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Alex Carnevale

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Kara VanderBijl

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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which We Die On The Altar of Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy: Kind of a Dick


It has been said that a careful reading of Anna Karenina, if it teaches you nothing else, will teach you how to make strawberry jam.

- Julian Mitchell

Leo Tolstoy's diaries reveal that, as a young man of twenty-five, he was already conscious of special power and a commanding moral destiny: 'Read a work on the literary characterization of genius today, and this awoke in me the conviction that I am a remarkable man both as regards capacity and eagerness to work. I have not yet met a single man who was morally as good as I, and who believed that I do not remember an instance in my life when I was not attracted to what is good and was not ready to sacrifice anything to it.' He felt in his own soul 'immeasurable grandeur'. He was baffled by the failure of other men to recognize his qualities: 'Why does nobody love me? I am not a fool, not deformed, not a bad man, not an ignoramus. It is incomprehensible.'

Tolstoy believed himself to be very highly sexed. Diary entries record: 'Must have a woman. Sensuality gives me not a moment's peace.' 'Terrible lust amounting to a physical illness.' At the end of his life he told his biographer Aylmer Maude that, so strong were his urges, he was unable to dispense with sex until he was eighty-one. In youth he was extremely shy with women and so resorted to brothels, which disgusted him and brought the usual consequences.

One of his earliest diary entries in March 1847 notes he is being treated for 'gonorrhoea, obtained from the customary source'. He records another bout in 1852 in a letter to his brother Nikolai: 'The venereal sickness is cured but the after-effects of the mercury have caused me untold suffering.' But he continued to patronize whores, varied by gypsies, Cossack and native girls, and Russian peasant girls when available. The tone in his diary entries is invariably self-disgust blended with hatred for the temptress : 'something pink... I opened the back door. She came in. Now I can't bear to look at her. Repulsive, vile, hateful, causing me to break my rules.' 'Girls have led me astray.'

The following day he made good resolution but 'the wenches prevent me.' An entry for April 1856 records, after a visit to a brothel: 'Horrible, but absolutely the last time.'

Another 1856 entry: 'Disgusting. Girls. Stupid music, girls, heat, cigarette smoke, girls, girls, girls.' Turgenev, whose house he was then using like a hotel, gives another glimpse of Tolstoy in 1856: 'Drinking bouts, gypsies, cards all night long, and then sleeps like the dead until two in the afternoon.' When Tolstoy was in the country, especially on his own estate, he took his pick of the prettier serf-girls. These occasionally excited more than simple lust on his part. He wrote later of Yasnaya Polyana, I remember the nights I spent there, and Dunyasha's beauty and youth... her strong, womanly body.'

One of Tolstoy's motives in travelling in Europe in 1856 was to escape what he saw as the temptations of an attractive serf-girl. His father, as he knew, had had such an affair, and the girl had given birth to a son, who was simply treated as a male estate serf, being employed in the stables (he became a coachman). But Tolstoy, after his return, could not keep his hands off the women, especially a married one called Aksinya. His diary for May 1858 records: 'Today, in the big old wood. I'm a fool, a brute. Her bronze flesh and her eyes. I'm in love as never before in my life. Have no other thought.' The girl was 'clean and not bad-looking, with bright black eyes, a deep voice, a scent of something fresh and strong and full breasts that lifted the bib of her apron.'

Probably in July 1859, Aksinya gave birth to a son, called Timofei Bazykin. Tolstoy brought her into the house as a domestic and allowed the little boy to play at her heels for a time. But, like Marx and Ibsen, and like his own father, he never acknowledged the child was his, or paid the slightest attention to him. What is even more remarkable is that, at a time when he was publicly preaching the absolute necessity to educate the peasants, and indeed ran schools for their children on his estate, he made no effort to ensure that his own illegitimate son even learned how to read and write. Possibly he feared later claims. He seems to have been pitiless in dismissing the rights of illegitimate offspring.

Tolstoy knew he was doing wrong in resorting to prostitutes and seducing peasant women. He blamed himself for these offenses. But he tended to blame the women still more. They were all Eve the Temptress to him. Indeed it is probably not too much to say that despite the fact that he needed women physically all his life and used them - or perhaps because of this - he distrusted, disliked and even hated them.

