Quantcast
Video of the Day

Masthead

Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Managing Editor
Kara VanderBijl
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Senior Editor
Durga Chew-Bose
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

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

Live and Active Affiliates
This area does not yet contain any content.
Tuesday
Jan122010

In Which You Have The Power

Eckhart's Reduction

by OWEN ROBERTS

When I was a kid I had this idea that my dad was a Marxist, before I had any idea what Marxism was. My dad is sort of a self-proclaimed Marxist, though he isn't particularly vocal about it, but it manifests in his general attitude toward religion and politics, which is that he tends to be incredibly cynical and doesn't seem to "believe" in anything, other than economic forces maybe. So there was this unspoken dialectic in my house between my atheist dad (he probably wouldn't admit to that, might describe himself as agnostic) and my mom, who is Irish Catholic, and believes that people have souls and stuff. My mom went to church and unconvincingly tried to make me believe in God and think about religion, and is generally more comfortable with feelings and beliefs than my dad or me. Anyway, this possibly overly revealing introduction is just to set up the fact of my complete shock when I found out my dad was reading The Power of Now. I had heard of it but I didn't know much about it. It's a wildly successful self-help book. You can read a lot of it on Google Books.

The Power of Now actually came out first in 1999, but it started getting really popular in 2008 when Oprah made it a book of the month, which means a ton of people will read it just because she said they should (don't interpret this as disparaging of Oprah, I may not like her taste in books always, but I like her).

I was really weirded out to find my dad reading the book, because, first, he doesn't have time to read a lot (I think he read a lot of things when he was younger but his default response to questions like, "Hey, dad, did you ever read this copy of Sentimental Education I found in the bookshelf?" is "I don't think I really understood it"), and second, he's an incredible cynic with not a spiritual bone in his body. So this led me to pick up the book and start reading a little bit, because, though I'm used to feeling alienated by the popularity of certain books and media, my dad's interest in anything "soft" piqued my own interest.

I find the book impossible to read. But there's clearly something successful about it if has become so meaningful to so many people. I've met people my age with, like, regular interests and normal personalities, who say this book changed their life. I have a tendency to assume shit like this is totally exploitative and soft. But if it helps people who am I to say that it's bullshit?

There isn't even much criticism (not even on the Internet) of the book or its author, Eckhart Tolle, which seems bizarre. It's difficult to back up this claim with research, but this comment on the one blog post I found criticizing Tolle (in like twenty-five pages of Google results) corroborates the claim: "Incidentally, the phrase “i hate eckhart tolle” only gets about half a dozen hits. Likewise, “eckhart tolle sucks” just gets one. It seems to me that the dearth of criticism for something so well read and practically unintelligible is a little concerning. Is there something in the water?" Maybe critics have better things to do.

I think it's fair to say that people often enjoy books who have a character or protagonist with which the reader can identify.

Jk. This is probably more accurate.

Which sort of means is that people like reading about themselves, or at least thinking about themselves while reading, or picturing themselves in a story. That's maybe why there are archetypes, and Peter Parker is like a completely generic looking dude and people talk about whether or not they're Slytherins or Gryffindors or whatever. So it follows that The Power of Now might owe its popularity in part to the fact that each individual can easily imagine themselves as the protagonist.

You don't escape into a cool fantasy world when reading The Power of Now, you escape into a fantasy of self improvement.

A gross simplification of the point of The Power of Now: Thinking is bad. Okay, to be honest, I think there is some merit to Tolle's central concept of being present in your life; it's the kind of thing that is absurdly obvious, but might require someone else telling you not to be constantly freaking out about the past and future for you to realize that you were doing it in the first place. But Tolle seems to take this mantra to its most extreme conclusion. Now, this is clearly reductive, but given the repetitive and generally ambiguous nature of Tolle's prose, I don't feel like a close reading is really needed.

A representative sentence:

Instead of "watching the thinker," you can also create a gap in the mind stream simply by directing the focus of your attention into the Now. Just become intensely conscious of the present moment. This is a deeply satisfying thing to do.

I think that's called telling, not showing. Tolle's read on why people are unhappy seems to be that everyone is just super anxious and thinking too much about things, and the way to combat this compulsive thinking is to not think at all, or to think intensely about things that are relatively meaningless. He doesn't offer much in the way of reasonable alternative other than meditating. 

Tolle's own life makes this whole philosophy suspect. Basically he was a bum. He was depressed and suicidal and turned to spirituality. He sort of implies that he was homeless for like two years. When he had the idea to write a book and eventually make a million dollars, he doesn't mention. It doesn't help that he looks like a total creepy weirdo.

