Monday, August 25, 2008

Return to Camelot

Tonight's joint appearance of Statesman Ted Kennedy and Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention embodied the heart of the Democrats and symbolized what the party has and should stand for: a good and decent life for everyone in this country. The Kennedys may be the elitist of the elite, the nobility of Camelot, but they have all given their lives to a universal round table with seats for all. John Kennedy stood for an end to segregation and continued the ever more inclusiveness of his party, a courageous commitment like Truman's commitment to ending segregation of blacks in the military. The alliance forged by the Kennedys with Martin Luther King, brutally attacked in the deaths of King and Bobby Kennedy, now takes the form of Ted Kennedy and the Obamas. Surely this is the path we shall take after the devastating corporate greed, catastrophic war, and sheer incompetency of Bush and the Republicans.



Friday, August 22, 2008


Change is the political cry of this season. The nation is weary of the downward spiral of the economy, the environment, and the cycles of war. The photo here is of hurricane Ivan, not so destructive as Katrina, but nonetheless an image of Nature's ability to change the landscape. To revolt.

Dar's and my life is changing. My retirement nears. The time for transitions in career and personal life are at hand. The horizon expands as old barriers of habit, complacency, and material comfort collapse.

I can't help thinking of Vishnu and Shiva, Hindu gods of the creative and destructive forces intermingling in all life forces. This year is one of primal forces at work, playing havoc, upturning conventions, whipping us all into a new shape.

Tonight the winds from Fay, a mere tropical storm over Florida, whip across Atlanta. My brother in Savannah told me band after band of wind and rain have swept over the marshes, beaches and city there. We have the winds of change literally here as a man of mixed blood, black and white, moves toward Denver to select the person who will help him bring change to the leadership of the country.

Change may bring sorrow: a mother's death, a loss of old friends, moving from a beloved home, giving up prized possessions. Yet it is the way of life and the way to create, the way to wisdom and the way to richer experience: new friends, new places to live, higher awareness. there can be no growth without change, especially growth of the spirit.

Here is another image of change, the creative force, and the power it entails:

Lava and Moonlight:

The ever growing, ever glowing,
Big Island of


photo by Dar



Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Speaking of Rimbaud

Along the lines of the poetry of Verlaine and Rimbaud, and their lives, as well, Here is a thrilling tribute to the joy of melancholy:

from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

In Praise of Melancholy

American culture's overemphasis on happiness misses an essential part of a full life

Poem: Ode on Melancholy

Excerpt: Born To The Blues

Article tools

Ours are ominous times. We are on the verge of eroding away our ozone layer. Within decades we could face major oceanic flooding. We are close to annihilating hundreds of exquisite animal species. Soon our forests will be as bland as pavement. Moreover, we now find ourselves on the verge of a new cold war.

But there is another threat, perhaps as dangerous: We are eradicating a major cultural force, the muse behind much art and poetry and music. We are annihilating melancholia.

A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that almost 85 percent of Americans believe that they are very happy or at least pretty happy. The psychological world is now abuzz with a new field, positive psychology, devoted to finding ways to enhance happiness through pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Psychologists practicing this brand of therapy are leaders in a novel science, the science of happiness. Mainstream publishers are learning from the self-help industry and printing thousands of books on how to be happy. Doctors offer a wide array of drugs that might eradicate depression forever. It seems truly an age of almost perfect contentment, a brave new world of persistent good fortune, joy without trouble, felicity with no penalty.

Why are most Americans so utterly willing to have an essential part of their hearts sliced away and discarded like so much waste? What are we to make of this American obsession with happiness, an obsession that could well lead to a sudden extinction of the creative impulse, that could result in an extermination as horrible as those foreshadowed by global warming and environmental crisis and nuclear proliferation? What drives this rage for complacency, this desperate contentment?

Surely all this happiness can't be for real. How can so many people be happy in the midst of all the problems that beset our globe — not only the collective and apocalyptic ills but also those particular irritations that bedevil our everyday existences, those money issues and marital spats, those stifling vocations and lonely dawns? Are we to believe that four out of every five Americans can be content amid the general woe? Are some people lying, or are they simply afraid to be honest in a culture in which the status quo is nothing short of manic bliss? Aren't we suspicious of this statistic? Aren't we further troubled by our culture's overemphasis on happiness? Don't we fear that this rabid focus on exuberance leads to half-lives, to bland existences, to wastelands of mechanistic behavior?

I for one am afraid that American culture's overemphasis on happiness at the expense of sadness might be dangerous, a wanton forgetting of an essential part of a full life. I further am concerned that to desire only happiness in a world undoubtedly tragic is to become inauthentic, to settle for unrealistic abstractions that ignore concrete situations. I am finally fearful of our society's efforts to expunge melancholia. Without the agitations of the soul, would all of our magnificently yearning towers topple? Would our heart-torn symphonies cease?

My fears grow out of my suspicion that the predominant form of American happiness breeds blandness. This kind of happiness appears to disregard the value of sadness. This brand of supposed joy, moreover, seems to foster an ignorance of life's enduring and vital polarity between agony and ecstasy, dejection and ebullience. Trying to forget sadness and its integral place in the great rhythm of the cosmos, this sort of happiness insinuates that the blues are an aberrant state that should be cursed as weakness of will or removed with the help of a little pink pill.