In some ways he found the manifestation of their sexuality repulsive. He remarked at the end of his life, 'the sight of a woman with her breasts bared was always disgusting to me, even in my youth.' Tolstoy was by nature censorious, even puritanical. If his own sexuality upset him, its manifestations in others brought out his strongest disapproval. In Paris in 1857, at a timewhen his own philandering was surging in full spate, he noted: 'At the furnished lodgings where I stayed, there were thirty-six menages, of which nineteen were irregular. That disgusted me terribly.'

playing tennis with some friendsiesSexual sin was evil, and women were the source of it. On 16 June 1847, when he was nineteen, he wrote: 'Now I shall set myself the following rule. Regard the company of women as an unavoidable social evil and keep away from them as much as possible. Who indeed is the cause of sensuality, indulgence, frivolity and all sorts of other vices in us, if not women? Who is to blame for the loss of our natural qualities of courage, steadfastness, reasonableness, fairness, etc if not women?' The really depressing thing about Tolstoy is that he retained these childish, in some respects Oriental, views of women right to the end of his life.

In contrast to his efforts to portray Anna Karenina, he never seems to have made any serious attempt in real life to penetrate and understand the mind of a woman. Indeed he would not admit that a woman could be a serious, adult, moral human being.

He wrote in 1898, when he was seventy: '[Woman] is generally stupid, but the Devil lends her brains when she works for him. Then she accomplishes miracles of thinking, farsightedness, constancy, in order to do something nasty.' Or again: 'It is impossible to demand of a woman that she evaluate the feelings of her exclusive love on the basis of moral feeling. She cannot do it, because she does not possess real moral feeling, i.e. one that stands higher than everything.'

His choice finally fell, when he was thirty-four, on an eighteen-year-old doctor's daughter, Sonya Behrs. He was no great catch: not rich,a known gambler, in trouble with the authorities for insulting the local magistrate. He had described himself, some years before, as possessing 'the most ordinary coarse and ugly features... small grey eyes, more stupid than intelligent... the face of a peasant, and a peasant's large hands and feet'. Moreover, he hated dentists and would not visit them, and by 1862 he had lost nearly all his teeth. But she was a plain, immature girl, only five feet high and competing with her two sisters; she was glad to get him. He proposed formally by letter, then seems to have had doubts until the last minute.

The actual wedding was a premonition of disaster. On the morning he burst into her apartment, insisting: 'I have come to say that there is still time... all this business can still be put a stop to.' She burst into tears. Tolstoy was an hour late for the ceremony itself, having packed all his shirts. She cried again. Afterwards they had supper and she changed, and they climbed into a traveling carriage called a dormeuse, pulled by six horses. She cried again. Tolstoy, an orphan, could not understand this and shouted: 'If leaving your family means such great sorrow to you, you cannot love me very much.' In the dormeuse he began to paw her and she pushed him away.

They had a suite at a hotel, the Birulevo. Her hands trembled as she poured him tea from the samovar. He tried to paw her again, and was again repulsed. Tolstoy's diary relentlessly recorded: 'She is weepy. In the carriage. She knows everything and it is simple. But she is afraid.' He thought her 'morbid'. Later still, having finally made love to her, and she having (as he thought) responded, he added: 'Incredible happiness. I can't believe this can last as long as life.' Of course it did not. Even the most submissive wife would have found marriage to such a colossal egotist hard to bear.

tolstoy w/ anton chekhovSonya had sufficient brains and spirit to resist his all-crushing will, at least from time to time. So they produced one of the worst (and best recorded) marriages in history. Tolstoy opened it with a disastrous error of judgment. It is one of the characteristics of the intellectual to believe that secrets, especially in sexual matters, are harmful. Everything should be 'open'. The lid must be lifted on every Pandora's box. Husband and wife must tell each other 'everything'. Therein lies much needless misery. Tolstoy began his policy of glasnost by insisting that his wife read his diaries, which he had now been keeping for fifteen years. She was appalled to find - the diaries were then in totally uncensored form- that they contained details of all his sex life, including visits to brothels and copulations with whores, gypsies, native women, his own serfs and, not least, even her mother's friends. Her first response was : 'Take those dreadful books back - why did you give them to me?'

Later she told him: 'Yes, I have forgiven you. But it is dreadful.' These remarks are taken from her own diary, which she had been keeping since the age of eleven. It was part of Tolstoy's 'open' policy that each should keep diaries and each should have access to the other's - a sure formula for mutual suspicion and misery. The physical side of the Tolstoy marriage probably never recovered from Sonya's initial shock at learning her husband was (as she saw it) a sexual monster. Moreover, she read his diaries in ways which Tolstoy had not anticipated, noting faults he had been careful (as he thought) to conceal.

