”The human body is essentially something other than an animal organism.” – Heidegger
I was ready to write a blog post about Lewis Hine and his incredibly moving series of children photographs, somehow tying them in with the Republican primary and Newt Gingrich’s suggestion to ignore the legal and moral developments of the second half of the twentieth century.
And then I changed my mind.
Anyone not familiar with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is missing out on the greatest artifact of the medicalization/scientification of our interior world. The manual, published by the American Psychiatric Association, contains the legal definitions of insanity. It’s used in court rooms, doctor’s offices, insurance offices, congressional offices, and pharmaceutical boardrooms all over the country. It can change your sentencing. It can change our laws. It can change our medical diagnoses.
And, of course, it’s written by an unelected group of specialists who are or recently were on the payrolls of major pharmaceutical companies.
So the newest version of the DSM-IV, as it’s known in short hand, will be the first revised edition since 1993. A time so receded into our foggy past, a time so thoroughly pre-internet, that to the person whom culture happens to, like bad weather (and who remembers how much it rained in 1993?), the DSM might as well be being published for the first time.
But, to spread a metaphor thin, the rain had never actually stopped. The fact still remains that no matter how troubling some of the proposed changes to the DSM might be, it has always been part of a shadowy parallel world of institutions that hold legal and economic power, but are completely unaccountable to the society in which they exist. Nevertheless, some of the proposed changes are:
- Tightening the definition of autism, effectively cutting off people on the lower end of the spectrum from receiving assistance. (Argument: We are finally winning the war on autism.)
- Broadening the definition of depression to include grieving after the death of a loved one. (Argument: $)
- Experiencing delusional thinking and hallucinations, instead of being considered just one of many symptoms of schizophrenia, gets its own category, “attenuated psychosis syndrome.” (Argument: Diagnose early, prescribe early, i.e. $$)
- The addition of “premenstrual dysphoric disorder”, a general lethargy or mild depression before mensus. Known in less scientific circles as it being your “time of the month.” (Argument: Is there any way we can make even more money off of women? i.e. $$$)
If all of this upsets you to the core of your bleeding heart, that’s great. It really should. The whole thing smacks of dirty money, influence, and lobbyist backslapping.
But if that’s all you see, you aren’t looking deeply enough. Consider that who you are is, to a large extent, dictated by a panel of experts. And it HAS to be this way, because you didn’t go to medical school. You have a B.A. in Art Therapy. Or maybe you dropped out of high school. Either way, you aren’t as qualified as a specialist is to define and describe your being. Better yet, your Being. And so you have to wonder if, in a civilization in which something so fundamental as creating identity is being monopolized by attainment of science-knowledge, democracy is possible.
And excuse my metaphysics when I ask if in that civilization you are possible at all.
I really liked Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so much so that I’m losing sleep over it. I saw the movie in theaters earlier this week and found it a pitch-perfect, gripping, and slow-paced two hour grind that still managed to end too soon. Then I started the book, read half of its 370 pages in one sitting and finished a few days later at 5:30AM. I was still reading about le Carré on Wikipedia when my roommate woke up to go to work. The next night I was up until four again, this time re-watching a torrented version of the movie on my laptop.
But something happened this time, or, rather, something seemed missing. It could have been my small, dirty screen, or the subtle torture of trying to watch a movie in bed without puncturing an eardrum with an earbud, or having read Anthony Lane’s prescient criticisms of the film adaptation in his semi-recent New Yorker piece; but in all likelihood it could only be that so soon after finishing the book, no movie could ever stack up.
Lane’s central criticism is that the dramatic climax, the unearthing of the Soviet mole within the British intelligence, fails to deliver because we never get to deeply know the main suspects. This only really rings true once the viewer brings to the movie all the background information that can only be gleamed from the novel. It’s the opposite of that commonsense cliché, “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” In this case, you don’t know what you’re missing ‘til you have it.
