Marroquin Marginalia

One Writer's Sketchbook

Books I want for Christmas

But still don’t have time to read.

James Baldwin - No Name in the Street

John Cheever biography

Don DeLillo - Libra

Salvage the Bones - Jesmyn Ward

The Will as Representation - Schopenhauer

Donna Tartt- The Goldfinch

All the Sad Young Literary Men - N + 1 editor

After Visiting Friends - Michael Hainey

Marilynne Robinson - Home

Advertisements for Myself - Norman Mailer

Whit Stillman’s ‘Barcelona’

The 1994 movie Barcelona was Whit Stillman’s second feature. It takes him four years to make a movie. He refines the script. Gets the music right. Doesn’t seem like it takes casting as long as he has a favorite group of actors.

Two sharp actors from his breakthrough ‘Metropolitan’ return in ‘Barcelona.’ Taylor Nichols plays Ted Boynton, a salesman for an American corporation working in Barcelona. His cousin drops in on leave from the navy, Fred Boynton played by Chris Eigeman. They begin by going to parties looking for Spanish girls. The conflict-chemistry begins immediately as Fred tells the stunning Marta (Mira Sorvino) that the capitalist out on the floor dancing to disco is actually into whips and Marquis De Sade. Chris in actually is the picture of hard work and even his “guilty pleasure” read is a dog eared copy of The Old Testament cloaked by an Economist magazine.

The pair hook up with hopeful love interests. They discuss philosophies of love, and work. An edge creeps into the narrative when a sense of anti-Americanism escalates and starts affecting the ex pats.

The legend of the ex patriot experience looms large in the young person’s college experience. For me it resulted in 3 months in Cork Ireland before I knew anything about anything. But wanting a more literary experience.

Stillman’s characters are literary but more as a result of a cultivated code of living than a reason for living see Hemingway, Joyce). Stillman’s characters prove their literary-ness by the wit and speed of their talk and in the delicate complexity of their private principles, hopes, fears and longings. They are military and business people though, exactly the sorts that left wing Europeans instinctively target. And so an interesting conflict comes into play between the inner life of a 9-5 American and radical politics, and adventurous careless, liberated women. I don’t honesty think I’ve seen this perspective before.

And certainly I have never seen that perspective mixed with a dogged and light hearted belligerence, a way of being seemingly invented by the actor Chris Eigeman. When he is called “facha” by men passing by he tells his cousin it was men wearing his very same uniform who liberated Europe from the fascists. The rudeness comes in later when Fred tells the Spanish journalist that European impotence is the root of anti American feeling.

If this description doesn’t do justice to the rarefied conservatism of the film, a viewing will. Fred and Ted are a veritable odd couple whose bickering and audacious and passionate theories compel us to watch them no matter what their views. Sometimes in life you meet a person, perhaps ‘privileged’ like the Boynstons, who are so keyed up that you keep your eyes on them, wondering what the problem is. These are those people. The combat with themselves about what they are doing with their life and their conflict with a resentful Europe, rich in cool but lacking in other values like Teds ridiculous idealism (read in The Bible and in Dale Carnegie) and steadfast work ethic.

Also what furthers interest is a violent twist in the 2nd act that pushes Ted in a direction that plays with a surprising sweetness and a quiet depth. That this twist is also apart of the anti American concern, and continues in a vein of bittersweet humor, is more proof of how rich and good a script can get when a first rate intelligence thinks on it for 4 years.

Fitzgerald would be talking about Stillman when he said the test of a great intelligence was if he can balance two opposing ideas without exploding. He does it repeatedly here, making comedy of American naïveté and brashness (the style of his rivery original dialogue) and subtle drama out of things that guide the same American’s sincerest wishes, for we are nothing if not sincere. Stillman’s cultural vision (not certainly everyone’s reality) appreciates that sincerity without sacrificing any satire and bite. Marta tells about gun crimes and fat people in front television and no culture. Fred fires back, were you so uncomfortable when you lived in Rhode Island?

This movie had me recognizing and rethinking my expat experience. Certainly the modest 2nd floor dance clubs looked the same (Stillman’s disco, club cubes in Ireland hip hop, both American pop culture victories).

It also has me fascinated with a director new to me. Turner Classic Movies’ Bob Osborbe told Stillman he was an interesting guy, with S, son of a JFK staffer, listing as his influences Spike Lee, John Sayles and Jim Jarmusch. A puzzling mix but there is a morality and code of living at the bottom of them all that is much sturdier than Stillman’s talky characters might lead us to believe.

Who is Harry Nilsson?

Watched a documentary on the otherworldly ’70s singer Harry Nilsson at Greg Johnson’s place yesterday. (Nilsson did ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ and the ‘Coconut’ song). I was surprised to see him do a political cause in the third act of the movie, an End Handgun Violence campaign. He was an artist and also cripplingly shy. He didn’t do tours because he didn’t feel like it.  But his close friend John Lennon (of Beatles fame) had also been slain by a man with a handgun in New York City. All the sources said they didn’t understand why Nilsson wasn’t making another masterpiece like Nilsson Schmilsson. His old friends and colleague judge him (repeatedly) in this movie, and while they were right that Nilsson cut an awkward figure shaking hands and making political rounds, the effect on me was ultimately moving. He never talked about Lennon’s death to Anyone, but you would see him in PSAs like this and at conferences trying to make changes. The same was true of the man (Republican) who took a bullet for Ronald Reagan and later went to conferences and shook hands trying to change gun control policies in the U.S.
 
