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Echoes and Mirrors

Composing the Body – Some Thoughts on a Punk Rock Approach

June 2nd, 2014 by Daniel

I’m not a rhetoric and composition scholar, but I’ve been wading knee-deep in it as a TA for the last two years – and teaching a smidge of it, as far as I can – and every now and then, I see something that is just so applicable that I can’t let it go. I’ve used movies to teach composition in the past, notably Adaptation and the documentary Derrida.

Most recently, I watched The Punk Singer, a documentary about Kathleen Hanna, the founder and lead singer of Bikini Kill (a band I listened to whenever I developed a punk-rock sensibility during the late 90s). A lot of the curriculum at Ohio (where I’ve taught composition during my Master’s program) is based on identity composition – feminism, queer, race, discourse communities, etc. – and I’ve been immersed in much of these discussions for so long that much of the feminist rhetoric discussed in the film wasn’t terribly shocking or new to me (I was aware of the riot grrl thing then as much as I am now, as well). But I realized that it was being presented in a really unique and, dare I say, hip way. It was accessible in a way that was interesting.

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Movie Review: The Station Agent (2003)

May 15th, 2014 by Daniel

The Station AgentFinbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) inherits an abandoned train depot when his only friend and employer, Henry, dies. Fin moves into the station hoping to lead a solitary life but winds up making friends with Joe (Bobby Cannavale), an overly friendly food truck vendor that sets his truck up outside Fin’s depot and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), an artist who’s left her husband and fled in the wake of her son’s death. All three of them have very real, and very serious struggles that they’re dealing with; they find, for better or worse, companionship and comfort in each other. The result is a fun, understated dramedy.
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Movie Review: Water Lilies (2007)

May 12th, 2014 by Daniel

Water LiliesFrench (Subtitled)

This touching coming of age story follows Marie, Anne, and Floriane, fifteen year old girls in a Paris suburb. The nature of sexuality is explored in a delicate and touching way as their lives intertwine. The three girls are very different in appearance and demeanor, but all share a sexual confusion. The way each deals with that confusion is genuine and heartfelt. It’s sweet but not saccharine, well-paced and affectionate without being trite or falsely optimistic.

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Thus Spoke Bill Donahue, or, How I Learned to Relax and Embrace Religious Impotence

May 9th, 2014 by Daniel

I don’t even know how to contextualize this; I suppose it doesn’t matter, in a sense. Bill Donahue recently posted:

We do not have to worry about the Taliban in the United States—religious fanatics are properly impotent. But we do have to worry about their secular counterpart—atheist fanatics. It is their impotence that we must secure.

To be perfectly honest, this demonstrates not only a woeful lack of self-awareness, but also a childishness. Either he’s confused on what impotence entails or he’s reversed the causality in order to gain sympathy. I’m thinking it’s the latter.

But what most interests me is that a religious leader is speaking about social impotence and power in a way that echoes Nietzsche’s thoughts on the ‘priestly caste’ in The Genealogy of Morals, which is both amusing in its lack of self-awareness and pure irony. In Nietzsche’s view, promoters of religion are, indeed, ‘properly impotent.’ But that impotence is what makes them fanatical to the point of being dangerous, not something that makes them safe. Donahue makes the further mistake that this impotence is something that can be imposed by society. Rather, it is this impotence that has demarcated the ‘castes’ (in keeping with Nietzsche) and caused society to have become stratified in the way it has.

Thus spoke Nietzsche (from the Francis Golffing translation):

“The chivalrous and aristocratic valuations presuppose a strong physique, blooming, even exuberant health, together with all the conditions that guarantee its preservation: combat, adventure, the chase, the dance, war games, etc. The values of the priestly aristocracy is founded on different presuppositions. So much the worse for them when it becomes a question of war! As we all know, priests are the most evil enemies to have – why should this be so? Because they are the most impotent. It is their impotence which makes their hate so violent and sinister, so cerebral and poisonous. The greatest haters in history – but also the most intelligent haters – have been priests. Beside the brilliance of priestly vengeance all other brilliance fades. Human history would be a dull and stupid thing without the intelligence furnished by its impotents. […] Whatever else has been done to damage the powerful and great of this earth seems trivial compared with what the Jews have done, that priestly people who succeeded in avenging themselves on their enemies and oppressors by radically inverting all their values, that is, by an ac of the most spiritual vengeance. […] It was the Jew who, with frightening consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value equations good/noble/powerful/beautiful/happy/favored-of-the-gods and maintain, with the furious hatred of the underprivileged and impotent, that ‘only the poor, the powerless, are good; only the suffering, sick, and ugly, truly blessed. But you noble and mighty ones of the earth will be, to all eternity, the evil, the cruel, the avaricious, the godless, and thus the cursed and damned!’” (167-8)

