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Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
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Managing Editor
Kara VanderBijl
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Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
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Durga Chew-Bose
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Senior Editor
Brittany Julious
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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 (154)

Wednesday
Oct242012

In Which Yukio Mishima Disposes Of Himself

The Passion

by ALEX CARNEVALE

When Yukio Mishima graduated from high school, honored as the class valedictorian, given a silver watch by the Emperor, his mind was occupied by one prevailing thought: "Now I am ready to die."

The next year he received his draft notice. Perhaps out of panic, or because he had been susceptible to illness ever since he discovered he was gay, Mishima came down with a cough, a cold and a fever. He was excused from service. By the time the war ended, all the people who had read his writing or cared about it (except his mother) were dead, either by their own hand or purged by the new leftist government.

with his sister Mitsuko

Mishima's native city of Tokyo was in ruins. The most common sight on the streets was the viewing of a metal safe; all that was left of what used to be a home. Very little of this touched Mishima, who had learned to ignore the vagaries of reality in favor of his own world. He wrote,

Japan's defeat was not a matter of particular regret for me. A far more sorrowful incident was my sister Mitsuko's death a few months later. I loved my sister. I loved her to an inexplicable degree.

His father forced him into law school, where he tried to think of the dull preparation for a bureaucratic career in as literary a terms as possible. Pushed into a job at the prestigious Ministry of Finance, he stayed up until all hours of the morning writing, so much so that his superiors chastised him for his sleepy look. But this was government, the only chance of him "failing" at it was to appear out-of-the-ordinary. (His colleagues even knew his literary work: they had him write a speech for a minister, before rejecting it as too flowery.)

Nine months into his new job, he fell off a train platform out of tiredness. His father relented and allowed him to tender his resignation shortly thereafter. He told Yukio, "Then quit the job and become a novelist, but make sure you become the very best in the land."

with his gift from the Emperor Mishima's new novel was autobiographical, a subject he would never completely abandon again. He wrote to his editor, "I will turn upon myself the scalpel of psychological analysis I have sharpened on fictive characters. I will attempt to dissect myself alive." That book was Confessions of a Mask, and the revelations within would change his life forever.

Today Confessions of a Mask seems dated and juvenile with respect to Mishima's other work. It is essentially his memoir of becoming, and since it is easier to think of Mishima's unraveling than his coming together, parts of the novel are easy to misread. The veiled discussion of his own homosexuality undoubtedly helped Confessions of a Mask become a sensation in Japan. The book was talked about everywhere, turning Mishima into the household name he desired.

The violence in his work was also divisive. He had been confusing pain with pleasure from his early days confined in his tyrant of a grandmother's basement, and the range of it in his stories matches any in the literature of Japan. Once, in order to write about it convincingly, he watched a medical student vivisect a cat.

The homosexual culture that emerged in Japan after the war, with the first gay bars and meeting places in Tokyo, could have had its central star. Amazingly, Mishima was able to suggest his immersion in these places was a cover that allowed him to research his next creation. The world which had rejected his early ambitions now embraced them to a startling degree. Even his father had to approve of Mishima's financial success in his chosen field. The family moved into a new house.

Fame gave Mishima the gratification he needed, the man barely ever drank or smoked. His intense focus on his writing meant that he met every deadline; his penmanship was flawless and his work rarely needed anything but the most cursory of edits. Explaining his behavior was easy: "Most writers are perfectly normal in the head and just carry on like wild men; I behave normally but I'm sick inside."

as a young one

His first view of the west came in 1951. He sailed into San Francisco, and spent ten days in New York, which he described as Tokyo "five hundred years from now." He found it overwhelming and spent most of his time at the Museum of Modern Art.

In Brazil he was able to exercise his sexual needs whenever he liked, meeting teenage boys in the park and bringing them back to his hotel room. He hated his week in Paris, and spent most of his time in London sitting in dark theaters. (He would produce a play a year for the rest of his life.) He looked forward to Greece and found it more to his liking; it was as old as he felt.

When he returned to his country, he immediately sought a relationship with a woman that he could use as a cover. He began dating a coed whose chief virtue was her willingness to participate in what he described as "his masquerade." His mother chaperoned every date.

The Sound of Waves was the novel Mishima wrote after his trip. It has been described as his most normal work, and it certainly it appealed to more people than anything else he had produced to that point. Something had changed in Yukio during his journey around the world. His American biographer John Nathan suggests the travel freed him from feeling that the only environment in which he could survive was his native one. The Sound of Waves would also be Mishima's debut in English, as Knopf was reluctant to publish the "homosexual novel" Confessions as a debut.

