Ana Lily Amirpour, ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ (2015): Redacted Facebook rant

It’s all surface. Every shot is pure style, but not in a good way. It’s got the logic of a music video: simply an excuse for letting cool images float around. Yes, you can talk about that kind of language being interesting, going back to Un Chien Andalou, etc., and for sure cinema is about making dream-like spaces you can float in. But it’s impossible to connect to the images Amirpour creates at all – it’s like there’s a barrier of self-conscious coolness around them, a kind of Leidenfrost effect generated by the density of artschool posturing. It’s the kind of coolness you find in advertising. Lots of adverts are way more cinematographically complex than the programmes they’re inserted into – but at the same time, they’re instrumentalizing that imagery purely to make an object desirable, so they’re uniform (like pornography is uniform). Adverts look like filmschool graduates want an excuse to indulge their snazzy editing and trickshot skills. This is 100 minutes of that: a cinematography showreel, not a film.

Now, I love gorgeous cinematography, formalist films, extreme stylization, etc. Conservative narrative cinema often bores me. Film is the only medium that has only ever been essentially modernist. To see people try and reduce it back to a sedate form of realism betrays everything interesting about it. So when it comes to film, I’m heavily invested in technique. But Fellini or Antonioni or someone intoxicates you with their images and at the same time has something going on beneath them. They’re like a good bottle of wine after a hearty dinner. This is a bucket of WKD on an empty stomach. Literally every shot irritated me. There’s not a single one that gets beyond collage. It’s the Tarantino spirit – a kid playing with his toys – yet lacking his dialogue or occasional charm. The general atmosphere is No Wave / Jarmusch, but with the worst kind of hipster pretentiousness instead of the grit.

Fans queue for a private screening in Williamsburg.

The film’s mixture of cultures is actually pure US. Amirpour grew up in California and exploits her cultural background for hipster cred. Just like Wes Anderson sticks ‘Champs-Elysées’ at the end of his tiresome Oriental flick, she’s thrown some Persian elements into the mix because it’s cooler that way. That’s really as far as it goes. As with Anderson, the result isn’t any kind of interesting disorientation, just more insubstantial collage. However, I don’t think Anderson gives the impression he’s doing more than cream-puff cinema. That’s what makes him tolerable to me. Whereas this film isn’t about enchanting and entertaining – the kind of naive magic after which Anderson strives. It’s about coolness, about posture. In short, it’s self-regarding wank. She’s reified her parents’ culture, like she’s reified everything else. Amirpour’s Midas-touch produces a hodgepodge of knickknacks slung into an aquarium.

Ultimately, I think the film shows how you can’t really be an aesthete if you’re just a postmodernist. Flaubert’s “livre sur rien” is beautiful and substantial because he understands how irony and citation and subversion actually interlock with life. Pynchon at his best does the same. Or Agnès Varda. They are never just assembling surfaces. And I think for them, as for all true aesthetes, the uselessness of art is a kind of humanistic life-affirmation. This film just tells you how great it is to be cool, not human.

Watch it if you want a toxicology report on our times, preferably via bittorrent.

Posted in Ana Lily Amirpour, bullshit, criticism, film, pointless rants, postmodernism, reviews, Uncategorized, Wes Anderson | Leave a comment

Daphne

Pursuit and flight are equal, or at least equal in danger. Pursuit has foundered many, and many more have fled themselves completely. Even a god was lost among us.

Daphne’s heels drummed the forest floor. If it wasn’t Cupid who spurred her on, she at least felt an arrow’s sting and quickened her pace. She skipped the roots where Apollo fell. Some say, of course, he was held back, but that resignation was quite his own when, panting, he drew himself up from dead leaves to watch her, a tiny white fleck, float deeper into the grove. The chase began when she was lost to his sight.

Alone, Apollo’s search inspires everything. Daphne comes to him in every woodland sound, she breathes from every tree. Lost for good, she is now everywhere. And so he will climb, sometimes, to lie in her arms, or preen her tresses, or curl his length about her trunk. He tends the forest as a lover, diligent and maniacal. When the arch of a root discloses her foot Apollo throws himself on it with kisses. His lips taste bitter earth and he lies in ecstasy.

