Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cigarette #3: Speaking of degenerate Southerners...

Walking home from work, 5:15pm
MUSIC: "Oceanographer's Choice," the Mountain Goats
I've got you, you've got whatever's left of me to get.
Our conversations are like minefields - no one's found a safe way through one yet.
I'll spend a lot of money, I'll buy you white gold, we'll raise up a litte roof against the cold on Southwood Plantation Road
Where at night the stars blow like milk across the sky, where the high wires drop, where the fat crows cry.
All night long you giggle and scream, your brown eyes deeper than a dream.
We are gonna get through this, we are gonna stay married in this house like a Louisiana graveyard where nothing stays buried...

Besides the Cheating Song, there are a thousand other micro-genres: Songs About Cheating Songs ("Red Red Wine and Cheating Songs"), Songs About Being Invited to Your Ex's Wedding ("Invitation to Cry," "I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll"), I-Really-Shouldn't-Have-Broken-Up-With-Him/Her Songs ("I Cried All the Way to the Altar"), etc. My favorite of these is the George and Martha. Almost makes you worry that I aspire to be unhappily married.

Tallahassee is a concept album about a couple that Edward Albee wishes he could have come up with. "I hope when you think of me years down the line you can't find one good thing to say/And I hope that if I found the strength to walk out you'd stay the hell out of my way." Yikes.

For a long time I was happy to use the album only to amplify my own desperation, but when I started looking for a moral to the story, I came up with this: sometimes letting go is the way to end a relationship, but sometimes it's the only way to fix it.

P.S. Try using "the crumbling marriage" as a metaphor for any tradition that someone doesn't want to be a part of anymore but can't quite bring himself to renounce (i.e. lapsed Catholics, expatriated Americans). See?

Cigarette #2: The real difference between Left and Right

Outside the office, fifteen-minute smoke break, 2:45pm
HuffPo has gloating gossip piece about Tara Reid getting fired from her guest spot on Scrubs because she "smelled like cigarettes and alcohol." I've always liked women who smell like cigarettes and alcohol, and Peggy Noonan's got my back:
In fact, [Margaret Thatcher] wasn't so much a woman as a lady. I remember a gentleman who worked with her speaking of her allure, how she'd relax after a late-night meeting and you'd walk by and catch just the faintest whiff of perfume, smoke and scotch...
Disappointing. I would have liked to see the Iron Lady guest-star across from John C. McGinley.

Cigarette #1: Another "redneck culture" apologia

Going downtown to class, 9:10am

To watch the documentary Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, you'd think it was directed by a (very gifted) drunk, inbred banjo-picker with only the Holy Spirit for bridgework, but in reality Andrew Douglas is a young, well-spoken Englishman who just read a lot of Flannery O'Connor.

The people in the movie are wild, tattooed, and in several cases incarcerated, but Doulgas puts his finger on why none of that matters:
Some of the prisoners were very, very articulate. There's one man who says very poignantly, "I don't know what happened, when you're a kid you just kind of dive in. When you get older you can't seem to go in the water so well". He's not really talking about jail; he's talking about life. It has a great kind of beauty and sadness to it, I think. Another guy really nails the main themes of the film, saying, "When you're young, you're either in the bars or you're in the church. There's no middle ground".

The interesting thing is that here are people who are poor, under-privileged and often ill-educated, people who because they live in a culture that is so dense and saturated with Jesus, redemption and sin, have a kind of articulacy that the equivalent people back in England wouldn't have because they don't think about the world in such a consequential way. That's what makes a culture that on the surface looks rough and thin and under-privileged and bigoted, increasingly look rich and dense and textured to us. [...] All we do back home in our secular world is fight about football.
These people, whether they're Jesus-crazy or plain crazy, are less decadent than your average disincarnate Yankee. Might not be that all of them get saved, but at least it's something they think about from time to time.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cigarette #3: I need you to be Madeleine for a while.

On the porch after watching Vertigo, 2:35am

Dorothy Parker was once at a dress rehearsal for one of her plays when the director began bellowing for the leading lady to find herself a brassiere. “God no,” said Parker. “You’ve got to have something in this show that moves.” It's hard to imagine Hitchcock saying that about Kim Novak’s famously liberated chest on the set of Vertigo, but he certainly could have. Her body is the single exception in a picture where everything else, from pacing to scenery to soundtrack, is meticulously controlled.

