Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Beats, Blood, and the Bourgeoisie

Text of my speech on Resolved: I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness at the annual Yale Political Union Party Prize Debate last night. I spoke in the negative. I with my teammate Alex Fisher took 2nd Place (again, blech).
- - - - -
I cannot say, ladies and gentlemen, that I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, for to say that something is destroyable is to suggest that it was created, that it lived. With sadness I admit that I can say no such thing about my generation. What I have seen, Mr Speaker, is a generation of still births, of children born into a desanguinated world to leech away her last drops of blood and beauty, to make perpetual her torpid afternoon of the soul.

I pity my generation because it seems we were never given a chance. Like an unholy Hegelian synthesis of the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers, we are both practical minded and narcissistic, risk averse and self-indulgent, mature enough to spurn the recklessness of Woodstock and the Beats but frivolous enough to maintain a cultured bourgeois adolescence until our 40s.

Unlike some others tonight, I do not define madness as “that which I like” (or dislike, as the case may be), and so while the defining traits of my generation bewilder and sadden me I cannot name them lunacy.

Man is by nature a petty and fearful creature, for in the recesses of his mind and depths of his soul he knows, in the way the moth knows light to be beautiful and the vine knows to grow toward the sun, that he is insufficient, he is incomplete. His carnal fear perverts this knowledge into a veneration of, and sacred duty to protect, that which is immediately perceivable, attained, and obviously his. We have made an idol of our fear, but no longer do we name it God: now we bend before the altars of comfort, security, health, and success, and tell ourselves in the wordless dialogue of our souls that we are responsible to something nobler than our own inescapable mortal terror.

It is the mad ones who have the wholly unjustified courage to give themselves over fully to the arbitrariness of life, who know that, as Don Colacho says, “everything in the world rests on its own final ‘just because.’” The mad ones know their fear is just, and give themselves over in faith to whatever may be. Zorba the Greek says that he lives as though he should die any minute, in contrast to the old man he meets planting an almond tree, who lives as though he should never die. The mad ones reject modernity as described by Colacho, that collection of things which “seem to allow us to escape the human condition.”

It is common to associate madness and extremism, and not unreasonably so, but it is not against mediocrity or smallness of ambition that I speak. I concur heartily with Chesterton when he says that “mere existence, reduced to its most primary limits, is extraordinary enough to be exciting.” On the contrary, it is the pietistic devotion to certainty and the self-drawn maps of our lives that sterilizes and blinds us to the beautiful absurdity of the world, which, as Chekhov and Kafka have shown us, can be found even from a census bureau or insurance office.

I will not lie and tell you that the prism of madness, of looking upon all things in wonder and with sacred awe, of spurning the well-considered boundaries and protections that have grown up through centuries of civilization, comes without a price. Madness is that which unites Eros and Thanatos in communion with the beautiful, the good, and the true. In Eastern Christendom this is known as kenosis, the paradoxical idea that we can only be filled once we have emptied ourselves, just as Christ, in death, fulfilled His nature, and conquered death thereby. It is the madness of martyrs, the call from heaven not all of us have yet been given the grace to hear; yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is indeed a call to destruction. But none that I will dare call best ignore its sonorous ring.

Who will be the martyrs of our generation, ladies and gentlemen? Has our culture given us the courage to say, “I know that there is more within me than breath”? Standing as I am on the precipice of adulthood I do not know, and so, foolishly, madly, I hope.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Freeze or rot

Been reading so many wonderful things lately! But for now, this:
Is it not dreadful and humiliating to think that Moses went up upon Sinai, the Greeks built their lovely temples, the Romans waged their Punic Wars, Alexander, that handsome genius in a plumed helmet, fought his battles, apostles preached, martyrs suffered, poets sang, artists painted, knights shone at tournaments--only that some French, German or Russian bourgeois garbed in unsightly and absurd clothes should enjoy life "individually" or "collectively" on the ruins of all this vanished splendor?
- Konstantin Leont'ev

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The best collapsitarianism

"For to passion, as to crime, the assured everyday order and stability of things is not opportune, and any weakening of the civil structure, any chaos and disaster afflicting the world, must be welcome to it, as offering a vague hope of turning such circumstances to its advantage."
- Death in Venice, Thomas Mann

I am trying and failing to think of things about my life and ideas that this does not explain.