I'm not questioning joy in general. For instance, I'm not challenging that unbearable exuberance that suddenly emerges from long suffering. I'm not troubled by that hard-earned tranquillity that comes from long meditation on the world's sorrows. I'm not criticizing that slow-burning bliss that issues from a life spent helping those who hurt. And I'm not romanticizing clinical depression. I realize that there are many lost souls out there who require medication to keep from killing themselves or harming their friends and families. I'm not questioning pharmaceutical therapies for the seriously depressed or simply to make existence bearable for so many with biochemical disorders.

I do, however, wonder why so many people experiencing melancholia are now taking pills simply to ease the pain. Of course there is a fine line between what I'm calling melancholia and what society calls depression. In my mind, what separates the two is degree of activity. Both forms are more or less chronic sadness that leads to continuing unease with how things are — persistent feelings that the world is not quite right, that it is a place of suffering, stupidity, and evil. Depression (as I see it, at least) causes apathy in the face of this unease, lethargy approaching total paralysis, an inability to feel much of anything one way or another. In contrast, melancholia generates a deep feeling in regard to this same anxiety, a turbulence of heart that results in an active questioning of the status quo, a perpetual longing to create new ways of being and seeing.

Our culture seems to confuse these two and thus treats melancholia as an aberrant state, a vile threat to our pervasive notions of happiness — happiness as immediate gratification, happiness as superficial comfort, happiness as static contentment. Of course the question immediately arises: Who wouldn't question this apparently hollow form of American happiness? Aren't all of us late at night, when we're honest with ourselves, opposed to shallow happiness? Most likely we are, but isn't it possible that many of us fall into superficiality without knowing it? Aren't some of us so smitten with the American dream that we have become brainwashed into believing that our sole purpose on this earth is to be happy? Doesn't this unwitting affection for happiness over sadness lead us to a one-sided life, to bliss without discomfort, bright noon with no night?

My sense is that most of us have been duped by the American craze for happiness. We might think that we're leading a truly honest existence, when we're really just behaving as predictably and artificially as robots, falling easily into well-worn "happy" behaviors, into the conventions of contentment. Deceived, we miss out on the great interplay of the living cosmos, its luminous gloom, its terrible beauty.

The American dream of happiness might be a nightmare. What passes for bliss could well be a dystopia of flaccid grins. Our passion for felicity hints at an ominous hatred for all that grows and thrives and then dies. I'd hate for us to awaken one morning and regret what we've done in the name of untroubled enjoyment. I'd hate for us to crawl out of our beds and walk out into a country denuded of gorgeous lonely roads and the grandeur of desolate hotels, of half-cracked geniuses and their frantic poems. I'd hate for us to come to consciousness when it's too late to live.

On November 30, 1820, as the autumn orange decayed into earth's winter muck, John Keats, suffering from the tuberculosis that killed his mother and his brother Tom, sat down to draft a letter to his good friend Charles Brown. This was to be his last known correspondence. Between horrific bouts of coughing — coughing that stained his tongue with blood — Keats wrote these striking lines: "I have an habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence." At the age of 25, when he should have been relishing opportunities for love and for growth, for summer's larks and pretty girls, Keats already felt like a corpse. It seemed to him as though he were already in the grave and therefore looking back on his days as one would witness a character in a finished story. There he was, composing, viewing the world with a dead man's eyes.

When he was only nine years old, his father fell from his horse and died the next day. A few years later, his mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Though Keats nursed her assiduously, sitting up with her all hours of the night, cooking for her, reading to her, she died in 1810, during Keats's 15th year. Keats was assigned to a guardian and soon after taken from a beloved boarding school and required to apprentice as an apothecary. He found the work tedious, for during these years, his late teens, he was awakening to the grandeurs of poetry, especially the verse of Spenser and Shakespeare. To complete his training, Keats had to learn surgery. Day after day, he toiled in a hospital, malodorous and bloody, where he witnessed nothing but suffering. As he was turning from surgery to poetry, his first substantial poem, "Endymion," was published in 1818. Two of the leading literary magazines of the time attacked the poem for not making sense.

Around this time, Keats's brother Tom died after a long and painful illness. While attending Tom, Keats met the love of his life, Fanny Brawne, and became engaged to her. However, he soon realized that he would never be able to marry her because he himself was doomed to fall prey to the same disease that killed his family members. He knew he would die without ever consummating his ardent love.

One would think that Keats's life would have fostered bitterness in him, but he remained generous in the face of his difficulties. He didn't flee to the usual 19th-century escapes: Christianity or opium, drink or dreaming. Though he unsurprisingly underwent pangs of serious melancholia (who wouldn't, faced with his disasters?), he nonetheless never fell into self-pity or self-indulgent sorrow. In fact, he consistently transformed his gloom, grown primarily from his experiences with death, into a vital source of beauty. Things are gorgeous, he often claimed, because they die. The porcelain rose is not as pretty as the one that decays. Melancholia over time's passing is the proper stance for beholding beauty.

Keats understood that suffering and death are not aberrations to be cursed but necessary parts of a capacious existence, a personal history attuned to the plentiful polarity of the cosmos. To deny death and calamity would be to live only a partial life, one devoid of creativity and beauty. Keats welcomed his death so that he could live.

Taking this double stance — suffering death while transcending death — Keats was in his pain and yet above it. He developed this interplay between detachment and attachment in one of his most famous letters, written in 1819. "Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?" he asked. He's here implying that an abstract mind can develop into a full-hearted person only through enduring long periods of sadness and pain.

