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Alex Carnevale

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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 Tuck In Our Nips And Nip In Our Tucks

The End of Surgery


Dallas and Dynasty had their moments. They can't touch the greatest soap opera ever to air on television, Ryan Murphy's Nip/Tuck, which finishes up its run over the next few weeks. Dismissed as trash TV by people who eagerly descend to the painful depths of Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice for a living, Nip/Tuck was once the most popular show on cable. Its final season has been largely buried in the wake of Murphy's more popular Fox show Glee, but that shouldn't change what Nip/Tuck did for cable television.

Although soaps pride themselves on being long-running, the genre never had characters like doctors Christian Troy and Sean McNamara. Over time, two hunky Miami plastic surgeons have turned into two chipped and degraded Greek statues living in Los Angeles. There is something marvelous about how much Murphy cares about both bodies. McNamara's nude form tried to take his own life in the ocean a few episodes ago, and Troy's battle with cancer last season reduced his to a black-and-blue stump.

When the show premiered, there was something new and different in this approach, and even after the hype from Nip/Tuck's edgy plastic surgeries faded, the focus on the human form remained rare in any media. Television prefers to ignore or paint over human bodies, and even when it dips toes into nudity, rarely is the disrobed character not having sex.

In real life, we are as often nude by ourselves as we are with others. We are confronted with the fact of our bodies at every moment, and there's no surprise that with a surfeit of attention on them, obsessions ferment and fester. People who consider plastic surgery have taken that attention and elevated it to a need. Few McNamara/Troy patients actually can justify their desire for plastic surgery. That this is also the requirement of the people who perform these surgeries is the novelty of Nip/Tuck.

Over the years, Murphy has written every possible storyline for his doctors. The most successful one in the show's history had them pursued by a serial killer named The Carver. Since it's hard to make two rich plastic surgeons overly sympathetic, a twisted killer was the ideal foil. Murphy revisited this angle in a different way last season with Sean's Hollywood ascendancy (with an amazing run by Bradley Cooper as a jealous co-star), with his insane, murderous agent Colleen Rose.

Like any good soap opera, Nip/Tuck has nothing better to do than to flesh out the long stories of its more sympathetic peripheral characters. After being traded for a Lamborghini in the show's first season, blond tart Kimber Henry has basically done everyone on Nip/Tuck, and somehow she is still sympathetic. Following a person, real or imagined, for long enough generally accomplishes this trick. Every con artist knows that as soon as we see someone troubled do a good thing, we are won to their side of the issue. How do you think Chris Brown got booked on Good Morning America?

Murphy cast Mario Lopez as Christian's rival this season. One thing soaps do well is introduce new characters and repurpose old ones. If you really thought about it long enough it wouldn't make sense for Lopez and Christian to fight over Kimber, but since we've been with the latter pair longer, we want them to win out even though Christian is ostensibly the Iago of this interplay. This kind of complicated understanding between drama and audience is only possible in long form television.

With an idea of keeping the stakes high and sticking with Sean McNamara's utter inability to treat women as well as he says he wants to, Murphy cast Rose McGowan in a four episode-arc as a killer nurse after Sean's money. Although this is now the fifth or sixth time this basic plot has been featured, it is impossible to enjoy it any less. This campy fun turned into a custody battle with Sean's mother-in-law, played by Vanessa Redgrave. Nip/Tuck doesn't deserve to be bashed by the actors who walk through it.

Dramas, especially soaps, tend to replicate what's currently working. This typically happens even if the gimmick in question isn't effective anymore. In contrast to the hammy meaninglessness of Shonda Rimes and her Desperate Housewives counterparts, Ryan Murphy accomplished the feat of making a silly show serious. To make these people believable took an incredible sense for where our disbelief meets trust in the artist.

Eventually someone will realize how brilliant Nip/Tuck was and make something in its image. Let's hope the irony of such a tribute isn't lost on the creator.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She tumbls here.

"No Use Left for Me" - The 88 (mp3)

"God Is Coming" - The 88 (mp3)

"Kind of Light" - The 88 (mp3)


In Which We Ride The Long Crooked Straight With Samuel Beckett



Although Watt, written in English during the war years but published only in 1953, is a substantial presence in the Beckett canon, it can fairly be said that Beckett did not find himself as a writer until he switched to French and, in particular, until the years 1947-51, when in one of the great creative outpourings of modern times he wrote the prose fictions Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable ("the trilogy"), the play Waiting for Godot, and the thirteen Texts for Nothing.

These major works were preceded by four stories, also written in French, about one of which, "First Love," Beckett had his doubt. (He might also have queried the ending of "The End": usually a master of restraint, Beckett indulges here in an uncharacteristic dip into plangency.)

beckett and buster keatonIn these stories, in the novel Mercier and Camier (written in French in 1946) and in Watt, the outlines of the late-Beckettian world, and the procedures of Beckettian fiction generation, begin to become visible. It is a world of confined spaces or else bleak wastes, inhabited by asocial and indeed misanthropic monologuers helpless to terminate their monologue, tramps with failing bodies and never-sleeping minds condemned to a purgatorial treadmill on which they rehearse again and again the great themes of Western philosophy; and all of it will be presented in the distinctive prose that Beckett, using French models in the main, although with Jonathan Swift whispering ghostly in his ear,  was in the process of perfecting for himself, lyrical and mordant in equal measures.