Who needs swords

"One of the more attractive features of Orthodox education was the rich musical heritage of the church. Thousands of parish choirs were formed in the 1890s with special funds from the Synod to enhance the worship and cultural life of the masses and to impress the non-Orthodox and non-Russian populations of the empire. 
Synod Education Commission authorities were gratified to see Old Believer populations in the Urals and along the Volga gradually ceasing to resist official liturgies connected with school affairs and to see thousands of Catholic and Lutheran children enroll in Orthodox schools in the western and Baltic provinces, attracted by the opportunities provided by choral singing societies."
- James Cunningham, A Vanquished Hope: The Movement for Church Renewal in Russia, 1905-1906

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What led you here?

Search keywords that brought folks to my blog this week:
  • soviet realism art
  • slavic rus
  • snake candelabra
  • obama wallpaper 2012
  • rupaul iron fist shoes
  • albino caucasian
  • atheist st patrick's day
  • guinness
  • guinness logo st. patrick's day
  • guinness working process
Mr "rupaul iron fist shoes", I salute you. I do hope poor Obama wallpaper guy enjoyed his stay. And "Guinness working process"? I have good readers.

Search keywords that brought folks to my blog this month:
  • slavic mysticism
  • soviet realism art
  • ts icons
  • slavic magick
  • lady gaga height
  • men cigarette holder
  • slavic beauty
  • slavic rus
  • can i smoke while taking a shower
  • dick scribbles
I'm so glad I'm not the only person trying to address the simultaneous tobacco-hygiene practice issue. I got nothing on that last one, though.

The Old Catholics

The Old Catholics, led by Johann von Döllinger, archbishop of Munich, refused to accept the definition of papal infallibility made in 1871 by the First Vatican Council. A small group, confined mainly to southern Germany and Switzerland, broke with Rome, but they were not able to effect a reversal of the doctrine or persuade other Catholics in general. Prior to World War I, Russian church figures such as Alexander A. Kireev and Archpriest Pavel Svetlov, a professor at the Kiev Theological Academy, worked to bring the Old Catholics into union with the Russian church--a kind of reverse Unia. The war ended their attempts, however, and Old Catholicism faded into irrelevance.
- James Cunningham, A Vanquished Hope: The Movement for Church Renewal in Russia, 1905-1906

Monday, March 19, 2012

People I do not trust

-people who do not drink
-people who prefer studio recordings to live ones
-people who don't have a decent amount of experience riding buses
-people who can go days without listening to/performing music and not notice
-people who dislike children as a category
-people over the age of 25 who've never had even a puff of a cigarette
-people whose closest friends are exclusively women
-people who are uncomfortable interacting with animals
-people who say they like all music "except rap and country"

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My words were of paper, scarcely splashed by a spot of blood

More Zorba.

"How do you expect to get the better of a devil, boss, if you don't turn into a devil-and-a-half yourself?"
"Yes, you understand with your brain. You say: 'This is right, and that's wrong; this is true, and that isn't; he's right, the other one's wrong...' But where does that lead us? While you are talking I watch your arms and chest. Well, what are they doing? They're silent. They don't say a word. As though they hadn't a drop of blood between them. Well, what do you think you understand with? With your head? Bah!"
"'It's all because of doing things by halves,' he would often say to me, and 'saying things by halves, being good by halves, that the world is in the mess it's in today. Do things properly by God! One good knock for each nail and you'll win through! God hates a half-devil ten times more than an archdevil!'"
"That is what a real man is like, I thought, envying Zorba's sorrow. A man with warm blood and solid bones, who lets real tears run down his cheeks when he is suffering; and when he is happy he does not spoil the freshness of his joy by running it through the fine sieve of metaphysics."
"I felt deep within me that the highest point a man can attain is not Knowledge, or Virtue, or Goodness, or Victory, but something even greater, more heroic and more despairing: Sacred Awe!"
"I had rarely felt so full of joy in my life. It was no ordinary joy, it was a sublime, absurd and unjustifiable gladness. Not only unjustifiable, contrary to all justification. This time I had lost everything--my money, my men, the line, the trucks; we had constructed a small port and now we had nothing to export. It was all lost.