More popular than ever, Mishima's freedom was unencumbered. He became consumed with bodybuilding. For the next fifteen years of his life, he worked out three times a week, slowly increasing the girth of his upper body. At his peak he looked something like this:

working out at a Korakuen gym

Mishima's commercial and critical success returned him to New York, where the astonishing news of his fame had not travelled so far. He asked a friend what to do to become famous in this country. His friend responded, "Faulkner and Hemingway could walk arm in arm down this street and nobody would pay any attention." A New York production of his play meant that, until he could not afford the $16 a day it cost, he lived on Park Avenue. His new hotel, in Greenwich Village, was $4 a day. He even learned how to ride the subways.

Mishima's off-Broadway debut was doomed from the start, but the experience was valuable. He had to again learn what disappointment felt like. When he returned to Tokyo (via Athens), his parents were determined to quiet rumors of their son's homosexuality by finding him the right woman. His mother almost certainly knew her son's true feelings, but felt a bride would solve a lot of Yukio's problems in general.

The family reviewed applications as if it were a job opening. The major disqualifying characteristic for Mishima was interest in his work. He wanted his new partner to love him for his body, not his writing, for whatever reason. Mishima's figure was not exactly appealing for some women: he was more a sex object to men and admirers of his work. He addressed the possibility of his marriage in his public writing, telling potential suitors that "With regard to her behavior in the outside world, I will not be generous with her; the world will be watching."

The woman who would become Yukio Mishima's wife was a 19 year old college sophomore named Yoko Sugiyama. The day before he married her, he burned all of his diaries.

In time, Yoko would learn her husband's true proclivities, but she never discussed them openly, even after his death, and denied them to anyone who asked. John Nathan has speculated that it was the position of homosexuality in Japan that allowed the marriage to persist happily - there was nothing abhorrent, strictly speaking, about being gay in Japan during this period, and bisexuality was also recognized as a legitimate preference. Far more unacceptable than being gay was being unmarried.

at the airport leaving for his honeymoon with Yoko

The wedding reception was in May at Tokyo's International House; the families were still simmering over a difficult negotiation of terms. The press followed the couple on their honeymoon. Mishima wrote,

As we walked down the corridor on the second floor, a girl from the beauty parlor picked up the telephone in the corridor and began informing someone of our every step in a voice so loud we couldn't possibly have missed it. As the elevator doors closed we heard her report, "They've just stepped into the elevator." In our room whenever a girl came to clean up or bring us something she was always accompanied by two or three others who just tagged along for a good look at us on their way out. When a waitress from room service appeared and Yoko ordered a cream soda and I ordered one too, the girl said, "You drink the same drink! That's passion!" I was appalled.

june 11, 1958

In his marriage Mishima was often caught between his mother and his wife. The two never got along. Living in the same home did not help matters; both felt possessive of Yukio. Despite the not-so-passionate nature of the arrangement, the couple was suited to each other. Yoko was not terribly entertained by the friends her husband had made as a single dilettante, and disliked his focus on bodybuilding. Each led their own lives, but Mishima surely relied on his wife for advice and for the most part they abided by one another's wishes.

In 1959, Mishima built a new house for his entire family. It was a disturbing piece of architecture, embodying both his experience in the west and a judgmental view of his own culture. Each morning he would wake up, eat and sunbathe, and then turn to his exercise regimen. The afternoons were about meeting with agents and directors. All of his writing was done in the evening before the routine began again. That year Yoko gave him his first child, a daughter they named Noriko, who was followed by a son Ichiro three years later.

Yukio and Yoko Mishima

The year his daughter was born Mishima also finished his massive new novel Kyoko's House. It sold based on his reputation, but the massive tome has never been popular with critics or readers. He had never worked harder on any of his plays or novels, and the reaction saddened him deeply.

Violence on the Japanese political scene frightened the vulnerable author, and the family was protected by a bodyguard. Mishima penned perhaps his most brilliant short work, My Wandering Years, which described his first trip around the world. John Nathan focuses in on one particular passage from the period:

Today, I no longer believe in that ideal known as classicism, and I have already begun to feel that youth, and the flowering of youth, are foolishness. What remains is the concept of death, the only truly enticing, truly vivid, truly erotic concept. For all I know, that twenty-six-year-old, that classicist who felt about himself that he was as close as possible to life, was a dissembler, a fraud.