She spotted, for instance, that he had failed to repay debts contracted as a result of his gambling. She observed, too, that he failed to tell women with whom he had sex that he had contracted venereal disease and might still have it. The selfishness and egotism the diaries so plainly convey to the perceptive reader - and who more perceptive than a wife? - were more apparent to her than to the author. Moreover, the Tolstoyan sex life so vividly described in his diaries was now inextricably mingled in her mind with the horrors of submitting to his demands and their ultimate consequence in painful and repeated pregnancies.

She endured a dozen in twenty-two years; in quick succession she lost her child Petya, while pregnant with Nikolai, who in turn died the same year he was born; Vavara was born prematurely and died immediately. Tolstoy himself did not help with the business of childbearing by taking an intimate though insensitive interest in all its details. He insisted on attending the birth of his son, Sergei (later using it for a scene in Anna Karenina), and broke into a frightening rage when Sonya was unable to breast-feed the baby.

As the pregnancies and miscarriages proceeded, and his wife's distaste for his sexual demands became manifest, he wrote to a friend: 'There is no worse situation for a healthy man than to have a sick wife.' Early in the marriage he ceased to love her; her tragedy was that her residual love for him remained. At this time she confided in her diary: 'I have nothing in me but this humiliating love and a bad temper, and these two things have been the cause of all my misfortunes, for my temper has always interfered with my love. I want nothing but his love and sympathy but he won't give it to me, and all my pride is trampled in the mud. I am nothing but a miserable crushed worm, whom no one wants, whom no one loves, a useless creature with morning sickness and a big belly.'

Take the famous sentence from Anna Karenina: 'All happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.' The moment one begins to search one's own observed experience, it becomes clear that both parts of this statement are debatable. If anything, the reverse is closer to the truth. There are obvious, recurrent patterns in unhappy families - where, for instance, the husband is a drunk or a gambler, where the wife is incompetent, adulterous, and so forth; the stigmata of family unhappiness are drearily familiar and repetitive. On the other hand, there are happy families of every kind. Tolstoy had not thought about the subject seriously, and above all honestly, because he could not bring himself to think seriously and honestly about women: he turned from the subject in fear, rage and disgust. The moral failure of Tolstoy's marriage, and his intellectual failure to do justice to half the human race, were closely linked.

Paul Johnson is the world's greatest living historian. He is the author of Intellectuals, from which this excerpt is taken. You can purchase that volume here.

LT's grave"Fading Youth" - Ekca Liena (mp3)

"Past" - Ekca Liena (mp3)

"Cloud Movements" - Ekca Liena (mp3)



In Which We Look Out For That Next Step

The Urge to Rehab


In 1929 Congress appropriated the first funds that allowed for federal treatment of addicts. The U.S. Public Health Service Hospitals in Lexington, Kentucky and Fort Worth, Texas began treating addicts in the late thirties, although they were essentially prison hospitals from the first. When we compare the ball-licking treatment Tiger Woods receives for his sex addiction to the treatment the first national addicts faced, the difference is rather jarring. Tiger has a dedicated testicle-moistener who operates twice daily (even on weekends!); addicts of the 1930s had to milk cows, or work at the local cannery to justify the cost of incarceration. Back then, there wasn't really such thing as a free ride.

Addicts were routinely hassled by the government; there was no legitimate way to recover from the problems of drug addiction. By 1939, the Christian movement The Oxford Group had given rise to Alcoholics Anonymous, and the organization published The Big Book, the foundational text of AA. The rise of AA was a huge inspiration for the eventual formation of Narcotics Anonymous.

jimmy kinnon's notebook and other materials

A recovering alcoholic named Houston S received a job transfer to Kentucky in 1947. He had helped a man get sober who found himself unable to kick a concurrent morphine habit, and had seen the face of addiction to narcotics firsthand. Once in Kentucky, Houston suggested the AA model could work for addicts as well. The Narco Group began at the Federal Narcotics Farm in Lexington Kentucky around this time. One of the patients in that program, Danny Carlsen, would spread the first iteration of NA to the New York prison in the late forties.

Writing something down where it can be seen by others and verified (or not) has always been a critical part of recovery lore. The addict can't deny what his habit has wrought once he sees it in print. The initial thirteenth step of NA pleaded, "God help me."

Narcotics Anonymous would evolve beyond being a social service organization for victims of drug addiction once it was born-again in southern California over the next decade. The Brown Booklet was the first real piece of NA literature, and it reads wonderfully well even today, with none of the officiousness or preaching that addicts would come to expect from those attempting to change their lives. The organization struggled through the fifties before entering a real renaissance in the 1960s. Jimmy Kinnon, who arrived at Ellis Island from Scotland in 1923, was responsible for much of both the early NA writing, the NA logo, and the formation of the society as we now know it.

