The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Friday, October 31, 2003


Brando was too big to accept an Oscar, and so sent a native american to do it for him. Kubrick did likewise. He sent Anthony Burgess to pick up his New York Circle of Critics award. Burgess's acceptance speech is amazing. Abridged version:
Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know whether you are entitled to call me a colleague. I was a film critic many years ago. Indeed, I was a film critic on the oldest European newspaper The Gibraltar Chronicle, which in 1943-44, when I worked for it, was the only non-fascist newspaper in continental Europe, even though it was run by the British army. We soldiers in this fortress had been informed, through Washington, by your great, dead president, President Roosevelt, that we had a duty to perform, and that was to protect the Rock. On behalf of a very large American insurance company... We were told that if we let this rock fall into fascist hands, the future of the American civilisation would be in jeopardy. And as an earnest of this American civilisation that was in jeopardy, we were allowed to see many American B films. It was my... It was my task to criticize these films, or praise them. I was rather bored with the job, and went to very few of them and ended up by inventing my own films, my own cinemas. ... You know, I was fired from this job, and never did film criticism again.
In 1966, which was my Annus Mirabilis, for the benefit of any drama critics who may be present, a wonderful year. I had many jobs: I was drama critic for The Spectator, and simultaneously I was opera critic for Queen, a great... great heterosexual magazine. I was television critic for a magazine, ironically called, The Listener. And I was food and wine critic for a left-wing paper that eventually folded up. It was generally recognised that I couldn't do all these jobs efficiently at the same time; and I noticed one night at a particular theater during the first act there were other critics who'd been deputed by their newspapers to sit behind me and see if I genuinely walked out after the first act. My normal procedure was to see one act of a play, the second act of an opera, and have some food and wine afterwards. It was assumed by everybody that I would never get up early enough to see films, so I never became a film critic.
Now as for my connections with the cinema, this is equally tenuous: my father was a cinema pianist. He played in those days which most of you are too young to remember, when there was no sound track, and the accompaniment had to be provided by an orchestra in the evenings, by pianists during the day for matinees. My father never saw any films before he accompanied them. He did it all by ear, memory, instinct, intuition, and he had a very much foreshortened view when he accompanied. He told me on one occasion that he worked in a cinema for six months, where the piano didn't work above middle C, so all the music was somewhat Wagnerian. He was fired from this job because, without his knowing it, the film he was looking up at one afternoon, foreshortened, was a religious film; and he saw what looked like a scene of great festivity among men proceeding, and he started playing "Hail, hail, the gang's all here!" This turned out, of course, to be the Last Supper. I'm sorry I've been allowed a blasphemous note to intrude; but this is, after all, a New York Sunday!
If I... If I continue just for a second with a blasphemy, I suppose my own relationship with this film is that of primal creator with ultimate interpretor, which finds its most megalomaniacal, if I may use the term, or a most mythical metaphor in, say, the relationship between God and Cecil B. DeMille, or maybe the other way round. God wrote a marvellous book, best-seller --marvellous title called The Old Testament. I don't think he's ever received a penny's royalties for it; but God is a spirit, and I am merely a consumer of spirits. In my case, rather than God's, this masterpiece, which I think will make a lot of money, is somewhat different. As far as Kubrick is concerned, I knew little about him. I was told over the telephone that Stanley Kubrick wished to make my book A Clockwork Orange into a film; and I would get no money from it. Well, I said: I'm not ignorant, I know this already; you needn't tell me! But he said: "Would you rather he made it and get no money, or somebody else make it?" Well, I had a vision of Ken Russell making it, so I said I was prepared to pay Kubrick to make the film. It turned out to my surprise that Kubrick didn't actually need the money at the time. Kubrick reappeared in my life, or very nearly (he hadn't really appeared at all, had he?) He reappeared by name, very nearly, when I was in Australia. And I was summoned to London to see Kubrick because of two lines in the book. He wasn't sure whether it was a copyright or not, whether they were quotations of an existing song, or whether I had actually written them. So I rushed from Australia to New Zealand, to Hawaii, San Francisco, New York, eventually I ended up in London and appeared for lunch at that old English tavern called Trader Vick's. After a couple of old English noggings of mai-tai, Kubrick did not turn up.
Then Kubrick used the Australian vernacular and nearly gave birth to a set of diesel engines, when he discovered that the British edition of the book was different from the American edition. Indeed, the American edition, if anyone is interested, has twenty chapters, whereas the British edition has twenty-one. There's a cartoon in the British Daily Express which shows a man and a woman leaving the cinema, having seen Kubrick's film, and saying: George, dear, I do hope they don't make Son of A Clockwork Orange. Well, this is no joke because chapter 21, in the British edition, is precisely that: it's the account of the son of A Clockwork Orange, and anybody who wishes to make this movie as a follow up is welcome to see me afterwards.
Well, as you know he doesn't travel, God --I mean, Kubrick doesn't travel, and he is stuck there in Boreham Wood, about two miles from Pinewood Studios outside London, and if I may use again a dramatic allusion, it was no question of Boreham Wood coming to Dunsinane, Dunce is here. So all I can say now is that I know you're a little droogie, a little malenky droogie back there in Boreham Wood, we'll shmeck down to his very keeshkas or even his yarbels, and then I'll place this horrorshow peguylok into his rookers.
On his behalf, ladies and gentlemen, I say thank you for your generosity, on his and my behalf I say thank you for your perspicacity, on my own behalf, my fellow writers, I say thank you for your hospitality .


'Annie Hall' was originally titled 'Anhedonia.' 'Cottard's Syndrome' is the original title of MacLamity's imaginary first novel, which has yet to be retitled. Now, MacLamity's not one for getting entertainment out of the insane. But, what do people with the syndrome care? They think they're dead anyway.

NB. I count it a significant achievement that I have found a fascinating mental condition which Stockton Hercules hasn't mentioned to me half way through a drinking session. Everything I know about the brain I learned from him when I was drunk.

Thursday, October 30, 2003




REM's parody site and parody video are spot on. The biographies capture just how useless is the information that journalists give about themselves: "Jay W Harris is the winner of the 2001 Regional Associated Press Packaged Report Award and an RTDNA Bronze Arrow." Michael Stipe looks intensely, fantastically 70s in the two wigs he wears.


Isn't a very good parody video a sure sign that this band is getting too old to care about the music entirely, and too scared to let the music stand alone? I cite as evidence "I Can't Dance" by Genesis, which brilliantly parodied the commercials Levi's released in U.K. at the time. It was very funny. It had nothing to do with the song. Up next: the Michael Stipe solo covers album. Peter Buck's already done his album of reflective songs co-written with a kindred spirit and singer: West, with Mark Eitzel.


