Saturday, December 08, 2018

Armando Iannucci: 'The Death of Stalin' (2017)

Armando Iannucci's The Death of Stalin (2017) swirls around the crisis of leadership in the Soviet Union following the sudden death of Joseph Stalin (1878-1953). Count yourself lucky if you live in a time and place where there are institutional checks and balances set up to combat such abuses of power as Stalin committed.  

With comic touches, The Death of Stalin is even more chilling than straight drama. The ensemble cast is excellent, including Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev and Jason Isaacs as the colorful Georgy Zhukov. 

To independent courts, a free press and protocols that help guide us through times of crisis! And to President George H. W. Bush 41, RIP. 

Today's Rune: Signals. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Olivier Azam and Daniel Mermet: 'Howard Zinn, une histoire populaire américaine’ (2015)

Olivier Azam and Daniel Mermet: Howard Zinn, une histoire populaire américaine (2015). First part: Bread and Roses. I first caught this on Free Speech TV. It provides a good sampling, focusing in good part on the Robber Baron period and the impact of the First World War.

Howard Zinn (1922-2010) devoted much of his energy on consciousness raising, building up an appreciation of the history of people and clashes and changes often forgotten or -- like the eight hour work day -- taken for granted. His work is influential; and he was a sweet person.   

"Between 1900 and 1920, like Howard Zinn’s parents, more than 14 million immigrants arrived in the United States. They came fleeing poverty or war, racism or religious persecution. They dreamed of a promised land, of wealth, or simply of a better life. The New World opened its arms wide to the poor and huddled masses of the Old: its unwanted, its fugitives, and even a few utopians . . . After all, the rapidly expanding industries of the time required cheap labor, and immigrant workers - men, women and children - were easy to exploit. But the same period also saw the birth of organized labor, with its strikes and conflicts, and the appearance of great figures like Emma Goldman, Mother Jones, Eugene Debs and the Wobblies."  (Source here). 
Olivier Azam and Daniel Mermet: Howard Zinn, une histoire populaire américaine (2015). Zinn's A People's History of the United States was originally published in 1980.

Zinn Education Project: link here.

Les mutins de Pangée est une coopérative audiovisuelle et cinématographique de production, d’édition et de distribution (en salles, DVD, VOD). Here is a a link.

Today's Rune: Initiation.  

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Francis Fukuyama: 'Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment' (2018)

Francis Fukuyama: Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018.

On this centenary of the end of the First World War, Identity is relevant to an understanding of that conflict and today's world.

"The great struggles in American political history -- over slavery and segregation, workers' rights, women's equality -- were ultimately demands that the political system expand the circle of individuals it recognized as having equal rights." (p. 22)

With identity politics in the 21st century, however, "desire for equal recognition can easily slide . . . into a demand for recognition of the group's superiority" -- for example, among nations, tribes, religious sects and ethnic groups. (p. 22)  

"Individuals come to believe that they have a true or authentic identity hiding within themselves that is somehow at odds with the role they are assigned by their surrounding society. The modern concept of identity places a supreme value on authenticity . . . (p. [25])

The "Arab Spring" begins in Tunisia on December 17, 2010. (p. [42])

Various uprisings sparked by desire for dignity. (pp. 44-48). Scapegoating used by rulers to divide opposition. 

"The desire for the state to recognize one's basic dignity has been at the core of democratic movements since the French Revolution." (p. 49)

Gemeinschaft (village) to Gesellschaft (urban) demographic shift over time, especially since 1900. "The dislocation . . . laid the basis for an ideology of nationalism based on an intense nostalgia for an imagined past of strong community in which the divisions and confusions of a pluralist society did not exist." (p. 65)

Deterioration of "middle-class status may then explain the rise of populist nationalism in many parts of the world in the second decade of the twenty-first century." In the USA, "the working class, defined as people with a high school education and less, has not been doing well over the past generation." (p. 87)

". . . resentful citizens fearing loss of middle-class status point an accusatory finger upward to the elites . . . but also downward to the poor, whom they feel are undeserving and . . . unfairly favored." (p. 88).

"White nationalism has a long history in Europe, where it is called fascism." (p. 121) Ethno-nationalism, ethnic cleansing. Anti-immigrant sentiment is back on the rise due to refugee crises, especially since the Arab Spring, blaming the refugees rather than the causes. 