Still, I find it impossible to lay any blame at the director Thomas Alfredson’s feet. Both Tinker Tailor and his previous film, 2008’s Let the Right One In, an adaptation of a Swedish novel of the same name which I have not read, are slow stories of gentle souls in a violent world; and yet both manage to thrill without resorting to Hollywood bombast, egotistic bluster or sensationalist violence. The problem with adapting Tinker Tailor is endemic to the medium. Alfredson has not even enough time to establish a backstory for the protagonist George Smiley, let alone provide comprehensive biographies of the four suspects, Roy Bland, Toby Esterhase, Percy Alleline and Bill Haydon. Where le Carre’s narrator can, over the course of his novel, drop explication from his pocket like a slowly-plotting prisoner walking the yard, Alfredson has to leave it up to Gary Oldman’s and Colin Firth’s faces to communicate who they really are (but then again, they are spies, and aren’t we looking for a double agent?)
All of this leads us back to the not-so-old-when-you-really-think-about-it-question, has the faithful movie adaptation ever been better than the book? From the top of my head, I can only think of Fight Club and Brokeback Mountain. So why do we bother the risk of turning great books into okay movies? Because Gary Oldman and Heath Ledger and especially Brad Pitt in Fight Club are so damn good to look at.
Welcome to #MondayMeme, a new shameless attempt by Full Stop to game the Internet. Today we’ve collected the finest results of our #booksforbirds Twitter experiment for your enjoyment. Credits listed en masse at the end of the post. Tweet your own #booksforbirds to @fullstopmag!
- The Buzzard of Oz
- Infinite Nest
- Plumage To Catalonia
- I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Because I Am Also A Bird
- As I Lay My Young
- Bird of Paradise, Lost
- At-Swim Three Birds
- The Quiet Toucan
- Warbler and Peace
- One Flew Over My Nest
- Canary Row
- Catch Twenty-Cockatoo
- The Rime of the Ancient Jacamariner
- Sir Gawain & The Green Nightingale
- The Tern of the Screw
- Egret Expectations by Charles Chickens
- Beak House
- All the Sad Young Literary Wrens
- Brighton Roc
- Huck Finch
- A Visit from the Loon Squad
- A Tailfeather of Two Cities
- The Man Without Quailities
Bird books by: @jtwatters, @lookslikeuptome, @dave_burnham, @the_real_aaron, @eli_schmitt, @asultanov, @coachorenstrong, @tippypani, @j_a_montgomery
Like any real American, I know deep down that, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, our great nation’s legal system is designed exclusively to cater to my personal needs and wants. For this reason, I think we can agree that this whole SOPA and PIPA debate really just boiled down to me and my need to watch episodes of Downton Abbey whenever I see fit to do so.
Like so many others (including the Full Stop editors), I developed an unhealthy attachment to the glorified soap opera (whatever, it’s Masterpiece Theatre!) after watching the entirety of Season 1 over the course of a single, hermetic weekend. It goes without saying that this came courtesy of Netflix Instant, a perfect model of American ingenuity and gratuitous convenience if ever there was one.
It also goes without saying that I expected to continue my torrid affair with the Crawley family’s torrid affairs uninterrupted. This is where I hit a wall. As you may know, Downton aired on ITV in the UK before being picked up for re-broadcast by PBS (and Netflix). Even after Season 1’s hugely popular U.S. run, Season 2 is still coming to us on a delay, meaning that while British viewers had finished the whole thing by Christmas, PBS only just start airing the new episodes.
Aside from the obvious problem of the British getting what they want before I do — uh, have we forgotten why America was founded in the first place? — this also means it’s basically impossible to read any article about the show without seeing a spoiler about who lives, who dies, or who marries whom. Lame.
So, after accidentally reading the biggest plot point of the entire season in an article I thought was just about two of the cast members working on a terrible album together (that’s a topic for a different post), I retreated to my usual rotation of poorly designed bootleg streaming sites and watched the whole thing as quickly as possible, with only minor interruptions from unseen pop-up ads, mostly naked girls who are dying to live chat me, and seventy-two-minutes-at-a-time viewing limits.
Inconvenient, but so worth the hassle. If the buzzkills behind SOPA had gotten their way, though, I would still. be. waiting. Worse, I might actually have to “buy a TV” or “pay for service.” If piracy is what it takes to keep Americans up to speed with (and hopefully ahead of) the rest of the world, then how could we justify cracking down on such a patriotic industry?