Corporate PR releases have no soul, but communist PR releases have less. Imagine having to write this about your government's tourism confab [highlights]:
The China International Travel Mart was held at the Shanghai Everbright Convention & Exbibition Center ... This fair featured the followings: First, it was high ranking. The honored directors of the mart's Organization Committee were acted by Qian Qichen, vice premier and member of Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, and Huang Ju, the Party Secretary of Shanghai Municipal Party Committee. ... The mart attracted many important persons, including secretary-general of WTO and tourist minister of Kampuchea, so its grade was obviously higher than the last.

Second, the mart was held in a large scale. It covers 23,900 square meters, involving 1,208 booths, an increase of 30% and 40% separately up the previous mart... And fourth, the categories of speciality were expanded. Participants of the previous mart were mainly government management departments, travel services, tourist hotels, airline companies and some scenic spots. This mart, however, added theme parks, cruise companies, convention and exhibition companies, network companies, public media, and institutions of tourist education, publication and recreation.


Thoughts on KILL BILL
Which only just arrived in Belgium

1. Would Tarantino have used the overexposed, bright-white-glowing black and white photography in the Japan fight sequence or wedding memories if he had seen Natrual Born Killers, and had known that a lot of viewers will associate that sharp break from color to dreamy black and white with the Oliver Stone film Tarantino despises as a monstrosity?

2. How much rough music does Tarantino listen to before he finds those diamonds?

3. Splitting the movie was a brilliant idea. It lengthened the martial arts segment beyond any reasonable limit, which was cool. It needed to be the climax and not the middle of something. The cliff hanger ending was perfect.

4. In Belgium, seeing anglopone movies with Japanese segments is worse than seeing movies with Elvish and Ork segments. Just going on the spellings and sounds, Japanese does not translate as well into Flemish as well as Orkish does.

5. A woman in a hoody firing a handgun through a box of Captain Crunch-like cereal called Kaboom! could serve as the encyclopedia entry for 'Tarantino, Quentin.'


The rot began when MacLAmity left in 2001. It took Tina Brown two more years to notice New York's icon deficit.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003



From BBB's collection of horribly embarrassing anti-war placards at the recent rally in Washington DC.



The most interesting thing about modern art, Maclamity has decided, is the pose spectators strike when they look at it. Plenty of examples of that in these photos. I like the man on his cellphone next to the Godot-like tree. Everything looks so lonely that the gallery could be hell.


Liminal Liberal's buddy Maricela documents the sad deterioration of her pumpkin, whom she called Mr. Rumpepumkin. I laughed pretty hard at this, until Freddy Mercury started singing into my inner ear "Time (time) time (time) waits for nobody waits for nobody/ Time time time time waits for nobody at all/ Time waits for nobody - yeah/ Time don't wait - waits for no-one." Then I kind of sat still for a while.


The rivalry between Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan to be the great contrarian of the web has become like a Mexican football game i read about once, where arcane league rules meant that the side that lost would go through to the next round, leading to a last-minute, desperate frenzy of each side to score own goals. Kaus takes his fellow left wingers to task for saying the plug should be pulled on Terri Schiavo, citing leftist dogma. Sullivan takes the right to task for so quickly assuming the plug should be left in, citing catholic dogma (literally, he quotes the catechism). The battle royale of self-inflicted bloody noses started at dawn today on Sullivan's blog [emphasis not in the original and added by a genius]:
Kaus makes a decent point here: [Kaus says the American left makes a huge fuss about the death penalty while it actually promotes the killing of those in vegatative states]. But couldn't the same thing be said about many on the religious right in reverse? They are going doolally over this case; but many support the death penalty with glee. For my part, I would favor keeping poor Terri Schiavo alive and oppose the death penalty in all cases. But I don't think the Schiavo case is an easy call. And I don't believe maintaining someone in that nightmare forever is an unmixed blessing.
Being ideologically hybrid and using the web to get that message out is so 2002 ... those ideological conformists are the real contrarians.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003


"The daily freesheet Metro has a regular feature in which two readers are set up on a date. Sent to a classy restaurant with design student Rebecca, Rob 'got absolutely steaming'. The couple did intend going on to a club, but Rob reported, 'after the meal I threw up'."
-- Getting horribly, foully drunk isn't just a past-time in England it defines what England is


Controversy differs from the snake which eats its own tail in one crucial way. When Controversy feeds on itself, it gets bigger. And hungrier.

Or, another way to understand Controversy: think of the hecklers yelling at the first performance of The Rites of Spring and those trying to listen to it. The listeners could keep quiet or yell at the hecklers to shut up. But Controversy had made such choices false: the music remains drowned in noise.

And so it is impossible to write about Dale Peck without writing about the Dale Peck controversy. James Atlas's profile in The New York Times compulsively takes a nine-paragraph detour from Peck to travel the contours of the controversy, with views of The Believer magazine to the left, Steve Martin at a literary luncheon on the right, and a brief stop at the Times's own op-ed page to make the reader feel at home again before returning to the actual magazine profile. Peck's book reviews get quoted at the start, but the reader gets the sense that that will have to do, since getting off the bus to read them would not be wise, since they are so controversial. Which is a pity.

Peck's reviews are witty, wildly wrong, and sometimes insightful, but mostly they're outrageous. His favorite tic is to pile up thousands of long, latinate, disparaging adjectives and then tip the pile over the entire modernist canon and any living author who makes decent money. This is the critical equivalent of Divine eating her own shit on screen, in "Pink Flamingos." His work has been more exciting, for this reason, than the responses and controversy it has provoked. 'The Believer's attempt to shame reviews like Peck's is dull indeed. It proves just why Peck was needed to shake up the U.S.'s literary establishment, which had become as complacent as the bright graduating class of MFA students which most of them once were ("He's great, yeah. This is the first time you met him? He did a story about a snail for our group. We all liked it. As an alternative voice. It worked out really well."). A sample Snark Watch entry from The Believer shows a sentimentality for the hard-put-upon not seen since Charles Dickens wrote about orphans: "It's a shame that Mr. Riker should resort to the very sort of oversimplified reading that he claims to be counseling against, just for the opportunity to disparage one of his contemporaries." (Yes. [Sigh. Nod. Sigh. Shake head gently.] And it's a shame that boys don't tip their hats to gentlemen and call them governor and it's a shame about that wonderful old candy store which closed when the owner died and it's a shame that Mr. Riker should be so disparaging of people like he is.)

The failure of Peck which overwhelms all his minor critical successes, however, was identified by Renata Adler 40 years ago, in a review of the young Norman Podhoretz. While polemic attracts young reviewers who want to make a quick big name for themselves, Adler pointed out, it's difficult to see why. If the work reviewed is a classic, then the polemic is proved wrong and dies. If the work is as bad as the review says, then, equally, the review will die with it. [NOTE: her quote which I'm paraphrasing is incredibly symmetric and elegant. If you find it, notice how her prose is 450% stronger than my attempt to paraphrase it.] The criticism that survived the past 100 years is in praise of, not up against. As Adler pointed out, we read Edmund Wilson for insight into Joyce (Wilson liked Joyce...) and not into Kafka (...but not Kafka).

