A Gleaning

The Quarterly Conversation (rock-solid, as always) has a review of Mathais Énard’s Zone, to be published in English translation by Open Letter.  It is one of two books to be published by Open Letter in the near future that I’m very excited about–Death in Spring being the other.

The reveiwer,Énard’s title:

In 1913 Apollinaire published Alcools, his famous poetry collection. One of his texts was entirely devoid of punctuation. Its name? Zone. And indeed, Apollinaire is one of many writers quoted in this book and probably one of its most important references: as Énard himself commented, his poem and the novel share many thematic aspects.

And whence that poem’s title? To those who have read it, it can seem somewhat arbitrary.  I read the answer this morning in Calvin Tomkins’ fascinating biography of Marcel Duchamp.  From page 110:

[Apollinaire] got on famously with Mme Buffet, an elegant, highly cultivated woman whose grandfather had been a famous botanist and a friend of Lamartine, Chateubriand, and Madame Recamier.  He wanted to know everything about the beautiful and remote region of France they were in, which was known locally as the Zone, and he loved to draw out Mme Buffet on the subject of her eighteenth-century ancestors; with his amazing erudition, Apollinaire told stories about the great intellects of that time as if he had known them intimately.  Apollonaire could be tremendously winning, and on this occaision he seems to have been on his best behavior.  It rained a lot, so they spent most of their time indoors, playing jackstraws or sitting by the enormous fireplace in the main room where, Mme Buffet subtly guided the conversation…One evening Mme Buffet asked Apollinaire to read some of his poems.  “He recited them rather ceremoniously,” according to Gabrielle [Buffet-Picabia, daughter of the aforementioned Mme Buffet and inamorata of Duchamp’s], “in a restrained tone of voice, stressing the rhymes…He read several poems from the collection Alcools, which had not yet come out, and one of them, which retraced his life, his childhood, and his disappointments, made a great impression on my mother…She asked him the title of this poem.  ‘It’s not finished yet,’ he said, ‘and it doesn’t have a name.’  Then, suddenly, gracefully, her turned to her and said, ‘I will call it Zone.'”

I confess that, in my ignorance, I had postulated a connection with the Zone in Tarkovsky’s Stalker.

Tomkins gleaned this remarkable anecdote from Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia’s Recontres. I wholeheartedly recommend the Tomkins biography, even if you are relatively unfamiliar with Duchamp but nevertheless interested in the period.  The book is filled with gems.

Aira’s Ghosts

Ghosts, the just-released-in-translation novel by Cesar Aira, is (like his earlier books How I Became a Nun and An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter) one of the most uniquely, genuinely odd books you’re likely to stumble across.  No one (to my knowledge) is doing anything quite like what Aira does in his fiction.  Short books that nevertheless derail themselves, meander, drift, and stretch out while all the while remaining fascinating.

Attempting to summarize Ghosts is futile.  It is set in an unfinished luxury apartment building,  There are digressions on the symbolism of human self-organization, on hairstyles in Latin America, on class divisions.  There are fireworks and curious children.  There are ghosts.

I wholeheartedly recommend Cesar Aira.  My favorite of his translated novels is An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (I haven’t read The Hare), but any of his books are sure to be worthy (and short!) diversions.


Jonathan Ross on Alejandro Jodorwsky (film clips/language nsfw).


-The early films, as of two years ago, ARE available.

-Badger looks a bit like Jodorowsky-as-monk in El Topo.

-Jodorowsky, Fernando Arrabal, and Roland Topor founded the Panic! movement in Paris.  All went on to do big things.

-Jodorowsky supposedly has a new film slated to come out “soon”.

dating a Syriac bible seized in Cyprus

Originally i was excited about a possibly interesting forgery, but now i realize that it’s probably just over-zealous police excited about the potential importance1 of their seized contraband:

NICOSIA (Reuters Life!) – Authorities in northern Cyprus believe they have found an ancient version of the Bible written in Syriac, a dialect of the native language of Jesus.

The manuscript was found in a police raid on suspected antiquity smugglers. Turkish Cypriot police testified in a court hearing they believe the manuscript could be about 2,000 years old.

The manuscript carries excerpts of the Bible written in gold lettering on vellum and loosely strung together, photos provided to Reuters showed. One page carries a drawing of a tree, and another eight lines of Syriac script.

Experts were however divided over the provenance of the manuscript, and whether it was an original, which would render it priceless, or a fake.

Experts said the use of gold lettering on the manuscript was likely to date it later than 2,000 years.

“I’d suspect that it is most likely to be less than 1,000 years old,” leading expert Peter Williams, Warden of Tyndale House, University of Cambridge told Reuters.

Turkish Cypriot authorities seized the relic last week and nine individuals are in custody pending further investigations. More individuals are being sought in connection with the find, they said.

Further investigations turned up a prayer statue and a stone carving of Jesus believed to be from a church in the Turkish held north, as well as dynamite.

The police have charged the detainees with smuggling antiquities, illegal excavations and the possession of explosives.

Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic – the native language of Jesus – once spoken across much of the Middle East and Central Asia. It is used wherever there are Syrian Christians and still survives in the Syrian Orthodox Church in India.

Aramaic is still used in religious rituals of Maronite Christians in Cyprus.

