Thursday, June 11, 2015

Waterloo Bicentennial: 1815-2015

The Battle of Waterloo: June 18th, 1815. Napoleon's last throw of the Hundred Days -- between his periods of exile on the islands of Elba and St. Helena. More than 60,000 casualties in one day of fighting. In addition, the Battle of Ligny fought two days earlier - Napoleon's final battlefield victory -- had resulted in excess of another 30,000 casualties. 
Waterloo ended the Napoleonic Wars, but contrary to self-serving British claims, it did not result in a hundred years of peace among the European powers  -- nor anywhere else in the world. True, in 1914 "The Great War" began, but between 1815 and 1914 there were untold numbers of imperial overseas colonial wars, while even just in and around Europe, there were many significant conflicts, such as: the Caucasian War; the Greek War of Independence; the Portuguese Civil War; the Russo-Turkish War; the 1848 revolutions;  the First Schleswig War; the Crimean War;  the Spanish–Moroccan War; the Franco-Austrian War; the Second Schleswig War; the Austro-Prussian War; the Glorious Revolution in Spain; the Franco-Prussian War; the Third Carlist War in Spain; various Ottoman Empire uprisings; the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878; the Greco-Turkish War; the Spanish-American War; the Russo-Japanese War; the Italo-Turkish War; and the First and Second Balkan War.
The Waterloo battlefield is well worth seeing in person. If you're ever in Belgium . . . go for it.
Waterloo: here come the Prussians (in red) under Generalfeldmarschall Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742-1819). Even if Napoleon had been victorious at Waterloo, a long war of attrition would then have been directed at his empire, with probably the same ultimate result. That's another thing that few interested parties seem to want to think about.  

Today's Rune: Wholeness. 

Monday, June 08, 2015

'The Rolling Stones: Charlie Is My Darling -- Ireland 1965'

Andrew Loog Oldham and Peter Whitehead's The Rolling Stones: Charlie is my Darling - Ireland 1965 covers a mini-tour of Ireland -- fifty years ago -- in black and white. This nifty bit of cinéma vérité clocks in at a little more than an hour. Even in black and white, the Stones colorfully burst through a threadbare socioeconomic backdrop. The people and culture of the UK and Ireland are just then beginning to emerge from the grim preceding era -- of two world wars and the Great Depression, not to mention the Irish Civil War. 
In between wild music sets, Charlie is my Darling lets each member of The Rolling Stones say something. In this original lineup of the band (but not including keyboardist Ian Stewart), we hear from Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and the beloved Charlie Watts of the title. 

Two things stand out about the band during this 1965 Irish tour. First, Brian Jones is already fairly well checked out. He doesn't see much of a future and seems almost schizophrenic much of the time (when present at all). Second, Mick Jagger is the clear leader of the band, and for good reason. Considering that he was only twenty-two years of age at the time of filming, his observations are thoughtful and even visionary.  He speaks of the social fabric of fifty years before (1915 -- during The Great War) and how things might be fifty years hence -- in 2015, when The Rolling Stones are even now still touring. The other three lads -- Keith, Charlie and Bill -- are going with the flow and keeping at the music.
 Today, fifty years later, Mick, Keith and Charlie are still in the band and still seem about the same as they were in 1965, albeit with fifty years' worth of road mileage behind them. Bill Wyman retired from the band in 1993 when he was in his mid-fifties. The quixotic Brian Jones died in 1969 at the age of twenty-seven. Ian Stewart died of a heart attack in 1985 at the age of forty-seven. 

Charlie is my Darling is a jagged but durable time-piece that adds to the solving of a larger puzzle: how does one best absorb, understand and appreciate both change and continuity?

Today's Rune:  Possessions. p.s. Andrew Loog Oldham departed from the Stones' production and management team within two years of Charlie is my Darling. Peter Whitehead, the director, continued to work with the Stones for a little bit, and he also worked with Pink Floyd.    

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Nicholas Carr's 'The Shallows' (2011): Take II

Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011 paperback edition).

Next cycle: space and time. In "the modern era," if time is money, what is dimension and distance?

Carr considers how human conceptions of geography and time have gone from one mind-blowing worldview to another. 

By the way, what time is it?  Do you know the time of day or night? Where are you situated?

"The technology of the map gave to man a new and more comprehending mind, better able to understand the unseen forces that shape his surroundings and his existence. . . What the map did for space -- translate a natural phenomenon into an artificial and intellectual conception of that phenomenon -- another technology, the mechanical clock, did for time."  (Carr, page 41). 

One may use a map to get from point A to point B, and calculate time of passage with a little math. Time/space -> actual elapsed time & ever-shifting estimated time of arrival.

In order to work in the contemporary electrified world, most workers need to become tethered to a factory-like space/time rhythm -- even though such a tether never feels quite "natural."  If abstracted time and mapped geography came naturally to us, we wouldn't need watches or clocks, maps or GPS.  

So, in the last x thousand years, we as humans have proceeded from operating through the scrim of hunter/gatherer and agricultural concepts of time according to season, moon, sun, and changed -- by say what we call "the 19th century" -- to more regimented railroad/military mobilization/factory production schedules. Electricity makes the industrialized way easy to maintain -- even if we must keep one eye on the clock to keep ourselves aligned with the greater electric beehive.

With such changes in time/space worldviews, we have gained in "efficiency" and possibility, but have also lost a good deal of connection with season, moon, sun and nature in general. Win some, lose some.

Do you have any preference between time and space? Are you happy living in "the present?"  Or is there some other "era" that tickles your fancy, where and when you'd rather be? 

Today's Rune: Fertility.  

