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Alex Carnevale

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Kara VanderBijl

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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 (163)


In Which We Pretend To Take James Agee Seriously

All Sides


James Agee read Ulysses in the summer of 1933. He almost immediately abandoned a writing project that had consumed him for the previous three years. "Joyce I think sees all sides and present them more consistently, clearly, and simultaneously than even Shakespeare," he cooed in wonderment.

with Alma and Delmore Schwartz

In the wake of Ulysses, a humbled Agee focused on his journalism.

He had failed at putting together an epic poem titled John Carter, so he immediately went to Tennessee on assignment, interviewed some poor people, and began writing a story about them. This was routine in those days, it was basically one of the twelve steps. After the story appeared his boss, Fortune editor Henry Luce, told him to go to Harvard Business School.


Agee did not go, but Joyce was still left behind. He read Ulysses again and then once more before never touching it again, holding it at bay like someone staring at the sun. He described his work at Fortune like this: "It varies with me from a sort of hard masochistic liking to direct nausea at the sight of this symbol $, and this % and this biggest and this some blank - billion...But in the long run, I suspect the fault, dear Fortune, is in me: that I hate any job on earth, as a job and hindrance and semi-suicide."

He did consider taking his own life, sometimes standing on the sill of a skyscraper, looking over at whatever it was that lay below. The temptation was there, how could it not be?

Agee then began Proust, for he felt it was now time. It did not take. "He is very clearly one of the greatest people I've read any of," he wrote his friend. "But I shan't read him now. Even the little I've read convinces me that once you got going in him he wd absorb your mind and thinking for months or even a few years. Which is not at all good when you feel somewhere near ready to write." Instead he read Interpretation of Dreams and some Dashiell Hammett mysteries to pass the time.

The Fortune article that would begin his work on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was suggested by editor Ralph Ingersoll. Agee accepted the time away from New York gratefully. He could not decide between two women, so went on with both, or wandered Greenwich Village's jazz clubs.

The manuscript he began writing, when I first read it in college, seemed appropriately serious. Poverty is the one subject about which it is useless to joke, but Agee seemed to turn that notion itself on his head. Rereading the book now, I realize I was entirely mistaken - Agee was completely serious as he waxed poetic about rural life. It is disappointing how much he misunderstood Ulysses.

Agee's writing at the time remained too lyrical for his subjects. They could not live up to his ideas about them. The writing pretended not to take itself entirely seriously, but the reality was that the author was never constance of the distance between himself and his subjects. This was his interpretation of Joyce, a way of asking how to be. His idol/peer called out in anguish, and Agee only heard part of the cry.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about Jane Campion's Top of the Lake.

"Let It Be Me (live)" - Nina Simone (mp3)

"Single Woman" - Nina Simone (mp3)


In Which We Cure Something Wrong With Us

Marie and her daughters

Desolation and Despair


My courage fails me and I think I ought to stop working, live in the country and devote myself to gardening. But I am held by a thousand bonds. Nor do I know whether, even by writing scientific books, I could live without the laboratory.

In her fifth month of pregnancy, at the end of 1903's hot and long summer, Marie Sklodowska Curie had a miscarriage. She was devastated. She wrote to her friend, "I am in such consternation over this accident that I have not the courage to write to anybody. I had grown so accustomed to the idea of the child that I am absolutely desperate and cannot be controlled." She assigned her dedication to her work as the cause; she worried she had exposed herself to too much radiation in the lab.

In mid-November she, along with her husband Pierre, won the Nobel Prize. Though the work had been shared equally between them, the media tended to paint Marie as the inspirer, and Pierre as the man of accomplishment in the matter. Another interpretation of their discoveries involved them falling in love and copulating somewhere among their experiments. Cetainly both were happy at the financial and academic gains that accompanied such an award, but the attention that came with it was not at all to either's liking.

Pierre and Marie

By May of the following year, Marie was pregnant again. To ensure nothing would complicate the birth, Pierre and Marie selected a farm a short train ride from Paris in St.-Remy-les-Chevreuse. Their daughter Eve was born at the beginning of December, pleasing her mother, who wrote to her friend, "Don't you find it delicious to have a little tiny being to love?"

The assistance of Pierre's father, as well as a nanny, a maid and occasionally a cook helped her return to her scientific endeavors. Pierre was frustrated in his work, and St. Remy represented a welcome retreat. The family loved the beach, where Pierre pocketed all the seashells his daughters collected for him there. Just as they were beginning to find a new equilibrium, and Pierre had begun to recover from his many illnesses, his skull was crushed by a wagon wheel in a freak accident when two horses panicked on a Paris avenue. He had never paid much attention to where he walked. Pierre Curie was just 46.