This seems to really parallel the odd vibe one sometimes gets from Christians in the United States wherein the Christians are the oppressed in the social equation, despite their overwhelming majority and firm grip on institutional power.


Word Ghosts: Robert Pinsky’s Gulf Music

May 6th, 2014 by Daniel

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Robert Pinksy is a smart guy. So smart that he can’t let you know how smart he is. So smart that he can force you to figure that out for yourself and, after a while, you will appreciate his effort to make you put forth that effort. I am drawn to poems that seem to evoke as much critical thought—and philosophical thinking—that philosophy qua philosophy does. In part, I am drawn to them because they do not simply tell you what facet of being is at stake nor what to say about it; they present some metaphor that requires thought to untangle even though the moment you read it, somehow it stings something in the brain pan. I find myself with visceral responses to Pinsky’s poems—some even involve cursing, throwing the book and an accelerated heart rate; others trigger a quasi-(or even total)-eureka moment of sorts that involves head nodding, standing up and sudden talking to myself about how what I just read is so damn right, why couldn’t I think of it? followed by some cursing in envy. I digress. Pinsky seems to at once channel the ghosts of Foucault and Leo Tolstoy to duke it out over the philosophy of history, pit notions about narrative and understanding against each other, even-handedly express complex notions about language in terms of hand-tools, and somehow still give a first impression of flippancy or recklessness.

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Movie Review: Least Among Saints (2012)

May 2nd, 2014 by Daniel

las1When Anthony (Martin Papazian), a Marine, returns home from the service, he is broken: he drinks too much, he’s depressed, his wife has left him and he’s got little going for him. The one thing he can’t fix is his own problems, but when he encounters ten-year old Wade, his neighbor’s son, he finds an opportunity to help someone else. The day after he meets his neighbor and her son, he has to deal with her dying from an overdose and leaving Wade alone. Anthony doesn’t hesitate to help Wade, despite the social worker who’s assigned to help the boy. Anthony’s past isn’t exactly clean, which leads him and Wade into a well-intentioned but foolish quest to find the boy’s estranged father.
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Movie Review: Prince Avalanche (2013)

April 30th, 2014 by Daniel

Prince AvalancheOh, understated dramedy, you are the apple of my eye.

Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) spend a summer working on the highway in rural Texas following wildfires that destroyed much of the countryside in 1988. Alvin is dating Lance’s sister and got Lance the job. Alvin finds Lance to be immature, feckless and irritating; Lance finds Alvin to be self-righteous and irritating. But their isolation forces them to come together and face their problems, which, as it turns out, aren’t so different.

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Movie Review: See Girl Run (2012)

April 28th, 2014 by Daniel

See Girl RunI swear I haven’t been trying to balance the deployment of my reviews in a good-review-bad-review pattern, but it seems that that is what has been happening. No more. In fact, I think you’re in for a pile of gushing reviews about understated dramedies (lo, how I loathe that word, despite it’s somewhat perfectness). Not today, though.

See Girl Run is about a thirty-five year old woman who runs away from her husband to find closure with her boyfriend from high-school (college?) that she never “technically broke up with.” It’s a movie about closure then – and that, well, happens. While there are some bright spots, this movie is basically an unmitigated disaster. (Spoilers and gory details below.)

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Some Thoughts on The Killing

April 27th, 2014 by Daniel

I finished watching The Killing on Netflix. The show was addictive, grim, stylized and engaging for the majority of the series. The complexity of the search for Laura Palmer’s Rosie Larson’s murderer. The detectives are driven and intelligent, but also flawed and quick to jump to conclusions. Of course, this leads to mistaken accusations, which further leads to violence and more trouble. The story is genuinely compelling and the way it unravels is fun. The resolution to the investigation is satisfying in a way I hadn’t predicted.

