Category Archives: Satire hot or Cold

On Violence

I recently participated in a blog thread discussion about filmic violence (over at Ed Champion’s place) which, you’ll see, speaks for itself:

20 Responses to “Review: Donkey Punch (2008)”

  1. Steven Augustine on January 23rd, 2009 7:59 pm

    Ed, I don’t buy it. I don’t buy it at all. Gaspar Noe raped his audience as a supposed comment on rape (while being, in the process, *so* controversy-courtingly violent that his career arc bulged… a win-win move). Irreversible improved *not one jot* on films such as La Strada or Raging Bull or Nothing But A Man or even Lord of the Effing Flies as meditations on the atavism of modern man.

    I walked out of Irreversible before Bellucci’s big scene, but any kid on Limewire, that year, knows that that very excerpt was one of the hottest downloads of the season. That’s the highest compliment for a film of that nature, isn’t it? A few million adolescents wallpapering their libidos with Noe’s “statement”.

    And any “adult” audience that *needs* a blood-sopping, 9 minute rape, or to see a CGI skull bashed in with a fire extinguisher, in order to “get” the message (what was the message again? that ultra-violence puts asses on cinema seats?) is surely beyond redemption. Why not an anti-child-abuse flick with name actors and topshelf cinematography/FX featuring (as its 9 minute viral setpiece) a newborn boiled alive?

    It’s a question of calibration; of scale: in a film with no crushed brainpans or unzippered guts or geysers of plasma on display, great acting and mercilessly on-target *dialogue* is all the violence a *sensitive, intelligent* audience needs in order to be shocked, still, or haunted, an hour after leaving the theater. Dogville was fairly upsetting; it made a fairly strong point, as I recall; would the film have been “harder hitting” if Kidman’s character had been stomped to a quivering mess during the rape?

    Ed: connect the dots: Irreversible and 29 Palms (and the other slick yuppie “Art House” splatter films of the era whose titles I forget) aren’t a prophylaxis against future Abu Ghraibs, they help to lay the foundation for them.

    Gaspar Noe, is, in my sincere opinion, a careerist hypocrite with a lot to answer for. Noe and Tarrantino both.

    Seriously: go see Nothing But a Man (again). It shows up crap like Irreversible for the soul-leatherizing porn with CGItis that it really is. And “Donkey Punch”… sigh.

  2. JR on January 24th, 2009 1:26 pm

    “Irreversible and 29 Palms (and the other slick yuppie “Art House” splatter films of the era whose titles I forget) aren’t a prophylaxis against future Abu Ghraibs, they help to lay the foundation for them.”

    I didn’t know movies were supposed to act as a cure-all for what ails man. That’s news to me.

  3. Steven Augustine on January 24th, 2009 1:55 pm

    JR, read the comment carefully and take the time to absorb the argument (a dictionary might help; look up “prophylaxis”, which you seem to think shares a definiton with “panacea”) before breaking out the sarcasm, please.

    I’d appreciate a response to my actual point (ie, the hypocrisy of making a nauseatingly violent film as a supposed response to the problem of violence, which was Noe’s stated purpose).

    I put it you that Noe doesn’t take the possible *effect of the violence in his own movie* as seriously as I (and a few others) do. Here are a few questions and answers from an interview Noe did about the movie:

    Q: There was a moment after the rape and before the beating when Monica’s character could have run away.

    A: No, I don’t think so. I think he would have run after her.

    Q: Of course, the rapist is Jo Prestia, the professional boxer from France.

    A: He used to be the world champion Thai kickboxer. He’s very, very famous in France. Some people would come to the set and would be more impressed with his presence than the actors.

    Q: What did he do to prepare for the rape scene?

    A: None of us rehearsed anything aside from the kicking of [Monica’s] head in [the rape] scene, and the [revenge] scene [with the] fire extinguisher. And we didn’t rehearse the whole scenes, just those parts. We had to do tests before to make sure the actors would not be really hit. For the rest, we just went on the set and shot them six times over three days.

    Q: How did you simulate the rape scene?

    A: One aspect of the digital editing makes it seem realistic — his penis is added after the shoot. His fly was actually zipped in the scene. It makes the whole thing much more realistic. With his penis visible, Monica loved it. But you don’t expect that, and that particular detail makes the thing more dramatic.