In another famous letter, this one from 1818, Keats compares a human's life with a "large Mansion of Many Apartments." He states that the only way to engage the great mysteries of life is to suffer "Misery and Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness and oppression." Undergoing these troubles, one moves from the "Chamber of Maiden Thought," the room of innocence, into darker passages, the regions of profound experience. In this latter place, one finds the inspiration for poetry, poetry that explores the mysterious burdens of life. In this case, too, Keats shows himself to be intensely aware of the painful world but also keenly willing to embrace this same pain. It's as if he were somehow in the world but not of it, able to suffer sadness but also able to see beyond it.

In his 1819 "Ode on Melancholy," he urges us not to alleviate our blues with befuddling chemicals, seek escape through suicide, or "drown the wakeful anguish of the soul." Remaining conscious of our dark moods, we might fall into a "melancholy fit," a deep experience of life's transience but also of its beauty. This melancholy fit is a mixed affair. It falls from heaven "like a weeping cloud,/That fosters the droop-headed flowers all." But it also brings rain and nourishment. Indeed, this cloud "hides the green hill in an April shroud."

What can we call this fit but a meaningful experience of generative melancholy, of that strange feeling that sadness connects us to life's vibrant pulses? Alienated from home and happiness, we sense what is most essential: not comfort or contentment but authentic participation in life's grim interplay between stinking corpses and singing lemurs. This "fit" shivers our souls.

In this tense mood, we are in a position to understand the relationship between beauty and death. Keats urges us to "glut" our sorrow on a "morning rose" or "on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave" or "on the wealth of globèd peonies." He then says that if our "mistress" shows "rich anger," we should take her hand and let her "rave" and "feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes." Each of those recommendations features the melancholy soul's experiencing something beautiful but also something transient. There is a connection among melancholy, beauty, and death.

These associations make for several conclusions. The "wakeful anguish" of sharp melancholia can lead to a shuddering experience, a "fit." This vital moment grows from an insight into the nature of things: Life grows from death; death gives rise to life. This insight animates melancholy, makes it vibrant. But it also intensifies the pain, for it emphasizes this: Everything, no matter how beautiful, must die. Rather than flee from this difficult position, the melancholic appreciates things all the more because they die. In enjoying the beauty of the world, the melancholic himself wants to create beauty, to commemorate his resplendent experience of earth's transient gorgeousness.

Melancholia, far from a mere disease or weakness of will, is an almost miraculous invitation to transcend the banal status quo and imagine the untapped possibilities for existence. Without melancholia, the earth would likely freeze over into a fixed state, as predictable as metal. Only with the help of constant sorrow can this dying world be changed, enlivened, pushed to the new.

These are not metaphysical claims, not some New Age claptrap. On the contrary, these statements are attuned to the sloppy world as it simply appears to us in our everyday experience. When we, with apparent happiness, grab hard onto one ideology or another, this world suddenly seems to take on a static coherence, a rigid division between right and wrong. The world in this way becomes uninteresting, dead. But when we allow our melancholy mood to bloom in our hearts, this universe, formerly inanimate, comes suddenly to life. Finite rules dissolve before infinite possibilities. Happiness to us is no longer viable. We want something more: joy. Melancholia galvanizes us, shocks us to life.

Melancholia pushes against the easy "either/or" of the status quo. It thrives in unexplored middle ground between oppositions, in the "both/and." It fosters fresh insights into relationships between oppositions, especially that great polarity life and death. It encourages new ways of conceiving and naming the mysterious connections between antinomies. It returns us to innocence, to the ability to play in the potential without being constrained to the actual. Such respites from causality refresh our relationship to the world, grant us beautiful vistas, energize our hearts and our minds.

Indeed, the world is much of the time boring, controlled as it is by staid habits. It seems overly familiar, tired, repetitious. Then along comes what Keats calls the melancholy fit, and suddenly the planet again turns interesting. The veil of familiarity falls away. There before us shimmer bracing possibilities. We are called to forge untested links to our environments. We are summoned to be creative.

Given these virtues of melancholia, why are psychiatrists and psychologists attempting to "cure" depression as if it were a terrible disease? Obviously, those suffering severe depression — suicidal and bordering on psychosis — require serious medications. But what of those who possess mild to moderate depression? Should these potential visionaries and innovators eradicate their melancholia with the help of a pill?

Right now, if the statistics are correct, about 15 percent of Americans are not happy. Soon, perhaps, with the help of psychopharmaceuticals, melancholics will become unknown. That would be an unparalleled tragedy, equivalent in scope to the annihilation of the sperm whale or the golden eagle. With no more melancholics, we would live in a world in which everyone simply accepted the status quo, in which everyone would simply be content with the given. This would constitute a nightmare worthy of Philip K. Dick, a police state of Pollyannas, a flatland that offers nothing new under the sun. Why are we pushing toward such a hellish condition?

The answer is simple: fear. Most hide behind a smile because they are afraid of facing the world's complexity, its vagueness, its terrible beauties. If we stay safely ensconced behind our painted grins, then we won't have to encounter the insecurities attendant upon dwelling in possibility, those anxious moments when one doesn't know this from that, when one could suddenly become almost anything at all. Even though this anxiety, usually over death, is in the end exhilarating, a call to be creative, it is in the beginning rather horrifying, a feeling of hovering in an unpredictable abyss. Most of us habitually flee from that state of mind, try to lose ourselves in distraction and good cheer. We don inauthenticity as a mask, a disguise to protect us from the abyss.