We seem to be out of the woods with these bills for the time being, but we still have to stay vigilant to keep it that way. After all, it does not say “delayed gratification” on the Statue of Liberty.
In the past week I came across two rather disparate author reactions to their fans. Strangely enough, the “nice guy” writes books that focus on, in his words, “a preoccupation with the invasive nature of violence in our lives.” The not-so-nice guy is a children’s book author.
It all started with Brad Listi’s brilliant “Other People” podcast, specifically an interview with Alan Heathcock, author of the critically acclaimed story collection Volt. Alan spoke about his intensive book touring schedule, which lasted from March through November and involved a lot of time away from his wife and kids. When Brad asked if he ever got tired of the touring grind, Alan shared a surprising answer:
It’s kind of a first-world problem. ”Oh no, people want to have me come in and talk about my book and have my book celebrated?” Boo-hoo. I grew up in a working-class area, and all those people have actual jobs — police officers and firefighters and pipe-fitters. They’re out doing jobs, and I’m always aware of that part of it. So who am I to whine and complain about, “Oh, I have to fly to an event where they’re going to celebrate me and my book?” It doesn’t make any sense to me.
Listening to Alan, I had to agree. Book tours may be grueling, but how many people (and I’m including published authors here) get the opportunity to even go on book tours?
A day or two later I was watching The Colbert Report when Stephen embarked on the first of his two interviews with children’s book author Maurice Sendak, who is most famous for writing and illustrating Where the Wild Things Are. Maurice proved a rare match for Stephen with his outrageous and hilarious statements (he called Newt Gingrich “hopelessly gross and vile”). But the most shocking remarks were those about his audience:
I don’t write for children. I write, and someone says, “That’s for children”… I didn’t set out to make children happy, or make life better for them, or easier for them. …. I like them as few and far between as I do adults, maybe a bit more because I really don’t like adults.
Maurice went on to call book signings “dreadful.” When Stephen asked about groupies, Maurice said that he had them, but “they don’t mean anything.”
The interview was in all highly entertaining, but his comments about children and book signings gave me pause. Maurice could’ve been bullshitting, but his ornery 80-something persona felt pretty legit. He’s already rich and famous — what does he care?
Though I run a blog expressly about book readings, I rarely consider the dark side of reading and touring. I asked a published friend about her experiences, and she said that a week into her interviews and readings, she was admittedly a little tired of answering the same questions over and over. When I brought up Maurice Sendak, she said: “Think of it. That guy’s been asked about Where the Wild Things Are for decades.” My friend also made the point that authors have most likely finished their book a year or more earlier, so having to jump back into it might feel like getting stuck in the past.
In light of all this, I have to admire Alan Heathcock even more for his enthusiasm — along with all the other authors I’ve seen take unoriginal or bizarre questions in stride. And hey, the writers who express gratitude toward their readers and book groups and bookstores will reap an added benefit: when they publish their next book, they’ll be invited back.
Muhammad Ali turned 70 this week, but the heavyweight event that garnered the most attention matched web users and several high-profile sites (in our corner — white shorts, gloves off, and a Twitter tattoo) against the villainous RIAA/MPAA (boohiss, cloaked in Benjamins with gloves made of solid gold). The implosion of SOPA/PIPA and the SEAL-Team-6-style takedown of Megaupload were as exhilarating as any blood sport, but neither of these mass-participatory events concluded with anything like the finality of Caesar’s thumb.
For piracy, it’s an old story. From the entertainment industry comes the perennial cry: it’s war. From everyone else we hear the same answer we’ve heard since Napster or the invention of the VCR: it’s untenable. What did change, however, were the players and the tactics.
So, a play-by-play: some dopey bill only nerds are paying attention to floats around the House and Senate with a whole bunch of support drummed up by deep-pocketed entertainment lobbyists. Then a few not-so-tiny websites launch protests that elicit an insane volume of legal and civic response. Phone lines are tied up in congressional offices and numerous lawmakers’ websites crash when they are overwhelmed with petitioning constituents. Two days later, the bills are shelved. Whoa.