    Q: Do you really believe, as the first line says, that “time destroys all things?”

    A: It’s very dramatic and it sounds good. There are two translations, and the original sentence in French is “time devours all things.” It’s a well-known Latin sentence, and I almost used that sentence, but it might have been too intellectual. I do believe it. Everything that happens is born inside time — so you can also put it the other way around.

    Q: But the counterpoint to that is the really nonjudgmental comment that follows: “There are no bad deeds, just deeds.” Can you comment?

    A: The guy talking is a good friend of mine, very bright. He changed his language for each take. That statement was his personal opinion, although I happen to agree.

    Q: How do you expect gay groups in America will respond?

    A: In France they love the movie. Gay people thought Vincent Cassel was so gorgeous and so sexy. There will always be people saying it’s homophobic. But the reaction of the gay community was better than the straight community. People most offended are really heterosexual men. Male dominants have problems identifying with a woman who’s raped.

    Q: Men can get raped, too.

    A: The fear disappears with men when you are 18 or 20. I wanted this movie to bring back men’s old fear to show them how it is to be raped. Remember, Vincent’s character almost gets raped, too.

    Q: Would the concepts work as well if the characters weren’t so young, beautiful and charmed?

    A: Monica and Vincent — playing the happy couple — are the perfect couple for most people. When you see them naked on the bed you think they’re so perfect together. It creates a fascination to see their intimacy, but also a jealousy; you know they will pay for being so young, so pretty and so rich. You cannot hate them, because you know their happiness will not last.

    Q: On a lighter note, who came up with the idea of a dress that makes Monica B look like her nipples are constantly erect?

    A: We were looking for the sexiest dress we could find for her. The best, most beautiful party dress we could find that would be something you could really wear in Paris. She had her own green silk dress, and then this guy from Yves Saint Laurent came in and redesigned the whole thing (replicated). We needed 10 copies of that dress, because during the rape scene, after each take, it would be destroyed by blood, etc. It was designed right on her breast. It fits her perfectly.

    Q: When you watch your own movie, can you understand why people walk out?

    A: When I see [the two violent] scenes, I see only special effects. But the ending gets me — I cannot see the kids [on the grass in the park]. I walk out one minute before the end because I feel like I’m going to cry. And it’s not because of the [scene], but because of the music, Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7.”

  4. ed on January 24th, 2009 4:36 pm

    You’re assuming, Steven, that filmmakers are trying to solve violence with these films. That there is an underlying “message” to be had behind the results, rather than an exploration. I reject that notion, for we then enter into the regrettable territory of dogma (but not necessarily post-Dogme). I think Noe was, in the above interview, trying to get a rise out of anyone reading it by suggesting that “Monica loved it.” He tends to talk a lot of shit. I don’t know if Roth would make a similar claim to defend the Matarazzo rape scene. Both, of course, wish to present themselves as provocateurs.

    But it is the films that matter most. IRREVERSIBLE’s violence is defensible, because we are presented with the happy couple at “the beginning.” We at least get a sense, psychologically speaking, of what the characters are capable of and how the violence may be there within the “happy couple” makeup. But with Roth, we don’t get that chance at all with Matarazzo’s character. Aside from a mild dis to her two friends, she’s presented as a cartoon and is never given a chance to be real or present another side to this cartoonish template. She’s mocked for being geeky, for being earnest and inquisitive, for feeling, for having emotional moments in her diary. And she is punished with this despicable and defenseless scene, which does nothing to further our understanding of violence and torture in the way that Noe does.

    Violence and rape, unpleasant as they are, are realities. There are many ways to go about including them in film. And exploitation films have the potential to pursue these realities — as Ferrara does extremely well — in a way that causes us to frame explicit and uncomfortable scenes within the darker side of the human repertoire. But it needs to be presented WITH the repertoire in order to be justifiable. This can make for an unpleasant moviegoing experience, but then I happen to think that investigating the unpleasant is vital for any art form.

    Lay the foundation? You can’t be serious.

  5. Steven Augustine on January 24th, 2009 5:07 pm

    “Lay the foundation? You can’t be serious.”

