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Alex Carnevale

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Mia Nguyen

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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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Entries in alex carnevale (238)


In Which It Has Only Been The Two Of Us For So Long

A Little Less Spirituality


Just tired and busy and amazed and amused and charmed and horrified. - Maria Huxley, in a letter

In 1913 Aldous Huxley began to lose his sight. His eyes clouded over, his vision was "steadily and quite rapidly failing. I was wondering quite apprehensively what on earth I should do." After seeing an oculist, it was decided that a milder climate might help him, so Aldous Huxley and his wife Maria Nys went to Italy. Their son Matthew spent the first four years of his life in Florence and Rome.

Matthew was an extremely large and difficult child. Aldous and Maria were a bit taken aback by who they had created; Matthew Huxley would later become a prominent epidemologist. The child was a picky eater and stuck to a vegetarian diet, causing Aldous to remark, "he realizes that meat is dead animals."

Matthew had no desire to read, which made him the polar opposite of his father. The entire family was practically grief stricken at the young boy's non-literary habits; only Aldous was able to be patient with him. "Too early a passion for reading distracts from the powers of observation," he told everyone.

The whole family liked Italy, but Aldous was the only one who admired it, more in theory than in practice. Florence never suited him; it was more a place where culture had been rather than a city where it was. He chose Rome as the young family's landing spot. "After a third rate provincial town," he concluded, "colonized by English sodomites and middle-aged lesbians, a genuine metropolis will be lively." They could not stay in Italy, however, as fascism was in the air. They left Matthew in Belgium with his grandmother and took a boat to Bombay.

Aldous despised the architecture of Lahore, and loathed Kashmir worse. They kept incredibly active, fortified by a gnawing fear and the weight they burned off from their time in Florence. At Srinagar they visited the lunatic asylum.

Every place that they visited, Aldous asked question after question, ostensibly as research for a series of articles that helped pay for the journey. He also did it when he felt he did not have something himself to say.

An attempt to travel second class did not go well - a holy man spit his mucus all over their car - so they paid the extra rupees for first class, money they knew they should not be spending. Maria could barely eat the food. "India is depressing as no other country I have ever known," Aldous wrote. "One breathes in it, not air, but dust and hopelessness."

Aldous was most put off by the beliefs of the people he met. "A little less spirituality," he wrote, "and the Indians would now be free - free from foreign dominion and from the tyranny of their own prejudices and traditions. There would be less dirt and more food. There would be fewer Maharajas with Rolls Royces and more schools."

He was not impressed at all by the Taj Mahal, and told everyone so. "These four thin tapering towers," he wrote in Jesting Pilate, "are among the ugliest structures ever erected by human hands." Whatever one thinks of the Taj Mahal, it seems a greater dissatisfaction with the world and his place in it may have been the cause of this observation.

Things got better as soon as they left Calcutta for Burma. Dutch ships took them to the Philippines. From there they landed in Japan, taking the train to Kyoto and departing via Yokohama. Aldous watched Maria's eating closely, preventing her from having too much caviar, the only food she felt comfortable consuming at sea.

Japan was almost as nauseating to Aldous as India, but for different reasons. Kyoto was "such a collection of the cheap and shoddy, of the quasi-genuine and the imitation solid, of the vulgar and the tawdry." The industrial city did not suit Aldous' taste at all:

Little wooden shacks succeeds little wooden shack interminably, mile after mile; and the recession of the straight untidy roads is emphasised by the long lines of posts, the sagging electric wires that flank each street, like the trees of an avenue. All the cowboys in the world could live in Kyoto, all the Forty-Niners. Street leads into identical street, district merges indistinguishably into district. In this dreary ocean of log-cabins almost the only White Houses are the hotels.

with D.H. Lawrence

San Francisco was next, and from there Maria and Aldous took the Daylight Limited train to Los Angeles. They did not stay long in any one American city; Hollywood was "altogether too Antipodean to be lived in." (Aldous would spend the majority of the rest of his life in Southern California.)

When they returned to England from New York, Maria went to see Matthew while Aldous stayed in England. It had been only the two of them for so long.

While they were apart, Aldous wrote Maria long letters. They prefigure a latent unhappiness that would lead him to adultery, but also the connection that would allow the marriage to survive his mistakes until Maria died of breast cancer in 1955.

I think myself it's rather nice to be busy and practical on the outside - and daydreams, as you call it, inside. The things one cares about are all inside, like seeds on the ground in winter. But one has to attend to the things one only half cares about. And so life passes away.

Luckily, the inside thing corresponds with the inside thing in just a few people. I think it is so with us. We don't fit in very well outside - but the inside corresponds, which is most important.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Pretty Words" - Crissi Cochrane (mp3)





In Which The Scarecrow Probably Did Most Of This

Giving Up


The Walk
dir. Robert Zemeckis
123 minutes

Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Northern French accent is very impressive in Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk. “He never gives up,” says his girlfriend Annie Allix (Charlotte Le Bon). After Philippe Petit walked across a high wire strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center, he dumped her for a woman who came onto him after his appearance on the local news. In the movie, we never see the infidelity; Annie just peaces out in a cab like nothing too bad happened.

