Bloodlands — Timothy Snyder

Timothy Snyder’s monumental new history Bloodlands is a staggering work of scholarship.  Using primary sources written in at least ten languages, Snyder documents the nightmarish history of that portion of eastern Europe that stretches from Poland north to St. Petersburg and sweeps southwest to the point where Ukraine runs into the Black Sea.  In these places, the titular bloodlands, the policies of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin converged to kill approximately 14 million people in less than a quarter of a century.  Snyder postulates that the eradication of such large numbers of human beings was possible because National Socialism was the perfect foil to Soviet Communism, and vice versa,  and because each system allowed totalitarian one-party states to deflect blame for their respective failings onto the other, or onto large groups of relatively powerless national, ethnic, or religious minorities.  Rectifying problems required starving, shooting, gassing, or otherwise disappearing hundreds of thousands of the people who inhabited these regions and who had no intention or ability to subvert whichever ruling regime claimed them as subjects at any particular moment.  The particular atrocities committed in these areas were largely overlooked in the West at the close of World War II as these victims and their memories disappeared behind the Iron Curtain.

The book begins not in 1941 when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union but a decade earlier.  After Lenin’s death, Josef Stalin found himself at the head of the Soviet Union’s security forces as well its sole ruling party.  When he recognized that revolutions were not about to sweep over the rest of capitalist Europe, Stalin prioritized ensuring that the U.S.S.R. remained a strong Communist nation and a beacon of hope to committed Marxists across the world.  Despite the  Communist ethos that capitalist excess would be negated by exploited industrial workers in urban environments, the Bolshevik Revolution had taken place in one of Europe’s most diverse and rural populations.  When Stalin took it upon himself to collectivize Soviet agriculture, disaster struck in the Ukraine and Bloodlands’ long and nuanced chronicle of paranoia and death properly begins.

The famine in the Soviet Union’s most fertile land, the Ukraine, caused at least 3 million people to starve in the early part of the 1930s.  After the seed needed to plant next year’s crop was requisitioned for the collective, nothing remained to eat and there was no future to look forward to, either.  People died where they fell, women prostituted themselves for bread, parents gave their children away to strangers, and villages ceased to exist.  Fires in chimneys marked the presence of cannibals.  Snyder writes–

In the cities carts would make rounds early in the mornings to remove the peasant dead of the night before.  In the countryside the healthier peasants formed brigades to collect the corpses and bury them.  They rarely had the inclination or the strength to dig graves very deeply, so that hands and feet could be seen above the earth.

In order to ensure their own corporeal and political survival, the Soviet leadership responsible for collecting the harvest had to steal whatever they could from the hungry.

And so it continued.  Hitler rose to power partially on the basis of his powerful condemnation of the popular German Communist parties, and used the famine in the U.S.S.R. to bolster arguments that doomed the opposition to his left and center.  Although Stalin argued that all the excesses of capitalism could be seen in the racist and nationalistic rhetoric spewing from the Nazis, these two nations signed a non-aggression pact and started the war in 1939 when they jointly invaded Poland.  The Soviet reign of terror commenced and the secret police killed and deported hundreds of thousands of class enemies and nationalists in Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states.  The Germans and the Soviets began to move Poles out of their homes.  The Germans designed policies meant to kill educated Poles in order to create a population amenable to slavery.  The Soviets killed Polish military officers who were capable of leading uprisings against their new rulers.  Both nations instituted their first policies of mass shootings contemporaneously.

When Hitler disregarded the treaty and invaded the Soviet Union (which now included the portions of Poland both nations had agreed to share), already vulnerable populations were decimated.  Nazism required that a superior race must take what it needed without regard to rule of law or human empathy.  Advancing German forces who came upon obvious signs of recent brutality by the retreating secret police forces of the U.S.S.R. and the Red Army saw “a confirmation of what that had been trained to see: Soviet criminality, supposedly steered by and for the benefit of Jews.”  Hundreds of thousands of Soviet prisoners of war were condemned to die of starvation and exposure in makeshift camps.  Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring implemented a Hunger Plan, which, although unsuccessful, aimed to “transform eastern Europe into an exterminatory agrarian colony” by purposefully starving its inhabitants or deporting them to Siberia.  The German plan to achieve victory in Leningrad involved cutting off food supplies to the city’s 3.5 million inhabitants and covering all possible escape routes with landmines which would eliminate potential evacuees.  Even before the German security forces began purposefully destroying Jewish populations, a culture of cruelty and privation had been foisted upon innocent civilian populations.

