sunday the 5th of July or maybe we get ‘er done before the 4th of July, a natural piece of punctuation for the summer

Open thread below.

June 17, 2020 Posted by | books | | 10 Comments

The Flamethrowers, a reader response

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. I met HJ a little more than eleven years ago, and I mentioned the first weekend we spent together that there was a decent chance when we went out in public that I’d run into people I know. It had already happened once at dinner—a woman I’d met in City Hall was seated at the table next to us—and of course a few hours after I mentioned it, it happened again. A guy named Sam, out with his kids and his parents, no one you know. I live in the second largest city in America, so it was not the safest bet, but I stick to a few neighborhoods, so it wasn’t the biggest gamble either. A few weeks later we were at Ikea—bold move for a fledgling romance—and we’d purchased her a cabinet much larger than her Corolla could handle. I looked around the waiting area and there was my friend Darby (Big Josh knows her) and her husband. They let us put the cabinet in their station wagon, and we offered them a bottle of Irish whiskey when they dropped it off. “I couldn’t,” said Darby. “Not so fast,” said her husband.

A little less than eleven years ago, we went to Italy for my sister’s thirtieth birthday, lodging at a former convent that had been turned into a home for wayward heirloom botanicals, gathered from across the land. Rare pear trees and the like. HJ and I split off after a spell and went to Venice just the two of us. I noticed in Venice that I had developed a nervous habit. I was perpetually looking around for people I knew. There were so many people there, and it seemed likely to me, unconsciously, that I was about to run into someone I knew. But of course, I was far out of my handful of neighborhoods. So I just gave myself a neck ache.

A few nights in, we found a small restaurant near the university neighborhood. We were about to leave when I learned they didn’t take credit cards. HJ stayed back while I found an ATM. We left twenty minutes later than we meant to, but at that exact moment, and not twenty minutes earlier, I heard a very familiar voice coming through the tiny dark street. The voice approached and I called out, “Abe?” It was indeed our, your and my, mutual friend Abe. What a surprise, in the way that something your neck has been expecting can objectively be a surprise. We walked over to a university bar and had Spritzes and he introduced us to the girl from the Guggenheim he was walking here and there, and showed me an art project he’d been working on. He walked all over Venice carrying a GPS device in a recording mode, then he printed out the recorded paths and thus created his own personal map of Venice. We hung out the next day, too, riding around in the sardine cans, looking at the buildings from the canals.

The last time I spoke to our friend Abe, he was living in Dubai, and I’m not sure how he knew to contact me but I put him in touch with a friend’s sister who was in Africa working on energy. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his intentions, but the kind of person who likes to see people he knows also likes to introduce people, and who am I to say that my friend who does energy in Africa shouldn’t meet my friend who wants to do energy business in Africa?  All sorts of schemes make the world go round.

July 27, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | Comments Off on The Flamethrowers, a reader response

Monday Movies Will Get No Satisfaction From Your Death, It’s Our Job


Yoinked from the comments at AUFS, because why not. 

I saw The Hateful Eight as self-critique of Tarantino’s previous pair of movies, which were both alternative history by way of violent fantasies, the twinned Hitler-killings (and accompanying brutalization of Nazis) of Inglourious Basterds and the plantation carnage of Django Unchained.

The establishment of civilization requires that a man be hanged by the law instead of lynched by the mob. This is axiomatic to the Western (not to mention the Orestia). It’s the first scene of Deadwood, and it’s posed by “Oswaldo Mowbray” at Minnie’s.

Meeting after the Civil War on “neutral” ground, the characters are animated by fantasies and experiences that mirror the what-ifs of IB and DU. Marquis’s swath of fiery vengeance and $30,000 “head” makes him a close cousin of Django. And Tarantino doesn’t need to indulge in relativistic both-sides-do-it to show that Mannix sees his daddy’s raids as motivated by violent redemption for history’s losers as well.

The most critical violent fantasy, though, is the one that concludes the first half (coming before intermission in the Roadshow presentation). Marquis traps General Smithers in an inescapable, sexualized, racialized revenge fantasy. He stays on the right side of the law, or at least of custom, by getting the old man to raise his weapon first. But it’s a paper-thin justice.

