Ten Steps & Counting

January 3rd, 2008 § 3 comments

“…Silence is un-American…”


It was perhaps a month ago that I was talking to my Dad, or listening rather, as he ranted about the latest book he had read on oil, global warming, torture, US supported dictators in South America, and into my mind popped memories of Germany. Images and words from that trip ran through my head as though they had something to do with the conversation on the other end of the line: the camps, the ovens, the museums, the monuments-standing on Hitler’s speakers stand at Zeppelin Field-the rally grounds in Nuremberg, the wasps at Sachsenhausen. I remembered the historians who came to speak with us, the Germans who tried to give us a sense of how they see their own history, and the things we muttered to ourselves. And, for whatever reason, as I came back to the conversation at hand, I thought this is why they didn’t leave. Movies, books, and Americans have often judged the Germans for not leaving their country in time, for “not seeing what was coming”, they ignored what seems to us in hindsight as obviously clear signs saying GO! As I listened to the unpleasant truths my Dad is just discovering that the Fossil comments upon everyday, I pictured Americans doing the same thing, not leaving because it seems impossible, because things will get better, the “pendulum will swing back”. We are “ignoring” just as obvious-possibly- signs that show many things that might be coming. Later that day, J sent me a link to an interview with Naomi Wolf about her new book on Democracy Now. She began the interview by mentioning the conversation that inspired her research, telling how one of her friends, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, kept saying to her, “this is what happened in Germany” which she thought at the time was, as she put it, “extreme language”, until she began investigating the “blueprint” she would illustrate in her recently published book.
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From Montpellier to Richmond

December 31st, 2007 § 2 comments

“Life, though it looks tender on the outside, is very crunchy on the inside, which may be why we prefer it with food.”

I have always had problems when it comes to heroes. I remember Mr. Harutunian, when I was in his English 101 honors class, pacing the classroom, asking of us, who are your heroes? I think his point had something to do with my generations problems, and what he saw as a lack of something. I do remember, however, vividly thinking about the idea of a “hero” for the first time in my life. Who were my heroes? The question seemed absurd to the point of being completely baffling, I could not think of anyone I knew personally, and my generational references were not large enough to provide someone either-perhaps that was his point, we don’t have any. Perhaps he was questioning-much more likely, really-what a hero was, why we had them (if we did), and how a hero might change with someones age and interests. Who did the public provide for us, who did we construct ourselves, and to whom, within the confines of our reality, would we give that title? To have a hero, it seemed, one must completely agree with, support and believe in, that person or thing implicitly and without question-a feat impossible for a 16-year-old, frustrated and suspicious. I had a very similar problem when Gregory Volk, the first day of his seminar, asked what artists we would “one-hundred-percent” (with emphasis on each syllable) stand behind: in other words, what artists did we believe in implicitly? Again, I was at a loss for words and intentions. Was he trying to find out what kind of artists we were by our loves and inspirations, was he testing our knowledge of current artists (the one I believe to be true), was he seeing if we looked forward (to the forerunners of ‘art now’) or backwards for our references? If he had asked who I looked at and why, I could have given a coherent list of artists and explanations, though it might be a bit shabbier and more dated list than it should be, but I could not think of a single artist who I would “stand behind”. Why? The same reasons, I believe, I could not pick a hero at 16.