At the same time, MPAA/RIAA flips the bird in a huge way when the Department of Justice launches a massive strike against Megaupload, essentially realizing many of the worst fears of SOPA/PIPA opponents and proving they didn’t even need that law anyway. The hacktivist group Anonymous responds with illegal and sleazy DDoS attacks, shutting down the websites of MPAA/RIAA, Universal Music, CBS, and the DOJ.
A single protest, entirely unprecedented in size and form, stopped a controversial bill from even reaching a vote. This, in itself, is astounding. It represents a step towards the type of real-time democracy that is often hinted at in media accounts of “Twitter Revolutions.” Less unequivocally righteous are the Anonymous attacks, which of course run the risk of delegitimizing the SOPA/PIPA protest. Action like this lends credence to the anti-piracy groups’ claim that it’s mostly criminals defending the crime. But what’s a protest without a few black bandanas? Regardless the means, these protests send a similar message: the ever-increasing ease of communicating and organizing is leveling the playing field between citizens, their governments, and industry.
And while there’s good reason to be taking victory laps around the internet, there is something at work here that still bothers me. The fact that we even knew about SOPA/PIPA is largely due to the activism of web giants. And it would be crazy to think they don’t have a dog in this fight. Google, Twitter, Facebook, among others. The same companies that made this type of mass-action possible. While their reasoning against SOPA/PIPA was sound, we cannot deny that these companies subsist entirely on content they don’t own and don’t create. They need the net to be free, at least to them.
The media battles of the future won’t be about ownership but about distribution. The concept of internet piracy is nearly dead. We increasingly demand and expect content to be free to us and free to use and redistribute as we like. Old industry giants like the RIAA and the MPAA still have trouble accepting this, and for years have been lashing out against would-be customers. The effect of this on the creative community is well documented in films like RiP! and in the writings of Lawrence Lessig and Cory Doctorow, among others. What will the analogous threat be once the ideas are free but their availability profitable? Millions and millions of us were just turned into Silicon Valley lobbyists under the banner of net equality, but also under the threat of losing our supposed right to watch Game of Thrones without paying anyone. We fought, but who won?
It’s 2:30 in the morning and I can’t go to sleep. Somebody read me a bedtime story.
Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet?
-Bob Dylan, “Visions of Johanna”
My sickness, back then, was pride, rage and violence. These things (rage, violence) are exhausting and I spent my days uselessly tired. I worked at night. During the day I wrote and read. I never slept. To keep awake, I drank coffee and smoked. Naturally, I met interesting people, some of them the product of my own hallucinations. I think it was my last year in Barcelona.
-Roberto Bolaño, Antwerp
Well now, hold on
maybe I won’t go to sleep at all
and it’ll be a beautiful white night
-Frank O’Hara, “Five Poems”
One of the more interesting claims about Leonardo has been offered to explain his high level of productivity. It deals with his sleep pattern. Supposedly, Leonardo would sleep 15 minutes out of every 4 hours, which would give him a daily sleep total of only 1½ hours. The net result of such a sleep pattern is a gain of 6 additional productive hours in each day. If Leonardo followed this regime over his entire life it would have effectively added 20 years of productivity to his 67-year life span. It has been suggested that this might, in addition to his genius, explain the vastness and richness of his work.
-Stanley Coren, Sleep Thieves
I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death,
Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined, I think of crime when I’m in a New York state of mind.
-Nas, “N.Y. State of Mind”
The cubs and the lions are snoring,
wrapped in a big snuggly heap.
How is it you can do all this other great shit
But you can’t lie the fuck down and sleep?
-Adam Mansbach, Go The F**k to Sleep
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
-Robert Frost, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”
I’ve been moving around a lot this past month. I left New York a couple days before Christmas, walked through still-dark early morning Brooklyn streets to catch a train to a bus that carried me through cold swamps and strip-mall suburbs. I went through Baltimore and D.C. and down through Virginia, watching all the upturned dirt outside turn black to brown to red as I got further South.
