On being too late

1 09 2011


The Hercules of Hades is able to speak of his bravery. But he esteems it a small thing now that he has passed to a region more sacred and has arrived in the intelligible realm; he is now endowed with a strength more than Herculean for those battles which are the battles of the sages.

-Plotinus, The Enneads

Virtus in astra tendit, in mortem timor
Praesens ab astris, mater, Alcides cano.
Poenas cruentus iam tibi Eurytheus dabit:
Curru superbum vecta trancendes caput.
Me iam decet subire coelestem plagam:
Inferna vici rursus Alcides loca.

(Valour fares starward, fear, to the realm of death. In living presence, mother, from the stars Alcides speaks; soon shall bloody Eurystheus make thee full recompense; o’er his proud head shalt thou in triumph ride. But now ‘tis meet that I pass to the realm above; Alcides once again has conquered hell.)

-Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus

Some Pérotin

5 08 2011

Tribute to Slavoj Zizek

4 08 2011

My current relationship with the thought of Slavoj Zizek is complicated. A few months ago, I would have been far more enthusiastic about him than I am now. After saturating myself with his heavy accented English lectures, as well as reading many of his books, I have concluded, along with many others, that he is the intellectual clown of the petit-bourgeois left. That’s not to say that I don’t find much of what he writes useful or even compelling. I think he engages popular culture far more effectively than any other voice on the left. More “orthodox” Marxists have a much more ossified view of the world, as if we are still trapped in 1968, 1917, or even worse, 1848. Zizek by no means has this problem. While I may not be able to take his views on Kung Fu Panda seriously, I can at least admire the audacity of someone who tries to draw theory out of something so ridiculous and banal.

All the same, I think his books and various engagements with aspects of modern culture are obscurantist and border on intellectual titillation. At times, his random engagements with popular culture and modern capitalism seem to be akin to a dope addict trying to kick his addiction by describing what a particular high feels like. I know that I am brainwashed by ideology, and am often most brainwashed when I try to rid myself of ideology. I also know that capitalism has a lot to do with it, and even I share his pessimism regarding being able to change all of this. At the same time, when you have a young family, and children facing a bleak future at least on the societal level, you cannot afford such pessimism. One could argue that pessimism is just realism with the rose-colored glasses taken off, but one could also argue that being a pessimist and choosing to have children is the worst barbarism of all. Hope, like reason, is something that separates us from beasts and monsters.
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Who knows?

3 08 2011

mountains- hollister

Who knows what is going on on the other side of each hour?

How many times the sunrise was
there, behind a mountain!

How many times the brilliant cloud piling up far off
was already a golden body full of thunder!

This rose was poison.

That sword gave life.

I was thinking of a flowery meadow
at the end of a road,
and found myself in the slough.

I was thinking of the greatness of what was human,
and found myself in the divine.

-Juan Ramón Jiménez, as translated by Robert Bly

found on this site

image found on this site

A funny anecdote

1 08 2011

I heard this before, but am glad I found confirmation from another source:

Towards the end of the “making of …” featurette [for Dr. Zhivago], Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin’s daugher) recalls that during filming late one night (about 3:00 am) the script called for a crowd of local Spanish extras to march through the streets of “Moscow” (near Madrid) waving huge red communist banners and singing the Communist “Internationale.” Ms Chaplin said that, much to the crew’s surprise, the Spanish extras all seemed to know the song. As well, they sang it with particular enthusiasm — so much so that the police-state police showed up to “monitor” the proceedings. The really amusing part, though, came when Ms Chaplin related how local Spanish villagers, roused from their sleep by the boisterous singing of the Internationale, began popping open wine bottles in celebration. It seems they thought that the joyful singing meant that Franco must have died.


Some Golijov

29 07 2011

From The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind

La nación clandestina

27 07 2011

The masterpiece of Bolivian filmmaker, Jorge Sanjinés. In this film, modernity and the traditional ways of the Aymara Indians in Bolivia clash and intermingle, creating a film that, while centered around one Aymara exile in La Paz, has as its real protagonist the Aymara people themselves. Sanjinés says that his film sought to deconstruct the idea of the modern narrative centering around the personal drama of one man. His film is rather about how one man has to overcome himself in order to re-integrate into the being of the community. In this case, his re-entrance into the community is only possible through a ritual in which he dances himself to death. In his walk back to the village, one sees the turmoil emerging all around him, and how his fate is indeed the fate of the entire, hidden nation. This film is about another, very different reaction towards modernity than the one we are accustomed to seeing, and the film can be found in its entirety on Youtube and in other places around the Net.

Many would also be interested in another Sanjinés film called Yawar Malku or Blood of the Condor, which is about forced sterilizations by Americans in an Aymara village. It basically ends (spoiler alert) by the indigeous people castrating the Americans in return (it is not shown, but the viewer well knows what happens). The feel-good, pro-life film of the year if you ask me.

On forgetting

26 07 2011

Hasta en tu modo
de olvidar hay
algo bello.

Creía yo que todo
olvido era sombra;
pero tu olvido es
luz, se siente
como una viva luz…

¡Tu olvido es
la alborada borrando
las estrellas!…

-Dulce María Loynaz

(Even in your way
of forgetting there is
something beautiful.

I used to believe that all
forgetting was shadow;
but your forgetting is
light, it feels
like a living light…

Your forgetting is
the dawn erasing
the stars!…)

Glass for the weekend

22 07 2011

In the Shadow of the Stars

20 07 2011

This was of course the film that won the Best Documentary Oscar in 1991, and it is a refreshing blast from the past compared to the too-cool-for-school style of the post-Michael Moore world. The film in a nutshell is the Chorus Line for opera singers, documenting the struggles, joys, and triumphs of those who sing in the chorus of the San Francisco Opera. While it is at times evident that they are afflicted by the green devil of envy and would of course prefer to sing the solos of the repertory that bring down the house, all the same, the people interviewed seemed well adjusted and thankful that they can make a living doing what they love.

What was most revealing to me was a rather whimsical scene of one such singer driving a commercial truck for his “day job”. He said that he learned both his love for opera and his truck driving from his father, who was evidently a great fan of classical music. Such an anecdote from the early 1990’s was a painful reminder concerning how far the working class has fallen in terms of a certain criterion of cultural literacy. In the past, it was perhaps not so unusual for a truck driver (probably unionized) to be an aficionado of the high arts, such as opera. This refutes the idea that the plebs must necessarily love what is plebian: what is so natural for a regular person to love Elvis compared to Verdi: working people crooned both at different times in history while doing their menial tasks? Or what makes Mozart less popular than Rick Ross other than the marketing? Doesn’t our economic system have to create cultural crap just to stay afloat? There is nothing natural about the demand for such cultural dreck: it is manufactured like everything else.


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