    I’m extremely serious, Ed. But before I get to that, I’d like to get to this:

    “…And she is punished with this despicable and defenseless scene, which does nothing to further our understanding of violence and torture in the way that Noe does.”

    Ed, exactly how does Noe’s graphic, 9-minute rape scene “further” your understanding of violence and torture? Are you claiming that you were sitting on the fence on these subjects before Noe opened your eyes? Are you claiming that you didn’t really know that a woman could be raped and beaten into an irreversible coma before seeing the process, in explicit detail, as presented in a film?

  6. JR on January 24th, 2009 5:25 pm

    I wonder what movies Torquemada watched before he burned all of those heretics at the stake.

  7. Steven Augustine on January 24th, 2009 5:36 pm

    JR:

    Resort to all the logical fallacies you like (influence A postdates behaviour X, is therefore irrelevant to behaviour B?); they won’t quite stand in lieu of a pertinent response.

    To save you the trouble of actually reading my first comment: I’m calling Gaspar Noe a hypocrite for claiming to address the matters of violence and rape in his film Irreversible. Any response specific to that… ?

  8. JoeBu on January 24th, 2009 5:41 pm

    While I tend to agree with the general attitude of SA with regards to this, if I may throw a bit into the discussion:

    First, I may be the only person in the world who feels this way, but the longer the scene went on (only saw the film once, in theater), the LESS disturbing I found it (still disturbing though; I’m not a sicko). In other words, for one viewer, extended exposure to the graphic attack had the result of desensitizing that viewer to the brutality onscreen. Regardless of Noe’s perhaps various intended effects, I’m guessing this was not one of them. (On the other hand, I found the fire extinguisher scene to be infinitely more disturbing, and I don’t think identification or a lack of it had anything to do with this difference.)

    Secondly, and I mean this in all earnestness, no snarkiness, how exactly does an extended graphic rape by one character inform/relate to the idea that “…Noé is interested in suggesting to the filmgoer that our quotidian gestures may very well be laced with savagery.”? I mean, if I’m writing a treatise on violence, then have scene where some random person commits an act of violence, while both my treatise and the scene are “about” violence, it doesn’t necessarily make them related or one relevant to the other.

    Despite my general misgivings about “Irreversible,” I’m willing to give you (or anyone) the benefit of the doubt regarding its worth, but I’m not seeing it. And, if SA suggested above, Noe is attempting to have it both ways so to speak, in my mind he’s failed at the one way so as to leave us with the other. He’s attempted a trick with a extremely high degree of difficulty, and in flubbing it, ended with a horrible crash.

  9. JR on January 24th, 2009 5:51 pm

    Yeah. He’s a hypocrite. So what? He’s also an incredible filmmaker. I can watch a movie and appreciate the techniques used to create a response. It’s one of the joys of great filmmaking. Apparently you have a hard time with this. Maybe you should stick to feel good movies and then you won’t feel bad. Hotel for Dogs came out this weekend.

    And I did look up prophylaxis in the dictionary. And in my dictionary, one of the alternate definitions was “self-righteous asshat.”

  10. Steven Augustine on January 24th, 2009 6:29 pm

    Great, JR! Are you, um, done now?

    To Joe:

    “In other words, for one viewer, extended exposure to the graphic attack had the result of desensitizing that viewer to the brutality onscreen.”

    Well, exactly. Question being: do humans pay a price for adjustments like these (which are near-constant, now)? Don’t laugh if I use the word “innocence” here, but is Noe robbing the viewer, nauseated by *his* violence, of a particle of innocence… only to replace it with what? “Understanding”? I don’t think so.

    I’m not presenting a case for censorship, mind you. I’m merely exercising my prerogative to call “bullshit” when I see it.

  11. Miracle Jones on January 24th, 2009 7:09 pm

    Until a beautiful Italian woman gets graphically raped by a swan on film, I’ll save my money for literature, where the real action is.

    Hostel. Pish posh pshaw. Sounds like the plot of a Roald Dahl story that he wrote and then tossed in the fire out of boredom with himself.