To foster a society of total happiness is to concoct a culture of fear. Do we really want to give away our courage for mere mirth? Are we ready to relinquish our most essential hearts for a good night's sleep, a season of contentment? We must resist the seductions of mindless happiness and somehow hold to our sadness. We must find a way, difficult though it is, to be who we are, sullenness and all.

Suffering the gloom, inevitable as breath, we must further accept this fact that the world hates: We are forever incomplete, fragments of some ungraspable whole. Our unfinished natures — we are never pure actualities but always vague potentials — make life a constant struggle, a bout with the persistent unknown. But this extension into the abyss is also our salvation. To be only a fragment is always to strive for something beyond ourselves, something transcendent. That striving is always an act of freedom, of choosing one road instead of another. Though this labor is arduous — it requires constant attention to our mysterious and shifting interiors — it is also ecstatic, an almost infinite sounding of the exquisite riddles of Being.

To be against happiness is to embrace ecstasy. Incompleteness is a call to life. Fragmentation is freedom. The exhilaration of never knowing anything fully is that you can perpetually imagine sublimities beyond reason. On the margins of the known is the agile edge of existence. This is the rapture, burning slow, of finishing a book that can never be completed, a flawed and conflicted text, vexed as twilight.

Eric G. Wilson is a professor of English at Wake Forest University. This essay is adapted from his book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, being published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


NO, no! go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf's-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kist
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globèd peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

She dwells with Beauty — Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

— John Keats (The Oxford Book of English Verse:
1919 edition)


American happiness is a temptation, one to which I've succumbed on several occasions. More than once I've grown weary of the pervasive gloom of my soul. Like millions of other Americans, I have tried to flee the sadness, attempted to escape, by any means possible, the weight, the fatigue, the fret. Let's be serious: Life, in any form, is terribly and irredeemably hard. Why shouldn't we all scurry from the heartache in the most superficial ways possible, through BlackBerrys and Lexapro and liposuction? Why shouldn't we bask in the gaudy glow of the pervasive American dream? What's lost in this collective stupor? What's wrong, finally, with wanting nothing but bliss?

At the behest of well-meaning friends, I have purchased books on how to be happy. I have tried to turn my chronic scowl into a bright smile. I have attempted to become more active, to get out of my dark house and away from my somber books and participate in the world of meaningful action. I have taken up jogging, the Latin language, and the chair of a university English department. I have fostered the drive to succeed in my career. I have bought an insurance policy, a PalmPilot, and a cellphone. I have taken an interest in Thanksgiving and Christmas, in keeping my hair trimmed short, and in meticulously ironing my clothes. I have viewed Doris Day and Frank Capra movies. I have feigned interest in the health of others. I have dropped into the habit of saying "great" and "wonderful" as much as possible. I have pretended to take seriously certain good causes designed to make the world a better place. I have contemplated getting a dog. I have started eating salads. I have tried to discipline myself in nodding knowingly. I have tried to be mindful of others but ended up pissed as hell. I have written a book on the hard-earned optimism of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I have undertaken yoga. I have stopped yoga and gone into tai chi. I have thought of going to psychiatrists and getting some drugs. I have quit all of this and then started again and then once more quit. Now I plan to stay quit. The road to hell is paved with happy plans.

My basic instinct is toward melancholia — a state I must nourish. In fostering my essential nature, I'm trying to live according to what I see as my deep calling. Granted, it's difficult at times to hold hard to this vocation, this labor in the fields of sadness. But I realize somewhere in the core of my bones that I was born to the blues.

From Against Happiness

Relish your frown


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Drunken Boat

Or to quote a review of the play, Total Eclipse,

"Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder..."

Paul Verlaine


Arthur Rimbaud


The Film, Total Eclipse (click for a typical overview), presents in drama and hysteria, the relationship of Verlaine and Rimbaud, with just a hint of Rimbaud's poetry. Still, Leonardo DiCaprio does a fine job with Rimbaud's mad dash through French literature and Paul Verlaine's decadence. The film deserves reevaluation. Better still, it should be remade to better embody the passion these two poets consumed for each other and for poetry itself.

From what little I know-- and I plan to read and study them more-- they were monsters, at least to those involved with them and to themselves. Yet such creative monsters. They clearly laid out the future path that ran from themselves to Oscar Wilde to Hart Crane, Lorca, Genet, to the beat poets and such songsters as Dylan, the Doors, Patty Smith, Leonard Cohen and even REM. They revealed the power of the link between same sex love and creative revolt, between being a sexual outcast/outlaw and having artistic genius.

But don't take my word for it; take Arthur's:


Once, if my memory serves me well, my life was a banquet where every heart revealed itself, where every wine flowed.

One evening I took Beauty in my arms-- and I thought her bitter-- and I insulted her.

I steeled myself against justice.

I fled. O witches, O misery, O hate, my treasure was left in your care...

I have withered within me all human hope. With the silent leap of a sullen beast, I have downed and strangled every joy.

I have called for executioners; I want to perish chewing on their gun butts. I have called for plagues, to suffocate in sand and blood. Unhappiness has been my god. I have lain down in the mud, and dried myself off in the crime-infested air. I have played the fool to the point of madness.

And springtime brought me the frightful laugh of an idiot.

Now recently, when I found myself ready to croak! I thought to seek the key to the banquet of old, where I might find an appetite again.

That key is Charity. (This idea proves I was dreaming!)

"You will stay a hyena, etc....," shouts the demon who once crowned me with such pretty poppies. "Seek death with all your desires, and all selfishness, and all the Seven Deadly Sins."

