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  • John Carpenter

    The premise of They Live – that aliens are hiding behind human masks, enslaving America with subliminal messages and can only be detected with special glasses that are being distributed by subversive cells around the country – is pretty close to Romero without the excess, a provocative metaphor for a thinly veiled reality. But what really makes the film so affecting is its feeling for the acrid tastes and smells of life on the margins, its boisterous physicality (yes, that is the longest fight scene in movie history between Piper and Keith David, with his terrific slow burn sneer), its sense of hollow, lapping desperation, its sad prole poetry. Who else had the cunning, the compassion, the ingenuity, and the efficiency to fashion an ode to the working class during such a rock-bottom, sickeningly cheerful moment in American history? Similarly, the metaphor for media saturation and paralysis in In the Mouth of Madness (the books of a King-ish writer named Sutter Cane literally drive people insane) seems a bit straightforward simply taken on its own. But the way Carpenter delineates the experience of going mad, in which a world seen through long lenses keeps ripping away its cheap surfaces to reveal more cheap surfaces underneath, is a brilliant feat of low-budget engineering and a very disturbing encapsulation of the experience of living amidst so many media and their endless supply of product.

    Kent Jones about John Carpenter (copied from here)

    (Noted in 2022-09-10)

  • The usual causes

    He asked me, “what were the usual causes or motives that made one country go to war with another?” I answered “they were innumerable; but I should only mention a few of the chief. Sometimes the ambition of princes, who never think they have land or people enough to govern; sometimes the corruption of ministers, who engage their master in a war, in order to stifle or divert the clamour of the subjects against their evil administration. Difference in opinions has cost many millions of lives: for instance, whether flesh be bread, or bread be flesh; whether the juice of a certain berry be blood or wine; whether whistling be a vice or a virtue; whether it be better to kiss a post, or throw it into the fire; what is the best colour for a coat, whether black, white, red, or gray; and whether it should be long or short, narrow or wide, dirty or clean; with many more. Neither are any wars so furious and bloody, or of so long a continuance, as those occasioned by difference in opinion, especially if it be in things indifferent.

    “Sometimes the quarrel between two princes is to decide which of them shall dispossess a third of his dominions, where neither of them pretend to any right. Sometimes one prince quarrels with another for fear the other should quarrel with him. Sometimes a war is entered upon, because the enemy is too strong; and sometimes, because he is too weak. Sometimes our neighbours want the things which we have, or have the things which we want, and we both fight, till they take ours, or give us theirs. It is a very justifiable cause of a war, to invade a country after the people have been wasted by famine, destroyed by pestilence, or embroiled by factions among themselves. It is justifiable to enter into war against our nearest ally, when one of his towns lies convenient for us, or a territory of land, that would render our dominions round and complete. If a prince sends forces into a nation, where the people are poor and ignorant, he may lawfully put half of them to death, and make slaves of the rest, in order to civilize and reduce them from their barbarous way of living. It is a very kingly, honourable, and frequent practice, when one prince desires the assistance of another, to secure him against an invasion, that the assistant, when he has driven out the invader, should seize on the dominions himself, and kill, imprison, or banish, the prince he came to relieve. Alliance by blood, or marriage, is a frequent cause of war between princes; and the nearer the kindred is, the greater their disposition to quarrel; poor nations are hungry, and rich nations are proud; and pride and hunger will ever be at variance. For these reasons, the trade of a soldier is held the most honourable of all others; because a soldier is a Yahoo hired to kill, in cold blood, as many of his own species, who have never offended him, as possibly he can.”

    Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels

    (Noted in 2022-07-21)

  • Less than empty words

    Any crude statements of optimism would be more than misplaced: it would be the kind of lie that deceives no one, least of all the sharpened moral senses of the young, who see through the empty promises and reassurances of politicians with an anger we know is justified. If we told them that everything will be OK, these are less than empty words: they are a failure to take their experience seriously, and that, as the pessimists would tell us, is the one thing guaranteed to make their suffering worse.