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Nicholas Carr's 'The Shallows' (2011): Take I

Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011 paperback edition).

Well, how's your noodle holding up inside the electronic envelope?  Has the internet made mush of your attention span and ability to think deeply?

These are essential questions raised and explored by Nicholas Carr, using Marshall McLuhan as a jumping off point. 

"The Net has become my all-purpose medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind," Carr notes on page 6.

He cites a study that observed how many people don't read in a traditional way, but rather "skip around, scanning for pertinent information of interest" (page 9).

This is how I seek out "news" and "updates," certainly, though I read books, longer articles and poetry in basically the same "left to right" manner that I've done since childhood, regardless of format (that is, I do this with both printed materials and digitized etexts). Also, I make sure to take plenty of time away from "the madding crowd" -- online or in my actual 3D physical space -- for deep reading, contemplation, writing, connecting, thinking, or zoning out. 

How about you?  How about people born within the digital age?

To be continued: No sense in making this post any longer or heavier: online readers tend to devote only about ten seconds per webpage and read (or skim) only about 18% of content, missing or ignoring 82% of the rest (page 135). Still, thanks for reading even that much.

Today's Rune: Signals. 

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Valeria Sarmiento: 'Linhas de Wellington' / 'Lines of Wellington' (2012)

Valeria Sarmiento's Linhas de Wellington / As Linhas de Torres Vedras / Lines of Wellington (2012), set in 1810 during the Napoleonic wars, shows the mass upheaval across Portugal, as Anglo-British military forces led by Arthur Wellesley, Viscount Wellington (1769-1852),* are falling back to the Lines of Torres Vedras. Practically the entire civilian population is fleeing with them before the advancing invasion forces led by André Masséna (1758-1817), Maréchal de France. The natural landscape, meanwhile, is laid to waste. 
As a film (and mini-series), Linhas de Wellington was a labor of love, in that Valeria Sarmiento completed this project that Raúl Ruiz (1941-2011), her husband, was working on when he died. Ruiz had earlier directed a lavishly appointed adaptation of Marcel Proust's Le Temps retrouvé / Time Regained in 1999; this Napoleonic era film has similarly impressive period details set across the entire socio-economic spectrum.  
Linhas de Wellington begins on September 27, 1810, just as the Battle of Buçaco is ending, with scavengers picking over the dead and wounded.
Linhas de Wellington often takes on the look and feel of a Goya print, such as this one from Los Desastres de la Guerra series: depicting people in hideous situations, committing savage acts, and victims of such acts.  
Linhas de Wellington also has good gender balance for a war movie: fans of Jane Austen will find multiple mini-dalliances and plenty of interesting social manners on parade despite the wastelands of war.
Here, Masséna and his paramour (dressed in a hussar's uniform) consider new temporary quarters among the French officer corps. 

Today's Rune: Signals. *Not yet the 1st Duke of Wellington; that title would date from 1814. Played by John Malkovich. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Malcolm Cowley: 'Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s' (Take II)

In Malcolm Cowley's Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s, there's a lot about Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Hart Crane -- though nothing much about the twists and turns of Cowley's relationship with Peggy Baird (1890-1970), nor hers with Hart Crane (1899-1932) before the latter jumped from the deck of the SS Orizaba into egolfo de México, never to be seen again. Alas.     
What Cowley was thinking about in the 1920s: "I was violently opposed to what I called 'the fallacy of contraction.' 'Writers,' I observed in my notebook, 'often speak of 'saving their energy,' as if each . . . were given a nickel's worth of it . . . at liberty to spend -- one cent on Love, one cent on Livelihood, two cents on Art . . . and the remainder on a big red apple . . .  To me, the mind of a poet resembles Fortunatus's purse: the more spent, the more it supplies. . ."  ~ Malcolm Cowley, Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s (Penguin Books, 1986 reprint of the 1956 Viking Press edition; original edition published in 1934), page 161.
"'There are many writers who deliberately contract the circle of their interests. They refuse to participate in the public life of their time, or even in discussion of social questions. They avoid general ideas, are 'bored' by this, 'not concerned' with that. They confine themselves to literary matters -- in the end, to literary gossip. And they neglect the work of expanding the human mind to its extremist limits of thought and feeling -- which, as I take it, is the aim of literature.'" ~ Malcolm Cowley, Exile's Return, page 161. 

Today's Rune: Movement. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Malcolm Cowley: 'Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s' (Take I)

Another book due for defenestration -- prompting me to read it through one more time for the cheap seats. 

This is a 1986 paperback reprint with a peculiar cover. Falling apart, it's almost time to go. Malcolm Cowley, Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s (Penguin Books, reprint of the 1956 Viking Press edition; original edition published in 1934). 

This handy tome follows the arcs of mostly American writer types born around the turn of the twentieth century (1900 +/- 5), as seen through the observations of Malcolm Cowley (1898-1989). 

The most exciting time for many of this rambling crew came between the Great War of 1914-1918 (volunteering as ambulance drivers, nurses, pilots) and the Great Crash of 1929, followed by a puttering on through the Great Depression and, of those who didn't go crazy, commit suicide or otherwise die in the meantime, proceeding into the 1950s. 

Snippets: "Paris was a great machine for stimulating the nerves and sharpening the senses. Paintings and music, street noises, shops, flowers markets, modes, fabrics, poems, ideas, everything seemed to lead toward a half-sensual, half-intellectual swoon . . ." (page 135). 

"It was during one of those Wednesdays in Paris that I was first introduced to the Dada group . . ." (page 135). 

Cowley became fond of Dadaists, loving their energetic rebelliousness and wild antics.

And so: more to come before the drop. 

Today's Rune: Warrior.