Friday, June 10, 2011

Love foods

[Actual email]

From: Dave

Love foods - pursuit of aphrodisiacs
May 03, 2011

Love Foods

History is rife with the human pursuit of aphrodisiacs in many forms. Scientific tests have proven that some aromas can cause a greater effect on the body than the actual ingestion of foods. Here are some common foods of love used through the ages.

Alcohol: lowers inhibitions and increases confidence; however, over-indulgence has a sedative effect not conducive to a romantic tryst.

Asparagus: three courses of asparagus were served to 19th century bridegrooms due to its reputed aphrodisiac powers.

Banana: due not only to its shape, but also its creamy, lush texture, some studies show its enzyme bromelain enhances male performance.

Caviar: is high in zinc, which stimulates the formation of testosterone, maintaining male functionality.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Two Questions

[The following is by far the most surreal exchange I've had in 3.5 years of working at my current job.]

A stranger walks into my office and says, "I have two questions for you."

Stranger: "Have you ever read Ayn Rand?"

Me: "No."

Stranger: "Oh. OK."

Me: "..."

Stranger: "Do you know where the Geography building is?"

Me: "...the Geography Department is on the third floor."

Stranger: "Thank you."

[The Stranger walks out the door, hesitates, spins around and walks right back into the office.]

Stranger: "I think you would like Ayn Rand. Are you realistic?"

Me: "I think I'm pretty realistic, but I've heard about it and..."

Stranger: "There's an essay contest. You write something about Atlas Shrugged and you can get $10,000."

Me: "..."

Stranger: "Atlas Shrugged is about the government being run by machines. I'm from Haiti, you know, and the government there doesn't work."

[As she dotes on the machine aspect of the novel, the Stranger lifts her arms up and starts to pantomime being a robot. I think of mentioning Graham Greene's The Comedians, but before I can say anything...]

Stranger: "I think you should read Ayn Rand. You look like you'd like it. What's your name?"

Me: "Justin."

[The Stranger extends her hand, her irises as dark as her pupils so it looks like she's just come, dilated, from the optometrist's...]

Stranger: "I'm Erica, God bless."


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

What Maya Angelou Said

A few weeks back Jessica and I were watching the old boob tube. Flipping around, we (she) eventually landed on the Oprah Winfrey Network, which was airing an interview with Maya Angelou. I heard a very powerful thing then, though I don't have the quote verbatim. Angelou was saying that no matter what she sees another human doing, she must accept the fact that she herself is capable of doing that.


This is something like total empathy. It's much different from saying "I can understand where that guy was coming from when he embezzled a million dollars from needy orphans." It's saying "I am entirely capable of embezzling a million dollars from needy orphans." In essence, she's saying we're all human — all this depravity, violence, greed, etc. in the world is shared completely by everyone on the planet. She didn't go into much more detail on this, but this small bit is enough on its own. Because it's easy enough to vilify someone — it happens every day. If we vilify someone, it creates a distance between us and them and it comforts us to know that their "evil" is unique to their being and so we're safe. This is a psychological safeguard.

While logging on this morning to compose this post, I noticed a quote on Facebook that someone attributed to the Dalai Lama:

Each one of us is responsible for the whole of humankind. We need to think of each other really as brothers and sisters and to be concerned for each other’s welfare. Rather than working solely to acquire wealth, we need to do something meaningful, something directed seriously towards the welfare of humanity as a whole.
-The Dalai Lama's facebook post today.

A good tie-in, no?

I suppose I started thinking about Angelou's quote again this morning after (1) viewing Blue Velvet this past weekend and (2) reading David Foster Wallace's take on David Lynch in his (DFW's) essay entitled "David Lynch Keeps His Head" (the link is to the Premiere magazine article version; I had read the extended version in Wallace's book A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again).

On viewing Blue Velvet: It was a movie I didn't really connect with emotionally. I felt the cliché-like atmosphere, the campy old timey detective stuff, mixed in with the starkly portrayed sexual depravity and violence to be, in short, disturbing. I didn't feel like the movie said much to me — I felt it was awkwardly paced and trying to hard too be symbolic.

Wallace argues that the disturbing nature of the movie is what makes it so great. Lynch doesn't vilify Frank Booth. He gets the audience to see the sexual depravity through a naive, young man's (Jeffrey's) eyes, and then Lynch shows that this young man is also capable of this depravity and violence. And since Jeffrey is the main "eyes" of the film, this means the audience is implicitly capable of this depravity and violence.

Wallace is particularly focused on his own emotional involvement with Jeffrey's participation in sexual battery and in the scene where Frank Booth sits in the front seat of the car, turns towards the camera (AKA Jeffrey AKA the audience) and says "You're just like me." There is much more analysis in Wallace's essay, if you're interested in that kind of thing.

Wallace argues that the disturbing nature of the film goes against the typical Western narrative of "bad" bubbling up from underneath some dark dank orifice and "good" rising to the occasion to defeat it. He's saying "bad" and "good" work in tandem in the film, even after (spoiler alert) Frank Booth is shot in the head and Jeffrey gets the (good) girl in the end.

So maybe the disturbing stuff I felt during the movie was more of a need to vilify and distance the evil from myself. I felt a similar depravity throughout Funny Games which, I think, was more depraved and more meta and less artistic than Blue Velvet. I wonder what Wallace would have thought of that movie.

In the end, I think it comes down to what you experienced during the art. I'm very interested in the experience of art and what people like and why and why people continue to go see certain types of movies (books/plays/etc.) and not other types of movies (books/plays/etc.). Kanye West, at one time or another, more or less yelled out "Well, did you like the song or not?!" (Which, I think, is [justifiably] every artist's basic response to professional critics.)

You can judge the effectiveness (and maybe even the "goodness") of a piece of art based solely on your emotional/visceral experience. But be reminded that intellectualism is also part of what it means to be human — this is why Maya Angelou must constantly remind herself that she is capable of doing anything that any human does. She must tell herself this because she doesn't naturally feel this (but she knows it).

What I mean is that you might think a movie is trash, which is fine. But then if you read about the movie and see what other people got out of it... it complicates things. And maybe it changes the way you respond to art. And I suppose this is why professional critics exist — to give the intellectual side of the art, however pompous and ineffectual that is (compared to the art itself) in order to deepen the experience of the art.

I'm an artist and a critic myself and I've been wondering for years what role critics play in everything and why criticism is needed. And I didn't know it when I started writing this post, but I think I just figured out a little answer to that.