    Mara van der Lugt in Look on the dark side (Aeon, 26 April 2022)

    (Noted in 2022-06-26)

  • A thing is

    For yourself, I have but this last thing to say. Do not be afraid of the past. If people tell you that it is irrevocable, do not believe them. The past, the present and the future are but one moment in the sight of God, in whose sight we should try to live. Time and space, succession and extension, are merely accidental conditions of Thought. The Imagination can transcend them, and move in a free sphere of ideal existences. Things, also, are in their essence what we choose to make them. A thing is, according to the mode in which one looks at it. ‘Where others’, says Blake, ‘see but the Dawn coming over the hill, I see the sons of God shouting for joy.’

    Oscar Wilde in De Profundis

    (Noted in 2022-04-17)

  • Society

    Society takes upon itself the right to inflict appalling punishments on the individual, but it also has the supreme vice of shallowness, and fails to realise what it has done. When the man’s punishment is over, it leaves him to himself: that is to say it abandons him at the very moment when its highest duty towards him begins. It is really ashamed of its own actions, and shuns those whom it has punished, as people shun a creditor whose debt they cannot pay, or one on whom they have inflicted an irreparable, an irredeemable wrong. I claim on my side that if I realise what I have suffered, Society should realise what it has inflicted on me: and there should be no bitterness or hate on either side.

    Oscar Wilde in De Profundis

    (Noted in 2022-03-25)

  • The sun has long been set

    The sun has long been set,
    The stars are out by twos and threes,
    The little birds are piping yet
    Among the bushes and trees;
    There’s a cuckoo, and one or two thrushes,
    And a far-off wind that rushes,
    And a sound of water that gushes,
    And the cuckoo’s sovereign cry
    Fills all the hollow of the sky.
    Who would “go parading”
    In London, “and masquerading,”
    On such a night of June
    With that beautiful soft half-moon,
    And all these innocent blisses?
    On such a night as this is!

    William Wordsworth

    (Noted in 2021-08-18)

  • Melville's withdrawal

    Considerations of Melville’s withdrawal, whether that withdrawal is dated from “The Confidence-Man” of 1857, or the move from Pittsfield in 1863, or “Battle-Pieces” of 1866, tend to center upon the neurasthenic symptoms reflected in family letters of the early fifties and come to a head in his long siege of illness in 1855. His biographers all — Newton Arvin most sensitively, Edwin Haviland Miller most relentlessly — read his life and works for the pattern of a neurosis that, after “Moby-Dick,” cramped and truncated a career of infinite promise. The ineffectual father, early dead in a dreadful scene of madness; the domineering mother; the shaming poverty amid genteel pretensions; the latent (or, in his shipboard years, active) these existed, as well as the pressing financial limitations of authorship and a general incomprehension of the expressive experiments the mature Melville was determined to make. But the golden day, as Lewis Mumford has called it, of American literature was no feast of best-sellers; of its four masterpieces — “The Scarlet Letter” (1850), “Moby-Dick” (1851), “Walden” (1854), and “Leaves of Grass” (first edition 1855) — only “The Scarlet Letter” was an immediate worldly success. There are other sorts of success, and Melville’s withdrawal — not so instant or so complete, we have seen, as the mythic image of it — can be viewed as itself a necessary and therefore successful artistic gesture.

    John Updike in Herman Melville’s Soft Withdrawal (The New Yorker, May 1982)

    (Noted in 2021-05-31)

  • Old maps

    They cut the throats of the packanimals and jerked and divided the meat and they traveled under the cape of the wild mountains upon a broad soda plain with dry thunder to the south and rumors of light. Under a gibbous moon horse and rider spanceled to their shadows on the snowblue ground and in each flare of lightning as the storm advanced those selfsame forms rearing with a terrible redundancy behind them like some third aspect of their presence hammered out black and wild upon the naked grounds. They rode on. They rode like men invested with a purpose whose origins were antecedent to them, like blood legatees of an order both imperative and remote. For although each man among them was discrete unto himself, conjoined they made a thing that had not been before and in that communal soul were wastes hardly reckonable more than those whited regions on old maps where monsters do live and where there is nothing other of the known world save conjectural winds.