Vertigo is about mistaken identity: Kim Novak is mistaken for someone who has an identity. In reality, she is a beautiful but pliable young woman who gets made over, first by the murderer Tom Helmore for the purpose of seducing Jimmy Stewart, then by Jimmy Stewart for the same reason. (I refer to actors and not characters because a film about the perils of pretending to be someone you’re not, in addition to whatever else it might be, is a commentary on performance. It’s as if, not content with calling us all voyeurs in Rear Window, Hitchcock had to accuse us of being delusional too.)

A lesser film might have gone for the simple moral that trying to remodel a free woman into a perfect replica of your dead lover won’t work, that what is dead stays dead. But in Vertigo, it does work. Novak proves to be a willing victim (“If I let you change me, will you love me?”) and an apt pupil, replicating the dead Madeleine to Jimmy Stewart’s exacting satisfaction. Stewart himself does plenty of heavy lifting to communicate the vast rottenness behind any attempt to control another person completely. His expression as he demands Kim Novak put her hair up in Madeleine’s style has all the perversity of a rapist’s.

While digging around in the archives of Yale's Finest Publication, I found a review of Vertigo by Emmy Chang that includes this knock-out sentence: "Stewart's experience as he looks at Kim Novak is of not physical but moral vertigo, the feeling we have when the right thing to do appears as far away to us, and as shattering, as that distant pavement." This moral vertigo is never more acute than when we've convinced ourselves that we're in some kind of control.

The plot is so implausible (how could the murderer be certain that Jimmy Stewart wouldn’t make it up the stairs in time? how could Jimmy Stewart possibly fail to notice that Madeleine and Judy are the same woman?) that the viewer would call it harebrained if everything else about the movie didn't scream self-control. Funny that Hitchcock was able to make an excellent film about the dangers of exerting power over others only by manipulating his audience so thoroughly.

Cigarette #2: Did you think I meant country matters?

Outside of class, 3:45pm

Is Mike Huckabee a hypocrite for accepting Ted Nugent's endorsement? Peter Suderman says no, because Ted Nugent is only ever appreciated ironically. Reihan Salam says no, because hypocrisy is Red State America's bread and butter.

Why roll over so quickly to the accusation that Ted Nugent's oeuvre reflects a degraded moral culture? Southern rock may be hard-drinkin', hard-lovin', and hard-livin', but damn if it don't love its momma. What's the real difference between "Cat Scratch Fever" and Hamlet telling Ophelia about "a fair thought to lie between a maid's legs?" In the battle between Good and Evil, Ted Nugent and William Shakespeare are in the same foxhole.

Cigarette #1: Do you look for hope in other people's eyes? That may be your worst redemption.

On the front porch, 10:15am
MUSIC: "Metal Heart," Cat Power
Losing the stars in the sky, losing the reasons why, losing the calling you've been faking, and I'm not kidding.
Sew your fortunes on a string and hold them up to the light, blue smoke will take a very violent flight,
And you will be changed and everything, and you will be in a very sad, sad zoo.
I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now I see.
How selfish of you to believe in the meaning of all this bad dreaming.

If I am ever called in front of a tribunal of the Sisterhood, I will have a lot to answer for. I have said in my life all of the following anti-feminist things:

There is such a thing as femininity, and women should conform themselves to it.

Aggression is not feminine.

There is no difference between saying "A woman can ignore
the feminine thing to do when she really wants to" and saying "The concept of gender should be completely eliminated." If femininity does not compel and limit women, if femininity does not stop any woman anywhere from doing something she would otherwise do, then it is not a useful concept for us to talk about.

If there are as many female chairmen of the Pythagorean Brotherhood as male ones, then the Pythagorean Brotherhood is doing something wrong.

This is why I was so happy that, as I listened to Cat Power this morning, I found myself thinking: "No man could ever be this miserable."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cigarette #3: Wait, Morrissey's Catholic? Is there anybody left who isn't?

Outside the library again
MUSIC: "Piss Factory," Patti Smith
I was a moral school girl, hard-working asshole, I figured I was speedo motorcycle, had to earn my dough.
Floor boss slides up to me and he says, "Hey sister, you just movin' too fast, you screwin' up the quota,
You're doing your piecework too fast. Now, you get off your mustang, sally. You ain't goin' nowhere, you ain't goin' nowhere."
I lay back, I get my nerve up. I take a swig of Romilar and walk up to hot-shit Dot Hook and I say,
"Hey, hey sister it don't matter whether I do labor fast or slow, there's always more labor after."
She's real Catholic, see. She fingers her cross and she says, "There is one reason. There's one reason. You do it my way or I push your face in.
We knee you in the john if you don't get off your get off your mustang, sally, if you don't shape it up baby." Shake it up, baby, twist & shout.
Oh, that I could will a radio here, James Brown singing "I Lost Someone," or the Jesters and the Paragons,
And Georgie Woods, the guy with the goods and guided missiles,
But no, I got nothin', no diversion, no window, nothing here but a porthole in the plaster
Where I look down, look at sweet Theresa's convent, all those nurses, all those nuns scatting around with their blue hoods like cats in mourning.
Oh, to me they, you know, to me they look pretty damn free down there, the way they smell.
And here I gotta be up here smelling Dot Hook's midwife sweat. I would rather smell the way boys smell. . .
Next to Dot Hook, yeah, we look the same, both pumping steel, both sweating, but you know she's got nothing to hide,
And I got something to hide here called desire, I got something to hide here called desire. . .