"National identity begins with a shared belief in the legitimacy of the country's political system, whether that system is democratic or not . . . [It] also extends into the realm of culture and values. . . what it takes to become a genuine member of the community." (p. 126). Diversity. Resilience. Resistance to complete homogenization. (p. 127) 

"National identities can be built around liberal and democratic political values, and the common experiences that provide connective tissue around which diverse communities can thrive." (p. 128)

"Citizenship is a two-way street: it endows citizens with rights that are protected by the state, but it also enjoins duties on them, above all, the duty of loyalty to the country's principles and laws." (p. 148)

Results of the American Civil War. XIII, XIV and XV Amendments. "Identity has to be related to substantive ideas such as constitutionalism, rule of law, and human equality." (p. 171)

A thoughtful book.

Today's Rune: Strength. 

Thursday, November 08, 2018

John Binder: 'UFORIA' (1981, 1985)

John Binder's UFOria, a low budget gem made in 1981 but not released until 1985, somehow fell through the cracks of mass consciousness. 

I was lucky enough to see the film many years ago on video, and never forgot it. It hasn't to date been released on DVD or Blu-ray, nor has it been chosen for salvation by the Criterion Collection, but it sticks with me. In fact, rather magically, I was able to see it again recently! 

UFOria makes up in dialogue, good-natured satire and an excellent cast of characters what it lacks in budgeted technical virtuosity. All the actors fit their characters seamlessly, whether they have a lot of lines or just a choice few. These include Cindy "I am gonna be Noah" Williams (Laverne & Shirley), Fred "get the net, boys" Ward (Henry & June), Harry Dean "I believe I'll have a drink" Stanton (Big Love, Twin Peaks: The Return) and Hank "just for playsure" Worden (Twin Peaks).  The whole script is quotable -- I could still remember many of UFOria's juiciest lines years after last watching it. And: the soundtrack is perfectly attuned to the characters. 
Today's Rune: Fertility. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Yi T'aejun, 'Dust and Other Stories' (2018), Part II

Yi T'aejun, Dust and Other Stories. Translated by Janet Poole. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018.

"Unconditioned." The passage of time, evocations worthy of Marcel Proust. "Perhaps it was because two or more of those decades had passed during which the mountains and rivers are said to change, but does that mean we can't even trust the mountains and rivers over time? . . . The whole area seemed to have been filled in and the mountain razed, to be replaced by a red muddy track going up the slope." (pp. 140-141)

"Before and After Liberation." ". . . no words were necessary for the feelers of their desperate hearts to clasp onto each other, and they had already grown quite intimate after only a couple of meetings." (p. 155)

"U.S. [A]rmy [J]eeps . . . wriggled like a swarm of whirligig beetles."  

"'The blue waters and green mountains remain the same, 
While the rain merely washes the moss on the rocks.'"  (p. 187)

"Tiger Grandma." Literacy drive. "'Why don't you leave us living corpses alone? What does it matter if we can read or not when we'll be on the way to the public cemetery tomorrow or the next day . . .'"  (p. 190)

"'There's a saying that even saints must follow the times.'" (p. 192)

Manguri, a basket with a slip pf paper to forget worries. (p. 194) Heap of stones. Rice and greens for crows and magpies, "a shaman's 'scolding.'" (p. 195)

"Just then, three or four hens come tottering out of the kitchen, chased by a cockerel." (p. 198)

"Dust." "The businessman's complaints were endless." (p. 239)

Japanese imperialism replaced by American imperialism. "All of a sudden the children selling American cigarettes and gum scattered into the alleys to hide, crouching like a flock of birds spooked by a hawk."  (p. 244)

"Conservative? But that's not who I really am! The conservatives are noxious pests who block the progress of their country and society in any age. Am I really conservative?" (p. 259)

Today's Rune: Wholeness. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Yi T'aejun, 'Dust and Other Stories' (2018), Part I

Yi T'aejun, Dust and Other Stories. Translated by Janet Poole. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018.

Fascinating glimpse into Korean life, bridging the period between Imperial Japanese dominance (1910-1945) and the Korean War (1950-1953). Publications by Yi T'aejun (1904-circa 1956) were banned in South Korea until 1988. 

Banned books are often the best ones to read, naturally.