Mishima's popularity declined noticeably in the years that followed, and much of his work from these years has never been properly appreciated either at home or abroad. He continued to subsist on the revenues from what he considered his trivial work, largely read by the Japanese housewives who had propelled his novels to their first success.

John Nathan had been responsible for a successful translation of Mishima's 1963 novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. After reading Mishima's novel Silk and Insight he decided that translating it would be a losing battle, both because it lacked the intensity typical of the author's work, and because the political undertones could not possibly make sense to a Western audience. After Nathan informed him he would not embark on the project, Mishima never spoke to him again.

Mishima's view of Japan was changing. In order to restore the nation to its former glory, he enlisted himself in the Army Self Defense Force and entered basic training. (Some suspect that his love of masochism was his principal motivation in this.) This position allowed him to maintain an ongoing friendship with a variety of young men, allowing him space from his wife and family.

Mishima was 42 and yet burned to keep up with the younger soldiers. His fantasy of becoming a warrior would persist until his death, tied up in political views that encouraged Japan to regain its former greatness. When another Japanese writer won the Nobel Prize, it was enough to set him off the rails completely.

taking a break for a meal during boot camp

Mishima planned his own death elaborately. He said farewell, in his way, to everyone that he knew, ending conversations with an unusual sayonara rather than the more typical "see you again soon." He told no one specifically what he planned, although he did float the concept of showing his suicide live to a friend who worked in television. The idea that he would become more respected and famous in death than he was in life was only a part of his desire to die, expressed for the first time when he was a young man. It had never truly left him.

Along with his comrades-in-arms, Mishima abducted a Japanese general that day. He had already mailed journalists with his manifesto and a photograph, in order to ensure the reasons for doing what he intended would not be obscured. Mishima had assigned the ritual decapitation to a friend, Morita, but even after several attempts the man was unable to perform the task and another comrade, Koga, beheaded both of them. Yukio's insides splattered to the ground. His wife placed a pen and manuscript paper in his coffin.

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

the funeral

"Orpheo" - Andrew Bird (mp3)

"When the Helicopter Comes" - Andrew Bird (mp3)

Tuesday
Sep112012

In Which We Revisit The Golden Age Of Something

Really Impressed With Us

Once I had a professor who seemed to have everything going right in his life. He had a beautiful home and family; his lectures were prescient and entertaining. He attracted swarms of undergraduates to his office hours. He was kind to all who knew him. His speciality was 18th century American literature, generally thought of as one of the most boring areas of art to study outside of the middle ages. (Literatures of nascent countries are almost always terrible.) Despite this handicap, he threw himself into the topic with aplomb.

The time came for me to speak with the man in his office hours. That day he happened to be setting up a new desktop computer. He was so pathetically lost I found I could never listen to any of his lectures again. He asked me what this thing did, and I told him it was the mouse. When I saw his wife in the student center the following week, I felt so sorry for her I almost cried. This is somewhat akin to the feelings I experience while reading Life magazine today.

Some of the writing in Life was very good. It was usually unabashedly nationalistic in a way you never see today outside of a People magazine feature on a returning soldier. It was so obvious to everyone that we were "the people." Often the writers offered some take on the future. No matter what it was, the development was underscored by a conflicting, opposing viewpoint. There was teaching happening, of how to be, of how a democracy had to operate.

Life could not possibly exist today because only its photographs were cynical, sometimes even humorous. They underscored the dual main missions of the publication: (1) to tell the truth and (2) to trust what you saw with your own eyes. Since the magazine could not possibly accomplish (1), it focused on (2).

Examined through the lens of normals, the past seems far less confusing in retrospect. It is no wonder some misguided people long for it. A selective memory is one cause, and the flaws in the human brain are nothing compared to the egregious snubs of a magazine. How can you keep a history of the time in which you live and ignore an entire part of the culture? That's almost as bad as there not being a wikipedia entry for Alice Gregory.

If Life had kept publishing, it would be unrecognizable, probably like a mix of National Geographic, Parade and Bill Keller columns about "the good old daze." It was already pretty silly when they gave up on it and made it a monthly. When you change how often your magazine publishes, you're showing you never knew much about why it existed to begin with.

The following actually appeared in the first 1954 issue of Life magazine. - A.C.