Harry Nilsson’s gun control campaign actually IS an artistic act in line with his unique career choices. He recorded a standards album when everyone wanted another Grammy smash, he did songs where old ladies are the chorus and he’s in ringleader’s costume, an album of him and John Lennon screaming until there was blood on the microphone. A cartoon/musical called ‘The Point’ with a philosophical narrative. No one ever told him that what he was doing was going to succeed, because those things weren’t in fashion, but he used his talent to make them succeed.  At a given moment, he was only going to do what was in his heart. And the exact moment his friend was shot, he decided that this was something that should stop and that he should help with that even if it meant doing the kind of performing he was Not best at and probably fucking hated (speeches). But he did it with the same passion that he used to make the albums.
 
The man who sang “Without You,”  didn’t see how Not Changing gun control would lead to an elementary school being shot up, traumatizing permanently the culture of a small town. He would not have to see a 9 year old girl accidentally shoot her parents’ favorite gun range instructor in the head. And he won’t have to talk to this girl when she’s 23 and not at all like the young people she goes to school with. These are the astonishing sorts of things that we will keep seeing and experiencing in our world. Clusters of inexplicable and unjust violence that flare up and then vanish in quick media smoke right after.
 
I guess, You Tube gives us access to the spirits who tried to fight this. I’ve never owned a gun and never needed one and I have never lived in a black ghetto, or have been a woman there who has gone to a concert there only to have two men near me break out into shots at her table.  I don’t hunt with any buddies. So there is much about gun culture and its rich heritage that I don’t know about. But the nightmarish results (Newtown, No John Lennon)  continues to touch some people too. I work with kids on a weekly basis and I still see that we are producing sensitive, impressionable people who if they don’t have to carry a gun they probably don’t want to.

(Source: Spotify)

The Bomb, to a love

To Beatrice Mailer

August 8, 1945

The news of the atom bomb has created more talk out here than the news of V-E day, and as much as President Roosevelt’s death. I feel very confused about it. (This is written after just the barest communiqué. I don’t know what it’s done.) I’m understanding now how the bonds of self-interest affect thought. A good part of me approves anything which will shorten the war, and get me home sooner, and this is often antagonistic to older more basic principles. For instance I hope the peace time draft is passed because if it’s not, there may be an agonizingly slow demobilization. In the same sense I approve of an instrument that will kill under optimum conditions many people in one instant.

But really what a terrifying perspective this is. We’ve always talked of humanity destroying itself, but now it seems so near a thing, so much a matter of decades, of a very easily counted number of bombs. This atom smashing business is going to herald the final victory of the machine. It had always been no more than pleasurable calculation in the physics I studied, a remotely attainable dream, and even then a terrible one, for the atomic energy in a mass the size of a pea is enough to drive a locomotive so many fantastic times about the earth.

I think our age is going to mark the end of such concepts as man’s will and mass determination of power. The world will be controlled by a few men, politicians and technicians—Spengler’s men of the late West-European-American civilization. Much as he stimulates me, I’m no Spenglerian. In the alternatives of doing the necessary or nothing, I prefer nothing if the necessary is unpalatable.

Really, darling, the vista is horrifying. There will be another war, if not in twenty years, then in fifty, and if half of mankind survives, then what of the next war—I believe that to survive the world cities of tomorrow will be built a mile beneath the earth. Man then will have escaped his animal heritage—the insects will no longer bother him, and Scarr-like in searching for heaven, he will have descended a thousand fathoms nearer to Hell. . . . 

So little of love in this, but I am a little soul-sick tonight. The more I think about these things, the more frightening they become. What combination can beat the alloy of mechanism with sentimentality.

I need you in my arms tonight.

I love thee,   

Norman 

(Source: Spotify)

Stephen King

There’s the wisdom among serious literary people that Stephen King is not exactly good for the word and is a low brow artist. Literary critic Harold Bloom, whom I once flew to NYC to see lecture, is this camp’s most vocal person.

I have mixed feelings because like Bloom I agree that King and Harry Potter books get their large followings by touching on simpler, easier sentiments and emotions. Potter: sentimentality  ; King the base human emotions of fear, bloodlust, suspense , etc. (Base according to Thomas Aquinas’s outline)

In addition reading a magazine profile about Stephen Kings whole family I thought the family was weird and that I wouldn’t want to be a part of that family.

But yet. Yet. King is still a writer and a certain respect and kinship is there for me. Because he wrote stories like The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Carrie, The Shining, and Hearts in Atlantis. In the simplest sense, the man tells a story. And telling a story is what writing is about.

I don’t imagine King stops to consider it too much. I had this thought when he enthusiastically blurbed about Roberto Bolano’s 2666 being the strangest and great book of its year.

(Source: Spotify)

Some are bigger. Some aren’t. They’re probably all great.

(Source: Spotify)

top ten records, subj. to change

Radiohead: OK Computer

Led zeppelin: Physical Graffiti

Willie Nelson: Phases and Stages

Kanye West: Yeezus

Nirvana - In Utero

The Strokes - Is this it

Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks

John Coltrane: A Love Supreme

The Stooges: Raw Power

Antony and the johnsons- Hope There’s Someone