  12. JoeBu on January 24th, 2009 7:51 pm

    I should add, for Stephen or anyone else, that I’m not making the “violence desensitizes ergo bad” argument, and that I agree with Ed’s ideas regarding “exploring” difficult ideas. Some of my favorite films/filmmakers are notoriously violent (not that the violence is why I like them; I’m thinking Kubrick and Peckinpah). I’d contrast Noe’s film with “Salo,” a film I found extremely disturbing and yet, after recovering, consider a masterpiece, certainly technically, albeit a difficult one.

    I’ll also add that I look forward to seeing Noe’s previous (to “Irreversible”) film, the name of which escapes me, apparently very violent as well. Jonathan Rosenbaum, formerly of the Chicago Reader, found the previous to be truly a masterpiece; he subsequently found “Irreversible” to be reprehensible. I recall finding one or the other review (or both) very interesting, and despite my bad experience, I’m still willing to watch Noe.

  13. Steven Augustine on January 24th, 2009 8:35 pm

    “I should add, for Stephen or anyone else, that I’m not making the ‘violence desensitizes ergo bad’ argument, and that I agree with Ed’s ideas regarding ‘exploring’ difficult ideas.”

    Sure, Joe, but, again: it’s a question of scale: I want to know if Ed thinks that Noe’s strategy of ramping the level of graphic violence to *that* level accomplishes more in an “exploration” of violence than “Raging Bull” does.

    On a purely formal level, I’d ask what this “exploration” entails; frankly, I think that’s a convenient, apologist trope we’ve been given by filmmakers (and their distributors) who want to have their cake (go as far as possible and sell as many tickets as possible) and eat it too (justify the results as edifying). I also think we’re handling lots of other unexamined concepts here, not the least of which being the concept of the “Auteur” as applied to hundreds of directors.

    Now, I’ve watched Irreversible at home (skipping the rape scene), and besides the borrowed (from Memento) trick of reverse-chronology, the only truly stand-out things about the film are the violent setpieces, which are stand-out for *technological* reasons. As a drama, Irreversible is mediocre; the acting is solid-if-unremarkable; script largely improvised; Bellucci’s beauty is a big part of the movie’s lure. What’s left, minus Bellucci’s beauty, Memento’s structure and the shocking CGI? I can see the craft there (the sum total of scores of professionals at work); where’s the Art?

    Are we confusing the seductive power of ultra-slick surfaces with Art?

    And the “de-sensitizing” effect can concern us on an Aesthetic level (if it’s too unhip to worry about it on a social level), if we can no longer respond, for example, to the grief/betrayal/animal-will-to-live on Giulietta Masina’s face at the end of The Nights of Cabiria simply because we’re used to the knobs being turned to ELEVEN and she isn’t being decapitated.

    I’m arguing that ART is a matter of finely calibrated values and materials and the creepy CGI bombast of Noe’s torture porn in Irreversible has a nuance-obliterating effect. Plus a hook we’d rather not name: a lot of people *enjoy* watching depictions of torture.

  14. Steven Augustine on January 24th, 2009 9:05 pm

    Also at Joe:

    “I’d contrast Noe’s film with ‘Salo,’ a film I found extremely disturbing and yet, after recovering, consider a masterpiece, certainly technically, albeit a difficult one.”

    A contrast we can and should make point by point, I think. I have to get to bed (it’s 2 am here), but I’d like to discuss Salo tomorrow, if Ed is game…

  15. Jeremy Richards on January 27th, 2009 1:41 pm

    Hey Steven, since you aren’t brave enough to turn on the comments section of your blog, I thought I would come here and tell you that you’re a much better film critic than you are a writer of fiction, but I suspect you already know that. Figures. Now your patronizing tone and supercilious attitude makes perfect sense.

  16. Steven Augustine on January 27th, 2009 3:27 pm

    JR:

    It took you *three whole days* to come up with *that*? Laugh.

    My comments are off because of angry (and only technically literate) little creatures like you, darling. Don’t be disappointed if your opinion doesn’t mean much to me. Ditto for your equals (for they are legion).