Well, it was precisely at that moment that I felt an unexpected sense of deliverance. As if in the hard, somber labyrinth of necessity I had discovered liberty herself playing happily in a corner. And I played with her."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Well, you did put the "try" in "try too hard"

In these winter days of my undergraduate career I find myself with ever increasing frequency bouncing around Youtube like it was some sad nocturnal music festival in the outskirts of Atlanta. I went through a brief Hank III phase one night last week (I think?) but felt uneasy about it even then. He's pretty emblematic of what's known in some circles as "rebel/outlaw country"-- country punk redneck motorcycle gang, if you follow. Here's "Dick in Dixie", to familiarize ya (I don't need to warn you of vulgarity, do I?):

Well some say I'm not country
and that's just fine with me
'Cause I don't wanna be country
with some faggot looking over at me
They say that I'm ill-mannered
that I'm gonna self-destruct
But if you know what I'm thinkin'
you'll know that pop country really sucks 
So I'm here to put the "dick" in Dixie
and the "cunt" back in country
'Cause the kind of country I hear now days
is a bunch of fuckin' shit to me

Well we're losing all the outlaws
that had to stand their ground
and they're being replaced by these kids
from a manufactured town
And they don't have no idea
about sorrow and woe
'Cause they're all just too damn busy
kissin' ass on Music Row
This is, in fact, a more sophisticated example of the genre (I will spare you Whiskeydick's "Drunk as Hell", among other things). Now I have nothing against vulgarity, simplicity, or even lazy songwriting-- there's a very important place in this world for barn stompers, lullabyes, banal melodies sung over a sink full of dishes-- but I just don't believe a damn word he's singing. He's not pop country, sure, and he may in fact be a badass (I've never met the guy!), but, well, as Zorba says: 
"...I live all those mysteries, as you call them, and I haven't the time to write. Sometimes it's war, sometimes women, sometimes wine, sometimes the santuri: where would I find the time to drive a miserable pen? That's how the business falls into the hands of the pen-pushers! All those who actually live the mysteries of life haven't the time to write, and all those who have the time don't live them!"
This might be the long way round to saying "show, don't tell," but the particularly sad thing in this instance is the audience for this stuff. If the "outlaw country" musicians are heavy handedly carving their own one dimensional mythology, the concert goers and juke boxers are even more pitiably alienated from whatever pleather studded, whiskey stained heroism the songs are venerating.

I'm a 22 year old Yale student (from Long Island) majoring in Karamazov, Crazy, & Christ, and even I, in my feeble alcohol-ism and "hard living" shadow plays, recoil from this as peasants did from Communist agitators preaching the commune's utopian perfection. It rings of cheap tin and something pathetically foreign, and leaves me quite confused.

The whole Zorbatic world will go to the bottom!

Excerpts from Zorba the Greek, with which I will continue to be obsessed for at least another day or so:

"But at times I was seized with compassion. A Buddhist compassion, as cold as the conclusion of a metaphysical syllogism."
"We were leaving the Berlin museum, where he had been to have one last look at his favorite painting--Rembrandt's Warrior, with his bronze helmet, emaciated cheeks and his dolorous and strong-willed expression. 'If ever in my life I perform an action worthy of a man,' he murmured, as he gazed at the implacable and desperate warrior, 'it will be to him that I owe it.'"
"All the problems which we find so complicated or insoluble he cuts through as if with a sword, like Alexander the Great cutting through the Gordian knot. It is difficult for him to miss his aim, because his two feet are held firmly on the ground by the weight of his whole body. African savages worship the serpent because its whole body touches the ground and it must, therefore, know all the earth's secrets. It knows them with its belly, with its tail, with its head. It is always in contact or mingled with the Mother. The same is true of Zorba. We educated people are just empty-headed birds of the air."
"'What came over you to make you dance like that?'