Marie wrote in her journal:

I enter the room. Someone says: 'He is dead.' Can one comprehend such words? Pierre is dead, he who I had seen leave looking fine this morning, he who I expected to press in my arms this evening. I will only see him dead and it's over forever. I repeat your name again and always, 'Pierre, Pierre, Pierre, my Pierre,' alas that doesn't make him come back, he is gone forever, leaving me nothing but desolation and despair.

Much later in life, she would write, that on April 19, 1906, "I lost my beloved Pierre, and with him all hope and all support for the rest of my life." Returning to their laboratory was difficult. At work she was named Pierre's replacement in his teaching position at the Sorbonne. She wrote, "There are some imbeciles who have even congratulated me." She was the first woman ever to teach there.

young MC

A year later, she wrote, "It has been a year. I live, for your children, for your old father. The grief is mute but still there. The burden is heavy on my shoulders. How sweet it would be to go to sleep and not wake up. How young my dear ones are. How tired I feel!" She could never bring herself to say his name again.


Paul Langevin was a scientist in a deeply unhappy marriage. His wife Jeanne was four years his junior, and interference from her family complicated their arrangement from the very first. His mother-in-law and sister-in-law kept letters he had written to his own mother that expressed doubts about the relationship. This was in order to blackmail him in case of divorce. Her closest family members also stole from him and would even strike him when angry. Because of their young children, he did not go through with the idea of divorcing Jeanne.

Langevin and his wife

Langevin had been a student of Pierre Curie, and it was to his widow and friend that he confided his life's troubles. It was when Jeanne Langevin struck her husband with a glass bottle that Marie Curie's consolation turned intimate. They rented an apartment near the Sorbonne for their liasions. When Jeanne found out, she told Marie Curie to leave France and threatened to kill her for fucking her husband.

Still, Marie was hopeful. She wrote to Paul, saying,

It would be so good to gain the freedom to see each other as much as our various occupations permit, to work together, to walk or to travel together, when conditions lend themselves. There are very deep affinities between us which only need a favorable life situation to develop. We had some presentiment of it in the past, but it didn't come into full consciousness until we found ourselves face to face, me in mourning for the beautiful life I had made for myself and which collapsed in such a disaster, you with your feeling that, in spite of your good will and your efforts, you had completely missed out on this family life which you had wished to be so abundant in joy.

Marie went on to even specify the various methods by which Paul Langevin could extricate himself from his marriage, which we can all now view as very generous indeed. Her letter describing these possibilities is more properly described as a lab report.

It took another year before the situation with the Langevins yielded to its inevitable conclusion. Paul left his home with his sons, and his wife filed an injunction declaring he had abandoned her. In the trial that followed, the relationship between Marie and Paul Langevin became abruptly public. As this unfolded, Marie won her second Nobel Prize, in 1911.

at a chemical company in Pittsburgh

French tabloids savaged her, and excerpts from her letters to Paul even appeared in newspapers. Friends in the academic community came to her defense. Albert Einstein wrote to her, saying, "I feel the need to tell you how much I have come to admire your spirit, your energy and your honesty... I will always be grateful that we have among us people like you  as well as Langevin  genuine human beings, in whose company one can rejoice. If the rabble continues to be occupied with you, simply stop reading that drivel. Leave it to the vipers it was fabricated for."

She would never have the kind of relationship she desired with Langevin. He felt so guilty about dragging her into the matter that he left money in his will for her daughters. Eventually he even reconciled with his wife, taking a more acceptable woman for his mistress  a secretary. For her part, Marie's disappointment with all that had transpired was inevitable, but she had already lost far more precious things.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about Jane Campion's Top of the Lake.

"Another Me" - Tinashe (mp3)

"Reverie" - Tinashe (mp3)



In Which We Do A Few Bad Things First



Top of the Lake
creators Gerard Lee and Jane Campion

Dignity and its absence is not a regularly discussed topic in any form of art. Usually when it is addressed, we view a permanent loss of self-respect, the kind of descent into shit that only happens to older men, since that is apparently the time in which you are supposed to discard any possibility of living with honor. There is no coming back from that.

At one point in Jane Campion's magnificent miniseries Top of the Lake, Robin Griffin (Elizabeth Moss) is hanging out on a little boat with Johnno, the man with whom she began cheating on her fiancee, Steve. He demurs when she brings up the topic of sex, and she responds, "Can't we do a few bad things before we do something good?"