    Love,

    SA

  17. Eli Roth – Continued « Geranium Kisses on January 27th, 2009 5:11 pm

    […] Champion serendipitously was exploring similar terrain to yours truly on Friday. In the context of thoughtfully attacking Donkey Punch, a new movie, Champion explores the justifications for ultra-violence in movies. In considering […]

  18. Steven Augustine on January 27th, 2009 5:15 pm

    Actually, JR: you’ve given me a pretty good idea. Anyone who wants to send HATE MAIL to the address provided on my ABOUT page will see it published, *unedited* and *without comment* (no matter how ugly/cruel/accurate or profanity-rank), on a new page I’ll link to (prominently) from my main fiction page.

    So, no more excuses if you feel the hate and you really, really want to express it!

    Isn’t that egalitarian?

    I’ll bet you feel better already.

  19. JR on January 29th, 2009 6:41 pm

    You got a big mouth, faggot. Talk like this to me while I’m standing face to face with you and I would smack you across your face. Why don’t you tell me where you live so I can come and show you what a little pussy you are. Watch what you say to people you prick. One of these days you’re going to confuse yourself and forget that you’re not hidden behind your computer screen and someone is going to shove their fucking fist down your throat.

  20. DrMabuse on January 29th, 2009 7:59 pm

    Alright. I’m closing this thread. This is not a place for people to threaten each other. It’s a place to carry on a civil discussion.

 

 

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Why Famous Writers Should Never Self-Google

 or: adventures in the compulsively mediated, PC prison of totalitarian decorum

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2009/jan/26/sebald-hughes-and-smith-three-modern-greats?showallcomments=true&commentpage=2&commentposted=1

 

Unlike Zadie Smith¹, I really was just “passing through the book pages” (of the Guardian’s blog section) yesterday. What I found was a blog article, by Robert McCrum, titled Sebald, Hughes and Smith: three modern greats.  I sneered, of course, but it was a sneer devoid of passion. Not that the picture posted under the blog heading, of Zadie Smith, looking measurably less ugly than J.L. Borges, wasn’t nice. It was nice. Not (for me) write-a-hyperbolic-headline-about-her nice, but nice enough.

I scanned the comment thread and came to something by the writer Oscar MacSweeny. His comment (now deleted) was something to the effect that McCrum’s calling Zadie Smith a “modern great” was beyond the pale unless McCrum was “screwing her”, in which case the hyperbole would be understandable. To which I chipped in with the fatal qualifier (now semi-deleted), “…or would like to,” along with a sarcastic bit about some other commenter’s notion that Sebald is “boring” and Hughes is unread “outside the English language” (and therefore of no consequence), though Zadie is tops.

One incisive participant, a thing called “Greenball”, who then got the coveted pat-on-the-head from a tetchy Guardian Unlimited functionary who wields her modicum of power firmly, wrote:

“And shame on Steven Augustine for writing such offensive things. And shame on Oscar. You small pathetic men. I think it’s outrageous that the Guardian allow this kind of personal abuse in the name of journalism.”

Is a personal opinion “journalism”? Are comment threads comprised of “journalism” or personal opinion? Are all personal opinions, by decree, to be for the  “good” things and against the “bad” things consensus decides?

Was Oscar’s comment, accusing McCrum of positive sexism (or Luvism), a form of negative sexism? Only if said comment could only have been used “against” a particular gender. Was my addition, a comment on the possible spot where Robert McCrum’s possible libido intersects with his possible literary judgment, negative sexism? Again: only if I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) have quipped exactly the same way about some blogger’s hyperbolic estimation of the value of Jonathan Franzen’s oeuvre.

I mention Franzen because of the controversy I remember about the glamour photo his publisher used for the jacket of early printings of The Corrections. The photo was a sexed-up (photoshopped?) confection that made Franzen look not just better than he had ever appeared to in real life (presumably), but better than most actors depicting crusading hot lawyers on primetime American television. The complaint (but why complain?) being that the book’s rapturous reception was, in large part, extra-literary. Imputations of wave upon wave of fainting Franzenmaniacs at book-signings and so forth.

Clearly, a subtle sub-theme of this longish comment of mine is the Faustian pact that younger, cuter writers enter into with the Beelzebuboid PR wings of their publishers, though the logical conclusions of that implied essay (about petards and elevation) are too obvious to belabor here. So, back to my plea to famous writers (who, surely, are compensated in advance for the pain) to either, A) resist the self-Google demon or B) respond not snippily to what they subsequently find…

Mr. Franzen has taken quite  a “beating”, in the years since that photo flap faded, from “print” and “blog” critics alike. The criticisms are sometimes expressed with immoderate diction, as private opinions often are and public opinions sometimes are and political and/or corporate speech is very, very rarely. An important question emerges: is there a place for immoderate diction in this world?