Ah, I've taken too much of that; still, dear Satan, don't look so annoyed, I beg you! And while waiting for a few belated cowardices, since you value in a writer all lack of descriptive or didactic flair, I pass you these few foul pages from the diary of a Damned Soul.

More to come.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Elvis Death Day

Yesterday, to remember Elvis, we attended
the Variety Playhouse performance:

Big Mike Geier and his Kingsized orchestra deliver high Vegas glitz right here in the ATL with this annual death day tribute to the King Of Rock N Roll. The big band reworks Presley standards, but in their own distinctive style, and of course backed by the gorgeous ladies of Dames A’Flame burlesque troop and this time with support from El Vez.

Elvis Lives.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Nine Inch Nails video

Here's a clip from the concert we saw Thursday night:

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Tonight I went alone to see "Brideshead Revisited. "

My take on the film, the 11 hour series I saw years ago, and the book I have yet to read (shame on me) is that the entire story, wrapped up like a mummy in religion, decadent wealth, education that never furthers the characters, and a facile view of art, is, despite itself, nihilistic. Love conquers nothing. Religious zeal leads to hatred and despair, not to mention life destroying guilt, and makes the enjoyment of life fleeting at best. The halcyon moments of innocence and youthful bliss and abandon yield all too quickly to anguish. There is little joy in watching every single character self destruct, even Charles, the narrator who ends up jaded and guilt ridden himself, filled with regret. If only someone could revise this sad tale to give us a glimpse of what transcendence might have been, of how these tragic figures could have gotten beyond the swamp they all fall into.

That's my say. Now, I give you the lovely and beautifully written description of the film by NPR's movie critic:

'Brideshead': A Shorter Visit To A Grand Old Place

Listen Now [5 min 4 sec] add to playlist

Hayley Atwell, Emma Thompson, and Matthew Goode
Nicola Dove

As the doyenne of the Brideshead estate, Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson) monitors the relationship between Charles (Matthew Goode) and her daughter Julia (Hayley Atwell). Miramax

Brideshead Revisited

  • Director: Julian Jarrold
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 135 minutes

Rated PG-13: Ewardian-era transgressions involve nothing that would alarm the FCC.

“'s about elegance, style, money and perhaps too heady a mix of drink, religion and intrigue.”
Matthew Goode, Hayley Atwell, and Ben Wishaw
Nicola Dove

Wielding the fruit of temptation, the siblings Flyte (Hayley Atwell and Ben Wishaw) draw Charles into their world. Miramax

All Things Considered, July 25, 2008 · Cineplexes this summer look a lot like classic television: Get Smart, Sex and the City, and Speed Racer all expanded half-hour TV shows to something closer to two hours.

Now comes Brideshead Revisited, facing the opposite challenge: reducing an 11-hour original to two hours. And the filmmakers did the sensible thing: They went back to the book.

Whose story proper, as you may recall, begins at Oxford: Charles Ryder is there, between the wars, because his father thinks it's a good way for him to get ahead in the world. Lord Sebastian Flyte is there for entertainment.

And before long, he's entertaining not just himself, but Charles, too — taking him out for wine and strawberries on a perfect romantic afternoon, or off to visit his stately home. And reluctantly, when Sebastian can no longer avoid it, to have dinner with his beautiful sister Julia and their frighteningly composed mother, Lady Marchmain.

This is a world of dinner jackets and evening gowns, casual jaunts to Venice and Morocco. It's about elegance, style, money and perhaps too heady a mix of drink, religion and intrigue.

Evelyn Waugh's novel burned the dalliances and religious conflicts of his classy characters into the consciousness of one generation of romantics; the miniseries did the same for another. So why revisit Brideshead Revisited? Surely not just to annoy purists — as much fun as that can be.

The Waugh fundamentalists have been up in arms for months now over rumors that God, homosexuality and Sebastian's teddy bear were being left on the cutting room floor this time — untrue rumors, as it happens. And there have been screams of outrage that "they're tampering with a masterpiece — what could they be thinking?"

Was The Mini A Masterpiece? Mostly In Memory

Well, I've just re-watched the masterpiece, and I know one thing they had to be thinking: It's beautifully acted, but it was made with 16-millimeter cameras, in an age of much smaller TV screens. By today's standards, it looks really grainy — which is no way to view the titular mansion, played again in the film by Castle Howard.

Then there's the matter of pacing. Is it sacrilege to note that a good three of those 11 TV hours are shots of things like trains chugging, Bentleys arriving, dandies strolling languidly on manicured lawns — lovely stuff, but eminently cuttable, along with that fox hunt, if you want to get to the religious arguments that were Waugh's reason for writing Brideshead.

Director Julian Jarrold and his screenwriters have also found ways to streamline motivations. Their most controversial emendations will be two kisses — one involving Sebastian, the other witnessed by him — that are in neither the miniseries nor the book. They allow the filmmakers to cut to the chase; I won't say how, exactly, but rest assured that when Lady Marchmain wonders, mid-film, about what sort of good time Charles and the siblings Flyte have had for themselves in Venice, the audience will be in a position to answer.

There are things that miniseries true-believers will miss: Laurence Olivier's Lord Marchmain had a deathbed speech on TV that let the aging Shakespearean prove he could still play Henry V lying down. The new film has Michael Gambon, whose career doesn't demand that sort of showcase just yet — so he doesn't get it.