Did Daphne transform? For Apollo, there is no question. Yet still she is itinerant. The boughs of yesterday’s embrace today are cold. That knot, in which he saw her face, is now not even a heart. From birch to beech to laurel, Daphne darts, and the god, as best he can, stays in pursuit. He crouches, circumspect, then resumes his dash. He gropes within the bushes. He smells her perfume in a bunch of berries. Every glance reveals a promise.

Virgin always, Daphne watches him. No man treads this forest. If, by whatever errancy, they did, then never would they find a god. Only Daphne knows Apollo now. His bow forgotten, he slinks among the trunks. A moss has taken root upon his back, his lips are perished by the bark’s abrasions. From her quiet vantage, Daphne blooms. Who knows with what emotion she surveys Apollo’s fate: to crawl, doubtfully, between the laurels, silent as the wood from which he is made?

(Chicago, June 2013)

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Christmas Fugue

I spent Christmas Eve writing a silly fugue. Season’s greetings to you all!

(Subsequently edited to remove as many errors in the counterpoint as possible. The augmented/inverted canon at the end will never “really” work as it throws up too many second inversions and hidden fifths, etc., so I just left it as it is. Otherwise I think I removed most problems besides a couple of unresolved sevenths and incorrect leading tone movements. 侘寂.)

Posted in composing, counterpoint, flotsam/jetsam, fugue, music, scribblings | 1 Comment

Lichtgrenze (Berlin, November 2014)

The Ballonaktion was at its core a symbol of historical forgetting. The Wall was literally made lighter than air. It wasn’t a barrier to be overcome with sledgehammers and bulldozers, but a pure signifier, lashed to reality by the slenderest of threads. The Lichtgrenze was really a kind of photograph – a light-drawing – of the wall. Like a photograph, it was an image constructed with an apparatus fitting it to a particular narrative. And like a photograph, its fate was to be detached from the world, to be the index of an absence. Yet this detachment did not occur when the balloons were released. It was there from the start. The world either side of the Lichtgrenze assumed an air of photographic reality, no different from the screens of a thousand smartphones. It was built in a world of images whose fate long stands settled.

When the Ballonaktion saw the Lichtgrenze ascend to heaven, it left not rubble. Yet its light and lightness had their own physicality: freedom as inevitable as the natural laws of buoyancy. The release of the balloons celebrated an acceptance of fate, not a struggle to direct it. As lightly as the Lichtgrenze appeared, it was gone: the ultimate vanishing act, memorialized in the JPEGs of the dispersing crowd. Life went on, sure of itself, and festive in its certainty. History went on too. But last night it was swept away like a screensaver.

All that is solid melts into air.

Posted in Berlin, cultural memory, dialectical images, end of history, flotsam/jetsam, Fukuyama, scribblings | Leave a comment

Translation: Montale, ‘La primavera hitleriana’

La primavera hitleriana

                Né quella ch’a veder lo sol si gira…
                — Dante (?) a Giovanni Quirini

Folta la nuvola bianca delle falene impazzite
turbina intorno agli scialbi fanali e sulle spallette,
stende a terra una coltre su cui scricchia
come su zucchero il piede; l’estate imminente sprigiona
ora il gelo notturno che capiva
nelle cave segrete della stagione morta,
negli orti che da Maiano scavalcano a questi renai.

Da poco sul corso è passato a volo un messo infernale
tra un alalà di scherani, un golfo mistico acceso
e pavesato di croci a uncino l’ha preso e inghiottito,
si sono chiuse le vetrine, povere
e inoffensive benché armate anch’esse
di cannoni e giocattoli di guerra,
ha sprangato il beccaio che infiorava
di bacche il muso dei capretti uccisi,
la sagra dei miti carnefici che ancora ignorano il sangue
s’è tramutata in un sozzo trescone d’ali schiantate,
di larve sulle golene, e l’acqua seguita a rodere
le sponde e più nessuno è incolpevole.

