Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Maldoror by Lautreamont(Isidore Lucien Ducasse)

Chants of Maldoror is a band, but ths is about the book. Better graphic though.

Book Review
Les Chants de Maldoror
 by Lautreamont AKA Isidore Lucien Ducasse
p. 1869

 A non event when written, Les Chants de Maldoror was revived by the Surrealists in the early 20th century and held up as an early example of surrealism.  It's theoretically about a character named Maldoror who is like a Vampire or something, and he goes around and does a bunch of vile shit.  I think that is what happens.  The imagery is rather disturbing at times.  In one notable passage Maldoror (I think it's Maldoror?) rapes and murders a young girls and then pulls her intestines out through her vagina, marveling at the evil of it all. There is a dark, twisted side to surrealism that is often underappreciated by Americans who associate surrealism with 60s hippie culture, but that is some dark shit.  And Les Chants de Maldoror is some dark shit.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Relationship of Astrology to Babylonian Star Worship

   Star worship is a fairly common spiritual/religious theme.  In Western culture, it most often take the form of "astrology," which in terms of esteem is held somewhere between legitimate "new age"  spiritual belief and parlor trick depending on who you talk to.  However the Astrology column in the local daily that focuses on Birthday horoscopes does not represent the great history and, frankly, majesty of the larger category of "star worship."

 To understand the depth of star worship, it's best to start at the beginning with the practices of Babylonian Star Worship.  Babylonians are a key world-historical culture because they are the first civilization with writing who spoke a language from a contemporary language family, Semitic. Semitic is the family of Hebrew and Arabic, and Akkadian is the earliest known example. Akkadian is now extinct, but it was "succeeded" by a different Semitic language, Aramaic, which was the language of the Assyrian Empire.  The Assyrians conquered much of the Middle East and held it from roughly 1300 BC to 1000 BC.  By the end of this period, the language of the Assyrian conquerors had become the lingua franca of the entire Middle East, much in the same way Latin was during the Roman Empire and the way English is in the west.  Akkadian itself was the prior Lingua Franca but it was surpassed by Aramaic in the west, and in the east it fell victim to the Persian invasion.  The Persians, of course, spoke a language of Indo-European extraction and thus were outside the Semitic linguistic sphere.

 Babylonian astronomy/star worship both precedes and runs concurrently with the Assyrians but Babylonians and Assyrians were separate related peoples/languages like Spanish/French.  The Assyrians would have essentially received Babylonian/Akkadian texts intact and there would have been interaction and overlap between two religions, with Babylonian's "leading" and Assyrians "following." (1)


(1)  From the Wikipedia Page:

Old Babylonian astronomy refers to the astronomy that was practiced during and after the First Babylonian Dynasty (ca. 1830 BC) and before the Neo-Babylonian Empire (ca. 626 BC).
The Babylonians were the first to recognize that astronomical phenomena are periodic and apply mathematics to their predictions. Tablets dating back to the Old Babylonian period document the application of mathematics to the variation in the length of daylight over a solar year.

Centuries of Babylonian observations of celestial phenomena are recorded in the series of cuneiform tablets known as theEnûma Anu Enlil—the oldest significant astronomical text that we possess is Tablet 63 of the Enûma Anu Enlil, the Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa, which lists the first and last visible risings of Venus over a period of about 21 years. It is the earliest evidence that planetary phenomena were recognized as periodic.

The MUL.APIN contains catalogues of stars and constellations as well as schemes for predicting heliacal risings and settings of the planets, and lengths of daylight as measured by a water clock, gnomon, shadows, and intercalations. The Babylonian GU text arranges stars in 'strings' that lie along declination circles and thus measure right-ascensions or time intervals, and also employs the stars of the zenith, which are also separated by given right-ascensional differences.[5] There are dozens of cuneiform Mesopotamian texts with real observations of eclipses, mainly from Babylonia.

   This section establishes Babylonian astronomy/astrology as dates to 1830 BC- almost five hundred years before the Assyrian empire arose. 