They say that Morrissey used to walk around with a copy of these lyrics in his pocket.

Cigarette #2: From the right-wing nostalgia file

In front of Bass Library

As I was smoking in front of the library I ran into my friend [redacted], who does not believe in agriculture. He always reminds me of this story from Jerome Tuccille's It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand:
Around this time I met the Galambosian.
"I am a Galambosian," he said. [...]
"What the hell is a Galambosian?"

There was this individual, it seems, named Joseph Andrew Galambos who evolved a theory of "primary property rights". Apparently, as soon as someone came up with a new idea - whether an invention or an original philosophical concept - the prototype belonged irrevocably to him and was to be regarded forevermore as his primary property. Somewhere along the line Galambos picked up the notion that Thomas Paine had invented the word "liberty," whereupon he established the Thomas Paine Royalty Fund, and every time he gave a lecture and used the word "liberty" he dropped a nickel into his fund box as a royalty payment to Tom. How he determined that a nickel was the proper measure of homage to Mr. Paine, I have no idea. Legend even had it that Galambos was still diligently searching for Thomas Paine's descendants so he could turn over moneys due their famous ancestor.

"There are five legitimate functions of government," said the Galambosian.
"No kidding. What are they?"
"I am not at liberty to say. The theory was originated by Andy Galambos and it is his primary property."
The Galambosian also informed me that Andy had been introduced to Ayn Rand several years before, and that after five minutes of conversation they had pronounced each other insane.
"Of course, it is Miss Rand who is really insane," said the Galambosian.
"Why is that?"
"I'm afraid I cannot tell you. The reasoning behind that theory
belongs to Andy."

The most peculiar thing about the whole Galambosian concept was the impossibility of finding out anything about it. Galambos' disciples were not at liberty to disseminate his philosophy without paying a royalty to their leader — who could not even waive payment, since primary property was an absolute good and could not be given away. You were stuck with it whether you wanted it or not, throughout eternity. Consequently, all the converts were those proselytized by Galambos himself — a time-consuming and self-restricting process, it being physically impossible to convert more than a handful of people at a time.

"If the rest of us were free to discuss his ideas," said the Galambosian, "there is no question in my mind that Galambosianism would spread throughout the world like wildfire."

That's the real reason I like Mad Men so much — back there and back then, Atlas Shrugged was privileged information that bosses slipped to especially promising subordinates, not a nuisance that must be kept out of the hands of high-schoolers. Were we ever so innocent?

Once, visiting home in Mississippi, I saw that our waitress at the barbecue restaurant was reading The Fountainhead on her break. I have never been more dismayed.

Cigarette #1: Big wheel keep on turning

At home on the porch

Number One today is in celebration of the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria!

I prayed in her honor:
St. Catherine, St. Catherine, lend me thine aid,
And grant that I never may die an old maid.
And donned a goofy yellow-and-green Catherinette hat in honor of another spinster named Catherine who had a lot going on in the millinery department:
"How did you know I was in the Gallery?"
"How could I have missed you with such a charming brown hat?"
"I'm glad you liked it."
"It seems decidedly wrong to me that a lady of your political persuasion should be allowed to adorn herself with such a very feminine allurement. It really looks so awfully like trying to have the best of both worlds."
"Does it indeed?"
"It does."
"I am not a militant, you know, Sir Robert. I don't go about shattering glass or pouring acid down pillar boxes."
"I'm very glad to hear it. Both those activities would be highly unsuitable in that hat."

Miss Winslow is also a friend of this blog's conceit:
"What could be more absurd than you asking me permission to smoke in your own establishment."
"It is a custom, Miss Winslow."
"I indulge myself."
"Some people find that shocking."
"Amazing how little it takes to offend the world's sensibilities."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cigarette #9: Double feature - Blue Velvet and a Marlboro Red

At home on the porch

I don't know whether I could in good conscience recommend that anyone anywhere watch Blue Velvet, ever. However, someone who finds himself possessed of the courage to sit through the whole thing will not necessarily regret it in the morning.