'What could I do, boss? My joy was choking me. I had to find some outlet. And what sort of outlet? Words? Pff!'"
"My life is wasted, I thought. If only I could take a cloth and wipe out all I have learnt, all I have seen and heard, and go to Zorba's school and start the great, the real alphabet! ... I should learn to run, to wrestle, to swim, to ride horses, to row, to drive a car, to fire a rifle. I should fill my soul with flesh. I should fill my flesh with soul."
"'I lived six months with her. Since that day--God be my witness!--I need fear nothing. Nothing, I say. Nothing, except one thing: that the devil, or God, wipe out those six months from my memory.'"
"And I said to you then, I remember: 'What do Greece, Our Country, Duty mean? The truth is here!' And you replied: 'Greece, Our Country, Duty mean nothing. And yet, for that nothing we willingly court destruction.'"
"'Life is trouble,' Zorba continued. 'Death, no. To live--do you know what that means? To undo your belt and look for trouble!'"
"If the scriptures had said: 'Today, light is born," man's heart would not have leapt. The idea would not have become a legend and would not have conquered the world. ... But the light which is born in the dead of winter has become a child and the child has become God, and for twenty centuries our soul has suckled it."

I tell you we must die

From the Met's 1978 production of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny:

Oh show us the way
to the next whiskey bar.
Oh don't ask why,
oh don't ask why.

For if we don't find
the next whiskey bar,
I tell you we must die.
I tell you we must die.
I tell you,
I tell you,
I tell you we must die.

Oh moon of Alabama,
we now must say goodbye.
We've lost our good old momma,
and must have whiskey,
oh you know why.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"O wonderful Slav!"

Here's mud in your eye, Saint Patrick's Day, for crowding out all the bars in a city whose liquor stores can't sell on Sundays.
"Let me tell you, boss, the Slav woman is not like those skinny, greedy little Greeks who sell you love a drop at a time, and do everything they can to palm you off with less than your due and swindle you over the weight. No, boss, the Slav gives you good measure. In sleep, in love, and in food. She's so nearly related to the beasts of the fields and the earth itself. She gives and gives bountifully, she's not niggardly about it like those haggling Greeks." - Zorba the Greek

Some Sunday morning early Tom

1977: "Tom Traubert's Blues", based on the Australian bush ballad, "Waltzing Matilda":

Wasted and wounded, it ain't what the moon did
I got what I paid for now
See you tomorrow; hey, Frank, can I borrow
A couple of bucks from you to go
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda?
You'll go waltzing Matilda with me
I'm an innocent victim of a blinded alley
And I'm tired of all these soldiers here
No one speaks English and everything's broken
And my Stacy's are soaking wet to go
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You'll go waltzing Matilda with me
Now the dogs are barking
And the taxi cabs parking
A lot they can do for me
I begged you to stab me
You tore my shirt open
And I'm down on my knees tonight
Old Bushmill's, I staggered
You buried the dagger
In your silhouette window light to go
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You'll go waltzing Matilda with me
Now I've lost my St Christopher now that I've kissed her
And the one-armed bandit knows
And the maverick Chinamen and the cold-blooded signs
And the girls down by the striptease shows go
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You'll go waltzing Matilda with me
No, I don't want your sympathy
The fugitives say that the streets aren't for dreaming now
Manslaughter dragnets and the ghosts that sell memories
They want a piece of the action anyhow, go
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You'll go waltzing Matilda with me
And you can ask any sailor and the keys from the jailer
And the old men in wheelchairs know
That Matilda's the defendant, she killed about a hundred
And she follows wherever you may go
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You'll go waltzing Matilda with me
And it's a battered old suitcase to a hotel someplace
And a wound that will never heal
No prima donna, the perfume is on
An old shirt that is stained with blood and whiskey
And goodnight to the street sweepers
The night watchman flame keepers
And goodnight, Matilda, too
And if you've never heard very early Tom, before he developed his characteristic voice, I present "I Want You", an incredibly beautiful and simple song, of which there are all too few nowdays:

I want you, you, you
All I want is you, you, you
All I want is you
Give you the stars above, Sun on the brightest day
Give you all my love, if you would only say
I want you, you, you
All I want is you, you, you
All I want is you

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Was ist Thanatos?