Sarah Crown, some kind of higher functionary of the GU’s online business (the business of generating web traffic, no matter the content), claims not. She writes (emphasis mine):

“I’ll certainly be asking the moderators to remove the remarks from MrStevenAugustine and iamoscarmacsweeny. Absolutely no place for them on here (or anywhere, for that matter). Sorry they weren’t spotted sooner.”

So, now we know: there’s no place on Earth, and no possible situation, in which it’s proper to imply (or opine outright) that X commenter adores Y writer for any other than literary reasons. Especially if the extra-literary reasons are romantic/sexual and the adored writer is a woman. Because placing a woman’s name in a sentence or paragraph that also contains a reference to sex, no matter the gist of the sentence, is “sexist”, by default? One supposes. Here’s an experiment:

“Robert McCrum, ranking Jonathan Franzen’s work on a level with Rod McKuen’s and Robert Ludlum’s is only forgivable if you’re screwing him (or them)!”

Is that better? It feels less “sexist”.  But it’s still immoderate diction. The question remains: is banning immoderate diction a triumph of PC culture (that high-strung web of proscription and taboo, thickened and thriving during an arguably illiberal, anti-intellectual, crypto-fascist convulsion of the “West”)? Immoderate diction is banned unless the “good” are using it, of course: I’m quite sure it’s okay to refer to Oscar and me as “louts” and “idiots” and “bedwetters” and  “small pathetic  men”. I’ve just checked the etiquette book and it says, on page one, that it is².

Even Zadie Smith, having stumbled upon Oscar MacSweeny’s personal (if indirect) opinion of her work’s merit (and my quip appended to Oscar’s opinion), did not like it. She wrote, among other things (emphasis mine):

¹Hello. This is zadie smith. I know this is pointless, but I was just passing through the book pages, and found this thread and wanted to add two things…

(etc., etc., until)

3. Oscar and Steve Augustine: everyone is free to dislike whichever book they dislike. But read what you’ve written, below, again. Is this what women novelists are to expect? Would any male writer, no matter how poor a writer, be spoken of like this?

“MrStevenAugustine
26 Jan 09, 9:03pm (about 7 hours ago)

Oscar:

“…unless you’re screwing her.”

Or would like to?”

This question prefacing Oscar MacSweeny’s/Steven Augustine’s evil work (Would any male writer, no matter how poor a writer, be spoken of like this?) is rhetorical. But what if the answer is “yes”?

As it turns out, that’s exactly what the answer is.

Which would mean that Zadie Smith’s wounded sanctimony, while still humanly reasonable, is rhetorically invalidated. The only fair thing from Zadie Smith, Sarah Crown and the hysterical bluenoses who enliven the thread with their dimwittish celebrity arse-kissing, at this point, is an apology to Oscar MacSweeny and Steven Augustine… and a generously inscribed copy of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty to both of us.

Actually, forget the book.

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²What’s it like being lambasted savagely by a near-idiot not even known to exist before the onslaught? A little like having one’s leg humped by a muddy Spaniel growling fiercely as it humps. Here are my favorite rude comments from the irony-proof  decorum-enforcers on that thread:

 

1. Greenball

27 Jan 09, 1:58pm

Steven Augustine, your behaviour is truly shocking. You talk about people “screwing”, or wanting to, Miss Smith, and when she rightly expresses offence, you tell her that’s just like Franzen being compared to Svevo. That is so ignorant and aggressive I can scarcely believe it.

Though I just had the misfortune to look at your blog [http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ ] and I can see why you’d hate Smith. She has talent and success. You have nothing.

Sarah Crown, I see you said 4 hours ago you’d remove the offending posts. I suggest that you do before Miss Smith is sensible enough to contact her lawyers.

