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All The World Is An Audience and All The Men and Women Merely Claquers
A curtain-call bouquet of softly glowing, battery-powered plastic roses to the mini-genius who first situated a designer-audience of indiscriminate enthusiasts in a closed-off section in front of, or cut out of, the main performing stage at an MTV award show. This pit of fervor, this zone of omni-fandom gives a somewhat plausible sense of general ebullience to the proceedings. It's like a living, caged laugh track. It is of course only a refinement of opera claquerie, which itself has even more ancient precursors. But what a necessary refinement.
Andrew Sullivan gave Gary Indiana one of his poseur alert year end trophies today. I think the world could do with more intellectual posing, so I'm no fan of Andrew's efforts to discourage it through public embarrassment, especially since he's misfired with his nominations so often. Indiana's paragraphical sentence did pack too much alt. high-culture name-checking into a small space (Celine and Malaparte both on the same side of a single period), and the central conceit, ironic props to literary-fascist-shit-eaters-on-the-march, is exactly as good as it sounds. But I will forgive Indiana anything for his insight into the audience/performer dynamics of Branson, Missouri. Indiana once wrote that Branson is the place where the audience pretends the people on the stage are stars, while the people on the stage pretend the people in the audience are an audience.
Raymond Chandler thought it was possible to sabotage any dramatic movie by placing a few anti-claques in the audience (as few as two, I believe). They must be spread out to give the appearance of spontaneous disorder and irreverence, as the game was to have each of them start laughing at the movie independent of the other(s) and at logical right angles to what was happening on the screen. Chandler believed no movie would be immune to the contagion of audience-wide laughter once the few had broken the taboo and exposed the ridiculous rigging behind the shimmering facade of every Hollywood product. Chandler was wrong only insofar as he too modestly pegged his plan to work against the handiwork of the Goldwyns and Mayers. I'm pretty sure the hilarity germ could successfully infect almost any audience at almost any event. Excepting only a few comedies. Or more than a few.
This essay from the right, pointed to by Tim Blair, makes a start at rescuing Gigantic Susie Sunday's reputation from itself. It neglects to mention Sontag's earlier and more provocative dissents from left orthodoxy, though. Before her winters in Sarajevo, and the reflections they prompted, there were her mid-70's reassessments of the left's behavior in the face of Communist tyranny. Her most famous, and so cleverly mean point was that subscribers to The Reader's Digest would have had been much better informed about Soviet (and Maoist) crimes against humanity, both as they occurred and as historical facts, than would subscribers to the Nation. This elevation of such an intellectually disdained periodical above the moral plane of such an intellectually ordained periodical was a rhetorical masterstroke. It had the added rhetorical thwack of being indisputably true.
Sontag's unwelcome honesty elicited an almost equally, cleverly mean riposte from that dependable, congenital stalinoid (and sometimes funny writer) Alexander Cockburn, who took to calling her The Goddess That Failed.
I'm on the Simon/Marcus/Kendrick team when it comes to Susan's work as a whole:
Others were less impressed. John Simon accused Sontag of "a tendency to sprinkle complication into her writing" and of tossing off "high-sounding paradoxes without thinking through what, if anything, they mean."
Greil Marcus called her "a cold writer" whose style was "an uneasy combination of academic and hip...pedantic, effete, unfriendly."
Walter Kendrick found her fiction "dull and derivative."
But the excellent LA Times obit from which I lifted these demurs makes it clear that there was some there there. At the very least, she had real, though intermittent, intellectual courage, curiosity and honesty. The shame is that this was overmatched by the more prevalent intellectual porridge and crackers.
Update: I may have misremembered the date of Sontag's Reader's Digest jibe (misrememberances of things past, a house specialty--a planetary specialty, really). Several pieces I've since read refer to Sontag making her comparison between the Digest and the Nation in the same Town Hall speech that she very less cleverly referred to Communism as "fascism with a human face". This took place in 1982. One brief (but not brief enough) theory-soaked bio even casts this as evidence of Sontag's early 80's Reaganization:
In the 1980s, Sontag's divided persona as at once vanguard intellectual and popular broker for the avant-garde became unbalanced. Even as she touted the subversive, "writerly" practice of such figures as Artaud, Barthes, and Benjamin, she domesticated the radically textual character of their verbal styles. While granting, for example, Barthes's concern for "writing itself," she largely ignored his heralding of the "death of the author" and instead valorized the artist's more traditional and humanizing role as a promeneur solitaire, writing at an elite remove from the vexed issues of textuality, history, and social change. Such aesthetic conservatism was dramatically underscored at a 1982 New York rally in support of Poland's Solidarnosc, where, like many other New York Intellectuals during the Reagan years, Sontag renounced her earlier roots in radicalism.