Matthew Goode and Ben Whishaw aren't Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews, but they're a nicely matched Charles and Sebastian. You don't particularly sense the passage of two decades in the film, and there's far less of flamboyantly gay Anthony Blanche (or Antoine, as he liked to be called).

Still, if much longer novels can be condensed into effective movies, there's no reason Brideshead shouldn't be. Nor is there a good reason to avoid revisiting a tale that's been told well once: I've seen three dozen Hamlets, and I continue to be surprised at the new wrinkles directors find in that story.

Brideshead Revisited redux isn't a classic, quite, but it does offer a new slant on the characters' motives — and a clearer view of the stately home that gives the film its title. Whether that's enough to prompt a revisit, I'll leave to fans.



Nine Inch

Dar and I made the massive trek to the Gwinnett Arena for the dazzling display and provocative songs of Nine Inch Nails last night. This review from a recant Canada performance sums it up nicely:

Concert review: Nine Inch Nails
Sandra Sperounes
Journal Music Writer
Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor on July  28 at Rexall Place in Edmonton.
CREDIT: Greg Southam/Edmonton Journal
Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor on July 28 at Rexall Place in Edmonton

Nine Inch Nails

With: Crystal Castles

Where: Rexall Place

When: Monday

EDMONTON - No musician captures the mood of our times better than Trent Reznor. As the driving force behind Nine Inch Nails, he mixes brutal industrial-rock rhythms with melancholy melodies and lyrics about greed, rage, impotence, loneliness, and the end of the world.

But leave it to Reznor - and his stage designer - to turn these subjects into a vision of splendor. Using an array of lights, mesh LED screens, and security camera feeds, Nine Inch Nails transformed Rexall Place into a giant art installation, complete with 8,000 fans, on Monday night.

It was an awesome sight to behold, putting Kanye West's recent Glow In The Dark spectacle to shame. Yet like the rapper, Reznor didn't waste time trying to explain his songs or engage the crowd in silly call-and-response antics. He said a few perfunctory thank yous during the course of NIN's set, only waiting until the encore to speak in full sentences. "We're trying to do the best for you guys," he said.

Mission accomplished. Reznor and his current lineup of musicians - guitarist Robin Finck, drummer Josh Freese, keyboard player Alessandro Cortini and bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen - were relentless, playing more than 25 tunes in two hours.

They cranked through most of NIN's biggest hits - such as Closer, Head Like A Hole, Only, Terrible Lie, and a sparse, spine-tingling rendition of Hurt - but almost half the set was devoted to the group's latest efforts, The Slip and Ghosts I-IV, a double-disc of instrumental numbers.

Both albums were released this year, in what is proving to be one of Reznor's most productive periods as an artist. His tirelessness was also apparent on stage. By the middle of NIN's encore, he looked like he was gearing up to play for another two hours.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Zone of Totality

This month China was the scene of a Total Eclipse of the Sun.

Friday, August 1, 2008

New Moon
A man and his camel walk past a solar eclipse in Gaotai, Gansu province in China.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Chris and Don

Last night Dar and I saw the remarkable love story of the relationship of Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy-- Chris and Don. A Love Story. (click for a review)

Their meeting and their evolving relationship are a testament to destiny. Some people were meant to meet.

That young Don was able to withstand the onslaught of famous celebrities that surrounded the ever more popular writer is fascinating. Being starstruck was for Don Bachardy his own road to fame and expression of his own talent. He went from being dazzled by all the stars to dazzling them with his ability to paint and draw them.

Portrait of Don Bachardy from Wikipedia

Of course Chris was essential to his realizing that talent. Chris encouraged him and sent him through art school. The film reveals the way their relationship nurtured them both, reviving Isherwood's writing while inspiring Bachardy's art. (It was in the 70s that I heard Isherwood read and speak to a group in New Orleans at Loyola. I asked him how he liked Michael York's performance in Cabaret. Isherwood replied that York was perfect for the role, but that he didn't care for the bisexual slant. The character was homosexual; and one should just be one or the other, Isherwood said.)

The film gives us all the blending of talent, perception, emotion, love, confusion, and searching for identity that made this love story so poignant. Chris and Don beat the odds. Don's rendition of his lover's friends' faces are the ultimate triumph: Auden, Spender, Stravinsky, fellow artist David Hockney. They all emerge as witness to a great love story, one well beyond stereotypes.

The death of Isherwood, as revealed by Don Bachardy is moving, peaceful. It is like the Hindu philosophy they both studied; it is an acceptance of the Tao, the Path, the Way of life. Don's drawings of his lover's transition to death is pure Zen, beyond pain and suffering, an ecstatic transcendence. The film gives us a touch of that understanding. Would that we could all know such love.


Here are a few of Don Bachardy's drawings

And Bachardy's interview with White Crane:

Bacardy1 Portrait of An Artist as Zen Monk
Victor Marsh Interviews Don Bachardy
On Art, the Transcendent and Christopher Isherwood

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Out of the Past

A work in progress: scanned photos spilling out of albums and closets as we clean up the house.

And soon: videos from the past, too!

Photos: 40 - 15 MB

Hmm, I look like Clark Kent, don't you think?


Monday, August 04, 2008

The Wisdom of Bill Gates

Not being a capitalist, I have to read this essay by Gates with doubt. Though I admire his own generosity to charity and education, I wonder if his view of Creative Capitalism isn't a bit naive. Nonetheless, since we have a capitalist society, no harm in hoping he inspires others as rich as he is.