“One very likely source (of the manuscript) could be the Tur-Abdin area of Turkey, where there is still a Syriac speaking community,” Charlotte Roueche, Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at King’s College London told Reuters.

Stories regarding the antiquity of manuscripts is commonplace. One case would be the Yonan Codex, carbon dated to the 12th century which people tried to pass off as earlier.

After further scrutiny of photographs of the book, manuscripts specialist at the University of Cambridge library and Fellow of Wolfson College JF Coakley suggested that the book could have been written a good deal later.

“The Syriac writing seems to be in the East Syriac script with vowel points, and you do not find such manuscripts before about the 15th century.

“On the basis of the one photo…if I’m not mistaken some words at least seem to be in modern Syriac, a language that was not written down until the mid-19th century,” he told Reuters.

  1. not much []

Stormy Daniels for U.S. Senate

She’s a porn star, and she’s possibly running for U.S. Senate in Louisiana as a Republican.

I’m not big on professional porn stars, but I already respect her a hell of a lot more than that slimeball David Vitter. Hell, i think that i like her better than the possible Democratic candidate Jim Bernhard, as I’m not a big fan of the Shaw Group or Bernhard’s $100,000 contribution to the Bush campaign n 2004.

Until just now, i was supporting her just as a provocateur, because when a porn star can claim the ethical high ground against a sitting senator, there is something very wrong in Louisiana. No one else dare state, “”I might be a porn star but I haven’t done anything illegal. And I guess the big question is not just why is David Vitter in office, but why is he not in jail?”

Indeed. Why the hell not?

Louisiana is already a joke with Vitter. Let’s run that joke into the ground with someone with a ridiculous profession, yet still has more integrity.

Brief Thoughts on a Few Films

On a movie jag, and since I have generalized OQ-block, I’ve decided to throw some scattered thoughts up and see what sticks.

8 1/2–  I consider it an absolute masterpiece.  Fellini’s experiment paid off.  Sophisticated, honest (Guido weilds a whip against his harem for chrissakes), and non-pretentious*.  The character of the writer brought in to help Guido order his thoughts is a handy device. He provides the means and the opportunity for the film to critique itself, to create a sort of ironic distance that prevents the sort of soupy earnestness many second-rate “art films” get mired in.  Some of the shot compositions are stunning (Claudia leaning her head against her knees in the doorway about 2 hrs. in…) and the ending is a masterstroke.  Yay!

Scenes From a Marriage– Haven’t gotten to the theatrical cut yet, so these comments apply to the “miniseries” cut.  Bergman’s big hit,  his “accessible” opus.  Dated in some ways, very very contemporary in others.  Marianne’s inability to get mad about her husband’s antics in the middle Scenes had me bouncing off the walls.  As a depiction of a passive-aggressive personality, A+.  As realism, D-.  Liv Ullmann is beautiful.  Most of the performances are far above average.   Bergman’s narration at the beginning and end of each scene, while not exactly critical, achieves some of the distancing effect I described above.  One feeling I can’t shake: if Bergman’s movies were in English, the dialogue would come off as stilted and pretentious*.  When Allen ripped him off in Interiors, it certainly did.

Vicky Christina Barcelona– I love Woody Allen.  I really do.  I own 13 of his films, have seen about 19, and can watch most of them over and over again without getting bored.  Love and Death, Manhattan, and Stardust Memories are personal favorites of mine and top notch, classic films that should be preserved for posterity.  Everyone has their gripes about “late Allen”.  For me, he quit making caveat-free, 100% good movies somewhere around Celebrity or Deconstructing Harry.  Match Point was good.  Scoop was horrible.  Melinda and Melinda was kinda bad.  You get the point.  I was excited about VCB because I like Javier Bardem and I had read the good press it got here in the States (a rarer and rarer occurence for Allen).  The film itself was a disappointment.  My beef with “late Allen” is this: in the bad ones,  EVERY character sounds like they’re reading an outline.  In the decent-to-good ones, only MOST of them do.  VCB, despite some pretty compositions, some nice scenes, and above-average performances from Bardem and Cruz (and a cameo by some old Spanish dude as Berdem’s father that gives me something to aspire to in old age), suffers from this foul affliction most of the time.  It is borderline self-parody.  I’ve tried on a few rationalizations because I love Woody Allen (the most successful of which has it that late Allen is the cinematic equivalent of the nouveau-roman), but I can’t defend most of his later output without feeling ridiculous.  VCB is no exception.

Alphaville– Godard’s crazy sci-fi film noir madhouse.  I liked it.  This was my first Godard.

* In general, I hate the very concept of pretension.  Hate it.  I’m wholly sympathetic to the serious exploration of serious matters in serious terms without having to have permission from someone to do so.  I was enraged, for example, at a lot of recent reviews of volume one of Sontag’s diaries in which the p-word was dropped like a weapon left and right.  Fuck that.  She was a serious girl.  The diaries/notebooks are painful and vivid and in many cases quite sad.  They were not meant for publication.  I think “pretension”, when used as it commonly is, is nothing more than the preferred weapon of anti-intellectualism, a way for people to dismiss other people without engaging them.  This is not to say that pretension doesn’t exist.  Especially in film, it certainly does.  I’m not sure what I’m getting at here…  Maybe I just think the word is used too often and too imprecisely.  Bah, bedtime.