Les visiteurs du soir (1942) d. Marcel Carné

French actress Arletty plays Dominque, minion of the Devil, in Les visiteurs du soir d. Marcel Carne

Les visiteure du soir
d. Marcel Carné
Criterion Collection #626

  It must be a bittersweet moment when you get a New York Times obituary but said obituary says that you "outlived your time."  Such is the case for french director Marcel Carné, the top director in pre and post World War II France.  Carné was public enemy number one for the critics of the French New Wave, and he suffered a reversal in artistic fortune that has essentially lasted until today.  Perhaps that is only because the precepts of the French New Wave became so popular with serious film fans that they also imbued the sort of temporal prejudice that led those critics to trash the poetic realism of Carné.

  Les visiteurs du soir was filmed during World War II, in occupied France.  The Tarantino film Inglorious Basterds gives a fairly accurate representation of the level of control and interest that the Nazi's had in the French Movie business.  They had their own studio, they censored content, and of course all Jewish film makers were taken away to the gas chambers and murdered.   Carné continued to work but financed Les visiteurs du soir himself, perhaps an important distinction separating him from outright Nazi collaborators.

  Les visiteurs du soir is about two minions of the Devil, disguised as minstrels, who arrive at a castle in the Middle Ages during the preliminaries prior to a noble wedding.  The mission of these minstrels is roughly explained as "seduce and destroy;" and that is what they do, seducing the bride, the groom and the groom's father. AND THEN the Devil shows up.

 Les visiteurs du soir most reminded me of the medieval-set films of Ingmar Bergman (The Virgin Spring for one.)  Although the setting is unabashedly historical, the morality and story is anything but, with sly nods to what would come to be known as "existentialism" and a frolicsome Devil who seems to caper with delight in every scene.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sado-Masochism, Intoxication & Love: The Artistic Themes of the Songs of Lou Reed

Lou Reed: a great American songwriter.

Sado-Masochism, Intoxication & Love:
 The Artistic Themes of the Songs of Lou Reed

  A thorough understanding of the importance of Lou Reed can only be obtained by understanding the classical and romantic aesthetics which informed his songwriting and gave his most well known songs their lasting impact.  A consideration of the secondary qualities of Lou Reed's artistic existence: the LOOK, the collaborations with John Cale (most of all), Nico, Andy Warhol and the other members of the Velvet Underground (Sterling Morrison and Mo Tucker mostly.)  And then there are the tertiary characteristics: the legend, the hagiography.

  In my opinion, Reed's primary contribution was in introducing previously avant-garde artistic themes into the songwriting of Western pop music.  The best single example of this in a specific song is Reed's use of sado-masochism in the well known "hit" song, Venus in Furs.  The title of the song is, of course, the name of a famous s&m text Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.  Sacher-Masosch shares pride of place with the Marquis de Sade  in terms of being the "inventors" of sado-masochism, a sexual proclivity that was essentially "discovered" in the aftermath of the enlightenment, and subsequently developed upon multiple lines of discourse simultaneously thereafter.

 But not in American Popular Music between the beginnings in the late 18th century and Lou Reed.  The explicit sado masochistic lyrics of Venus in Furs are wholly without parallel in the history of the musical forms that Reed was drawing upon. The sheer originality of taking hardcore s&m imagery and pairing it with an essentially "rock" format, on a record that was released by a Major Label in 1967  in the United States.

  There was nothing NEW about sado masochism in 1967, but there was certainly something new about a popular musician writing and releasing songs about it and gaining a wide Audience with that material.

  Reed's use of intoxication in songs like Heroin were not as novel and noteworthy as his use of s&m imagery in but what was noteworthy was the level of explicitness.  Explicit discussions of drug based intoxication were by no means unknown in western culture in the 1960s, but explicit pop songs about the joys of shooting heroin were quite.  Drugs are essentially synomous with American popular music of the 20th century, but at the time Reed wrote Heroin, reference were limited to innuendo, or at the most "soft" drugs like marijuana and cocaine.