This is mirrored in the “justice” of Marquis’s and Mannix’s final act — hanging Domergue under color of law rather than shooting her in the heat of revenge. For Domergue, there’s very little difference, and her hanging leaves the floor only slightly less wet with brains, but under the terms set out by John Ruth and explained by Mowbray, it makes all the difference. It’s achieved in the most bald of metaphors for postbellum peace: freedman and raider united to execute justice that, if not blind, is at least not motivated by any of the passions that drove the Civil War.

In the most simultaneously cynical and earnest gesture (up there with Liberty Valance‘s “Print the legend”), Tarantino lets his coalition expire while reading, admiring, and truly basking in Marquis’s fake Lincoln letter. It’s another kind of fantasy altogether: benevolent, paternal, intimate, and audaciously, inspiringly false.

January 5, 2016 Posted by | boredom, film, Monday Movies | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Monday Movies Will Get No Satisfaction From Your Death, It’s Our Job

Code, Language and Corruption

Since Josh brought it up in comments and Pat gestured at it in his “my computer is in too weak a state to write a post but is dandy for purposes of writing a New-Yorker-length comment” post, let’s have a post specifically about C‘s use of codes in the first week’s reading. (I’m sure none of us are so gauche as to require them, but I’ll suggest SPOILER ALERTS for any discussion ranging into the rest of the book.)

I don’t have anything quite so developed as an argument, but I’ll throw out some of the elements I’m tracking. First, a list of codes and cants:

  • Sign language, which Carrefax deprecates in favor of speech (“Are you sure they’re not signing?… You have to make them speak. All the time!” (7)
  • Telegraphy
  • Ciphers in the Times’s personal notices
  • The hand-motions that Widsun and Sophie exchange during the pageant
  • Chemistry
  • Sophie’s wall

The first of these provides a backdrop for the story, but it’s not particularly germane. The second belongs primarily to Carrefax and Serge. The last four are implicated in Sophie’s fate.

Each of these codes is susceptible to corruption, accident, mis- or malignant use; none appears as simply a neutral field for the free play of meaning.  There’s the spycraft that Widsun appears to be recruiting/seducing Sophie into, and the explosion yielded by Sophie and Serge’s experiment. You could also add Serge’s vibrant dyslexia to the pile, a corruption of the written word as its learned: “He keeps switching letters round… He see letters streaming through the air, whole blocks of them, borne on currents occupying a zone beneath the threshold of the comprehensible…” (38). (Mrs. K-sky reports experiencing a similar effect.) Does it seem that language and code as a field for power games and dreadful mistakes will be a running theme?

Some stray thoughts:

“—in the beginning, ladies and gentlemen, was the Word” (14). Carrefax goes onto pronounce that “speech is divine.” I’m not sure what role exactly Carrefax’s exalted logocentrism will play in the development of the above, but McCarty sure unfurls it boldly, and it seems as if he’s inviting us to get the reference and extrapolate from there. Maybe some of you professionals can better pick up what he’s putting down, here.

Josh, you mentioned Proust’s extended visual metaphors in McCarty’s approach to language — anything further to expand on that here? What about the rest of yinz? Pat, did I cover a tenth of what you were going to put in your Unwritten Blog Post?

July 5, 2015 Posted by | C | , | 6 Comments

Book Club

I’ve been a slouch on the first book, but I promise to step it up for Tom McCarty’s C, coming to summer book club at The Weblog soon.

June 27, 2015 Posted by | boredom | 5 Comments

The Kitsch Spectrum

The swiftly dawning realization in the first few pages of The Flame Alphabet that the narrator is about to abandon his child is powerful to the point of verging on kitsch. I had two simultaneous reactions to it.

The first was a straightforward emotional reaction. Reading as a relatively new father, it struck me as unbearably, chokingly sad, triggering the same feeling I get from catastrophizing about my daughter.

The second was in a more familiar mode for me. Reading as a critical reader (or as a jerk, take your pick) it struck me as slightly de trop. Dead babies, man, to steal from Martin Amis. I have a similar feeling about the movie Gravity, although family tragedy makes more native sense in a family horror story than in a space adventure. But there’s still a level on which it works and works hard. (I stopped discounting my sympathetic reaction to Gravity after talking to a friend who had lost a child and admired the movie.)

At the same time, the book is also an extended riff on how annoying teenagers are (with a Jewish girl teen at the center). Take my daughter… please!