Kyle MacLachlan finds a human ear in a field, gets the bejesus kicked out of him by Dennis Hopper, uncovers police corruption, and learns a valuable lesson about the secret rottenness at the heart of suburbia. I cannot describe the plot further, or explain how disturbed I was by it, except to say that at the end of the movie, when Isabella Rosselini shows up stark naked on Kyle MacLachlan's front lawn moaning "He put his disease in me," I felt like he deserved it.

Making a film about the darkness hidden beneath suburbia's veneer of respectability is like making an exposé documentary about professional wrestling, or holding Senate hearings on the sexual content (heaven forfend!) of rock music. As if everyone didn't already know that the smiles are painted on. The interesting thing about this movie is not that the wholesome people are actually insane ("That's a human ear all right"), but that the unwholesome ones aren't, because before there was Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary, there was Isabella Rosselini in Blue Velvet. Having discovered Kyle MacLachlan hiding in her closet, she threatens him with a knife, forces him to undress, and then seduces him, saying, "I want you to hurt me! Hit me!" Yikes.

Thankfully, Rosselini keeps the scene from descending into pornography, or meaningless surrealism (Log Lady, anyone?). She has said this of her performance: "Most of the time femme fatales are portrayed as women who know exactly what they want and completely. And sex is portrayed as something that you go out there and choose for yourself. But we know the reality is it just happens to us and we don't know what to do with it or what to make of it."

And that's the Big Idea: love is something that just happens to us, not so different from being knocked around for no reason. The seamy reality of Blue Velvet doesn't allow anyone the luxury of believing the myth that love is pleasant, or that it's something that can be controlled. All love is helplessness; masochism is just helplessness magnified. This is an uncomfortable lesson, and it's worth sitting through all the ridiculous Lynchian dialogue in the world ("The world was dark because there weren't any robins, and the robins represented love") just to see Isabella Rosselini instantiate it.

The parish priest back home used to scold me for saying it was better to love God than to fear Him. "Why choose? They're the same thing!" Isabella Rosselini would have undersood.

Cigarette #8: No, Mad Men is better than Gossip Girl

Outside Sterling Memorial Library

The fundamental misunderstanding behind Peter Suderman's review of Mad Men is that he thinks creator Matt Weiner offers up his stylishly repressed 1960's ad men only to show how much better things have gotten since then. Sure, according to Mad Men everyone in 1960 was a racist alcoholic who sexually harrassed everybody else. And Tony Soprano was a sociopathic felon. This doesn't mean that either series can be reduced to one long wag of the finger. Assuming that the only story left to be told about repression is How Awful It Was is like thinking the only moral of The Sopranos is that crime doesn't pay.

Take the show's depiction of birth control. The scene where a doctor puts Elisabeth Moss on the Pill is played for laughs ("I'll warn you now, I will take you off this medicine if you abuse it"), but that doesn't prevent the storyline from making the very conservative point that, once contraception removes the negative consequences, sex becomes essentially inevitable. The message here is not that we are so much more enlightened than they were, but rather that trading sexual liberation for sexual virtue might not have been a good bargain.

When one of the ad men says, "Psychiatry is just this year's candy-pink stove — it's just more happiness," we can't assume that it's meant to be satire. Psychiatry and advertising both understand that happiness is wanting something and then getting it, and they both suppose that it is better for Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver to want something easy like peace of mind or a candy-pink stove than to want something complicated like heroism or virtue. The characters on the show understand this therapeutic philosophy to be hollow and delusory. Can the same be said for modern viewers?

Suderman also calls the show "gorgeous" but "empty." Reviewers like Sacha Zimmerman more willing to stoop to cliché call it "all style, no substance." The truth is that Mad Men, like a good Hitchcock movie, puts so much into its style that the style itself becomes substantial. Paul Schrader in "Notes on Film Noir" (most recently anthologized in Phillip Lopate's American Movie Critics: An Anthology from the Silents Until Now) said that classic film noir offered America "a moral vision of life based on style." In noir, that meant adopting German Expressionist lighting becase "no character can speak authoritatively from a space which is being continually cut into ribbons of light." In Mad Men, it means creating a world of financial security, three-martini lunches, and unlimited sexual prospects, a beautiful and glossy world where no one could possibly be unhappy, and somehow everybody is.

Cigarette #7: Humanae Si, Vitae No!

Still the Branford courtyard

I agree that Garry Wills should have his metaphor license revoked for comparing abortion to getting a haircut, but those throwing punches should remember that:

(a) any article that includes a sentence as silly as "Harvesting carrots, on a consistent pro-life hypothesis, would constitute something of a massacre" is pretty low-hanging fruit.