January 4, 1954

The morning traffic and parking problem became so critical at the Carlsbad, N. Mex. high school that school authorities in 1953 were finally forced to a solution: they set aside a special parking area for students only. In Carlsbad, as everywhere else, teenagers are not only driving new cars to school but in many cases are buying them out of their own earnings. These are the children who at birth were called "Depression babies." They have grown up to become, materially at least, America's luckiest generation.

Young people 16 to 20 are the beneficiaries of the very economic collapse that brought chaos almost a generation ago. The Depression tumbled the nation's birth rate to an all-time low in 1933, and today's teen age group is proportionately a smaller part of the total population than in more than 70 years.

Since there are fewer of them, each – in the most prosperous time in U.S. history – gets a bigger piece of the nation's economic pie than any previous generation ever got. This means they can almost have their pick of the jobs that abound.

They place in dance orchestras, and work at other jobs or go into business for themselves. To them working has a double attraction: the pay is good and, since their parents are earning more, too, they are often able to keep the money for themselves.

The teenagers here all live in Carlsbad, but the account of youth's opulent opportunities is not restricted to any one community. A young fellow like Sonny Thayer can earn $100 a week in the potash mines near Carlsbad and buy himself a pick up truck, hunting mule and all the equipment he wants to indulge his hobby as an outdoorsman. A Milwaukee high school senior like David Lenske can pick up enough money in odd jobs to buy stocks, all his own clothes and a 1946 Plymouth as well. In city after city merchants freely extend credit to teenagers.

One father, fearing that easy times may not be enough of a character builder, remarked, "They're lucky. But do they know it?" Mostly they seem to know it, even though they live with a worry they can never fully escape – the two years or more of military service for the boys and the constant talk of war that hovers over them all. A judge who handles delinquency matters voices concern over the fortunate teenagers: "I don't know if having all those cars is such a wonderful thing. Some kids make more money than their probation officers with master's degrees." But a filling station operator who hires high school boys declares simply, "They are hard working and well behaved."

Thoughtfully a Milwaukee girl remarks, "We have more independence and education than other generations have had. We are going to be able to take care of ourselves and of our world." This confidence and reasoning reflects in a generation which, having been brought up in and having worked in good and constantly improving times, will in the future expect – and work for – equally good times or better.

It is presumptuous to characterize a whole generation; yet each generation feels obliged to try it as soon as its successor heaves in sight, and the editors of Life are no exception. Our Time-Life correspondents recently made a survey of the mood and opinions of young people all over the country. That survey confirmed Steichen's hunch; this is in many respects the oldest younger generation in living memory. It is sobersided, unromantic, "mature." Since it was raised in a depression to fight one war and is now threatened by another, it could hardly be expected to be a carefree generation. But that is not the whole story.

In our survey one Texas college professor described his undergraduates thus: "They are a generation without responses - apathetic, laconic, no great loves, no profound hates and pitifully few enthusiasms. They are a wordless generation. If they have ideas they don't seem to like to rub them against other people's ideas."

"Unimaginative, yes," reported another teacher, "but they are very realistic. Security is uppermost in their minds." Millions of them seem to share the modest ambitions of a young Seattle engineer: "I'd just like to net $600 a month, and then my family would always be okay. You start earning any more than about that, and it's taxed away from you, so what the hell."

Youth's theme song seems to be, "I don't want to set the world on fire." Rather than take chances on their own, most college boys (there are of course exceptions) would rather work for a large corporation, making their way discreetly and securely up a prefabricated ladder. They seem to be most comfortable in groups and even tend to make dates by fours and sixes.

They show no strong urge either to glorify or to rebel against their surroundings. They are without public heroes or villains. They are reported to be not so wild as their parents, nor so hard working. They gripe less and hope less. They are willing homemakers and fall quickly into monogamy, more from imitation than from any moral or economic imperative. They are refreshingly free of bigotry or race prejudice; and they believe, if in anything, in democracy and the brotherhood of man. Yet they seem skeptical and incurious about the machinery and safeguards of democracy.

One co-ed says defiantly, "Who knows exactly what politics is, anyhow?" Says an Oregon college president, "They live like happy animals. I guess the Great Enlightenment of the last century has finally run its course."

A Generation of Esthetes? appeared in a 1951 issue of Life.