    Cormac McCarthy in Blood Meridian

    (Noted in 2021-04-16)

  • Africa

    This was how I started to appreciate that, because I had been uncritically consuming other people’s versions of Africa – shaped by particulars of those people’s existence – I had learned to be afraid of it. This was reflected quietly in the way that I thought about the horizons of possibility, of what I thought was wrong or troubling about the continent, and what needed to be changed. Later, I would go back to my travel guides and realise something that today seems so painfully obvious: the vast majority of guidebooks, especially those written about Africa, are written by white men for white men. Does this matter? It shouldn’t, but of course it does. It is an unfortunate consequence of the world that we have built, and until we all develop the moral clarity to move away from it, it matters. (…) Race (like gender, sexuality and other markers of identity) shapes travel – and backpacking especially – in such palpable ways. As a black woman, I find there are spaces where my race and gender make me invisible, which means that I can immerse myself more fully into the lives of those around me. I can take a series of public buses from Cape Town to Nairobi over a month and have no one notice that I am thousands of kilometres from home. And there are spaces where the colour of my skin makes me hyper-visible, like taking the train from Vienna to Berne and being the only people in our carriage to get their identity documents checked.

    Nanjala Nyabola in Race shapes travel: backpacking as a black woman (The Guardian, November 2019)

    (Noted in 2020-11-23)

  • September 1, 1939

    I sit in one of the dives
    On Fifty-second Street
    Uncertain and afraid
    As the clever hopes expire
    Of a low dishonest decade:
    Waves of anger and fear
    Circulate over the bright
    And darkened lands of the earth,
    Obsessing our private lives;
    The unmentionable odour of death
    Offends the September night.

    Accurate scholarship can
    Unearth the whole offence
    From Luther until now
    That has driven a culture mad,
    Find what occurred at Linz,
    What huge imago made
    A psychopathic god:
    I and the public know
    What all schoolchildren learn,
    Those to whom evil is done
    Do evil in return.

    Exiled Thucydides knew
    All that a speech can say
    About Democracy,
    And what dictators do,
    The elderly rubbish they talk
    To an apathetic grave;
    Analysed all in his book,
    The enlightenment driven away,
    The habit-forming pain,
    Mismanagement and grief:
    We must suffer them all again.

    Into this neutral air
    Where blind skyscrapers use
    Their full height to proclaim
    The strength of Collective Man,
    Each language pours its vain
    Competitive excuse:
    But who can live for long
    In an euphoric dream;
    Out of the mirror they stare,
    Imperialism's face
    And the international wrong.

    Faces along the bar
    Cling to their average day:
    The lights must never go out,
    The music must always play,
    All the conventions conspire
    To make this fort assume
    The furniture of home;
    Lest we should see where we are,
    Lost in a haunted wood,
    Children afraid of the night
    Who have never been happy or good.

    The windiest militant trash
    Important Persons shout
    Is not so crude as our wish:
    What mad Nijinsky wrote
    About Diaghilev
    Is true of the normal heart;
    For the error bred in the bone
    Of each woman and each man
    Craves what it cannot have,
    Not universal love
    But to be loved alone.

    From the conservative dark
    Into the ethical life
    The dense commuters come,
    Repeating their morning vow;
    "I will be true to the wife,
    I'll concentrate more on my work,"
    And helpless governors wake
    To resume their compulsory game:
    Who can release them now,
    Who can reach the deaf,
    Who can speak for the dumb?

    All I have is a voice
    To undo the folded lie,
    The romantic lie in the brain
    Of the sensual man-in-the-street
    And the lie of Authority
    Whose buildings grope the sky:
    There is no such thing as the State
    And no one exists alone;
    Hunger allows no choice
    To the citizen or the police;
    We must love one another or die.

    Defenceless under the night
    Our world in stupor lies;
    Yet, dotted everywhere,
    Ironic points of light
    Flash out wherever the Just
    Exchange their messages:
    May I, composed like them
    Of Eros and of dust,
    Beleaguered by the same
    Negation and despair,
    Show an affirming flame.

    W. H. Auden

    (Noted in 2020-11-16)

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