A passion for literature can, and should, lead to savage reviews -- the need to defend high standards should not be denied attack as a tactic. A passion for bullying, however, would do exactly the same. The boss who yells and throws things at people who can't afford to reply or fight back likes to say he or she does this thanks to an extreme passion for -- what? -- newspapers, movies, toothpaste, profit margins, things like that. The boss never explains what the connection is, however. I feel Dale Peck's like that. He likes to get angry and throw things, because he likes to get angry and throw things.

In the Rick Moody review, the one hint of a positive literary vision came with a sudden, blurting admission of admiration for the largeness of Moody's guilt over his race's treatments of African-Americans. So, there's Peck's vision of literature for you. Guilt over racism. Not a vision to write poems by, on an empty stomach.

ALSO: Read one of Peck's short stories here. Quick thoughts: not bad. Good, clean description. A few devices which are original without seeming distinctive (eg. "First, Adam" as the first sentence, then fifteen paragraphs later "Then: Grace." (Gee would those names be symbolic?)). Every fourth sentence creaks wearily with worthiness. The para where the narrator gets hit in the head with a bike lock is pretty funny. In the end, kind of nice but its interest is dim.


Dale Peck's face is everything that's wrong with the faces of his generation. The eyes, nose, and mouth float on his face like goldfish in a bowl of water. No amount of effort -- and he puts in a lot of effort -- could make them look tough. Making a C-clamp out of his mouth might have helped, if it didn't mainly look like he'd squeezed said C-Clamp into his mouth four seconds before the shutter clicked. The influence of every New York Times photo essay on urban youth is clear. Where else can a 35-year-old get the idea that you should tilt your head like that? [UPDATE: A different possible answer is Michael Myers. I saw Halloween H20 last night (the third time) and the killer tils his head at that exact 30-degree angle three times in the movie. It's meant to make Myers look bestial, i think.] He has yet to learn the fundamental lesson of those who want to use bodybuilding to look like real men: when you want to make your muscles big, don't start with the ones in the neck. All of Peck's facial problems stem from that basic error of judgement. His head looks like a deflating helium balloon tied to a tree stump. The thinning hair on top suggests that his body is slowly dissolving into the air above and that his ears will drop off next year.

All in all, this face summarizes what is worst about the faces of Dale Peck's generation, and is the worst face of all of them at the same time.


"Then I asked my friend, this man in the kitchen cabinet of ANC power in the new South Africa, what he thought of Robert Mugabe. At his reply my heart sank. He described Zimbabwe's President as a hero for what he's done to white farmers, and a leader who illuminated the path ahead for South Africa. I remonstrated, as I always do, and ended by telling Mojo that I saw myself as an African first, a white second, and that it was my ardent wish to stay on the continent. 'Your only home,' countered Mojo, gently taking my hand again, 'is England.'"
-- why the Africa upper-middle class love Mugabe, acc. to The Spectator. Maclamity insta-blurb: "The most depressing reading on africa since yesterday's emily wax story on wartime rape's legacy in the Congo. You won't laugh! You won't cry!"


"Let me declare an interest. My father was born in a slum and his parents spoke such bad English that I could hardly understand it. He was a communist, but he took good care to learn to speak ‘correctly’. (I thank God that he did.) To his dying day, I never heard him utter a single word in the accent of his place of birth.

He early recognised the social importance of accent in Britain, and adjusted the way he spoke. But this was not mere snobbishness on his part: he recognised as well that on the whole (no social law is absolute, of course) high culture in this country was associated with a certain accent. He was socially aspiring, but culturally aspiring also.

Things have changed since he was a child, of course. Now the only children who are taught received pronunciation as the route to social advancement are the children of Indian and West African immigrants, and those of the respectable wing of the West Indian community. When I hear the children of Indian, West African or West Indian parents speak well, I almost want to cry with joy, and though by no means demonstrative by nature, I have to prevent myself from kissing them."
-- Theodore Dalrymple in The Spectator



Sort of witty, actually. But nevertheless damn hard to fathom Via Link via Prosopogaraphiapretentiouseofobscureandimpossibletoremembermedicaltermapheros

Monday, October 27, 2003


MacLamity received his first tip this morning. But the tip was in a file that MacLamity couldn't open.

O how MacLamity would like to say "Thanks to loyal reader Mr. X" and reflect on his blog's impact on the world in a way that wouldn't resemble refelcting on the sound a one-hand clap makes.

Friday, October 24, 2003


Meet Juan Goytisolo, Spain's best heretic:

"It's impossible to understand Spanish literature, this neo-Latin language, without taking into account Arabic literary models. In Count Julian, I celebrate the homosexual traitor who sold his land to the Moors, and reclaim that Moorish heritage, buried for centuries."

"How can Giscard d'Estaing seriously suggest that Europe is a Judaeo-Christian society? I owe so much to the Parisian quarter of Sentier, a neighbourhood where over 40-odd years I saw successive waves of Jewish, Armenian, Turkish, Pakistani and African emigrants arriving. All I had to do was walk out of my door and see people from every continent, speaking every tongue."


Above IT ALL
A surprisingly balanced and informative look from The Weekly Standard at how "Under God" became part of the Pledge of Allegiance. The thing which every good atheist knows -- that the phrase was inserted in the 1950s to make the pledge unreadable for communists -- is only a small part of the phrase's history.


What is that revolutionaries are seeing so far away?


The news that Shakira is the new goodwill ambassador for UNICEF almost had me huffing and puffing about the triumph of celebrity over talent until I admitted that I don't know what UNICEF goodwill ambassadors do, except look beautiful, rich and happy very close to the small and starving.

Audrey Hepburn was so expert at doing that that I had assumed, deep down, the way a child makes wildly incorrect assumptions about the world which last for years, that she had a real, important job. If I dig deep in my assumptions I find Audrey Hepburn in an office, organising food trucks and telephoning senators.

Since then, every goodwill amabassador has seemed lightweight. Even Roger Moore seemed a bit off. But in fact, I'm surprised to see that UNICEF invented the concept of the celebrity spokesperson in the 1950s, with Danny Kaye.

I give UNICEF credit for being so honest on the web site about the celebrity system and how it works. They practically say, we put someone who gets photographed constantly next to some starving children and that means people become aware of starving chlidren. And, on this basis, Shakira is an excellent unhypocritical choice.

If only this sudden epiphany, and its publication here, didn't feel like a failure to hide 15 years of stupidity.