Robin is a detective visiting her hometown of Paradise, New Zealand when a 12 year old girl named Tui (Jacqueline Joe) is discovered to be pregnant. Tui lives with her rough, disgusting family, surrounded by weapons, dogs and cages and a criminal lifestyle that largely ignores that she exists. Robin feels a kinship with the half-Maori girl that goes far beyond gender. She, too, has just left the most recent place she calls home, informing Steve, "You deserve someone better."

The show's primary antagonist is Tui's father Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan). The sixty-four year old patriarch begins Top of the Lake by accidentally killing a real estate agent he is trying to threaten by dragging him behind his boat in the water. This template for the character says everything we need to know about him - full of menace, devious as he may be, this is someone who often accomplishes the exact opposite of what he is trying to achieve, but doesn't end up paying for it.

In order to threaten Robin when she comes calling to ask about Tui, he puts down a dangerous dog right in front of her with a high-caliber rifle. She is naturally appalled, but it only takes a moment for her to realize that Matt's action itself is merciful, even when all that surrounds it suggests the opposite.

Robin is not really afraid of Matt himself after that. She immediately comes to terms with the idea that the very fact he is not what he seems means is unlikely to be either the father of Tui's baby or the principal cause of her disappearance.

Part of the reason Top of the Lake feels so much more timely than a show it renders amateur hour, AMC's The Killing, is that it shows respect for both sides in the conflict between traditional and progressive ideas.

GJ (Holly Hunter) descends upon a purchased a piece of Matt Mitchum's property with a coterie of women victimized by men, or in one unique case, a chimpanzee. On the surface, she is establishing a support group retreat for these women of various ages.

The portrayal of this assemblage initially verges on satire, but that is only Campion's method for getting the giggles out of the way. Hunter is absolutely magical in this role, and it is a shame they could not do more with her. Mostly she sits in her distinctive chair, elevated slightly, but only slightly, above the rest of her group.

Flowing grey hair to her waist marks a contrast with her perpetually youthful face, and her appearance confuses all who interact with her; as one of her disciplines puts it, GJ "exists on another plane." This indeterminacy too passes, and when she admonishes a bald man who has flown from Shanghai to drop off his daughter with her, we know we are seeing neither hero or villain. 

Robin's first meeting with the long-haired guru is postponed until the series' third episode. GJ threatens her openly, informing her that she will be brought to her knees in a scene where she appears to be telling the detective's fortune. This hits too close to home, feels too familiar.

Robin is busy trying to reinvent the local police department, which maintains an uneasy balance with the impoverished community of Paradise. Her personal life is nothing short of a disaster. Robin's mother is dying of cancer, and she is unable to deal with that either. She never says goodbye to her mother: she only hears a voicemail on her phone.

If the town of Paradise is any indication, tensions between men and women are at an all-time high. Top of the Lake approaches these conflicts from every possible vantage point, swinging the camera high above the lavish natural scenery of New Zealand and close to the anguish of the participants in this drama, when things become most uncomfortable and violent, and then suddenly abstracting us far away again.

For the individual that fights in this war, it is the only way to deal with it and continue living. The remarkable fact is that they are able to go on, with the suggestion being that in some parts of the world, women do not really have a choice, or a retreat.

At first it seems like Robin is dealing with a misogynist roadblock in Al Parker (David Wenham), the resident chief of police. Once we learn the history between them, both of their behavior becomes a lot more complicated. Campion lets this play out over the beginning of Top of the Lake's fourth episode. The scene itself, a simple dinner in an empty house, is made possible by the depth of the performance the director coaxes out of Moss. On her other show, Moss is only permitted the chopped staccato cadence in which something is always being teased, concluded or resolved beyond the actual existence of the characters.

Moss' skills have undoubtedly been improved by her time on stage. She slips into a whole other persona here, not just in how believably she able to shift between the role of victim and aggressor. She also proves this transition can take place in a single moment if we are willing to pay the attention it requires. In this area Top of the Lake shows how inadequate traditional drama can be.

Campion often takes up the stories of children, whose characteristic relationship to the world around them has always been curious to her. It is distinctive that in Top of the Lake, for the first time I can remember, there are not any. Yes, Tui is only twelve. But that means so little to anyone in her world, and we slowly adjust to this reality. There no abdication of responsibility, no protection that comes from whatever innocence is possible in a place like this one. "In nature there is no death," GJ says. "Only a reshuffling of atoms."

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about behavioral conditioning.

"A New Independence" - Jamie Woolford (mp3)

"A Framed Life In Charming Life" - Jamie Woolford (mp3)