City of Joyful Dread

I caught a fever, a holy fire

Month: July, 2012

On the Batman shooter

1. Some things are obvious—not to confute the two, but it was an awful tragedy, and who the hell brings a three month old to a movie, never mind a midnight movie?

2. No one really knows quite how to “take” mental illness as a logical conundrum (Western notions of normal, right and wrong, agency, responsibility, etc.). One of the survivors’ family members noted: “He was pretty crazy looking. There was something not right about him…Justice would be served for him to get the death penalty.” Whatever one thinks of the death penalty (me: it’s barbaric, it’s not a deterrent other than the obvious fact that it deters whomever it kills from killing someone else in the future), one of the justifications for it shouldn’t be “something isn’t right about someone.” Why not goths then, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Hawaiians (they’re just too happy, it isn’t right).

3. Whatever one thinks of Batman films, or Nolan as a director, or Heath Ledger, I wouldn’t blame any of the above for what happened, any more than I would blame Nietzsche for the Holocaust or KMFDM for Columbine. Arguably, the opposite is the case; “dark” art can give someone a home rather than unmoor them further, occupy them rather than throw them out into nothing and nowhere. Goth wouldn’t exist if it truly made people hate themselves and the world; it obviously connects them to something other than nothing.

4. On a related note, I’m reminded (because I’m normally reminded) of the brilliant Frank Zappa exchange with a born-again Christian during the “porn rock” debates of the 80s:

Born-again Christian: Some of those things are not normal sexual relations.

Zappa: It doesn’t mean you have to do them. Information doesn’t kill you..

Born-again Christian: They’re too young to know the difference.

Zappa: Children learn the difference by receiving information which they can store and sort with your help as a parent. If you don’t let them know about this stuff they’ll grow up and be ignorant.

Born-again Christian: I would rather have them ignorant of some things.

Zappa: Anyone who would rather have their children be ignorant is making a mistake– because then they can be victims.

(quoted in Ben Watson’s sadly out-of-print Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play)

5. I wouldn’t blame this on the economy either—we’re all victims of the economy in some way, many much worse than James Holmes. Even schizophrenia doesn’t explain it, since most schizophrenics don’t identify with the Joker, and odds are that the majority of schizophrenics who do identify with the Joker wouldn’t actually want to massacre people in a movie theater. I wouldn’t say there are uncaused events—Dostoevsky’s Underground Man was caused by something; so was Dostoevsky—but sometimes we suffer as a culture not by failing to explain, but by explaining too much. Sometimes the silence is better.

6. Probably the worst reaction I had was: at least he wasn’t a Lit major. The mental illness stereotypes are bad enough without dealing with the “humanities dropout = psychopath” thing; “bookish” can always be derogatory in the wrong hands, i.e. mass America. (Law wouldn’t bother me as much; lawyers have enough other pre-existing stereotypes to deal with that this one wouldn’t stick, whereas the psycho Lit major would be reinforcing something that already exists. Who knows why—Manson wrote poems but never went to college; even Kaczynski was a math major.)

7. Was what Fred Willard did at a movie theater last week really so bad?

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R.I.P. Alexander Cockburn (1941-2012)

We lost not only a tremendous radical writer & thinker in Alexander Cockburn on Friday but also an underrated (and not unwarranted) optimist, someone willing to mock “pwogwessives” not out of bitterness or hopelessness but simply because he knew other options could exist, or actually existed. From his 1987 Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era (worth it just for the cover):

I open my mail. I find a letter from the International Socialist Organization. It begins:

Dear Sir or Madam,
The future looks bleak: Racist repression in South Africa. Mass starvation in Ethiopia. Near-record poverty rates in the U.S….Racist and sexist oppression is a fact of everyday life. Is there any way out?

What’s the matter with the left? How about:

Dear Sir or Madam,
The future looks great: White slavers on the run in South Africa. The opening of a revolutionary era in Ethiopia. Popular rage in the U.S. Racist and sexist oppression under attack everywhere.

You don’t get far by making people feel bad. My father used to quote sadly the old Communist Party recruiter back in the 1930s: ‘Brothers and sisters, even as I speak our comrades in Latin America are writing in the torturers’ thumbscrews, our comrades in India starving in the stinking jails of British imperialism, our comrades in Africa groaning under the boot of the oppressor. Brothers and sisters, join the Communist Party.’

Claud Cockburn died in 1981 at 77. Now his son is dead at 71, and the rest of us who halfway care are still occupying somewhere or other with some degree of temerity and tremulousness. The world is a vampire, quoth the Pumpkins, and it’s true, but we can never not ask, in the words of a fellow Brit expatriate, a recent Fluffyan no less, where’s the truth around here today?

Summer reading for an endless summer

Below in no order are a few—more than a few—works that influenced me over the years, whether in terms of how I think, how I write, or (most terrifyingly) who I am, and that no matter how recently or often I may have read or re-read them—in many cases not for decades—are worth re-reading every few summers, or perhaps ever summer.

Note: I rarely read fiction, so it’s more noteworthy to me that a majority of these titles are in fact fiction, though obviously not all are.  Also noteworthy is the fact that not all of these titles are related to Los Angeles, though obviously some are.

I will update this list occasionally, as the Demerol wears off. I may also do a music one, which would take about ten-fifteen years.

The Wild Palms, William Faulkner
Light In August, William Faulkner
The Sea Came In At Midnight, Steve Erickson
Amnesiascope, Steve Erickson
Lipstick Traces, Greil Marcus
The Situationist International Anthology
The Jamesonian Unconscious, Clint Burnham
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ask the Dust, John Fante
Ramona, Helen Hunt Jackson
McTeague, Frank Norris
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee & Walker Evans
The Prophet Armed/The Prophet Unarmed/The Prophet Outcast, Isaac Deutscher
Manhattan Transfer, John Dos Passos
Jazz, Toni Morrison
The Motion of Light in Water, Samuel Delany
Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, Richard Fariña
The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon
Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig
The Los Angeles Diaries, James Brown
City of Quartz, Mike Davis
Coke Machine Glow, Gordon Downie
Bill James Baseball Abstracts 1982-1988
Les Guérillères, Monique Wittig
Numbers, John Rechy
I Love Dick, Chris Kraus
The Little Sister, Raymond Chandler
Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Under the Sign of Saturn, Susan Sontag
The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, Stanley Booth
The Life & Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger, Cecil Brown
Howl, Allen Ginsberg
Poems 1945-1975, Robert Creeley
Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream & History, Devin McKinney
Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung, Lester Bangs
Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community, Martin Duberman
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
13 Stories & 13 Epitaphs, William Vollmann
Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Demons, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Martin Eden, Jack London
Moneyball, Michael Lewis
Ball Four, Jim Bouton
Corruptions of Empire, Alexander Cockburn
Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play, Ben Watson
Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell
Stone Butch Blues, Leslie Feinberg