Because it has been extraordinarily successful, the basic outline and information provided by Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous has changed little over the years. Even the pamphlets look largely the same. There was an episode of Seinfeld where George convinced his girlfriend that toilet paper hadn't changed in 500 years; this is roughly true of addiction literature, which exists as a cipher through which the addict himself must find a place.

jimmy k's origination text for what would become NAYet the literature itself remains a weird reshaping of codes of behavior. Each of us, unless we were dropped on our head as a child, has a basic moral code we live by. It is impossible to know, Venn-diagram style, where this intersects with the morality of others, so NA literature explains the basic principles of life for addicts. It is a little shocking to see the world spelled out this way, but this is usually necessary for people prone to abusing themselves and/or others.

drug victims (probably)The presence of God - moreso in Alcoholics Anonymous, which also features deep sociological and psychological underpinnings - never leaves the literature or the people who preach it. There is no way to recover from anything without believing someone is watching you, whether it be some omnipotent being or your family and friends. Otherwise, you are accountable to no one, and the use of drugs retains its otherwordly flair. This is another interesting idea that on its face seems immoral to me, since it is based on a lie.

NA tries to go a bit easier on God than its hard-drinking brother-in-law. For those who have difficulty accepting their savior Jesus Christ, members are allowed to substitute the term "higher power" or read God as an acronym for "Good Orderly Direction." Members are not permitted to roll their eyes or make jokes about this aspect of their recovery.

Unlike AA, there is something unprepossessing about Narcotics Anonymous. It is probably related to the disease being recovered from. For those addicted to alcohol, there is always a happy return to use, and the poison itself is available on every street and every corner. Eternal temptation is eternal viligance. Harder drugs rarely offer a happy return, or a positive ending, beyond the thrill of the initial high. As such, addicts usually need to be very real with themselves in order to confront their disease.

What is most amazing about these programs is that they are effective at all. Tiger Woods' experience, and Steve Philips' experience, indicate there is a future full of things we can be addicted to, and treated for. We now view alcoholism as a disease; there is ample proof that it is, but the most striking reason is that we seem to believe it wholeheartedly, and it is best for us to feel this way.

In the old days, it was not easy to become addicted to sex. The overstimulation of the internet celebrates our best senses, elaborates on our finest indiscretions. People are addicted to the internet and they will probably not require recovery. The internet is the solution more than the problem, but it is still a fairly big problem. I don't really know how rehabilitation works - I usually believe it doesn't work, and that's why these organizations that profess eternal viligance are so popular and effective. How did Michael Vick stop believing that betting on staged dogfights wasn't a fun activity on a Saturday afternoon? About the same time he received the Ed Block Courage Award?

There is also something distinctly American about recovery, and to separate it from a Christian impulse would be to sever the head at the neck. There are worse countries to live in than a Christian one. Whether is it good to become a compassionate country, as George W. Bush basically put it, or whether it is better to tolerate less capriciousness from our fellow man is an open question. The degrading conditions of the first American addicts make a strong argument we are improving as a society. I don't know if it's sad or what that this is as good as we've ever been.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He twitters here and tumbls here.

"See If They Salute" - The Streets (mp3)

"Lovelight of My Life" - The Streets (mp3)

"David Hassles" - The Streets (mp3)


In Which We Isolate Pleasurable Elements Of Modern Popular Songs

Favorite Rap/R&B Background Ad Libs 2010


Best Of '09: "L'CHAIM" - Fergie of The Black Eyed Peas, "I Gotta Feeling"

click on the screen caps for links to the youtube videos they originate from

10. "Beckay" - Plies, "Becky"

9. "all day" - California Swag District, "Teach Me How To Dougie" 

8. "Waka. Flocka. Flame." - Waka Flocka Flame, "O Let's Do It"

7. "C.J.!" - Birdman, "4 My Town"

6. "heeeeeeee wah wah" - Robin Thicke, "Sex Therapy"

5. "yurrrrrrrzzzzz" - Ludacris, "My Chick Bad"

4. "Bamaaaaaaaaa" - Yelawolf, "Box Chevy Pt. 2"

3. "big ol'" - Usher, "Little Freak"

2. "YOO! NOO!" - Jay-Z, "Empire State Of Mind" (this part's still in my head)

1. "LEMON!" - Gucci Mane, "Lemonade"

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She tumbls here and twitters here.

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