(b) the Right, as much as the Left, has a tradition of judiciously ignoring papal encyclicals. After all, cries of "Mater Si, Magistra No!" resounded in the offices of The National Review, not The Nation.

Cigarette #6: Getcha thanatos on, all the way down, all the way down to the ground

The most beautiful courtyard in America
MUSIC: "I Want to Evil," Eartha Kitt
Like something that seeks its level, I want to go to the devil,
I want to be evil, I want to spit tacks, I want to be evil and cheat at jacks.
I want to wake up in the morning with that dark brown taste,
I want to see some dissipation in my face . . .

If you haven't already figured it out from the location tags, I spend a lot of my smoking time on the "hacking bench" in this particular courtyard. For an explanation, I can only offer this from Eve Tushnet:
Ritual is a great way for sins to grab you and overcome your resistance. Why? Because a ritual is meant to provoke ekstasis, ecstasy, standing outside oneself. In the Mass, the rituals — the music, the costumery, the familiar words and patterns — remind us where we are, draw us away from distracting everyday concerns, and pull us into an ecstatic relationship with Christ. [...] The rituals of the Church are meant to draw us out of our usual lack of focus and into a focus that sharpens our blurry edges and makes us more ourselves.

In the rituals of addiction, we seek to do the opposite: to sink ourselves and lose ourselves so that we don't have to think too hard about what we're doing. I'm not entirely sure if this is the language I want to use, but provisionally I'll say that there are ecstasies of eros ("the paradoxical desire for union with what is different") and ecstasies of thanatos, self-destruction; and addiction rituals draw us into the latter. Addiction rituals are meant to fragment the self, muffle the conscience, and blank out the mind.

This is certainly true — once I sit down on the bench, I can't help but follow the ritual through to its conclusion. The problem is that by using the language of ritual to describe what I had previously only thought of as a habit, Eve has made smoking on the bench more attractive. It's like Phillip Roth says in The Counterlife:
Then one evening after work, as Wendy was cleaning his tray and he was routinely washing up, he turned to her and, because there simply seemed no way around it any longer, he began to laugh. "Look," he said, "let's pretend. You're the assistant and I'm the dentist." "But I am the assistant," Wendy said. "I know," he replied, "and I'm the dentist — but pretend anyway."

"And so," Henry had told Nathan, "that's what we did." "You played Dentist," Zuckerman said. "I guess so," Henry said, "—she pretended she was called 'Wendy,' and I pretended I was called 'Dr. Zuckerman,' and we pretended we were in my dental office. And then we pretended to fuck—and we fucked." "Sounds interesting," Zuckerman said. "It was, it was wild, it made us crazy — it was the strangest thing I'd ever done. We did it for weeks, pretended like that, and she kept saying, 'Why is it so exciting when all we're pretending to be is what we are?'"

Cigarette #5: "Excuse me, ma'am, but did you know that women who smoke are on average 50% more attractive than those who don't?"

Sitting on the Women's Table outside Sterling Memorial Library

Number Five commemorates last week's Great American Smoke-In, the Pythagorean Brotherhood's counter-protest to the Great American Smoke-Out ("Take the Challenge!").

Armed only with our Camels and Churchills, we camped out in front of the library and passed out flyers, the best of which had a big picture of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and read:
"The doctor said that Sartre could save his legs only by giving up tobacco. Otherwise his toes would have to be cut off, then his feet, and then his legs. Liliane and I took him home without too much difficulty. As for tobacco, he said he wanted to think it over."

It was an aggressively evangelical protest: "Sir, I can't help but notice that you're leaving the library. Did you know that tobacco helps improve concentration?" "Have you considered smoking, ma'am? Do your part to keep America beautiful!"

P.S. We got the Sartre story from Richard Klein's Cigarettes are Sublime, which is exactly as good as it sounds.

Cigarette #4: Edmund Burke tastes good like a cigarette should!

Outside Bass Library

The class "Edmund Burke: Empire and Revolution" should be re-titled "Read Edmund Burke Until Your Eyes Cross." Best quote from today's reading (the Hastings impeachment speeches):
He [Hastings] have arbitrary power! My Lords, the East India Company have not arbitrary power to give him; the king has no arbitrary power to give him; your Lordships have not; nor the Commons, nor the whole legislature. We have no arbitrary power to give, because arbitrary power is a thing which neither any man can hold nor any man can give. No man can lawfully govern himself according to his own will; much less can one person be governed by the will of another. We are all born in subjection — all born equally, high and low, governors and governed, in subjection to one great, immutable, preexistent law, prior to all our devices and prior to all our contrivances, paramount to all our ideas and all our sensations, antecedent to our very existence, by which we are knit and connected in the eternal frame of the universe, out of which we cannot stir... We may bite our chains if we will, but we shall be made to know ourselves, and be taught that man is born to be governed by law; and he that will substitute will in the place of it is an enemy to God.