From "The Broker's Office:" "Is this world only good to you if you have money?" (p. 58)

"When government officials buy, even country bumpkins notice something's up, don't they?" (p. 59)

From "A Tale of Rabbits:" "His library was not large, but Hyŏn could not help but feel awe whenever he leisurely perused his bookshelves. He could appreciate the saying, 'To see a thousand years at one glance.' Every day new books appear." (p. 88)

"The Hunt:" "At midnight they had a simple but tasty snack of pheasant and buckwheat with a cold radish soup that made their teeth tingle. and then they stayed up past two o'clock sharing stories of goblins that had appeared on midnight trips to eat noodles or go fishing, or on the way home from visiting girls in nearby villages." (p. 100)

"Evening Sun:" "A stone pagoda stood to the right-hand side as he came out of the station, which bore the contours of a Korean house. . . The cracked and crumbling pagoda was yellowed and bumpy, like the spine of some beast extracted from a layer of earth tens of thousands of years old rather than something made from stone. Surrounded by mountains and stretching out quietly, the streets seemed too fragmented for a town." (p. 109)

"'What kind of feeling could there be without fear?'" (p. 114) 

"'I try not to feel too alone. When you think about it, is there anyone who isn't alone?'" (p. 119)

"The scene evoked the same kind of eternal nihilism as the Five Burial Mounds. On closer inspection there were small hills, woods, twisting roads, winding streams, small villages in the folds of each mountain, rice paddies, and dry fields, and above them all floated the clouds, which cast shadows on the villages and the streams . . . but at a casual glance there was merely the green earth and the misty air, and nothing else." (p. 123)

"Although they stood up quickly, it was already dusk as they walked back down the path. Maehŏn accompanied her to the stations and sent his precious companion away in the dark on the evening train." (p. 125)

"Yi dynasty white porcelain . . . vessels from eternity that provide quiet comfort and refreshment and never exhaust." (p. 128)

Today's Rune: Partnership. 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Allen Ginsberg: 'The Best Minds of My Generation' (2017). Finale

Allen Ginsberg, The Best Minds of My Generation: A Literary History of the Beatsedited by Bill Morgan. New York: Grove Press, 2017. Foreword by Anne Waldman.

On Gregory Corso. "He's dealt with truth,  god, love, hate, hope, beauty, so it's actually very interesting. He's taken what he would call the biggies, the big themes, and dealt with them in one or two lines each. Appreciation, but nonattachment, not getting addicted." (p. 341)

William Blake. "The Eye Altering Alters All" [circa 1803.] (p. 347)

William Carlos Williams, 1953: "For man and poet must keep pace with his world." (p. [359])

Ginsberg: "I was high on grass and so it was triply awesome or doubly awesome, the realization that the mind could be spaced out and then come back and focus. . . an aspect of the notion of a gap or jump from one phase of consciousness to another, one unconscious daydreaming to a real place, a focus on the external phenomenal world." (pp. 364-365)

". . . I started looking . . . to ordinary-mind observations for visionary perceptions." (p. 366)

William Carlos Williams: "'. . . make a coordinate point where others can see, compare their perceptions with your perceptions.'" (p. 367)

Ginsberg: "We'd burn all night on the jackpine peak, seen from Denver in the summer dark . . ." (p. 372)

"Old love and remembrance -- I resign
All cities, all jazz, all echoes of Time . . ." p. 381)

"As in movies, the poignancy or charge or visionary aspect or satori or sunyata or mental electric comes from setting up one pole of thought form or word or picture and then setting up another pole. Then the mind has to fill in the space between by connecting them. . . like an electric charge between the two poles . . . One minute it's somebody talking, the next minute it's a tombstone." (pp. 388-389) 

"Naturally there's going to be a little brain pop." (pp. [390]-391)

". . . the constant awareness of setting something down which other people will read." (p. 393)

"Howl." "The precursors to this were things like Apollinaire's poem "Zone." The parallel texts . . . in addition to . . . "Zone . . . were Christopher Smart's "Rejoice in the Lamb," which has the same construction."  (p. 395)

Surrealistic method. "Hop up your image with some totally opposite zonk. You zonk the image with something so weird that people will ask, 'How'd you get to that?'" (p. 396)

Can you dig? 

Today's Rune: Possessions.