Dude is too busy not thinking to shave.

I'm all for relaxing and chilling out and stuff, but I don't think that's what makes people happy. I think not being really bored is what makes people happy, among other things. And, like, success. And probably a lot of other things. Tolle has been accused of trying to be God, which is far fetched, but he's certainly filling the role of some sort of prophet or something. What kind of a prophet is a weird question though. You have to wonder what Eckhart Tolle wants people to do with his book. He wants to help people help themselves, but why?

The back of The Power of Now labels it as Personal Growth/Spirituality, which means self-help. I looked into the history of the self-help industry a bit, to see where the whole thing got kicked off, and where Tolle fits into it. The first bestselling self-help book was How to Make Friends and Influence People, written by Dale Carnegie, which was published in 1936 and has since sold more than fifteen million copies. Coincidentally, Carnegie's life long dream was to be a Chautauqua lecturer (only a coincidence because I wrote about Chautauqua on this blog), a dream which he never realized. According to his Wikipedia page, one of his most successful business moves was changing his name from Carnagey to Carnegie, in order to associate himself with Andrew Carnegie, and even "was able to rent Carnegie Hall itself for a lecture to a packed house," which seems silly. His middle name is Breckenridge, which I think is a great name, and is also a kind of flower. 

How to Make Friends and Influence People was only a year old when people started making fun of it, namely, Irving Dart Tressler, who wrote How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (not to confused with Toby Young or a movie that was apparently made based on that book), which Time magazine thought was funny.

I picked this up at The Strand after seeing it in this movie.

How to Win Friends and Influence People is written more like a manual for businessmen, Carnegie's industry, employing anecdotal stories to prove points about human behavior and how to exploit it basically. The self-help precedent for The Power of Now is more likely The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale (not just because they both have "power" in the titles, there are a lot of self-help books that reference "power" both in their titles and otherwise). Like Tolle, Peale emphasizes conquering anxiety and finding peace of mind, with similar language (though Carnegie resembles Tolle in that both were failures in previous efforts before becoming successful as self-help authors). In his time, Peale was controversial for mixing religion and psychology, and was attacked by mental health experts who called him a fraud and a con man.

The thing about the word "power" that bothers me is that it doesn't seem to make much sense in the context of self-help. My conception of power is, loosely, one person's ability to control other people, or other abstractions of this idea. The goal of The Power of Now is to help the reader gain power over themselves, which seems to imply that most people exist in a sort of schizophrenic state. I'm sure you can make an argument for this idea, but I find it bothersome nonetheless. Because there is a market for these books, you have to assume that there are people getting something out of them, but I remain skeptical of the ideas that Tolle and other self-help authors offer. I'm not alone either, there are numerous parodies and critics of self-help (though apparently not of Tolle), including George Carlin.

I think this image sort of sums up my frustration with Tolle. This symbol appears every few pages in The Power of Now, and is intended to signal the reader to pause and think about what they have just read. Ignoring the fact that this is an obvious gimmick to increase the length of the text (only two hundred wide margin pages), it's an incredibly patronizing little symbol to appear every few pages. It only makes me further question the motivation behind the book which is suspect to begin with. But even if I ignore the ambiguous origination of the book, it's still pretty silly.

It's possible that I'm judging The Power of Now from an unfair and overly literary perspective. My dad's interest in the book caused me to wonder about its influence and appeal for people is because it is so alien to me, but dissecting the book is also patronizing to the fans of the book, in the sense that while Tolle is telling people how they should think, I'm telling people that they're stupid for buying it.

Owen Roberts is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find his most recent work here.

"Seduced and Abandoned" - The Magnetic Fields (mp3)

"Walk A Lonely Road" - The Magnetic Fields (mp3)

"I Don't Know What To Say" - The Magnetic Fields (mp3)

You can pre-order the new Magnetic Fields album Realism here.

Monday
Jan112010

In Which They Say I'm A Womanizer? I Haven't Met Enough Women Yet

Men In Revolt

by MOLLY LAMBERT

This just in: according to the neurotic Jews and WASPs of the last decade's fiction, American men don't know how exactly they should be acting about sex. This is brand new information! Does masculinity focus on being too self-absorbed? Is femininity still too much about self-abnegation? Is literature self-absorbed? Did Warren Beatty tell Peter Biskind that Jane Fonda can unhinge her jaw like a python? Is Sol the cold sun?

Done are the days of Vice Magazine's tits and cocaine ethos, as are the nu-80s that were the 00s. Somebody tell John Mayer before he threatens to date rape us again. C'mon John, I'm a polymath too, there's no need to keep screaming out for approval constantly. You want to be respected as a comedian? Knock up Jennifer Aniston.