The Jewish populations of cities and regions that had housed their families and their cultures for centuries were then systematically and brutally annihilated.  Snyder argues that Western minds have processed the Holocaust in a certain manner because in our history, the accounts of the soldiers who liberated camps in conquered lands to the south and west of the Reich predominate.  We have been privileged to hear the stories of survivors from the camps at Auschwitz like Primo Levy and Elie Wiesel, but Snyder points out that the labor and death camps at Auschwitz did not come on-line until near the end of the war and most of those sentenced to labor or die there were brought from German holdings in western Europe. Bloodlands is important because it documents that most of the horrors of the Holocaust were committed in the east.  69,750 of Latvia’s 80,000 Jewish citizens were killed by the end of 1941 by bullets.  With the help of Lithuanian conscripts and rifles, the Germans killed at least 114,000 of that nation’s 200,000 Jewish citizens.  Estonian volunteers for the S.S. killed all 963 Estonian Jews that could be found.  Himmler’s security forces were supposed to “pacify” annexed territories.  In Kiev, 33,761 human beings were killed in little more than a day by the concerted efforts of S.S. commandos and conscripted local forces as part of a sustained effort to eradicate Ukrainian Jews. Snyder continues–

Having surrendered their valuables and documents, people were forced to strip naked.  Then they were driven by threats or by shots fired overhead, in groups of about ten, to the edge of a ravine known as Babi Yar.  Many of them were beaten . . . They had to lie down on their stomachs on the corpses already beneath them, and wait for the shots to come from above and behind.  Then would come the next group.  Jews came and died for thirty-six hours.

The ghettos were in the east as were the death camps of Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec.  By invading Poland and the Soviet Union, Hitler conquered the nations with the largest Jewish populations on the planet, and when it became evident that the German army, like Napoleon’s previously, were unable to conquer Moscow and the icy Russian plains, the death camps were opened with the express purpose to kill massive numbers of people in the shortest period of time.  Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec were well-engineered for their horrible purpose of killing those who remained behind.

The Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw was burned to the ground.

Snyder asks the readers to remember that the lives he documents died because of policies that existed in the Soviet Union and Nazi German that promoted and committed deliberate mass murder.  The act of recording and remembering must be initiated where evidence is so easy to destroy or manipulate.  People complicit in the murder of their neighbors will attempt to mitigate their shame.  Even those with no connection to such events would probably rather think of something more pleasant.  Where the Nazis razed the Warsaw ghetto and dismantled the death camp at Treblinka in a matter of hours, Stalin purposefully changed the course of the historical discussion in the U.S.S.R. in order to promote nationalism.  The suffering of Jews and other innocents was sublimated to the overall suffering of the Soviet (mostly Russian) population.

14 million people.  Farmers, prisoners, gypsies, peasants, freedom fighters, and the unlucky.  Wives, fathers, and children.  Everyone died to placate ideologies that a great number of people of good conscience did not discount at the time.  Although the historical record is expanding, it seems inconceivable that our knowledge of such events could ever be perfected.  Appreciate your loved ones and relish the warmth in your homes and in your bodies.  Essential knowledge for every conscious, conscientious person.  Absolutely recommended.

Charles Bukowski

I must have been in the 1oth or 11th grade when I borrowed three Charles Bukowski novels from M***ael J***ings. These were:

Women, easily my favorite and Bukowski’s best. I didn’t return this one.

The short story collection, Tales of Ordinary Madness. I kept this one too, but it is no longer in my possession. Loaned out, never to be returned.

And another collection, The Most Beautiful Woman in Town. I think I gave this back; anyway, I don’t have it anymore.

I was reading Henry Miller and Hemingway at the time, and macho Bukowski fit right in. Something about being a teenager, trying to gain access to the “adult world”–or something like the adult world. How to act, what to say. I read just about all the short stories that Bukowski wrote. Factotum and Post Office were two of my favorites. Everyday when I see our mailman I think of Post Office.