Thursday, October 23, 2003


The FAZ roundup on the winning German women's football team is full of many yucks about women doing something as well as men? Imagine!
Are girls really the better men? Germany has been forced to rethink its concept of soccer ... even traditional soccer scarves for five euros, or about $5.80, which had been printed for the men's national team .... . “Men's scarves?“ the vendor asked surprised .... , the president of the German Soccer League, still showed himself impressed: “The women certainly also know how to celebrate,“ he said, adding tiredly, “They all look so fit. I didn't think they would be after Los Angeles." ... And when the championship match hero, Nia Künzer, who scored the golden goal in the 98th minute, said, “two left, one right,“ she wasn't referring to a knitting pattern, but the amount of times she has torn her ACL.
The article ends whimsically with "At least the female soccer players these days rarely hear the oh-so witty suggestion to swap their jerseys after the game. The pioneering days are over." Not of this article is anything to go by!


How could someone as image-conscious as Tina Brown allow herself to be photographed like this? She looks like Stalin trying to convince you he's really a cheeky chap.

UPDATE: How many times can you plug your new show on CNBC and not seem insecure about whether people care? Three times, I'd say. Tina Brown manages to do it something like 20 times, in one hour. Surely noone wants "Next one airrs cNBC 10pm on October 29th" to be a catch phrase.


Some books can be judged by their cover, just as some can be judged by seeing the movie. I've seen the TV movie of The Bell Jar and I've seen its covers. The covers all have a pink foreground over a disturbed background of black and white (PINK=GIRLISH CLICHED INNOCENCE. BLACK AND WHITE=STARK BRUTAL REALITY OF REALITY OF BREAKING DOWN.) That trite imagery was enough. The movie takes itself incredibly seriously. I imagine the crew wore bowler hats while they filmed. It starts with what smelled, looked, and felt like a dream sequence -- a 20-year-old span in heels ballet-style. The background was blank black. A woman's voicem said "I wrote a villanelle" echoing, as did the image of the spinning woman, thanks to late-1970s video technology. Imagine my stupor when I realized that this wasn't a dream sequence. Noone woke up in bed after all this spinning, puzzled, with a mother's voice calling "Time to wake up. You leave for college!" This was the first scene. This spinning girl, this movie was art! It was expressionism! It was mood! It was a Duran Duran video without the music ... but with the lyrics!

O cult of Sylvia Plath, I thought, what hath you wrought! Where are the poems? What is this non-stop, no-terminus voyage into that beautiful, young Suicide Head.

The Plath movie with Gwyneth Paltrow doesn't sound like it's going to be even as good as the disappointing "Tom and Viv." At least in "Tom and Viv" you had Willem Dafoe doing a boffo imitation of T.S. Eliot's Churchill-Zarvox voice and Miranda Richardson going barking mad. Tina Brown mentions it as giving her the only laugh in a week of pre-Oscar promotion hell:
After viewing five impending releases on five straight days, the only laugh in the theater all week was during "Sylvia," when Gwyneth Paltrow, playing Sylvia Plath, brightens the mood of a romantic rowboat excursion with the poet Ted Hughes by suddenly intoning in her flat "literary" voice, "I tried to drown myself once."
I once quoted Ted Hughes to a friend at a party and she reacted like I'd cited Mein Kampf to prove a point about pig farming. I can't remember what she said. I remember that her face turned to steel and the words Ted Hughes fell out of her mouth like bullets. She declared that she'd never read him and had no intention to. (Two hours later I accidentally came across this same girl discretely leaving a dark bedroom, in which she'd been making out with her friend's girlfriend. Now, wasn't that a little Hughes-like?)

Well of course you don't read Ted Hughes if you don't care about poetry. And of course you don't care about poetry if you pay such attention to Sylvia Plath's suicide. And of course you pay such attention to the suicide not because it's tragic, but because it's a handy symbol for you of how the male world assassinates female talent. You don't have to study the fruits of that talent, mind. You need know only that it existed and was destroyed. You make Plath into the real-life sister of Shakespeare (one problem with Virginia Woolf's argument, of course, is that William Shakespeare did have a sister, who wasn't very talented) and you make her an elegant proof of your theory.

And what if you just want to read the poems? I like Plath's poems, but I've only read those from The Collossus, which is not meant to be the masterpiece (I think Mushrooms's virtuosity, for instance, makes people suspicious. But i like virtuosity!). I like Hughes's poems, but I've only read the ones he did on Ovid, the Birthday Letters, and the ones which get anthologized. These poems, in my slight encounters with them, seem more and more distant from the lives which get memorialized.

Academics and high-minded readers focus so intently on this marriage, I think, because everyone needs to read the tabloid press. When you don't one option is to sublimate the urge by having a theoretical battle about an actual event, which is founded on and practised with tabloid-style tricks of quotes from friends of friends. It is the thrill of voilating privacy that sustains the argument. The thrill of getting inside that beautiful young suicide head.

(P.S. Janet Malcolm wrote brilliantly on this, but I've forgotten what she said.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2003


Even John Updike is less of a bitter old bastard than MacLamity and Updike's 71. His reasoning: "I’m beyond worrying about aging. I’m so old I can’t age anymore."


Thank Christopher Hitchens for mentioning this hysterical speech that MArk Twain gave in 1879. It starts:
My gifted predecessor has warned you against the "social evil — adultery." In his able paper he exhausted that subject; he left absolutely nothing more to be said on it. But I will continue his good work in the cause of morality by cautioning you against that species of recreation called self-abuse — to which I perceive that you are [too] much addicted.

All great writers upon health and morals, both ancient and modern, have struggled with this stately subject; this shows its dignity and importance. Some of these writers have taken one side, some the other.

Homer, in the second book of the "Iliad", says with fine enthusiasm, "Give me masturbation or give me death!"



The U.K. government is funding a concert in New York to raise the profile of British music. The Guardian reprints the lyrics of one of the bands

Average American Corpse
To love the state is to love life
24 commercials will suffice
Destroy what you don't understand
The politics of rape and a US hitman
The average American corpse
Brought up on the Marshall ideal
Power trip pragmatists
Forged into the stars (...)
Straight power concepts, it's black and white
View a young gunman's paradise
Massacre, home shopping, rifles, obesity
Constitutional rights of the free.



Hard to fathom, but great draftsmanship.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003


Study in SCARLET
Sherlock Holmes continues to be fantastic. The lower classes in these books are really stupid. Doyle's contempt for them must have immense. Doyle's ear for dialogue is so bad that at one point i wasn't sure if i was reading a policeman's account of the murder, or a Bob Dylan song:
It was precious dirty and lonely.
Not a soul did I meet
All the way down,
Though a cab or two
Went past me.

I was a strollin' down,
Thinkin' between ourselves
How uncommon handy
A four of gin hot would be,

When suddenly the glint
Of a light caught my eye
In the window
Of that same house.


Isn't it obvious that so many children's books are in the U.K.'s top 21, because childhood is the only time the majority of people read? If not, then why are most of the other books school books (1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher on the Rye)? The rest are books are classics which everyone knows but noone reads, like "great expectations" or "war and peace," or classics which everyone knows and has seen on TV?

