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Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious

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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Entries in alex carnevale (188)


In Which Absolutely Nothing Is Taken For Granted



by Margo Jefferson
Pantheon, 248 pp

"There are so many ways to be ambushed by insult and humiliation," writes Margo Jefferson in her new memoir Negroland. Reviews of the book so far focused on Jefferson's class, implying that she had set out to write a history of the lives of upper class blacks in America. 

There is that history here, but it is strange to call it the story of the bourgeoisie. When we tell the history of other peoples and places, focusing exclusively on the most wealthy and powerful people of the time seems pretty much conventional. With African-Americans, some special dispensation must be made. 

Jefferson grew up in a white area of Chicago. She was one of the only black students in her school, and as such, she dealt with a condescending type of racism. It is this kind of subtle racism that has replaced the good old Confederate flag waving kind, for the most part. 

When students at the University of Missouri confronted their president, they were aggrieved by his tone more than anything. They asked him whether he knew what systematic oppression was. He responded by saying, "I will give you an answer, and I’m sure it will be a wrong answer. Systematic oppression is when you don't believe that you have the equal opportunity for success."

In the first part of her book, Jefferson tells the stories of black Americans who achieved success in the white, racist world of early America. These are inspiring stories, in some cases moving ones, although Jefferson tells them with a scholarly distance that makes of them no more than the facts of their lives. The point of this approach is to pretend unbias — but we cannot really manage this, since every black person who lived during this time is a hero even for existing. 

"Nothing about us is taken for granted by anyone anywhere in the world," Jefferson explains of a guided tour through the black magazines of the period around her youth. Ebony was set on explaining the black experience in a facile way, and looking back on the headlines from the time betrays the fact that there was no such consistent experience. 

The story of Jefferson's own life reiterates this message. She believes on some level that her tony upbringing isn't representative, that it does not tell the full story, hence the inclusion of so many other histories as a preface to her own. She moves through each excruciating grade with a memory that exceeds most conscious descriptions of childhood.

In gorgeous prose she lays out the specific details, careful to avoid any and all cliche. There is a fear of being critiqued that haunts her writing, a preemptive self-critique that is at times welcome and in other moments a source of frustration. "We were the third race," Jefferson explains at one point, though we know it is not true. 

Ms. Jefferson was a profoundly unhappy high schooler. She remained on the outside circles of her cliques, orbiting them like a moon. "I crave the gift of recreational shallowness," she admits, perhaps not entirely sincerely. Eventually she switches to telling her story of disillusion from a third person perspective, as though she is not herself at all. 

In its last third, Negroland nearly dissolves in anger. In the absence of sense-making, the book becomes a spirited intellectual recollection of blackness, mostly avoiding Margo's unhappy time at Brandeis. More history introduces on the ending of Negroland, as Jefferson decides exactly how pessimistic she should be about the immense volley of racism she has experienced, most of it underhanded and hinting, like the light stroke of a pen.

There is something more pernicious about such an assault. It is why freedom of speech remains valuable; for if we exterminated the most vile viewpoints from our society we would never know of this other, skulking racism that follows people of color from place to place. By the very end of her book, Jefferson has no idea what exactly led her to construct the sense of the self that she currently has. "It is too easy to recount unhappy memories," she sighs, and tries to write something encouraging to make Negroland less of a eulogy. There is a feeling there beyond her exhortation to "Go on" that we have not come very far at all.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


In Which We Are The Most Sympathetic Character In The Affair

Into the Canyon


The Affair
creators Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi

The concept of a trigger warning was invented by the ancient Greeks, who placed cautionary notices before the most disturbing of Sophocles' plays. For the past 100 years white males who never served in the military have not required advanced warning of the flashbacks brought on by the consumption of descriptions or portrayals of traumatic acts.