  Reed was also unusual because his use of intoxication was inward looking and not oriented to the kind of dionysian celebration associated with the artistic theme of intoxication in the wider 60s American popular culture.  This was a darker roast, so to speak.  It was also a field where Reed was basically on his own at the time.

  Reed was closest to the existing themes of american popular songwriting when he wrote about love, but even here he created songs that were novel in thematic content and proved capable of keeping.  Here, the best example, and perhaps Reed's best, most popular song, is Walk on the Wild Side.  The couplets reference transvestite culture but the lyrics are fairly conventional reference to love and life in the big city. This combination of a fringe culture with the canons of American popular songwriting: rhyming, a "do-do-do" chorus, back up singers, combine to create a new artistic experience essentially without parallel in what comes before.

 These three themes run deep and true in the collected work of Reed, and he will surely be remembered for decades on the strength of the embodiment of those themes in his songs.

The Ambassadors (1903) by Henry James

Book Review
The Ambassadors (1903)
 by Henry James

 Actually had The Ambassadors in paperback sitting on my book shelf, so I was excited to finally read it.  Opening the cover, I saw the receipt tucked inside- turned out I had purchased it way back in 2004.  I turned the receipt over in my hands and had the distinct memory of trying to read it back in 2004 and realizing that I needed to go back and read more classics so that I could actually appreciate the accomplishment of The Ambassadors because in 2004, after graduating college and law school, I didn't really get the drift.

 Nine years later, having read, essentially, every major novel of the 18th and 19th century, I am in a better position to appreciate the accomplishments of Henry James, but I still didn't enjoy reading The Ambassadors.  It was a chore in the same way the 700 page epistolary novels of the 18th century were a chore.  And while from an intellectual point of view I can certainly appreciate how radical and different Henry James' first person narrative technique was, both then and now, that doesn't make The Ambassadors a fun read.

 The Ambassadors is about a guy who is sent to Europe to retrieve the wayward son of a wealthy American widow.  If that reminds you of the plot to The Talented Mr. Ripley you get a gold star, because Patricia Highsmith acknowledges the lift herself.  In Paris, Lambert Strether, the narrator and titular Ambassador, finds young Chad Newman entwined with a ravishing Mother/Daughter combo.  Initially assuming that Chad is after the daughter, Strether begins to question this assumption, even as he falls for the (still married) Mother.  Strether begins to doubt his American life, and abandons his mission as he falls under the spell of Marie de Vionnet (the Mother) and comes to enjoy the company of Newman.

 Eventually his illusions are dashed when he catches Newman out for a romantic day in the country with Marie.  And that is it- it takes James 320 pages to get to the end because Strether can't do a damn thing without thinking about it for several paragraphs of text.  It is a harbinger of the future of literature, and I'm not looking forward to it.  I get that The Ambassadors is a great novel, but I didn't enjoy the reading experience.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Purple Noon (1960) d René Clément

Alain Delon

Movie Review
Purple Noon (1960)
 d René Clément
Criterion Collection #637

 Presently drifting through the Criterion Collection, like a leaf in the wind, without plan or scheme. Front to back, back to front, by year, country or director- I have a vague inkling that I'm going to tackle every Ingmar Bergman film but I find the prospect exhausting.  Purple Noon is at this point best known as a prior adaption of the Matt Damon starring The Talented Mr. Ripley, which is the actual title to the Patricia Highsmith novel that both films are based upon.  If you've seen The Talented Mr. Ripley, you know what is up with Purple Noon.  With the recent American version so widely known, Purple Noon is mostly notable for the luscious mise en scene of Southern Italy and Rome, and the performance of Alain Delon as Ripley.  Even as a straight man it is hard not to be impressed with the physical attractiveness of a young Alain Delon (or an old Alain Delon for that matter.)

  I believe I've seen Purple Noon at least three times by now.  I'll probably watch it again a couple times before I die.  True crime classic.

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