These are the best-loved books of people who cannot like reading much. I'm happy to see The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy there, however. But then, if we're going to go down that route, why no PG Wodehouse?


"Rickie Lee Jones is angry," according to the Guardian. I think about the ramifications of this slowly. As far as I can tell, there are none. Rickie Lee Jones belongs to a very special category of musicians: I know nothing about them, care nothing about them, should probably know and care more about them, I never will, and they keep on being written about by people who write the newspapers I read.

With the exception of Lucinda Williams, they emerged sometime between 1975 and punk and are, I'm afraid to say, nearly all women. Bruce Springsteen would be a perfect example, if he was less famous. Sadly, I know who he is, know some Springsteen album covers and could identify some Springsteen songs. If you're 45, in other words if you're at the age where a newspaper allows you to write what features you want about the music you loved as a child, then these artists seem to you like the gritty sand that never disappeared from music. Rickie Lee Jones, Lucinda Williams, PAtti Smith fall into this category.

They all emerged as authentic and gritty and unyielding. They opposed the operatics of Emerson Lake and Palmer or the cheesiness of Abba or the forgetfulness of disco. At the same time, they have their own cheesiness. Abba wore shiny pantsuits and Springsteen wore a rugged check shirt with jeans; I like all poses in pop music, except the pose of authenticity.

They don't seem to have done much in 20 years, so all the articles I read about them begin X is back with his/her first album since Y. The sentence that would go here, always talks about some kind of torture or anguish X has had to go through, including the anguish of muteness.

I wish they wouldn't keep coming back. It's confusing to me.

Monday, October 20, 2003


Take Back Your Lies, Denmark! this gets better the further you read back in time. Make sure you find the submission to the UN in 1991.


Interesting statistics from a Slate article on the complexity of Israel's democratic vision. It would be good to know comparable statistics for the U.S., Europe, Afghanistan:
Zionist pioneers were educated in European social democratic movements, but well over 70 percent of Israeli Jews today either live in Orthodox communities or have roots in authoritarian political cultures - North Africa, the former Soviet Union - where Jews were scorned. About 250,000 live in settlements beyond the Green Line, Israel's internationally recognized border since 1949, indifferent to the unalienable rights of Arabs. Even before the intifada began, polls conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute showed that, where democratic standards clashed with 'Jewish law,' only 54 percent would protect democracy. Today, some 56 percent of Israelis -- again, IDI polls -- agree with the statement, 'A few strong leaders would do more good than all the discussions and laws.' Nearly a quarter of Israel's Jewish population refuses to say that democracy is the 'best form of government.

Friday, October 17, 2003


David Bellos is the French equivalent to William Waever, who has made a career of translating my favorite Italian novels, starting to do so before I was born. So Have Mercy On Us All should be complex, lucid, witty and disconcerting in its narrative techniques, without being so arrogant as to suppose that narrative can be dispensed with entirely.


Ron Rosenbaum Latest
Ron Rosenbaum has hated Seinfeld for 10 years. How is that possible? Read the master's latest rant on the house Seinfeld's building so Seinfeld's Porsches have somehwere to stay when they're in New York.


Steven Berkoff on what it's like when, after 30 years of distinguished work in Britain, having acted in Shakespeare and done revolutionary theater work, Hollywood, in search of a villain, finds you.: "A weird sense of unreality shook me. It was as if I had stepped through a screen and come out the other side, and, for a few seconds, I lost my sense of the present and hurtled back to the grim, grey lands I came from. The clammy years of struggle seemed to want to claw me back to them like raging furies. 'You don't deserve this!' they were shrieking. 'Come back to whiny old England!' How could I be a movie villain in Hollywood?"

Actually, Steven Berkoff, rather than typifying it, started the trend when he acted in Beverly Hills Cop. After him came Ian McKellen as Magneto, Ben Kingsley in Sneakers, Alan Rickman (as a German) in Die Hard and Robin Hood (as the only English actor he had to be the villain, even though all the characters were England), Joss Ackland in Lethal Weapon II, and Michael Gambon in Toys (who works for the U.S. army, but is still... English!). And the list goes on. Before him, the list does not exist. Berkoff was also an excellent villain in the underrated Octopussy. John Lithgow gets an honorary mention for being an excellent, underused actor and for his excellent English, villainish accent in 'Cliffhanger.'


The worst Bushisms from the days when Dubya was still Governor made clear that Bush had no fucking idea there's a world beyond the 50 states. But he was only expressing the views of the elctorate. All of us, even the most sophisticated Democrats have to rely on cliches to summarise a world made of over a hundred countries and thousands of languages. The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik, for example, doesn't like it when the French don't act French. For instance, he wrote of Paris Plage with as much distate flowing from his inkjet printer as ink. Why were Parisian's behaving like hicks, when he considered them too sophisticated for that kind of thing? How can France have an existence outside of this American's understanding of it? And that's the point of this Nebraska judge who refers to Spanish as 'the Hispanic language,' when denying custody rights to a Mexican father. For him this is the gobbledeegook of a certain race in America. He apparently has no sense that the language exists in, say, Europe in a country called, say, Spain, and is called Spanish.

Thursday, October 16, 2003


Steve Waldman makes a classic mistake of the modern left in Slate. Francis Arinze would not be the first Black pope. That would be Gelasius I (492-6). The mistake is to assume the problems of the modern West have existed forever, and that modernism has only found solutions. The catholic church is older even than racism. It hadn't even been invented yet for the church to overcome it.

UPDATE: Actually Gelasius could have been black, or not, or Roman, or African.

UPDATE: Liminal Liberal asks questions below like "What about the Jew-hating and the witch burning and the standing-by-in-the-Indian-massacring?" You can see how she demolishes all my mis-spelled replies below. Here, I just want to say that what has me fuming is the condescension that wouldn't even bother to check if there had been a black pope before. I like very little about the catholic church, but I know that it is older than most things in the world, but not China, which always seems to be older and have done everything 1,000 years before the rest of us. The catholic church has lived through the Roman empire, the visigoth raids, the middle ages, the crusades, the mongol invasion, the Ottoman invasion, the renaissance, the enlightenment, the rise and fall of communism, ditto fascism, bubonic plague and AIDS. So, it's seen a lot of things which we assume are modern inventions. Someone says, "The whole intellectual structure of catholocism means that it'd be impossible for there to be a female pope without the guiding light of modernity." The catholic church replies "You obviously weren't around in 1100." When dealing with the catholic church, it's best to realise that it's not an achievement for it to have a black pope. It had one long ago.


The first executive junkie, "hipped" out, Robert Stephenson, father of the steam engine, who'd have been 200 years old today (had not that drug habit killed him, we now know).