 Our mailman is old, and skinny as a sick girl, and he has a nose like a bird’s beak to boot. He runs his entire route; he has a strange little knock-kneed hustle. He always tells me to “Stay safe” when I see him. He’s withered. Post Office makes working for the post office sound like an annihilating, damning, Sisyphean task. I wonder: “Does the mailman not feel safe?”

Charles Bukowski

Bukowski painted some pictures.

Factotum was recently made into a movie starring Matt Dillon as Bukowski’s alter-ego, Henry Chinaski. Mickey Rourke played the “real” Bukowski in a horrible-looking movie called Barfly. I haven’t seen either film.

So Bukowski’s sort of been “branded” commodified as “type”–like Hemingway and Miller (and HST, and Anaïs Nin, and Wm Burroughs,  and Nietzsche, and so on) He becomes a stolen writer, a lazy gesture, a footnote in the movie Swingers. Then again, maybe a few people saw that movie and picked up Hollywood, a really funny late-period Bukowski novel about making the film that will come to be Barfly. In Hollywood, Bukowski endures the trouble of having other people manipulate his writing and sweats sweats sweats that he might have sold out.

The Audioklept Special Edition

All the big indie records of 2006: One sentence reviews. Part One.

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy–The Letting Go: Who knew he had another record this good in him?

Neko Case–Fox Confessor Brings the Flood: “Star Witness” is the best song of 2006.

Destroyer–Destroyer’s Rubies: Dan Bejar is over the top and this record is gorgeous.

Thom Yorke–The Eraser: […] hmmm […] oh sorry, I must’ve dozed off there […] 

The Walkmen–A Hundred Miles Off: I recently heard “The Rat” in the background of an NCAA Football commercial–I enjoyed that more than anything on this record.

The Walkmen–Pussycats: Uhmmm…yeah…uhmmm, okay cool guys, you have your own studio, you can just do whatever you want I guess.

Beck–The Information: Beck’s a fucking scientologist.

Ghostface Killah–Fishscale: I’m supposed to love this, right?

Girl Talk–Night Ripper: This might be the year’s best album…

The Flaming Lips–At War With the Mystics: It seems like they will continue to make these types of records.

The Decemberists–The Crane Wife: This is overrated, boring crap.

The Hold Steady–Boys and Girls in America: …speaking of overrated, boring crap.

The Fiery Furnaces–Bitter Tea: Their prettiest album yet; not as good as Blueberry Boat but better than any record by any other band that came out this year.

Matthew Friedberger–Winter Women: Contains no fewer than four radio gems.

Matthew Friedberger–Holy Ghost Language School: I keep meaning to listen to it again.

Lambchop–Damaged: I’m too busy for this level of subtlety.

Lambchop–The Decline of Country & Western Civilization, Pt. 2: The Woodwind Years: Their title is too long–counts as review.

Mercury Rev–Essential Mercury Rev: Go out and buy the real “essential” Mercury Rev: Yerself is Steam, Bocces, and See You on the Other Side.

Gnarls Barkley–St. Elsewhere: We will all remember this album as fondly as we remember that Chumbawumba album, or possibly our EMF Greatest Hits CD. 

The Shins — Wincing The Night Away

AUDIOKLEPT (SPECIAL EDITION)

Not a book, but nonetheless obtained by extra-legal means. Piracy baby!

SubPop is set to drop The Shins’ third album Wincing The Night Away in January of 2007, but the thing leaked like a sieve this weekend. Similarly, Of Montreal’s album Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, set for a January release, leaked over the last two weeks. I don’t understand why these labels delay releases so long after the record’s been mastered. It’s almost impossible these days to keep a record from leaking–although Thom Yorke managed to keep his solo record The Eraser from leaking right up until it was released.

On paper, The Shins are the type of band I would love to hate. They write tight pop songs with keen melodies and spare harmonies with frequent nods to classic 60s acts like The Kinks, The Beatles, The Zombies and The Beach Boys (unlike every other indie band made up of four white guys). They are name-dropped in the epitome of bad indie films, Zach Braff’s Garden State (Natalie Portman’s character declares them “life-changing”). They appeared in an episode of The Gilmore Girls as a band playing to a club full of improbably ecstatic springbreakers in Ft. Lauderdale.