Then came Noah Solloway (Dominic West), whose life is every white man's nightmare. Despite being married to an exciting, sexy woman named Helen (Maura Tierney) who had an ample trust find and creating four not-so-wonderful children with her, Noah was unhappy. He started up with a waitress named Alison (Ruth Wilson). The first season of The Affair largely consisted of the sex he had with her and how mediocre Alison's own marriage with Cody (Joshua Jackson) seemed in comparison to the intercourse. The first season ended with everything exposed and Noah wanting to be with his mistress full-time.

The second season of The Affair finds Noah and Alison living at a guest house secured by the publisher of his forthcoming book. As with the first season, The Affair reviews the same events from the different perspectives of each character. The first season limited this to Noah and Alison's viewpoints during their infidelity, but the second season includes their spurned partners in the story, Helen and Cody.

Tierney became well-known in the 1990s through roles on the sitcom Newsradio and ER. She was great as Noah's wife in season one, but we had trouble understanding who exactly she was, what she did that made it so easy for Noah to dump her for a younger, more sensual paramour. This season Helen Solloway has emerged as the signature star of The Affair, a performance that culminated in a masterful episode where she drank to excess, took a "pot lozenge", and accidentally crashed a car with her young children inside.

Amazingly, Helen came out of all this even more sympathetic than she has before. The Affair does a perfect job describing a phenomenon that has never before been accurately portrayed in the television medium: how something ostensibly good can be terrible, and something awful on the surface might actually be for the best.

Here is what I mean: in the wake of his separation from Helen, Noah seems to be doing everything right. He has finally finished his long-awaited second novel, Descent, and he is in a love relationship that actually pleases him. Due to Helen's accident and arrest, full co-custody of his children is granted to Noah, and his soon-to-be ex-wife is even paying his attorney's fees to defend him from a vehicular homicide charge. Things could not be going better for him.

Yet on the inside, Noah is corrupt. He goes to visit Alison at a yuppie retreat and fucks her up against a tree in an abrasive scene that rubs up against sexual violence in a disturbing way. When we aren't right in our love relationship, The Affair seems to be suggesting, everything else is destined to fall apart. Being white, rich and gorgeous, guys like Noah usually get away with his crimes, but watching The Affair, we know better. His punishment is his life.

As Alison, Ruth Wilson was a bit out of place in season one. She was so clearly not from Long Island that it was a bit silly to see her as a native Montauk girl. In season two, the show's writers have been able to dig a bit deeper into who she is, and Wilson has responded by massively improving her own acting. Because of the loss of her son (to secondary drowning) Alison was already the show's most sympathetic character, but she suffers even further here. The rich couple she works for treats her horribly, and Noah is barely better. She has not made the best choices, but plenty were made for her.

Dominic West also has been astonishing this season. He was always great at anguish, but here his Noah is often spare and repressed. When he becomes angry he is frightening, but we are not scared simply by the depth of his rage. Rather, it is more at his ability to manage his anger, to integrate it seemlessly into who he is.

Noah's friend Max pursues a relationship with his ex-wife without Noah's knowledge, and gives him $50,000 in order to expedite the process of their divorce so that he can be with Helen. When she is filled in on the plan, she rejects the entire premise, and is drawn closer to her ex-husband through the sudden illness of their son Martin.

The scenes in which Noah and Helen meet with a mediator to settle the distribution of their assets are filled with tension and excitement. The Affair is most captivating when it focuses on the little horrors, when it completely avoids the soapy revelations of the Rimes-universe. Simple things like going out for lunch are fraught with a kind of dread that other serial dramas fail to approach in screaming denouements.

West found success with his portrayal of the morally solid cop at the heart of HBO's The Wire, but in the role of Noah he has found something even more complex to sink into, to inhabit totally like a second skin. So many of the scenes where Noah discusses his view of writing are cringeworthy, but this is intentional — Noah is a semi-professional at everything, and there is no arena of his life where he feels completely at home.