I kid, I kid. Everyone knows the problem with Jen An is that she's too submissive, and what John Mayer needs is a strong top. That's what Brad Pitt needed (also rimjobs). Maybe John Mayer should fuck Madonna? I sort of like Madonna more now that I know she taunted Warren Beatty at gay discos for not dancing with "hey pussy man!"

h8 u & ur aesthetic terry richardson

Meanwhile the not-a-girl, not-yet-a-woman demographic is flooded with New Moon and Taylor Swift. Transgressive as their popularity alone may be, both Twilight and Taylor ascribe to a world view that too many fourteen year girls are already inoculated with. An entirely boy-centric romatic one, where nothing is interesting unless it involves crushes and the surrounding drama. Even fifth wave feminist Megan Fox admits there's no such thing as Megan Fox. No wonder Mahnola is fucking pissed.

love ur raspberries t shirt chabon hope it's these raspberries

I read Michael Chabon's Manhood For Amateurs. The cover has a neat conceit, but it doesn't actually work, a metaphor for masculinity if ever there was one. There are essays about being a son and brother written in the kind of clean clipped front lawn style associated with Richard Ford and the dignity of restrained masculine emotions.

There are essays about fatherhood, married life, and courting his wife that seem overly tailored to the idea that his children might read them someday, which makes them read somewhat dishonestly. There are also a couple of essays about his first marriage and various youthful sexual indiscretions that are frank and detailed (which is not to say erotic) enough to give readers major secondhand embarrassment.

Maybe this is the worst kind of criticism to give these practitioners of the new earnest manhood, but god is it boring. Not that this validates the grand tradition of geniuses as tremendous bastards. One can be a tremendous bastard without being an author or a genius and vice versa. I'm not saying Chabon should go for a ride and never come back, but he should definitely at least stop over-supervising his children's playtime.

In another essay, Chabon admits his worst failing is an inability to write three dimensional female characters. Looking back, it's kinda true. While I commend his honesty, I never understand this, even though it's something I occasionally hear from men. I always say "write a male character, then give them a female name." 

As a girl you grow up seeing yourself in male characters, because (unfortunately) the cool ones are still mostly men. One of the reasons I picked Adventureland as my favorite movie of last year is that it had fully fleshed out and well written characters of both genders. Chabon recognizes that his tendency towards seeing women as mysterious is wrong, but finds it very hard to shake. There is no mystery to women. There is plenty of mystery to sex, but it's equally mysterious to everyone.

For my money, Wonder Boys is still Chabon's best book, and as much as he loves fantasy and genre, the farther away he gets from reality the less interested and invested I get in the characters. This is just a personal preference, I would rather read smaller scale character studies, but I also think that emotional observation is a core component of his talents as a writer. Besides, the genre fic thing is beyond played out. New novels by all writers starting now in 2010 are forbidden from involving the following things: comic books, detectives, baseball, magicians, the holocaust

let's talk about the giant stack of books Ayelet is resting her tiny legs on

Anyway if Katie Roiphe is underwhelmed and unoffended by the sexually neutered males of Brooklyn fiction, she should check out this vast cultural wasteland called the internet. The best writing about sex is currently being done by the people who are smart/stupid enough to date and write about it. Dating wasn't even really invented until the 1950s, it's no wonder nobody knows how to do it.

if I were a boooooooooooooooy, I'd b alec baldwin

If I were a man, which is something I've obviously spent a great deal of time thinking about, I would feel as insulted by the bulk of male culture as I am by most things steered to women. The men I know are nothing like the caricatures of "men" I see advertised to me everywhere. They are not oafs or jerks or lazy misogynists. They have more feelings than they know what to do with. They are real people, and they deserve to be insulted by what masculinity has come to represent.

The best advice I have ever heard about sex, romance, and masculinity is from porn star/P.T. Anderson muse John Holmes in Exhausted: John Holmes The Real Story.