June 27, 2015 Posted by | The Flame Alphabet | 4 Comments

Summer Book Club

A few years ago, The Weblog hosted a summer book club to read 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. Pat has volunteered to host the proceedings once again, and a small group of us, including Big Josh* who was here last time decided to read Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet followed by Tom McCarthy’s C. Please join in! We aim to kick things off on June 1st or thereabouts.

*Big Josh and I are really about the same size, but that’s how we told each other apart when we were cob-loggers.

May 17, 2015 Posted by | C, The Flame Alphabet | , , | 3 Comments

Monday Movies’ Best Unseen Movies of 2012

In keeping with past practice, here are my top 2012 movies I haven’t seen and want to:

  • Compliance
  • Les Misérables – please don’t ask how it’s possible that I haven’t seen it. Since Christmas, it’s been hard to invest an outing with the appropriate amount of hysteria.
  • Margaret
  • Take This Waltz
  • This Is 40
  • Your Sister’s Sister

Special consideration:

  • The Master. I reviewed it here, and even after reading Kent Jones’s magnum opus review in Film Comment, I still couldn’t get over the feeling I came away with — that the movie’s circle was too tightly closed around Freddie and Master. But I wish I’d seen the movie Jones did, and I’m very glad to have read his review.

What have you missed? (Here’s the comprehensive list I’m working from — it’s a mix of the Village Voice ballot and the Oscar reminder.)

January 7, 2013 Posted by | Monday Movies | 2 Comments

Monday Movies Is a Little More Used to Americans Than He Is

Owing to our holiday schedule, this week’s Monday Movies appears on Saturday instead. Who knows, maybe we’ll get another one in on Monday.

Have you seen Django Unchained yet? What did you think?

Quentin Tarantino’s films are such excesses of signifying that I get headachey trying to write anything comprehensive about what’s becoming known as his slavery revenge epic (not entirely accurately, for reasons I’ll get to). So I’ll throw out a couple of thoughts I had and hope that by now some of you will have enjoyed it and will throw in.

If you haven’t, I’m going to spoil away below the fold. You may prefer to prime your Tarantino pumps with this seemingly unending, possibly ouroborean, Kotsko-Canavan-et-al Twitter battle royale on the subject of Tarantino and revenge. I wrote a scattered summary of my thoughts on Tarantino before IB came out, and wrote about the use of language in its first scene here (with the return of polyglot performer Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz, it remains relevant). AUFS discussed IB here, in many terms that pertain to Django.

Continue reading

December 29, 2012 Posted by | Monday Movies | , , , | 1 Comment

Who Were Monday Movies?

Holy Motors — Begin in a dream (at least, call it a dream) of pushing through a forest wall into the balcony of a movie theater; a child, or a dog, walks on the red-carpeted aisle below. The audience pays no attention. A girl watches through a window.

“Goodbye, Papa!” You are stout and grey, and you walk down the driveway of a compound where men stand on the rooftops. “Good morning, Monsieur Oscar,” says the driver of your limo, an elegant, tall blonde d’un certain age. So that is your name.

There are nine appointments today. In the limo, you dress for the first one, and emerge as a hunchbacked gypsy woman with a cane and a cup. You walk away from the limo and find yourself on a bridge, where you panhandle, muttering aloud — or maybe to yourself? No one stops. No one even sees.

Back in the car, you strip it all away. You are no longer the gypsy woman–what’s more, you are no longer stout or grey, but wiry and shaven bald. For each of your appointments, you will don prosthetics, clothes, years, emotions. You will commit acts of violence, some savage, some skilled, some simply by dint of parenting, some by way of motion capture. You will murder; you will die. You will repeat your lines.

It will emerge that you are performing, seemingly for cameras smaller than the eye can see. This idea of a total theater is complicated by some of its impossible effects: how is it that you can confront a man who resembles you entirely? Your patron appears in the limo, neither exiting nor entering. He suggests your heart isn’t in it.

Your heart… by some chance, your limo bangs into another performer’s. The two of you steal what appears to be a genuine moment — itself an aria sung from a balcony — before she gives a performance that appears to be her last.

Is this a world of total surveillance? Is it our own? Is the self a prison which only your costly exertions can obliterate? Is the home you start in and the different one you end in an impossible odyssey, a parody of permanence in a Heraclitean river of a life?


Merry Christmas, Weblog! Have some additional cheer.

December 24, 2012 Posted by | Monday Movies | , | 1 Comment