It was Katherine Hixson ( ironically enough) who gave her class an essay by Gopnik to read when we were (oddly enough) talking about food, Alice Waters, and Proust in the Critical Issues/Fiber & Material Studies class. After suffering through maddening selections of Proust (which I am now determined to reread), Gopnik’s essay was humorous if dense, and enlightening of a profession I had never given much thought to. It was a mad bit of luck that I began my stay in France around the same time that I began to read Paris to the Moon, the source of the essay, and a book that happened to be about Gopnik’s five year stay in Paris with his wife and newborn son. I am not sure I have ever agreed with a book so heartily, for while his stay and observations went much deeper than mine-he became a part of the culture rather than an onlooker from the sidelines-his descriptions were a part of my everyday life. I doubt very much if a French person would feel the same way, but American to American, expatriate to expatriate, it was right. He has an incredible habit of drawing large sweeping conclusions out of small, unimportant events and objects. I subscribed to the New Yorker this year because of him, only to find, much to my disappointment, that he does not write very often, of course when he does it is worth the wait. A few weekends ago while bookstore shopping in the National Gallery, Jake found his new book, Through the Children’s Gate, a Home in New York, a book about his return to New York City shortly before 9/11, and the raising of his family after. Although I never would consciously have said it, I never thought I could disagree with his conclusions.

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The Drunk & The Damned

May 6th, 2007 § 0 comments

“His wife was easier. After fifteen years of incessant guerrilla warfare he had conquered her—it was a war of muddled optimism against organized dullness, and something in the number of “yes’s” with which he could poison a conversation had won him the victory….fifteen years of yes’s had beaten Mrs. Gilbert. Fifteen further years of that incessant unaffirmative affirmative, accompanied by the perpetual flicking of ash-mushrooms from thirty-two thousand cigars, had broken her. To this husband of hers she made the last concession of married life, which is more complete, more irrevocable, than the first—she listened to him. She told herself that the years had brought her tolerance—actually they had slain what measure she had ever possessed of moral courage.”

It is quite nice to find that someone has a much harsher, more cutting way of putting things than I do. I am forever shocking the other grad students for the way I talk about people and situations, they always say, “well yeah I agree only I would never say it…” Every conversation I have with people seems to end with me walking away pondering all the things I should not have said, and wondering at how many things I thought were fine to say that the whole school will be talking about later. Gossip at VCU can travel the entire building in five minutes, but some kind of obvious truth stops the workings and becomes a scandal. Jack lost his crit class this semester, which I found interesting because we have all been talking about how nice it would be if someone else taught it, just for another perspective of course. Someone wondered if someone had talked to Sonya, and all eyes turned to me….and I didn’t, not about that anyway! After 378 pages of The Beautiful and Damned, I respect F Scott a little more for his cutting way with words. I don’t really know how to describe his manner of looking at things, as it seems cynical, but his is too involved with life and the world to be a real cynic, it is not bitter because there is too much beauty in his story, so I decided the other day at dinner that it was angry. He is not like Camus, who I imagine would sit casually sipping coffee while the world ended. I get the feeling that somehow life let him down, and he knew it, and ranted a good deal about it in his books. I am not sure why anger would not lead to bitterness, but maybe they stem from different motivations or feelings. I like his sense of tragedy.


“He was haunted by the suggestion that life might be, after all, significant.”

Woolf with two O’s

February 17th, 2007 § 0 comments

When I first began watching films in my Film Noir class, my teacher was lecturing to all of us what we should look for, concluding with, “and when the Femme Fatale dies at the end make sure you note how. . .” seeing the looks we gave her she paused for a moment and then added, “the woman always, always dies, I did not give anything away.” It is not a suspenseful genre of unexpected twists and turns, it is a formulaic creation of post world war II insecurity. This theme can also be applied to a certain genre of early feminist writers, Bronte, Chopin, Wharton, Woolf, etc, as it seems that none of their women live in the end either—death for them seems to be the only escape to their trapped existence within British society.

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Une Génération Perdue

December 27th, 2006 § 0 comments

I just finished reading A Movable Feast by Hemingway, which was read upon the recommendation of Adam Gopnik as a good book about Paris. While I found the book more about him than Paris, it did turn out to be very interesting. In general, I do not like Hemingway very much, I am not usually very engaged with his stories nor his manner of telling them, and I can’t help but notice that his very large ego, or what I imagine to be his very large ego, creeps across every page. In case some of you don’t know or care, the book is about Paris when he lived there in the early 1920’s, his life, and the “fictitious” friends and writers he knew such as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Scott Fitzgerald.

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