It's like MacIntyre on steroids.

Cigarette #3: In which the Cigarette Smoking Blogger makes her introductions

Walking to the library
MUSIC: "Love's Got a Ghetto," Franklin Bruno
Love's got a ghetto and it wouldn't be wise to walk all alone in the dark there,
Love's got a ghetto and I wouldn't advise you to park there.

When I started the blog, I knew it was only a matter of time before my smoking became meta; that is, before I began lighting up with an eye to whether I would blog about it later, rather than letting my tobacco reverie wander wherever the hell it would. The loss of innocence came today with Number Three, and so this is a good time to turn the self-consciousness up to eleven and introduce myself.

My name is Helen Rittelmeyer and I am:

A student. An undergraduate student of theology. This semester's work revolves around Edmund Burke, the Babylonian Talmud, and Oscar Wilde, although not all at once. My senior essay is an extended attempt to make a good, if hyper-decadent, Catholic of Oscar Wilde. (And you thought it was just Mormons who did posthumous baptisms.)

A conservative. Movementarian to the core, I pledge allegiance to a highly disreputable Pythagorean brotherhood here at Yale.

A Southerner. Born here, where the only thing they take more seriously than football (Go Rebs!) is William Faulkner. Schooled here.

Catholic. I try to witness according to Cardinal Suhard, "to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist." I usually succeed only in making no sense.

A previous catapult into the blogosphere met with failure, but this one will never lack for material as long as I do not lack for cigarettes.

Let Harvard keep its academics and football. Yale will always be first in gentlemanly club life!

Housemate Dara has a very "Bright Young Traditionalist" column in the Daily that I just got around to reading.

The argument: The ritual of conversation (it's okay for her to call it that—she's an anthropologist) depends upon each party having a role to play. It used to be that students spent their bright college years learning how to perform "gentleman" or "lady," but now that gentility and ritual have sadly fallen out of fashion (this is where her liberal street cred takes a body blow), Yale students find themselves performing "awkwardness" instead. In the absence of roles, the only role left open is "person who doesn't know how to decode social cues, much less respond to them."

She suggests that "striving for tolerance and sensitivity in every interaction" might produce a social code to replace "old-guard WASP values." I would prefer to replace them with the ethos of straight-edge punk, but there's no accounting for taste.

Cigarette #1: The luxury you get from a little white cylinder is easier to carry than, say, a harp.

Outside on the porch
MUSIC: "20% Amnesia," Elvis Costello
It's a dangerous game that comedy plays,
Sometimes it tells you the truth, sometimes it dela-a-a-a-ays it.

No philosophizing with the weekend's inaugural smoke. I only hope that I approached the pure pleasure that this man must have felt.
The Reverend Anthony Carr, of Holy Trinity Church in East Peckam, Kent, walked into the station in Tonbridge and said he wanted to report a crime. Asked what it was by the desk sergeant, Rev'd Carr then took out his pipe, lit it and, through clouds of aromatic tobacco fumes, said: "This is the crime."

The desk sergeant asked the vicar to extinguish his pipe, as he was in a no smoking area, and the Reverend replied, "I will not." When officers told him he would not be bundled into the back of a van he said "What a pity."

Fight on, brother Carr.

P.S. The title of this post is a quote from Housemate Dara.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Cigarette #8: Faster, Insomnia, Kill, Kill!

At home on the porch

To kill time I read Bookslut's interview with Camille Paglia:
. . . the way I was trained to read literature by Milton Kessler, who was a student of Theodore Roethke, he believed in the responsiveness of the body, and of the activation of the senses to literature. And, oh, did I believe in that! Probably from my Italian background — that’s the way we respond to things, with our body. From Michelangelo, Bernini, there’s this whole florid physicality leading right down to the Grand Opera.

Which reminded me of Counterpleasures again, which quotes Susan Farr's "Art of Discipline:
Thoughts are censored; some things are simply unthinkable. But a body that is freed to do whatever feels right will do the undoable.