Difficult in person, but very dry and funny on the internal email:
ME:i gave you advert. corp page will be fine with merck and jumps. the name of the [portuguese] restaurant is Roi de Poulet...At stanford we had a mexican burrito joint called Pollo Rey. what's up with hispanic chicken monarchy? Which one is the real king, and which the pretender?

He: Maximillian, Emperor of all Mexico

Me: when she lays an egg, the chicken world shudders and squawks.

He: The proper name for a Portuguese chicken restaurant would be O Rei de Frango, a translation site tells me. The O seems to be important (the site translates "o frango" as chicken, while frango alone means nothing).

Me: the only portuguese i know (apart from some bossa nova lyrics) is something like Ey O so O mellhor! Which means "I am the best" and was said IN A SPEECH BUBBLE BY A GIGANTIC CHICKEN ABOVE A CHICKEN RESTAURANT OUTSIDE LISBON. Again, these hispanics and their dictatorial chickens!

He: I am the best, so kill and devour me.
National Lampoon once ran a comic strip on Charley the Tuna's realizing his dream and being accepted by Star-Kist. Like many dreams, it proved not to be all he had hoped for.

Me: I can top that. LEo Tolstoy once wrote a novel called War and PEace in which he compared generals who think they can control a battle to the bellwether sheep which thinks, because of its bell, that it is the leader of the sheep, when in fact forces far beyond are driving it and the flock to the slaughterhouse.

He: But he was just talking about Napoleon. The Russian general really was in charge.

Me: o, that was his point? I mis-read that novel badly then. Is that the Russian general who jumps under the train at the end? Or did Napoleon push him?

He: The Russian general sat calmly while his underlings rushed up to tell him reinforcements were needed. Then he sat calmly when Napoleon occupied Moscow. Then he sat calmly while slivers of bamboo were pushed under his fingernails. Then they realized he was dead.


I am becoming a bitter old fart at the age of 26. I am beginning to hate students, for example. They seem so young and intelligent, and therefore threatening. Young parents scare me; when you carry a child you imply to the world that you're in control of something, as you do with a gun. And the capital letters of DJ Enright's paragraph here seem factual, rather than wise, as if he had pointed out two nearby rocks and given me their measurements. In my hot youth in 2002, I'd have saved such a statement as material for use. Now I feel like it's referring to me.

"Many of you will not have lived before. You would never have dreamt of it. Now you are living, and we hope that you will enjoy it. But it is our responsibility to warn you that LIFE CAN GO DOWN IN VALUE AS WELL AS UP, and the past is not a sure guide to the future. Living can be bad for your well-being and even lead to death." DJ Enright

And then there's the maestro, Philip Larkin. Martim Amis summed up Larkin's precocious genius for decrepitude brilliantly:
"You know, I was never a child," wrote Larkin at the age of fifty-seven.
"I really feel somewhat at the last gasp. Carry me from the spot, time, with thy all-forgiving wave," he wrote at the age of twenty-seven."

Wednesday, October 15, 2003


A quiet day at work has me reading A Study in Scarlet. It's the first thriller I've read in a while, apart from a Maigret novel which seemed less like a dumb thriller because I was reading it in French. I'm captivated. Noone's murdered anybody yet. In fact, the only event that's happened so far is Holmes and Watson moving house. But I'm rivetted. How did Holmes know Watson had come from Afghanistan? Just how, exactly? I also adore this surreal exchange:
"Holmes is a little too scientific for my tastes -- it approaches to cold-bloodedness. I could imagine his giving a friend a little pinch of the latest vegetable alkaloid, not out of malevolence, you understand, but simply out of a spirit of inquiry in order to have an accurate idea of the effects. To do him justice, I think that he would take it himself with the same readiness. He appears to have
a passion for definite and exact knowledge."
"Very right too."
"Yes, but it may be pushed to excess. When it comes to beating the subjects in the dissecting-rooms with a stick, it is certainly taking rather a bizarre shape."
"Beating the subjects!"
"Yes, to verify how far bruises may be produced after death.
I saw him at it with my own eyes."

Tuesday, October 14, 2003


He is useless that you continue lying, to me me you cannot deceive I I know that you put the horns to me with the battery of the Total Wreck you think that I do not find out to me, that I become lean the finger. As I see you again with him, you are going away to find out... Who is that stupid idiot one of the hat? That they have said to me that you are with him With its leather hunting, its whip and its revolver, What well! Indiana Jones! No longer it wants coffers nor histories, returns the hero to take to my fiancèe... God mine! What have done you I? (Oh Indiana) Never that I have behaved badly with young you... (Oh, Indiana) God mine! What have done you I? (Oh Indiana) he will leave You that way, one will go away to the damn temple and you will return to my '... Indiana, Indiana... Indiana, Indiana... You do not know to say another thing? Either you have me until the banana Or I have seen 14 times the film, you are torturing to me with music I am going to the Sign to change chromiums of your collection of the album... Of the album of Indiana Jones! (Oh, Indiana)... I cannot support your barbita of four days... (Oh, Indiana) Loose the whip and you will see, (Oh, Indiana), Dale thanks to God that you have Indiana glasses (Oh, Indiana) Uh! Indiana... (Oh, Indiana) Uh! Indiana... (Oh, Indiana) Uh! Indiana... Uh! Indiana, Indiana... Indiana, Indiana... (Oh, Indiana) Indiana...


From the Weekly Standard: "As Arnold crescendos, telling the crowd how much more they are paying in car taxes for each specific make and model, Schwartz [a Democrat protestor holding a sign reading GrOPe] winces, yelling, 'How much is a burger at Planet Hollywood?' (a restaurant chain in which Arnold once owned an interest). But then Schwartz gets upstaged by the big finish. 'Let me show you exactly what we are going to do to de car tax when we get to Sacramento,' says Arnold. He points to an empty parking lot near the crowd, where a lonely Oldsmobile sits, inscribed with the words 'Car Tax.' A crane right next to the car crushes it with a wrecking ball. Schwartz is struck dumb. "




The novel JesusGate, which a spammer kindly alerted me too, sounds absolutely fantastic

This intriguing novel crosses time and space to
shed light on a pivotal point in history.
A young
TV reporter flies from New York to Jerusalem
to cover
a fast-breaking story: the inexplicble
death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Marcus, a soldier in the Roman Empire,
is also
Through him and reporter
Geraldine Simmons we come in contact
with everyone involved with Jesus' death:
Pilate, Herod, Judas, the soldiers
who guarded the tomb and
people miraculously cured by Jesus.

In this imaginary world
on jet planes
and watch television
and meet Roman
soldiers who still carry swords and ride on horseback.
People from the past and present meet.

Read one of the most interesting and fascinating novels ever written
about the secret trial and execution
of Jesus of Nazareth, and what may have been
the real
reasons behind his death

really happened that fateful Thursday before Passover?
Rome know what was going on?
was Jesus' body if he really died?
What does all of this mean
to the future of humankind?