"Calm Water" - Milla Jovovich (mp3)

"Wide Awake" - Milla Jovovich (mp3)

 
Tuesday
Aug282012

In Which We Dance To The Music Of Amy Sherman-Palladino

Head Of Buns

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Bunheads
creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Lamar Damon

Michelle Simms, 37, is a Las Vegas showgirl. She never takes her top off, at least in public, and complains good naturedly about superior financial compensation for those who do. It is not that Michelle (Sutton Foster) is unwilling to sell herself, it is implied throught the remarkably, comfortingly familiar first season of Amy Sherman-Palladino's Bunheads. She is simply holding out for the right price.

Over the past few years, Michelle's dancing and general grace has attracted a persistent fan, Hubbell (Alan Ruck, Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off reconstituted as a 54 year old shoe magnate). Each time he visits Las Vegas on business, he brings Michelle flowers and gifts. Because she is somewhat starved for other admirers, she allows his affections to persist, until one drunken night, she agrees to marry him and move to his home in California. The fact that it overlooks the ocean is explanation enough.

Neal Stephenson once observed that "no man is more comprehensively doomed than him whose chief source of gratification is making favorable impressions on some particular woman." After Michelle and Hubbell are married in a Las Vegas chapel, they relocate to a small coastal California town where he lives with his mother Fanny (Kelly Bishop, formerly Lorelai's unctuous mother on Sherman-Palladino's previous series, Gilmore Girls). On his way to meet them at a local bar, he dies in a car accident, leaving everything to his new wife.

Instead of telling Fanny to find other lodgings, Michelle graciously cedes the main residence to her and moves her things to the property's sizable cottage. She is unhappy, but nowhere near as unhappy as she was before.

Her mother-in-law runs a dance studio where the eponymous bunheads tout their wares. Dance is a wonderful art, but the ideas it gives young women about their bodies are so destructive they largely render the art impotent except in the most outstanding cases. Fretting over the size and shape of their instruments is routine for the four teenagers who constitute the rest of the show's main cast.

Sherman-Palladino writes the young women as the adults they inevitably are, which means these bunheads are more brimming with life than their Disney Channel peers. Just as on Gilmore Girls, the exaggerated rapid fire dialogue is at once completely ridiculous and wholly realistic. It is a joy to simply listen to Bunheads without images, in wonderment at the mind that created such unmistakable voices.

Unlike Aaron Sorkin, with whom she is so frequently compared, Sherman-Palladino has a real grasp on why people who talk too much talk too much. Every character does not sound exactly the same, although to be honest they all do resemble their creator to varying degrees. Parsed out line by line, Sherman-Palladino's scripts approach the intoxicating rhythm of iambic pentameter. Since she is always showing off, she is never showing off.

The women of Bunheads are unmistakably not from this generation. The fact that they feel a genuine connection with an older woman whose idea of dance is performing The Nutcracker is retrograde enough on its own. Teens don't obsess over cell phones, and generally seem to disdain technology. None of the girls are having sex, and only one is in a relationship. Above all, this is about utility. It was a lot simpler to write a dramatic plot when every person in the world could not get in touch with every other person instantly via text message.

Sherman-Palladino's portrait of America is mostly white, entirely secluded from the actual world we live in. (A dancer of color appears suddenly in the show's eighth episode, as if she suddenly remembered.) We are not on Earth, we are on Amy's planet, and it is enough that people try to explain themselves to one another — explaining the world is a task she leaves to other artists. The self contains everything in Bunheads; objects, places and ideas are simply the apparatus that surrounds them. Thematically, dance is a natural extension of this rule.

Yes, the protagonists on Bunheads are astonishingly self-centered. This is the only modern thing about them. They do not think about the news, except possibly gossip in US Weekly or whatever is happening in their tiny hamlet of Paradise. Michelle's interest in social concerns only stretches as far as trying to get a supermarket chain to move into town  because there is nowhere to get coffee. Politics is the area of a flip remark or casual joke, it is not serious.

In the episodes that follow her husband's death, Michelle considers a variety of relationships: a fabulously wealthy and attractive hermit, a boytoy surfer/bartender, a Jewish director. Men are scarce in Paradise, CA, but that does not mean that Sherman-Palladino does not accord them any importance. They exist as moons or satellites, ever present, but not always in view. Sherman-Palladino is actually incredible at writing males; she exhibits a rare empathy for their plight in her world. Since all the women on the show are so obviously her, males allow Sherman-Palladino to flex her creative muscles, and the archetypes she creates for them — some sad, others unexpectedly joyful — are like no others on television.

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 Showtime's The Real L Word.

"Take It With Me" - Tom Waits (mp3)

"Picture In A Frame" - Tom Waits (mp3)