I lied, I didn't want this piece any briefer. I enjoyed every significant pixel of it (though perhaps I am a lecteur solitaire in this). It also did me the favor of reminding me of the MOVIES. Yes! I must see them: Brother Carl, Duet for Cannibals, The Promised Lands. C'mon, Sundance, book that triple bill. These are some tres important titles, I have to see the flicks that struggle under the weight of them.
Roger Kimball goes New Criterion on Sontag's dead ass here. For those of you who are naturally disinclined to appreciating her, Roger's long accumulating and slow brewing disappreciation might do the trick of making you more sympathetic to her corpse. It's that ol' New Criterion Black Midas Magick doing the debil's work as usual.
Cleaning out my inbox (cleaning out the catbox is more fun and takes less time) I discovered this disregarded heads-up. It is titled Warning - Tsunami. I received it on 12/1/04:
THIS IS AN OFFICIAL WARNING!
A huge 300 ft. high ocean wave is moving towards your continent.
Your and many other cities are in a real danger. Approximate wave moving speed is 700 km/h.
Please read more about this catastrophe
We are strongly urging you to evacuate yourself and your family as soon as possible, even though you may live far away from your city. The tsunami will reach the continent in approximately FOUR hours.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Not exactly spot on, but close enough for a very cheap thrill. The link in the warning is dead. The sender, though this is always a dubious concept in spam mailings, is email@example.com, a show-stopping address for sure. I'd never seen a .pl domain before and didn't know until I looked it up that it stands for Poland. The email also includes hidden, random letter strings which I only saw when I highlighted the text to paste it here.
I will not be so quick to ignore seeming spam in the future. I would normally have skimmed past the email I just recieved titled Bush and whores! Hot exclusive video!, but not today. Well, maybe I would have opened it anyway. But I certainly wouldn't have given it any credence. Now, however.....
Attention! The President of the USA was shot on a hidden camera in a brothel, accompanied by 3 floosies and Hillary Klinton's sister! You can download a 3-hour video with Bush's orgy only on our site! Hurry, the quantity of free downloads is limited. This news is not in mass media yet, and you've got a great chance to see it at first hand! Only first 5000 site visitors can download the reel free! www.warezdownload.ws - Don't miss it! With best wishes, WarezDownload.
I was tempted to laugh, but I didn't. The grin on my face was beyond conscious control though. In a catastrophe of any magnitude it only makes sense to convey the tragedy through particular stories of individuals. Famous individuals among them. And Petra's story is certainly horrific, badly injured and stranded for hours clutching a tree in the maelstrom, her boyfriend swallowed by the surge. I am sorry about that grin.
But I did have a second, more defensible reason for amusement. The AP entertainment correspondents haven't gotten word of the style book ban on tidal wave. Of course, if you grow up to write about supermodels you were probably sketching supermodels during Earth Science class, but the demotion of tidal wave to antique linguistic/scientific curio has been proceeding apace for twenty years at least. Are the show biz scribes still writing about the vapors, too?
I'm not convinced that tsunami is an improvement for English speakers, however. Or non-Japanese speakers generally. It seems to me that earthquake wave is the way to go. And then the prosaic equivalent of that in every other language of the Pacific (and Indian) rim. This is one term that has to be as transparent and dumbed down as possible.
The Sumatrans didn't have a chance, but the Thais, Sri Lankans, and Indians might have.
*I'm not sure I'm repeating the legendary headline in its most classic form. And whether that most classic form is apocryphal or true. A quick google search did turn up this front page.
...Li and his daughter were vacationing in a resort in the Maldives when the 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck near Sumatra early Sunday.
...According to Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper, which quoted an unnamed friend of Li's, the martial artist and his daughter were in their hotel lobby when a wall of water surged into the building. Li was dinged by a piece of floating furniture and sustained an foot injury, according to the Ming Pao Daily News, but managed to scoop up his daughter and escape relatively unharmed. After reaching higher ground, he was able to call his agent and let him know they were all right.