Despite all of this, I like them quite a bit. Their songs are catchy in a good way. They certainly aren’t re-inventing the wheel, but if you’re going to listen to an indie rock band, you might as well listen to The Shins. All that said, I like their new album a lot, much better than their last Chutes Too Narrow actually, which I thought was too airy. Wincing evinces some growth in songwriting and arrangements, and on the whole the production is much fuller than the past two albums. Wincing features a more prominent use of atmospheric sounds. Synthesizers are utilized to greater advantage advantage with respect to both melodies and atmosphere, and the band even brings in what I believe to be a small string section one one song. They even play with vocal loops on this record.

I don’t know if this band will ever top their first record Oh, Inverted World, a record that somehow was simultaneously breezy and profound, and produced at least four songs that can never go wrong on a mixtape. I’ve listened to it a few times, but there doesn’t seem to be a “New Slang” or “Know Your Onion” on this album. Wincing however seems to work better as a whole album than The Shins’ previous efforts, and the stronger production and fuller arrangements will probably earn the group a broader fanbase.

 

Graham Greene and Donnie Darko

The Portable Graham Greene, ed. Philip Stratford. I haven’t read a single story in this beautiful Viking Portable Library edition, save “The Destructors,” (full text here) (sorry, the page is no longer up [3/07]. Ed.) which I only read because it was referenced in one of my favorite movies, Donnie Darko.

I found this one in another teacher’s classroom. My uncle Lee had just given me a copy of Greene’s The Quiet American, which I finished in a weekend; it’s a slim, spare novel, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, despite the fact that Brendan Fraser was on the cover (the book was re-released to coincide with a film adaptation that I never saw). Anyway, I’d just read TQA, and I saw this beautiful Viking Portable Library edition (I’m a big fan of VPL), so I surreptitiously absconded with it only to never read it. A meaningless theft?

Anyway, last year a new director’s cut of Donnie Darko came out; the wife and I saw it at the San Marco Theater, I was reminded of the book, and read “The Destructors.” “The Destructors” is a simple story about a teenage gang that destroys a beautiful old house from the inside to the outside. “The Destructors” functions as an abyss structure or reading rule that informs the text-proper of Donnie Darko (it’s assigned reading from an English teacher). If you’re a fan of this movie (and if you’re not, why not?!) check out this story; it’s short and to the point. Flipping through it again, I realize that I should probably put The Portable Graham Greene back on the “To Read” stack.

If you haven’t seen Donnie Darko, enjoy the following review courtesy The Comic Critic.

Riddley Walker–Russell Hoban

I never gave Riddley Walker back to Patrick Tilford (aka TLFRD). A few years ago I loaned it to a student who never returned it. Said student never returned Dune, or The Left Hand of Darkness, or several Jules Verne novels either. Doesn’t matter, I know that he read them.

This book is a favorite. Russell Hoban’s coming-of-age story takes place in a future that has regressed to the iron age due to a catastrophic war. Hoban writes in his own language, a mutated English, full of fragments of the 20th century.

I couldn’t find an image of the edition I stole/lost. This edtion from 2000 features an introduction by Will Self, whose latest book, The Book of Dave, apparently was directly influenced by Riddley Walker. Will Self’s book Great Apes deeply, deeply disturbed me. Nothing repulses me more than images of chimpanzees dressed as humans; Great Apes is the literary equivalent.

Great Apes was an airport bookstore buy; I suppose at some point on this blog I will address the “airport bookstore buy.”