Tutto per nulla, dunque? – e le candele
romane, a San Giovanni, che sbiancavano lente
l’orizzonte, ed i pegni e i lunghi addii
forti come un battesimo nella lugubre attesa
dell’orda (ma una gemma rigò l’aria stillando
sui ghiacci e le riviere dei tuoi lidi
gli angeli di Tobia, i sette, la semina
dell’avvenire) e gli eliotropi nati
dalle tue mani – tutto arso e succhiato
da un polline che stride come il fuoco
e ha punte di sinibbio…
                                                Oh la piagata
primavera è pur festa se raggela
in morte questa morte! Guarda ancora
in alto, Clizia, è la tua sorte, tu
che il non mutato amor mutata serbi,
fino a che il cieco sole che in te porti
si abbacini nell’Altro e si distrugga
in Lui, per tutti. Forse le sirene, i rintocchi
che salutano i mostri nella sera
della loro tregenda, si confondono già
col suono che slegato dal cielo, scende, vince –
col respiro di un’alba che domani per tutti
si riaffacci, bianca ma senz’ali
di raccapriccio, ai greti arsi del sud…

(1939–46)

*

Hitlerian Spring

                Nor she who turns to see the sun…
                — Dante (?) to Giovanni Quirini

Thick and white, the cloud of deluded moths
blows in eddies round the pale lamps and past the parapets,
spreads a blanket on the ground that crickles
underfoot like sugar; now coming summer liberates
the nighttime frost that lay captured
in the secret caverns of the dead season,
in the allotments that stretch from Maiano to these shoals.

Just now on the high-street passed in flight an infernal messenger
to the alalà of myrmidons; an orchestra pit, ablaze
and decked with crooked crosses, opened and swallowed him;
the shop windows are shut, tawdry
and inoffensive though these too armed
with cannons and little war toys;
the butcher has bolted up, having festooned
with berries the snouts of slaughtered kid goats;
the fest of gentle executioners, as yet ignorant of the blood,
has transformed into a foul conspirators’ ball, a wreckage of wings,
to floodplains crawling with larvae – and still the water gnaws
the shores and no-one’s blameless anymore.

So it’s all for nothing? – and the Roman
candles, at San Giovanni, that slowly whitened
the horizon, and the pledges and the long goodbyes,
binding as a baptism amid the grim wait
for the horde (but a shooting gemstone scored
the sky, sewing the frozen beaches of your coasts
with the angels of Tobias, the seven, seed of
the future) and the sunflowers born
of your hands – all is scorched and sucked dry
by a pollen that shrills like fire, that needles
like an icy wind.
                                                Oh the wounded
spring can still rejoice if it can freeze
this death in death! Look once more
on high, Clizia, it’s your fate, you
who changed nurture unchanged love
until the sightless sun you bear
within is blinded in the Other
destroying itself in Him, for all.
Perhaps the sirens and the knells
that greet these monsters on the eve
of their unholy Sabbath already blend
with the sound descending from heaven that prevails –
with the breath of a dawn that tomorrow for all
might break, white, but without wings
of horror, on the dryscorched riverbeds of the south…

(Berlin, May 2014)

Posted in Montale, poetry, scribblings, translation, writing | Leave a comment

Zwischen Überlieferung und Kritik: Moderne und Postmoderne Haltungen gegenüber dem Problem der Legitimität

An old conference paper of mine in German is now available in the online journal Paedeia, vol.2 (Spring 2014), 88–104. It’s not the greatest piece of writing, but may be of interest to some. Here’s a link. The paper on pp.26-35 by Maximilian Gilleßen is very good, and definitely worth your time.

Posted in academia, aesthetics, form, Hegel, literary form, literature, modernism, Nietzsche, parody, pastiche, philosophy, poetry, postmodernism, poststructuralism, Pynchon, Stanley Cavell, T S Eliot, work | Leave a comment

Le vagabondage de la raison : Proust et la pensée de l’essai selon Adorno

I’ve got an article appearing in the Bulletin d’informations proustiennes this October discussing Proust’s essayism in relation to Adorno. PDF of the proofs for anyone interested.

Posted in Adorno, aesthetics, concepts, essay, essayism, form, literature, novel, philosophy, Proust, publications | Leave a comment