Monday, October 13, 2003


Are THEY WORTH A WOMAN AND SOME CHILDREN?: "The late British philosopher Bernard Williams once wrote an essay on the role of luck in morality. Paul Gauguin was his chief bone of contention. How could the French stockbroker have justified abandoning his wife and kids to become a painter [...] for the sake of working on his tan, getting laid and, maybe - just maybe - rejuvenating his creative powers? Wasn't that the wrong thing to do? "


Yes, Virgina, there really are ninjas who can flip out and kick all the shit out of shit.The Guardian reports:
The butchery, worthy of a Quentin Tarantino film, began shortly before midnight on Friday when the four men knocked at the apartment of a Chinese hairdresser in the centre of Empoli.
The hairdresser, her assistant and 'the doctor', who operated from the same premises, were reportedly overpowered and tied up before the group, all thought to be in their 20s and 30s, ransacked the apartment.
Disappointed by their meagre booty, the attackers allegedly threatened to rape the two women unless they told them where the rest of their money was hidden.
At this point the doctor managed to free himself, seize a knife from one of the aggressors and deliver a series of lethal stab wounds.
Investigators found the body of one man, who had been stabbed in the heart, sprawled on the staircase and another man bleeding to death in the street from a wound to his leg. A third man is recovering in hospital from a punctured lung.


Why so scared, Christopher, when you're the one with blood running down your chin and only three uncommon things can kill you?

Friday, October 10, 2003


David Edelstein's movie reviews in Slate are the place to go for sharp insight into what makes bad movies worth watching. Plus he makes amazing off-hand comments, like this one from his review of Kill Bill
"The movie will not be to everyone's taste; I've already read some tut-tut reviews, like the one by David Denby in The New Yorker that ends, 'I felt nothing. Not despair. Not dismay. Not amusement. Nothing.' (Like many of my friend Denby's weary plaints, this sounds better when you read it with a French accent: 'Ah felt ? nossing. Not ze despair ? Not ze dismay ? Not z'amuse-mon. Nossing.')

Thursday, October 09, 2003



Does it say something about the state of poetry or about the state of Britain that this is considered a Poetry Landmark (along with Sylvia Plath's grave and Wordsworth's house) or this or this?


Ciaran Carson has the Forward Prize for poetry. One of the poems The Guardian reprints ends with what I take to be fantastic pun, right up there with how both we all and the sweep come to dust.
by Ciaran Carson
Sergeant Talbot had his head
swept off by a
yet for half a furlong
the body kept the saddle
horse and rider charging on
regardless "


In the piece below, DJ Taylor cites Terry Eagleton's defense of Theory's jargon on the grounds that every profession has its jargon. True enough. But Theory's jargons fails in two important ways: it displaces words that describe the concepts equally well, the concepts the jargon describes are mostly bullshit. When WK Wimsatt talked about the Intentional Fallacy, you knew that this must have something to do with mistakes to do with intentions. No jargon needed.


Goes to cricket all-rounder Paul Collingwoodfor his comments on arrival in Bangladesh: "'My first impression of Bangladesh is that there's a lot of water,' Collingwood said. 'I like coming to places with a different culture like this. I enjoyed India and it really opens your eyes ... and makes you appreciate how lucky you are.' "


I miss Theory. I miss talking about it and thinking of it as very important. So does DJ Taylor.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003



MacLamity knows what this refers to, but finds it ineffably hard to fathom.


Ah the life of a provincial policeman. Having solved the one burglary in the past three months you rigorously investigate a magic trick and discover it was all an illusion.


Even in something as eternal as the grave, The Spectator has managed to uncover an invasion of the Alien Modern. Graves are getting gaudy all over England, The Spectator is sad to see, although what the article describes seems no more immodest than say, Karl MArx's grave, family tombs on country estates or the Taj MAhal. The problem here, really, is that the lower classes have acquired the bad taste (and means) of the upper classes. Previously they kept things simple and elegant because they had the good luck not to be able to afford gravestones shaped like windmills.

The article closes looking out on a beautiful vista (Americans who don't know who Ronnie Kray can see the movie or listen to Morrissey's "Last of the Famous International Playboys"):
I’m not sure about gardening in graveyards. Perhaps the Kray twins had the right idea. Ronnie took his journey to the hereafter very seriously. On his shiny black memorial stone, his portrait is protected in a waterproof oval frame and his epitaph reads simply, ‘The Legend’. Every year at about 11.30 on the anniversary of the twins’ birth, a group of balding villains arrive in hired cars, stamp out their cigarettes on the kerb and wander down the dank lanes to a far corner of Chingford cemetery. At about 11.40, a lone Spitfire takes off from Old Warden in Kent and flies north-west across the Essex marshes, arriving 300 feet above the cemetery at midday, when the pilot kicks the rudder and rolls gracefully above the grave. As they listen to the sound of the Merlin fading away, the old boys pull up the collars of their camel-hair coats around their necks, before setting off to an Italian restaurant in Borough High Street for a meal and a chat about old times. That’s what I call respect.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003


Slate's pdf of the California ballot rocks. Check out the in-quotes middle names: Kurt E. "Tachikaze"... PAul "Chip" ... Check out the professions! One guy lists his job as "Marijuana Legalization Authority" Don't fuck with him.


When "Coupling" was on the BBC, I didn't think it was particularly funny or notoriously racy. It had the same format of Friends. From Sex in the City it had the annoying habit of picking up some Seinfeldian funny-quirk-we-all-do and then giving it an off-kilter name. Lots of banter along the lines of: "I feel he's been giving me a twicer for two long!" "What's a twicer?" "You know when he ... and then you ... but after two weeks you ... well ... that's a twicer!" [laugh track goes beserk at this. Absolutely beserk.]

One of the nice things about 'Coupling', however, was that the characters were normal. The women weren't pretty or hot, but they looked interesting. The men were mostly goofy-looking, which made their vanity and lack of self-awareness that much more endearing.

So why did the American producers decide to drop the one thing about Coupling that made the show nice for MacLamity? The actors look like Immortals, who've dropped from a Renaissance fresco. Look at their calves. I've seen racehorses lined up for the Grand National who've had dumpier legs. Is good looks like a parachute for the television show: if the jokes don't work we can at least sell posters of the hot female lede to pubescent boys? Do the producers want to suggest, to appease advertisers, that only titans of tautness and dryads of pertness have sex? Would Revlon throw a fit if a show said that sex happens to those who look ordinary, smell a little, and have a slight belly?