Microserfs

Microserfs, Douglas Coupland; loaned out, never to be returned. I remember this book as being relatively entertaining. I mostly recall the design of the book–very cool, playful, and ahead of its time. This book will be more interesting in twenty or twenty-five years. Coupland’s site: beautiful. 

http://www.coupland.com/

Bob Dylan

 

Anthony Scaduto’s Bob Dylan:A Biography (1972?); another one from my cousin’s closet, part of the same cache that included Fear and Loathing. This would have been in the very early 1990s. I had always loved Bob Dylan, always–one of the earliest songs I remember taping off of the radio was “Like a Rolling Stone.” I had to call in to request it. I recorded it at the end of my first (and only, at the time) cassette tape–a copy of Dire Strait’s Brothers in Arms that my dad had taped from his vinyl for me. By the time I got a hold of Anthony Scaduto’s fantastic bio, I knew a bit about Dylan. I already had a couple of Dylan albums, including one of the first CDs I ever bought, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (still my favorite). Like Fear and Loathing, this book was a door-opener to me. Interestingly, I was mostly enchanted by Dylan’s voice and wordplay before I read this book; that is to say his cult of personality hadn’t really effected me yet. This book changed that.

               

(I took the edition on the left. The one on the right you can buy online or in your favorite bookstore)

Any true Dylan fan has probably already read this book, but if you consider yourself one (a true fan, that is), and you haven’t read it, make amends. You won’t be disappointed. The book is particularly good if you bookend it with viewings of DA Pennebaker’s extraordinary documentary Don’t Look Back.

 Dylan in his later years (i.e. nowadays) is as perplexing as ever. He’s made three of the best albums of his post-60s career, making up for some questionable output. He’s slowed down on the touring quite a bit (saw him about 10 years ago and he blew my mind — who knew what an accomplished guitar player he was?), and made those weird Victoria’s Secret commercials a few years ago. Recently, he made a ruckus when he attacked modern recording techniques in a Rolling Stone interview with one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Lethem

One of the best things Dylan has done lately is his “Theme Time Radio Hour” on XM satellite radio. The show is thematic; Dylan riffs on the bible, coffee, the weather, all sorts of stuff. His musical taste is fantastic (saying Bob Dylan has good musical taste is sort of like saying water is wet), but it’s really his voice that mesmerizes. It’s a gleeful mix of the sinister with the playful. He actually kind of sounds like the late comedian Mitch Hedberg, especially in a comment from a recent show on the bible: “Nine out of ten Americans have at least one bible in their home. What’s up with the other guy?” Doesn’t look funny in print, but his delivery is unexpectedly hilarious.

If, like me, you can’t afford to subscribe to fancy satellite stations but still want to hear the word of Dylan, never fear! Check out White Man Stew for free downloadable mp3s of complete Dylan shows. You can get the shows as  zip files full of divided mp3s, or as one long mp3.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

 

I procured this from my cousin’s closet. My cousin Tripp is ten years older than me; he was in college at the time and I was staying with my aunt and uncle over the summer, in his old bedroom. I’m pretty sure both he and my uncle recommended that I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The edition (not pictured above–I couldn’t find the one I snagged, but it had a similar cover–more on the cover below) could have belonged to Tripp, but it may have belonged to my uncle.  

Reading Fear and Loathing was an initiation into some kind of new literature for me. It opened the way to authors like Vonnegut, Wm Burroughs, Herman Hesse, JD Salinger (admittedly, I read some Tom Robbins in this period as well. Ugh). Before HST I was reading lots and lots of science fiction and fantasy books, both classic and trash. I had also read lots of the “adventure classics,” stuff like Robinson Crusoe and Dracula and Great Expectations and the Tarzan novels. And comic books. Always comic books. But Fear and Loathing was something new for me; it combined the fantasy and adventure and weirdness I’d been reading with a political ethos and a sense of social-reality-via-unreality. Surreality. Fear and Loathing contained a whole new set of reading rules for me, chief among them: irony and paradox. All of a sudden, the verity of all past narrators was cast into doubt. I was savvy now. I was ironized. I was, y’know, hip to what may be under a text now, whereas before I was just scanning the text. Or at least it seemed that way. Looking back, I don’t know for sure. 

Of course I lent this book out to anyone who seemed vaguely interested. I did this for years, and amazingly, the book kept coming back to me. Must be some mystical sign when I think about it. Who returns books? I loaned it out all the way through college before it finally escaped me for ever. I’m not sure who has it now. At the point this particular edition left me forever, it had a duck-tape cover with title and author in Sharpie-font, courtesy of one innovative reader. I like to think others were initiated by it, but I know that most of the readers I lent it to had already read their revelation-text, whether it was that Kerouac book or Slaughterhouse Five or Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. And I haven’t read this book in years, although I’m a big fan of Terry Gilliam’s movie. Still, it’ll always have a special place in my trunk full of drugs–er, heart.