Pie in the sky-- a piece for everyone, but some get bigger, tastier pieces than others...

Making Capitalism More Creative

Capitalism has improved the lives of billions of people — something that's easy to forget at a time of great economic uncertainty. But it has left out billions more. They have great needs, but they can't express those needs in ways that matter to markets. So they are stuck in poverty, suffer from preventable diseases and never have a chance to make the most of their lives. Governments and nonprofit groups have an irreplaceable role in helping them, but it will take too long if they try to do it alone. It is mainly corporations that have the skills to make technological innovations work for the poor. To make the most of those skills, we need a more creative capitalism: an attempt to stretch the reach of market forces so that more companies can benefit from doing work that makes more people better off. We need new ways to bring far more people into the system — capitalism — that has done so much good in the world.

There's much still to be done, but the good news is that creative capitalism is already with us. Some corporations have identified brand-new markets among the poor for life-changing technologies like cell phones. Others — sometimes with a nudge from activists — have seen how they can do good and do well at the same time. To take a real-world example, a few years ago I was sitting in a bar with Bono, and frankly, I thought he was a little nuts. It was late, we'd had a few drinks, and Bono was all fired up over a scheme to get companies to help tackle global poverty and disease. He kept dialing the private numbers of top executives and thrusting his cell phone at me to hear their sleepy yet enthusiastic replies. As crazy as it seemed that night, Bono's persistence soon gave birth to the (RED) campaign. Today companies like Gap, Hallmark and Dell sell (RED)-branded products and donate a portion of their profits to fight AIDS. (Microsoft recently signed up too.) It's a great thing: the companies make a difference while adding to their bottom line, consumers get to show their support for a good cause, and — most important — lives are saved. In the past year and a half, (RED) has generated $100 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, helping put nearly 80,000 people in poor countries on lifesaving drugs and helping more than 1.6 million get tested for HIV. That's creative capitalism at work.

Creative capitalism isn't some big new economic theory. And it isn't a knock on capitalism itself. It is a way to answer a vital question: How can we most effectively spread the benefits of capitalism and the huge improvements in quality of life it can provide to people who have been left out?

The World Is Getting Better
It might seem strange to talk about creative capitalism when we're paying more than $4 for a gallon of gas and people are having trouble paying their mortgages. There's no doubt that today's economic troubles are real; people feel them deeply, and they deserve immediate attention. Creative capitalism isn't an answer to the relatively short-term ups and downs of the economic cycle. It's a response to the longer-term fact that too many people are missing out on a historic, century-long improvement in the quality of life. In many nations, life expectancy has grown dramatically in the past 100 years. More people vote in elections, express their views and enjoy economic freedom than ever before. Even with all the problems we face today, we are at a high point of human well-being. The world is getting a lot better.

The problem is, it's not getting better fast enough, and it's not getting better for everyone. One billion people live on less than a dollar a day. They don't have enough nutritious food, clean water or electricity. The amazing innovations that have made many lives so much better — like vaccines and microchips — have largely passed them by. This is where governments and nonprofits come in. As I see it, there are two great forces of human nature: self-interest and caring for others. Capitalism harnesses self-interest in a helpful and sustainable way but only on behalf of those who can pay. Government aid and philanthropy channel our caring for those who can't pay. And the world will make lasting progress on the big inequities that remain — problems like AIDS, poverty and education — only if governments and nonprofits do their part by giving more aid and more effective aid. But the improvements will happen faster and last longer if we can channel market forces, including innovation that's tailored to the needs of the poorest, to complement what governments and nonprofits do. We need a system that draws in innovators and businesses in a far better way than we do today.

Naturally, if companies are going to get more involved, they need to earn some kind of return. This is the heart of creative capitalism. It's not just about doing more corporate philanthropy or asking companies to be more virtuous. It's about giving them a real incentive to apply their expertise in new ways, making it possible to earn a return while serving the people who have been left out. This can happen in two ways: companies can find these opportunities on their own, or governments and nonprofits can help create such opportunities where they presently don't exist.

What's Been Missed
As C.K. Prahalad shows in his book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, there are markets all over the world that businesses have missed. One study found that the poorest two-thirds of the world's population has some $5 trillion in purchasing power. A key reason market forces are slow to make an impact in developing countries is that we don't spend enough time studying the needs of those markets. I should know: I saw it happen at Microsoft. For many years, Microsoft has used corporate philanthropy to bring technology to people who can't get it otherwise, donating more than $3 billion in cash and software to try to bridge the digital divide. But our real expertise is in writing software that solves problems, and recently we've realized that we weren't bringing enough of that expertise to problems in the developing world. So now we're looking at inequity as a business problem as well as something to be addressed through philanthropy. We're working on projects like a visual interface that will enable illiterate or semiliterate people to use a PC instantly, with minimal training. Another project of ours lets an entire classroom full of students use a single computer; we've developed software that lets each student use her own mouse to control a specially colored cursor so that as many as 50 kids can use one computer at the same time. This is a big advance for schools where there aren't enough computers to go around, and it serves a market we hadn't examined before.

Cell phones are another example. They're now a booming market in the developing world, but historically, companies vastly underestimated their potential. In 2000, when Vodafone bought a large stake in a Kenyan cell-phone company, it figured that the market in Kenya would max out at 400,000 users. Today that company, Safaricom, has more than 10 million. The company has done it by finding creative ways to serve low-income Kenyans. Its customers are charged by the second rather than by the minute, for example, which keeps down the cost. Safaricom is making a profit, and it's making a difference. Farmers use their cell phones to find the best prices in nearby markets. A number of innovative uses for cell phones are emerging. Already many Kenyans use them to store cash (via a kind of electronic money) and transfer funds. If you have to carry money over long distances — say, from the market back to your home — this kind of innovation makes a huge difference. You're less tempting to rob if you're not holding any cash.