Such a person — a fraud, but only sort of — is refreshing when we are used to seeing individuals at the peak of their powers. Even Don Draper, for being a distressing mess, did have some underlying speck of genius to salvage his life. Noah Solloway does not even have that.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Fields, No Body" - Matt Bauer (mp3)


In Which We Were A Credit To The Human Race

Praise Him


Master of None is Aziz Ansari's new Netflix series about his life in New York City. The big takeaways from his life as an actor and comedian are the following:

There is a lot of racism directed at Southeast Asian people.

Aziz Ansari is one hell of a guy. 

Women aren't always nice to him. 

He spends a lot of time texting, perhaps more than is healthy. 

Isn't he wonderful?

There is hagiography, which is what they did to Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was the most implausible movie in recent memory, and could not even be salvaged by Michael Fassbender's penis, which never made so much as a floppy appearance. Steve Jobs made an asshole seem not so bad, but Master of None makes a normal guy into the world's biggest martyr. 

Ansari ostensibly plays up-and-coming actor Dev on Master of None, but it is basically himself, except he never says so much as one word wrong. Dev is generous to his friends and kind to his family. He even sets up his dad's iPad, and is so sweet to his co-stars on a movie called The Sickening. We have moved beyond hagiography into simple worship of Mr. Ansari. 

Women are the only creatures placed on a higher pedestal. Dev worships them, in turn, like princesses. He wants to know all about their jobs and lives, in hopes of generating some kind of magic that will lead him into the type of relationship his parents enjoyed. When he rediscovers the pleasures of a Jewish girl with whom he had sloppy sex a few months back, he's elated until she confirms she is trying to work things out with an ex-boyfriend. Even though he did not call her after the sex, he is crushed by her rejection. 

Dev's friend Denise (Dear White People's Lena Waithe) is a lesbian who hangs out with Dev and his male friends. They have many similar interests, including their passion for sharing strategies about getting laid. Dev's other buddies are Brian (Kelvin Yu), a handsome Taiwanese-American, and Arnold (Eric Wareheim dressed as a post-prison Jared Fogle). He talks to them about what he should do to make these women like and respect him. While his friends genuinely care for him, Ansari's paramours seem about as concerned with him as a chef is with the feelings of an egg. 

His hopeless travails finding love represent the only flaw Aziz has. Ansari dedicates one whole episode to letting us know how much he appreciates everything his parents did for him. A lengthy flashback reviews the struggles his parents endured to make a better life for him in the United States. He is enriched by their sacrifice. 

In another episode, Ansari takes a waitress named Alice to a secret Father John Misty concert. She ends up stealing someone's jacket and getting kicked out of the venue. This is what he gets for doing something nice, and he is enriched by her sacrifice. 

It is a credit to Aziz that he never accuses women of harboring any racism towards him. Amazingly this never comes up in his massive, wikipedia-level book about love, Modern Romance. As much as the book was a terrible chore interspersed with the funniest parts of his stand-up act, Master of None is completely charming. 

The reason for the disparity in quality is that Ansari is not much of a prose writer; instead he is a captivating performer. The rest of the cast seems carefully selected not to show him up in any way, and their lessening works — Ansari's charisma makes every scene compelling, no matter how slight. He revisits the boredom and humor of a career in acting in a much more entertaining way than was found during the entire run of Ricky Gervais' Extras

Perhaps most refreshing is that Ansari never relies on sight gags, one-liners, profanity or gross-outs to create his comedy, even though some of those things were obviously a part of the fun in his stand-up act. Every single laugh here is because of an extensed investment in who Dev is, a magnificent creature who should be celebrated by humanity, possibly with a statue?

Ansari's adopted hometown of New York does not come across nearly as well. (The comedian was born and raised in South Carolina.) In the most accurate depiction of the place to date, New York is a city in decline. Indoor scenes are depressing and dark, the daytime jaunts are overexposed and painfully bright. Not one single place is suitable for hiding. There is no counter-culture left in the entirety of New York City, a situation analogous to Rome before the fall. There is only a bourgeois way of living that Aziz correctly analyzes as neither masculine or feminine, progressive or regressive. It is just slow-motion.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Writing's On The Wall" - Sam Smith (mp3)