Tim Hecker — Harmony in Ultraviolet

Yes yes yes. I know I know I know. It’s not a book. It’s an album of music. But see now so and yes–it’s just so beautiful. It’s the best “reading music” I’ve come across in a long time. And, in keeping with the theme of this blog, I did obtain it by extra-legal means (it comes out Oct 16, so go buy it from your local record store!)

KR102

Harmony in Ultraviolet is Hecker’s third or fourth album, depending on how you want to count his EPs and sundries. This music might be described as “ambient,” although I’m not sure I like that term. Harmony‘s tracks seem to contain impossible oppositions; they hover and sink, they pulsate but are static, they are digital-ice and analog-heat, they express the abstract in a concrete mode. Why write about it here? Well, really, I just love an album that lends itself to reading, and Hecker’s new disc is fantastic to read to. 

Rear Window

I promise I’ll return this one.

This book makes a great introduction to film writing, although I’m not sure it’s necessarily for film fans — more of a theory book, really. This book is from my uncle’s library; for years now, whenever I visit my aunt and uncle down in the Gulf Coast, I pick this book up and read from it. My uncle also has a fantastic book of essays on Lynch’s Blue Velvet. The essays in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (ed. John Belton), written largely in the deconstructionist, post-Derrida vein, did much to influence my own college tries at film writing. I realize now that I learned more about contemporary theory (Lacanian psycholinguistics, Mulvey’s “the gaze,” etc) through these essays than I ever did in a classroom lecture. 

I didn’t mean to take this book; I’ll blame this one on the wife. Last time we stayed down in St. Pete Beach, I guess I had left the book out and she simply packed it up. We’re supposed to go down there this weekend; again, I promise to return it.

rear.jpg

Swamp Man

This one is kind of a double-library theft

The librarian at the high school I teach at keeps a pile of books from the public library system that are mistakenly returned to our school library. I couldn’t help but notice Donald Goines’ Swamp Man on top, with it’s strange, somewhat homoerotic cover. I knew right away that I was going to take it. This book was due back to the Regency Square Library,  October 13th, 2000.

swamp-man.jpg

Written in 1974, Swamp Man taps into that whole 70s-creepy-shenanigans-rape-in-the-woods-Deliverance vibe. In the backwood swamps of Mississippi, George Jackson hunts down the evil racist crackers who have kidnapped and gangraped his sister Henrietta, killing them off one at a time, swamp man-style.

Goines, a former heroin addict, started writing in prison, cranking out 16 books in five years. He was shot to death in 1974.

The Fortress of Solitude — Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude deserved the rave reviews it got back in 2003 when it first came out. I think it was a review in The Believer (although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t in Nick Hornby’s sometimes-entertaining “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column) that prompted me to order a used copy via Amazon. I loved this book so much that of course I offered it up to Ricotta Parks, who apparently doesn’t read anything longer than a soup label anymore. Never fear, RP, I procured a nice cheap copy at the local B&N yesterday afternoon.

This book has it all: two main characters named after music legends, a magic ring, numerous Brian Eno references, gentrification, a Stan Brakhage-like filmmaker, 1970s Marvel comic books, confused sex, Brooklyn’s pre-hiphop hiphop culture, and a pretty cool Beatles archetype theory. Here is the Beatles archetype theory:

“‘Everything naturally forms into a Beatles, people can’t help it.’

‘Say the types again.’

‘Responsible-parent genius-parent genius-child clown-child.’

‘Okay, do Star Wars.’

‘Luke Paul, Han Solo John, Chewbacca George, the robots Ringo.'”

Biblioklept’s turn: Cheney Paul, Rove John, Condi Rice George, Bush Ringo.