Indifference to death is an "unthinkable thought." It cannot be believed, only performed. But, if Eric Cohen and Yuval Levin at The New Atlantis are to be believed, it must be performed:
. . . if the fight against disease writ large — indeed the fight against natural death — is an emergency, and if . . . it is a struggle we can never expect fully to win, then we must always live in a state of emergency. We should be always in a crisis mode, always pulling out all stops, always suspending the rules for the sake of a critical goal. And that means, in effect, that there should be no stops and no rules; only crisis management and triage. . .

The trouble is that in this war against disease and death, we risk undermining the ideals we profess to hold most dear. . .

After reading "In Whose Image Shall We Die?" I tried thinking of ways I might perform an acceptance of my own mortality. If I were a man I suppose I could join a Fight Club, or join the military. Not having access to either of these, I took up cigarettes.

And as performative thanatos, smoking works very well.

Cigarette #7: Masochism and Voyeurism, Together at Last!

Inside with the windows open
MOVIE: A Short Film about Love, Krysztof Kieslowski, 1988

In the same way that cheating songs are my musical obsession, voyeurism is my literary obsession. To feed the beast, I turned today to Kieslowski's Short Film about Love. I was struck by this dialogue from the confrontation scene between young Tomek and the object of his voyeurism:
"Why have you been peeping at me?"
"Because I love you."
"It's true. I love you."
"And what do you want?"
"I don't know."
"Do you want to kiss me?"
"Do you want to f. . . make love to me?"
"Maybe you would like to take a trip with me? To the Masurian Lake, or to Budapest?"
"Then what do you want?"
It reminded me of Karmen McKendrick's reading of Venus in Furs from Counterpleasures (which, according to the back cover, "takes up a series of literary and physical pleasures that do not appear to be pleasurable, ranging from saintly asceticism to Sadean narrative to leathersex"):
Deleuze notes that "the novels of Masoch display the most intense preoccupation with arrested movement; his scenes are frozen, as though photographed, stereotyped or painted." For Masoch, concrete reality is insignificant except insofar as it provides images to which the fetishistic memory may return. . . Part of freezing's role is to function as an eternal, or at least indefinite, postponement of climactic possibilities. It appears that Masoch has taken Freudian forepleasure (the pleasure that anticipates the release of tension) to its limit; he is engaged in infinite awaiting.
I usually hate it when people describe my smoking as masochistic, but, insofar as my smoking is part of an effort to make my life more cinematic, it apparently is.

Cigarette #6: Queering Catholicism (No jokes!)

Back home on the porch
DRINK: Tamdhu single-malt

Sitting on the porch, smoking and reading Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture by Frederick Roden, which quotes Andre Raffalovich (1896):
The literature of today dares only in such moments of sensual and sentimental defiance what the poets of divine love have cooed about and moaned over with delight.

And John Dalgairns (1901):
The very object of Monasticism is to give a proper outlet to devotional feelings which are stifled in the real world because it would be fanatical to indulge them. . . To throw oneself at the feet of another and call oneself a miserable sinner in a convent is part of the rule.

Catholicism creates a safe space for people with deviant sexual preferences (homosexuality, masochism, sadism, etc.), allowing them to shout from the rooftops desires that they would otherwise be forced to keep hidden or subversive. All it requires is that we play by its rules (devotion between men is okay, but no sex!), or direct these desires towards God.

Cigarettes #4 & 5: It's called adultery, but it's also called I Don't Give a Damn If It Is.

Still sitting on the hacking bench
MUSIC: "Alibi," the Mountain Goats
Inside your room we shut the window and we turned on a fan.
We lay there together in the darkness -- I can keep a secret if you can.
Finishing one another's sentences like a pair of identical twins,
Your boyfriend's out of town until Tuesday and nobody saw me come in,
Nobody saw me come in with a gleam in my eye and an almost airtight alibi.

I am obsessed with cheating songs. My favorite iPod playlist is called IS IT GUILTY IN HERE OR IS IT JUST ME? and is full of songs like "How Does a Cheating Woman Feel?," "Conscience Where Were You (When I Needed You Last Night)," and "I Just Started Hating Cheating Songs Today." And "Alibi."

Cheating affects me so strongly because the things pulling me towards it ("Finishing one another's setences like a pair of identical twins," etc.) and the things pushing me away from it (commitment is important and should have consequences, etc.) are all very close to my heart, and I will probably never know for sure where my loyalties lie until I'm actually put in a cheating situation. It's a dilemma I spend a lot of time thinking about, which is why three things from the last few days all came to the surface during Marlboro #4:

Exhibit A: Adultery as Self-Discovery: Bitch PhD posts a defense of open marriage in which she writes: "Mr. B. and I have agreed that the biggest problem with monogamy is that it preemptively cuts off one possible avenue of growth. You are not allowed to explore this set of feelings, this person, what you can learn here, because it is 'wrong.' To me, that seems deeply fucked up and inimical to love."