It has been over a month since Islamic terrorists killed 130 people at a concert in Paris. One month later diplomats are in Paris, talking about who will pay for the cost of fighting climate change. The Associated Press article reported that the countries were close to an accord; a group of hard-line countries represented by a Malaysian lawyer named Gurdial Singh Nijar explained that the meeting was “going backwards," since India, China and Malaysia would never agree to any of the conditions set forth by Western democracies.

Annie Allix has had to watch her relationship with Petit glorified. She is presented in The Walk as an ultimately innocuous bystander to his 140 foot-walk across the sky. One hundred and forty feet does not sound like a very far distance, but Petit managed it several times. Bystanders clapped and cheered. Afterwards, his criminal charges were dropped and he was even honored as a local hero.

That was 1974. Two years earlier, eleven Israeli Olympic team members had been taken hostage and murdered by the Palestinian group Black September, with support from anti-Semitic German groups. It did not take much time for people to forget about that. We all have short memories, so it is nice to remember what Mr. Petit did. His girlfriend remembers it, too. In the documentary about Petit's walk, Man On Wire, she explains, "My life was completely consumed by his, and he never thought to ask me whether I had my own destiny to follow. It was quite clear I had to follow his.”

It is remarkable how people can ignore what it happening all around them, and at times even necessary. In The Walk, Petit explains to a customs guard what his plans are, and the guy laughs and waves him through LaGuardia. Petit even employs more than one willing American in his act of terrorism. Such a thing would never happen today, and in fact in seems an insult to towers lost to history that Petit even suggested he would perform his feat again. I mean, why would we want him to? He’s a dick who forced his girlfriend to watch from the ground below through binoculars.

In order to drag out the tension during his walk, Zemeckis includes the appearance of a seagull. A helicopter emerges shortly thereafter, further disturbing the relative peace of Mr. Petit’s walk. The seagull looks angry: there were seagulls before men built towers, and decided to walk across them for no discernible reason.

Now some white men want to set back the economies of developing nations in order to ensure that pollutants are no longer pumped into the atmosphere, and fossil fuels burnt at quite the same rate. If the gesture is reasonable on the part of the assorted diplomats involved, it is also somewhat hypocritical. After all, Western nations were the perpetrators of the original crime to the environment — now that historically less prosperous nations finally have the economic advantages that come with industry, the West explains, “No, we've decided that’s enough!” and has the gall to ask them to pay for it!

It is easy enough for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to substitute for a Frenchman. He actually plays Petit as a bit of a narcissistic asshole, and the constant smirk that dashes back and forth across his face is never wiped off, not even as he crosses skyscrapers. In the days after the walk he was so happy. He had become a sort of honorary American, and as a showman, he enjoyed this new caricature of himself.

Zemeckis' movie, which is about a half hour too long, tries to turn The Walk into a sort of heist caper. This would be great, except that every single one of Petit's associates was a white guy with a beard or moustache who had absolutely no personality. Gordon-Levitt is forced to carry the day. He is entertaining enough, but it's clear that Zemeckis and co-writer Christopher Browne have no great love for Petit himself, who comes across as a maniacal dick.

Philippe Petit did not care why his girlfriend helped him walk on that wire. It only mattered to him that he achieved his goal, and what happened afterwards was a mere consequence of his desire. This subtlety was completely excluded from The Wire, constituting a great disappointment, because it is only interesting thing about the story. Petit's fuck-everyone-but-me perspective is a very Western attitude, and it is not just a destructive one — it is a self-destructive one.

What stuns me is the lack of empathy in The Walk, and by the West in general. Terrorist attacks are awful, sinister stuff. Any regular murder becomes a mystery that is never solved until we understand the motives of the perpetrator. For some reason, we have a different perspective on mass murders, actions so objectionable they seem to most people to defy motivation. That is a mistake in judgment, for every murder should demand an equal amount of horror and introspection. With the attacks on the Bataclan, the general understanding seems to be that some specific villains are involved: maybe the Joker, or Scarecrow, or Lex Luthor? I mean, who really cares, get them!

You know, Donald Trump is a disgusting creature, but at least he identified a problem and explained the steps he would take to solve it. A bunch of politicans are more concerned about striking non-binding "agreements" to limit emissions from countries that will never stop polluting, and couldn’t care less about the vagaries of international accords. The West is in a war, but they do not know the war they are in, and would not be able to identify the villains or their motivations if asked. Meeting in Paris at this time proves how exactly dense they are.

Petit could never stroll into Manhattan today to start making his terrorist-esque plans. Walking across a wire seems quite hard, but maybe not as difficult as taking your own life in order to destroy the lives of people you never even know. That our enemies are willing to go to such lengths for either their religion or their hatred of our world should say something about the conditions in it. This violence is a sickness, but it is also a symptom.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"One Last Time" - Broadway cast of Hamilton (mp3)

"It's Quiet Uptown" - Broadway cast of Hamilton (mp3)


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.