From Nikos Kazantzakis's Zorba the Greek:
"And why the devil d'you have to go down to the sea to make calculations? Pardon me, boss, for asking this question, but I don't understand. When I have to wrestle with figures, I feel like I'd like to stuff myself into a hole in the ground, so I can't see anything. If I raise my eyes and see the sea, or a tree, or a woman--even if she's an old 'un--damme if all the sums and figures don't go to blazes. They grow wings and I have to chase 'em..." 
"But that's your fault, Zorba," I said to tease him. "You don't concentrate." 
"Maybe you're right, boss. It all depends on the way you look at it. There are cases even wise old Solomon... Look, one day I had gone to a little village. An old grandfather of ninety was busy planting an almond tree. 'What, grandad!' I exclaimed. 'Planting an almond tree?' And he, bent as he was, turned round and said: 'My son, I carry on as if I should never die.' I replied: 'And I carry on as if I was going to die any minute.' Which of us was right, boss?"

My son, my son, what will be done

I have decided that at some point before I graduate, I will host a 12 hour Werner Herzog marathon, focusing on his fiction feature films.

Films that must be included:
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - Nicolas Cage! Also one of my favorite films of all time.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God - I just desperately want to see this.
Stroszek - Just, come on. Also it's funny.

Films that might be included:
Nosferatu the Vampyre - I'm such a sucker for Klaus Kinski (that pun was unintentional but it's staying there now, to shame me). In any case I hear vampires are big these days.
Rescue Dawn - Christian Bale is quite brilliant. Also, recent films! The young folk like those.
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser - haven't seen this, looks quite intriguing, but I worry that a subtitled film may be rough in a marathon context.

Film I'm ambivalent about but should probably include:
Invincible - it's not that I don't like it, but I've just seen it so many times. However, if I want anyone else to subject themselves to this with me...

Input from film types most appreciated.

La Cigarette - Mélanie Pain

Y'all speak French, right? Thought so. Actual song starts about a minute in.

This'll be something other than a disconnected assembly of music I like at some point.
Donne-moi une cigarette
Je la garderai près de moi
Je la fumerai peut-être
Bien avant que tu ne le croies
Je garderai cette cigarette
Pour occuper mes dix doigts
Je la fumerai peut-être
Quand j’aurais trop le mal de toi
Ne fais pas cette tête
C’est toi qui me laisse là
Toi qui veux que l’on arrête
Toi qui ce soir tourne le pas
Je préférerais c’est bête
Attendre des semaines, des mois
Et l’allumer sur la défaite
Qu’une autre un jour t’infligera
On pourra alors peut être
Sur nos deux cœurs de granit froid
Y gratter une allumette
Et la partager comme autrefois
Quand nos corps étaient à la fête
Qu’ils n’avaient pas peur du combat
Donne-moi cette cigarette
Comme un dernier cadeau de toi
Ne fais pas cette tête
C’est toi qui me laisse là
Toi qui veux que l’on arrête
Toi qui ce soir tourne le pa
Just meeting the gender quota. Too many old anglophone white guys on the blog lately; I've gotten complaints from HR. Folks should know more than one French song about smoking, anyway.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hobos, tramps, and bums

"Hobos are people who move around looking for work, tramps are people who move around but don't look for work, and bums are people who don't move and don't work. I've been all three." - Seastick Steve

Which do you want to be when you grow up?