In Texts for Nothing (the French title Textes pour rien alludes to the orchestral conductor's initial beat over silence) we see Beckett trying to work himself out of the corner in which he had painted himself in The Unnamable: if "The Unnamable" is the verbal sign for whatever is left once every mark of identity has been stripped from a series of antecedent monologuers (Molloy, Malone, Mahood, Worm, and the rest of them), who/what comes when the Unnamable is stripped too, and who after that successor, and so forth; and - more important - does the fiction itself not degenerate into an increasingly mechanical stripping process?

The problem of how to concoct some verbal formula that will pin down and annihilate the unnamable residue of the self and thus at last achieve silence is formulated in the sixth of the Texts. By the eleventh text, that quest for finality - hopeless, as we know and Beckett knows - is in the process of being absorbed into a kind of verbal music, and the fierce comic anguish that accompanied it is in the process of being aestheticized too. Such is the solution that Beckett seems to arrive at, a makeshift solution if ever there was one, to the question of what to do next.

The next three decades will see Beckett, in his prose fictions, unable to move on - stalled, in fact, on the very question of what it means to move on, why one should move on, who it is that should do the moving on. A dribble of publications continues: brief quasi-musical compositions whose elements are phrases and sentences. Ping (1966) and Lessness (1969) - texts build up from repertoires of set phrases by combinatorial methods - represent the extreme of this tendency. Their music happens to be harsh; but as the fourth of the Fizzles of 1975 proves, Beckett's compositions can also be of haunting verbal beauty.

The narrative premise of The Unnamable, and of How It Is (1961), is held on to in these short fictions: a creature constituted of a voice attached, for reasons unknown, to some kind of body enclosed in a sapce more or less reminiscent of Dante's Hell, is condemned for a certain length of time to speak, to try to make sense of things. It is a situation well described by Heidegger's term Geworfenheit: being thrown without explanation into an existence governed by obscure rules. The Unnamable was sustained by its dark comic energy. But by the late 1960s that comic energy, with its power to surprise, had reduced itself to a relentless, arid self-laceration. The Last Ones (1970) is hell to read was perhaps hell to write, too.

Then, with Company (1980) Ill Seen Ill Said (1981), and Worstward Ho (1983), we emerge miraculously into clearer water. The prose is suddenly more expansive, even, by Beckettian standards, genial. Whereas in the preceding fictions the interrogation of the trapped, geworfen self has had a mechanical quality, as though it were accepted from the beginning that the questioning was futile, there is in these late pieces as sense that individual existence is a genuine mystery worth exploring.

The quality of thought and of language remains as philosophically scrupulous as ever, but there is a new element of the personal, even the autobiographical: the memoirs that float into the mind of the speaker clearly come from the early childhood of Beckett himself, and these are treated with a certain wonder and tenderness even though - like images from early silent film - they flicker and vanish on the screen of the inner eye. The key Beckettian word on, which had earlier had a quality of grinding hopelessness to it ("I can't go on, I'll go on") begins to take o0n a new meaning: the meaning, if not of hope, then at least of courage.

The spirit of these last writings, optimistic yet humorously skeptical about what can be achieved, is well captured in a 1983 letter of Beckett's: "The long crooked straight is laborious but not without excitement. While still 'young' I began to seek consolation in the thought that then if ever, i.e. now, the true words at last, from the minds in ruins. To this illusion I continue to cling."

The above excerpt is from Coetzee's introduction to Samuel Beckett: Poems - Short Fiction - Criticism. You can purchase that volume, which is released in paperback on January 1, 2010, here.

"Wild is the Wind" - Cat Power (mp3)

"I Found A Reason" - Cat Power (mp3)

"Naked If I Want To" - Cat Power (mp3)

"Red Apples" - Cat Power (mp3)


In Which We Relive A Dark And Dangerous Time

The Week in Review

After fighting off a hostile takeover attempt by Kraft, This Recording has moved onto greener pastures. The weeks to come will feature our year-end lists, which I generate largely from putting Lambert into a light coma and performing experimental brain surgery. Let's just hope the inside of her brain doesn't rank that weird Jim Jarmusch movie No. 1.

Enjoy these ventures into the unknown before we are absorbed by a cheesy conglomerate:

Giorgio De Chirico on his surrealist friends...

Beatrice discussed her difficult relationship with her father...

Molly Langmuir reviewed Chris Weitz' New Moon...

Alex Carnevale went to see The Fantastic Mr. Fox...

Edward Dorn's memoriam for Richard Brautigan...

The intersections of Pauline Kael and Bonnie and Clyde...

The adventures of Will Hubbard and R.V. Neuman...

Maryse Conde's youth in Paris...

Durga looked back at The Beatles' Rubber Soul...

The weird love of John Lennon and Yoko Ono...

Patrick Bateman recalled the days of Revolver...

Having a drink with Paul McCartney...

The wit and wisdom of Georgia O'Keeffe.

You can find past Week in Reviews here.

"Let the Wind Blow" - The Beach Boys (mp3)

"Can't Wait Too Long" - The Beach Boys (mp3)

"Cool, Cool Water" - The Beach Boys (mp3)

"Meant for You" - The Beach Boys (mp3)