I stopped for a while in North Carolina, outside of Charlotte, visiting family and eating, drinking moonshine, and standing around a bonfire. Drove in a car back to D.C. for a few days before flying to St. Louis, via Chicago. I stayed in the house I had lived in during high school, so it was warm and comfortable and as nice to see as an old friend. I saw a few of those in St. Louis, too.
I flew from St. Louis to Cleveland and back to D.C., and danced without getting drunk. From there my wife and I took a bus to Philadelphia to see two people sincerely and passionately in love get married.
The point of all this isn’t just to say “what a whirlwind,” but to recommend a podcast. BBC 4′s Desert Island Discs is, if you’ve never heard it, a great collection of mostly British, but also (especially in the archives) generally interesting people of all walks and backgrounds and nationalities talking about what music, book, and luxury they would bring on a desert island with them. My favorites so far have been Brian Eno and Hugh Laurie, but the archives are really extensive and new episodes are being made all the time, so there’s a lot to explore.
Traveling, especially long periods of being in the wind, can feel something like a desert island experience. The isolation of being so physically close to a bunch of strangers. The monotony of manufactured seats and two-dimensional landscapes going past the window. The waiting.
And so I compiled my own desert island disc compilation, based solely upon my most recent traveling, and of course expected to change next year, week, tomorrow. What’s your music? Maybe a more interesting question, what’s your island?
Neil Young – I’m The Ocean
Miles Davis – So What
Suicide – Ghost Rider
Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey
ESG – Dance
CAN – Vitamin C
Cluster & Eno – Ho Renomo
Billie Holiday – Them There Eyes
Excerpt from “Ode to My Socks”
my feet were two fish made of wool,
two long sharks
sea blue, shot through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
my feet were honored in this way
by these heavenly socks.
A murky death
“Suspicions rise in Pablo Neruda’s death,” proclaimed the headline of a recent article by the Associated Press. My first suspicions of foul play arose earlier this year during a guided tour of Neruda’s house in Santiago, Chile — one of three houses-turned-museums kept by the estate of the iconic Chilean poet and diplomat.
A guide informed my tour group that Neruda had “died of a broken heart.” Slipped in among a barrage of eccentric tidbits about Neruda that were underscored by the presentation of the most thorough nautical motif ever executed on dry land (his home), this winking explanation went unnoticed by most. Even as a metaphor, Neruda’s “broken heart” struck me as a bit too footloose and fancy-free. Especially in a country where such euphemisms have been substituted for real investigations of the unresolved deaths of thousands who were persecuted by the government of Augusto Pinochet during his 17-year dictatorship that ended in 1990.
In spite of his whimsical side, Neruda was a well-known dissident and a one-time senator of Chile’s Communist Party, and had been exiled when Communism was previously outlawed in Chile in 1948. I had learned this half-an-hour earlier from engravings on a wall of the museum’s café, yet there appeared to be few other skeptics in the crowd. Still, the guide indulged my inquiries and elaborated a bit.
You see, Neruda’s “broken heart” was one of many casualties of the military coup that ousted the Socialist government of Chile in 1973 and promptly resulted in what the AP clinically refers to as the “lethal persecutions” of several of Neruda’s close friends and fellow socialists. Neruda’s despair at the violent loss of compañeros, like then-President Salvador Allende, allegedly proved fatal when, less than 2 weeks after the coup, his physiological reaction sent him to the Clinica Santa Maria, the most prominent hospital in Santiago.
Uncontested is the fact that at the hospital he was injected with Dipirona, a sedative that ultimately killed him, according to AP.
I don’t presume to know whether Neruda was killed directly by the military coup or if he just died of a flare up of the cancer he was fighting (though medical records show his disease had been well under control and his health improving at the time of his death). Or perhaps poets can die of clichéd poetic devices. A recent autopsy of Allende, whose death had also been under scrutiny for decades, revealed that the ‘official version’ — that he committed suicide during the impending coup — was accurate.
While the current project underway in Chilean courts to investigate hundreds of deaths that occurred during Pinochet’s rule is important for the nation, the specifics of how Neruda died won’t change the reality of the dictatorship.