The WaPo's description of Maya Lin's description of her first industrial design -- a bakery -- gives me the feeling of vertigo I last experienced when I read a description by MAya Lin of the work of Maya Lin. She's terribly good at building stuff. The Vietnam Memorial is incredibly, stupidly moving and the attempt of the Korean War Memorial opposite to do something similar shows how having the simple idea first is what makes the genius. She's also terribly good at describing the intricate symbolic structure of her designs. Her essays on her work make for great reading. It's puzzling why her buildings and her descriptions of them rarely match. Trying to make them match is like staring at a magiceye drawing for thirty minutes, only to discover your staring at a random collection of dots and that's why you have a headache. Maya Lin's Sweet & Socially Conscious Project (
She used paint inside in shades of oatmeal, wheat, butter and coffee. She opened the building to light with huge skylights and sheets of clear plastic between floors. And she honored the Buddhism of Greyston founder Bernard Glassman, she said, by featuring water -- in communal sinks for the bakery workers, in a still-unfinished outdoor fountain and in the views of the Hudson River from the roof.
The baking machinery -- including two U-shaped assembly lines, a 40-foot tunnel oven and a spiral cooling rack -- were still being tested Friday. Officials were not sure when the production will move from the current bakery, a cramped former lasagna factory around the corner.


Monica Ali's "Brick Lane" is making me sick before it's arrived ... like a baby! There were only so many times I could hear about the next Zadie Smith before I decided to hate all Zadie Smiths -- next and current. The London Review of Books's review calls the Booker nominee "patchy," confirming that my irrational hatred, although unfair, has good taste. What makes the review worth reading, and suggests the reviewer was either utterly bored by the book or fascinated with the sound of his own voice, is the long look at a 200-year-old immigrant conmmunity in London.


"Sir, if Herodotus was such a fool as they say, why do we read him for Greats?"


It may all be a tangle, a bit like hearing the solo clarinetist’s final notes in the contemporary British composer Brian Ferneybough’s ‘La Chute d’Icare.’ It is certainly not like reading the popular Billy Collins whose readership will never be that of Ashbery’s. It is walking in the dark with feet moving slowly over a strange terrain and always arriving, arriving at a suddenly lit-up embankment and seeing night, a ‘monotony of stars and/ other instances.’ So often there is the juxtaposition of the insignificant, the hardly- needing-to-be mentioned along with the noting of the large, even with the sublime. Yes, a ‘monotony of stars and/ other matters.’
Wait, just for starters, what was that "Yes" in response to? I'm floored. The correspondents of Jacket magazine never fail to let you know, if you get any big ideas, who's more pretentious than you.

Monday, October 06, 2003


Haunting scene from a Washington Post account of Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
A thick noose hung from a crescent-shaped piece of steel set in the roof over each door. The U.S. occupation authority has the last two noose ropes found at Abu Ghraib, U.S. soldiers at the prison said.
The noose was placed over each prisoner’s neck and a green hood was put over his head. A lever opened the two doors and the loud clang of them banging open signaled to the prisoners still in the cells that an execution had taken place.
Another hangman, known as Akeel, who served in the late 1980s, would sometimes stand on the trapdoor with the prisoner, embrace and fall with the condemned men to ensure they died quickly. "He always hugged the thin ones and fell with them so it would be a mercy to them," said Mr. Jabr.
MacLamity knows he's picturing this all wrong, but what he has as a picture will be sticking around in his head for some time. The strings this paragraphs strikes in its terrifying chord are:

Small proofs of humanity in regions of otherwise total inhumanity

What counts for kindness in such regions


Torture dungeons from Robin Hood movies

General orientalist 1,001 nights imagery, which is acknowledged as false and stereotypical but is lodged in there nevertheless

All around love-equals-death-ness

Friday, October 03, 2003


It's the man's name which gives this story a fifteen percent boost. If this happened to MacLamity, I am fairly confident that MacLamity would neither faint nor die. Why? Because they're made of rock! Or they might as well be.

Thursday, October 02, 2003


Night Piece

The swung torch scatters seeds
In the umbelliferous dark
And a frog makes guttural comment
On the naked and trespassing
Nymph of the lake.

The symbols were evident,
Though on park-gates
The iron birds looked disapproval
With rusty invidious beaks.

Among the water-lilies
A splash — white foam in the dark!
And you lay sobbing then
Upon my trembling intuitive arm.

Here's a great site on Ern Malley, one of the greatest poets never to exist, and the number one in Australia. Peter Carey's use of the hoax, which rivals the ossian and chatterton hoaxes in its beauty, in his latest novel is apparently well done.


Maclamity has worked for 24 hours on this post to give his readers as vivid an impression of his insufferable pretentiousness as possible.

Sometime in an August of the early 90s, the British tabloids photographed the Duchy of York's financial adviser sucking the Duchess's toes. She looked on from the sunbed: giggling, classless, topless.

My family was staying at the time at a hotel on the Mediterranean's coast. The force of history came from the West across the sea and caught my father at his back. It pushed him 45 minutes down a road, walking, to the one town in the region which sold English newspapers. When he returned to the hotel swimming pool a huge knot of newspapers was ready to explode from under his arm like news of the battle of Marathon.

Sarah Ferguson's affair and its revelation was unsurprising. The Duchess of York was vain and stupid, the British tabloids had realized that the limits on coverage of the royals were self-imposed and unprofitable, and the Duke seemed like a nice man who, had he married a 20W soft-glow light bulb, could have turned it on only with extreme effort (It's simpler for the British in 2003 to condescendingly assume he's gay). The News of the World dislocated our world in an afternoon. A few weeks later it reset awkwardly in a different position, permanently. What had changed was...
It was a letter exchange about Ubu Roi, which leads the New Criterion's latest St. Valentine's Day Massacre letter to the Whitney Museum, which got me thinking about what had happened that day in the early 90s. Ubu Roi became famous in its first half-second, when the actor said...

...What did he say again?
Was it merdre, as a puzzled correspondent asked? Or was it merde?

It doesn't matter, is the sad thing. Ubu Roi can no longer be performed. In Paris, back then, the opening was a deliberate provocation. In London a character walks on stage says Shite or Shitters [James Panero claims shitters is a swear word, my sarcastic emphasis is placed on "word"] and the audience doesn't go beserk. It asks "Now why is that man moderately upset?" The play has been lost as effectively as if it had been lost in the sand.

Breaking taboos takes some daring, some flair, some imagination, but there is a problem. Once broken, taboos stay broken. The act that broke them loses the barrier that made its force meaningful. The force dissipates into nothing. It is the suicide bomb of artistic strategies.

Also, it rarely changes much. Having not read "History of Sexuality" I'm not going to pretend I'm quoting. But I can understand how my understanding of that book makes sense. All the sexual taboos broken in the 1960s didn't make us free. It stopped some persecution, of that much we should be enormously grateful. But the open marriages of the 1970s and the wife-swapping parties in the Mid-West in 2003 seem as forced and unfree to me as the 1950s couple sleeping in separate beds.
...that we had seen a Royal's tits. My friend said later that summer, "I didn't even consider whether they had them." The shock of that experience has gone. I find it hard to see how I could never have seen. Did anything change?