Friday, November 18, 2011

Koyaanisqatsi of the Will

I'm just now in the midst of screening Koyaanisqatsi for my friend, the ethno-musicologist's class at Luther. It's a long time since I've seen it on a big screen and with a great sound system. During the opening """Nature""" part, I felt very similar to when I watch Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will. As if I am receiving a pre-battle pep-talk piped directly to parts of the mind, bypassing the symbolic realm of language. When the film shifts to the obviously very bad bad bad awful horrible machines and people and cities, I got so bored, I opened up this blog post. The ideology of bad machine, people, and cities is not compelling like the opening segments.

All of which gets me thinking yet again of the book chapter I recently resubmitted called "Ecocinema and Ideology: Do Ecocritics Dream of a Clockwork Green?"

A chapter I open with the following epigraph:

‘What exactly is it, sir, that you’re going to do?’

‘Oh,’ said Dr Branom, his cold stetho going all down my back, ‘it’s quite simple, really. We just show you some films.’

‘Films?’ I said. I could hardly believe my ookos, brothers, as you may well understand. ‘You mean,’ I said, ‘it will be just like going to the pictures?’

‘They’ll be special films,’ said Dr Branom. ‘Very special films.’

---A Clockwork Orange

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Second-hand fantasies on offer

I'd have some serious reservations about taking a used dream-catcher left out in the recycling area. Do I really want the residues of dream-desire fantasies of someone else? Especially the variety so dark that the previous owner used this dream-catcher as a prophylactic against them? It would feel like buying intimate apparel at the Goodwill.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Beginnings: the sky

Yesterday was Edward Said's birthday, and I was thinking about how much I admire his first book, Beginnings. I consistently take my own obsession with the opening frames of a text into the classroom.

Today I'm just cracking open Rebecca Harding Davis's "Life in the Iron Mills" to review it for next week's American Lit to 1860 class. And I was instantly struck by its opening, particularly in relation to the beginning of William Gibson's Neuromancer.

Davis: "A cloudy day: do you know what that is in a town of iron-works? The sky sank down before dawn, muddy, flat, immovable."

Gibson: "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

Double terrible ambiance!

Chack-a Chack-a Thoreau!

Hanging out with my 10-month old daughter Sofia and other little kids lately in play-rich environments like parks, I have been struck by the prevalence of trains as an object of deep fascination for them. Noticing that primed me to attend even more to the trains and railroads of the select chapters of Walden that I've been re-reading and reviewing for this week's American Lit to 1860 classes. What keeps Thoreau so fresh for me is the polycoding of his machines, including trains, and the difficulty in reading whether this is part of his sprawling metaphoricity and openness to diversity of thought or whether it is the mechanical unconscious that no one escapes since the 19th century.

For example, the railroad runs in most of Chapter 2 "Where I Lived and What I Lived For" as an object signifying a culture of haste and complexity in compounding the things and duties of our lives. "If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay at home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us."

But, hold on, Thoreau, because as you wrap up the chapter, your most pointed prescription of living deliberately gets articulated in railroad metaphor: "Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on the rails."

Is Thoreau at play in this last bit? Is he exemplifying how we might take his own prescription, but only in the form of railroad-style efficiency-think? I'm not sure, and I always read his ledger pages in Chapter 1 this way too: do we take them at surface value, after all he uses them as evidence to warrant his claim of being the most economically successful farmer in Concord; or, do we read this as a sly indictment of those who would read him and still desire this sort of statistical no-waste ideology?

This is why I am buying a copy of The Brave Little Toaster for Sofia!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thoreauly Theoretical

In Monday's American Literature to 1860 class, we worked with Emerson's Nature and "The American Scholar." Tomorrow we are reading chapters from Thoreau's Walden. Reviewing this text is one of the great pleasures of teaching an early American survey because Thoreau seems fresh every time I crack open his pages.

Here's the gem that caught my eye during last night's review:

"With thinking we may be beside ourselves in a sane sense. By a conscious effort of the mind we can stand aloof from actions and their consequences; and all things, good and bad, go by us like a torrent. We are not wholly involved in Nature. I may be either the drift-wood in the stream, or Indra in the sky looking down on it. I may be affected by a theatrical exhibition; on the other hand, I may not be affected by an actual event which appears to concern me much more. I only know myself as a human entity; the scene, so to speak, of thoughts and affections; and am sensible of a certain doubleness by which I can stand as remote from myself as from another."

Not only does Thoreau put his finger precisely on the eco-acupressure point of doubled points of view all in one as constitutive of "Nature," but he strikingly articulates the self as a scene of weird multiplicity. It reads like a D & G scene to use Thoreau's diction.

Used rubbers in front of Preus Library

Lettermanian Coggery

Next to the Thanksgiving pie-trances that connect David Letterman to his mother, my favorite Lettermanian bit is the annual Halloween costume sketch. The first one out this year was a double whammy for me: Her name is Sofia (same as my daughter) and she's covered in moving cogwheels.