"You don’t have to be overly macho. You don’t have to be over-complimentary. Gain her respect. And that’s treating her as an equal. Don’t bullshit her. Treat her as a human being. Treat her as you would treat yourself. As soon as you have that respect from her, she’ll treat you with the same respect that you show. Then you fuck the shit out of her." - John Curtis Holmes 

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

digg delicious reddit stumble facebook twitter subscribe

"Heart and Soul (Martin Hannett mix)" - Joy Division (mp3)

"From Safety to Where (Martin Hannett mix)" - Joy Division (mp3)

"Passover (Martin Hannett mix)" - Joy Division (mp3)

Sunday
Jan102010

In Which We Preemptively Acknowledge Our Flaws

The Impulse To Expiate

by EMILY GOULD

Woody and Diane Keaton meet, in Manhattan, and immediately start contradicting and one-upping each other. They do so intensely, with a focus that excludes the people they’re notionally on dates with. Watching them, you might find yourself suddenly seized with a strange and increasingly less-shakeable suspicion. You, too, have some habitual patterns of interacting with the romanceable people you meet, you've noticed. But have these habits developed organically, or are they just a set of tricks and tics that you subliminally learned from watching early Woody Allen movies? Do these movies succeed, as you’d assumed they did, by evoking the shock of recognition, or is the shock of recognition you feel, watching them, just the end product of a feedback loop?

Regardless, the depth of identification you (fine okay I) feel watching jerks fall in love can be so intense it’s jarring. And when those love affairs fail to end happily — and no matter how many times you’ve seen the movies, those failures somehow have the power to surprise again and again — it is possible to become super bummed out.

Manhattan is also a bummer because, while it is formally the best Woody Allen movie — the Woody-Allen-movie-est Woody Allen movie — it also codifies the fatal Woody flaw, which is his un-get-aroundably creepy thing for little girls.

Mariel Hemingway got an Oscar nomination for her performance as Woody’s Dalton-senior love interest in this movie, but the prize seems inadequate compensation for the then-16 year old's having been subjected to multiple takes of the scenes wherein the fortyish Woody gropes and kisses her. Her fundamental physical indifference, even as she mouths lines like "Let’s fool around!", is legible in every line of her coltish body.

The ick factor is especially pronounced when these scenes are juxtaposed with the ones that showcase Diane and Woody’s unfakeable chemistry. But we do believe that Mariel’s Tracy thinks she loves Woody’s Isaac, and that consequently he is able to hurt her. Their love scenes may be stomach-turning, but when he dumps her, Tracy’s obvious pain reveals Isaac’s essential sliminess with unprecedented vividness. "Why should I feel guilty about this? This is ridiculous!” he says, as her beautiful, reason-to-live face quivers on the verge of eerily childish tears. The chord of recognition is struck here too — we have all tried to break a heart guiltlessly, or witnessed someone try guiltlessly to break ours. (But did these movies teach us, and them, how to go about it?)

Tracy, we’re told, is mature for her age. That’s why Isaac is attracted to her, he says early on. But somehow the moments that are meant to demonstrate this maturity are the moments when his real desires slip out – part of his character’s charm, of course, is that he is always helplessly showing his hand. "You keep stating it like it’s to my advantage, when it’s you that wants to get out," she says when he explains why they should break up. "Don’t be so smart, don’t be so precocious," he commands. In their final scene together, when she refuses to buy the recantation of this breakup speech, he tells her not to be so mature.

Isaac's romance with Diane Keaton's Mary Wilkie has its creepy moments too. There is one moment especially when Mary is talking to Isaac but really she is talking to herself, about how she deserves better than Yale, Isaac's married friend who she’s seeing. She is giving herself a little self-esteem lecture about how she is young and beautiful and smart and deserves better. Like Isaac, she is helplessly showing her hand, but unlike him, her foibles aren’t presented lovingly. Isaac’s selfishness seems meant to come off, thanks to his ostentatious self-awareness, as a lovable quirk. Mary seems to have no idea how monstrous she’s being, and therefore seems doubly monstrous.

Isaac’s no monster, though, or at least he isn’t meant to seem like one. His overlay of protective self-awareness — his preemptive acknowledgment of flaws that you haven’t even noticed yet, the sense that he hates himself more than you ever could — has provided a reliable template for future generations of dudes, cinematic and otherwise. It’s this kind of guy who’d think to inoculate himself against charges of misogyny by having Bella Abzug make a cameo in his movie about a forty year old man who’s fucking a high-schooler. These dudes don’t just to get away with being assholes, they want to be loved both for and in spite of it.

You have met these dudes. As kids, they were mocked for the same traits that they’ve now transformed into social currency, but this reversal hasn’t fully salved the wounded rage in them. So they are maybe going to take that anger out on some powerless girls, but they’re going to be so super aware the whole time, of what they’re doing and why. To paraphrase the terrible novel whose opening paragraph Isaac is writing at the movie’s outset, New York is their town, and it always will be. And maybe they live here because the city is like them: trapped between the impulse to expiate or to celebrate its sins, and trapped in the misconception that admitting to them somehow accomplishes both things at once.

Emily Gould is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She blogs here.You can pre-order her book And the Heart Says...Whatever here.

digg delicious reddit stumble facebook twitter subscribe