McCrumb, let’s indeed get some things straight. You wrote a stupid, ignorant piece in which you dangled Miss Smith over a moat and then pretended to be surprised when the crocodiles began taking pieces out of her. You haven’t the grace to then apologise, but instead grudgingly (even sardonically?) write that obviously, it’s all your fault. Well, yes, it is. It is an exceptionally stupid posting.

2. Naid

27 Jan 09, 2:11pm

McCrum – talk about hanging someone out to dry. Where’s your spine, man?

I like your choice of sebald and hughes. not read smith.

stevenaugustine, you’re a bed wetter of the highest order. if you don’t like something, have the balls to say so. “Gender assymetrical jape” aside (are you a writer? i’d give up. you’re cringeworthy), please spare us all your weasling words, they’re beneath you.

so many nasty snivellers on these pages. guardian readers make me despair..

to be fair, you are doubtless mostly a bunch of sub-editors and blog writers [http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/]  suffering rejected articles and novels.. still, no excuse.

3. Bruno62

27 Jan 09, 6:49pm

To MrStevenAugustine

I told you before to stop writing because everything you write is boring and now I see you did not hear my advice [http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/]. How can you be so low to insult the The Most Talented and Gifted Writer Zadie Smith? How many books did you publish and how much money did you earn with them? Zadie Smith, 3 books and literary star, this is too much to your liver, n’est pas? Today, Mr..(you dont deserve too much) Steve, our world became miserable with internet, because when you have no talent at all, you write a blog [http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/] because it seems to ease your resentment and frustation. If you are gentleman, if you are really a british gentleman, you should apologise to Miss Smith. But if you are a member of the Muridae Family, stay in hole. Bruno da Silva, Switzerland

 

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BONUS TRACK (a favorite, astonishingly rational comment of mine, deleted from the thread):

Sarah:

“@StevenAugustine

On the contrary – I’ve reported that comment too. Tut.”

I counted at least five (not the least of which being “bedwetter”… you’d think my wife or 3 year old daughter would’ve told me!). All quips (as dangerous as quips can be) aside: suggestion…leave them *all* as they are because they are merely *opinions* and a comment thread is supposedly comprised of things like that. Even the odd ranklers.

Also:

Alarming, old chum, I disagree with your characterization of Oscar’s original remark (and my quipped addition) as “schoolboy childish”. Anything but, I’d have thought: it’s wee children who think everything is all about white smiles, yellow duckies and chocolate bunnies. Oscar’s (clearly frustrated) remark struck me as that of a cynical adult’s disgust with the world. What’s “childish” about that? I’m hoping there’s room left, in the compulsively mediated, PC prison of totalitarian decorum, for grownups to be frank now and then… even if it makes the bunnies cry.

James Whoode: Review

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Reviewed by James Whoode 

If chattel slavery can be said to be a metaphor for the Idumaean vagaries of one’s life as the trophy litterateur of America’s flagship periodical for the upwardly cultured, then Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is this metaphor writ long and large, and in a persuasively antiquarian font. It is not so much a book as the ad hoc rationale for paragraphizing the florid wound of my rhetorical style, a style I invite you to gawp at. You will not follow my meaning (the convoluted, bet-hedging over-qualifications of my most baseless theoretical arguments will see to that), but you will approve, almost snivellingly, of my tone. As with Ivan Ilych’s mortality-invigorated affection for the fawnitic boy-servant Gerasim, or the Newtonianly-fatidic mishap that changes the life of the plantigrade eponym of Gustave Flaubert’s crypto-ovarian melodrama Madame Bovary, stock references like these make this feel like an important thing to be reading, without, paradoxically, inspiring much corollary interest in the alluded-to books or even the book at hand, depleted as the reader is by admiring the reviewer for the duration of what may turn out to be a very long review. Uncle Tom’s Cabin  is as good an excuse as any to put you through this. 

Beecher Stowe quite cannily published “Cabin” in 1852, rendering it, by arguable default, more than a century-and-a-half old by the time this extraordinary reader undertook to address, with wasted-on-you fastidiousness, its recondite sermons in racial valence and flagellant misprision, giving it the valuable patina of what I call “Oldiness”. What I mean by “Oldiness” goes some distance beyond the obvious connotations of being “old” or having qualities indicative of same, simply because I say so, or mean to say so or imply as much, crafting, with a lushness of expression equaled only by my vacuity of message, lapidary monuments to the baffling scale of my pretension.