It reminded me of a much more serious – or at least realistic – Twin Peaks. It lacks the surreal, the meta-critiques of its own genre and the spiritual that Lynch wove into his show. It doesn’t have the comic relief or the ironic use of tropes. It makes up for that with wonderful character development. But it does make the same fatal mistake that Twin Peaks did: they solve the murder, but continue the show. Twin Peaks may have had a really great extended plot to delve into (the film Fire Walk with Me wraps some of it up but leaves me wondering how awesome a full second or even third season could have been).

So, season three. It fast-forwards one year and we find that Linden has quit the police force and Holder has become a successful homicide detective. They stumble upon what appears to be the work of a killer they believe they caught and is scheduled to be executed.

The thing is, it while it reaches back and explores Linden’s history, a lot of the real character development is sort of eschewed for plot points. When it’s not, there are long, emotionally-charged but underwhelming episodes – the episode where the killer is executed, I think, was meant to be powerful and paced slowly to reveal a lot without much action. It does the latter, but not the former so well. Linden’s son is completely out of the picture and only sort of hand-waved away. Holder’s past as a drug addict is ignored in a similar fashion.

They also tried to up the ante by casting a few bigger names including Peter Sarsgaard and Amy Seimetz (who will likely appear and be praised in some upcoming movie reviews), both of whom give wonderful performances, even if they’re somewhat underused. Mireille Enos (Linden) and Joel Kinnaman (Holder) deliver praiseworthy performances again, even though a lot of the scripting seems uninspired. And it’s really in the story that the show simply falls a bit flat in season three. It simply can’t recapture the energy and paranoia that the first two seasons had. It is still grim and stylized. The city of Seattle remains a vital part of the of show, and possibly even more so.

Apparently (according to IMDb) there’s to be another season, though there isn’t any details on it yet. I was impressed enough to watch another season but I’m not sure how excited I am about it. It simply lost it’s energy and grip on me during the third season. It Twin Peaks’d but rather than reaching for an inspired if confusing extended plot arc, it sort of became a police procedural – one with lengthier and complicated investigations, but a police procedural none the less. Which is disappointing.


Is it so Absurd? An Argument About Class and Access

April 26th, 2014 by Daniel

Recently, I celebrated a birthday. What happens on my birthday every year is that I also have to renew my vehicle registration.

The Ohio BMV (Does that not sound like a child mispronouncing DMV? Ohio, you are a joke.) was within walking distance from campus. So, on my birthday, I walked from school down there to find out that they moved across town. I wasn’t upset about having to give the state money on my birthday; I’ve had to renew vehicle registration for years and I was working anyway. No big deal.

But when I got there, I found a sign informing me that they’d moved to a location clear across town. One that I couldn’t walk to. Inside the mall. Which is important because by time I got out of work, they were closed and I couldn’t drive.

Now, I’ve been trying to make time to take a bus out to the new location, which simply hasn’t worked with their hours and my work schedule being about evenly matched.

Granted, I could have done my renewal prior to the last day possible. But I drive maybe once a week and hadn’t driven anywhere in almost three weeks leading up to it. I just forgot about it. I live in town and generally walk everywhere.

And so I suppose I would be inclined to argue that moving an essential government office to a location that can only be reached by motor vehicle presupposes an ability to either spend an hour or two taking public transit or the ability to legally drive already. Having a car or other motor vehicle is really more of a necessity than a privilege outside of major metropolitan areas.

Also consider those who are simply attempting to get a valid identification card (and can’t drive, by choice or otherwise). They now have to find some sort of transportation to the office instead of being able to walk.

This strikes me as a form of class warfare. A minor blow, perhaps, but it makes assumptions about minimum ability. Specifically, it makes an assumption of what I would call a middle class ability, or middle class access. That is access to either the time to arrange for transportation or the transportation itself.

Having access and having convenient access are completely different things. Purposeful inconvenience is a method of restricting the level of access and is somewhat evil. Coincidental inconvenience, on the other hand, would simply be a form of ignorance. I’m not sure what we’re dealing with in this case but I would highly doubt any intent was had. It seems more like someone simply didn’t consider the broader consequences of moving the BMV. That is, they did not consider anyone with less than a certain level of access.