Exhibit B: Faith and Doubt are One: Writes of Spring posts an apologia in which she writes: "When you believe in a religion that is based on paradox -- the paradox of believing in a figure who is both 100% man and 100% God, which equals 200%, which everyone knows doesn't mean anything -- it makes sense that faith itself would be a paradox too. And that paradox is that faith cannot exist without doubt, and doubt cannot exist without faith."

Exhibit C: Fear and Love are Also One: I watched the movie Requiem in which a priest exorcises a demon with a prayer that asks for "love of God and fear of God."

These three things, plus "Alibi," gave birth to this:

I once told Trespassers William (a very dear friend of mine) that my friends are the people I trust to lie to me. He got very upset and tried to convince me that friendship is based on mutual understanding and therefore can only flourish between two people who are completely honest with one another. I disagree. Honesty is pretty okay, all other things being equal, but when honesty conflicts with the love I feel for someone, love wins every time. Sometimes this means lying to protect someone's feelings. Sometimes it means concealing the baser aspects of my character in order to live up to their expectations of me. (Think of Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, or Alcibaides in the Symposium. Love makes a man feel ashamed of who he really is. It makes him "want to be a better man," and the first step to becoming a better man is pretending to be a better man, which is to some extent dishonest.)

Our friendship-vs.-honesty argument was at a standstill until it occured to me while listening to "Alibi" that if TW is right about love demanding that I always present my authentic self to my beloved, then he can't ever convince Bitch PhD that adultery is wrong. There are authentic aspects of myself that can only be revealed through an adulterous relationship. ("Finishing one another's sentences like a pair of identical twins!") A relationship can have perfect authenticity or perfect fidelity, but not both.

I pick fidelity. If a man's relationship with God paradoxically demands both fear and love, and both faith and doubt, then it makes sense that a man's relationship with his beloved would paradoxically demand both disclosure and concealment.

Still sitting on the hacking bench
MUSIC: "Policy of Truth," Depeche Mode
You had something to hide. You should have hidden it, shouldn't you?
Now you're not satisfied with what your'e being put through.
It's just time to pay the price for not listening to advice
And deciding in your youth on the policy of truth.
You'll see your problems multipled if you continually decide
To faithfully pursue a policy of truth.

A song and a cigarette to ratify my rejection of uncompromising authenticity.

When I put out Marlboro #5 and let go of any attachment to self-expression for self-expression's sake, my obsession with cheating got much less ambivalent.

Cigarettes # 1 and 2: If I'm such a fascist, how come I haven't killed you already?

Walking downtown for coffee
MUSIC: "Two Little Hitlers," Elvis Costello
I need my head examined, I need my eyes excited, I'd like to join the Party but I was not invited.
If you make a member of me I'd be delighted.
Dial me a valentine, she's a smooth operator, it's all so calculated, she's got a calculator,
She's my soft-touch typewriter and I'm the great dictator.
Two little Hitlers will fight it out until one little Hitler does the other one's will. . .

As a right-wing student on a liberal campus, I am sometimes called a fascist. Consequently, I was interested to learn that the original title for this album was not Armed Forces, but Emotional Fascism. Could it be that I'm not a fascist, just an Elvis Costello fan?

So I dedicated my first cigarette of the day to "Two Little Hitlers" and wondering what emotional fascism would look like.

The concept of going beyond one's duty is incoherent to a fascist because he considers duty to be absolute. His life is overwhelmed by 'the infinite sphere of responsibility' (Martin Buber's phrase) whereby he serves the State with the same absolute loyalty that a monk serves God. Not even the smallest action is outside the scope of his duty, which is why privacy makes no sense in a fascist state.

When a man consecrates all of his actions to the state, he transforms his world into a stage on which he does not merely live, but performs. His smallest actions now have symbolic significance. (FASCISM: Your Name Up In Lights!) It's a way of believing in a sacramental universe without believing in God.

Love is the same thing: instead of consecrating every action to the state, you devote yourself to your beloved and begin to do everything for his sake, under his eye, according to your infinite duty to him.

Still walking downtown
MUSIC: "Take Me to the River [live]," the Talking Heads
Don't know why I love you like I do, all the changes that you put me through.
You take my money and my cigarettes, and I haven't seen the worst of it yet.
I want to know, can you tell me why I love this pain?

With the Talking Heads, a conclusion crystallizes: love is emotional fascism.

(Which explains the historical connection between right-wing politics and sexual frustration.)