Lessons from Neruda’s life(style)
Having now visited all three of Neruda’s houses in Chile, what I can say is that the guy lived well. I’m not talking jacuzzi-and-private-jet well; I’m talking adult-sized-see-saws-and pretending-to-live-on-a-ship well (without the delusional Neverland Ranch vibes). I mean he had a good time.
Lately, I’ve been (literally) taking notes whenever I encounter someone who has (or had) an occupation/lifestyle combo that I find to be particularly awesome. I’m at a point in my life when, regardless of the economy, I need to figure out what I want to do and then figure out exactly how to go about doing it. Unfortunately, I am still scratching my head as to how Neruda managed to be such a busy renegade and still live so comfortably.
Anyway, here are my notes:
1. Three avant-garde houses may seem like a couple too many for a Communist, but Neruda knew that you have to figure out what makes you happy and go for it.
In Neruda’s case, that was one dwelling on a largely unpopulated island, where he could chill and write and eventually give the island a name better suited to what would today be known as his ‘personal brand’ (La Isla Negra); one in a rowdy port city where he could party (Valparaíso); and one in the public sphere of the capital, where he oddly chose to stow his mistress.
Most importantly, though, he absolutely had to have each one constructed and adorned, as I mentioned earlier, in the most thorough of nautical motifs. Seriously, duck on your way up the stairs.
2. Take a cue from Olympians and start your career early: become a well-known poet as a teen and hold your first national political position by the age of 23. (Too late for me.)
3. Live abroad for a while. In case you can’t break through at home, you have to diversify and use what’s left of that fading foreigner cache to make yourself known in political movements and art scenes in places like Mexico, Spain, and even random tropical islands. You might just end up like Neruda and catch on everywhere you go.
Somehow the AP headline “Occupy Wall Street becomes highly collectible” does not fill me with revolutionary fervor.
Where does this sense of preciousness come from? Since the early days of the revolution in Egypt, there has been a strong and tangible need to archive. This urge has birthed a number of exciting projects (in fact, I wrote about some of them here), but there is still something strange about paying so much attention to posterity. Maybe I’ve harped on the subject of nostalgia’s incompatibility with revolution enough at this point, even in this very blog. But the archiving and preservation of Occupy Wall Street seems to have kicked into overdrive recently, so I think the subject might be worth revisiting.
The AP story mentioned above includes this inspiring quote:
“Occupy is sexy,” said Ben Alexander, who is head of special collections and archives at Queens College in New York, which has been collecting Occupy materials. “It sounds hip. A lot of people want to be associated with it.”
In the face of such blatant opportunism, the Occupiers, understandably, are seeking to make sure they keep control of the movement’s legacy, and have formed an archives working group:
“We want to make sure we collect it from our perspective so that it can be represented as best as possible,” said Amy Roberts, a library and information studies graduate student at Queens College who helped create the archives working group.
With more than one OWS documentary in the works, articles popping up with titles like “Occupy Wall Street is History,” and a planned Occupy exhibition scheduled to take place at the City Museum of New York this month, I can’t help but wonder what has spurred all of this preserving and repackaging, and the seeming hyper-awareness of the historical importance of current events.
But I have a hypothesis.
Of course, there is no need to reemphasize the importance of social networks and cellphone cameras in movements like Occupy Wall Street and the revolution in Egypt — a plenty big deal has been made about their effectiveness as organizing tools and facilitation of international visibility. But we are all so accustomed to keeping a constant running commentary on our own lives, Instagramming the walk to work, tweeting lunch. That constant documentation kicks into overdrive when something is actually happening. And once the camera is running, it’s natural to start to think about what will happen to all that material. How will it be saved? How will it be remembered? How can I make sure that the Smithsonian doesn’t get my story wrong?
Your perspective on the present moment suddenly becomes wide-angle. There is some aspect of the world inside the smart phone that leads to a constant awareness of being watched, and wanting to make sure that what everyone sees is what you want them to see, now and in the future.
On the first day of Occupy Wall Street there seemed to be one professional quality camera per two or three protestors. People showed up with all of their gear, ready to document. Has there ever been a historical moment when the people living it were so deeply, painfully, purposefully aware of its historical momentousness?