I can't lose what I never had
You can't take what I ain't got
When I'm happy, you won't make me sad
Depending on you all
Well I'm not
Cause I started out with nothing
and I've still got most of it left
When I'm down I just get up
When I'm down well I stand up
Been down many times well you know it's true
Haven't had a red dime between me and you
Cause I started out with nothing
and I've still got most of it left
And if it all fell apart today
I could just walk
Get on down the street
I ain't worried where I'm going to sleep
I can always find some food to eat
Cause I started out with nothing
and I've still got most of it left

You never even called me by my name

I imagine some significant portion of this blog's readership has already heard this song, but given that I only heard it for the first time yesterday, I figured I had to share.

It was all that I could do to keep from cryin'
Sometimes it seems so useless to remain
You don't have to call me darlin', darlin'
You never even call me by my name.

You don't have to call me Waylon Jennings
And you don't have to call me Charlie Pride.
You don't have to call me Merle Haggard, anymore.
Even though your on my fightin' side.

And I'll hang around as long as you will let me
And I never minded standin' in the rain.
You don't have to call me darlin', darlin'
You never even call me by my name.

I've heard my name a few times in your phone book
I've seen it on signs where I've laid
But the only time I know, I'll hear David Allan Coe
Is when Jesus has his final judgment day.

Well, a friend of mine named Steve Goodman wrote that song and he told me it was the perfect country and western song. I wrote him back a letter and told him it was NOT the perfect country and western song because he hadn't said anything about Momma, or trains, or trucks, or prison, or gettin' drunk. Well, he sat down and wrote another verse to the song and he sent it to me and after reading it, I realized that my friend had written the perfect country and western song. And I felt obliged to include it on this album. The last verse goes like this here:

Well, I was drunk the day my Mom got outta prison.
And I went to pick her up in the rain.
But, before I could get to the station in my pickup truck
She got runned over by a damned old train.

So I'll hang around as long as you will let me
And I never minded standin' in the rain.
No, You don't have to call me darlin', darlin'
You never even call me, I wonder why you don't call me
Why don't you ever call me by my name.

h/t BAL (who is actually from Georgia-- bonus!)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tom Waits - Satisfied

How I missed this video til now I do not know.

When I’m gone
When I’m gone

Roll my vertebrae out like dice

Let my skull be a home for the mice
Let me bleach like the bones on a beach
I’ll be hard like a pit from a peach
Now the ground has a branch
Now the hound has a ranch
The old tressel’s just junk
The Edsel is on blocks
The old said so… won’t talk
I’m a blimp that’s straining, cut’er ties
I’m a moth in training, flutter by

When I’m gone

When I’m gone

I said I will have satisfaction

I will be satisfied
I said I will be satisfied
When I’m believing: satisfaction
When I’m grieving: satisfaction
When I’m shaking: satisfaction
When I’m praying: satisfaction
When I’m staying: satisfaction
When I’m carousing
When I’m a thousand

I said I will have satisfaction

I will be satisfied
Before I’m gone
Before I’m gone
I will have satisfaction
I will be satisfied
I will have satisfaction
I will be satisfied

Now Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards

I will scratch where I’ve been itching
Now Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards
I will scratch where I’ve been itching

Before I’m gone

Before I’m gone
Before I’m gone
Before I’m gone

Let me go back into the barrel

Let the bullet go back into the barrel
Let the bullet go back into the barrel
Let the bullet go back into the barrel
Before I’m gone
Before I’m gone

I said I will have satisfaction

Let the bullet go back into the barrel
Let the bullet go back into the barrel
Take a left off the straight and the narrow
Let the bullet go back into the barrel
Before I’m gone
Before I’m gone
Keith Richards, incidentally, is playing the guitar on this recording (with Les Claypool on bass).

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Tiger and Me - Til Sunrise

Sadly not on youtube, but do check them out.
Well I hope that you’ll never be famous
And always be singing the blues
To the hookers and harlots and chivalrous charlatans
Too old for their new leather boots
Waiting for someone to find you
And drag you away from this ruse
From the sinister stars and the candle-lit bars
Where you drink to the memories you lose
Here is a different song of theirs called "I Left the Wolves Behind that Night" (song actually starts around 0:44):

They are the Decembrists, but handsome.

To be honest there is nothing particularly compelling about them, but I am a sucker for songs about bars and hookers.