This is how people can benefit when businesses find opportunities that have been missed. But since I started talking about creative capitalism earlier this year, I've heard from some skeptics who doubt that there are any new markets. They say, "If these opportunities really existed, someone would have found them by now." I disagree. Their argument assumes that businesses have already studied every possible market for their products. Their attitude reminds me of the old joke about an economist who's walking down the street with a friend. The economist steps over a $10 bill that's lying on the ground. His friend asks him why he didn't take the money. "It couldn't possibly be there," he explains. "If it were, somebody would've picked it up!" Some companies make the same mistake. They think all the $10 bills have already been picked up. It would be a shame if we missed such opportunities, and it would make a huge difference if, instead, researchers and strategists at corporations met regularly with experts on the needs of the poor and talked about new applications for their best ideas.

Beyond finding new markets and developing new products, companies sometimes can benefit by providing the poor with heavily discounted access to products. Industries like software and pharmaceuticals, for example, have very low production costs, so you can come out ahead by selling your product for a bigger profit in rich markets and for a smaller profit, or at cost, in poor ones. Businesses in other industries can't do this tiered pricing, but they can benefit from the public recognition and enhanced reputation that come from serving those who can't pay. The companies involved in the (RED) campaign draw in new customers who want to be associated with a good cause. That might be the tipping point that leads people to pick one product over another.

There's another crucial benefit that accrues to businesses that do good work. They will find it easier to recruit and retain great employees. Young people today — all over the world — want to work for organizations that they can feel good about. Show them that a company is applying its expertise to help the poorest, and they will repay that commitment with their own dedication.

Creating New Incentives
Even so, no matter how hard businesses look or how creatively they think, there are some problems in the world that aren't amenable to solution by existing market incentives. Malaria is a great example: the people who most need new drugs or a vaccine are the least able to pay, so the drugs and vaccines never get made. In these cases, governments and nonprofits can create the incentives. This is the second way in which creative capitalism can take wing. Incentives can be as straightforward as giving public praise to the companies that are doing work that serves the poor. This summer, a Dutch nonprofit called the Access to Medicine Foundation started publishing a report card that shows which pharmaceutical companies are doing the most to make sure that medicines are made for — and reach — people in developing countries. When I talk to executives from pharmaceutical companies, they tell me that they want to do more for neglected diseases — but they at least need to get credit for it. This report card does exactly that.

Publicity is very valuable, but sometimes it's still not enough to persuade companies to get involved. Even the best p.r. may not pay the bill for 10 years of research into a new drug. That's why it's so important for governments to create more financial incentives. Under a U.S. law enacted last year, for example, any drug company that develops a new treatment for a neglected disease like malaria can get a priority review from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for another product it has made. If you develop a new drug for malaria, your profitable cholesterol drug could go on the market as much as a year earlier. Such a priority review could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It's a fantastic way for governments to go beyond the aid they already give and channel market forces so they improve even more lives.

Of course, governments in developing countries have to do a lot to foster capitalism themselves. They must pass laws and make regulations that let markets flourish, bringing the benefits of economic growth to more people. In fact, that's another argument I've heard against creative capitalism: "We don't need to make capitalism more creative. We just need governments to stop interfering with it." There is something to this. Many countries could spark more business investment — both within their borders and from the outside — if they did more to guarantee property rights, cut red tape and so on. But these changes come slowly. In the meantime, we can't wait. As a businessman, I've seen that companies can tap new markets right now, even if conditions aren't ideal. And as a philanthropist, I've found that our caring for others compels us to help people right now. The longer we wait, the more people suffer needlessly.

The Next Step
In june, I moved out of my day-to-day role at Microsoft to spend more time on the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I'll be talking with political leaders about how their governments can increase aid for the poor, make it more effective and bring in new partners through creative capitalism. I'll also talk with CEOs about what their companies can do. One idea is to dedicate a percentage of their top innovators' time to issues that affect the people who have been left behind. This kind of contribution takes the brainpower that makes life better for the richest and dedicates some of it to improving the lives of everyone else. Some pharmaceutical companies, like Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, are already doing this. The Japanese company Sumitomo Chemical shared some of its technology with a Tanzanian textile company, helping it produce millions of bed nets, which are crucial tools in the fight to eradicate malaria. Other companies are doing the same in food, cell phones and banking.

In other words, creative capitalism is already under way. But we can do much more. Governments can create more incentives like the FDA voucher. We can expand the report-card idea beyond the pharmaceutical industry and make sure the rankings get publicity so companies get credit for doing good work. Consumers can reward companies that do their part by buying their products. Employees can ask how their employers are contributing. If more companies follow the lead of the most creative organizations in their industry, they will make a huge impact on some of the world's worst problems.

More than 30 years ago, Paul Allen and I started Microsoft because we wanted to be part of a movement to put a computer on every desk and in every home. Ten years ago, Melinda and I started our foundation because we want to be part of a different movement — this time, to help create a world where no one has to live on a dollar a day or die from a disease we know how to prevent. Creative capitalism can help make it happen. I hope more people will join the cause.,8599,1828069,00.html