When Beecher Stowe writes, early in the novel, “He was a short, thick-set man, with coarse, commonplace features, and that swaggering air of pretension which marks a low man who is trying to elbow his way upward in the world,”  we notice, immediately, with an almost feral flare of delight to our nostrils, that we are in the presence of a very old book, written in an era when writers felt more comfortable wedding failures of character to defects of stature and physiognomy (though baldness was more often than not a meta-textual synecdoche for brilliance): a culture-sanctioned, authorial license to craft the sort of characterly victims of over-description I treasure. Later, in a set piece knowingly, teasingly, precognitively reminiscent of Edith Wharton’s description of Lily Bart as first glimpsed by a reassuringly retrograde Selden at Grand Central Station (with its echoes, both figurative and literal, of the human bowel; a Freudian cathedral of American movement), Beecher Stowe writes: 

       At this moment, the door was pushed gently open, and a young quadroon woman, apparently about twenty-five, entered the room. There needed only a glance from the child to her, to identify her as its mother. There was the same rich, full, dark eye, with its long lashes; the same ripples of silky black hair. The brown of her complexion gave way on the cheek to a perceptible flush, which deepened as she saw the gaze of the strange man fixed upon her in bold and undisguised admiration.

What a magnificently Gauguinish flourish, that ripples of silky black hair line, with its bumptious semi-assonance of ripple and silky; the stretched euphony of the vowel-diagraph in hair as it escapes the honked astringency of black by fleeing to the end of the sentence, a full-stop separating it from the genteeler implications of a brown to come. By the time we get to the coolly-placed key-word complexion (so freighted with overtones, and etymological root-allusions, that I’ve spent the better part of an hour researching it with my OED, a Fowler’s, a Chambers Dictionary of Etymology and the Stevenson’s book of Quotations I plunder so habitually for padding reviews that its pages are translucent with sebum, turning up nothing), we realize we’re either gazing upon the book’s dark omphalos or my own, whichever metaphor will seem to mean the most, the longest, for the largest number of credulous readers. It’s Beecher Stowe’s ability to accurately emplace a word among hundreds of others on a page without, it seems, forgetting that word’s definition (“complexion” appears in this novel no less than twelve times) that bespeaks what I call her “smartiness”. Surely, Uncle Tom would have been no less conversant with the word’s usage, and pronunciation, than Simon Legree, which would have permitted Beecher Stowe, by the universal rules of my arbitrary-if-overwrought system, to use the word in either man’s stream-of-consciousness, had the author indulged in what could have been, in the middle of the 19th century, an admittedly remarkable proto-Joycean absurdity of some merit. 

It’s about this time that we must pause to make learned (or even obfuscatory) references to Plato, Aristotle or Samuel Johnson. And to consider how the words cascabel or glottochronological might be worked into the review. 

No book, however persuasive the formal argument of its mind-language felicities (what I’ll refer to, hereafter, as an author’s “styliness”), may be said to enrich us, despite the reader’s irritating pretense of enjoying it, without a formulaic nod to hidebound Judeo-Christian conventions of what we (in a simply-defined civilization) unanimously agree to call “morals”. And this is where Beecher Stowe’s astonishingly Oldiness-infused effort falls short, the distance between ambition and achievement gapped like a membranously lisping aperture which is, itself, the sticky subconscious avatar of sheer sidereal-time-elasped since the event of the reviewer’s last satisfactory act of Anglo-American congress. There is no tuitionally moral foundation to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, beyond the polemic stridency of Beecher Stowe’s terribly of-its-era, and, one feels, emotionally-improvised, socio-political Weltanschauung

Nested in the interplay of the characters, had Beecher Stowe over-described them to a degree I’d find persuasive (e.g., how tall is Uncle Tom in stocking feet? How much, in kilos, does the character weigh? Similarly, breast sizes are sometimes hinted at but never concretized) one might have found that moral matrix; that shifting map of questing textual consciousnessess flurrying like radioactive mice in a maze of invigilated darkness towards that sapid bit of teleological Stilton (the osmolagnial prize of self-knowledge) at the maze’s center, longing only to be nibbled and licked in a cunning ersatz of love.