Nietzsche at the Movies

 

Nietzsche often gets used in popular culture as a kind of shorthand for dark mysterious anger and brooding solipsistic intellect. I take this to be a serious misunderstanding of this fundamentally life-affirming philosophy. Nietzsche’s work was infamously first misappropriated by the Nazis (with the guidance of N’s conniving sister). The Nazi’s misreading of N’s concept of the superman helped gird a genocidal machine with the false semblance of ‘philosophical’ armor.

This weekend the wife and I saw and thoroughly enjoyed Little Miss Sunshine (this is not to be confused with the Roger Hargreaves epic from the Mr. Men and Little Miss series)

lilmiss.jpg

 This movie depicts the bizarre odyssey of the dysfunctional Hoovers as they try to get little Olive Hoover (charmingly acted by Abigail Breslin) to the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant all the way in California.

 Olive’s angry, intense teenage brother Dwayne has not spoken for over 9 months. He communicates only through sullen glares and written notes (sample — “I hate everyone!”)

Dwayne is inseparable from his battered copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. He also has a huge banner with an imagistic drawing of Nietzsche (with a powerful mustache) hanging on his wall. A strange moment occurs when suicidal Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) looks at the banner and nonchalantly avers: “Nietzsche, huh?” Frank later claims to be America’s pre-eminent Proust scholar.

I haven’t read Proust.

I liked the movie a lot, and of course I love literary references. But Nietzsche is my favorite philosopher and I hate to see him misrepresented as a humbug or a misanthrope or a miscreant of any sort. Nietzsche wanted people to think for themselves and avoid the static slavery of indoctrination (“the herd”). In this sense, N’s ideas do inform Little Miss Sunshine‘s heroes, the bizarre, nonconformist Hoovers. But N’s work also warns against easy symbols and singular readings, while stressing the importance of embracing life. Nietzsche’s writing is not the mute echo of anger and resentment and hate; Nietzsche’s wiritng is the booming voice of joy and movement and life. And maybe sunshine.

nietzsche courtesy munch

Kinski Uncut

 

I took this from the book swap at my NOVA school in Shinjuku. I swapped in a video tape of a Nick at Nite Cosby Show marathon. This was immediately disappeared to great controversy. 

I later found out Kinski Uncut actually belonged to one of the Japanese students at Shinjuku-nishiguchi, who had given it to a teacher there. I didn’t know who Klaus Kinski was but I loved the pink cover. Also, at the time I consumed just about anything written in English. Since then I’ve seen him in a number of films, including his famous turn as the titular character in Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God.

Kinski Uncut (the punning title recalls the South Park movie) is actually a really cool, twisted autobio about a true weirdo. Kinski describes the destruction of his family, his POW internment in post-WWII Germany, acting out Goethe on tavern tables, trying to kill Werner Herzog, not getting the respect he deserves…and fucking lots and lots of different women. Kinski doesn’t seem to be able to not have sex with women, and if his claims in this book are true, he puts Wilt Chamberlain to shame.

I suspect that Ricotta Park, a notorious biblioklept, may be in current possession of this book.

Pissing in the Snow

…and Other Ozark Folktales. (ed. Vance Randolph)

What a great book. I procured this from one of those free boxes they sometimes have at the library…curiously it’s not a library edition.

An excerpt:

1. Pissing in the Snow

Told by Frank Hembree, Galena, Mo., April, 1945. He heard it in the late 1890’s. J.L. Russell, Harrison, Ark., spun me the same yarn in 1950; he says it was told near Green Forest, Ark., about 1885.

One time there was two farmers that lived out on the road to Carico. They was always good friends, and Bill’s oldest boy had been a-sparking one of Sam’s daughters. Everything was going fine till the morning they met down by the creek, and Sam was pretty goddam mad. “Bill,” says he, “from now on I don’t want that boy of yours to set foot on my place.” “Why, what’s he done?” asked the boy’s daddy.“He pissed in the snow, that’s what he done, right in front of my house!”But surely, there ain’t no great harm in that,” Bill says.“No harm!” hollered Sam. “Hell’s fire, he pissed so it spelled Lucy’s name, right there in the snow!”“The boy shouldn’t have done that,” says Bill. “But I don’t see nothing so terrible bad about it.”“Well, by God, I do!” yelled Sam. “There was two sets of tracks! And besides, don’t you think I know my own daughter’s handwriting?”